OkaZHI: Okanagan-Zambia Health Initiative

Searching for Susu – Part 1

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Aug 12

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by Bill Nelem
April 2008

I’m not sure exactly when Rosemary left Zambia for England and then Canada, but it was probably in the 1970’s.

Born in Zambia, she lived as a child with her family on a large farm on Leopard’s Hill Road, some distance outside of Lusaka.

When her parents sold the farm, it was divided in two parcels. I don’t know who bought the larger part of the farm along with the original family house, but Dr John Jellis and his wife Jane bought the smaller part. Jane and John lived initially in a summer house that later burned down. Rebuilt, a newer house now stands on the ashes of the old site.

Rosemary remembers that Susu was the cook employed by her parents. Susu and his wife had a son called Alison.

Knowing of my upcoming trip to Zambia, Rosemary charged me to find Susu and, if he is still alive, make sure that he has a bicycle. If Susu is dead, I am to find his wife. If she is dead, I’m to find Alison, and to make sure he has a bike.

As I set out to find Susu, I’m about to discover more about Zambian health care, past and present, than I have during all of my visits and interviews conducted over the past three years-and that includes my many visits with Chifumbe.

All I know about Jane and John Jellis is that they have a post office

box in Woodlands, and that they live somewhere out on Leopard’s Hill Road on part of the land where Rosemary grew up. I don’t have a street number, nor can I find a telephone number.

Well, for starters, no one lives in a post box – scratch that.

Discovering Leopard’s Hill Road on the map is easy.

I start by driving out of town.

It teems with people walking, with cars, bikes and trucks. I notice that there are no street numbers. That’s probably why I have no street address for Jane and John.

An occasional building displays a business name, but otherwise there are precious few signs. Along the road, there are what look like farms or small estates. Some have gated entrances, but none have name signs. At some one must enter only with prior appointments, but there are no clues as to how one might make an appointment. ‘

Beware of dog’ signs abound, as do stray dogs.

The road heads straight out of town. Not surprisingly, the traffic lessens as one proceeds. After many kilometres, the paved road gives way to dirt. The two-lane dirt road gives way to one lane. The pothole score rises from a 6 to an 8 – and then a 9!

Finally, whilst circum-navigating a particularly confluent cluster of potholes, the car shudders, and my left front wheel falls into a deep hole. My front axle comes to a grating rest on a rock. I am now pot-holed out at 10.

At the outset of this journey, throngs of people crowd Leopard’s Hill

Road. Now I’m alone. No one is to be seen anywhere.

Knowing Africa, I am assured that faces will appear from somewhere soon.

First imagined, then done. Four young men bound along the road on foot, clapping their hands, laughing and pointing to my left front tyre.

I laugh with them.

One hefty heave from these lanky lads and I turn back to Lusaka. This is the end of Leopard’s Hill Road for me!

Just as I regain the paved road, I see a sign that I missed on the way out, too busy dodging potholes, no doubt. ‘Ann’s Books’.

I surmise that Ann must be an educated person if she sells books. Maybe she will know of the Jellis house. Beside the main book sign is a smaller sign, ‘Beware of Dogs’.

I approach Ann’s house. Four large Rhodesian Ridgebacks, growling, barking and gnashing their teeth, surround me. I stay in the car.

The house door opens, and Ann appears. She clicks her fingers and the dogs are tamed. She is an older white woman, perhaps eighty. Her long hair is uncombed. As she walks towards me she limps, her left ankle wrapped ineffectively in a tensor bandage. She wears a loose smock, open at the front.

She speaks with an English accent; ‘Ah, Jellis. About a kilometre back to town, Chifwembe Road, turn left, go four kilometres. You will see a sign on the left – the Lazy J Ranch’.

As I enter the farm where Rosemary once lived as a child, I see why she has such fond memories. On the right is a dedicated sanctuary. Straight ahead, I see a football pitch, a polo pitch and stables for 50 horses.

Jane greets me and introduces me to Hillary Robinson, an Orthopaedic Surgeon out from Britain to help John. John rises from his afternoon nap, and it dawns on me that I’m about to meet another of the country’s iconic medical figures.

I know that I’m still searching for Susu, but my lessons on Zambia’s health care history and present status are about to begin.

To be continued in … ‘Searching for Susu – Part 2. Bill.

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