The boy had spent the day wandering around the bush on the farm at Golden Valley. A happy carefree day, soaking up the atmosphere of the untouched pure wilderness.
Arriving back at the farmhouse in the last rays of the setting sun, his feeling of contentment was brought to an abrupt halt. Doom and gloom, and the atmosphere was somber.
Golden Valley Farmhouse
“What’s happened?” he asked.
“The dogs have been bitten by a snake. We are waiting for them to die,” was the reply.
Pluto, a Doberman, and Patch, a Border Collie, were both curled up, listless and helpless in a corner of the room. Pluto’s head and face was swollen and distorted, both ears so badly swollen they extended outwards like the wings of an airplane. The glands in the neck were swollen. Patch’s injuries were less obvious, but his neck glands were also swollen.
A knock at the door. There stood Julius, an old African man of undetermined age. A head of greying crinkly hair. A face lined from years of toil, etched with the experience of age. A smile revealing a row of broken yellowing teeth, in a face that spoke to you. His job on the farm: to pursue with his dogs the wild pigs raiding the maize crops. He had heard about the dogs. Could he help?
He took a crumpled paper bag from his pocket. Some of the content was sprinkled into a palm of his hand. To the boy, the contents reminded him of small pieces of orange peel that had lain in the sun for a long period of time, dried and shrivelled. He watched as Julius put them in his mouth and started to chew. After a short period, he went to Pluto, pulled his mouth open and spat the contents down his throat, forcing the dog to swallow.
Exactly the same procedure was carried out on Patch. He then took his leave saying he would return in the morning.
In the morning both dogs were still alive, but listless and unmoving. Julius appeared. A silent appraisal was made. He then asked the farmer if he had a sharp knife or a razor blade. A razor blade was found, and handed over.
The boy, now totally fascinated, watched as Julius made three small cuts in one ear of each dog. Again a crumpled bag was brought out of a pocket. This time, the contents sprinkled into his palm were reminiscent of finely ground charcoal.
He poured the powder onto the cuts in the ears of both dogs, then began rubbing it in with his fingers. Afterwards he said to the farmer: “Both dogs will be ok.”
True to his word, by the end of the days the dogs were standing shakily on their feet, and taking sips of water. Withing 24 hours they were showing signs of full recovery. Julius reappeared, looked at his patients, and said nothing. He just nodded to himself in a contented fashion.
He then turned away, went for his dogs and went off to see what the wild pigs had been up to.
From left to right: the author, his friend Denis Woodward and Golden Valley farmer’s wife and young daughter.
Today that boy is now like Julius. He himself is now an old man with grey hair. His mind often wanders back to those old days, and he thinks, and he ponders on old Julius.
He asks himself: “Why?”
Why did nobody – not the farmer, not his wife, not the boy… sit down with Julius and ask him what it was he administered to the dogs. Nobody took it upon him or herself to find out how Julius knew what to do to treat two dogs from a fatal snake bite.
What was it? Where did he get it? Was it from plants, roots, leaves? Was it from insects or grubs? How did he prepare it. Where did that knowledge come from?
No one will ever know.
A wealth of knowledge and experience that will remain forever in the grave of a fine old man called Julius.
Ian Robertson was born in Aberdeen Scotland. He grew up during the era of the Second World War, and his memories of those early years is of hardship, hunger and the cold. The one thing he found pleasure in was roaming the local hills. Walking for miles along the banks of the salmon rivers to watch them leaping the rapids and falls. In 1950, the family moved to Kadoma (Gatooma) in the-then Southern Rhodesia, and to a country Ian considers “Paradise”. He quickly formed a life-long friendship, with a boy named Denis. Both had a fierce love of the open air. Through his friend, he was introduced to a farming family in the Golden Valley area who treated both boys as sons. All school holidays were spent on the farm. The bush country at that time was unlimited and untouched. Ian and Denis spent their days walking and roaming for miles with the African people living on the farm, watching and learning their ways, and those of the birds and animals. In later life, Ian travelled the world with the Merchant Navy before joining Britain’s police service, retiring as a detective inspector thirty years later. He has never lost his love and passion for Africa, claiming it is at its best in the dry season. Harsh, hard and stark, with an inner stillness and a beauty of its own. Africa, especially Zimbabwe, is deeply embedded in his blood, and Ian writes about our country from the heart.