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Life Zambia

The wheels come off

Well, only one wheel and it didn’t go bouncing down the road in front of me; it just bent outwards.

I first noticed that the steering was sluggish in Chipata. The car was not as lively when I accelerated. I thought that the power steering had stopped working. Perhaps there was a hydraulic system which needed topping up. However, being 150km from Mfuwe, I decided I should drive carefully home rather than going to a garage in Chipata or calling for help from the lodge which services the vehicle.

The journey back was enjoyable and I didn’t notice a problem with the steering when manoeuvring the car over the high speed bumps on the road. The rolling hills were verdant and fecund. I chased a thunderstorm as it passed through, getting deluged with heavy rain and emerging into bright, clear sunshine.

The following day, the fault seemed to have corrected itself, but I made a mental note to contact the maintenance men to check it over in the afternoon on my way to do a home visit. We did a community clinic in the morning then after lunch I was driving on a bit of road that was part tarmac, part dirt. Driving at no more than 30kph, I suddenly felt the front passenger side of the car dip down and the vehicle pulled to the left. I braked but was unable to control the car’s swerve to the verge of the road. The car stopped before it careered down the embankment. I thanked my lucky stars and got out of the vehicle.

Dislocated ball joint – you can see the ball, looking like a ping pong ball in the dirt.

The front passenger wheel was at an impossible angle and the ball joints which attach it to the axle had failed. I am a complete novice when it comes to making mechanical diagnoses, but the clue was the ball (from the ball joint) sitting in the dirt. There was some liquid dripping from the axle. I tried to call the maintenance men, but the mobile network was down. I decided to use the car’s radio instead for the very first time and I was told help was on the way.

It is considered good manners to stop when you pass a vehicle which has broken down to see if there is anything you can do to help. Half a dozen vehicles stopped for me and one chap told me that he had a spare whatchamacallit in his garage if I needed it. Another person offered the opinion that the car had already done 240,000 km and with the state of the roads it was driving on, she was surprised that the ball joints hadn’t gone already. The same problem had occurred with a local chief, but his vehicle careered off into the bush with him frantically turning the steering wheel to no effect.

I was rescued and taken home within the hour. If anyone needed medical attention, they would have to send a car to pick me up until another vehicle could be pressed into service. The next day I grabbed a lift to the village and R took me to the scout training camp deep inside the national park to do a first aid workshop. Gunshot wounds, fractured limbs, vehicle accidents, animal attacks, snake bites? All of the above, but mainly basic hygiene, using medication properly, keeping wounds clean and avoiding infection where possible.

On the day I left Mfuwe, the ball joints and other parts had arrived from Lusaka, but the car had not been fixed. I hope I have not developed a reputation as a car wrecker!

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.

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