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A few weeks in Zanzibar

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

On a (surprisingly) warm danish summer day, 4 girls dragged their suitcases through Copenhagen to begin the journey to Zanzibar. Okay, personally I was driven by my father, but the point stands. Off to Zanzibar we went, and 22 hours, 3 flights, 4 flight meals (including breakfast at 4am), 1 lost vaccination card and a confusing immigration process we finally arrived at Zanzibar, ready to begin 3 weeks at the veterinary clinic ZAASO.

On the first day we jumped right into the hectic life of a veterinary clinic, and it was a steep learning curve. Starting the day with cleaning the kennels and the cattery, we really got to know all the dogs at the place - I will introduce them more thoroughly another time - and also quickly learned that some of these dogs were probably smarter than us, and definitely a lot faster, as we discovered when several of them managed to escape from their kennels. Luckily they were also quite sweet, so we managed to return them to their rightful place before too much chaos could occur.

That was lucky, as we were quickly introduced to the veterinary side as well, when a cat with horrible ear mites were brought in, a cow with east coast fever and a sterrilisation quickly followed. Especially the sterrilisation was something special to us, with little surgical experience, we got to try hands-on to assist Dr. Flavi with the surgery. When you're new to it all, even setting up for the surgery can seem complicated, but after three weeks we were getting the hang of it - though we still managed to forget the shaving blades quite a few times. Practice makes perfect I guess!

In the days that followed we mostly went driving around the island with Dr. Flavi, his veterinary assistant Abdul and then the four of us babbling along in the back of the car - but we had so much to talk about!

A lot the work when you drive around the island is treating animals, often in really amazing hotels, but also many other different settings. This means you have to improvise your consultation area every now and then - sometimes it will be in an office, a closed restaurant or in the living room. Luckily you learn to go along with it very fast, and you learn to adapt, like when a sterrilisation of 1 cat turns into sterrilisation of 2 cats and 1 castration of a dog.

Driving around brings a lot of interesting situations, like one where we sterrilised a cat for an archeologist, and he just happened to have found pottery more than 1000 years old, vertebrates from a whale and thousands upon thousands of little shells and bones. Not particularly relevant for veterinary students - we generally prefer our animals alive - but, it was just such and added bonus of the day!

Generally, sterrilisations of cats are the most common surgical procedure at the veterinary clinic. This means that not only will you become very familiar with surgery, you will also get to perform it yourself when street cats are neutralised. In the first week I got to perform my first ever sterrilisation! Don't think I've ever been so nervous, while still having to control my hands from shaking and trying to remember everything. Luckily, as a student, you work under the careful watch of Dr. Flavi - and have a lot of support from your fellow students, who without I would probably have been even more nervous. Afterwards I was ecstatic - even more so when I the day after could conclude the cat was still alive and doing well!

Another important part of being a volunteer at ZAASO is working at Saturday clinic. If you, like me, have ever worked at a small clinic in Europe, you will probably be used to the orderly fashion of patients arriving, perhaps a few emergencies, but otherwise an orderly waiting area. That's nothing like how Saturday clinic is. 16 cows, seemingly 100 goats, loads of dogs, even more young kids, a bunch of students and just 1 vet keeping calm and treating one animal after another. Hectic doesn't cover it. Saturday clinic is one of the most chaotic experience of my life, but possibly also one of the funniest and most rewarding work-experiences I will have in a long time. Here a lot of the animals comes in with simple issues, mostly needing de-worming, vitamins or the like, but also hematomas in cows, east-coast fever and much more are seen. As a student you will rarely get to learn that much, in such a short space of time - it's also a once in a life time opportunity to pick a qualified vets brain about so many different species and diseases in just 2.5 short hours!

Lastly, it's also important to remember to relax! At the clinic you get Saturday - after clinic finishes at noon - off, and then the whole of Sunday. We decided to take advantage of this and went on a boat trip around the southern part of the island. It wasn't academic at all, but snorkeling around the reef, having lunch on a bounty beach and climbing a baobab-tree was in my opinion the perfect end to a really great first week at the veterinary clinic in Zanzibar!

If you want to see more photos and read more about the animals at ZAASO, or just to say hi, please go to a_vet_students_tales

Looking to help us abroad?

Veterinary students volunteering with wildlife zebra in Africa
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