Maun sits at the mouth of the Okavango Delta and to say it holds some big characters is an understatement. All I’ll say is if you ever go you’ll need a very open mind but. There were people there that for the first time in a long time took me in for no other reason than they were good people. They allowed me the space and time to discover who I was and where I wanted to go. I will be eternally thankful to them and they know who they are.
It also helped that I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery and wildlife on this planet. Being able to walk through a herd of completely wild elephants, so close you can touch them, makes you humble that you can share their space. It put life into perspective with such clarity that only the things that truly matter are important.
So now that I had reconnected with life, I wanted to give something back. I wanted to help people and I wanted my parents to be proud of the person I knew I could be. But I was in the bush in the middle of Africa, which posed a bit of a challenge.
People can spend a whole lifetime searching for their true purpose but mine came quite simply. A very good friend of mine in the UK was a dentist and Maun didn’t have a dentist. It had a witch doctor, but no dentist. My friends had to choose to either fly to South Africa or down a bottle of whiskey and someone would pick straws to extract the tooth with a Leatherman, which is basically an African, beefed up version of the Swiss army knife.
Both options were unfavorable, so one evening it was suggested that I could be Maun’s dentist. It was a light bulb moment. From that moment onwards I knew I wanted to be a dentist and that I would be the best dentist I could be. The calling to help people was so strong I saw no hurdles in my way.
I applied to Peninsula, which was a brand new dental school opening in the South West. I was accepted because I had a degree in chemistry, except this time I was adamant I was going to earn it. I spent the next 4 years of my life dedicated to learning absolutely everything that I could about dentistry. I was like a sponge and I couldn’t get enough of it.
To balance that intensity, in the holidays I would travel back to Botswana to keep that grounding that only the bush can give you. I had many a near death experience but it only made me stronger.
I gained a vocational training position in Bideford, in North Devon and I spent a wonderful year learning what it’s really like in practice without the very sheltered bubble we were kept in while at university. I just loved it even more. I loved the responsibility of the trust a patient puts in you to do the best you can for them. I loved getting to know the patients and their family and not just fixing teeth but making a real difference to someone’s life, if even for a brief moment in time.
The ability to get another human being out of pain, was and still is and always will be sacred to me. I don’t hold that skill though as a tool to impose on anyone, I hold it strangely in a spiritual way to only do good. Sometimes getting someone out of pain can be a stressful situation for all parties involved but I’ve never once shied away from this.
This is my calling and this is my gift back for all the luck I’ve had along the way from all the people that could have given up on me, but didn’t.
To be continued…