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Pole to Pole

Day 108: Kigoma to Mpulungu

Mpulungu, Zambia 
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First taste of Zambia: Dr. Baela at work in Mpulungu.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleBaela's acolytes brusquely remove the victim's watch, then tear off his shirt and make a series of marks on his body. A curved horn with money tied to its base is placed on his head and a basket with a white cloth in it passed three times around him. Two young men - boys really - step forward, and with grubby razor blades make incisions on his neck and shoulders. Thin lines of blood ooze to the surface. He's questioned, but looks blankly back, and is then cut across the forehead. Some powder is rubbed into the wound which makes him start back. He is held still, his trousers are rolled up and cuts are made on the outside of his knees and toes. On the wall behind him is a text in a faded frame - 'True Love Never Ends'.

The bleeding victim is rubbed with polish and left in his corner while Baela and his gang disappear outside to be interviewed by the BBC.

Dr Baela's eyes freed from the goggles are red and watery, he smokes a very wide cigarette and his voice is a high-pitched sing-song. I ask him if he can tell if I have any evil spirits and he, through an interpreter, concludes that I have what is translated as an 'evil shadow'. It is the shadow of a woman.

In his curiously hypnotic monotone, Baela asks if the woman he is seeing is my wife. I ask him to describe her.

His reply, 'Is not tall, fat a bit', lets Helen off the hook, but only adds to the confusion. Dr Baela goes on to say that my life could be in danger and things of mine will be stolen, but that he can give me medicine which will 'drive out' any evil influence.

It all seems slightly laughable when written down, but Baela, who describes himself as a healer, not a witch doctor, has had some success in the village, and being surrounded by a couple of hundred people who believe every word he says is unsettling enough for me to take my shadow and his medicine more seriously than I'd expected. His prescription is a piece of tree bark which he gives me from a suitcase, with instructions to cut, pound up and wash with it, in a private place, saving some to place in each nostril.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 108
  • Country/sea: Zambia
  • Place: Mpulungu
  • Book page no: 246

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