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  • Writer's pictureNondiarist

A Horseman Called Hammond

Four – A final chapter

Towards the end of 2017, while on a field trip with her husband at Hwange, Sian received a phone call. Hammond’s family had taken him to the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, very thin and unable to eat. Sian and Richard, a wildlife vet, were part of a group fitting radio tracking collars on elephant and they were only able to return to Harare a week later. It was a frustrating and heart-breaking delay because being admitted to the “Pari” was literally a death sentence.

As a hospital it had virtually no function. Absolutely minimal staff struggled to manage the patients with no useable equipment and dire shortages of meds and even food. It wasn’t even clear that they were trying to help. What was clear was that he had cancer of oesophagus. Insertion of a stomach tube could give him a month or two’s grace to sort out affairs for his family but although the hospital staff kept promising the operation it was evident that nothing was going to be done and he was fading fast. He was positive and in good spirits but everyone knew the outcome was inevitable and Sian was determined to get him to better facilities.

The battle to get him released was eventually won when, with the help of the Island Hospice, his family was persuaded to have him transferred to the well-equipped Karanda mission hospital near Mount Darwin, not far from his rural home.

Sian took him back to her home on the day they finally rescued him from the Parirenyatwa, so he could spend the night there along with his wife Judith, his nephew, one of his sons and his old friend Ramson. To travel to Mount Darwin in the hours of darkness on badly deteriorated roads would’ve been a foolhardy exercise. The local surgery provided a nurse and equipment to keep him on a drip both overnight and on the journey the following day.

Sian and Hammond knew it was the last chance they would get to talk like the old friends they were.

“He also had time to sit in the sun with me by the pool late afternoon the day we broke him out of Pari, and was admiring the stone collection along its edge with his Mazowe ones, and asking about all the others. He was SO Delighted to know some were even from Wales near from where my father was born. “Shuwa???” he said, with his deep appreciative laugh. Yes. Literally the stuff of heartbreak. And so it was many times over in those last few days. When Jane and I were at his bedside at Pari he said the ONE THING he’d really like to do was for me to get Nitty and Jane to get Sunlark and him to get Ebony, and to saddle up and go for one last ride together.”

When Sian’s niece, Nina, had taken her toddler Emlyn to visit him in the hospital he’d been emotionally overwhelmed by the exact resemblance between mother and daughter. He had taught Nina to ride.

”Somehow it was both good and poignant to have had that brief time together again, all of us……he I am sure, and certainly we, were somehow glad of it, despite the sorrow. Anyway I bought the porridge and supplies that he may need if they could do the tube op and other general supplies and borrowed a wheelchair, and we all crammed in to Richard’s Landcruiser at dawn. Bless HIM for taking on my causes as a relative newcomer, but he also admired Hammond for all our same reasons. And was emotional himself which doesn’t come easy being a very serious type. So despite looking like the Beverley Hillbillies crammed in like sardines and roof rack bulging Hammond was very alert. And there was much conversation about how stupid farm invasions were and how no good the government is, and reminiscing as always about different people remembered mainly by their horses names!”

Karanda hospital was in danger of being overwhelmed, taking in, as it did, all comers in a country pretty much bereft of functioning medical facilities.

“The specialist was surprised that Hammond stood up and walked. I know now that that was miraculous given he had not eaten for weeks and Pari had only given saline drips and no nutrition of any kind. It was quite literally Hammond’s strength of spirit. We settled him in and he was moved to tears seeing a small case given by Jane with some warm clothes and things to make him comfortable, both in hospital and when he may go home. But when I said goodbye we both knew it was the last time I was on my own with him and could just thank him for being my good friend for all my life, and for the good times in better days, and he the same to me. We both were crying. We had to leave before dark and he was well settled, my team, his wife Judith and son Silence remaining with him, and had all else needed. His heartbroken son called at about 2am the same night to say his father had gone……….his obvious heartbreak was saddest as in my heart of hearts knew at the first ring that he had given up and let go. At least he was almost home. And he had had those who cared around him.”

During Hammond’s final days battling the cancer, the funds donated by friends via Facebook helped to pay for medical fees, for medicines in a hospital with none and to provide assistance for his family. His widow, Judith, still receives as much assistance as can be spared. Surreptitiously. Even now she could be identified as subversive for being seen taking money from white friends or, in a country of man-made poverty and hardship, simply seen as an easy target by anyone noticing that she may have been given anything. Thank heavens for technology and mobile phone apps.

Rest in peace, Hammond. You were well loved by all who knew you, including your horses.

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