We rolled out of Main Camp Hwange National Park on 5 December at about 7.30 am - our little convoy comprising 3 Imvelo Safari Lodges Land cruisers and trailers loaded with 12 Spaniards, 3 Italians, 3 Americans, a  half dozen Zimbos  and about two tons of personal luggage,  dental equipment and supplies, generators and compressors. We were headed towards Lupote Clinic about 25 km up the Vic Falls road.


The day before the 15 dental surgeons of 'Sonrisas para Zimbabwe' and their support staff from Imvelo had performed two free dental clinics - one at Ngamo School near our lodge at Bomani and the other in the clinic at Hwange Main Camp for National Parks staff and their families as part of our annual Mobile Dental Safari that provides free dental care to patients from over 100 remote villages in Matabeleland North.


Started in 2012, the program is one component of our company's efforts within our local communities around Hwange Park and Vic Falls to provide direct benefits from our tourism programs to actually link conservation with meaningful rewards. The Dentists are self funded volunteers who provide their time and expertise and in exchange we let them stay in our lodges and try to enjoy some safari fun in their off time for gratis.


We arrived at Lupote that morning to find Zondo a fellow director and his team already had our marquees up and chairs and trestle tables unloaded. His buses were still on their way in, but we already had over 150 patients in the queue. The previous year our biggest day had been at Mtshwayeli Clinic in Tsholotsho, we had attended 353 patients and there'd only been 50 patients in the queue at kick off. Today was going to be a tough one, we hit the ground running.


Two rooms within the clinic were set up for the dentists - cleaning and sterilization department in one corner, fillings and root canals in another, tools and anaesthetics in the centre and patient chairs around the wall. Waiting room for pre exams  with 40 plastic chairs in a circle under one of our marquees, the other marquee set up as our stores room and rest area for the doctors. Compressors under the window closest to the fillings department, connected to our generator under a tree. Banners, posters up and a quick team photo.  Ipod in the Bose, I recollect we opened with Carlos Santana that morning - and the show starts.


Let me try and paint the picture for you.


A long queue snakes into the pre exam marquee where a nurse at her desk registers each patient. They are then seated in the circle within the marquee where Sergio and Diego perform the pre examinations, administer anaesthetics , annotate recommended procedures and from there the patients are led off by the dentists, one by one to perform their miracles in the cramped confines of that dirty airless asbestos roofed 'surgery'.


Around the corner are Andy, Annette and Samantha  Schatte  - they are bagging pain killers and antibiotics for the patients after their surgery, and making balloon animals. Sam, a Texan who lives in New York dreamed them up for the kids. Balloon animals absolutely make scared kids smile.


Inside in the opposite left hand corner Arantzazu performs her painstaking root canal procedures and Isabel, Natalya, Iria and Carla work on fillings. Around the perimeter of the rooms are the men focussing on the more physical work of extractions - Alfonse, Alberto, Cesar, Dino, Fabio, Ezio, big Juan  and of course Paco, our Wahji Guru - he does yoga every morning.


In the other right hand corner are two 'trainee nurses' cleaning and sterilising bloodied tools, centre stage our two Zim nurses arrange them in a semblance of order and pass them to the  doctors. Outside my guys keep the generators and compressors thumping and gurgling and yell on the radios and cell phones, organising village heads and bus drivers doing collections.  Under a big tree ladies of the village committee prepare sadza and beans over open fires in cast iron pots - enough for 400 servings.


Now into this scene paint in several hundred local villagers male and female of every age and size standing sitting waiting queuing , all this in an area a half hectare in extent.  It's a heck of a show.


Around noon to compound it all, the 40 degree heat built a huge flashing thunderstorm that at 2 pm hit us with a cloud burst that really was biblical in its proportions.


Our team never missed a beat, but by 4 pm every team member was feeling the strain. Each time a dentist  brought a patient out to collect another, they would glance up and look at the waiting line outside - we had already attended 300 patients, but the queue still stretched around the building.


Not a single word of complaint, just words of encouragement, drop a gear, dig deep and keep going.


Two particular highlights spring to mind from that long day - the first was a 22 year old mother named Sikathele with a 6 month old baby. What caught my eye was her Stormers rugby shirt (I of course am a Sharks man) Her front teeth were black and rotten, you could guess how a young woman would look at those in a mirror. I saw Arantzazu and Isa exchange meaningful looks and take over. A solid hour and a half later they had built her two new perfect front teeth. Andy kept her baby entertained so they could focus on their tasks. After a look in a mirror she couldn't stop smiling.


The other was the last patient of the day, again a young mother named Maina who needed multiple procedures both fillings and extractions. It was dark already and all of us exhausted wanted to hit the road so we could get to Gorges lodge where we were staying that night. But,  in a wonderful display of professionalism the whole team worked or waited patiently in the dark until that young lady was fully cared for - no short cuts, no corners cut.


407 patients that day and thousands of procedures under very trying conditions. We knew we had pulled off something incredible. I declared it a world record, don't know or care if it is - it's our World Record.

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