Not a day goes by during veterinary school that I do not forget my times spent in the bush of Southern Africa. I can still hear the sounds of the morning arising in my head. Here, in the US, we hear crows (Corvus americanus) and American robins (Turdus migratorius) break the morning silence with their songs. We are even hearing red-winged blackbirds now in upstate New York. But every now and then, my mind strays back to where it once lived. It seems like a dream sometimes, but it is a reality for many people. The sounds of Guinea fowl break the morning silence with their loud cries. Southern yellow-billed hornbills (Tockus leucomelas) and grey louries (Corythaixoides concolour) join the morning symphony, raising their voices as that red sun shows its beautiful head over the horizon and illuminates another day. There are no groggy mornings in the bush. You wake up as a part of nature, right next to all of its other moving parts. It reassures you of the natural world’s genius, and of its grand design. It makes you question what happened. What hideous depths did the disconnect arise from? What allowed it to take hold?
I think back to places I slept and ate in the most rural parts of Botswana. We had to walk a mile to get some water from a pond, and we had to further filter and boil that water before it was safe to use. The bathroom came in the form of a 7-foot-deep hole. The shower was a plastic bag filled with water, warmed throughout the day, and with holes punctured in the bottom when you were ready to bathe. The only power available was through a small solar charger, and we used this to run a computer to record data every day from the wildlife counts we were completing to help the government with a wide-scale conservation study.
I think of these places often when I am operating in the first world, and even more so when I am in a first world veterinary school. Lights are left on throughout the school to light rooms occupied by nobody. I consider what this energy usage would require in terms of human work and effort in a place like rural Botswana. Cutting-edge machines are brought into our class to aid in learning, only to find that half of us find little value in their use. Many people hardly know how to operate them. I think about what these machines would mean in a place like rural Botswana. The effort to acquire them would be great, and their use would be groundbreaking. Here, their presence is a distraction from our learning. I consider them not to be necessary, yet they are still purchased. This is the disconnect. I cannot pinpoint its source or its purpose, but I know it is here. Perceived progress just for the sake of progress is the ideology of the cancer cell.