Few accounts of high adventure in remote corners of the world present profiles in
altruism, courage, and denial of self in the service of others. The Shimmering Heat is
a rare example that does. The author, born in Kenya of missionary parents and raised in
the remote north of the country at Marsabit, later became a physician at St Thomas's
Hospital in London. In this excellent book. Dr Webster gracefully and seamlessly weaves
memoirs of his childhood at Marsabit and Nairobi with his life as a dedicated missionary
physician in back of beyond areas of Uganda and Kenya. The result is a riveting account
of high adventure through which courses an inspiring altruism and a deep sense of caring
for the African peoples he served.
David Webster's parents, Eric and Ruby Webster, were missionaries for the Bible
Churchmen's Missionary Society (BCMS), a branch of the Church Missionary Society
(CMS) now known as Crosslinks. In the late 1930s they were posted to remote Marsabit
Mountain where Eric had first worked in 1931. This was then one of the most remote
areas of Kenya made famous several years earlier by Martin and Osa Johnson, American
wildlife filmmakers who lived and worked atop the mountain on the edge of a crater lake
which they named Lake Paradise. It was on this mist-shrouded forested mountain,
surrounded by scorching deserts and scrub bush, that the author grew up. Accustomed at
an early age to privation, the dangers presented by disease, climate, wildlife, and warring
ethnic groups, and a role model in his father, he not surprisingly volunteered to join the
BCMS in Africa in 1967, along with his wife Rosemary, a physiotherapist.
Their first bush hospital assignment was at Amudat in north-eastern Uganda among
the Pokot people, where they succeeded in expanding the hospital and developing clinics
that provided medical care to thousands. As the only physician at this outpost, the author
functioned as surgeon, internist, pediatrician, and obstetrician, while additionally serving
as resident engineer, architect, builder, and jack-of-all trades.
With the onset of the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda, life and work at
Amudat became increasingly impossible. Eventually, the Websters moved to Marsabit,
where the author was placed in charge of the Government District Hospital there.
Marsabit was familiar territory for the author. However, much had changed since his
childhood, including the presence of armed groups of Somali bandits that regularly
ambushed vehicles on the dusty tracks far from government posts. David Webster and his
family spent several years at Marsabit during which time he expanded the hospital,
updated the skills of its medical personnel, established bush clinics, and maintained a
close link with the Flying Doctor's Service.
Anyone who is familiar with the old Northern Frontier District of Kenya, where
Marsabit is located, as is this reviewer, can fully appreciate the magnitude of the author's
accomplishments when cast against all of the obstacles and challenges he faced.
He succeeded because of his courage, dedication, self-denial, sacrifice, and an amazing
desire to help his fellow man. After having spent almost a dozen years as a bush doctor
in East Africa, the author returned to Great Britain with his wife and children. When this
reviewer returned to Marsabit in 1977, shortly after the author's departure, his name had
already become legendary among the people he had served so well for so long.
The Shimmering Heat is the splendid story of a medical family that experienced many
unusual adventures in rural areas of East Africa. These adventures were often textured by
physical hardships, disease, failure, tragedy, and disappointment, which the Websters
overcame with faith, commitment, and courage. As a result, this book not only entertains
and informs, but more importantly inspires.