It might seem a strange subject for a San Juan Capistrano resident to be writing a book about: the deadly tsetse fly, the African creature that gives death-dealing sleeping sickness to many of those it bites.
“I’ve kept a diary of all my experiences in Africa,” said Frank Lambrecht, 73, who spent most of his life researching insect-borne diseases, including that carried by the tsetse fly. Six years ago he decided to settle in San Juan Capistrano to write the book.
Currently a research associate at UC Irvine studying South American insect-borne diseases, he continues to “love the work” but feels his life’s work was shortchanged.
“When a person reaches the age of 60, the World Health Organization feels he no longer is qualified to do field work,” he said, and disagrees with that stand. “I didn’t feel 60 years is an unfit age to do that type of work.”
The attraction to his life’s research remains despite the arduous and sometimes dangerous life he had in Africa. In his early recollections, he wrote an article titled “Thicket Vignette” that illustrates his difficult life:
“Many times have I squandered hours sitting inside a thicket in the vast savanna of the no-man’s regions between Rwanda-Burundi and Uganda-Tanzania. The afternoons were hot, the air seemed to lack oxygen, insects were crawling freely inside my shirt and leggings, perspiration dripping from my brow into my eyes, to the great delight of the gnats that gratefully sipped the salty moisture.”
Lambrecht said he has been bitten many times by the 20 different varieties of tsetses, “but I have been lucky. I’m apparently immune to most of them,” he said, noting that most wild animals in Africa are also immune.
However, domestic animals such as cattle are not immune, and “therein lies one of the problems in Africa,” he said. “That country has wonderful grazing land, but the presence of the tsetse prevents a large part of the grazing land from being used.”
His adventures in Africa will be documented in the partly scientific and partly biographical book called “In the Shade of an Acacia Tree,” which will be published at year’s end by the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia.
A photography buff, Lambrecht spent much of his free time photographing the people of Africa whose tribal life, he said, has not been changed for hundreds of years. “I always had a camera in my hands,” he said. He recently showed some of his photos at a public display in the San Juan Capistrano library.
Lambrecht and his wife, Dora, who have been married for 50 years, decided to settle in San Juan Capistrano while he continues to write. Another book describing their life in Botswana, a country north of South Africa, is nearing completion.
“When I would read my diary, it made me remind myself of all the things I did and the experiences I had,” he said. “Every day to me was like a new adventure.”
One of these days Noel Trout Jr., 21, of Irvine hopes to become a teacher in an inner-city school.
However, Trout was raised in Irvine and knows little about the tough life many students live in those environments, so he plans to find out by living in a Philadelphia housing project this summer with a family of 10.
He said he will have $8 a week for food and expenses. “I suppose I’ll eat a lot of pasta and rice,” he said. “I have to find out what it’s like to live with someone who doesn’t have anything. “
Trout, who attends San Diego State University, said he has to find out “if I can adjust culturally enough to handle something like this. I know in my heart I want to help people.”
Trout, who ultimately would like to be a missionary, said he needs to live with a poor family to understand its plight. “It would be a contradiction to live better than the people I want to help,” he said.
Acknowledgments--Garden Grove Elks Lodge No. 1952 presented $3,000 to the Garden Grove Unified School District special education office to provide transportation for severely handicapped students at Mendenhall School and Jordan Learning Center.