When Rosendo Ayres Ribeiro arrived in Kenya in 1898 from Goa, there were no private practitioners in the country. Pitching a tent along White House Road, today the Haile Selassie Road, Ribeiro quickly established a residence and practice on the very spot the White House Bakery would stand years later in the 50s.
As history would have it, this would not be the last time Dr Ribeiro would enjoy being first. In fact, he had a streak of such groundbreaking moments quite often. He, for instance, was the first to diagnose the deadly Bubonic Plague between 1900 and 1902 in Kenya. He also invented a malaria drug which was patented and sold to an international pharmaceutical firm.
But perhaps the one first he is well remembered for was his peculiar habit of making house calls on the back of a zebra! In those days, there were no cars and horses were highly susceptible to equine fever so he bought a Chapman zebra in 1907!
Chapman zebras were crossbred with horses to breed fever-resistant mules. Dr Ribeiro was known to ‘park’ and tether his zebra to a post outside the Goan Institute along Juja Road which he helped found.
Decades later, he sold his zebra for RS 800 and acquired a one-of-a-kind American, black stretch limo in which he would be chauffeured with his wife, Margarida, to St Francis Xavier Church in Parklands for mass.
The doctor later relocated his clinic and residence along the Indian Bazaar, today’s Biashara Street. The then British administration, in an overzealous move to curb the raging Bubonic plague, razed the whole of the Bazaar to the ground.
Nothing was left standing, including Dr Ribeiro’s house and practice. The British government later compensated him with another plot along Victoria Road, now Tom Mboya Street, where he started over.
Finally, in 1951 in London, at the age of 80, Dr Ribeiro, the Doctor on a zebra, as he was popularly known, passed on, leaving a legacy that lives on to this day. He rests at the City Park Cemetery.