5 October 2020 – The Third World as Seen from the Saddle.
Previously, my benchmark for bad was my golf. I only started playing golf because my boss at the time, Roy Meiring, told me it would be good for business. I was a newly qualified Hotel Manager. I had my doubts how playing golf badly could possibly be good for business, but Roy was the boss, so I went out and invested in an almost complete set of 7th hand golf clubs, with only all the woods and the 4, 6 and 9 irons missing. I also bought a silly Scottish tartan cap so that I could blend in. Almost fully equipped, I cut to the chase and entered the prestigious Air Zimbabwe Open. Most probably because he was psychic, my partner in my four-ball who I did not know, didn’t pitch up. We were playing at the Police Club. At the very last minute, the Club Captain, a retired Police Assistant Commissioner, asked if he could make up the four-ball. I told him sure. Looking to bond, I told him I was also an ex-member. He asked me what rank? I told him Patrol Officer. He asked what handicap I played off. Looking to impress, I bullshitted him that I played off an eighteen. He asked me if I’d score his card for him and he’d score mine. I told him sure.
Using my untrusty 3 iron, I was the last to tee off. My tee shot was powerfully struck, unfortunately in completely the wrong direction, hitting a John Deere tractor parked 50 m to the right of the tee box and eventually ending up on the other side of the car park. It took me another 3 shots to get back to the first tee. And from there on, my game disintegrated.
Citing unavoidable dinner plans, the other two members of our four-ball abandoned me and the Assistant Commissioner after the second hole and plunged on ahead. And then there were just two of us, and our caddies. The Assistant Commissioner started off pleasant, and even tried to fix my many faults, but by the fourth hole, he’d lost any semblance of civility and he only spoke to me using four letter words. Although idiot has five letters.
My caddy on the other hand quite liked me, especially after selling me my tenth replacement ball by the fifth hole. He told me he’d caddied at the Police Club for ten years but said that already I’d taken him to parts of bush that he never knew existed. But mostly I think my caddy liked me because I was able to make the Assistant Commissioner go purple in the face and his veins stick out like hosepipes, especially when I waved a 4-ball playing behind us through on a Par 3 that was more like a Par 11. The Assistant Commissioner was poncing about on the green, anally considering every blade of grass and gradient, when the four golf balls came thudding down from above, narrowly missing him. He went that ballistic I had to hide in the bunker. Up until then, I’d wondered why bunkers were called bunkers. The Assistant Commissioner stormed off to swear and thunder at the members of the four-ball for ignoring etiquette, almost killing him in the process. They told him that his playing partner had waved them through. By the time the Assistant Commissioner found me hiding in the bunker, he’d calmed down to a fit, but my excuse that I didn’t think it humanly possible for anyone to hit a ball that far and that straight seemed to tip him back over the edge. He told me not to wave any more four-balls through. I told him no problem, because they weren’t any other players behind us anymore.
But that was all good, as compared to what happened when eventually we got back to the clubhouse. It was almost dark. We were the last players in by a country mile. While we added up each other’s scorecards in the gloom next to the Leader board, mostly I was panicking about how I was going to be able to buy the Assistant Commissioner a drink, having spent every last cent I had on replacement balls. I was going to have to ask my caddy for a loan, but didn’t think he’d come through for me, especially after not tipping him, on account of me already giving him all my money for spare balls.
The Assistant Commissioner scored me 160, but I think he was being kind. Either that or he’d run out of room on my card. Desperately looking for a happy ending, I was hugely relieved to tell him that by my reckoning, he’d won the tournament and the first prize of two First Class Air Zimbabwe tickets to Athens. The Assistant Commissioner gave a little air punch of triumph and a jump for joy and rushed off to phone his wife to tell her they were off to Greece on holiday. But alas for him, and for me, it turned out, I’d got my arithmetic wrong in the dark and he didn’t win. And worse than that, he got disqualified for cheating for signing off on an incorrect score card. I had to hide in a bunker again until he stopped looking for me.
I’m just thankful that I decided against turning pro, on the grounds that I was really crap at golf.
But my golf career is all good as compared to the politics currently ongoing. Starting with America. You’d think that a Presidential debate between the most powerful man in the world and the wannabe most powerful man in the world would be thought provoking and worth watching, with both men looking to influence ‘on the fence’ voters. But it was more an ill-tempered argument than a debate. Donald’s script writers had him rude, belligerent and bullying throughout. And I don’t think Joe has any script writers. In the week after the media dropped the bomb that Donald paid just $750 in taxes last year, a tenth of what average school teachers pay in tax, the best line Joe could come up with in 90 minutes of being prodded was “Will you shut up, man?” At the end of the debate, CNN were calling it a victory for Joe Biden, but I think Americans would rather have a bully for President, than someone easily bullied. Alas for the Democrats if a 77-year old Joe was the best they could come up with!
And then after ridiculing Joe in the debate for wearing masks in a pandemic, Donald goes and tests positive for the coronavirus just 30 days before the elections. Because he lives in the US and not Zimbabwe, he gets rushed to a hospital where a phalanx of doctors in attendance, all under strict instructions to ignore him if he calls for bleach. Ordinarily, you’d think that would be game over for Donald, but don’t discount sympathy votes. And if you think Donald was cock-a-hoop before, wait until it takes him just days to get better from something he has been calling just a flu all along.
And then next level bad, you have Zimbabwe politics. Let me express it in numbers. The cost of our electricity went up by 50% on September 23rd, and then by another 50% in the first week of October. Either they were trying to soften the blow, or they are also crappy at arithmetic. Bulawayo City Council aren’t as sensitive, and increased rates by 374% one time, whilst the City of Harare increased underground fuel tank storage fees from ZW$1000 per tank per annum to ZW$75000! I’m guessing above ground fuel tank storage fees also went up. How inventive are taxes on underground fuel storage tanks though? First up you create a demand for them by no fuel at the service stations, and then you tax the hell out of them. Too easy.
Continuing in numbers, a minimum wage farm worker in Zimbabwe now earns less in a 26-day month than a Swiss minimum wage worker earns in an hour. True story. $17 a month vs for $25 an hour. Small wonder the Mediterranean is full of boats full of desperate people looking for greener pastures and liveable wages.
To make sure that junior doctors aren’t in those boats, our new Minister of Health and ex-Head of the Army has decided to conscript junior doctors into the army for three years after graduating. North Korea and or Cuba, here we come. Instead of recently qualified doctors emigrating, now they will just defect.
God help us, because no one else is going to. Government looks to have almost finished destroying the main opposition party from within. The government appointed head of the opposition continues to recall duly elected MP’s and councillors, replacing them in Parliament with unelected flunkies, herself included, prompting many, fire and brimstone biblical quotes from the people’s leader of the opposition, plus threats to get radical.
And any hopes for foreign intervention were dashed not once, but twice in the last few weeks. Unnerved no doubt by the prospects of more lawyers, engineers, doctors, teachers, waiters, etc, etc flooding their non-existent job markets, the South Africans were moved to intervene in the Zimbabwe crisis, but the intervening Minister was fined 9 months salary for borrowing an Air Force jet for her unauthorized junket to Zim. I’m guessing we are unlikely to see her or any other South African ministers on a mission to save Zimbabwe again soon.
And then just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. The Americans have asked Zimbabwe to help fight Islamic insurgents currently lopping heads off in the oil-rich north of Mozambique. Not until you drop your illegal sanctions against President Ed and +/- 80 others, said the Zimbabweans. Watch this space for America’s response.
The people bearing the brunt of all this economic stupid are the poor pensioners. A few weeks ago, a lady I don’t know reached out to me on a Saturday to ask if the Old Legs could help a pensioner about to lose his toes to gangrene for wont of intravenous antibiotics, which he couldn’t afford.I told her of course yes, we would help. I was recovering from my first eye op so couldn’t fetch and carry but asked her to direct him to a pharmacy where the Old Legs maintain an account. I checked back on the Monday, but he hadn’t yet collected the medication. And then I had another eye op on the Tuesday and managed to lose track of him thereafter. But then last Monday, I found out that he never made it to pharmacy period, that gangrene set in, and he ended up having his foot amputated, in his kitchen under local anaesthetic, I’m guessing because he couldn’t afford a proper op in hospital with a phalanx of doctors in attendance. Alas. He died from complications a few short days later. I am so saddened, and so angry with myself that we weren’t able to help him on time.
I am also determined to make sure that this doesn’t happen again on my watch. Previously, as the Old Legs Tour, we would ride off on our bicycles once a year to enjoy a best adventure ever, raising a whole bunch of money for our charities in the process, and then just kick back and enjoy, until our next adventure. But clearly in the case of the old guy who died, that’s not enough. So, we have taken steps to bolster the charity side of the Old Legs Tour. We have formed an Old Legs Trust made up at this time of Jenny and I, Adam and Linda Selby, Carl Wilson, Dr Kevin O’Connor and Aoife Connolly, and we’ve tasked ourselves with forming an effective and timeously conduit between the people needing help and charities and donors looking to provide help. To start, we want to focus on the areas that we’ve identified as critical i.e. health and medicines, food and during this coronavirus lockdown period, support and social interaction. If you need help in any of these areas, please contact me and we’ll look to link you to people or charities that can assist.
Please note that whilst our target demographics are pensioners and the elderly, we’ll help where we can. But not Lazarus, the 23-year-old who has been asking me very politely since December to buy him a second-hand car, preferably late model and in good condition. Likewise, if you want to donate to Zimbabwe’s pensioners, anything from your precious time, to cash, to adult diapers, to food, to wheelchairs and walkers, we’ll link you direct to the charities, or to old folk needing help. We will try and get those charities and pensioners more bang for their buck by leveraging doctors, surgeons, hospitals and pharmacies for either pro-bono assistance or meaningful discounts. And with the gentleman who passed away recently in mind, we’d especially like to get a fund in place to deal with medical emergencies.
If you’d like to get involved, or if you need help, please contact me direct or via http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw or through our Facebook page.
In less than 4 weeks, CJ, Bruce, Dave, Dierdre and Ryan start their epic 2400 km ride from Hillcrest to Lambert’s Bay with 34000 brutal metres of climb. This week CJ and co had to brave floods in their training rides, almost having to shift to doggy paddle instead. Because CJ was seen dragging his bum across the bedroom carpet, Bruce has sent to Harare for his veterinary surgical equipment. So CJ, Dave, Deirdre and Ryan won’t have to worry about mastitis, rinderpest or bloat whilst on Tour. They are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please, please support them on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw and follow the donate prompts.
In other news, baby Teagan born 2 weeks ago is now 1.6 kgs and almost big enough to come home. We can’t wait to meet her and hug her. Equally exciting, I’m trying to help Gary sift through thousands and thousands of his photos for his Coffee Table Book, coming in 2021 to a bookstore near you. Watch this space.
Less exciting, I remain off my bike for the next 4 to 6 weeks following my retina reattachment last week. My left eye is now full of oil, apparently to buttress the retina repairs, and can’t do lumps, bumps and corrugations. So instead, I’m stuck on my stationary bike, Root Canal, trying to stay fit And it looks to be working. My resting heart rate on the operating table waiting for my retina op was 51. Plus my ‘riding with no hands’ skills are coming on in leaps and bounds. In other sporting news, Liverpool were narrowly beaten 7-2 by Aston Villa, while Geraint Thomas has just been pipped at the post by 10 minutes on Mt Etna in the Giro. Alas.
In closing, herewith this week’s Cailyn story, mostly for Julius Malema’s benefit. (For those who don’t know, Julius Malema the firebrand South African opposition leader and his followers attacked SA pharmacy chain Clicks for airing Unilever shampoo adverts deemed to be racist because they depicted African hair as dry dull and damaged, while depicting white hair as fine and flat. Because the ads aired while we were on Tour, this might be considered by many to be old news but please bear with me. I am still trying to get my head around people in a developed economy burning shiny shopping malls down in a pandemic over a shampoo advert. Remember, I am bald. Please also bear in mind that previously Malema said he was going after President Mnangagwa and ZANU PF for crimes too numerous to mention, but shifted attention to Clicks instead, because of the adverts, and because Clicks are easy pickings by comparison.)
Cailyn, aged 6 with long blonde hair, told me early one morning she wished her hair was like Nono’s hair. Cailyn was combing her hair at the time, fighting with knots, of which there were many. Nono, aged 8, is Cailyn’s best friend and lives in the farm compound. I asked Cailyn “How come you want hair like Nono?” “Because you should see her in the morning, Eric” explained Cailyn. “Nono just gets out of bed in the morning and her hair is already ready. She doesn’t even have to comb it into dumb ponytails, her hair is just ready and good to go. And even when she gets out the swimming pool, her hair just bounces back. Nono is so lucky.”
I’m telling the story because it is cute and funny and will show Julius that the difference between black hair and white hair doesn’t have to be a big deal. Maybe Unilever’s advertising men were just trying to do their job, which is sell shampoo, and weren’t pursuing evil Aryan apartheid white monopoly agendas. But mostly I want Julius to leave off Clicks, because that’s where I get my Mom’s diapers, and shift focus back on all the bad stuff ongoing in Zimbabwe.
Until my next blog, survive, enjoy and help others less fortunate if you can –
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
Photos below – CJ in the shallow end in KZN , Baby Teagan, me and my reattached retina and just a few of Gary’s photos.