1 October 2021 – The Third World As Seen From The Saddle.

There is an old saying that I recently made up that says Zimbabweans will fly in space only when Macheke gets traffic lights. For those who don’t know, Macheke used to be a one-horse-town, until the horse died, just after all the farmers got booted. Well guess what? Zimbabweans are going to space, because Macheke now boasts a traffic light, which will come in very handy just as soon they get some traffic, along with some commerce and industry.

But I digress, back to the Zimbabwe National Geospatial Agency. A.k.a. ZINGSA, the Zim space agency launched early September and has been given the task of boldly going where no man has gone before, apart from NASA, Branson, Bezos, Musk, et al.

Some would suggest that to launch a space exploration agency in a country with 90% formal unemployment, potholes and power cuts, zero municipal water in the capital city for decades, plus a burst sewer pipe on Churchill Avenue that has been burst for over a month is an indicator of government less than grounded. But looking for positives where they are very well camouflaged, being less than grounded is an excellent attribute for those seeking to explore final frontiers, like urban commuter train services for instance.

Also as of September, Harare now boasts an urban commuter train service, launched by another acronym ZUPCO to fill the massive void left by almost two years with no commuter minibuses, after they were banned to protect commuters from the COVID pandemic.

Jenny and I were excited to see the ZUPCO train in the flesh in Mt Hampden marshalling yard last week, but less excited to see it in exactly the same place this week, on account of the fact that it hasn’t moved a metre, because I think the locomotive is broken. And a pity they didn’t have the time or the money to repaint the carriages that last rolled twenty or more years ago. Alas.

The cynic in me though can’t but think that if you ban minibuses to protect commuters from COVID, how do you get off cramming the same commuters on to horribly overcrowded passenger trains. Me thinks the minibus ban had more to do about keeping disgruntled commuters away from the city center when the shit is looking to hit the fan. And the same cynic in me is thinking the space agency might also be tasked with eavesdropping on the same commuters, plus errant bloggers. Alas.

And whilst on the subject of insurmountable problems and steps in the right direction, please be introduced to Janse Grobler, a 78-year-old ex-farmer who is unable to take steps in any direction, because he can’t afford the $14000 needed for a knee replacement operation.

Janse lost his farm, his home and his livelihood during Mugabe’s land redistribution program and as a result cannot even afford pain medication, let alone the operation, the cost of which has ballooned out horribly because the delays have caused the leg to deform. Alas.

Janse approached the Old Legs Tour for help, because he heard we ride bikes to help pensioners in need and because we feel strongly that knee replacement operations for the elderly are a human right, not a lifetime investment that you have to save your whole life for.

When we told Janse, we would start a Go Fund Me page to cover the costs of the op, Janse worried that he would stand a better chance of climbing Mt Everest. Currently $14000 US equals $2. 2 million Zimbabwe dollars, an insurmountable amount of money when you have nothing.

Which gave us an idea. To help Janse raise the $14000 needed, the Old Legs Tour will attempt to climb the equivalent of Mt Everest on mountain bikes in the last 3 days of October.

To climb 8849 meters in 3 days in Harare, we have to climb each of the Ugly Sisters, two very horrible hills in Chishawasha, 13 times per day, for 3 days on the trot. Ouch! Adam and I trained on the Ugly Sisters for the Kilimanjaro Tour. Currently our record for the most times up and down the 2 hills in a day without vomiting stands at 5, so we have to up the ante considerably, pardon the pun.

So far Adam and I have signed up to do the challenge in Zim, and Nik Bellwald in Switzerland, but hopefully I’ll be able to con others to get onboard, including Billy Prentice in California who paddled Mt Everest last week on the ocean, raising a thousand dollars for Janse’s operation.

To get Adam to sign up for the challenge, I had to promise him the best ever views normally associated with being 8849 metres above sea level, plus real live Sherpas, plus possibly snow, but guaranteed no frost bite. Adam has nightmares about Captains Scott and Oats.

Nik Bellwald lives on top of a mountain in Switzerland, so he does best ever views, snow, and possibly Sherpas every morning before breakfast, so he’s doing the challenge for the love of helping others less fortunate.

Please also be invited to also join the Old Legs Mt Everest Challenge on Strava at https://www.strava.com/clubs/oldlegstour. And please support us on https://www.gofundme.com/f/janse-grobler-everest-challenge.

Any funds raised over and above Janse’s target will be directed to the Old Legs Medical Emergency Fund. I have lost track of how many operations the Fund has contributed to in just the last 8 weeks. If the truth be known, we have been overwhelmed by appeals. The need out there on the ground is shocking. We are doing our very best to help each and every appeal and are working through them case by case. If you need help, please bear with us. And if you’d like to help, please allow us to bite your arm off.

Still on the subject of surmounting insurmountable odds, I’m hoping that once they’ve sorted outer space out, the government will come back down to earth and attend to everyday problems, like the backlog in death certificates for example. My mom died on the 7th of August but because of a glitch in the system, the Registrar has not been able to issue a death certificate yet.

We’d planned a ceremony to scatter my mom’s ashes from the same mountain top that we scattered my dad’s ashes 9 years ago, but that is a snag because Zimbabwe’s land borders remain closed, and because a person’s ashes aren’t allowed on an airplane without a death certificate, most probably because of 9/11.

I wasn’t able to delay the family ceremony, plus I didn’t see why mom should have to wait to be with my dad again after so many years. So, what to do? As per the examples above, where there is a will, there is always a way. Strictly between you and me and anyone else who reads this blog, and I will strenuously deny it if ever I am asked questions in the future, I was able to smuggle my mom’s ashes out in a can of shaving foam and we were able to scatter her on top of my dad’s mountain resting place as per plan. My mom would have approved of my choice of containers. She hated my pathetic attempts to grow a beard and loved buying me shaving foam every Christmas.

Our main reason for travelling to Johannesburg was to attend Jenny’s mom’s memorial service. Wow – 2 funerals in 7 days is tough, but both were beautiful, if such a thing is possible, and both moms would have loved them. RIP Bets and Hester, we loved you guys lots.

Whilst In Johannesburg, Jenny and I were able to get Pfizer Covid booster jabs, are now over protected, – Sinopharm x 2, plus Pfizer x 1, plus Ivermectin often. We were so impressed with the vaccination roll-out process in South Africa, it was so organized, with more stewards directing traffic in the queues than there were people queueing up to get the jab. For the life of me I cannot understand those who refuse to be vaccinated. Life is a precious commodity, and every day is a bonus. .

I was also able to hold a copy of ‘Zimbabwe on the road less travelled’ for the first time whilst in Joburg. It is an absolutely beautiful coffee-table book showcasing the best of Gary’s stunning photography, capturing the essence of the 2020 Old Legs Tour around Zimbabwe, plus my blogs, which read pretty good if I say so myself.
Putting the book together has been a labour of love and to see it in the flesh for the first time gave me huge goosebumps. The book will be available in Australia and New Zealand, the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada and the US, plus South Africa and Zimbabwe in November and in time for Christmas.

If you’d like a copy, please contact me on eric@ericgeorgedejong.com. But please don’t tell Jenny, because she’s getting the book for Christmas, and most probably another for her next birthday as well.

In closing, and still on the subject of next year, don’t you just love how this blog flows, we’ve started planning the next Old Legs adventure. Such is the need on the ground, we’re actually planning two adventures for 2022. And woe is me because one of them will involve many, many hippos and even more crocodiles. And hippos and crocodiles top the very long list of things I am absolutely petrified of. Alas.

Until my next blog, stay safe, enjoy, and pedal if you can – Eric de Jong

Pics – Zim in space, the ZUPCO commuter train, the Old Legs Mt Everest challenge, up Mt Everest in a canoe, Mom in a can, and Joce and Cailyn holding the best ever coffee table book, even if I say so myself.

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