March 21st -The Third World as Seen From The Saddle

Clearly, I have no understanding of geopolitics, but oh, to be a schoolyard bully up against the likes of NATO and Joe

How disappointing has the World’s response been to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Boris Johnson was swift to react to Putin’s invasion by imposing sanctions on 6 Russian banks, 6 out of the 333 Russian banks registered.

The EU were also quick off the mark, slapping sanctions on all things Russian, apart from their oil and gas. The Germans were as quick to block proposals to ban Russia from the international bank messaging system SWIFT, because they want to keep paying the Russians for the oil and gas they continue to buy.

NATO have condemned Putin’s actions at every opportunity, urging him to cease and desist, all the while reassuring him that they will not get involved militarily. No such flies on the US. They rushed in an additional $800 million worth of arms to Ukraine, including 200 shotguns! Prepare to tremble, Vladmir, shotguns incoming! And to put that level of assistance into perspective, the US supply Israel with more than $3 billion in military aid per year, every year.

Even more disappointing was America’s next wannabe President Trump who congratulated Putin on his genius, quote, unquote- “I mean he’s taking over a whole country, a vast, vast, location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, for two dollars’ worth of sanctions. How smart is that?”

And then you have the right-wing press in the US like Lara Logan who have Putin as the good guy in the war for focusing his attack on bio-weapon laboratories and Nazis who’ve been hiding in Ukraine since 1945.

But most disappointing for me was South Africa’s decision to abstain from the UN condemnation of Russian aggression, with the ANC describing the sanctions against the Russians as being over-harsh and Ramaphosa blaming the war on NATO.
One third of Africa, 17 countries in total, including Zimbabwe, also abstained, mostly because they remember AK 47’s supplied long ago with nostalgia, and because dictators stick together, come what may. Alas.

Clearly, I have no understanding of geopolitics, but oh, to be a schoolyard bully up against the likes of NATO and Joe. I wish they would grow some balls. They can take pointers from the lyrics of my new favourite song, Kyiv Calling by the Ukrainian punk rock Belton.

“Kyiv calling to the NATO zone, forget it brother, we can’t go it alone.
Kyiv calling, see we ain’t got the planes, so clear our skies, stop the rockets of pain.
After all this, won’t you give me an air force? Quit holding Putin up and draw another breath.
Come out of neutrality, you girls and boys, we live for resistance.”

Moving on from geopolitics, disappointment comes in many different forms, including pink lycra.
The Old Legs Tour is just 6 weeks away from paddling the length of Kariba in kayaks to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. To prepare for the Crocodile Tour, I rode the Cape Town Cycle Tour last weekend. It didn’t make a lot of sense at the time either.

It was just my third time on the bike in a month and I struggled with the 109 kilometres and 1100 metres of climb, not least of all because of the giant Zimbabwe flags that we flew from our backpacks, Alastair Watermeyer’s idea, not mine.

When struggling on hills, often I only get up them by focusing on distant views in front of me. Whilst labouring up the infamous Chapman’s Peak, I focused on a very pretty girl in pink lycra in the peloton in front of me. She was stand out with long blond hair down to her shapely bottom and I pushed hard to catch up to her. Which sounds lecherous only because it is. Thankfully she was riding slower than me, and I was able to pull level with her before we crested Chapman’s. Bummer, my girl in pink was wearing a beard. After almost crashing during my three double-takes, I told the chap that he was very disappointing, and next time, please could he get a haircut and ride in khaki instead.

What a lot of fun we had on the ride though. I can’t remember when last I enjoyed as much banter on a bike. We rode with CJ Bradshaw from our partner charity the M’dala Trust who do so much for so many Zimbabwean pensioners. We especially enjoyed with all the Zimbabweans along the route, of which there were many, all clapping and cheering us and our Zimbabwe flags on, even though we rode slow like paint dries.

Alastair’s flags were an inspired choice, despite headwinds sometimes gusting at 30 k.p.h. We yearned for tailwinds, but on the few occasions when they did kick in, they were almost as bad as the headwinds, because of the gusting. Come the tailwind, our flags would fly proudly straight out in front of us, until the gusting stopped, whence upon we would have to contend with a face full of flag. Suffice to say, we caused more than a few anxious moments in the busy peloton.

Towards the end though, we learnt how to spinnaker our flags in the tailwinds, and enjoyed brief bursts of speed, as much as 20 k.p.h. at times. And unlike Jenny, I resisted the urge to cannonball headfirst over my handlebars.

If only we were able to deploy spinnakers on our kayaks on Kariba, but apparently that would be construed as cheating, like sandpapering your balls in cricket.

I continue to struggle in my kayak. My longest paddle to date has been just 24 kilometres. It took us 5 hours 20 minutes, albeit in big waves with a headwind. By the end, my arms were cramping badly, rendering me unable to brush my teeth, other than by moving my head from side to side. In just 6 weeks, to meet our daily targets as per our route pictured below, I’m supposed to paddle plus minus 30 kilometres a day, every day, for 12 days, into bigger headwinds and bigger waves.

Previously, my biggest worry were the crocodiles and hippos we will encounter, but they’ve been overtaken by worrying about the physicality of the challenge in front of us, and by the waves and the wind.

I’ve been able to shelve my crocodile and hippos fears largely because we have a seventh paddler on board, a paddler who knows what he’s doing. Meet Greg Hall, aged 49 and who has lived in Kariba most of his life. Greg owns and runs a kapenta fishing business. A father of 2, Roy Lardner Burke aged 22 and Ryley aged 13, Greg enjoys kayaking, sailing, paramotoring, and fishing on the uniquely special lake that is Kariba.

Most importantly, Greg knows what to do when you encounter crocodiles and hippos in your kayak. He is set to become my best friend, and I expect that he and I will be inseparable, provided I can keep up with him.

Keeping up with Greg at this stage would seem highly unlikely. I still have arms like a typist and zero paddling technique, and unfortunately kayaking is all about technique. But I am working hard at picking up almost heavy things and spend hours and hours on You Tube watching other people make paddling look easy.

I also receive hugely valuable advice from Dave Kennedy in South Africa. A veteran of about a million Dusi Canoe Marathons, Dave watches my progress closely from afar, and is always on hand to correct my bad habits before they develop. He picked up that I have started paddling, was quick to tell me to lose the gloves in favour of drip rings fitted to my paddles, and he also said I should toughen my hands up by weeing on them before I paddle. Which presents me with a dilemma as I want to try keep my bladder as full as possible on Tour lest any of my teammates get stung by jellyfish.

We are paddling Kariba to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Such are the conditions on the ground for the pensioners, when we finish paddling, we’ll swop kayaks for bikes and pedal 3000 kilometres to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast in July.

Adam Selby is ride captain on the Skeleton Coast.
Looking to squeeze some more epic into our route, he and Linda embarked on a reconnaissance mission of our Day 1 and 2 legs this Saturday past. They left Harare bright and early at 05.30 and after a delicious breakfast at Saucy Sue’s in Lion’s Den, possibly the real reason for the reconnaissance, they plunged into the vast hinterland that is Gokwe, heading west for Nembudziya. Adam and Linda limped out and into Kadoma well after midnight, in a commuter omnibus.

Opening the door to competitive banter from Toyota and Nissan enthusiasts, Adam was able to get his Land Rover well and truly stuck in the mud, eventually being rescued by a farmer with a span of oxen. They went on to puncture multiple times, destroying yet another wheelrim in the process, Adam goes through wheelrims like I go through jelly babies, and was eventually forced to abandon the Land Rover 20 kilometres from Kadoma, and chartered a commuter omnibus in the middle of nowhere to take them to a hotel in Kadoma, arriving well after midnight. Not to fan the Toyota vs Land Rover debate flames, apparently their commuter omnibus was a Toyota.

But all is well that ends well and they were able to recover the Land Rover the next morning and arrived back in Harare just before lunch. Adam says he enjoyed the best adventure ever and is excited to incorporate his route changes, but Linda says she stopped enjoying it at midnight. We could be in for the longest 3000 kilometres ever in July.

But easily our most epic endurance event planned for 2022, over and above the Crocodile Tour and the Skeleton Coast Tour is our forthcoming Old Legs Operation Marathon, in which we hope to help 12 pensioners with life changing hip and knee replacement operations before August. After waiting for years, some of our intended recipients have long ago given up hope of ever walking again. For example, please be introduced to Gayle.

Gayle, not her real name, is 66 and has had more than her fair share of tough, but you’d never know that to meet her. She is one of those happy people, always smiling, never complaining. She was a junior schoolteacher for 24 years and would have been one of those teachers that always got the apples. Bummer, that she didn’t get a pension. After retiring, Gayle had to carry on working as a part time teacher to sustain herself and her family.

Gayle’s parents were civil servants who bought a small farm in their retirement but lost it in the farm invasions and they spent their last years living with and being looked after by Gayle. Gayle lost her husband to cancer 12 years ago. They had 4 children. Their eldest son developed a brain tumour when he was 15 and is blind and is in a wheelchair as a result. Gayle’s son-in-law is also visually impaired after also suffering a brain tumour 5 years ago and is now unemployable. Her other children live abroad.

Gayle is no longer able to do part time teaching because her knees have gone. Because of the pain of bone on bone, Gayle she cannot stand for long periods, or walk any distance. She misses golf and tennis hugely and is forced to watch very carefully to avoid placing extra stress on her failed joints.

Gayle has remarried her best, longest standing friend. He has a semi-retirement job as a caretaker of a residential estate in the Eastern highlands. Along with her four grandchildren who are the light of her lives, the mountain vistas and beautiful views sustain Gayle and keep her sane, but she so wishes she was still able to walk them. Gayle got a quote for the replacement surgery needed, but it is so far beyond her means, she is resolved to never walking again without pain.

After a life of giving to others, the Old Legs feel strongly that is payback time for Gayle, and we want to give her a new pair of knees. Joint replacement for the elderly is a human right, not something you should save your life for. Gayle is one of 12 on our waiting list, but there are many, many more. Hence Operation Marathon.

Because Zimbabwe is a village in which we have each other’s backs, surgeons and doctors, hospitals and nurses have pledged to help us make Operation Marathon happen, but we will still need a bunch of bucks to make it happen. Please help us, help others and follow our donate prompts in the weeks and months to come.

In closing, a happy ending story confirming Zimbabwe’s village status. 6 weeks ago, we introduced you to Tex, the 83- year-old tough guy who needed an emergency hernia operation a year ago. Tex was also needing a new bicycle because some swine stole the Buffalo bicycle that Tex was reliant on to get in and out of Chiredzi town for shopping.

Thanks to the medical staff at Karanda Mission, we were able to get Tex’s hernia sorted. And now thanks to Monty Montgomery, we were able to hand over to Tex a brand-new Buffalo bicycle. Tex sent me the following message – “Hi. Eric. Came up to our feedlot office and lo and behold my new buffalo bike is waiting for me to ride home. Eric, thank you and your friend Monty very much. It will remind me of you every time I ride it. Otherwise, I am progressing very well but still taking it very easy as I do not want to create another hernia problem for myself. Will keep in touch. Best wishes and regards – Tex.”

I love helping old guys like Tex. Thank you Monty, and God bless.

Until my next blog, pedal and or paddle if you can, but please don’t be offended if I don’t shake hands with you – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below – flying the flag in Fish Hoek, the Crocodile Tour route, Greg Hall in his office, Adam and Linda in the Gokwe hinterland, Tex as pleased as punch on his new bike, and V.I.P. on how to donate to Operation Marathon.

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