26 October 2022 – The Third World as Seen From The Saddle

The views in this blog are mine alone, and not those of the Old Legs Tour, or our sponsors.

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All about trying to look at pink umbrellas and the bright side of life, despite all the depressing stuff that hurts your head and makes you want to cry.

First up, my apologies, it has been a month since my last blog. When last we spoke, I was down to the one peeper only, on my way to Joburg for a second opinion on the broken one. Long story short, thank God for Joburg eye surgeons.

Short story long; my South African eye surgeon saw me on the Tuesday, despite waiting rooms full to overflowing, and operated on the Wednesday. Apparently, he is one of the best eye surgeons out there. Had I been in his waiting room a week earlier, I would have hobnobbed with AB de Villiers, according to the ophthalmologist who took scans and photos of my broken eye. After seven ops in two years, I am able to spell ophthalmologist all by myself, without help from spell check. I also know the average eyeball weighs 7 grams, measures 74.9 mm in circumference, and comes equipped with 91 million rods, 4.5 million cones. I also know that Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia, but that is by the bye. But I digress, back to my eye.

The ophthalmologist described the inside of my eye as a ‘regte gemors’, Afrikaans for all buggered up. Because their equipment is go-faster and state-of-the- art, they picked up on a hole in the macula, the part of the retina that once upon time allowed me central and fine-detail vision. After looking at the gemors, the eye surgeon said the eye was worth fighting for, plus, if we didn’t fight, he said the eyeball would shrivel up and die and allow me to scare children at 20 paces.

The main difference between eye surgery in Zimbabwe and South Africa, in Zimbabwe, to stop you from running away, they strip you naked and make you walk around in a backless gown with your butt hanging out, before knocking you out with a general anaesthetic, but in SA, you get to keep your shorts on and they only sedate you. Given the size of the South African invoice, maybe they should adopt the Zimbabwean methods of flight prevention. All I can say is ouch.

And when the bandage came off the day after surgery, I still couldn’t see diddly squat out of my buggered eye and flew home disappointed like a nine-year-old who only got socks and underpants for Christmas. It made the invoice hurt even more.

But I am very happy to report that I’ve regained some peripheral vision over the weeks since, and am almost back to where I was previously, which is a million times better than seeing dark. But because of the oil in my eyeball, I now look out through a weird shimmer, like I’m watching life from the bottom of a swimming pool, complete with the odd kreepy krauly, but no girls with bikinis.

There is some talk of removing the oil in January, but quite frankly I’d rather be poked in the eye with a blunt stick than have another eye op.

At this stage I need to thank and acknowledge perennial good guys and Tour sponsors Alliance Health for helping with the invoice. Our Old Legs Tours take us through some rather dangerous scenery and quite some few risks. Alliance Health have our backs throughout, on standby to casevac us out in case of emergency. I could think of no one better to have my back. Thank you, Alliance Health. You guys wrote the book on corporate social responsibility.

Back on the bike, my world is more two-dimensional than previously, although the rocks that I am able to see crisply just before hitting them remain very three-dimensional. Driving in the car the week after the op was the worst. Red robots and pedestrians, other cars and other cyclists ,everything I looked at suddenly went from safely far away to right in my face, causing me to scream like two girls while pumping my brake foot through the floorboards frantically and to no avail, causing Jenny the driver to also scream, and to want to punch me in my good eye. With 20/20 vision, I was a nervous passenger, now I am beyond bad.

I am back behind the steering wheel, driving more mindfully, very aware of my larger blind spot, although my side mirrors would disagree, having already taken a battering. I am now officially the world’s worst reverser.

Apart from being poked in the eye with a blunt stick, Joburg was good, with little sign of the third world status that so many South Africans seem in a hurry with to claim. The Joburg I saw continues busy busy, with rush hours that rush for hours and hours, and with shopping malls on every corner, full of shops and happy shoppers, not shell shocked like in Zimbabwe, with roads and highways that Zimbabweans can only dream about with potholes dodged in a week that I could count on one hand, Thankfully you guys know nothing yet, although your politicians, civil servants and parastatals seem to be in a hurry to play catch up, especially Eskom.

Incredibly, your electricity is far much worse than ours, ditto your Department of Home Affairs.
While in Joburg, I tried to register my mom’s death at Home Affairs and the queues were shocking, full of Zimbabweans, Nigerians and flotsam from the DR Congo, Somalia and every other African shithole out there, all very anxious not to go home. When your Home Affairs queues are empty of foreigners, you’ll know then that you’ve reached third world status.

The medical treatment I received in South Africa was world class. The service at Zimbabwe’s government hospitals is at the very far other end of that spectrum. According to the death register at Harare Hospital, shockingly more than 200 babies died there in the first 2 weeks of September. According to a friend who worked there recently, there are no medicines, no drugs, and no dignity, with expectant mothers left to lie naked on concrete birthing slabs for medical students to gawk at. Alas. Small wonder Zimbabweans flock across the border looking for a health care system that doesn’t kill babies.

And South Africans can expect more incomings, because next year is election year in Zimbabwe, and already the beatings and intimidation have started. Opposition candidates and supporters contesting bye-elections just 30 km outside Bulawayo last week were shot at, beaten with logs and sjamboks, had cars and homes trashed and destroyed, and elderly women opposition supporters were beaten and stripped half-naked. Police from police stations have yet to respond to the reports because they don’t have any vehicles. Fast forward just a few days, and an anti-sanctions march in nearby Bulawayo to protest ongoing US sanctions was heavily policed, with almost as many policemen and police cars as marchers. One man, one vote, but only once. Alas.

Moving on to other news, because too much of this is so bloody depressing, election rigging and discrimination continues rife in New Zealand as I type, after a fat, flightless nocturnal parrot was struck from the ballot as the country is about to vote for their Favourite Bird. Last year’s winner, a long-tailed bat was also missing from the ballot. Obviously anxious to grab their share of world headlines, New Zealand are also set to tax their farmers every time their cows burp and fart. And on the subject of burping and farting, the U.K. have changed Prime Ministers twice since my last blog.

Closer to home and sillier, Air Zimbabwe proudly unveiled the braille version of their in-flight magazine and safety cards in line with Government’s inclusivity policy of leaving no one and no place behind. Currently Air Zimbabwe have 3 planes in service, with an average age of 26.7 years.

And hot off the press from the US, Meghan Markle is proudly 43% Nigerian. When Meghan told other Nigerian women, apparently, they are like “What!” As yet there have been no reports as to whether Meghan has finished working out the maths on Archie and Lilbet. Last but certainly not least, California legalized shoplifting by decriminalizing thefts under $950. What a silly world we live in.

Consequently, I cannot wait to get back on my bicycle next year. Our 2023 Tour to the tropical island of Zanzibar will be epic.

Where exactly is the epic in lolling about under palm trees on golden beaches sipping long and lazy tropical cocktails with little pink umbrellas, I hear you ask. Well, to get to Zanzibar, first you have to pedal 3000 kilometres through some of deepest Africa’s harshest and wildest bush, and then you have to paddle the last 40 km in a flimsy kayak on the open sea, despite having arms that Andrew Walsh would describe as belonging to a typist.

On May 28th, armed with only a Portuguese-English phrasebook and a smattering of leftover Swahili plus a mountain of other kit, Al Watermeyer will lead an Old Legs peloton of 10, plus a support team of 6, out of Harare , aged 74, in the general direction of Mozambique and beyond. Because I have been involved in mapping our route, things could get interesting.

Apparently, the plan is we cross the Zambezi River at Tete, and head into Malawi at Balaka, ride up and over the Zomba plateau, then down to Lake Malawi for our first rest day, complete with cocktails and little pink umbrellas, fingers crossed. Then east to Mangochi, back into Mozambique, north over some mountains around a town called Lichinga, back down to the Lake to Likoma Island for more cocktails and more pink umbrellas, fingers crossed.

Then we plunge back off the beaten track into the vast unknown that is the Niassa Province, home to more mountains, elephants, buffalos and tsetse flies, and not much else apparently, apart from 12000 sable, 350 wild dogs, and assorted lions, etcetera, etcetera. To give you an idea ,the vastness of the Niassa Reserve that we will ride alongside is the twice the size of the Kruger, same size as Wales or Denmark. NB The vast unknown is a geographical term that happens often when I navigate.

We’ll then cross the Rovuma River into Tanzania, ride east for plus minus 600 kilometres, plus minus being another oft used geographical phrase of mine, keeping the iconic Selous Game Reserve on our left at all times, until we hit the Indian Ocean, apparently a large expanse of open water in front of us, and we can’t miss it. NB If we hit the Atlantic Ocean, we’ll know that we have gone horribly wrong somewhere. Also NB, because I was a boy scout, I’ve included Frenchmen Clem Henon and Cedric Breda in the peloton should we blunder off track and end of in Francophone Africa.

Once at the beach, we’ll turn left a.k.a. north to follow the Swahili Coast for 600 kilometres until we hit Dar es Salam, easily recognized by lots of big, tall buildings on our left and to our front, apparently. Thankfully, we remain fluent in Swahili from our Kilimanjaro Tour 4 years ago, provided the conversation doesn’t stray much beyond slow, slow, and hallo.

Another rest day in Dar with more bloody cocktails and pink bloody umbrellas, we will swop bikes for kayaks and paddle the 40 kilometres of open sea to our finish line on Zanzibar Island. Thankfully, there are no crocodiles or hippos in the open sea.

It is a given that we will have much fun on the Zanzibar Tour, and no shortage of epic, but it is the prospect of doing good that will get us out of bed of a morning. Our principal charity on the Zanzibar Tour is the Old Legs Medical Fund, inspired an old chap who unfortunately bled to death on his kitchen floor in Harare’s northern suburbs after a botched DIY amputation of a gangrenous foot, because he couldn’t afford the antibiotics that could’ve, would’ve saved his life.
Alas. We were too late to save that old guy. But in the last 18 months since launching the Medical Fund, we’ve changed and or saved many and more lives of elderly folk who simply can’t afford the medication they need, let alone the operations.

Our interventions are literally life changing, lifesaving, and range from emergency hernia ops to hip and knee replacements and everything in between. In the week that I type, the Old Legs Medical Fund has done a knee replacement op, about to do a hip replacement op, and we’re buying a lady a full set of dentures, because all her teeth fell out because she suffers the dreadful autoimmune disorder, Lupus.

But our waiting lists are almost as long as our road to Zanzibar, and they just got longer. As I type, I have just been told about Joan Harrison who fell two nights ago, breaking her hip and pelvis. She is unable to cover the costs of the hospital let alone the operation. We need your help. Please follow the donate prompts below.

I look forward to introducing you to the Zanzibar team in the weeks and months ahead. Please join us on our adventure on www.oldlegstour.com, and on Facebook, but be warned, we ride slower than paint dries, and paddle even slower.

In closing, Chapeau, salute and respect to Al Watermeyer, Patrick Millar, Paul Taylor, Chris Himonides, Diana Wall and Patch Patchett for their efforts on the epic, soon-to-be completed Great Africa Divide Ride.

And huge thanks to Sally Gordon-Brander and Allana Chicksen-Smith in Toowoomba for their fundraising efforts with samoosas and calendars. Despite being scattered to the corners of the Earth, Zimbabwe remains a village. In recognition of their efforts, we have sent Sally and Alanna each an Old Legs ride jersey, and they are now officially part of the Team.

Also in closing and lest I get into trouble for these ramblings, please note that the views in this blog are mine alone, and not those of the Old Legs Tour, or our sponsors.

Until my next over long blog, stay safe, enjoy and look on the bright side of life where and whenever possible – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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