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This blog is all about Remembrance Day and the need to remember. It’s also about hopefully happy endings, but not the Thai massage kind of happy ending you straight away thought of. Having survived a Thai massage but only just, I know there is nothing happy about the way they end.
A lifetime ago, when I was pure and innocent like tractor driven snow, the word ignorant also works, best friends Eric and Fiona Dawson organized Thai massages for Jenny and me whilst holidaying with them in Thailand. The boys’ massage parlour was separated from the girls by just a hanging sheet. I thought wow, this will take awkward to new levels, with Jenny on the other side of a sheet while I get a real live Thai massage. I was more nervous than excited, and worried about what the hole in my table was for. On his table next to me, Eric Dawson laughed and laughed. On the other side of the sheet, Jenny also laughed and laughed
I was still trying to figure out whether I was supposed to take my underpants off or leave them on, when my world start shaking. My masseuse had arrived. The building shook as my masseuse made her way up the rickety stairs. NB The stairs had been perfectly stable previously but with the masseuse on them, they shook. It was like the scene in Jurassic Park where the water in the cups rippled every time the T-Rex took a step closer, but just more scary.
Before I could escape, my masseuse loomed large, blocking the door, literally. She was huge, dwarfing Eric Dawson’s petite masseuse next to her, and angry with it, like the Hulk. I know she was angry because of things she did to me. First, she shoved my face through the hole in the table, wedging it tight so I couldn’t escape, then she quickly turned me into a flatty chicken, dislocating arms, shoulders and legs, before setting to work on the rest of my body, pummelling me with her elbows, almost breaking ribs with every meaty blow. I screamed for help through the bottom of the bed, but no one heard me over the laughter from Jenny and the other Eric. Thirty years on from that fateful day, and I still walk with a slight limp.
But I digress, back to what passes for a happy ending in Zimbabwe. Because this is a value-for-money blog, I’m going to give you two happy endings, one done and dusted thank God, but the other one is very much hanging in the balance.
In our first happy ending, please be introduced to Roy Whitehead. Born in Kwekwe 1942, Roy was a soldier and a mercenary who fought in wars the length and breadth of Africa. He later went onto became a mechanic, a very good one, when he was sober. Suffice to say, Roy took more than one wrong turn in his life. There but for the grace of God go the rest of us.
For the last 5 or 10 years, Roy has called a workshop in the small town of Karoi home. He has been supported from afar by the members of his estranged family, who used to love him, before he took all those wrong turns in life. Over the years, Roy’s family have bailed him out many, many times. Alas.
Fast forward to the present. In the early hours of last Saturday morning, Roy fell off his bed and broke his hip. A good Samaritan rushed Roy to what passes for the local hospital, who were able to confirm the hip was indeed broken. But being Zimbabwe, they weren’t able to do much else, not even prescribe any pain medication, so they rushed him back to his workshop where Roy lay untreated and in pain for the next 5 days.
I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, but no one deserves that. NB Please take time to look at the video clip of the workshop Roy called home for years, but be warned, it is not cool.
Because it is a small world, unless you’re a dwarf, Roy’s niece Colleen reached out to the Old Legs Tour from a sugar estate in northern Tanzania. Colleen and her husband Chris hosted us when we rode to Uganda in 2021. Colleen was worried about her uncle and asked if we could help? Even though our Old Legs Medical Fund is completely broke, we told her of course yes, no problem, we would do our best to help. And I am happy to say that we were able to tick that box emphatically. We first heard about Roy Colleen on the Tuesday. We got busy reaching out like an octopus and things happened quickly thereafter.
We reached out to Roy’s estranged sons overseas. One of the sons had last seen his father 37 years ago, when he was abandoned, aged 5. Roy did not deserve to have children. All credit to his sons, they had already booked plane tickets to help their father. We reached out to Miracle Missions who found an ambulance to fetch Roy from Karoi. Because I don’t have a workshop in which to accommodate Roy, even though I am an Allan Wilson old boy, we reached out to BS Leon Trust and asked if they would receive and care for Roy, until we could make a plan to have his hip replaced. They told us of course yes, no problem, we can help.
I met Roy shortly after he arrived at BS Leon. He was very confused. He’d gone from a dirty a workshop to a comfortable hospital bed complete with nurses actually nursing him, and he didn’t have a clue how. When he figured out that I was somehow involved, he kept calling me sir. When I told him his two sons were on an airplane on their way to see him, he started crying. When I told him his nieces and nephews were sending money to help pay for his operation, the floodgates really opened. I’m guessing Roy hadn’t cried in twenty or thirty years.
Long story short, Roy arrived at BS Leon on the Thursday, and underwent a successful hip replacement operation on the Tuesday. Huge thanks to Old Legs member Dr Kevin O’Connor for reaching out to orthopaedic surgeon Mr Mageza who said of course yes, no problem, he could operate, and at prices that were chaseable, not arm and a leg expensive. Also huge thanks to Miracle Missions and to the Harvest Church congregation for caring, and for helping make the operation possible. And huge thanks to Roy’s family for being there for him, despite him not being there for them, ever. Despite having been scattered to the corners of the earth, Zimbabwe remains a village.
And Roy’s happy ending gets happier. By the Friday, Roy was safe and sound in his new home at Strickland Lodge in Mutare. Set in in park-like surroundings in quiet, leafy avenues and with caring and professional staff, Roy must think he has died and gone to heaven. But best of all, Roy got to hug it up with his two sons. I could almost want to cry. Man, but I so love happy endings.
My next hopefully happy ending remains very much work in progress. It reminds me of the movie Top Gun Maverick, which unfortunately also remains work in progress for me, thanks to our crappy internet. I got as far as the dogfight football on the beach scene before non-stop buffering intervened and left me hanging. Alas. I am so jealous of lucky fish Mozambique and Nigeria now able to access Elon Musk’s Starlink for just $110 per month. But I can’t see President Ed ever allowing an internet service that he can’t kill with the flick of a switch. Nelson should add Starlink to his list of campaign promises.
But I digress, back to my story similar to Top Gun in that it also involves fighter pilots. But because my story is set in Zimbabwe, the Top Gun connection doesn’t go much beyond that. Please imagine the following story line.
Maverick marries Penny Benjamin. Penny is pretty with legs way longer than Tom’s, she owns a successful bar, her dad was an admiral, and she doesn’t even nag Maverick even though he insists on riding his motorbike without a helmet, so all very easy to believe. Maverick is the real deal, decorated, eventually promoted to Squadron Leader.
After 37 years of stellar service in which he saw much combat, Maverick retires. But instead of living happily ever after, because of government economic stupidity and hyperinflation, he loses his pension, his savings and almost everything he owns. Then Maverick dies, most probably of worry, and Penny is widowed.
Maverick was right to worry because Penny’s sole remaining income is his government pension of ZW$42,000 per month, currently worth US$ 55 on the black market, and shrinking. Penny develops a heart condition, most probably also because of worry, not surprisingly, considering the cost of her monthly medication is US$120. To flog this particular horse to death, Penny has to save every penny of her pension for two months, to buy one month’s medication.
Help from the Public Services Medical Aid is not forthcoming. In desperation, Penny reaches out to Defence Head Quarters for assistance with her medical. She is referred to the Medical Director, then to the Social Welfare department, who break the bad news to her that dependants of members are only entitled to medical benefits for 6 months after a member retires.
Penny’s heart condition worsens, and her cardiologist decides she needs an operation available in Zambia at a cost of $10,000. To flog the already dead horse, Penny will have to save every cent of her pension for 181 months to pay for the operation that will save her life.
Penny’s story is currently playing out as I type. It is so wrong on so many levels. Government won’t fix it, but we can. Thank God Penny’s children are there for her and they have begged and borrowed half the $10,000 needed for the operation that will save their mom’s life, leaving just $5000 to chase. Tom Cruise spends more than that on vanity shoe lifts.
As mentioned, Zimbabwe remains a village. If ever you served in the Air Force, or if you have any affiliation to the flying fraternity, Squadron Leader Colin Bedford was one of yours. If ever you were in a fire fight, praying for a chopper to come and save you, or praying for air support, chances are Colin Bedford was part of the team that answered your prayer.
Please remember him by answering this appeal. More than ever in this country we need stories that have happy endings. Please help us deliver a happy ending to Colin’s wife, Yvonne.
My apologies that no bicycles have featured in this blog, but I didn’t want to detract from the stories above.
Until my next blog, be happy, stay safe, and remember – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong