29 November 2022 -The Third World As Seen From The Saddle

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Because this is a sporting blog, I will kick it off, pardon the pun, with the World Cup Football, a.k.a. We All Fall Down.

The Soccer World Cup remains a big event in our house, only because of Dan. He is a huge England supporter and is pleased and relieved that Harry Kane is better looking than Wayne Rooney. Dan believes very strongly that the Universe is less likely to allow an ugly man to lift the trophy.

And because Harry Kane is also quite good at scoring goals, he feels that this is the year that England get back to winning ways. Finally, the cup is going home, he told me. But following disappointing performances in the 70,74, 78, 82, 86, 90, 94, 98, 02, 06, 10, 14, and 18 campaigns, he is also supporting Japan, Spain and Korea, either North or South, whichever one is there, just in case. And he’s also asked me for half shares in Holland if they make it to the final, and one of his teams don’t.

Because Jenny is still deeply embarrassed by the way Neymar flopped around on the ground like a fish whenever a defender went near him 4 years ago, her Brazil scarf is still stuck in the very back of her cupboard. Shame, Neymar will have his work as an actor cut out for this World Cup, flopping around on the ground in front of fans stone-cold-sober.

Which brings us on to the subject of beer. Don’t you love how this blog flows. I still cannot get my head around a World Cup with no beer, ditto your average English supporter. How do you go about drowning your sorrows in goat’s milk? And how do you join in a Mexican wave stone-cold-sober?

The No Beer at the World Cup sucks, but to delay the decision until just 2 days before kick-off takes incompetence, callousness and corruption to the next level. First, FIFA charge their perennial sponsors Budweiser $75 million for the privilege of being the only beer brand in Qatar, or not, as it turns out. Then they wait until Budweiser have sea-freighted a veritable ocean of beer from across the world, they wait some more until Budweiser have rented enough refrigerated warehousing to house the ocean, they wait some more until after Budweiser have trained up an army of 6000 barmen to serve the beer with the requisite two fingers of head, etcetera, etcetera, and then they break the awkwardly bad news, sorry chaps, but you can’t sell beer. It is enough to drive a man to drink, and not alcohol-free beer either, which FYI is as pointless as condoms with holes in them.

But hats off to Budweiser, instead of crying in their beer, they’ve hatched a masterful recovery plan whereby they will ship the ocean of unsold beer to the country that wins the tournament, unless of course Iran or Saudi Arabia win. Although the chances of Iran pulling off a win are slim after their players had families threatened with torture and imprisonment by specially imported members of the Revolutionary Guard Corp if they don’t sing the national anthem loud and proud.

Poor the beautiful game. Team captains have been threatened with yellow cards if they dare wear One Love armbands that champion the subversive concepts of inclusion and diversity, yet England are allowed to continue to take the knee because of George Floyd, but not one mention of the 15021 dead migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as per Amnesty International estimates, although the Qatari World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, reliably inform us that there have been just 3 work-related deaths in 12 years.

Poor the beautiful game. And all because Sepp Blatter version 2.0 and other FIFA fat cats took the money and dumped the World Cut in the middle of a desert where people drink goat’s milk, not beer.

Moving on to a more momentous and meticulously planned sporting event, the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour.

In the middle of crucial route planning, our preparations were almost derailed when we hit a snag of ‘No Beer’ proportions, but thankfully we’ve been saved by a dug-out canoe on Google Earth, true story.

Because we like to ride on roads less travelled, we are routing to Zanzibar via the Mozambique side of Lake Malawi, apparently that remote, there is every possibility that we’ll bump into what is left of Amelia Earhart.

We are detouring via a very small town called Cobue on the strength of Google’s promise of a halcyon paradise and unparalleled tranquillity, and also long, tall cocktails with pink umbrellas as promised by me.

There had better be cocktails with pink umbrellas, because to get back out of Cobue we have to ride over the Livingstone Mountains, which includes a brute of a climb with a 28.5% gradient! Not even the Tour de France can count that high!

And then we have to contend with the snag of No Beer proportions, the R1206 border road. The R1206 runs the +/- 140 kilometres from Cobue to the Mozambique /Tanzanian border, but not to the actual official border post itself, i.e. the one with customs and immigration and with an actual bridge over the Rovuma river, which by the way is full of crocodiles apparently. That border post is a further +/- 10 kilometres east, with the slight convenience of another river in between, the Messinge river, which does not come equipped with a bridge, but does come fully equipped with crocodiles, apparently. And to get onto the border road that actually goes to the border post with the bridge from Cobue, we’d have to backtrack almost to Lichinga, an extra 400 kilometres, a.k.a. 4 days by bike or 10 hours by vehicle.

A border road that doesn’t actually go to the actual border. We were numbed by the enormity of the cockup. It was huge, big like a World Cup without beer. It was like FIFA had been involved in the planning of Mozambique’s road network.

We sulked like sober English football fans, until Angus Melrose pulled a rabbit from the hat. As per the photo below, Angus was able to find us what appears to be a fully functional dugout canoe on the Messinge on Google Earth. Panic averted.

The amended plan as it stands now is the cyclists will ride the R1206 border road, from Cobue to the border without the border, then we’ll bushwhack to the Messinge River, find the ferryman with the dugout, pay him an exorbitant fee to hop us and our bikes across the river, another short bushwack to the border road that actually goes to the border post, where we’ll meet up with the support vehicles, who will have taken the 10-hour scenic route via Lichinga. What could possibly go wrong? Watch this space.

I am so excited at the prospect of doing next-level epic. And it doesn’t get much better than doing epic with 2 of my oldest, best friends, Brian Goodman and Pete Brodie.

Growing up, Brian’s surname was camouflage for a naughty streak a mile wide. Back then, his camouflage didn’t work very well, and Brian gave his mon and every other mom grey hair. Brian was the kid that made your mother threaten you with grounding until death, if she caught you playing anywhere near him.

Fast forward more than forty years, and Brian’s camouflage works slightly better, and at first glance, he comes across respectable. Herewith Brian’s heavily abridged biography.

He was born in Luanshya Zambia in 1956 and educated at Que Que High School. He did a telecoms apprenticeship in Zim, got married to Di, and son Chris was born in 1979. The family moved to South Africa in 1982 where Brian continued in the telecoms industry, and he was part of the evolution of the mobile phone system in South Africa. Daughter Kate was born in 1984. In 1998 the family emigrated to the UK where he continued in the mobile telephone industry. In 2016 Brian retired from telecoms and moved back to SA to be near grandkids Kai, Harper and Harry. In South Africa, Brian now works on new build and renovation projects in the Kruger and private game reserves. NB Brian’s wife Di has grey hair, as do his children Chris and Kate.

My friendship with Pete Brodie dates back to the same era. Born and educated in Bulawayo, Pete first took cycling up as a sport aged 15 and he went onto represent Zimbabwe at both junior and senior levels. My money is on Pete to arrive in Dar es Salam ahead of me.

Pete and I met in the Police force and served together in the back of beyond. Pete met Cate in 1980 and they married in 1982. I was best man at their wedding, and possibly delivered a damn good speech, but can’t remember.

Pete enjoyed a stellar business career, first with UDC and G&D Shoes, then with Advance Wholesalers, before crossing over to retail, opening 3 Spar supermarkets before immigrating to Australia in 2003 with Cate, daughter Sabine and sons Sebastian and Jordan.

The Brodie bunch settled in Perth and have ended up back in the supermarket business, owning and operating 2 IGA supermarkets. Sabine, Seb and Jordan work in the family business, allowing Pete and Cate to effectively retire, allowing Pete to get back on the bike.

Pete launched the Old Legs Tour Down Under in 2021 and pedalled 2030 km from Perth to Albany on the iconic Munda Biddi trail to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.

Gripped bad by the ‘Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic’ bug, Pete also rode the Skeleton Coast Tour in July 2022. Famously on that Tour, Pete allowed Adam Selby to operate on his badly infected big toe with a 400-watt Milwaukee power drill, which delivers 500in-lbs of torque at 1800 rpm.

And then when he got back home, Pete warmed down with another edition of the Munda Biddi trail. Like I said, Pete has been infected by the Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic bug real bad.

I am hoping that Pete’s infection doesn’t go away anytime soon. Conditions on the ground in Zimbabwe are such that the Old Legs Medical Fund continues to be overwhelmed.

But before I get into that, because of unforeseen circumstances, it is looking like we will have vacancies for 2 riders in our peloton. If you want to join us for the best adventure since your life, please be invited to send me a letter of motivation for consideration by our selection committee. NB Please note that I am not a member of that committee, so it is pointless trying to bribe and corrupt me, ala FIFA.

Back to the worsening conditions on the ground. We received an emergency appeal for help on Thursday last week from brothers Fanie and Louis Triegaardt, formerly of the Chegutu (Cloven Hall) farming district. The Triegaardt brothers are proud men, and rightly so. Their dad was a master farmer who started with nothing, and through much hard work and good business sense, built the family farm into a successful model farm. But during Zimbabwe’s land grab, success was a huge target on your back, and the Triegaardt family got booted off their family farm and life’s work with only a few treasured possessions, and their pride.

Fast forward 20 years to last week, Mrs Triegaardt now widowed and aged 88, is rushed to the hospital after  consultation with a heart specialist.  She was in heart failureand placed into an excellent hospital in Harare for observation. Ten days and seven thousand six hundred dollars in hospital and specialist physician fees later, having confirmed that Mrs Triegaardt had indeed suffered problems breathing and would need an oxygen concentrator going forward if her symptoms recurred. Mrs Triegaardt could be discharged from hospital, but not before the hospital bill was settled in full.

Which was a snag of ‘No Beer’ proportions, because the Triegaardts do not have $7600 lying around. They work harder than any man should, just to survive, and do not have $100 spare, let alone the money needed to spring their mom from hospital. And NB, their mom’s hospital bill would continue to grow at $760 per every extra day, until they found the money needed to get her out of hospital. Catch-22, Zimbabwe style.

Fanie and Louis were able to borrow $3000 of what was needed and phoned the Old Legs out of sheer desperation for help with the remaining amount.

Alas, having paid for a hip replacement operation on the Monday, and with another 3 hip replacements to pay for in the weeks ahead, the Old Legs Medical Fund is down to $450 left in the kitty. Which I paid across to the hospital, and signed as guarantor for the balance, and Mrs Triegaardt was duly discharged.

The hospital has given us 2 weeks to find the balance of $3150. Plus, we have to find another $1000 for the specialist and $3700 to pay for a backup power supply for the oxygen concentrator, because they don’t work so good when there is no power, which is pretty much all day, every day in Harare currently, but more of that later.

Back in the day, not so long ago, the Chegutu farming community was a close, tight-knit community. I’m hoping they have remained tight-knit, despite having been scattered to the corners of the earth, and I hope that enough of them out there read and heed this appeal, otherwise I’m going to have sell either Wallace my dog, or my bicycle to pay for the hospital. Anyone wishing to donate to Mrs Triegaardt’s hospital bill, please contact me for the account details.

NB Please note that I am not criticising the hospitals or doctors above in anyway. They are in business and have to charge for their services. It just so sucks that we live in a country where the public health facilities have collapsed to the point of no medicine, no drugs, no bandages, no hope. Alas.
And it is set to get worse in the months ahead. According to social media reports too numerous to mention, the Zimbabwean side of Lake Kariba is at its lowest ever level, and they have no option but to stop generating power. And with any meaningful runoff from the rains still months away, Zimbabwe will have to rely on the coal power stations, which are unfortunately all buggered through no maintenance, which unfortunately means we’re also all buggered.

The Zambians, however, still have lots of water left and will be able to continue generating no problem. Apparently, the difference being Zimbabwe have squandered their share of the water by installing crappy, very inefficient ‘Made In China’ generators that produce minimal power for maximum water. I have no doubt that corruption was involved at a scale that FIFA would be proud of. If only Chinese equipment worked as well as their viruses. Alas.

Moving on to matters more positive, I am happy to report that Yvonne Bedford’s heart operation has been booked for the 9th of January, and in Zambia, so electricity won’t be an issue. (You’ll remember Yvonne’s late husband Colin was a Squadron Leader in the Airforce.)

Huge thanks to N Fotheringham, the Air Forces Association of Zimbabwe Australian Branch, Vaughn Smith, Louise Hughes, Brandon Yeadon, Liam Humphries and others too numerous to mention for making it happen. N.B. If you were teetering on the edge of a donation, please un-teeter, because we are still $3000 short for Yvonne’s operation as I type.

I would especially like to thank Dave Orner and his friends who support his wonderful ‘A Pint For A Pensioner’ initiative, the proceeds of which all go towards the Old Legs Medical Fund. Please follow and support them on Facebook.

In closing, a bicycle story. A young Englishman by the name of Jake who is riding his bike from Cape Town to Nairobi, recently reached out to me for looking advice on routes. My first advice to him was better to look to someone else for advice, lest he end up in Senegal.

Jake was looking to avoid Mozambique, because the Mozambique embassy in Harare had told him it would take them 30 days to process his visa request because of Covid, most probably because of the coronavirus crisis. Plus, they wanted to charge him $100 for the privilege of cycling through their country.

I told Jake that Zambia would be a more user-friendly option because British tourists no longer require visas to enter. But where to enter? Chirundu is a non-starter because if you ride on the highway from Harare, you die. Riding through Vic Falls also wasn’t an option, because Jake had just ridden in from there on his way from Cape Town, and hates riding the same road twice. Which left Kanyemba.

I told him that Kanyemba would be unsafe for an unsupported rider, because of the remoteness of the Zambezi Valley, because of harsh dirt roads and the harsher temperatures, because of the tsetse flies and threat of wildlife riding through a hunting area ,etcetera, etcetera. It turned out to be a poor choice of words. I soon as I said the word unsafe, Jake made up his mind to ride through Kanyemba. Turns out epic is one of his favourite words.

Jenny and I fed Jake up because he looked hungry, I’ve never seen a plate of pasta disappear so quickly, and we waved him on his way with our hearts in our mouths. It was like watching one of my kids ride off into the great unknown.

I made Jake promise to keep in touch, but don’t hold out much hope for that. As part of his cost cutting measures, Jake is riding up through Africa without a sim card and will rely on Wi-Fi as and when he bumps into it. NB Jake has financed his grand Tour by participating in 3 medical trials as a paid Guinea pig, 2 types of anti-biotics and another medicine, the names of which escape him.

But all is well that ends well. Jake reached out to me yesterday from Malawi safe and sound, and he is now headed north along the Lake, in the general direction of Zanzibar which he hopes to make by Christmas.

Despite the fact that he is riding an old 26” bike that weighs in at a massive 55 kilograms fully loaded, I am so jealous of Jake and the adventures that lie in front of him. Oh, to be that age again, and that carefree.

And then I remembered that I’m headed to exactly the same destination on my bike in six short months. Please be invited to join us on our adventure, but please be warned, we ride slow like paint dries, and we paddle even slower.

Until my next blog, stay safe and be kind to others – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below – our profile out of Cobue, ouch, our ferry on the Messinge River, Brian Goodman with butter not melting in his mouth, the Brodie bunch, Mrs Triegaardt and sons, A Pint For A Pensioner, and me, Jake and an elephant,

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