Happy Birthday Zimbabwe

Happy Birthday Zimbabwe, although not so much for some.

Zimbabwe enjoyed her 41st birthday on Sunday, although the use of the word enjoyed is debatable.

The closest I got to festivities was when three MiG jets streaked overhead at ten in the morning. I was standing in the garden of one of our pensioners at the time. Our pensioner had three hours earlier. I was there to comfort his wife and to phone undertakers and the like. She needed help as she is an invalid and bed bound.

The couple were amongst a group of pensioners adopted by the Old Legs Tour during last year’s lockdown. Carl Wilson looked after them week in, week out for most of the year. It speaks volumes that Carl remained on their speed dial. He was the first person the wife phoned when her husband collapsed.

Carl was out of town and asked me if I would go help. The couple live on the other side of the railway line, in a rondavel that is little more than a hut, and Jenny and I struggled to find the place. Jenny came with me because she is better at giving moral support than I am.

When we eventually got there, the husband was still lying on the floor where he’d fallen. His wife was lying in the bed next to him, in tears and inconsolable, beating herself up because she hadn’t been able to get the ambulance to come, and with no idea as to how she was going to get by without her husband in the future.

I wanted to give her a hug, and to cover him with a blanket, but couldn’t, because there were twenty dogs on the bed with her, ranging in size from big to small. Some had wagging tails, happy to see me, but some, not so much. The two dogs closest to me fell into the big and the not so happy categories, especially every time I came too close to him, or her. So, I gave hugging a miss.

Instead, I asked the wife if I could phone a friend or a family member, so that someone could be there for her. But she told me they didn’t have any family left, and they didn’t have friends either. People shunned them she said, because they had too many dogs, and because they were poor and lived in a not so nice house.

Her husband had been a volunteer at rescue animal shelters for his whole life. He brought his work home with him, literally, in the form of 25 dogs, 5 cats and a duck called Donald. No longer able to work because of age and poor health, he and his wife lived for their animals.

They survived on charity, but spent all day, every day looking after their animals, scrounging scrap meat from every butchery and abattoir in town, not just for their own pack of rescue dogs, but also for the burgeoning feral pack roaming the street.

Because she is wheelchair bound and unable to drive, the wife worried how she would be able to collect the scrap meat to feed the dogs going forward. She also worried about how she was going to pay for her husband’s funeral. But mostly she worried about how she would get by on her own, without her husband there to look after her.

I was in the middle of trying to console her, from a safe distance because of the dogs, telling her that everything was going to work out just fine, even though I didn’t have a clue how, when I was interrupted by a dreadful wheezing sound. The sound wasn’t coming from her. And it wasn’t coming from me. So, it could only be coming from the husband. Shit. He had to still be alive.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t commence CPR like in the movies, because there was big red dog called Rufus right in my face, one of the ‘not so happy to see me’ dogs. But it turned out the wheezing was coming from one of dachshunds, partially obscured behind a pillow and suffering an asthma attack.

I had to flee the hut, so I could laugh, because it is always better to laugh than cry. But standing in the busted wreck of a garden, next to a busted wreck of a pickup truck, next to Donald the duck and dog waste lying everywhere, all I wanted to do was cry for the old guy and his wife.

I couldn’t but compare him lying on the floor inside with nothing, to Prince Phillip being buried the day before on television with all the pomp and ceremony in the world. I especially wanted to cry when the MiG jets bust the sound barrier overhead the little hut with huge, big holes in the roof.

Happy birthday Zimbabwe.

Our hospitals haven’t got money for ambulances for little old ladies to summon when their husbands suffer heart attacks on Sunday mornings. We haven’t got money for the social safety nets needed to stop people like our old guy from falling through the ever-widening cracks.

But we have all the money needed for a big budget military, with fighter jets and tanks, even though we’ve got no wars to fights, other than with ourselves. Alas. And thank God for the charities that look after the pensioners that government doesn’t.

To live in Zimbabwe, with tragedies like our old guy playing out every day and on almost every street corner, you have to find ways to not go nuts. Laughter is good muti. And thankfully, even with all the tragedy, laughter is never too far away in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans put a lot of effort into naming their children. You meet people the whole time called Blessing or More Blessing, Lovemore or Lovejoy, Beauty or Happiness. But every now and then you bump into someone who was obviously named on a bad hair day.

I was helped recently in a shop in Borrowdale by a young man called Nervous. I laughed and suggested to him that his mom had named him during labour. He didn’t laugh. Which made me feel bad. To make amends, I told him he was lucky.

I told him I was Polish and that my birthname translated into English as Small Penis. (I have no idea how or why stuff like that ends up in my head, but it just does.) Nervous laughed. And I laughed with him. It was good muti, badly needed in Zim.

But I didn’t laugh so much when I returned four weeks later and Nervous greeted me by name in front of a shop full of lady customers. “Hallo Mr Small Penis, how are you?” I did not know where to hide. But they all laughed. Good muti for them.

Riding bikes is also good medicine for the Zim blues. But there wasn’t too much laughing on this weekend’s training ride, apart from when I used my nose to break my fall whilst riding next to Alastair. Up until then, I had no idea that bloody noses were funny.

Laurie Watermeyer has taken on the responsibility of plotting training rides that will get us ready for our 3000 kilometer Silverback Tour which starts in Harare on July 15 and ends in Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest on August 15, with lots of uphill in between.


Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lifts the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

This week Laurie plotted a track on the roads less travelled around Arcturus. Laurie chose a route that would test our skills riding up impossibly steep hills, over lumpy bumpy single-track, and through impenetrable forests.

Because I am skinny with zero fat, I don’t mind impossibly steep hills. Alastair on the other hand has enough meat on him to cast a shadow and grumbles up hills, affording me the opportunity to laugh at him, good muti for bloodied noses.

I hate lumpy bumpy single-track, especially now that I only have one headlamp working. I can see the big rocks clearly, but hit them anyway, because I have problems with depth perception. Nothing much has changed from when both eyes were working, but problems with depth perception sounds better than just plain bloody clumsy on a bike.

But worse than riding single track, is riding on no tracks at all. Laurie’s route took us through an impenetrable forest of elephant grass, kilometre after kilometer of the stuff, way taller than our heads, thick to the point where you couldn’t see the sky above, or your front wheel in front, let alone the path we were supposed to be riding along.

Laurie said we were definitely riding on a road that he last drove in 1984. Alastair said he thinks he saw silverback gorillas. So clearly the ability to hallucinate runs in the family.

Very cool. On one of the few sections where there actually was a road, a young lady called Wadzanai stopped to ask Alastair if he was part of the Old Legs. He allowed that he was. She said she follows us on Facebook and asked if she could take a selfie with him. Wadzanai is one of those very cool Shona names mentioned earlier. It means ‘To Come Together’.

We rode 63 kilometres that day with just 843 metres of climb in 5 hours 30 minutes. I averaged a paltry 11 kilometres per hour. At that rate, we’ll be lucky to arrive in Uganda before Christmas. Clearly, we need more practice.

So, Laurie has planned another training ride this weekend which he has called the True Colours Ride- 2 big rides, back-to-back, with plenty of climb, and out in the middle of nowhere a.k.a. Murehwa so we can also practice bush camping skills.

Adam has allocated us the same camp duties that we’ll have on Tour. I am in charge of blogging and digging toilet holes. I think Adam is subtly suggesting there is a correlation between the two.

There will be a full contingent of riders and support, including Mark Wilson back from tick-bite-fever, and Marco Richards back from Kenya. The only team members missing are Ryan Moss in South Africa, Gary de Jong away on a hunting safari on the support side, and from the peloton, Billy Prentice in California, and CarolJoy Church in Germany.

Shame, CJ is stuck in lockdown and struggling to get training rides in. Shame, Billy isn’t stuck in lockdown, which means he is getting his training rides in, including a monster with 1500 metres of climb in just 66 kilometres, all on dirt, that he has done twice in the last week. I am sure Billy wishes he was also stuck in German lockdown. Come July, he will either be very fit, or very knackered.

The other thing that prevents me from jumping off my nearest low building, thankfully I suffer vertigo, is being able to help others less fortunate. Taking a leaf out of our old guy with his 20 rescue dogs, I went back to visit his wife on the Monday to take her a big bag of shopping, and an even bigger bag of dog food. And yes, I was trying to get on the right side of the pack.

Without her dead husband lying in the room, I was able to sit and chat at length with her, although the big red dog called Rufus kept a close eye on me throughout. And I’m talking close, as in just inches. She is determined to carry on living in their rondavel looking after their 20 dogs, 5 cats and a duck called Donald.

And I am determined to help her. To which end, I visited a chicken abattoir yesterday and collected 170 kilograms of donated chicken scraps for the dogs, and will repeat the exercise in a fortnight, and every fortnight thereafter.

As mentioned above, their rondavel roof has huge holes in it. And with winter kicking in early, I worry she will freeze. So please, if there is anyone out there with one of those big transport tarpaulins that we can use to affect temporary repairs, please shout.

I’d like to wish God speed to Peter Brodie and friends as they ride the Old Legs Tour Down Under, 1005 km along the iconic Munda Biddi mountain bike trail from Perth to Albany, followed by another 1000 kilometres back home again to Perth.

May the road rise up to meet you, but not in the form of a big bloody hill, and may the wind be always at your back and the sunshine warm upon your face, but not too hot. Oh, and also cold beers at the end of your ride.

Old Legs Australia are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please help them help others by donating. Follow them on Facebook and on www.oldlegsaustralia.com but be warned, they ride slow like paint dries.

In closing, our old guy will be cremated 10.00 a.m. Zim time on April 23rd. Please pray for him, and his wife.

Until my next blog, survive, enjoy and help someone, or something, less fortunate.

Eric ‘Chicken Legs’ de Jong


Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lifts the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

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