TRIP REPORT FEBRUARY 2023 – DANIEL KOEKEMOER
Bulawayo, Bullies, Sky (If I remember)!
I’d forgotten what a diverse, flowery, entertaining & awkward city this is! “Never a dull moment” has never been truer.
Because my PDP ( Public driving permit) had expired I couldn’t take the truck on my normal route through Gweru, Chinhoyi, Harare, Mutare, Masvingo etc. so we decided that Johan would do that route for the February run, and I would deliver in and around Bulawayo with bakkie. I hadn’t worked this area in about 12 years and had to put on my thinking cap. But I was safe; Very little, if anything, had changed in all that time. There were many new faces and, very sadly, fewer of the old faces but, to all intents, the love, gratitude, humbleness, challenges and trials were as they’ve been for all these years.
Johan & I left Malelane on 1st February, under a cloud, because the good old protesters were restless at Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga. Johan decided on the Graskop alternative route, with the truck, and I took the scenic, shorter route through Skukuza & Hoedspruit. There was no rush on the first day, so we took it easy to our stopover at Louis Trichardt.
On Thursday 2nd February we prepared for the border post, and all went well. We went through separately so as not to overwhelm our border agent and I was through in about two hours. Beit Bridge border post is looking brilliant, with pretty paving and gardens, and the new hi-tech system seems to work, with a few oddities that I may just not understand? There are 11 “stops” to make through the process including a visit to a lady on the visitors’ bench, with a cell phone; An exterior window, under a tree, and a long walk to the exit gate to be scanned before fetching your vehicle and driving to the same exit gate to be scanned again? All rather strange, but why question…… it works.
The new and stylish “Zimbabwe ruins” replica, built at the Bulawayo/ Masvingo split belies the road that lies ahead to Bulawayo. What a Mugwagwa! It’s anything but stylish with many potholed areas where one needs to leave the road and crawl along the ever-widening dirt shoulder because the tarred section is just not navigable anymore. Quite a driving challenge and I pitied Johan in the truck behind me.
I got to Bulawayo in the mid afternoon and met with Angela at the warehouse to discuss our delivery routes for the next few days. Because I hadn’t done Bulawayo for a few years Angela said she would take me around to the “Outsiders” (Pensioners still living in their own homes). Although I remembered all the Retirement villages I had well lost touch with all the private homes. Angela’s guidance and travelling along was merciful and cut my adventure down by at least two days! She’s become well known and enjoyed by the Pensioners and it was heart-warming to see their outpouring of love for her. Well done and thanks to Angela.
On Friday 3rd February we started with Coronation Cottages and Edith Duly in the east of the city. We have about 32 recipients at this home and added a further 8 on this trip. This is a sign of how bad things have become for these poor folk. For many at Coronation, and throughout Bulawayo, the cost of existing (“living” being a long-lost memory) has become just intolerable. Many have had to throw in their pride towels and have finally accepted help from the fund.
It poured today and many of our deliveries were in sprint, hug and wave fashion but the gratitude was no less profound. In our short exchanges under the narrow eaves they each asked that we thank, deeply and sincerely, all our donors wherever they may be. It really is a special privilege for us to be at the coalface of delivering your generosity to all these brilliant folk. Very special indeed!
Humility and humour are never far off when visiting these old folk. They laugh as much as they cry. From the missing puzzle pieces to the selfish husband who made a sandwich for himself, with the last bread, and then sent the wife, on her bicycle, into town, to buy more!
We really do get the lowdown on their lives and, through it all, we understand that our food deliveries are only part of a much bigger picture in which many just need love, caring, attention and a little joy in their miserable days. Deep sadness is profound & real when we do these rounds and simply listening to all their smallest ills is all we need to do.
We delivered to the Masonic cottages on Friday too. Many of the residents were having their lunch so we couldn’t chat much but through the very efficient Marie West, they sent their love & thanks.
I was pleased to see that the Salvation Army’s Railstein facility had, finally, been rebuilt after their devastating fire some years ago. The buildings are now fresh and new but sadly, the residents are still sad & weathered. The signs of a hard life, tight budgets and years of toiling is always most apparent at this home and it’s always a tragic reminder of how far down the food-chain one can fall in tough times. The very saddest bottom rungs of life for really good people.
Saturday 4th February we covered the area to the west of the city, mostly through beautiful manicured green and leafy suburbs where one would never suspect or expect the poverty within. These folk, still in their own dilapidated homes, are immensely proud and many accept their boxes of food with averted and teary eyes. Too proud to directly face their reality.
We met, on this day, a hugely knowledgeable Herbalist/ Naturopath lady. With me being in the health industry, we had mountains to talk about and I was really impressed with her understanding of Natural remedies for everything from Diabetes to a sad libido. My hour with her was only dampened by the learning that all her knowledge and efforts have come to nought in the past while. She is hamstrung in every direction in trying to exploit her formulations because of regulations, red tape and a lack of funding. She’s had to make do with sharing her skills for free and with the less fortunate even though she herself is needing support. I considered trading her food parcel for her extensive, handwritten, “Black Book” of formulations & concoctions, but she’d probably have cast an awful spell on me if I had? I left there with a hundred thoughts on how to do more for this determined, smart Pensioner?
I met another “Star of the day” Pensioner today. He was sat in his ancient wheelchair in the back garden when we arrived. On his lap was an old well-worn guitar with a bent neck & weathered fretboard. I told him about the band I play in in Durban and he was all too keen to show off his skills (Perhaps considering it an audition for a coastal job or recording contract?) In a flash he was belting out Joe Cockers “Unchain my Heart” and I was belting out some goosebumps! How life may have turned out for this fellow in another time & place. What a talent!
There were many more beautiful folks we visited on Saturday. All with their own story to tell. A Maths Teacher who’s bent so far forward that I wondered how she knew in which direction to walk. A special human that uses a tiny space in her small, very over-furnished living room to share her maths skills with the community children. Her repayment is mostly in kind as they tidy her cluttered room for her, once or twice a year. This particular delivery took a particularly long time after this dear precious soul body searched herself multiple times for the gate key. She then couldn’t insert her hearing aid and gave up eventually after telling me that it didn’t work anyway! The last hurdle was untying the plastic packet which is secured around the lock to prevent it from rusting! A great tip right there…
Then there’s the dude that’s been hopping the fence for the past many years, living with each family as his mood takes him. Never too sure which house to deliver to? Not too much to share here………
There’s the once glorious home that one can barely reach though the long grass and overgrowth. The remnants of an old garden statue and a beautiful pond are testimony to the grandeur of the place in a time past. When one can hardly afford a bread there’s little left for a slasher & labour. I can tell by the plant placements and selections that a grand mower and gardener would have brightened this pitiful spot once upon a time.
We delivered to a few cottages at Garden Park today too. A beautiful establishment in Woodlands. The pretty surroundings and smart little gardens hide super hard times for some of the old guys here that are barely getting by on the money that their kids send them from far away to pay their rents and essentials. I can well imagine that they hide their hardships from their very well-meaning children so that they aren’t a bother. It happens all the time.
On Sunday 5TH February, Angela & I tackled central and eastern Bulawayo, again in the pouring rain. A slower day than Saturday because one couldn’t count on a small puddle on the suburban road not being a huge gaping car eater. We took it easy…..
I met “ Dolly” today! What a woman! Living in central Bulawayo, in a small free-standing house, right on the street, is the very most delightful character who was nicknamed Dolly in her earlier life because of her striking resemblance to Dolly Parton. (Pics attached) I could have spent the whole day with Dolly for her charm and uplifting spirit. She ran me through her life, her loves, her art, her children, her home and her sad fate (which she only mentioned briefly as a matter of fact) Dressed in a Baby Doll blouse that she had fashioned and made from her old ( very old) school uniform, she was ever the part of an eccentric excellent actress. She barely sees anyone anymore, but she had applied her grand make-up, as she’s done, every day, for all of her life. In the application, the fact that she’s somewhat missing the natural lines on her lips, eyes & cheekbones only made her more beautiful.
I left with a hand made birthday card for Johan & myself and an aching heart. I will visit this spirited, uplifting Granny on every visit I make to Bulawayo. That’s my promise!
Also, in a flat, in the heart of Bulawayo, is the grandest of ladies and her autistic daughter. How they wish they could live in South Africa one day. That is their dream; simple but impossible. They get by, they tell me, but I know, from looking around their immaculate kitchen, that there’s not a crumb to spare.
The rest of Sunday was on the trot. At every home we got to the rain came down in torrents and we were forced to run & deliver as we’d done on Friday. I did consider that God was, perhaps, sparing me further heartache today as we had little time to chat. The gratitude from all was no less.
My job done, I prepared to head back to S.A on Monday and spent the evening with Johan at the home of Willem & Caroline Nel drinking beer and listening to You Tube Music videos into the night. (Too far into the night!) Thanks guys! The evening took the edge off three rough and sad days in the fair Bulawayo, and I super enjoyed your kind & generous hospitality as always. You guys are a laugh a minute!
On Monday morning 6th February I headed south with the last remaining boxes for Kinghaven cottages in Esigodini. I dropped those at about 10h30 am and went on to West Nicholson where we have two recipients.
My last box was for a special lady on a farm nearer Beitbridge who has been there for 40 years. She tells me she’s not going anywhere. This is her home! I spent more time than I should have catching up with her since we last met and heard that she now has electricity and a television that her children had installed for her. She tells me of her tribulations on the farm, her history and her involvement with the local community. She doesn’t say so, but I suspect the locals could probably not do without her. While we’re chatting, a young guy knocks at her door asking for a charge on his cell phone. I’m betting that many of her knocks through the days and nights are far more demanding than a cell charge. Sadly, I’m running for the border and I leave wishing that I could stay for hours listening to hundreds of tales and stories.
My Border crossing was easy in the afternoon and I drove until darkness and weariness had me stop in Hoedspruit for the night. On Tuesday morning Linda called to say that the protesters were restless again in Bushbuckridge. I took the longer but far more pretty ‘round trip through Graskop back to Malelane. After a quick debrief with Linda I collected my car and moseyed back to Durban ‘til the next time. Trip done……
I was conflicted doing Bulawayo again, after so many years in the north and East of Zim. I can’t help feeling that there is a different level of poverty and suffering in this beautiful Jacaranda city. There’s a more profound sadness amongst our Pensioners there. Through the laughs and humour, I can tell that there is great hardship for most of these old folk. They can hardly visit the shops any longer as the prices of simply everything has skyrocketed well beyond their reach. Most of the basics are unaffordable and there’s a regression, and increased reliance on home grown and manufactured items, to keep them from perishing. Sharing has become the name of the game in this aging community and without that and the inadequate donations that they get, they just couldn’t survive.
Thank you God for the great kindness of our generous donors throughout the world. How I wish that you could each travel with us on these trips to experience the hugest gratitude and love that we take in on your behalf. At every home we visit there is a plea that we make sure the donors are heartily and adequately thanked for all they do. Please know that every Pensioner in Zimbabwe thanks you all from the bottom of their hearts.
There isn’t relief in Zimbabwe for the average Pensioner and my earnest and deepest hope and prayer is that we don’t forget these special old guys in the false impression that Zimbabwe has turned the corner. It hasn’t for these dear folk, and we must, at all cost, know that.
God bless Zimbabwe.
My sincerest thanks to you all
Head office South Africa contact details:
Linda Schultz – email@example.com – (C) 079 6082676 (T) 013 7900934
Johan Schultz – firstname.lastname@example.org – 082 4979328
Section 21 Co Reg. 2007/034036/08; NPO Number 096733; Section 18A PBO No 930031642