The first delivery run for the year 2022 was as per usual, all but a routine delivery run. To start off, Linda and I were bed ridden and housebound for two weeks with COVID. The cross-border paperwork had to be done “online”, on a website that was definitely user-unfriendly. We eventually called and after 4 days on the phone got more or less sorted out. The courier company blundered a bit more and eventually I had to just bite the bullet and depart regardless. A week prior, Hannes Jovner, our angel in Bulawayo saved us by delivering from Gweru to Chinhoyi for a fee. It seemed this trip was doomed from inception.
On 16 February 2022 I was at last off to Zimbabwe for the first delivery run for the year. We decided to do 6 trips for the year, with double deliveries for the first four trips, and to ensure Christmas was not done in September, two single deliveries for the last trips. This means we are endeavoring to deliver 10 boxes per recipient. With inflation at about 400% we have no choice; the need is just growing. All salaries and pensions are paid in ZIM $. The shops have no choice but to raise ZIM $ prices to keep up with the US $ equivalent. A very difficult balancing act to grasp. This is the only place where you will find the US $ getting more expensive.
I had a very uneventful trip up to Musina and did the COVID test at the border. Knowing that one can test positive up to 6 months after having the dreaded disease, it was a very long hours in the Sediba Board room waiting for the result, fortunately it was all good, and I was cleared for the border. Thanks to our SA clearing agent Colleen for keeping me company. The border crossing was same as always, every person you encounter perusing my documentation from top to bottom looking for a reason not to allow me to pass. Two days prior a statute was passed by the Zimbabwean government that the borders were in fact open for normal traffic, when asking about it, the answer was “we have not been instructed on that matter, we are still closed.” I was also searched 6 times before leaving the border post and entering Zimbabwe. Thanks, Robert (our Zimbabwe clearing agent), for all your assistance and patience. Robert keeps me calm and has taught me that keeping quiet is sometimes the best answer.
From the border I was off to Bulawayo and picking up empty boxes on the way there. I got to Coronation Cottages just after dark and had a good night before starting the next day.
Early the next morning I was off to the warehouse and started the final checks for the boxes to be loaded onto the truck. Linda informed me that the cross-border paperwork had arrived at last, and Dave Austen would leave later for the border and was due to arrive the next day. I also prepared and loaded the deliveries for a new resident in Boggies (Gweru), Muus Lodge in Shurugwi and the four deliveries in Zvishavane. John and Lynn D’ewes from Zvishavane have moved to Bulawayo, we used to drop the boxes at their house, and they would distribute, so I was on a mission to find another person to assist with this mission. Once I was satisfied that Angela and the team was ready for the next day I retired for the evening.
Friday morning, I left Bulawayo just after 07:00 for my road trip. At Boggies in Gweru, I met the new residents, Mrs. Juul and her daughter. I had a quick pop in at the Mungers to check on Uncle Fred who was sleeping, he has chronic back ache. Fred was Hannes’s Sergeant Major during the war, so he is always asking for updates on Hannes’ health. From the Mungers I was off to Muus Lodge in Shurugwi. Here I was met by the usual crowd and had a good chat with Colin Bell who was telling me he went to see his daughter over Christmas in Harare and ended up with COVID. Seems this was a common illness for many people in Zimbabwe over this time as I hear this from a lot of people. Very few go to test for the COVID as it is unaffordable ($30 to $50 US per test). Most earning less than $100 per month. So, when faced with flu-like symptoms the oldies isolate as far as possible and assist each other to get by. Some of the shenanigans sound frightening. They refuse to go into detail as to how they cope, but the subject invariably generates a lot of giggles. In the end, they get by.
After this I was off to see what we were facing in Zvishavane, and to find someone who could help with local distribution. I stopped off at the old, Old Age home, now called Mimosa Cottage. The Mimosa mine bought the Self-Catering Old age Home some years ago and the oldies that were in the home at that time could stay out the rest of their time at no cost. There are still two people in the home, Lettie and Peter. Lettie introduced me to the other recipients, except Mrs. van der Merwe who we did not see. Mrs. Marina Timveos was in her shop serving customers. Her son has the bakery next door. Marina is 82 and still works her general dealer shop where she sells anything from jewelry to yarn…as she has done for ever. All were very happy receiving their boxes, but I could see not one of them could be a distributor as they were not driving. I will have to come up with another idea. Mrs. van der Merwe is in a Panhandle with a narrow drive about 100 meters long, the truck delivering here was not a good idea. It was so nice to meet all these guys and I was off to get back to Bullies as the truck was on the way. I had not heard from Dave and had no idea what time to expect him. I wanted to load the truck the same day. We were running out of sunlight, so I called Angela and had the staff go home, we will load the truck the following day. It was a long weekend in Zimbabwe, and Dave wanted to spend time in Kwekwe with family. I got back to Bullies and the truck was there by 21:00. We had some grub, and it was lights out soon after. Both of us had a long day.
Saturday morning, we had a slow start and loaded the truck. Dave was off to visit before starting his trip, all the prep done, and he was off. I loaded the boxes for Esigodini and set off to deliver at the Kingshaven Moths. I was looking forward to seeing Anna Powell as she had moved off the farm in Gwanda at the end of January, but she was off to advise another young farmer in the area who was starting up an old setup. I was greeted by the residents and Mrs. Lorraine King who was out, arrived shortly after. The boxes were offloaded, and distribution started immediately, I loaded the empty boxes and had a quick chat before leaving. Being a close community in the home, all was still well, and these old military vets were still running as a well-oiled machine. I took the long and winding narrow road to Falcon Collage. I was surprised to find the gate open on a weekend and saw it was a sports day with all the fields occupied with cricket games in progress. I passed all this action and got to Norma and Johan Heyman’s house, the last one on the top of the hill. Johan was scratching in his workshop and Norma came out the house. We off-loaded the boxes in their dining room and as usual, they inspected every item and giggled at some as they unpacked. I had a cup of coffee, and we discussed the weather and COVID and Johan was talking about the old days, always nice to listen to these two. Norma does some pottery and sent Linda a gift, 3 little owls. Then I went to see Tony Bancroft, he is struggling with his knees and walks with 2 crutches. He tried to convince me to sleep over, as he always does, but we decided we would go on a fishing trip next time. It sounds like Falcon has some good fishing spots; I’ll have to investigate. After leaving Falcon I was off to Bullies for some R&R as Monday was a public holiday, so I lay low and took a deep breath for a bit.
Tuesday morning started with deliveries to the homes, Masonic Lodge, Edith Duly, Railsteen (Salvation Army) and Coronation Cottages. All the people I go to see were so happy to see us and were still talking about the fantastic Christmas Boxes. It makes one feel warm and fuzzy inside. We spend the next two days sorting out the Coronation deliveries and a lot of people requesting to be added to the recipient list. I ask for letters to enable me me to compile a list as I know we would not be able to accommodate everyone. This way I would do some house visits and have one on one time to assess and determine who is most needy. Most of the folks have the same story, rent has been increased, electricity prices have gone up and a lot of the oldies that had small incomes from jobs have lost them due to COVID. Some were self-employed and buying and involved in informal trading, this has also come a halt. Most of the vending areas have slowed down or shut down. Money is scarce and work for an older person, even more so. Dave was back later in the morning and offloaded the empty boxes at the warehouse and we had a little braai at the Cottage and some time to share some stories. After supper we were off to bed as Dave wanted to head back South the next morning.
Early Thursday Dave was off to Mater Dei Hospital for his COVID testing and then homeward bound. I carried on with the deliveries around Bullies as there was still a lot to do, these are all over Bulawayo and can be time consuming. I received news that Hannes was not doing too well and hoped to be able to head homeward by the weekend. So, the bakkie was loaded to the max and visits kept as short as possible. Reta Wythoff has had a hip replacement and I was surprised to see her sitting in the lounge during our visit. She is up and walking with her walker and doing great. This was wonderful to see, Norman Conway has had a biopsy done on his back and was relieved that it was not malignant, he had injured a vertebra and he should recover fully. On my travels I got some of the folks to do short messages of thanks to the donors and it was great to see the old teachers, Mrs. Gill Battis and Norma Heymans struggle to present an unprepared speech when put under pressure. I had some fun with that one. With the water issues, I learnt a new slogan, when in the bathroom “if it is yellow, be mellow, but if it is brown, flush it down. I noted most houses had baths filled with water, not a drop gets wasted as it can be cut for days without notice. People really have adapted to the difficult circumstances in the most creative ways. When I got back to the cottage, knowing I have to have something to eat and yet not feeling like eating, I look inside the fridge, and I am spoilt for choice. I feel so guilty because of what I see on these trips. People who are in desperate need have nothing, and here I am like a spoilt brat, blessed to have plenty but feeling ungrateful because I have no appetite… I cannot put into words how empty, sad and lonely it made me feel, even small, wishing we could do more. The guys we have met and learnt to know have crept into our hearts and become family. It is heart-wrenching to see and experience what is happening to these guys.
Friday 25 February 2022, I delivered the last of the Bulawayo boxes, locked the warehouse, got my COVID test done and started “house visits” and assessments on the requests I received from folks in Coronation Cottage. As previously said, the story is very similar for every oldie in the area. I went from person to person and gave each a single box as I know how needy most are, there are some with an income from family or a shared property, but that is mostly not regular as the COVID has affected so many. The rent has been increased, electricity, water and the cost of living is an ever-growing expense. The lucky ones on pension all receive about the equivalent of between US$100 and US$200 per month. This gets paid in ZIM $, no pensioner gets paid in US$. Depending on the exchange rate, this US$ equivalent devalues from week to week, yes from week to week. Late afternoon I pick up my COVID result, wrap up all I have learnt and prepare for my return journey.
Saturday morning just before dawn, I set off for home. I am greeted with the most stunning sunrise as I drive through the Blue Hills towards southern Matabeleland. I do the last two drops on the way to the border; this number of stops reduced due to the oldies moving closer to the cities for safety and medical facilities. I meet with Robert just before the border and he tells me he had gone for a biopsy, and it seems he might have malignant growth in his voice box. This is sad news, and we hope he can get the treatment he needs as he is crucial in our little operation. I cross the border without any issues and get home to Malelane just before dark. A very quick, but mind-numbing and eye-opening trip. Every trip one learns something, and I think to some extent loses something, I am grateful for the compassion out in the world that makes these missions possible.
I thank every Donor, person assisting with drop offs, drop off points, diesel donors, Malelane Squad, Bulawayo Squad, Linda in the office my conscience and North Star and Hannes Botha, out HERO and the one who saw the need and had the courage to persist and make this mission a success. He has surrounded himself with winners and like-minded people who will ensure we carry on and make the difference in people’s lives in these uncertain times. We will carry on and do what we say we do.
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