River Wissey Lovell Fuller


April 2008

Ian recounts his recent experiences from a visit to Africa

Africa, and how our train fell off the rails, management fell from the train at 2am and then injured her toe when our jeep became airborne: We have just spent over three weeks in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Nothing is less interesting than other people's holiday stories but there are one or two features worth sharing with you all. Cape Town, where we started, is very cosmopolitan with a highly developed and exciting waterfront area. The main thing we noticed was that all the properties are surrounded by high walls and electrified razor wire fences; there are many patrolling security firms and people are very careful when venturing out at night. The same applies to Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, which we also visited.

We left Cape Town on an old train for a two day journey to Pretoria and then a three day journey through Zimbabwe to a game reserve 120 miles fro Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, having endured an eight hour delay entering Zimbabwe (customs formalities) we suffered a derailment in the Zimbabwe mountains at 5.30pm one evening. I can now claim to be one of the few British GPs who has treated a patient who has suffered injuries in a passenger train derailment! The lady in question was about 80 years old, seriously shaken, if not stirred, and she was grateful for my help. I returned to my wife and travelling companions and told them about the poor old dear. Next day, we were sitting in the lounge car when a very glamorous, slim, beautifully made-up and dressed lady approached my wife and thanked her for allowing me to treat her. Yes, it was he same lady and, needless to say, I came in for some good natured ribaldry.

The railways out there are single track with passing sections every 30 miles or so. Thus, our train was holding up the rail traffic in both directions. In England, such an event would engender a sea of fluorescent jackets, hard hats, health and safety officials and a crane or two. The track would open again a week or so later.

What happened in Zimbabwe? We spent the night in the mountains and, at about 5am, three enormous, muscular rail workers arrived with what looked like a massive car jack. They heaved and strained for two hours, returned the train to the rails and off we went again. We had booked a couple of days in a tent at a game reserve and we should have arrived at 6am on the Saturday. Eventually, the train arrived a 2am on Sunday morning, 20 hours late. We were ready to step down to the platform when we realised that there wasn't one. The train had stopped in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere. Opposite the train, on the other side of the track, were the headlights of a Jeep. We had to climb down from the train to the ground. Management went first and did not realise that the ladder from the train stops 3ft above the ground. Crash! She flew the last 3ft vertically and the managerial rear sustained a very nasty bruise and a torn pair of trousers. Eventually, we manoeuvred the luggage across the tracks, boarded the jeep and drove off along grass tracks to the reserve for 3 hours' sleep before the dawn game drive. We spent a hectic day and saw all sorts of wonderful game and bird life and then we had to leave for the 120mile trip to Victoria Falls. Hurrying through the reserve, the jeep hit a massive pot hole, became airborne and smashed the managerial big toe, causing great pain and swelling for several days. Ah, well!

During the 120 mile road journey through Zimbabwe, we saw only 4 cars and 14 lorries. The main traffic on the roads was local people, carrying sacks of maize on their heads, walking 15 - 20 miles to have their maize ground into flour and then walking home again. We were stopped in a road block, where the assiduous policeman, who must have only seen one vehicle an hour, checked all the documents, hoping to find a problem which would generate a fine.

The average wage in Zimbabwe is about 30 million Zimbabwe dollars a month, the equivalent of 3 US dollars or £1.50. When available, a loaf of bread is 2.5 million dollars and a short bus ride costs the same. Thus, everyone walks to work as 12 bus rides would use up their monthly wage. There is no milk, cooking oil, dairy products, sugar or flour in the shops. Everything has to be bought on the Black Market, at risk of imprisonment. What is available in the shops? Mostly, agricultural weed-killer. There is no petrol in Zimbabwe - people travel to neighbouring countries such as Botswana or Zambia to buy petrol. Our taxi had a massive crack across the windscreen, as yet not replaced because the nearest replacement windscreen would be 5 hours drive away and the owner couldn't afford/obtain the petrol to go there. It was all very depressing - a beautiful country ruined!

Who is using your computer? My friend noticed a car outside his house, sitting there for well over an hour. The occupants were using a lap-top computer. The police were called and discovered that the occupants were Lithuanians who were cruising around the village, tapping into the wireless access to people's computers. I know very little about computers so I rang my computer boffin who informed me that, if you have a wireless connection, it needs to be encrypted to prevent such activity. Fortunately, mine is encrypted. If you see such a vehicle, the police would like you to inform them straight away. Hopefully, one of the readers who knows about computers might be able to write an article next month telling us what this is all about and how we should protect ourselves.

Best wishes to you all

Ian G. Nisbet

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