JoLt 1990 – Africa
The path was steep, narrow and rugged. She had journeyed slowly upwards, taking well over an hour to climb, painfully and slowly, up the Hill Complex at Great Zimbabwe. Would the narrowness of the last few feet defeat her? Handing her crutches to one of the others, she crawled on hands and knees to reach the top. Working as a team, helping and encouraging each other, eighteen disabled and disadvantaged youngster had completed a climb that few thought possible. They were a remarkable group:
A girl with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease); a girl with Tetraplegia and another with Triplegia; a blind boy and another partially sighted; some deaf boys and a deaf girl; a boy and a girl with Spina Bifida; a girl with Talipes who has suffered much surgery; a girl with Rheumatoid Arthritis who has two artificial hips and an artificial knee; some youngsters with Cerebral Palsy of varying degrees and youngsters who had suffered much abuse and neglect. They were a mixed group of 12 Britons and 6 Zimbabweans who were accompanied by four adults including a doctor and two teachers.
They were on their Journey of a Lifetime through Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The first climb came earlier in the journey in the Matobo Hills outside Bulawayo amongst the bare and granite hills when they proved they had the stamina and spirit to reach ‘World’s View’ and the burial place of Cecil Rhodes. As we look back now on our “Journey of a Lifetime” the memories come flooding back: Mark, completely blind, cuddling a lion cub, baby hyena and leopard at the Chipingali Wildlife Orphanage, and later landing a light aircraft on a tiny airstrip in the middle of nowhere; wheelchair races and tumbles in the dust; laughter as we helped put up tents or learnt to make rope and fire; tears as previously hidden fears or experiences were talked about for the first time; cold nights when paper-thin sleeping bags gave insufficient protection; showers under the stars from a billycan tied to tree; meals and laughter round a camp fire – Millions of unforgettable experiences.
The rail safari, as the steam train wound its way slowly from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls passing through magnificent countryside, gave us our first views of game. Alighting at Kennedy Sidings in the moonlight with wheelchairs; crutches and bags we scrambled across a huge ditch to the waiting bush bus. Excitement followed as first we got lost and then broke down. The forty-five minute walk to Good Luck Farm, pulling the wheelchairs backwards through the sand, was a great adventure.
The next day disaster struck in Hwange Game Park – a wilderness the size of Wales – when Glynis, with severe arthritis, fell and badly injured herself. An overnight stay in hospital and several x-rays later Glynis rejoined the group and refused to allow the pain to stop her from attempting everything. We gaped at the magnificence of the Victoria Falls and enjoyed being soaked by the refreshing spray in the heat of the afternoon sun. Splitting into two groups we headed for Botswana. Linyanti river – a swamp area along the Caprivi strip where one group camped. Peace and tranquillity were to be found on the river surrounded by papyrus reeds with myriads of colourful birds. Here we saw the spectacular Fish Eagle swooping to catch fish from the river. Chobe Chiwero where luxurious lodges overlooked the Chobe river. Elephant were seen in profusion – they are a delight to watch, particularly at play in the river. We never tired of seeing them.
We sailed along the entire length of Lake Kariba by ferry – a twenty-two hour journey through beautiful and at times, haunting scenery due, in part to the petrified trees when the valley was flooded and the lake formed. By speedboat to Fothergill Island where we stayed in African thatched lodges and slept under mosquito nets. On, by light aircraft, to the floodplains of Mana Pools where elephant walked casually through the camp. At night, the bull frogs croaked, baboons raided the camp, lions were heard to roar and laughing hyenas stalked round the tents scavenging for food. Up early before sunrise, wrapped in blankets in the back of trucks and land rovers we searched in vain for lion but saw the rare leopard and beautiful cheetah.
On to Miltana safaris where, as guests of the kind Tapson family we went on Ox-wagon safari like the old pioneers; rode on horses, bumped along on trailers behind a tractor and paddled and swam in the river. It was with great reluctance that. we left for Lake Kyle. The climb to the top of the Acropolis of the Great Zimbabwe ruins provided an unforgettable challenge which, through sheer determination and teamwork, we all amazingly accomplished. With sadness that our journey was soon to come to an end we went up into the Eastern Highlands: Vumbu and Nyanga, which reminded us of Scotland and was very green in contrast to the dry, barren bush where we had spent most of our time. Here, names like Troutbeck and Connemara reminded us of home.
Back to Harare for the last time for shopping and our last braai (barbecue) with our kind, caring and remarkably generous Zimbabwean friends. Uncontrollable tears were shed as we realised we had to be parted from the seven Zimbabweans who had become such a special part of our group. We felt strangely quiet and numb on the flight home as we tried to adjust to no longer being a closely knit group of twenty-two. Many of the group echoed the views of the one who said, as tears poured down his face, ‘These have been the best five weeks of my life’. They were remarkable youngsters who had achieved much more than they, or we, had ever imagined possible. At the start of the journey the wheelchairs were in constant use. At the end they were hardly used at all. Youngsters who had never before been able to share their problems began to do so and gave each other strength. They pulled together sharing happiness, hardship and, at times, sadness to make this one of the most successful journeys that has been accomplished. The kindness, hospitality and generosity of our Zimbabwean friends affected us all.
The success of the journey owes much to the teamwork, courage, good humour and personalities of the youngsters and adults who participated. We wish every happiness to the young people who contributed so much as well as benefited so much from the journey and we hope that they will continue to be able to turn to us in times of trouble and in times of happiness.
We owe much to His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan who has continued to support our work since the JoLt Trust was founded in 1983. His Majesty and the Royal Family are much in our thoughts as they cope with His Majesty’s ill-health.
Without the help of many individuals, companies and charitable trusts, the 1990 “Journey of a Lifetime” would never have been possible. We are greatly indebted to them and to our many friends who have worked so hard for us. We thank you all for your support and for your friendship. Above all we thank you for caring.
Participants: Ayse Bak, Cherry Bicknell, John Chisoni, Glynis Dawes, David Dee, Mark Ellis, Robert Gwillim, Soneni Gwizi, Andrew Hopwood, Stephen Johnson, Paul Luckett, Hazvinei Mutede, Jahile Ncube, Nomathemba Sibanda, Islay Stevenson, Claire Vasey, Nicola Watson, Marcus Waugh.
Leaders: Dorothy Dalton, Zoé Butt, Chris Robinson, Niel Petersen.