Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Anniversary and Waiting

I’m sitting at my desk in Johannesburg waiting for a delivery.  The courier phoned to say he’s on his way.  It’s my new Brookes saddle and a special touring carrier.  I was going to head off for a morning training ride but now I’m waiting. 

I glance at the calendar above my desk.  The picture above the dates is of a beautiful leopard.  It’s looking up, about to jump.  It’s the 31st of August.  Twenty-four years ago today I stood in the back of the Ratel armoured vehicle and gazed out at the Kavango River as we drove in convoy along the Caprivi Strip.  Huge trees lined the river’s banks, in contrast to the acacia and bush I was used to in the area we usually operated.  I was excited and apprehensive.  We stopped for a break and someone took a photo of three of us on the high bank overlooking that wide, cool river.  We look relaxed and happy.  Being away from the tedium of base life was something we always looked forward to.  We didn’t know then, but in a matter of days, we’d be yearning for boredom again.

Not long after the river crosses the Caprivi, ceasing to be the border between Angola and Namibia, were the river turns south and heads for the Okavango Delta in Botswana, we turned left, and headed for the front line somewhere north of Mavinga.

Twenty-four years ago today I stood in the back of that Ratel waiting for the unknown to reveal itself:  tense and excited.  Today, I sit at my desk waiting again for the unknown to reveal itself.  Again it is Angola:  I wait for my letter of invitation to be rubber stamped by their Ministry of Tourism and Hotels, I wait for the courier with my Brookes saddle.  Excitement mingles with anxiety.  This time I cross the border voluntarily.  On a mission of my own.  The final leg of a journey of peace.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Support of Educo Africa

I will be doing my Angola Journey in support of Educo Africa.

Educo Africa is a not for profit organisation working predominantly with young South Africans who are largely from disadvantaged communities.  Their wilderness based experiential learning programmes aim to “promote active citizenship”.   

I had the great privilege of being invited on one of the Educo Africa wilderness trails last year as an observer.  I witnessed the participants deepening their journeys of personal growth, finding their voices and telling their stories.  During the course of the week the young participants all found their own unique leadership styles.  As is so often the case, the wilderness environment “held” the process and provided a rich backdrop to the journey of the group.

I have chosen to support Educo Africa because I believe that they offer a deeply growthful experience to their participants.  It provides many levels of challenge yet in a nurturing and safe environment.  Such a contrast to military service in the SADF.  People who think military service is “character building” should really experience the kind of wilderness-based learning delivered by Educo Africa.

If you would like to find out more or make a financial contribution please follow the link below, or contact me directly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Planning Update

Financial Hiccough!

While I’ve been down in Cape Town, training and hanging out, I’ve had an up and down ride of another kind, which, fortunately, has ended on the up!

I spent last weekend cycling the gravel farm roads between Stanford and Gansbaai.  Beautiful, undulating countryside, perfect for getting some hours in the saddle, with short sharp climbs and some nice decents.  The proteas are coming into flower and some of the orchards are in blossom.  The fields are green with lucerne and with the occasional yellow of canola.  Myself and my good friend Grant covered 100kms over the two days.  No single-track so I could look around without breaking my neck!

But there was a dark cloud hanging over my head called Luanda.  The expense of passing through that city was threatening to end my Angola journey before it had begun.

Thanks to some very generous sponsors that problem has been solved.  I have paid the tour company that is arranging my transit through Luanda and, most importantly, arranging for my letter if invitation – a crucial document for my visa application.

A New Plan

I’ve decided that the 30 day tourist visa is not going to give me enough time to cover the almost 2000 kilometres I had planned.  By the time I’d factored in rest days and built in a safety margin for side trips, mechanical hitches and possible sickness the daily average I’d have to cover was too high.

I want to have time to talk to people, to take photographs and to make recordings for my video diary.

I now plan to fly from Luanda to the regional town of Kuito.  That gives me somewhere between 600 to 700 kilometres to Cuito Cuanavale, and about the same again to the Namibian border (as a maximum).

A bike tour is about taking time to get to know the country, not racing to cover maximum distance.  I’m feeling a little less pressured not that I’ve changed my route.

Start Date

The start date is a bit of a moving target at the moment.  Once I get the letter of invitation and put in my visa application I will book flights.  Probably the end of September or early October.  Watch this space!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unchain our voices, liberate our nation’s soul - by Shanil Haricharan

[My journey isn’t just about a nostalgic look back at my experience of the war.  It is rooted in my present desire for healing. Part of that is having and promoting dialogue.  I met Shanil as part of my search for ways of healing in a broader sense, and my small way of promoting reconciliation.

As a student at Wits in the 80’s Shanil became more and more angry and outraged by what the apartheid government was doing to our country and its people.  Eventually he realised that he had to take up arms to fight for what he believed in.  He set aside his pacifist principles and joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

Shanil has very generously agreed to write this moving poem - Paul]

Unchain our voices, liberate our nation’s soul
Written on the 26th June 2011, in Namibia, on the anniversary of the drafting of the Freedom Charter

Our Nation Then
At war with itself
Torn apart
Along racial lines
Black and White
Powerful and Powerless
Oppressors and Liberators
Our nation’s soul
Its war machine
On a warpath
In our beautiful land
Across the African sub-continent
Harnessing discontent
Hatred and destruction
Fellow countrymen
In opposing battle formations
Each others enemies
Defending opposing ideologies
Our Nation Today
In transition
The flame of freedom
Ignited in ‘94
Illuminating the birth of a new nation
Harnessing harmony
Hope to the present and future
 After generations of grief and pain
In celebration of our martyrs
Their blood nourishing
The torch of freedom
Though, Today
Our nation
Haunted by the ghosts of its past
Tenuously in pursuit of wholeness
Dear compatriots,
 Is it not time
To bear our tortured souls
Share the pain of our nation’s past
Lay the ghosts to rest, forever
Share our stories
Of a divided past
Liberate us from our ignorance
Of our pain and joy
Nightmares and dreams
And nourish the soul
Of our non-racial
To wholeness
Shanil Haricharan