Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Extreme Land Rover Makeover

It's been a long time, too long, Legion of Fans (LOF) since I've updated you all on the life of Tonka, our trusty 1984 Series III Land Rover.

Tonka lives in Zimbabwe and we pick him (unlike many other motor vehicles he is a he, not a she) up each year, load him with our camping gear and set off into the wilds of Africa for another series of disasters which later come to be known as adventures.

Rugged, though slighly dented, Tonka was feeling every one of his 24 years on our last trip. His rear was sagging; his bodily fluids leaking; his steering was wandering; his exhaust was belching and his doors were not closing.

People in southern Africa were starting to think that all Australian men were cultured gentlemen, after seeing me escort Mrs Blog to her side of the vehicle and then close her door for her. In fact, Tonka's passenger side door was sagging so much on its hinges that I had to use all of my inconsiderable muscle just to close it, lest Mrs Blog roll out onto the road and be eaten by a lion.

After spending a considerable amount of money and boring many a reader senseless with my purchase and importation of a reconditioned gear box and transfer box from England, you can perhaps imagine my disagreeableness at learning that all the selector shaft seals were shot and that our very shiny new gearbox was losing about a litre of oil every two days. Were I not such an obsessive-compulsive checker of Land Rover oil levels, we would have ground to a halt and burned out the gear box in less than a week.

I was never a car person. In Australia I don't even have one - haven't had one for 13 years in fact. When I did own a car I was hard pressed even finding a dipstick, let alone changing my own oil. In Africa, however, a little OCD is a good thing when it comes to lubricants.

Anyway, after searching Zimbabwe for a new Land Rover doctor (we've had a succession of malpractice episodes in recent year thanks to the brain and skills drain from Zimbabwe) we found a new surgery. Doctors Frik and Rex of Harare may feature in future blogs in glowing terms, if they deliver our baby as promised in the near future.

In our absence Tonka is getting:

- New doors

- New rear springs (heavy duty, off a Santana for the real Land Rover nuts out there)

- Steering overhauled

- Gear box seals and, alarmingly, two bearings replaced - whatever that means

- Something done to the engine which I do not understand

- A complete respray

- New handbrake expander (I do, in fact, know what that means, so there)

- Panel beating, and

- Anything else fixed that the good doctors can find and charge us for.

It's a big job, this extreme makeover, make no mistake about it.

Tonka cost about AUD$5000 when we bought him 10 years ago, so some readers may be a little surprised to learn that when I called Dr Frik to find out how the repairs were progressing and to get a rough estimate of the final bill be said; "Oh, about US$5000 or so. Certainly no more than US$7000."

"Goodness gracious me," I said to Dr Frik. Actually, that's not quite correct. I do believe the F word may have been used.

As I staggered across the loungeroom looking for something to cling to, Mrs Blog started rolling around on the floor and frothing at the mouth, swearing like a Turrets sufferer and reaching for things to throw at me.

"Lordy, Lordy, Dr Frik, perhaps you've made a slight error with your calculations. Might it be possible for you to double check? Tonka cost us much less than that estimate," I said, as Mrs Blog reached for a long carving knife. (Actually, I may have used the F word somewhere in there again.). I wasn't sure whether she was going to kill herself, me, or perhaps leap down the phone and give Dr Frik a quick lesson in traumatic vascectomy surgery.

"Oh, sorry. I was thinking about the DEFENDER we're replacing the engine and gearbox in," Dr Frik said hurriedly into the phone. Defenders are much newer and more expensive than the Series III.

"My wife has just fainted," I informed Dr Frik. He revised his estimate downwards - considerably - and the conversation ended on amicable terms.

I've spoken to Dr Frik a couple of times since and he always takes the time to ask after Mrs B's health.

Here's hoping that the final reconcilliation of Tonka's hospital bill will be like the outcome we're all praying for in the Zimbabwean elections - transparent, peaceful, financially responsible, and bloodless.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today's Zimbabwean heroines

Full marks to ABC Lateline (after bagging the program in the last post) for tracking down Zimbabwean lawyer Gugulethu Moyo in London for an interview on tonight's program. Some very interesting observations from Ms Moyo about Zimbabwe's high court judges, at least one of whom seems to be having an each-way bet by supporting the MDC's appeal to have the election results posted poste haste.

She'd make a good president in an ideal world. Sadly, we don't live in an ideal world.

Tonight's other heroines are Scotty and Sal, from different parts of Zimbabwe who, as they put it, are getting on with life, such as it is inside Zimbabwe.

The act of living in Zim is a full time job these days and these ladies are getting on with the job.

Hopefully, as we say here on the Blog, it will be big news next week.

Reports from anonymous sources inside the country say the word on the streets is that even those in uniform are hoping for a change. And that's not a bad titbit to end on.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Voting results

Well, Legion of Fans (LOF) the results of at least one African poll came in this week. I am officially a runner-up in the South African Blog Awards. I was pleased to make the final cut and wish to thank all of you who voted for me, and the academy, and my mom, and my wife etc etc...

Sadly, the results of the Zimbabwean elections are still unkown. Perhaps the only thing less informative than the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission at the moment is the world's media.

Like many others around the world I have been avidly watching the coverage of the elections and been staggered both by Comrade President's resilience and the shallowness of the reporting.

OK, it would be easier if the Zimbabwean Government allowed foreign journalists access to the country, but even those who are there (dramatically reported as "in hiding") seem to be as clueless as everyone else about what is actually happening behind the scenes in the kiahs of power.

The ABC and BBC's super sleuths relegate their coverage to peeks out the window, where they observe "...riot police on the street". These voice overs are usually accompanied by vision that by my estimation is about eight days old now.

Other than these two brave souls we are treated to the views of journalists reporting "from the border of Zimbabwe".

Back home, the attention to detail in the reporting mirrors the lack of interest in the country at non-election times. Even though the ABC's Lateline Program airs more about Zimbabwe outside of elections than other channels, Anchor Tony Jones described Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa as "neighbouring countries". Two out of three ain't bad, Tone.

The ABC's 7.30 Report managed to produce an "in depth" report on the eve of the elections without making a single mention of the breakaway ZANU PF minister Simba Makoni, whose support for the MDC will be crucial in any run-off election (if he doesn't prove himself to be a Mugabe stooge in the next couple of weeks).

The only bright notes (from a media coverage perspective) that I could detect over the past week were a very interesting SBS TV interview with Jim Holland, husband of MDC politician Sekai Holland, who was also in Harare, but unlike out international correspondents had something informative to say about the voting; and an interview on the aforemention bagged Lateline with MDC MP David Colthart, who must rank as one of the best political media performers in the world today.

People keep asking me what I think. I don't know. Even though I can place Tanzania on a map I don't have a clue whether nor not Robert Mugabe will wake up one morning, come to his senses and step down gracefully (though I wouldn't be putting my house on it), or if there will be strife in the streets.

Zimbabweans, I do know, are slow to anger and have a healthy respect for the rule of law. If only the law would rule legally, Africa would be less lawless. If you know what I mean.

I called a friend in Zim the other day to ask him for his take on the situation and he said: "You know more than we do. We don't have electricity so we can't even watch the television news."

All he would have seen was some guy reporting from the border, wondering what was going on down the road from where my friend was standing, quite literally, in the dark.