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Road of Hope

Road of Hope

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Published by Roger Russell
The story of two people and their victory over the devastation of cancer
The story of two people and their victory over the devastation of cancer

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Published by: Roger Russell on Sep 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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I rise early and leave an empty house. I write a small note of thanks for the priest
and leave it on the mantelpiece. The opportunity afforded to me to rest and
recuperate has been a real gift.

I walk out onto the bypass and turn to the south. At 8.15 am I am at a sign that
tells me it is 108km to Pietersburg. My schedule tells me it is 1890km to Cape
Town. I have completed 109km in four days. This is good enough.
Then I decide that it is not good enough. I must push harder. I grip my mental
attitude by the throat and shake it. I will do the next stretch in three days and
make up for what I have lost. Nothing is going to stop me. If I feel that I am not
really winning then I must be losing. I am obviously not doing enough and must do

So much for a disciplined and controlled approach I tell myself, but smile, I feel
better already. By 10.25 am I have done 12km. My pains have been reduced
considerably but the expensive foot plasters that I had purchased for my blisters
are proving to be useless.
I strip them all off and treat the blisters my way. The pack is noticeably lighter
and within half an hour I am keen to get going again. This day is a hot one but I
keep on until 1.10 pm and add another 11km to the day‟s tally. At 3.15 pm I am
rested and fed and although my feet are sore, I have dressed them for the second
time and I feel comfortable about pushing ahead.
Bandelierkop is a 7km gain on my schedule and when I reach it at 5.30 I feel very
pleased. There is no medicine like success.

As I approach the town I see a Police station on the right and I decide to ask for a
cell for the night. Twenty five years ago I had done this often whilst hitch hiking
around the country and although the conditions were sometimes spartan, four
walls and a roof are better than nothing.
The problem of where to sleep only arises in towns and built up areas. On the open
road the culverts provide all I need. They are dry and normally clean. Once in a
culvert you are invisible to any passing traffic and the average size of them is just
enough to allow reasonable movement without being so large as to make you feel
The man on duty listens to my request and I can sense that this sort of thing is no
longer common. Using the telephone he refers the matter to the duty sergeant who
finds it so intriguing, he asks that I wait whilst he comes from the barracks.
He refuses point blank to give me a cell and instead takes me back to the barracks
where he shows me a spare room, TV lounge and bathroom.
“You make yourself at home here,” he insists, “and if you need anything just
Before I do anything else, I set off for the hotel, leaving my pack in the room
unopened. I have been dreaming of a rock shandy the whole day and that little
reward for the kilometers I have done comes first. I treat myself to two. I sit and


drink alone but my thoughts are of the road ahead. I am excited by the good
progress I have made today and believe that there is some hope of making up the
day I have lost in Louis Trichardt.

I do not sleep too well, my knee and my hip are better but I have difficulty finding
a comfortable position that caters to both at the same time. In the morning I talk to
some of the men and they warn me that there is a large black township called
Mphakane about 23km ahead. There are some rough people there but I am told I
should be O.K. if I stay on the road and get through it before nightfall.
I leave Bandelierkop at 8.00 am and push hard.
I stop at a farm stall to buy some tomatoes. I am pleased that I am walking at this
time of the year. On the train journey up to the border I saw huge orange orchards
rich with golden fruit and here in the north there are tomatoes, fresh and tasty,
I move on and as I walk I am comfortable enough to think about something else
besides my body.
I have to do more towards generating funds. I often get stopped and people offer
me lifts then want to know more about what I am doing. This takes time and I
cannot be abrupt. What I need is a hand out. Something with a brief message and
details of where to send money.
One of the more disturbing things I have learnt through Sharon‟s death is that
many people need to be seen to be giving. The motivation to actually send a
donation through the post has to be great to get someone to go to the trouble.
When I placed the funeral notice in the paper, I ask that donations be made to St.
Luke‟s Hospice rather than have flowers at the church. There were no flowers at
the church but few people actually took the trouble to make a contribution to the
Hospice. St. Luke‟s Hospice wrote and thanked me for each donation. The amount
was never mentioned but the source of the donation was stated and I was
disappointed in many close friends and organizations. I felt that they would have
sent flowers under normal circumstances but did not donate because nobody would
know that protocol had been side stepped. I know that most of the people I have
spoken to so far will forget or just not bother once they are back at home again.
A hand out would help to remind them.

Ahead of me I see a typical location town; some solid houses but mostly flat roofed,
one roomed buildings. They are dirty and scattered across the veldt. Here and
there they are grouped quite densely. Everywhere in between the permanent
structures are lean-tos and shacks.
Although it is nearly 12.00 am and I am at a distance, I can see a smoke layer
spread like a soiled gray sheet above the houses.
All around me the country is rocky and the vegetation sparse but just ahead,
between me and the town, the rocks are huge and lie amongst dense thorn trees.
The road goes through this patch, cutting the roughness with a strip of blue, much
as it does the human blot on the slopes ahead.

I see movement in the rocks and as I approach I am confronted by about ten
children between the ages of eight and fifteen. The tallest is thin and dressed in a
variety of different clothes, the colors of which must have been impressive once but


are now drab and degraded by years of sun, dust and who knows what else. I feel
apprehensive but I am not sure that I am justified in doing so, so I try to put the
feeling down. A lot of the trouble that occurs in the country is fronted by groups of
children such as this one. The possibility of being attacked and robbed at night in
the veldt is minimal by virtue of the fact that to all intents and purposes I don‟t
exist. I am a single unit that moves without pattern and disappears in the late
The situation I now find myself in is, however, the one set of circumstances that I
have been dreading. In an interview with the Sunday Times before I had left Cape
Town I mentioned it as the only aspect of the walk that worried me.

The children surround me and all start to talk at once. I can understand nothing
and try Afrikaans, English and Fanakalo without success. Two or three of them are
behind me and I can feel some interference with my pack.
I turn and say, “No!” very aggressively and then immediately turn back to the tall
one in front of me.
“I must walk.” I state quite firmly and wiggle two fingers in a walking motion. He
is standing directly in front of me so I step around him and start walking at a fast
pace. As I pass by him I start to speak Afrikaans and he follows alongside
He tries to make some sense of what I am saying but cannot and keeps asking
questions that I cannot understand until he starts to use a couple of English and
Afrikaans words amongst the others. The necessity for communication seems to
keep other desires at bay and the fact that we are walking along a roadside
requires some attention to what his feet are doing as well. The closer we get to the
town the better I feel. I am sure that I will be safer amongst a larger, more varied
population than I am out here in the open with what is now very obviously a gang
of youths led by the boy at my side.

Slowly we develop some ideas, theirs mostly seen to center around the contents of
my pack. Mine are directed towards getting them to name themselves and give
some background to their lives. I want them to realize that; firstly I posses little of
any value, and secondly that I know who and what they are.
Someone behind me says something and I can hear he is not happy. His leader
does not have time for insubordination and he gets a sharp response which
includes a push that sends him sprawling. The boy walking along on my left
appears to be the second in command and is a lot friendlier than the others. I learn
that his name is Philip and he decides, with a flash of insight into what I am doing,
that he will walk with me. He taps himself on the chest and grins from ear to ear,
“Walk,” he says, “Me walk.” He makes the same motion with his fingers that I had
done earlier.
“You, Me, walk Cape Town.”

As this strange conversation continues we reach and pass the first few houses.
Other children are running across the open patches of ground. When they reach
the fence they stop and shout at my companions. The reaction is not friendly and
some scorn and some needling are thrown back and forth.


Philip is keen to tell me something and keeps pointing ahead saying, “Me come, me
Without a word of good-bye everyone departs, climbing the fence and disappearing
into the houses on my left. Those at the fence on my right wander off more slowly
back across the veldt. Before they do one them holds out his hand and shouts for
money. I shake my head and with a feeling of relief at being on my own again,
continue down the road.
I make up my mind to walk through the settlement and only stop for lunch once I
am clear of people on the other side.

Then my blood runs cold and everything else is blocked out by a shout I hear from
behind me....
“Kill the Boer! Kill the Boer!”
I turn to meet whatever it is that is coming and there is nothing, only three
children standing on the wires of the fence. The older children are far away,
moving towards the distant houses.
One of those on the fence waves her hand at me and the others climb down and
shout again, “Kill the Boer!”
I laugh and wave back, “Kill the Boer!” I shout.
This is obviously the right thing to say as they respond excitedly. The oldest is not
more than six years old.
It is sad that the only English words they know have been gleaned from a bitter
heritage indeed. I do not believe for a minute that they have any idea of what they
are saying.
They see a white man and they wish to strut out their knowledge of a white man‟s
It makes me stop and think. I love children and believe with all my heart that their
innocence and pleasure in life is a direct gift from God.
If there is anything that condemns our modern lifestyle it is the loss of this love of
life as we slowly mature. How privileged we are if we can extend some of this
simplicity and faith into our adult years.

I get through the township without further incident but as I move out of town on
the other side I am again surrounded by my gang of boys.
Now I know what Philip was trying to tell me, “Me come,” he said, and he has.
I cannot unpack my bag to eat. There are too many little bits and pieces and too
many little fingers around me to be able to control what might happen. Natural
curiosity or sly manipulation, I know that they will want to dig and scratch
through everything once the backpack is opened. I have at least two days still to go
before I can replenish my meager stores and must hoard everything carefully. At
the same time I cannot trail this bunch of unknowns out into the bush where I
would be totally at their mercy if, and I feel it is an unlikely if, they were to decide
that my belongings were worth taking by force.
On the far side of the road there is a tree and some shade. I cross over to it and tell
them, “I must rest now.”
I sit, my backpack firmly against the tree. I am comfortable as I lean against the
harness of the pack and the weight is now on the ground. They have no problem


with this and immediately sit as well. They form a ring in front of me and just
Silence descends and I realize that we could be here for a long time. I do not know
what else to do. I must look like some teacher or prophet sharing knowledge or
wisdom with his disciples. The earth around us is bare and beaten flat by countless
feet and vehicles that have passed or stopped by this tree. In fact a taxi draws up
and discards two very large ladies with babies, shawls and parcels. They look at us
but climb through the fence and walk off without comment. An old man
approaches on an even older bicycle and dismounts. He pushes the bicycle to the
fence and sits down beside it. He is in the direct sun but it does not seem to bother
him at all. He just sits. I just sit, my escorts just sit.

From the town two young men stroll up. They are reasonably dressed and are
sophisticated enough to give me some hope that here might be a break in the
deadlock that I see developing. They come up to the circle and address the boys.
There is a great deal of talk and the leader of my gang starts to look a little sullen.
One of the new arrivals turns to me and asks me politely, “Why are you walking to
Cape Town?”
He speaks good clean English. What a joy!
I am so pleased to be able to communicate that I really lay it out for them. I tell
them of cancer and of how people helped Sharon. I speak of violence and peace and
of how many good people there are.
One of the two says to me, “These boys are not good people. They are tsotsi.”
The gang leader says something and spits on the ground. With some threatening
and fairly obvious swearing in whatever language it is that they speak, the gang of
boys is chased off. This amuses the old man at the fence and he laughs and shouts
something after their reluctant departure.
I am glad but Philip is very annoyed and keeps appealing to me as he moves off,
“Me, You, walk Capetown.”
I find out that the young men are busy with Matric in the local school. The school
is temporarily closed because of a current boycott. They are not pleased about this
and have no idea of how their year will end. They are worried about the possibility
that they will not be able to write exams or even be able to pass them if they do.

I am still uncomfortable about opening my pack for lunch so make it known that I
am about to leave. The old man with the bicycle gets to his feet and walks around
to stand in front of me. He looks down at my legs. I am wearing shorts and have
been a little burnt by the sun but I am not aware that there is anything wrong
with them. He spits to one side and says, “Those legs will never make it to
Capetown... Those legs will get sick before they get to Capetown.”
I have to admit that they are not all that impressive to the passing glance but they
are all I have and they are going to have to do.

It is now 2.45 pm and I have not eaten but I must leave. The old man has mounted
his bike and ridden off along the road so I say good-bye to the two that have
resolved what could have been a difficult situation and start walking.
I wait until Mphakane is lost behind me before I unpack some chocolate and
biltong. I eat as I walk and take stock of my situation. My water is low as I did not


have a chance to fill my bottles. I have done nearly 30km and it is only mid
afternoon. Pietersburg is another 44km ahead of me. If I can do 5km more I will be
in striking distance of it tomorrow. The schedule gives Sunday as a rest day. I will
be able to take it as such and be right on time, leaving Pietersburg on Monday.

I manage another 3km and feel really tired so I start to look for a suitable place to
sleep. Investigating each culvert takes time and involves walking off the road and
along the side so that I can see if the place is big and clean enough. I try not to
appear as if I am actually stopping for the night.
Eventually I find what I am looking for and walk slowly by until there is no traffic
in either direction. When the road is clear I double back and duck into my home for
the night; unobserved, invisible and sheltered better than a camper at a caravan
The time it took me to find the place has brought me the 5km I needed and into the
late evening. I do not have enough water to cook a full meal so I make do with half
a cup for noodles and supplement that with the tin of fish that I still have left.
Rationing water does not really help, as all through the night I keep waking up
thirsty and although I only allow myself one swallow each time, by the morning I
have hardly a full liter left. Breakfast, one cup of coffee and a wash take care of
half of that and I face a long, hot stretch of 39km with 500ml of water.

I get going and go through my morning body check;
Blisters? Sore but dressed and in spite of not resting them, on the mend.
Right knee? Marvelous! God bless brusque doctors.
Left hip? Constant dull ache but also improving. I am very careful now about the
camber of the road and walk as much as possible where the verge flattens out. If it
does not, then I walk on the other side of the road, as long as it seems safe, in order
to give my hip a rest.
Other items? Water - on Thursday when I pushed hard I consumed a great deal of
liquid, I had two rock shandies, cooked and drank the three liters that I carry. I ate
several tomatoes and had a cold drink. The total must have been in the region of
five to six liters. If I am to make it through this day I must have more water.

By 11.00 am I am really thirsty and have only one swallow left in the canteen. I am
fortunate because as I come over a small rise I see a farm stall on the right hand
side. The only drink they have is some artificial stuff in plastic bottles. I buy three
of them but they are terrible, which is quite a statement because I am in no
condition to be critical.
The women who are working the stall are not very helpful, one has water but I
have to offer her R1.00 before she will fill my two liter bottle. One race, one people
but so many persons; some wise and almost gentle, others loud and aggressive.
Once I have the water I move to a tree nearby and sit down in the shade.

Today is not a good day for pushing and when I get going again I am frequently
interrupted by people offering me lifts. I love it and enjoy the company and the
opportunity to tell my story but it takes up so much time. Amongst those that stop
is „Tink‟ from Messina. He is on his way to Pietersburg for a job interview. He
opens his boot to reveal some ice cold water and we fill up all my water bottles with


it. I could kiss him. We talk for a while before he carries on and I walk until about
1.30 pm.
I have 17km to go and cannot rest for long. Back on the road early, my stomach is
full, blisters are dressed and I have lots of water. I can make it into Pietersburg
today if I really try.

Soon after I start another person stops. She drives a small truck and is friendly, fit
and weathered by the outdoors. Her name is Dorothy and after refusing a lift I
explain to her about the walk. Dorothy is a Rhodesian.
I am aware that the country has a new name, but the old colonial strength and
hospitality lives on in many people and they, to me, remain Rhodesians. She
immediately grasps the demands of the situation and says, “Look, can you see that
tree up ahead?” I can see it about 2 km further on.
“Well, you keep walking and I will drive to the tree. By the time that you reach me
I will have a cup of tea and a biscuit ready. So off you go.”
A hot drink under the baking sun at midday sounds ridiculous but all tea drinkers
know that this is in fact a very refreshing time to drink tea. The tea turns out to
be as good as I thought it would be.
Dorothy promises to do her best to generate funds when she arrives in Cape Town.
Later I hear from the Hospice that she phoned them and said that she had met me
and although I was struggling with my feet, all was well.

7.30 pm I am in Pietersburg. The last 10 km were long and I was on the verge of
stopping several times. However the closer you are to civilization the more
dangerous it is to sleep out in the open, so I kept on going in the end because there
was no other practical option.
Once I am in the town under the street lights I walk with some spirit. I am very
proud of myself; 108 km in three days, now that is really something.
I am back on schedule and can rest the whole day tomorrow. Two teenage boys
walk me to the Catholic Church and it is obvious by their behavior that it is
Saturday night. In Pietersburg as in other towns this means it is time to let your
hair down and create some mayhem. I am supposed to be beyond this sort of thing
and so as we walk I hang back a little as if they do not really belong to me, which
they do not. When we finally reach the church and part company I am relieved.
As I approach the gates I see the people starting to leave and I bless my good
fortune; the priest will be here and I will be able to speak to him right away.


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