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Relieve me - Accidental Tourist, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Never tell a Zimbabwean you are going to Zim or you may find yourself smuggling strange goods

We’d driven the pile of nappies over hill and dale, lake and mountain, gravel and pothole and through four countries. Now we had finally reached Zimbabwe and could dump them. So to speak.

I’d originally agreed to carry a small parcel to Bulawayo. Six boxes had turned up. Six vast boxes, unsubtly labelled Dis-Chem and containing a hundred and fifty adult nappies. Half a bakkie-load. And there was a blanket too. But not just any blanket. One of those giant blankets that comes with its own zip-up carrying bag. A blanket large enough, in fact, to make a sizeable bivouac.

Never tell a Zimbabwean you are going to Zim.

We cunningly buried the boxes under our camping equipment and agreed to tell any inquisitive officials that they were for my personal use. In my fiftieth year I was obviously about to lose control of my faculties and liable to urinate or, heaven forbid, defecate uncontrollably at any moment. The disposable contents of the boxes would allow these actions to be carried out discreetly. I suggested, when crossing borders, that I should perhaps wear a pair of absorbent briefs over my shorts, superman-style, to reinforce the situation, as it were, but it was agreed that this strategy would come into play in emergencies only.

Our padded contraband passed unnoticed out of South Africa and through Mozambique, unsullied even after a dodgy prawn in Inhambane. We had established, in case explanation was required, established that the local word for nappy is fralda and that incontinent, not surprisingly, is incontinente in Portuguese. So far so good.

On reaching the Zòbué border between Mozambique and Malawi, however, things got a bit, erm, stickier.

We declared ourselves to be carrying ‘camping equipment’ but officialdom wasn’t having it. A sturdy woman in a tight-fitting uniform into which you couldn’t have squeezed a small tissue, let alone an absorbent pad, insisted that we provide a detailed list or unpack the vehicle. And no amount if jolly humour on our part was going to talk her out of it.

Item by item, we slowly removed bicycles, tents, sleeping bags and mats, food boxes, a braai grille, kit bags, charcoal, a tool kit, a 40-litre water tank, two pairs of muddy hiking boots and then our secret weapon – an open bag full of dirty laundry. At this point she quailed. No smuggled discovery was worth the discomfort of dealing with soiled clothing. Little did she know what else was lurking deeper under the canopy …

The nappies passed unchallenged through Malawi and unnoticed into Zambia where they spent four happy nappy days in South Luangwa before pushing south-west and unsprayed over the bridge at Victoria Falls. And now here they were in Bulawayo.

We called the number we’d been given to arrange delivery. In Hope Foundation Road – how apt, we thought. Look for a nurse in a pink T-shirt.

We drove up and down the road. No nurse. No pink T-shirt. We called again.

Next to the Greenhouses? Green houses? Or greenhouses? Just past the Sunlight bus stop.

We asked a blue-overalled passer-by, pushing a bicycle. “I don’t know, boss, I am new here, sorry, from Masvingo, but, please boss, I need job.”

Still no pink T-shirt. Stymied at the last. We’d driven these oversized pampers 8000 kilometres around Africa. Now we couldn’t deliver them where they were so sorely needed. Giving up reluctantly, we left them at a spaza shop with a gentle dollar-bribed guard.

I heard later that afternoon that the nurse had taken delivery. Mission accomplished. Just in time, according to Nurse. I was so relieved I almost wet myself.

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