Their heroes and mine

11 08 2014

It’s Heroes Day today, a public holiday when we are supposed to remember those who died in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe. This is nothing unusual; the war dead are remembered in various ways all over the world. At the time of the so called liberation struggle I was in the Rhodesian Army and did not see those against whom I was fighting as liberating anything. That could just be a point of view I guess – one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter and all that. Except for the fact that over the years a number of the ruling party faithful have been interred in Hero’s Acre (the national cemetery) who status as heroes are dubious. Others who should have been buried there were left out. There is a certain financial incentive to being a national hero in that the family remaining get a substantial pension.

Anyway, like I said, today is the day that Zimbabweans are supposed to remember the fallen. There are celebrations all over the place and earlier this week I had a request from a local farmer for donations towards the party to be held today on his farm where the local branch of ZANU-PF, the ruling party, has its office. I ignored it, after all, they are not my heroes. I was hoping to be able to tell him this in person but aside from two missed calls yesterday morning from a local number that I did not recognise, nothing has come to pass. Yet.

Seedlings of course don’t take holidays so this morning I went into work to see how things were going. Fine of course. It was also an opportunity to catch up on a bit of work as I will be away for 3 weeks at a horticultural congress in Brisbane, Australia. It was worth it on another count as I spotted this spider on a daisy.

Hey, I'm with stupid!

Hey, I’m with stupid!

 

I have seen this type of spider on cosmos and it was white to match the flower. I wonder if they have the ability to change colour depending on the background or they have to spend their life on the plant to get the right colour? It was pure luck to see it with a fly as when I took the first photo it was just patiently waiting.

Of course I didn’t have my big SLR with its very special macro lens so my cellphone had to do – I was quite impressed with the result.

Tomorrow is another public holiday – this one is Armed Forces Day. It is traditional for the president to address the crowds at the National Stadium just outside town and watch military parades and a flypast by the Air Force with the 4 lonely remaining fast jets that are still flying. There is a football match afterwards to help pull in the crowds. Whether the armed forces will be celebrating remains to be seen. Rumours are rife that they have not been paid and junior officers have been sent on forced leave to cut costs.

So who are my heroes? They are the firefighters who went back into the damaged reactor at Chernobyl, knowing full well that they would not survive. They are the firefighters who went into the Twin Towers after the 9/11 attacks knowing that they were going into a hideously dangerous situation because that was their job. They are those who work for MSF and the International Red Cross and without fanfare get on with the thankless task of helping Ebola victims (and others) survive. These are the people I admire.





Lest we forget

5 08 2014

As I write this it’s the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1. I have a very tenuous link to it; my paternal grandfather was killed at the Somme in 1917.  Of course I never knew Lionel Roberts and neither did my father. In fact my father was born in 1925 some 8 years after Lionel’s death and his real father’s name does not appear on his birth certificate. My sister noticed this and asked my mother about it but she clammed up; some things were just not discussed. Us siblings were intrigued – a SCANDAL in the family, now that was something to boast about! However, my mother died with her secret and now there is no-one else alive who knows the answer. One day I plan to visit Lionel’s grave and pay my respects to him – the “grandson” he never knew who also payed a high price for being a soldier.

In August 1987 I knew none of this and was cycling through northern France on a 20 pound bicycle purchased off a hostel warden in Whitechapel, London. Northern France is littered with cemeteries of all nationalities. Most are pretty nondescript but the American cemetery at Verdun is an exception. I lost the photo but I can still recall the softly rustling oak trees, the brilliant green grass in the morning sunshine and the sad lines of white crosses stretching off in all directions. It was terribly peaceful. The Americans do cemeteries well and this was one of them.

I don’t recall the poppies in the wheat fields on that trip but in 2010 I was back in France trying to salvage a failing relationship (I failed) and we stopped near a field of poppies bobbing peacefully in the wind. The photos still exist on a hard drive somewhere but were not that good.

poppy2This morning in the nursery there was this poppy growing near the ponds of tobacco seedlings. I have no idea how it got there – maybe a seed crop from last year but I cannot recall seeing poppies there. It had a flower on it last week but today was another fresh one, coincidentally recalling a terrible war long ago and far away. In London tonight lights will be extinguished throughout the capital and replaced with candles in remembrance of the 888,246 British fatalities.

There is an irony in this short tale. The war dead from the Rhodesian bush war, in which I was involved, are not officially remembered within the country. That is the dead whom were fighting on the side of the Rhodesian forces. A number of memorials exist outside the country but within the country they are not welcome. However, next Monday, 11th August, is a national holiday. This is Heroes Day to celebrate those that died fighting for Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo – fighting against the Rhodesians. Such is the price one pays for losing a war – the winners get to rewrite the history. One day maybe we’ll get the right to officially remember our dead but in the meantime turn off your lights, light a candle and remember those who paid the ultimate price in the “war to end all wars” that started 100 years ago.





Surviving Makombe

20 07 2014

I lost my wallet about 5 weeks ago. Stupid really. I think I left it on top of the Land Cruiser and drove off. It’s not the first time I’ve done this but in the past it’s been walking sticks or a diary or two and I usually got them back though I wouldn’t have been too upset at losing a diary. But losing my wallet, now that’s a different matter. Driver’s licence, ID card not to mention money. I really didn’t expect to get the money or the wallet back but I was hoping to get the driver’s licence and ID. Of course I drove along the route to the microlight club but nobody waved me down and yes, they do all know me around here. I had to dig out my old driver’s licence – my very first with me looking the 16 years. It’s a bit tatty and broken in half but nothing a bit of new laminating couldn’t fix and it’s passed the test with the police a few times now albeit with a fair bit of amusement at my evident youth.

You can get a driver's licence at 16 in Zimbabwe.

You can get a driver’s licence at 16 in Zimbabwe.

Replacing an ID card is more of a challenge. The Makombe Building is where it all happens along with the passport office on Herbert Chitepo Road just on the edge of the Harare CBD. I don’t have fond memories of the place. I cased the joint on a couple of occasions when I had to visit a surgeon whose rooms are opposite it. It was as bad as I’d feared; chaotic. A seething mass of people and touts. Not somewhere I’d willingly go and spend a few hours. I should explain that ID cards are essential in Zimbabwe. Started by the Rhodesian government they were the concept was embraced by the Zimbabwean one to the extent that it is a legal requirement to carry some sort of identification. A passport will do but of course nobody wants to carry one of those. I don’t really mind and they are quite useful in ensuring that I get parcels at the post office that are mine – or ensuring that nobody else gets my parcels.

The official at the sub-office at Mount Pleasant shopping centre suggested I try the Market Square office in the Kopje area of town. I drove past and just kept on going. Dante would have been impressed; queues of people with glazed, hopeless, bovine looks, rubbish, touts and minibuses. There had to be a better way.

Shelton knew a friend who’d replaced his lost card at a sub-branch of the National Registration department at KG6 barracks and there were few if any queues. The last time I’d been at KG6 was when I’d been caught with an untidy trunk at an army inspection and had to do a day of filing when I should have been on R&R. It seemed like a good opportunity to see what it was like now.

The military policeman at the barracks gate stopped me and asked what I wanted. I was at the wrong gate but he offered to get the ID card for me (for a fee no doubt). This rather defeated the object of the trip and I didn’t see how I could get another card without being there myself so I politely refused.

There was precious little going on inside the building. The room I was sent to had sheets of very large ID card negatives on the table and piles of very old computer printouts on the shelves. A strange unidentifiable piece of apparatus lay on the floor. An older man looked at my passport and birth certificate and shuffled over to a computer terminal. Brushing aside debris he pulled out the keyboard and typed in my ID details. It was all there, this was looking really promising. Sadly the official said I had to go to the Makombe building as they couldn’t replace ID cards on these premises. Catching the horrified look on my face he said he’d give me a letter to speed things up so duly armed I set off for the Makombe Building on Herbert Chitepo Road.

I was lucky to find a car park close to the gate. Locking the car and nodding to the car “attendant” who promised to look after my vehicle I made my way to the entrance. I paused, took in the chaotic scene and taking a deep breath resigned myself to my fate.

Two hours and six offices later I had my new ID card. I’d been fully digitised, avoided two marriage proposals (no thanks, I don’t need help to spend my money) and hopefully got a bit of business. I’d gleaned that the new offices next door that had been vacant for the last 6 years or so were not about to be occupied anytime soon and the authorities were instead refurbishing “this dump”. With the exception of the photocopier operator I’d confirmed that most Zimbabweans are friendly and have a sense of humour. But I knew that already.

ID

Fully digitized

Fully digitized





Just the normal

29 06 2014

Once in a while it’s nice to report on the normal and eschew the title of this blog; Zimbabwe Absurdity. This Scruffs dog show was organised as a fund raiser by VAWZ – a local animal welfare organisation. It was well attended and full of fun with categories as “The dog with the waggiest tail” and of course “The dog the most like its handler” amongst others.





It’s the small things

28 06 2014

I felt absurdly pleased with myself. A whole $100 in NEW dollar bills! Now THAT was something to feel good about. But it had taken a bit of doing.

Dollar notes in Zimbabwe (the US type, our dollars disappeared towards the end of 2008 in a deluge of hyper inflation) are notoriously dirty and not that easy to come by. I keep the worst to give to the toll gates who cannot refuse them and really don’t have the time to quibble either. So when I find a source of them I exploit it. Like my local pharmacy where I deliberately hand over larger notes than necessary to get clean dollars back. Then I started to get suspicious; the pharmacy ALWAYS seemed to have new dollar notes.

Karyn looked slightly embarrassed “We get them from CBZ”.

“But also bank there and I can never get them”.

Now she looked a lot more embarrassed “Actually we don’t even bank there, we just go and get the change at lunch time”.

I pounced on this clue and called in to get the wages in the afternoon after gym. The teller gave me my breakdown but had only a few $5 notes.

“You can give me all the smaller stuff in ones if you like” I added helpfully (and hopefully).

She pulled out a bundle of truly revolting notes. I made a face.

“I will see what else we have” she said and went off and came back with a bundle of new $1s. Delighted I gathered up the stack of notes and asked for a rubber band (rekken in local lingo).

“Are you always needing new notes?” she asked.

“Oh yes please!” I responded. And another bundle of new dollar notes magically appeared.

Suddenly the afternoon looked really good.

 

I love the web address!

I love the web address!

Crisp and clean - not for long!

Crisp and clean – not for long!





Hung out to dry

5 06 2014

My friend Gary once commented to me that hell was being born and animal in Mozambique. He should know as he spent 8 years there, 5 of them living in close contact with the local community near Gorongoza. He saw bushbuck with their one front leg purposely broken so that they could not run away and stayed fresh for the pot. At least in Zimbabwe we have an active ZNSPCA and various other animal welfare organizations that strive to look after the lot of those of our 4 and 2 footed friends that cannot speak for themselves. But that doesn’t mean that abuses don’t occur of course. I have seen puppies for sale (though not recently) and 2 weeks ago saw a puppy in a cardboard box in the industrial sites crying for attention and being shouted at to shut up. It was moved before I could take a photo. Yes, some rural dogs I see are reasonably well-looked after but I would hesitate to say this is the norm.

So it’s pleasing when a local artist, Wallen Mapondera, takes up the cause and puts on an exhibition at the Gallery Delta in town. Not all art, is of course, created to be sold. My favorite piece is Friends for Sale but it is not art I could live with. Look closely at the picture and you can see that the SPCA has taken the first puppy.

The images are all taken, with permission, from the exhibition pamphlet. The exhibition was sponsored by the Swiss Embassy in Harare and opened by the ambassador, His Excellency Mr Luciano Lavizzari.





HIFA 2014 – Day 6

6 05 2014

HIFA is now over of course. My internet did not work for a full 3 days which is why these posts are late. It took an hour on the phone to a support centre and the good fortune to be chatting to a technician who actually did know what he was talking about to sort it out. It’s still erratic but at least it is working.

I thought the programme this year was good. I only saw 2 plays that I thought were sub-standard but that is the nature of arts festivals. I cannot answer the question as to which was my favorite show but I did really enjoy the acoustic guitarists, all of whom were exceptional in their own way. It is of course common knowledge by now that the government blocked the visas of the South African pop group Freshly Ground who were due to play at the closing ceremony on this last day sponsored by Old Mutual, an insurance company. This was apparently over a song that the group released some years back that mocked the president of Zimbabwe (see this link). In true HIFA fashion a plan was made, another German group stepped up to the stage along with a host of other international artistes and the show went on!

I did not attend the final closing but did get to see a few other things. First on the list was the local National Ballet production – the Breakthrough. A real crowd pleaser with a bit of contemporary ballet and just about every other genre of dance one could think of. It purported to show how all these other styles developed from classical ballet but I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of that. The crowd didn’t mind and it was well attended on both days.

 

It was with more than a bit of trepidation that I made my way to the finals of The Trash Queen fashion show but it was not at all what I thought it would be. Participants had to design and make a fashion attire from trash. Any sort of trash would do – air filter, bubble wrap, CDs and loads of other rubbish was used. Participants were individuals and self-help groups, remand centre children and local schools. Fun!

Right after the fashion show I moved nearly next door to hear a South African group John Wizards (apparently named after a band member). They seemed pretty chilled. And the music?  It sounded like it came from Cape Town. Afro something or other. Not my taste.

DSC_0749

Then it was time to go home, exercise and feed the dogs and come back to REPS theatre for Bend it Like Beauty with Ben Voss posing as a Zulu woman who succeeds in insulting just about everyone. Very funny but he had to excise rather a lot of political material and as a result I recognized a lot of stuff from a previous show a few years back. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution but does not apply to everybody. I did not take photos – there are only so many photos one can take of a comedian on stage and anyway, I wanted a break!








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