Not an insect season

14 04 2015

Stick insects are difficult to photograph. Have you ever tried photographing a stick? They are aptly named.

Not great camouflage

Not great camouflage. The front legs are pointed towards the top left of the photo. The head is about 1/3 down from the top left corner.

This one I rescued off the floor in the dining room one morning. How it had got in I don’t know but Zak would almost certainly squashed it with his nose or a paw so I lifted it up onto a vase of roses and there it stayed for the next three days until Marianne took pity on it and moved it outside.

It has not been a great season for insects. Come to think of it, it has not been a great season for growing crops either. The rains were very late starting last year and early planted maize succumbed to a long dry spell that lasted into the first week of December. Savvy farmers (who could afford it) replanted after the first good rains in December but short-season maize, as it is known, does not yield heavily at the best of times and erratic rains since December have really given the late plantings a hard time. And now to top it all the rains have finished earlier than usual.

Insects of course also flourish in good rainy seasons so I have not seen anything like the variety and numbers this season that I have seen in previous years. I should be seeing a profusion of golden orb spiders in the nursery about now but they have not appeared either. I guess it must be something to do with a low prey population.

Droughts and erratic rainy seasons are nothing new in this part of southern Africa but in the distant past we had strategic reserves to fall back on. And farmers to grow the reserves in the first place. Now much of the once productive commercial farmland lies idle and Zambia produces a surplus of maize, thanks largely to displaced Zimbabwean commercial farmers. The government is bankrupt and the President, Robert Mugabe, has gone on a state trip to South Africa to try and attract investment. But South Africa does not have spare cash so I guess the begging bowl will be once again held out to the World Food Programme.





Still looking good

31 03 2015
Still going well...

Still going well…

I came across this grand old lady in a supermarket car park recently. The owner was only too pleased to chat – one can be sure when this amount of work has gone into a car it will be very special! It turns out she’s a ’68 model, has done 300,000 miles (500,000 km) and is on the first engine rebuild. The owner couldn’t get the right sized pistons and liners so he upgraded it to a 1600 cm³. Yes it has been resprayed too.

Some German friends whom I showed the photo to commented that it was the first model that did not have a split windscreen. And yes, she really did purr (in as much as Beetles ever did) out of the car park!

 





The day of the LED

31 03 2015

It was at least 10 years ago that I read in a Scientific American magazine that the future of lighting was the LED (Light Emitting Diode). Being a bit of a geek I have followed its development over the years but up until now have been disappointed. Now it is everywhere. Just in Harare I have seen it in traffic lights, car headlights, brake lights, advertising billboards, replacements for flourescent light tubes, shop lighting, TVs, torches (flashlights to the Americans), security lights on industrial sites and domestic lighting.

The LED is a hugely efficient converter of electricity into light and according to this article has surpassed the compact fluorescent light in terms of lumens per watt used. The cool white colour problem of LEDs has largely been overcome too.

led typesIn my local hardware store I spotted this brand of lights. The 5 Watt globe replacement cost $7 and the small spot cost $9 without the mounting. It was also available in a 12 volt version as well as in a flood version. A 12V transformer also needs to be purchased if running off mains though it will also run off a 12 volt battery which makes a solar setup quite attractive (a deep cycle 100Ah battery is over $200 though). Solar panels (photovoltaic cells) are not cheap here at $2/Watt which is well above the break even of 50c/Watt in order to compete with conventional mains. However with the mains supply in this country becoming ever more erratic it does offer a way of at least getting SOME independence from the endless power cuts. For those who can afford it.

Old style incandescent globes (or bulbs as they are called here) cost all of 50c which is awfully attractive if you are on the breadline as a lot of Zimbabweans are. Even if the lights pictured really do live up to their 25,000 hr advertised lifetime it would still be awfully difficult to persuade someone unemployed to buy one.

For me the day of the LED has arrived but for most people in this country it will have to wait a little longer.

 

 





The advantages of differently-abled

25 02 2015

Some years back, whilst working in the U.K., I noticed that the word “disabled” was out of fashion. One, and that included me, was “differently-abled”. Hopelessly PC of course and complete nonsense. Differently abled implies that the person afflicted has abilities that others might desire. Right. Hands up all those who might want to fall over more easily. But that’s in the real world. Zimbabwe of course is in another world where these rules don’t always apply and having a disability CAN actually be advantageous.

My Zimbabwe passport expires in April and I’d been procrastinating getting it renewed. It’s been 10 years since I’d jumped through hoops and endured the queues at Makombe Building but things have slowed down a bit at work, my presence is not constantly required there and really I’d run out of excuses. All attempts to download the renewal form on the internet had failed (I’d enlisted the help of others too) and noting that they were open on Saturdays and also having heard that Saturdays were not that chaotic, decided to give it a go. It was inauspicious.

Parking on the street and getting the usual “I’ll look after your car boss” from a hawker of passport folders, I walked in. Having ascertained that Room 3 was the place to buy an application form I discovered that there was no queue. I also discovered that I couldn’t in fact buy a form ($3) until I’d had all my other identification documents certified (birth certificate and National ID) and those offices were closed on a Saturday. I’d have to wait until Monday and come back or get the form from a sub-office in Mount Pleasant (a suburb closer to where I live).

Monday found me at the sub-office in Mount Pleasant. Unfortunately I needed the original of my birth certificate and my ID to purchase the renewal form. Yes, if the internet download site had been working I could have done it for free without any documents! But nobody could tell me why it was not working. I returned later in the week and got the form but ascertained that I needed a new computerised birth certificate and that would require a visit to Market Square in the CBD of Harare. Now I have driven past Market Square and it is straight out of Dante’s Inferno, but with Zimbabwean flavour. Rubbish, touts and endless queues dominate the scenery. I shuddered, was there perhaps another way? Of course there was! An official offered for the princely some of $20 to acquire it for me. It was a no-brainer as the Americans call it. I paid and collected later the next day.

Back to the Makombe building later the next week I mentally fortified myself for long queues and delays. I was pleasantly disappointed. Fast tracked through the first queue due to my disability and not actually finding any other queues to jump, I soon found myself back at Room 3. No, I did not need to buy an application form. But how much did I want to pay for the passport? What, I have a choice? Of course there is a choice; $50 for 6 weeks, $250 for 3 days or $350 for the same day! No, 2 weeks is not an option. Not at all stupid are the Registrar General’s office. They know which option most people are going to opt for and yes, I paid the $250. After only an hour in the Makombe building I walked out assured that my passport would be ready on Monday.

I told the story to Shelton (en Francais). He was more than a bit cynical and told me he knew someone who paid the $250 and it took 4 weeks. In fact another friend who’d paid the $53 ($3 for the form) got it in 2 weeks. I settled down to wait but with a bit of hope as I’d been pleasantly surprised at how well things had gone. It had not been the Makombe building of old.

Yesterday I got a SMS – my passport was ready! Fortuitously I needed to go into town so enlisted the use of a driver from the National Ballet office – parking can be chaotic in that part of town. The parking was easy, the queue formidable and no officials around to fast track me. I guess I will go back this Saturday.





Nostalgia

14 02 2015
A Ford Capri still looking good after some 40 years!

A Ford Capri still looking good after some 40 years!

When I was 15 I really wanted one of these; a Ford Capri. Of course the really hot one was a Ford Capri Piranha (no, I cannot remember what was special about that model but they were the hot car of the time). I didn’t even know anyone who had one but I did draw one, from a magazine, for an art project. I was inordinately please that a friend could actually recognize what sort of car it was but of course the shape was very distinctive.

This one was parked outside an auto spares and accessories shop that has recently opened on 2nd Street and Churchill roads near the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. I was actually looking for office chairs which are sold in the same complex but I had to walk through the auto accessories outlet to get there. I was impressed; it could have been an outlet anywhere in the first world. Whoever had put the money in had put in a lot of money and thought. I’m not so sure they are going to get it back – it was not well patronized. It was even worse in the office chairs shop. I was the only person there. Sadly this is a common story in the country these days as the economy continues to stumble. Daniel, one of my customers, told me this week that he was talking to a friend’s wife whilst she was having her hair done in a hair salon that could seat 8 people. In the hour and a half that he was there (he can talk a lot) nobody walked in. Not good.

Whoever owns this car cannot be too concerned with shortage of money. It was in superb condition, though the colour scheme is not original and they certainly didn’t have magnesium (“mag”) wheel rims in those days. What he does for spares I cannot think. Still, it was nice to see a piece of nostalgia from my youth still looking good after some 40 years!





A nice idea

3 02 2015

Towards the end of last year Zimbabwe was abuzz with the news that bond coins were going to be introduced. The news was not well received and, despite strong denial from the Reserve Bank, rumours abounded that it was an attempt by the government to reintroduce the Zimbabwe dollar. I had seen one or two but up until today had not actually received any as change.

Small change

Small change

Small change is in notoriously short supply in Zimbabwe. South African coins (2 RAND lower right) have been useful in that they are roughly 1/10 the value of a dollar (so the 2 RAND coin is valued at 20c) but obviously they have to be bought at least the face value plus some sort of commission. The bond coins, which are minted in South Africa, are pegged at equal to the US dollar though they have no value outside the country. They certainly cost less to produce than their face value. A nice idea and certainly preferable to receiving ball point pens or sweets as change which was the case. People receiving lots of coins, such as the mini bus drivers, can go and change the coins at the end of the day for paper money at a bank. Except, as Shelton tells me, most refuse to accept them.





The cats are out of the bag and breeding

22 01 2015

 

kitsiFirst there were 6 now they’re 4. Just like cats everywhere they breed. I saw the mother come through the nursery a couple of months ago and thought I would put up with her if she kept the rat population down. Then a couple of weeks ago Kari’s dog Max started and incessant barking and there were the kittens. Apparently Max wanted to play but the mother was having none of it and was not slow with showing her displeasure when I got too close.

This morning the mother brought back some sort of prey through the greenhouse and ate it under one of the seedling racks. I don’t think it was a rat, more like a lizard. I don’t keep a cat for this reason – because they kill just about anything though this cat did at least eat her prey.

The mother will have to be caught and sterilized. It should be an interesting exercise as she looks half wild. As to the kittens, who knows. Kari thinks she’ll take one but they are not exactly friendly. We’ll see. I grabbed this photo of these kittens sitting on the coir blocks where they spend most of the day.








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