A different attitude

12 02 2014

The traffic lights on the intersection of my road and Harare drive have not been working for some months now. Actually that’s not quite true. The traffic lights that face the Harare Drive traffic have been working, the ones on my road have not. It even got to the stage where one of the green lights fell off and was dangling by wires to the rest of the unit.

Crossing Harare Drive was an interesting experience requiring one to move forward just far enough to see the Harare Drive lights without obstructing the traffic and when it turned red it meant that the lights on my road were green; if they’d actually been there. If on approaching Harare Drive I couldn’t actually see any lights but could see traffic stopped on Harare Drive then I’d assume it was OK for me to cross. But I always slowed down, just in case.

This morning ALL the lights were working! Oh joy! At last I felt safe. Well, a little more safe than normal. A City of Harare pickup was parked next to one of the lights. I thought about waving and hooting my thanks as I drove past but I could not see a technician nearby. Hold on, I was about to thank someone for doing a job that should have been done months back? I bet in civilized countries he would have been apologizing to me.

At the intersection of College Road and Churchill Road all the lights were working. I still counted four vehicles going through on red when it was green for me.

Is this in fact a shoe shop?

5 02 2014

Some very basic shopping can be very demanding in Zimbabwe. Take shoes. There ARE shoe shops around but nothing like the Shoe World chain that I’ve seen in South Africa. Our own local version of Bata (the original is east European) is about the only place to get ordinary shoes. Work shoes, casual shoes, school shoes and a very motley collection of sandals. This was my second visit to the Borrowdale branch of Bata this year to try and find shoes for my staff. It did not go well.

“I need one size 5, 3 size 6 and 4 size 7 in this style. Preferably in the same color but it’s not that important” I said to the sales lady, indicating the canvas shoes preferred by the women labourers.

A short while later the shop assistant returned – “We don’t have the size 7 in that style, can I get you them in this style?”

“Yes, yes, that will do” I replied abandoning any thoughts of uniformity and moved on to look at smarter shoes for the foremen.

The boxes of shoes appeared on the counter. “Have you got a pair of size 9s and 8s in brown?” I said pointing to the leather shoes I’d chosen.

“I think so” she replied and went to look.

“I think so” didn’t sound so promising to me so I thought I’d better check on the shoes for the women workers. There were 2 size 5s and only one 7. I mentioned this to the sales lady. She looked a bit puzzled and went off to find them returning a short while later.

“Um no, those are the only size 7s we have and we don’t have any brown shoes in that style” was her reply on returning.

This was starting to sound distinctly like the Monty Python cheese shop skit though I had actually got some shoes but I could see it was going to take at least one more visit to get what I wanted. My sense of humour failed, I muttered something about Zimbabwean businesses learning from the South Africans who seem to  be moving into the retail sector in ever increasing numbers and walked out.

We do tend to complain in this country about the South African business presence and how the supermarkets, which are almost entirely South African based, don’t support local suppliers but import most produce from South Africa. We tend to forget, conveniently, that they have upped the retail standard considerably which was distinctly, rustic. So it is nice to find a local product that is distinctly first class.

The flyer caught my eye as I was walking out of the bookshop so I grabbed one and only took a closer look in the car. It was advertising a locally written book on astronomy for this part of the world. What’s more I could view one at a residence on my route back to work. Pulling in at the advertised address I caught the domestic servant on his way out but he was happy to get me a copy to look at and divulge all sorts of information about one of the authors who is his employer. The book, Introduction to Astronomy for South Central Africa, is a quality publication possibly aimed as much at teachers as students. Full of great photos, illustrations and tips to star-gazing it is quite substantial and even has a luminous star map for those of us who don’t have one on our smart phones (I do).  I felt I had to support this venture so for the princely sum of $25 got myself a copy. Turning to the introductory pages I noticed it was published in Singapore. Well it was written by Zimbabwean authors!

On justice and honesty

23 01 2014

Trevor is my insurance broker. He’s a big man, loves to talk and laugh but occasionally has a serious story to tell. Yesterday when paying my annual insurance premium he entertained me with a couple of stories.

“You like justice to be done?” he started and without waiting for my reply launched into his tale.

A client of his has a 17 year old daughter who was attacked by 3 dogs recently  whilst out walking one afternoon. They rushed out of a gate left open and attacked making quite a mess of the girl’s leg before she managed to beat them off. A report was made to the police and the order given for the dogs to be destroyed (there was a history of other attacks) which was done.

The case was far from over and the lawyer for the owner of the dogs suggested a meeting between the girl’s father and the member-in-charge of the police station handling the case. This was arranged and at the meeting the lawyer proposed some sort of financial compensation instead of taking the case to court. Much to his surprise the member-in-charge said he would prefer it to go to court to which the father agreed after a moment’s thought.

A year’s jail term was handed out, suspended on condition that the accused never owned dogs again and some community service was added on top. The police station where the case was reported made use of the community service.

“So what do you think”, asked Trevor. “There’s still some hope left” he added referring to the continual corrupt dealings of the police that have left more than a few of us disillusioned.

“Trevor, the cynic in me is awakened” I replied without pause. “If the owner of the dogs had been someone of note, with the right connections, do you really think it would have got this far?”. He had to admit that it was very unlikely that it would have.

“Then how about this” Trevor continued, clearly unfazed. “I’ve just got back from seeing my folks in Cape Town. My mom and dad are in their 80s in a retirement complex in Fishhoek and my mom spends her days knitting and watching bad South African TV. My dad is more than a bit conservative and has no time for TV so I decided to wait until they went away for a short while, get the TV installed with a subscription for a year and make it fait accompli”.

The manager of the complex was contacted, an installer recommended and met. Trevor had misgivings about the character who was recommended but in the excitement of doing something worthwhile for his mother and circumventing his domineering father, chose to ignore the alarm bells. He handed over the cash together with enough for the year’s subscription and the equivalent of $100 to sweeten the deal. The satellite TV was duly installed but the year’s subscription ran out after a month. Fortunately Trevor’s older brother was going to Cape Town so he went and put the fear of God into the installer and another 6 months subscription was suddenly paid. Excuses were made about the remaining 6. So Trevor asked if I knew of anyone going to Cape Town who could help out. I didn’t but recommended my cousin who is  huge and does go there to see his daughter.

“So I was telling this story to my golf buddies the other day” ended Trevor “and they couldn’t believe how dishonest the installer had been. But then they are Zimbabwean. The one South African who was playing with us couldn’t believe how naive I’d  been to hand over cash to someone I didn’t know with just a handshake to seal the deal”.

Indeed, how bad are things getting when one cannot trust complete strangers!


The scam

10 01 2014

We have our share of scams in Zimbabwe. Some are more clever than others.

The man at the gate said “they” were charging $1 to go through the shortcut to the light industrial sites where I was going. It was “for the people maintaining the road”.  This sounded plausible enough; the roads are in an appalling state in Harare at the moment. They always degrade in the rains and are patched up when they should really be resurfaced. The city council has no money to do this so enterprising individuals patch up the potholes and put up signs such as “Voluntary work – Pliz help” in the hope that passing motorists will drop them a dollar or two.

When I looked a bit dubious he pointed to an old sign that listed a tobacco company as the legal owner of the industrial complex through which the road ran and said “It’s private property now”. I was a bit sceptical about that but it’s not a part of town that I frequent. Anyway, it was a lot shorter than going around along some very bad stretches of road and if the road had actually been maintained… I handed over a dollar. He picked up his cellphone, appeared to dial and said “One car coming through”.

Half way through the premises I started to think I’d been had. It was all run down, the road although not bad was not maintained and there was no tobacco company present. Nobody checked that my vehicle was “permitted” at the other gate. I was seething. I realized that he hadn’t actually dialed anyone, he had got through to the “other person” far too quickly and my vehicle hadn’t been identified either.

By the time I’d finished my business I was seriously considering revenge. Demanding my money back and if not getting it removing the gate with the front of my Land Cruiser (which is reinforced to deal with bush and goats). Or something more subtle like making a video with my cellphone and promising to pass it on to the police.

Oh what the hell. It was only a dollar and I got a story out of it. But it still stings to get had even if you have been naive.

An inspirational story – the Cold Fact

25 12 2013

I am not religious at all so this time of year is a bit lost on me. Actually I find it a bit tedious and find it a relief when it’s over – an excess of eating and false bonhomie and the original message of hope and inspiration long buried in commercialism. I heard the first Christmas Carols this year in a supermarket at the end of October. I do however like a truly inspirational story as much as anyone so last night made myself comfortable with a DVD “Searching for Sugar Man” – the story of the search for the artiste known just as Rodriguez who in my youth produced the iconic album Cold Fact that sank without trace in the USA but was a huge hit in this part of the world where it was seen as a touch provocative, anti-establishment, and a touchstone for anti-apartheid music in the Afrikaans language.

I suppose I was about 15 when I first heard Cold Fact. Tape cassettes were a new technology so it must have been what we called an LP (long playing vinyl record). We considered ourselves a bit rebellious just for listening to it with its shocking lyrics on I Wonder – “… I wonder how many times you’ve had sex and I wonder, do you know who’ll be next and I wonder…”. Well, shocking for that era. And the song about drugs – Sugar Man. I never owned the album, I wouldn’t have dared bring it home. I had already rocked the boat by being the first of my siblings to buy a pop album – the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Radical stuff man! I am not sure I would really have appreciated the lyrics anyway, often a gritty synopsis of Rodriguez’s Detroit.

The Searching for Sugar Man documentary follows two South African fans as they search for their hero about whom next to nothing is known where Rodriguez’s two albums were a massive hit. They don’t even know if he is still alive as rumours abound about an onstage suicide. I remember being told that the artiste was an ex-convict who wrote his songs in jail. Rodriguez is alive and well and  has absolutely no idea that he is a superstar in this part of the world and has spent the last 30 years as a blue collar laborer in construction and renovation in his native Detroit.

The opening scenes of the first sell-out concert in Cape Town in 1998 are incredibly touching; a lot of the fans cannot believe it’s really their hero. Then the opening notes of I Wonder start and the crowd goes berserk. That Rodriguez, who is expecting a couple of thousand fans at most, walks calmly onto the stage in front of some 20,000 after a near 30 year hiatus and handles the concert with aplomb, is a tribute to the extraordinary quality of the man who remains remarkably humble to this day, still living in the run-down house in Detroit where he has spent the last 40 years.

The “Making of” section at the end of the documentary (which won an award at the 2012 Sundance Festival and later and Academy Award) is well worth a look – in itself an inspirational story of persistence from a first-time director who nearly didn’t get the film made at all. And the music; well, it’s timeless. Rodriguez is favorably compared to Bob Dylan in the documentary. In my opinion he is much better. I have never been a fan of Dylan whose nasal whining I find tedious no matter how good the lyrics. Rodriguez has great lyrics AND a clear voice. Here’s hoping he has found the recognition that he has so long deserved in the wider world.

Not of the right stuff

21 12 2013

I know that when the government press are critical of their own that the person in question is either a fall guy or just doesn’t have the right connections. The person in question is the CEO of the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and has been drawing a salary of around $40,000 per month including allowances. While I’m sure that salaries of this magnitude exist in the real world outside Zimbabwe I very much doubt they are in government run corporations that are rapidly going broke (see this link). While this is a link to an independent paper I first saw the story in the government owned Herald.

The person in question has  been suspended from his job while investigations are ongoing. In the meantime I still see police roadblocks where the prime aim is to get motorists with car radios to pay their compulsory licences. The ZBC has inspectors who are at the roadside. To say this grates is an understatement. I have removed both my aerial and cover of my car radio. The former stops me being pulled over in the first place (there is a gaping hole by the windscreen where the aerial was) and the second allows me to bluster that the radio is not functional. If the licence inspector gets pushy I retort – “If you can get the radio working then I will buy one of your licences”.

In the meantime I am just waiting for the day when they realize that anyone with a cellphone also has a radio and is therefor liable for a licence!

Sweet enough

29 11 2013
A bee on diet?

A bee on diet?

This is not the first time I have seen bees attracted to diet Coke (and its variants). It poses an interesting question; do bees find the same substances sweet that we do? Obviously sucrose is attractive to them and one just has to leave the honey jar open to find out that if there’s a short cut to collecting honey they will take it. But synthetic sweeteners? Do they have the same taste receptors that we do? Or maybe they are smelling the sweetener in this Coke Zero. No it was not the moisture on the outside as I watched this bee go inside the can. I have no idea whether it actually drank the Coke, anyway, the can was empty.

Oh, and I’m open to negotiation should Coca-Cola decide to use this photo for advertising purposes.



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