Licorice bootlaces

9 05 2013

I stuck my tongue out at the rear-view mirror; it wasn’t black like it should have been. I was only slightly disappointed. I’d found the licorice boot laces (they were more like ribbon cable than the knotted boot laces I remember from junior school) in, of all places the aquarium shop, and I was well pleased. The car in front of me pulled onto Harare Drive from Drew Road and was immediately pulled over by the police standing under the trees showing off their bright yellow traffic armbands. I made a show of stopping longer than necessary by the stop sign and then turned left as another car opposite me turned right and pushed ahead of me. I muttered a curse and then another as a policeman pulled me over.

“Who had right of way at that intersection?”

“I did because he was cutting across the line of traffic” I replied wondering if this was my provisional licence test over again.

“But he was already in the intersection”.

“How do you know where the intersection is if there are no white lines marking it?”. I was not going to be bullied in this one.

“But you did not stop at the stop sign”. A change of direction, if you will.

“Yes I did, you were not watching”

“I need to see your licence”.

I passed it over knowing that I could not now just drive off.

“If you want to challenge this then we will have to go to court”.

“No problem”. Now I was committed.

“I will go and get an officer to come with you to the traffic centre”. He was giving me a chance to back out and pay a fine.

“Please do”. I dug in my heels and he wandered off to his colleagues.

I really was prepared to go to court over this. Whilst I was not at all sure if the white¬† line was necessary I thought I could at least get a story out of this and if I really dug in I could call his bluff as I was pretty sure he did not want to go to court and answer awkward questions. I phoned my insurance broker to see if he knew and watched the cops in the rear view mirror. Trevor couldn’t help so I settled down to wait. The police were chatting amongst themselves, wasting my time – I suspected. Finally another strolled over.

“What happened there, why didn’t you stop behind the stop sign?”

“I did. I could see you here with your yellow arm bands. Why would I not stop? I know this is your favorite spot. You need to hide a bit better”.

He seemed to find this hugely funny.

“Here is your licence, you can go” he said, passing it over.

“While you are here”, I replied as he turned to go, “what about the white lines, aren’t there supposed to be white lines?”

“Yes, there are. But they are difficult to find in Zimbabwe these days”.

Notes on dealing with the police in these situations:

– always be polite

– never lose your cool

– be committed!

– know your rights.

Stop signs are there to tell you to stop. The solid white line marks where you have to stop not the sign. The white line MUST be there!

Licence issues

28 11 2011

The police were setting up a road block on the way into town. I was not concerned as they tend to target mini buses and squeeze them for anything they can. I also noticed that ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Commission) licence inspectors were tagging along and would no doubt see who they could catch for not having a licence for their car radio. I have long since removed my car aerial and the face of the tape/radio player as I refuse to have my intelligence insulted by anyone suggesting that I might want to listen to the state controlled ZBC. Once upon a time there were actually some good radio channels but that was long ago and they are now mostly ZANU-PF (ruling party) mouthpieces. I did notice in the paper earlier this year that there were some commercial radio licences for sale but have no idea if they were bought.

In theory one has to have a licence for any radio or TV receiver. Now that cell phones have radios in them I should think that could also be applied to them which would certainly bring a quantity of cash into the ZBC. I am surprised they have not already thought of this.

Powering down

6 11 2011

The power supply in Zimbabwe is erratic at the best of times but during the rains (which is also the storm season) it gets particularly bad. There was a storm some distance away over town yesterday afternoon and the power went off. It came back on for about 5 minutes, went off for half and hour and came back on again at a low voltage. My fridge and deep freeze have low voltage cutouts to protect the motors from such eventualities and are still off as I type this on a battery powered laptop.

Where I live we generally have quite reliable power, probably due to a military baracks on the same grid (can’t annoy them can we?), so I have not bothered with a generator or inverter and battery. My solution to the occasional power outage is decidedly low tech; I have a frozen 20 litre container of water in the deep freeze and perishables from the fridge go in there for as long as necessary.

The nursery is also on the same power grid but I don’t have voltage protection on all the motors so I dashed in this morning at 7 a.m. but all was well so the problem at my house is localized. It is unlikely to be fixed today so I will just have to live with it until tomorrow. Zimbabwe’s power situation is far more long term. I was recently sent an email circulated by the chairman of ZESA, Stuart Maasdorp. It is the first time that I have seen the issues facing the national power generating company clearly laid out. In short we are going to have major disruptions for at least the next 4 years and will just have to make a plan. In the meantime they have put power costs up some 40%. I have yet to see a statement to this effect, this was passed onto me by my landlord. That is not however an excuse not to pay into my account what I think I should be paying. The utility can still cut off the supply even though I have not seen the statement for the last 6 months! To get a clear picture of what I owe I will have to go into the ZESA office in town. Even then it is unlikely to be up to date and the meter is not read very often – they tend to rely on estimates.

Where has October gone?

15 10 2011

October in Zimbabwe is usually known as “Suicide Month” for the oppressive, unrelenting heat. Harare being relatively high at around 1400m – 1500m is tolerable with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s. This year it has not come even close to 30 degrees. Some days have only just got into the 20s and nights have fallen well below that.

Last night a friend who’d recently returned from the UK commented that he’d never thought he’d see the day when he would say that the UK in October was warmer than Zimbabwe in October. Is this climate change as predicted? It is probably too early to say but if this is the more extreme weather that the experts are saying we should expect, we can only wonder what is down the line.

Toad in the hole

4 10 2011

Well, it’s actually in the toilet but I guess that qualifies for a hole of sorts. It’s a fairly lean toad which may account for how it got there (NO I DID NOT PUT IT THERE!) – I presume it got down into the drainage system through another drain point which all have grids over them.

I went to use the toilet as one is wont to do and it looked back up at me in a pathetically toadish sort of way. So I flushed the toilet. However toads are quite strong swimmers and goodness knows, maybe there was some sort of toad-terror lurking in the pipes, so it simply bobbed around in the maelstrom kicking frantically. I came to the conclusion that it was probably just going to make it’s way back into the toilet bowl if flushed down so left it.

It was still there later looking toadishly pathetic so it was time to do something. I mean, how in good conscience can one use a toilet with a toad in it? So I flushed it again, twice (who wants to handle anything but a well flushed toad?), and got an aquarium net. Unfortunately it was a bit big for the bowl but the toad didn’t mind. In fact it saw an opportunity and as I scooped it up it wriggled under the rim of the bowl. I flushed again to no effect. I tried to dislodge it with my fingers but it clung on determindly. It was clearly not interested in going back into the bowl.

So there it remains. Or at least I think it’s still there. This morning it was certainly not in the bowl and I haven’t put my fingers back under the rim. How long does it plan on clinging under the rim of the toilet? Will it die there? I am going to have to think of something – outwitting a determined toad is more difficult than I thought!

Credit crunch

25 09 2011

Friday was pay day at work. On my desk with the usual breakdown of days attended by staff, overtime worked and deductions for loans (interest free!) taken was another for loans for two members of the work force requesting $200 each to be paid back over 3 months. I have stipulated that all loans WILL be paid back over a maximum of 3 months (nobody has ever taken less than 3 months). Not that remarkable but I still asked the foreman if those requesting the loans understood that they would be paying approximately half of their gross wage back each month. Apparently they did. Quite how they will live on the balance is beyond me but there is only so far I will go in taking responsibility for managing my labour force’s money. I just remarked to myself how thankful I was that credit cards are not easily available in Zimbabwe.


3 06 2011

“So how’s it going – saving the world?” I joked to the public health doctor this afternoon.
“Not very well” he replied. “We cannot address more than eight people without having police permission. If we send a person out to educate a group of people on HIV/AIDS he (or she) is immediately seen as partisan to a political party and reported. Our funding only lasts until the end of 2012” he said pointing to the logo of a branch of the UN on the side of his truck “and we are just standing still. There IS going to be an election this year and the (political) temperature is rising.”

I told him that yesterday I’d had a meeting with another branch of the UN which had a project going in rural Zimbabwe and wanted me to quote on a large order of onion seedlings. It hadn’t sounded very well thought out to me so I went along to discuss it. The manager of the project really wanted to get it going quicker than the 8 weeks it would take us to grow the seedlings so I suggested that they did it the old fashioned way with seed beds. I asked why there was such a rush to be told it was to keep idle young hands out of the way of the Devil – metaphorically speaking. I addedto the doctor that the last NGO order we’d done was sent out to the rural areas overnight to reduce the chance of being intercepted and disrupted.

“Why do we have to put up with this?” said the doctor, getting into his pickup. “Why can’t we just do as we like?” he added as he drove off.

Getting by

3 06 2011

“That’s not my change up there, is it?” I said pointing to the packets of biscuits, sweets and crisps on a shelf.
“No” said Christine and giggled. “It’s nothing to do with Forestry Commission”.
I was in the Forestry Commission seed sales office looking for eucalyptus seed to grow in the nursery. They didn’t have the species I wanted as the seed had been sent for germination testing. It seemed that Christine, the officer on duty, was doing a bit of moonlighting to help get by. The civil servants in Zimbabwe are notoriously badly paid so I was not at all surprised.

Earlier I had driven past a vlei in Mount Pleasant where two tractors were busy cutting and baling grass and there was a sign by the road advertisng the bales for sale. It is municipal ground but I couldn’t determine if they were municipal tractors. At least they were making use of the grass which every year gets burnt. Elsewhere there are other people busy cutting and combing thatching grass in the hope that they can sell it. Despite the patchy rains last season the veld is looking good which unfortunately means the fires will be severe and there already has been one at the front of where I live. It was too early in the season to be hot and damaging. That will come later.

Industry support

8 05 2011

I called by Tendai’s office at the end of last week to retrieve a DVD I’d lent him on, of all things, the RLI which is my old regiment. He was fascinated by it! He didn’t have the DVD on him but he did let drop a pearl of wisdom: apparently as of the end of June cars (and other vehicles I presume) older than 5 years will not be allowed to be imported into Zimbabwe. This is quite a blow to those who could get access to cheap, reasonable quality, second-hand vehicles from Japan. It seems that someone thinks we should support the Zimbabwe vehicle assembly industry instead. This is unlikely as they are expensive by any standard. I think we’ll just see ever older and more delapidated vehicles on our roads as few people will be able to buy the new vehicles.

Third world farming – the saga continues

29 03 2011

Last Friday night the cooling oil from the transformer at work was stolen. It seems to be a fairly risk free occupation – I have never heard of anyone being caught or electrocuted and it can be sold as a heating oil for stoves etc. There was a proctective cage around it on the pole (this is the 3rd time it’s happened) but of course where there is a will there’s a way and they got around it. Fortunately they felt a bit insecure about the wiring and turned the transformer off – which requires a special fibreglass pole so the transformer did not over-heat and self destruct. I wonder where they got that? Being a weekend nothing much happened from the power authority side (ZESA) but yesterday a phone call got the response that ZESA did not have any oil to put into it. This usually means that the oil is available and ZESA does not have the money to buy it.

There are several premises who share the transformer, one being a golf course and the manager has contacts in high places in ZESA so she told me she would handle it. In the meantime I had to think about how to get water out of our boreholes and into the storage tank from where we can use a diesel pump to get it onto the seedlings. Some years back I had bought a small Chinese made generator though not for this sort of eventuality as we have pretty reliable power. It is also only a single phase generator (3-phase generators are expensive) and is only designed for domestic and small premises. I had serious doubts if it could get the power to the borholes some 300m+ away without a big voltage drop that would stop the motors from running. Anyway it was worth a try. First I had to ensure that the two pumps that are single phase (one is a 3-phase) were on the same phase. That done I opened up the switch box and wired the generator onto the relevant phase and switch. I turned the generator on and hoped. At first I could hear the voltage protection on the pumps kicking in and out as they protected the motors from low voltage but eventually it settled down and we got water!

By 4p.m. the generator was leaking diesel. The cover had to come off and the leaking injector feed was remedied. Getting it all back together was another issue. The cover bolts would not line up with the holes! By 5.30 my patience had run out so it went back together sans a few bolts. Now I have to keep it running long enough to stay in business!