Perspective

14 09 2014

We descended below the clouds some 20 minutes out of Harare airport. A bit of mental arithmetic made that some 100 km or so depending on the speed of the aircraft. I wasn’t in a window seat but had a reasonably clear view of the countryside and kept an eye open for irrigated crops, their intense green easy to spot at this time of year against the brown of the veld. Nothing. One or two old centre pivot irrigation fields were detectable by their characteristic circular pattern but now they were derelict. Plenty of dams though and they were mostly full in this, the dry season. Yes, I was definitely home.

congress

The keynote address at the first day of the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane

The International Society of Horticultural Science holds a International Congress every 4 years in a different country.

This year it was in Brisbane, Australia and I decided it was time to go and see just where horticulture was going. It was impressively well organized in the modern conference centre on the south bank of the Brisbane River. More than 3000 delegates attended over the 5 days that it was run and the range of topics covered by the symposia necessitated a fair degree of choosiness. Presentations varied from excellent to hopelessly technical with a few mediocre thrown in for good measure. While I didn’t find anything directly relevant to my business it was worthwhile and my curiosity was well satisfied (or more precisely – saturated) by the end. The final dinner was a festive affair with a good band, dancers, magician and plenty to eat and drink. Rather depressingly I found myself to be of the average age – where was the future of horticulture which as one of the keynote speakers pointed out will be the future of feeding the world (horticulture is defined as being intensive agriculture)?

After the congress it was time to catch up with friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years when I was last in Australia, doing the backpacker “thing”. I made some last minute changes to the itinerary and needing to book a flight to Canberra from Sydney I pulled out the smart phone in Brisbane airport and 3 hours later in Sydney got onto the plane to Canberra. Australia works. First world (not sure why I was expecting anything else but it really works). Of course first world functionality comes at a first world price and my friend Peter whom I visited in Orange (also in NSW) told me that Australia is now officially the world’s 4th most expensive country to live in. I can believe it. A small (by Harare standards) 3 bedroom house in Orange will go for some 5-600,000 Aus dollars and the gardens are miniscule! A meal for 3 of us at a good restaurant, though certainly unexceptional, in Brisbane cost $160 without alcohol. It would have been about $75 in Harare. It’s all to do with high labour costs I am told. That and the vast mining industry that powers the Australian economy.

Pasture land around Orange

Pasture land around Orange

That is not to say that agriculture is insignificant either. Australia has some 13 million ha of wheat production, mostly for export. Zimbabwe was once self sufficient in wheat and exported maize. Now we import both. Unlike Australia where most extensive agriculture is going the corporate farming route with vast tracts of land being farmed, Zimbabwe is heavily reliant on the small scale producers. The mostly white commercial farmers were kicked off their land in the early 2000s – hence the idle dams and land that I saw coming into Harare. In Australia most extensive agriculture relies on rain whereas in Zimbabwe irrigation is essential, especially for winter/dry season production.

canola fields

Canola (oilseed rape) near Orange, NSW

Oilseed rape (Canola) was abundant in the short trip we did around Orange, again mostly farmed by corporate organisations. This is not a crop we grow in Zimbabwe and unlike Zimbabwe, most states in Australia have embraced GMO crops. With labour costs that high GM farming is very attractive (most of the GM crops we saw were of the Roundup Ready® variety – i.e. weeds can be controlled by herbicide sprayed over the crop but the crop is unaffected). GMOs are banned in Zimbabwe though I know that they are imported illegally from South Africa where they are commonly grown.

Back in Queensland with another friend also called Peter we did the rounds of the farming area. The soil is much more fertile in the Darling Downs region than in most of Australia and it is used to the maximum. Again, mostly without irrigation and the maximum use of mechanization to keep labour costs down.

A few people at the congress in Brisbane asked me how many staff I employed. 14 labourers, 2 foremen and 8 contract labour. They looked stunned especially when I explained the size of the nursery. A nursery of similar size in Australia would employ perhaps 4 people. We are still third world here.

Being driven back home from the airport I couldn’t help but compare the filth of the Harare streets with the immaculate ones of Brisbane. BrizVegas, as the locals like to call it, is spotless. Like any modern, first world city, there is also lots to do there. There are two art galleries, a library that offers evening courses in, amongst other things, film making and of course lots of shows that are booked out months in advance. We don’t get much in the way of quality international entertainment here in Harare except perhaps for HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) once a year and it’s relatively easy to get tickets there.

Brisbane from the river - there's real money here!

Brisbane from the river – there’s real money here!

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

Back home the dogs were ecstatic, the lawn was dead from lack of water (it regrows in the rains), there was dust everywhere and the nursery was just fine. It had been good to get a perspective on the real world out there but it was also great to be home.

 





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!





HIFA 2014 – Day 2

1 05 2014

A busy day. Traditionally sponsored by CABS, a local banking group, and with it the traditional opera night. Best described as opera light for novices, a lot of small but well known pieces are sung. I am not much of an opera fan but there is no denying the skill of the singers. It’s a fairly casual affair – only the singers and musicians dress up, the rest of us bring food and wine and sit on the grass. Yes, it IS a spectacle but if you missed it this year you will just have to wait until next year.

My first assignment of the day was the National Ballet modelling bridal inspired fashion at the fashion dome. No supermodel strutting here – it was all en pointe. A bit brief the show lasted all of 15 minutes so if you are thinking of catching the second half be on time.

Vibe Culture are a local band that plays “afro-mbira rock fusion” (according to the programme. Not that I would know!). Accomplished musicians all (that’s from my friend Caro who knows about these things) the lead singer has a fantastic voice and the dancer is probably the most photogenic performer I’ve seen in a long time!

Stephen Prutsman looked visibly jet-lagged on stage but still produced great classical piano music with “Bach and Forth” a melange of Bach and other composers moving forward in time (alternating between Bach and the others). If you appreciate good classical music and can recognize great piano playing you should catch the second show on Friday evening at the NMB Recital Room.

aCadao Canto are a Spanish group and very easy listening. They play mainly Galician music and will be on again at Lays Global Stage Thursday evening. If you just want to chill at the end of a hectic day and take in something different, then get there.





HIFA 2014 – “Switch On!” Day 1

30 04 2014

HIFA is up and running again! Day 1 was BancABC day (they sponsored it) and there was plenty to see. I missed one Australian circus show as it was fully booked and as a photographer couldn’t get in (jeez, what are these guys’ priorities?). However there was still a Gong Myoung, a Korean mixed show of music and hip-hop that was amazing. An interesting type of music, some beautiful though I did not take to the opera much. NOBODY, and I mean nobody, does hip hop like the Koreans. Worth seeing just for that so catch them again at the 7 Arts theatre on Thursday.

Second up was an Italian guitarist Andrea Valeri who not only is an extraordinary player but a great showman too. He’s playing again on Sunday at Lay’s Global Stage and again with two other guitarists (I met one on the shuttle bus) in the Battle of the Guitarists at the same venue also on Sunday. Should be good.

Then I got my cellphone stolen by a pretend drunk which is why this is a bit of a rush – spent most of yesterday evening resetting passwords! Will get back to this and update it tonight – I promise.





HIFA 2013 – day 1

30 04 2013

HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) 2013 started today.  I had a relatively quiet day photographing 3 shows.





A darker side of HIFA

7 05 2012

On Saturday night I left the recital hall at about 19h30 having watched The Armed Man and taken photos. Driving past the main gate to HIFA was chaos; people parked all over the place and a seething crowd. I made an easy decision to just keep going. Turning left onto 2nd Street it was a lot quieter and I stopped at the traffic lights on Herbert Chitepo. There was a small car parked to the left of me. Then there was a load pop and a hissing noise and someone walked fast between us and away to the opposite corner of the intersection. I thought, “You bastard, you’ve slashed my tyre” as the lights changed and I moved off.

The rear back tyre went flat in a matter of metres but I saw a minibus parked at a pickup point some 50m up the street with a number of people milling round and it was quite brightly lit so I pulled in there. I was immediately surrounded by people all telling me I had a puncture! I got out warily after checking that my camera bag was out of sight and expecting the worst but they were being genuinely helpful and some 20 minutes later the spare was on and I gave them $20 (Shelton, my French teacher said a dollar would have done) which was received with much delight and I was out of there.

I found out on Sunday that another of the HIFA photographers was accosted in the same manner except his tyre went down gradually and when he stopped to change the wheel on Josiah Tongagara Ave an unmarked (no licence plate) car pulled up and two men accosted him. He and his wife fought them off with a wheel spanner and fire extinguisher and luckily nothing was lost.

Was this a coincidence? I don’t think so. There are all sorts of people around at HIFA and a fair proportion of those employed to assist with parking are street kids/adults who very likely have unsavoury contacts. It would not take a lot of surveillance to see who was arriving every day with cameras and keep tabs on them. I drive a very distinctive white and maroon Landcruiser at night (it has attitude to keep ‘Benzs from cutting me up) and I have a distinct limping gait too. I have no idea if I was followed from the recital room. I was just lucky that the person who slashed the tyre misjudged the cut and it went down fast. Yesterday I used a different vehicle which is very nondescript.





HIFA – Day 4

5 05 2012

A very interesting day. A Handful of Keys with Ian von Memerty and Roelof Colyn was sheer entertainment; two pianos expertly played and homage paid and satired to the greats of piano from Fats Domino to Elton John. Very funny and quite risqué. A near capacity audience at the 7 Arts theatre loved it!

Maria de Barros and her band then entertained at the Global Stage in the main HIFA gardens complex. A Cape Verdian with a good band behind her she had the audience on its feet with a mixture of soul and a touch of reggae and well, all sorts! Not really my style of music but certainly fun.

My prize so far for sheer creativity goes to Leo put on by the German physical theatre company Circle of Eleven. Featuring just one actor in a 3 sided box which was then projected onto another screen rotate 90 degrees – just about anything becomes possible. It’s a bit difficult to see what’s going on in my photos as I was sitting on the right of the stage when it would have been better to sit in the middle. The show starts off funny, becomes a bit sad but in the end descends into a nightmare.

The next prize for shear difference goes to Dream Streets & Labyrinth performed by New York based Cornelius Dufallo. Even he failed to describe the music he plays. Mostly violin with his own backing instrumentals recorded on computer the music is played with some very different visuals projected onto a big screen behind him. I liked it enough to buy a CD but I suspect it will take some getting used to and am not sure how well it will work without the video. As one spectator said behind me at the end; “Not your average HIFA performance”. No, but it was great all the same! Bravo, it took some courage to put that on. See the next performance if you like exploring different music.





HIFA 2012 – Day 2

2 05 2012

Day two of HIFA 2012 kicked off warm and clear with lots of action, music and drama. Today I did not take in any dance although the Gri Eshe!  ensemble was billed under the dance section there was not much of it.





HIFA 2012 – Day 1

1 05 2012

HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) kicked off today. This year was particularly difficult, not only due to the dire financial situation of the country and a lack of sponsors/partners, but also due to government interference. Anyway, I resumed my usual role of a photographer for the daily news-sheet and was given carte blanche today to get on

with it. I started with Big Boys Don’t Dance written and performed by Bradley and Ash Searle.

Big Boys Don’t Dance

The South African brothers play brothers whose bachelor party goes wrong with hilarious results. The upset a few stereotypes of male dancers along the way too.

But they certainly can dance!

I stayed at the same venue for Live Vibe, a mix of various hip-hop dance crews. Some were OK,  others not. I don’t mind hip-hop at top level but this was not that good.

Live Vibe – one of the better dances

Live Vibe – a local dance crew

Between the Lines was a collaboration between Tumbuka, a local dance company and Belgian based director Harold George.

Between the Lines

Between the Lines

I was a bit late getting to the recital hall where Nicky Crow and Kymia Kermani were playing contemporary classical music so had to go for the “atmosphere” type of photograph. Contemporary classical is not my forte, I suspect one has to be a bit musical to appreciate it but the audience seemed to enjoy it.

Nicola Crowe – the atmospheric shot!

Ricardo Coelho and Cristina Castro of Pe na Terra

Portuguese group Pe na Terra were sold out at the Global Stage and with good reason. Vibrant was the key word and they really put on a show of “jazzed up” Portuguese music.

Pe na Terra – all but the drummer

Lead singer Cristina Castro was extraordinarily charismatic and very photogenic to boot!

Pe na Terra

It is going to take a while for my ears to recover but I was very pleased to see that the lighting has been vastly improved from last year – I used to dread taking photos at this venue.





A bit of culture

12 10 2011

We don’t get a lot of high quality entertainment in Harare – I mean, who wants to come to Harare, (where’s that?) to play, act etc? The exception of course is HIFA but that’s just a week a year (see other pages on this blog). So when we do get quality entertainment it is really appreciated. There are even those who claim, rather snidely, that Zimbabwean audiences are a little TOO easily pleased but, hey, we enjoy it! Last night the Spanish Embassy sponsored top flamenco guitarist, Paco Peña, to play. Word had got around that it was a free concert too and it was a capacity crowd at the now somewhat dilapidated 7 Arts theatre (when it rains I have seen water leaking onto the stage). I am no flamenco aficionado and fortunately there was no singing, which is very much an acquired taste, but the playing was extraordinary. I even checked to see he did not have extra digits on his right hand! Encore to the Spanish Embassy!