The power and the cheese

26 02 2014

I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Almost smug. The power has been off for most of the day and there is no sign that it will come back on so I have made a plan for the evening. A combination of no lights, a clear sky and a full moon makes for good stargazing conditions and it’s about time I checked on the binoculars in the cupboard.

I set up the tripod on the verandah, fasten the adapter to the front of my rather under-used Nikon 10×50 binoculars and clamp it all onto the tripod. I clear away the solar panels for the LED lamps, they must be fully charged by now (wasn’t it a good idea to leave them charging all day?), and settle down to focus the binoculars.

Dusk is falling rapidly as is its way in the topics. There is a light on the hill opposite – about 5km away and a perfect focusing spot. I wonder if they don’t have a power cut or have their own generator. Closing my right eye I focus the binos so that the left field is clear then close my left eye and use the focusing ring on the right objective lens to get a clear image of the light. Perfect. I sit back and enjoy the evening.

There is a buzz behind me as the fridge kicks into life. The power is back. It doesn’t matter; it is relatively dark where I live outside Harare so I will just turn the lights out and use the red LED lantern that I made to preserve my night vision. It is a perfect evening; mild and calm. I look on the horizon for an early star but it is still too light. I look up. Damn, clouds have moved in and they don’t look like the transient type. Now the mosquitoes start up. No! What has happened to my perfect plan? And now it starts to spit raindrops.

I put all the carefully prepared equipment away and go to see what can be done about supper. There’s a wedge of Camembert in the fridge that needs eating. I unwrap it. It doesn’t look good and is a bit slimy on the outside. But I am a Camembert veteran who is not easily put off his favorite cheese. I cycled across France in August of 1987 and subsisted on ripe Camembert and baguettes. It was hot, very hot, and by the end of the day the cheese could be poured out of the container. This, however, is not French Camembert and the fridge has been off all day. This cheese is more than ripe, it is rank. I try a piece and struggle. I call Zak. He is no cheese connoisseur but does like smelly things that can turn a human’s stomach. He is a bit hesitant to take the proffered cheese and biscuit. Does he know something about this cheese that I don’t? What has his nose detected? Maybe he is just a bit suspicious. He eats the cheese in the privacy of the lounge and comes back for more. He gets a bit but only one piece as he often sleeps with his rear end rather close to my head. The cheese goes back in the cooling fridge for future disposal. I can’t risk more either. I have a dentist’s appointment first thing tomorrow and it wouldn’t do to fart in the company of two rather attractive ladies!

What to do when the lights go out

28 02 2012

Thursday afternoon
“Sorry, can’t wait” says Helen. “Got a horse struck by lightning”.
“So what’s the rush?” I ask as she pauses at the gate.
“It’s my sister’s horse!” she replies.
I wonder how you give CPR to a horse but I guess if it’s your sister’s horse you have to do something.

As I expect the power is off at work but the storm is still on its way. I recount the horse story to Rory and there is a flash and a bang as the lightning strikes a tree just across the road. I resign myself to a quiet, dark evening as I am sure the power will not be back by morning. I am on a grid that supplies two military installations so power cuts are rare but faults are another matter altogether. They are seldom dealt with quickly.

Thursday evening
Supper – biscuits and cheese. I cannot be bothered to cook at the best of times and cooking by candlelight does not rank as romantic, just annoying. I am bored and the LED lanterns are running flat. It looks like an early night. A luke warm shower (at least there is still water – often when the power goes off the water does too but there must be enough in the tank to gravity feed).

I sit on the bed and watch the storm move off to the west. It is an extraordinary display. The thunder is continuous and the lightning spectacular. Every few seconds a bolt slams into the countryside – just as well it’s summer and the bush is green otherwise there would be fires everywhere. We very rarely have electric storms in the middle of summer, they usually occur at the beginning. It does try to rain a bit but there is no enthusiasm to it and it soon peters out. I watch the lightning stumble and stagger across the countryside until I can no longer hear the thunder and turn in.

At least the power was on a work today. It’s still off at home so the fault must be on the farm where I live. It doesn’t look good for getting fixed over the weekend.

Friday evening
I am a bit more organized and have mince and some noodles left over from a packet of the 2 minute variety. I doze off in my chair and feed the mosquitoes for a while. I am thinking that it’s another early night and take a look out the back window. The night is clear and the stars look good. Maybe some stargazing is in order. I lie on my back on the verandah and take in the night sky. We have some very clear nights in summer after the rains and I am lucky enough to live just out of town so there is not too much light pollution.

Orion is hight in the western sky. Betelgeuse glows a malevolent red. I shift the binoculars down to Orion’s belt and the Orion Nebula. My binoculars are Nikon 10×50 and good for stargazing but heavy to hold steady. I find that by leaning on one elbow I can stabilize them and they are reasonably steady. A star nursery, the Orion Nebula is churning them out and will be when we are all long gone. We are just so…. transient! Down a bit to Aldebaran in Taurus. Another red super giant. Sirius in Canis Major is directly overhead and blue-white hot. I must dig out my Greenwich guide to stargazing tomorrow. I am about to turn in and notice what I take to be Mars becoming visible over the roof of the house. Yes, it’s Mars alright, no mistaking that colour. Will I still be around when astronauts get there?

The power is still off when I get back in from flying models at the microlight club. The fridge is warm and Karma’s stew stinks. That bothers her not one little bit but I cook the remains on the gas so I don’t have to put up with it in the morning. I finish off the remains of the mince with some maccaroni and hope that the weevils have not got into it. I shine a torch into the pot and don’t notice any. This cooking by candlelight sucks! i spend the rest of the evening fiddling with a model that I broke some time ago. The LED lantern is nearly useless and I give up before I make a real mess of what I am doing.

Sunday morning
A cold shower. Amazingly the water is colder than the air temperature. I don’t dither.

There are more flies in the fridge than outside but at least they look like fruit flies. The remains of the pineapple I had earlier in the week smells distinctly fermented. I dig around to see what I can cook and find a jar of garlic in olive oil from at least 2 years ago. It should be well matured by now. What’s this? A sprouting carrot? I didn’t know they could do that so I plant it into the pot with the parsley outside the back door – I will be interested to see if it actually grows any further. All the bacon goes into the pan, the courgettes are added and a healthy dab of garlic in oil. The remains of some peeled tomatoes in a tin are added and I burn some toast under the gas grill. The eggs both break going into the pan. Is it my technique or are they just BAD EGGS? I have heard that only the infirm, very young and elderly are at risk for salmonella but give them a bit of extra heat just in case.

It all tastes pretty good so I lick the plate. Kharma eyes me without lifting her head. Unconcerned, she has her sights on a bigger prize – the frying pan. She’s right about that, I don’t lick frying pans even in extremis.

I spend the rest of the day doing things without electricity. Mending models, gardening. Fortunately I have and MP3 player but it still needs to be charged but the Landcruiser battery can handle that. Other than that it is eerily quiet – even the ART Farm tractor that has been grumbling away through the night running a generator to pump water for the pigs is silent. Gas. Gas is good when I need to boil water for tea. Zimbabwe even has substantial natural gas deposits in the Zambezi Valley but so far nothing has been done to utilize it. It’s much easier to make money out of diamonds and rare earth minerals that also abound. But my gas comes out of a gas bottle and the gas is imported, like so many other things, from South Africa.

Sunday afternoon
Kharma is dogging me for a walk so we go for a short walk around the houses. It’s the first time I’ve done that since I got my new knee last year. I still find the rough ground difficult. My neighbour to the west has been putting up a wall in the meantime. Well, it’s brick pillars and iron railings. It’s a big property and there will be more bricks used in the wall than in a medium-sized house. I think it’s a monumental waste of money but this sort of thing is common in Harare so it must be a status symbol. This wall and railing won’t even be seen by anyone. The grass at the bottom of my property effectively hides it. Fortunately.

18h24 and some seconds.
I am in the kitchen pondering supper. It’s easier to eat cheese and biscuits so I have taken some cheese out the freezer which is still chilly thanks to the 20 litre plastic container of ice placed in it for just these circumstances. Flicker. Flicker again then the kitchen light, which has always flickered when turned on, lights up. JOY! OH YES, POWER AT LAST. I will even forgive the internet for not working. Time to celebrate and get out the wine and light a mosquito coil because I’ll be damned if I am going to feed them again tonight!

Turning off the power

15 02 2012

Mozabique has threatened to turn off the power it supplies Zimbabwe over an unpaid bill of US$90 million. It turns out that the power supply authority in Zimbabwe is owed some $537 million. Zimbabwe has many financial woes, not least the lack of power. Agriculture in this part of the world, where droughts are endemic, is especially vulnerable to power cuts. Irrigation is essential for at least 7 months of the year and also in the rainy season in years such as this one when the rains were late. It is not clear why non-paying clients were not cut off as is usually the case but I should think that intimidation from those with political connections is a large part of the problem. The governor of Manicaland is said to owe some $145,000. It is about time the fat cats were made to go on a diet!

Bamboo power

24 11 2011

I turned into the entrance and my misgivings rose. The property was not well cared for. There was not a blade of grass anywhere so clearly there was no money for a borehole and the house was in serious need of some repairs and maintenance. The rubbish pit was clearly visible further down the slope and cans and other detritus lay scattered around it. A tall, thin man in his seventies, who introduced himself as Mr G, greeted me and thanked me for coming over. He’d been at the nursery the previous day when I was out and when I phoned back had enquired if we could establish imported tissue cultured bamboo plantlets. I’d been intrigued and besides it was a business opportunity so had agreed to and early morning meeting. As he turned to go into the house I noticed that his trousers were in need of some repairs and maintenance too and I wondered if I would still be having to work at his age.

We made our way into a sparse office and he invited his black colleague to come and join us. They were indeed importing large quantities of a type of timber bamboo that I’d not heard of, primarily for fuel for four proposed 100MW power stations in a joint venture with what I gathered to be a South African company. The bamboo has many uses and is used in Malaysia for house contstruction too. They were also hoping to get tobacco farmers to grow it for burning to cure their crop in place of gum trees (it not surprisingly grows faster) and for live fences and a myriad of other uses. They hurridly emphasized that it was non-invasive. I asked what the plantlets would look like and was passed a folder that they’d put together. The photographs were enlarged to fit the page and so badly pixelated that I couldn’t really see what was going on. Clearly basic photo manipulation was not something they were familiar with and I momentarily thought of offering to do it for them then decided not to; there was a pervading, rather sad air of desperate hopefullness and I didn’t want to deflate it in any way.

When I asked about quantities I was told that initially they would be very small, a few thousand plantlets at most. They thought the power stations that would require some 10,000t per year of bamboo to maintain sustainability would probably do their own plant establishment but they did ask me if I could cope with up to 1 million plantlets. I thought this was probably wishful thinking on their part but did not say so.

At the intersection of Borrowdale road not far from the meeting place there was a newspaper billboard; “1 MILLION FACES STARVATION!” it blared. I thought it ironic that people were prepared to invest large amounts of money in a power generation project but not in producing food in what had to be conflicting land useage. I had been told that there were 4 power stations planned (but not where) and the 40,000ha of bamboo plantation (not just for the power stations) was unlikely to be virgin land. Now 40,000 ha could conceivably produce 200,000 tonnes or more of maize. Obviously making money is more important than feeding the population though I have to admit we are desperately short of power in Zimbabwe.

Power cycle

11 04 2009

Lunatics are affected by the full moon – so I am told. Others get PMS. With me it’s the ZESA cycle. ZESA is the acronym for the local electricity utility. To say they are in dissarray would be something of a criminal understatement so when the power went off on Monday night I was in not expecting a quick solution. By Tuesday night I was getting a little tetchy but… at 18h30 the power came on! Hey, life in Zimbabwe is not so bad! At 20h40 it went off in a bad way; off, flicker, off – not the clean and decisive OFF meaning “see we can switch you off whenever we feel like it”. Wednesday it transpired that ZESA was “in a meeting” – that ever so useful catchphrase that is we all use to fob off annoying customers etc. We even knew where the broken lines were which made it that much more frustrating. By Wednesday night I was getting really ratty and looking forward to an Easter weekend at work seeing that everything was getting watered. But Thursday morning I bumped into Charles, my next door neighbour who has “connections” at ZESA and I was assured that things were “being attended to”. Sure enough, at lunch time the power was on and I was actually looking forward to the weekend again. It also transpired that someone had tried to pick up one of the downed lines. 11,000 volts has a way of spoiling even Easter weekends.