Sunday, December 30, 2012

Give us a ring sometime......

Today we are cleaning up after the wedding - and lots to clean, I am afraid! The rain the day before meant lots of lovely red mud, and the copious amounts of beer consumed meant all caution was thrown to the winds. So - as I anticipate nothing much happening for the rest of the day - here is a final nail in the wedding photos for 2012...

This wedding was slightly different in approach in that the bridesmaids and groomsmen all paraded in couples to the reception marquee - and then the bride made her solo way in - to much cheering and clapping and ululating.

The party was a 'goodie' and once again the capacity of the African continent to celebrate a marriage was in full evidence!

After a hectic day of stress, late arrivals, marrying and dancing, the bridal couple retired to our 'Stateroom', where, presumably, the consumation of the vows took place. Whatever happened - it sure went to the bride's head - because you will never guess what she left behind in the room when she departed this morning.....

We got da bling!

Tomorrow - we have the Russians coming in. Eish. Happy New Year one and all!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Now's the season to be purple......

Another Saturday..........another wedding.

This is our last wedding of 2012 (hooray!) - from here we welcome a group of Russians into the hotel for Old Year's Night and the first two nights of 2013 - they have booked the whole property for an exclusive party, so any guesses as to whether we expect to serve a few tots of vodka or not? They are then followed by a group of 13 Americans coming in for two weeks, so hopefully we will avoid a Cold War in the Imbeza Valley.......

Today's wedding - going on as I write, was definitely for 500-plus people, and they brought in 50 cases of beer, in addition to the juices and cokes. Gonna be a looooong evening, I fear!

Today we hosted a purple wedding - this seems to be the 'in vogue' colour at the moment

The Groom and his merry band were caught in wholly natural poses as they waited for the bride to arrive...

This is the ceremony site down by the river - waiting for the arrival of the blushing bride (due today at 10.00am 'on-the-dot'. She made her smiling way down the aisle at 12.30 - a mere two and half hours fashionably late!).  This is where most of our couples get married, and we had to fill up the ponds with water from the borehole as, despite the recent rains, our stream is still not running again.

and here is the marquee all laid up and waiting :-

Yet another busy day for the fellow from Imbeza - and despite our disappointment at the Mayans for getting it all so wrong (we had collected all our loot in advance - just in case) it has been great to be humming at the end of the year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

An aeroplane up your tail pipe?

Today was a special day - a rite of passage day, for our family.

My eldest daughter Cara obtained her Provisional Driving Licence! In Zim, you are allowed to start driving at 16 - and you have to pass a written test first, then you may drive while accompanied by a licenced driver until such time as you pass the 'road test'.

This was Cara's first attempt at her 'Provs' and she managed to get more than the 88% required for a pass - despite the inevitable 'tricky' questions. Maybe I'm biased, but I think they deliberately try and put in questions which will mean that it is impossible to get 100% on the test. We obtained a booklet with 365 questions that may be asked in the test - and my favourite of them is this - you try and answer and I will provide the correct choice after the celebratory photo below.......

Q You look in your mirror and see an aeroplane. You should.

a) Do nothing
b) Adjust your mirror
c) Move off the road as quickly as possible
d) Reduce speed

Answer to follow - but here is one very happy little chicken!

Now then - the answer to the Driving Test question about the aeroplane. (And remember I have a booklet with the Official answers!)

The correct answer is.......

b) Adjust you mirror!

Yeah, right! So, you're driving along, and a Boeing 747 makes an emergency landing on the road behind you - and all you do is adjust your mirror? No wonder the kids in this country all behave like Chuck Norris and Rambo, combined, when faced with problems!

We're teaching them the wrong stuff!!!!??! I just a wussy?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Scare tactics......

So Christmas has come and gone and we can settle back into standard mode!

Christmas Day was very stressful - every year we "do" Lunch out by the pool - the kids can swim and the parents can relax. The weather looked fine so we moved tables and chairs out there - and laid up with glassware, cutlery and decorations - all ready for the 90 guests we were expecting........

And the rain started!

Just little drops - but it meant we had to carry every table - fully laid-up, the 50m to the hotel lounge - and set up there and on the verandah. Very stressful and no time for pics I am afraid!

So back to the snake - as promised.........

I placed the little fellow in a large cooking pot, and placed the pot in the car park - then called for Preacher the maid (who many of you will recognise from the cover of "Sorry for that!") to come from the cottages where she was cleaning. Here is the snake in the pot -

here is Preacher walking around the corner and, predictably, sticking her nose into things that don't concern her.......

and here is the reaction!!! Retreat the standard 5 paces and shout loudly, expressing alarm and warning everyone within 800m of your findings, while keeping your attention fixed firmly on the source of your anxiety at all times! You can see from the folk in the background that the sequence is correct!

Hope you had a very peaceful Christmas - and I promise to try to post daily......

Monday, December 24, 2012

snakes alive!

Sorry for the late post - we have 90 people for Lunch tomorrow and I have been peeling potatoes all evening!

Now - the snake.

I don't usually post the snakes we come across at La Rochelle because they are all pretty standard for this area - the most regular being the Mozambique spitting cobras, lots of Brown house snakes, a scattering of vine (or twig) snakes, and then boomslangs. The one that fascinates me - and which I have only ever seen once in the last 12 years, is the Gaboon Viper. This in spite of the fact that the largest specimen found in Zim came from......the Imbeza Valley.

So back to the one in the pool. He was hanging onto the metal railing by the steps - and is...... a 'Centipede eater'! The Latin name for him is Aparallactus guentheri, and his proper English name is 'Black centipede eater'

Now - there are probably folk out there puffing their cheeks out saying they have seen loads of centipede eaters - but in fact there are no less than ten distinct types of centipede eater - just as there are several types of cobra. I had previously been told (on the other occasion that we found one in the pool - these guys are slooooow learners!) that these particular snakes only occur on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border - and only in a very small slice of territory. This was confirmed by the first web site that I looked him up on - Iziko. Howwwwweeeeevvvveeerrr - another web site claims that they are fairly common in Tanzania, and are also found in a few African countries - Zim amongst them.

So maybe not as rare as I first thought. I have asked our local surgeon - who is snake fundi, to find out for me.

They live predominantly underground (when not swimming in the pool) and feed exclusively off centipedes. Thought they are venomous - they are not lethal to humans, are back-fanged, and live most of their lives underground. So maybe a threat to small-fingered miners, I suppose.

Black in colour - they are slender snakes, growing to an average of 40cm, and a max (like this chap) of just under 50cm. The most distinctive feature is the twin yellow bands on the back of the neck - making them quite easy to identify. Tomorrow a pic of a centipede - but for now - here is a fairly, if not very, rare snake.....

Not a bad swimmer - in fact quite good.

Of course - having put him into a cooking pot in a plastic icecream container - someone had to lift the lid off the container. So that task fell to Wellington - the kitchen porter. In the background you will notice Christinah the cook and Nyasha the waitress keeping the standard Zimbo distance from a snake - hoping all the time that Wellington makes a mistake, gets bitten, and gives them some real entertainment!

Here he is - in an icecream container, in a huge stainless steep cooking pot - and tomorrow I will show you what happened when Preacher the maid came across a cooking pot in the car park for no apparent reason.........and looked into it! THAT is going to be a good Christmas present for you all!
Happy Christmas one and all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Can you dance the masteps?

Having promised to post the snake we found yesterday, I regret I am going to delay that for one more day - as more wedding pics deserve some air-time. (And....we have another wedding for 400 next Saturday - with Christmas in between. Eish!). Apologies.

However - those of you who have managed to read "Sorry for that!" will know that I have a particular fascination with, and fondness for, Zimbabwean weddings - and all the processes that are involved!

Right - the wedding. I am not sure exactly how many people attended - but I don't think it was quite 500 - maybe 450. That was still enough to keep me and my Staff of 11 busy! This is a small section of the crowd - and the knot of folk at the smaller tent is where the food was served. Luckily the rains held off, and we had glorious weather the whole day

As the tent could only hold around 200 people because of the area left for the "masteps" (of which more later), a good number of the guests were housed under the trees off to the side - which seemed to suit everybody. They were, in fact, totally removed from proceedings, but didn't seem to worry too much.

On approach to the reception tent - the groom held a small, lacy, umberlla over the bride to shield her from the hot African sun. (So lacy, in fact, that my poor camera couldn't cope!) By that stage the chief bridesmaid had had enough of holding the bridal train - so it was left to the bride to sort herself out, and the romance of the picture is slightly diminished by the two portable toilets standing to attention in the background!

One feature of black Zimbabwean weddings which is unknown to most folk is the performing of "masteps". And this needs a little explaining.....

When the Bride and Groom enter the wedding reception - they, and all their retinue - best man, bridesmaids, groomsmen, master of ceremonies, etc, all perform a well-rehearsed and choreographed formal dance for the wedding guests. This is called "masteps".

I have seen several "masteps" performed, and they are all different, but all involve bobbing and weaving in unison - rather like the mating dance of an ostrich! And when I say rehearsed - I mean it. Quite often they have an hour of practice every night for the week preceeding the wedding. Not only that - but there are 'instructors' - most of whom come from Harare, and who are paid for teaching the bridal party their moves.

Masteps is such an integral part of the wedding reception that frequently - and this wedding was no exception - a large cleared area is left in the tent for the performance, and the accompanying music is chosen very carefully. Dancing in pairs, and doing your own thing on the dance-floor, does not really take place.

Can you imagine trying to get the groomsmen and best man at a western wedding to perform an intricate and complicated dance for the entertainment of the crowd? Nah - not gonna happen.

Here, then, is "masteps".....

Another............successful wedding!

Dum, dum, dah-dum!

So - wedding time at La Rochelle. And.......500 Guests expected. Yay!

(I hope you recognised the Birdal March from the title?)

Not too much time today because the ceremony is going on as I write. For those who have read my book ( - the standard Zimbabwean Wedding accoutrements are all in place - the bright colours, the mini-brides and mini-grooms, and much hooting of car horns and ululating.

The Bridal party have all been practising "masteps" and the cake is in position ready to observe all!

Here then the marquee...........

and the miniature brides and grooms..........

and the inside of the tent.........

and the bride! She slept here last night and changed in Stateroom.

and here is the Bride on her way to the ceremony - which is taking place in the gardens here - down by the stream (unfortunately still dry despite the rains we have had).

There's nothing quite like a Zim Wedding - is there?

That's all for today, folks. Tomorrow (if I am still alive!!) I have some wonderful pics of a snake we found in the pool this morning. I don't normally photograph the snakes of La Rochelle because they are dime-a-dozen - but this little fellow is special - only found on the Zim-Moz border, and nowhere else in the world. Very unique.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scotch and no water

Those of you who have known me well since 1985 will also know of a fellow by the name of 'Scotch'.

I first met Scotch when I was at the Hotel School in Bulawayo - and he was working in the house that we lived in as students. For reasons best known to himself, Scotch 'adopted' me - and he has followed me around Africa for the last 27 years - working variously in my house and in the different hotels I have been stationed at.

Whenever I have changed jobs - Scotch simply went home, packed his pots and blankets, and came along for the ride. He has been with me in Bulawayo, Nyanga, Hwange, Victoria Falls, Harare, Vumba and Penhalonga.

His real name (or rather the name on his national Identity Card) - is actually 'Watch' - but he used to help himself to the whisky in the bar at the house we lived in as students with such regularity that we re-christened him Scotch - and the name stuck. Not that he ever emptied the bottles - he was very careful to leave at least one, but never more that two, tots in any unattended spirit bottles.

He stopped working by common consent (as he has no idea how old he really is - but we do know that he helped clear the brush for the powerlines from Kariba) about 2 years ago - and I foolishly have been paying him a monthly 'pension' ever since. On reflection - the old fellow is probably going to outlive me, so not such a wise offer on my part.

He spends about half the year with me, and the other six months at 'home' - some place which takes about 5 days of walking to reach in the bush somewhere - possibly in Mozambique. Every day he brings along one of the stainless steel teapots that he stole from me many years ago, so that he can get some tea, milk and sugar added, and I give him a meal and noon every day that he is here.

Here then, is part of my past, present, and unforeseeable future!!

I am going to start a competition - and would like all interested parties to try and guess his real age - after all, I need to inscribe something on his headstone when he does eventually fall off his perch. His hair is white - and apart from the sudden apearance of a snake (of which he lives in mortal dread) - not much motivates him these days.

So - how old d'ya think he is? We will use the average age of all guesses as being his actualy age.


Then again - maybe I'll just dig a hole and bung him into it!

Here be dragons.....

There are several architechtural curiosities at La Rochelle - the tower and art deco cotage among them. However - unlike most buildings in Zimbabwe, the hotel is elevated off the ground - and the 'crawl space' beneath it is both extensive and spacious. There are several access points - from a cleverly hidden trapdoor on the front verandah, to an obvious door beneath the leaning tower of Penhalonga. (Actually - just held the camera at a bit of an angle!)

The door is facing the pool - you can see the windows of the cellar outlined in the white square at the base of the tower.....

Inside the cellar - at the far end, is a hole in the wall - and this leads to the 'crawl space' - which is absolutely full..... of bats.

As a defence mechanism, that bat droppings are lethal - and this prevents cobras and other large snakes - which would be quite able to reach up and snack on a snoozing bat, from coming into the room.

Folk going to the pool would have smelled a slight hint of amonia - and possibly assumed it was pool chemicals - but it is in fact the bat droppings.

And.....there are a few bats in there.......

A great thing to do - especially with children, is to try and run to the far end of the room through the droppings, shouting and waving your hands in the air! The feel of frantic bat trying to get out of your hair is something that should be experienced by everybody at least once!

Even taking the photos - I had one fly into my face. Cool!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An udder panto pic..

I have just received some more photos from the Pantomime put on by our little school - and there is one which deserves a little publicity.

The panto was Jack and the Beanstalk - and the central figures of giant, Jack and mother were all played well by the various children. However I think one of the outstanding perfomances was given by...........the cow - the poor old cow which was swapped for magic beans! Not only was her costume - in particular the udder, fantastic, but in addition the kid trapped inside gave a perfect performance! Here - in all her glory, is Emily......

Hopefully someone will keep that pic for framing and presenting at her 21st Birthday. What a great memory!
We woke the other morning to mist - not uncommon in the Imbeza Valley - and often we will have the early mist, while the nearby town of Mutare has been bone dry. I took a picture - and only later realised that I had managed to catch the top of the roof on the hotel tower, plus the weather vane. Takes a bit of spotting because the mist was fairly thick - this photo was taken from my house, and as those of you who have been here know - a stone thrown from my verandah would hit the hotel. Fairly thick indeed!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

mango mania

The warm weather, coupled with the sprinkling of rains that we have had, as brought about the start of the mango season! Soon thousands of trees will be buckled under the weight of mangos, but these first fruits were brought in by rural folk - two huge baskets full. Though these early ones were tiny - they are bursting with flavour, and the ones we cannot eat will be made into mango chutney and sauces for vanilla icecream

The arrival of the 'sellers' occasioned much bargaining and microscopic inspecting of their wares - eventually a price of 15 mangos for $1 was agreed, and then I bought for the hotel - 90 mangos, and the Staff then picked and prodded the balance.

This is how we roll on the African continent - one doing and four watching!

You'll have noticed that everyone was so engrossed in counting to make sure no thievery took place that.......the flowers got flattened!

Once we had all filled our pockets, the 'mango sellers' were left with only a few fruit to take home.

Old Joseph - who wore what has come to be known as "the condom" on his head last month (see earlier blog from 22nd November) was given a free mango - and started dancing with joy around the car-park. For such an old fellow he sure has got some startling moves - expecially when his hips get going!

Once again - words are inadequate.....

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fat little maggot....

It is funny how it happens! Yesterday was pretty much a standard - not-much-happening kind of day (for once!!) and I really wasn't sure what todays blog would be about. The most interesting thing that had happened was a brass plaque being made ready for an old lady who lives in France. She has been phoning me regularly, and wished a deceased relative to have a memorial plaque placed in the gardens at La Rochelle - on a bench they had donated. Then - my daughter asked me to take a couple of maggots out of her back.

As I said - pretty normal day!

Here then is the plaque we had made..

And now we come to the worms!

There is a fly - called the Tumbu fly, or more commonly called the 'Putzie fly' that we get in the warmer climes here. The fly lays its eggs in damp, warm spots - such as clothing, and the eggs hatch and the larvae then bore into a suitable host - animal or human, and eat, and grow.

The best defence against them is to ensure that clothes are properly ironed after they have been hanging outside to dry. Once you have them growing inside your living flesh, then the common treatment is to cover the site (which comes up like a small boil) with vaseline so that they start to suffocate. Unfortunately sometimes they die before coming out - and turn septic. Best thing I find is to dig them out.......

Cara went to Kariba after her exams, and obviously became infected - she has about 7 possible sites, all on her back. Yesterday one maggot - they are about the size of a grain of rice to start with, and can grow very large - popped out by itself. I managed to dig another out with a sewing needle last night, and will go hunting again tonight.

Unfortunately my close camera work is not good, but I think you will be able to make out the pesky little grub - especially in the second pic. The hole is on the right, with the maggot on the left lip of it. The site of the wound is the back of the shoulder.

Here is a darker version of the same can see the little back head of it on the other side from the hole that I dug it out from. Lots of "Eyeeeewwws" from mother and sister, but the patient herself showed a keen interest! It had started to crawl around looking for another entry point by the time the photo was taken.

Y'all have a nice day, now, and I hope you get rice with your next meal!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quite at home in the upper branches. . .

At La Rochelle we have a truly remarkable fellow - Shepherd is his name.

He does not work for me - rather he is employed by National Trust as a gardener, and he does a passable job. However - his true talent lies in his ability to climb, and work in....trees! He has a remarkable agility and whenever a tree needs trimming - he is the go-to-guy.

His nickname is 'Dzoma' - which means 'bushpig' in the Shona language, and he hails from Mozambique. Apparently the only toys he had to play with as a child were, ummmm - trees. He and his friends used to have competitions with trees - who could climb to the top the quickest, who could go furthest out on a limb, etc.

Yesterday we had a Jacaranda tree which needed trimming. It grows next to Granny's cottage, and the tiny leaves fall into the thatch and rot - which in turn makes the roof rot, so periodically we trim it. Unfortunately in the process, Dzoma managed to drop a fairly large branch onto the satellite dish - destroying the LNB and the clamp - both which we had to replace.

The tree is not overly tall - only about 70 feet high now we have trimmed the upper branches, but it is still impressive to see him leaping around without a concern in the world, his only concession being to swing the axe - albeit a smallish axe, with one hand. But with full vigour.

Here is a pic of the demolished satellite dish - pointing now north-east as opposed to due east, and some of the debris. Spot Dzoma if you can!

Clambering around with ease - Dzoma provides a silhouette of grace! Obviously no need for any saftey ropes, ladders or netting. In any case - this tree is about half the height which he normally works at. The trunk and branches tend to be convered ina crumbly type of bark - but that doesn't seem to worry him at all. In fact....nothing does!

This is a pic of a full-blooded swing at altitude! Most of the upper re-growth branches were felled with one blow - at the most two swipes! The Jacaranda is a soft wood - but still it takes a good whack to cut these branches with just one swing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This bhuku is TOOOO much!

I am almost ready to shout out from the rooftops about my new book - it is in the final stages of the fourth edit. Cara, my eldest daughter, has re-worked the cover page with her computer wizardry, and I am happy with content. Just to work out those last few gremlins.

As part of the editing process - I have printed out 2 'hard' copies - one of which is in Mutare being scrutinised as I write. The other copy I read through, and I have made as many corrections as I could find. Once it is ready and published for the final time - I will let everyone know via this blog, facebook and twitter. Then............all you have to do is buy it!

This morning I gave my copy to Preacher - one of the Bedroom Maids at La Rochelle, to read. She features in many of the stories, as she is one of those people that always seem to be involved in everything. (She was the one helping the dogs chase the mouse which was hiding under the television in one of last month's blogs). The book is humorous - and judging from the shrieks of laughter coming from the ironing table - hugely so!

Unfortunately the uncontrollable giggling continued throughout the morning - with Preacher wiping tears from her eyes the whole time. There were raucous guffaws - interspersed with statements like "Aaaaah - this bhuku - it is TOOO much!"

This means that if you visit La Rochelle any time in the next 3 days or so - and the towels are slightly wrinkled from lack of ironing - you know why. Hopefully the rest of the world will find it as funny!

If you look closely at the above picture I think you will find - astonishingly - that African folk CAN go red in the face from laughing too much! Bet you never knew that before?

Even Febi - the other Maid, took time out to come and share in the laughter...

Lashings of ladies!

Fairly standard day at La Rochelle - with Granny blowing the fuses on the lights to all the Cottages.

In all fairness she was simply trying to boil an egg - and I have no idea how she did that, but she tripped the lot! Like a good South African she assumed that it was a Zim power-cut, and waited patiently for me to turn the generator on. After 20 minutes of sitting in pitch darkness she sallied forth and found the hotel ablaze with lights!

Other than that we have a Conference in-house - not the blood-testing ones this time - though they are concentrating on HIV - this time the focus is on preventing transmission within the medical facilities, and the different grading of infection levels in expecting and delivering mothers.

I am somehow becoming quite clued up on this AIDS business!

Now then - retrospective pics tonight - because I finally managed to glean a few clear ones of the Book Club dinner held just over a week ago, as previously promised.

The Girls all had those dreadful oversized eyelashes (bit of a tradition with this crowd at Christmas) and a lot of fun was had by all! This Book Club was started by Biddy Hone - and those of you who attended her funeral will remember the picture on the programme - taken at last year's Christmas gathering.

This is Lindsay - who took over the running of the Book Club. Anyone think the lashes are real?

I have some fairly good blackmail pictures (and indeed 1 rather startling sound recording for the same purpose) if anyone is interested. Going for $10 per copy. And Girls.........$20 per copy for me not to send them out!

This is the whole coven in all their glory - arrayed in the La Rochelle Reception!

Interestingly only two were caught chatting and ignoring the camera - not bad. Not bad. But predictable.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Green bomber!

My wife's mother Onia has arrived to stay with us for 6 weeks - leaving behind the hurly-burly of Johannesburg. So - back into the Zimbabwean wilds, and last night she had an epic battle trying to shoo a green moth from her bedroom.

It apparently was dive-bombing her with much malice, and she only managed to get rid of it by turning all the inside lights off and leaving the outside light on!

Another epic struggle with the wild creatures of La Rochelle. It's sometimes hard living here in Africa!

Secondly - I have had three queries as to whether the "Giant" in our school Pantomime was really my 12-year old daughter Courtney. So - below, I am putting the pics one-on-top-of-the-other so that you can see it really was her

Courtney as Courtney....
Courtney as the smelly Giant in "Jack & the Beanstalk".
The resemblance is striking - no? Though I think what has fooled some people is the fact that in the first photo she had shaved her beard off! If you look carefully it is obvious.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The flight of the bumble bees...

Friday night was a bit of a milestone for me - my last daughter officially left the Penhalonga Correspondence Centre - the little school that is located on the grounds of La Rochelle. For the first time since it opened, I will not have any children there next year.

Our Grade 7 Leavers are always treated to a Dinner - and the invited Guests every year comprise of those folk who have contributed to their education in one way or another - their Parents  and the Trustees, and Teachers of the school. The children all have to make a speech, and the dinner draws a line under their Junior School careers.

Somehow every year it is like butterflies emerging from cocoons, and suddenly the children have outgrown our little Centre.

This is Courtney - at age 12, ready to fly.......

We have four children who leave the Centre this year, and all of them are going on to Peterhouse - the same boarding school that Courtney's sisters go to. Three of the children are going to the Girls school - and one is going to the Boys school. If you can guess which of the four is going to the Boys school you win yourself the title of 'demographic evaluator par excellence'....

We always try to make the dinner as special as possible - every year the table lay-up and decor are the responsibility of the mothers of the children who are leaving. This year they did a fine job with the decorations, with blue and silver being the colours chosen. I think it was a memory that the kids will carry with them for a long time. (So nice to be creating memories!). Gifts are given to the teachers as a farewell, and the children all get the gift of a photo of the graduating class as a keepsake.

The menu was chicken kebabs, honey-glazed ham and then icecream and chocolate sauce. The end of the year is such a busy time for the children - it is fantastic.