Thursday, January 31, 2013

Expressions of horror

Those of you who have read "Sorry for that" will know that Preacher features prominently. The main reason for this is that she has such unalloyed reactions to everything, and puts everything she has into showing what she is feeling.

Here she is in a variety of photos - in a state of complete horror. Can you guess why?

This is Preacher....... running. In the 12 years she has worked for me, she has never, ever, used 'running' while at work. What caused this amazing turn of speed?

everybody step to the left........

everybody step to the right.........

even after 10 minutes - the reaction was undiminished....

The answer revealed - here is what caused mayhem at La Rochelle yesterday!

In a word - Fred.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Paying attention, or not?

Today's posting will seem a little strange if you have not yet read yesterdays blog, (The day the Olympics came to Mutare) as it follows on from there.

So - back to the coaches, and their poolside antics. As these events happened yesterday - I may have made a few errors in recollection - and if so, I apologize in advance! The five ladies who devote so much of their time to training the children of Manicaland to swim, and who mentor the various provincial and club teams, were all present. In attendance were Carmel, Natalie, Anneke, Della and Anne.

Anne is the Chairperson of Manicaland Swimming, and it was her efforts yesterday that caused the most astonishment....

Following on from the debacle with the butterfly demonstration, Kirsty then started to talk about the 'crawl' or 'freestyle' stroke, and she made special emphasis of the fact that only one hand should be out of the water at any one time. Guess what?

Kirsty focused on the correct body position on entering the water in a freestyle race, and talked about the 'streamline' position. Anneke managed this to some extent (though Della's reaction indicates that she thought Anneke could be a little more streamlined) - but Anne simply made crocodile biting actions with her hands, all the time growling fiercely.

Kirsty was continuing to explain the arm movements involved in the crawl stroke, and she asked the children to raise their left hand to '11 o'clock'. Predictably.....

Eventually something had to give, and it was left to Della to finally reach over and give Anne a short, sharp 'klap' to the side of her head to get her paying attention again!

This development seemed to delight Anneke - and she showed her reaction to the crowd behind her..

While Courtney was a little less restrained in her reaction!

From there onward, everything was boringly normal!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The day the Olympics came to Mutare!

Kirsty Coventry is a legend.

Zimbabwe has produced many world class sportsmen & women - many of whom have left the country to compete in other lands, and yet Kirsty has, throughout her very distinguished swimming career, remained proudly Zimbabwean. She is the holder of 7 Olympic medals (1 bronze, 4 silver, 2 gold), and she has been the holder of swimming World Records on no less than 4 occasions - for the 200m backstroke (twice), the short-course 400m Individual Medley, and the 100m backstroke.

She won her Olympic medals in Athens in 2004, and in Beijing in 2008 - and she even made it into two finals in the 2012 London Olympics. She has also won a host of other titles, medals and records, and for the young swimmers in Zimbabwe, she is truly an icon. Indeed, there are very few Zimbabweans - many of whom cannot swim at all, who do not hold her in the highest regard.

So there was great excitement among the local kids when it was announced that Kirsty would be coming to Mutare to hold swimming clinics.

Today we took Courtney to the clinic (Dayna would have loved to be there too, but she had committed to playing in the Provincial Squash Championships in Harare, and did not come home this week-end). Here are a few pics of the day that the Olympics came to Mutare.......

Courtney and Kirsty. Despite incessant requests for photos, Kirsty posed with very good grace for pics with the kids - this is my youngest daughter Courtney....... with an Olympic Champion!

The kids were shown things, and then required to swim a width of the pool as instructed. Kirsty spent most of the time in the water with them, and when there was a drill which was slightly more complicated, she would swim it herself - showing the kids exactly what she wanted.

It was a fairly long day - we arrived at the pool at 08.30am, and left around 13.30pm - and during the whole time that we were there, Kirsty had the kids spell-bound. Throughout the day, and despite her many achievements, she showed great humility coupled with a fantastic sense of humor. Just look at the attention they paid her every word..... (with Courtney in pink and black cap)

At the end of the session - Kirsty showed the kids her gold medal from the Beijing Olympics - and explained the significance of the engravings and materials (in the case of Beijing - jade) incorporated into the medals. She also emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and setting goals for yourself. Kirsty has been elected to the IOC Athletes Commission - a position which she will hold for the next 8 years, and she is a true ambassador for swimming, sport, and the Olympic movement.

Then there were the coaches.

As Kirsty was in the water coaching the children, our local swimming coaches watched from the side, taking notes. It was very funny to see them all subconsciously mimicking the action in the pool - and an awful lot of "air swimming" went on behind her back! This photo was taken as Kirsty (in the pool with her back to the camera) was explaining the arm movements during the butterfly stroke - and everyone seemed to grasp the idea of both arms moving in perfect synchronization ....except for Anne White, who only half understood!

In fact - the coaches were so very unintentionally funny, that I shall devote the blog tomorrow entirely to their antics! If you are one of the ladies pictured above - may I suggest you skip tomorrow's blog?

Have a nice day one and all!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My kingdom for a mealie!

So - our national food. Traditionally the folk here eat 'sadza' - and this is a stiff porridge, tasting remarkably like cardboard, which accompanies every meal. Sadza is made from ground maize - which some folk call corn, and which we call 'mealies' - basically mealies grow on a cob. The powder that results from the maize being ground is called 'mealie-meal', and this is boiled with water, and cooked until it is stiff

I suppose a meal comprising solely of sadza (without any of the traditional embellishments of meat, and vegetables with peanut butter), would be called............ 'a mealie-meal meal'?

Or maybe, not?

There is a constant battle with the other mealie-eaters of Zimbabwe for possession of a crop - namely the monkeys and the wild pig. And while we have rural folk growing as much as they can, we also have 'commercial farmers' growing mealies - providing their land hasn't been 'acquired'. Here then is a very small commercial farm.....

Once the rains have started, every river-course is planted with mealies - the underground water helping sturdy crops to grow......

Here is the Imbeza River - and the building is in fact an old pump-house which used to service one of the local farms. There is a law on the Zimbabwean statute books regarding "stream bank cultivation" - but as with most common sense legal requirements, it is happily ignored by the populace in general! To such an extent that every single river bed is filled with mealies at this time of the year

In fact every rural homestead - no matter how humble, will have a patch of mealies growing outside. This photo is of a homestead across the valley from La Rochelle - but it is a scene repeated all over the country - a couple of huts, and a hand-tilled square of land with mealies growing proudly.

It is part of our national psyche

Not to be outdone, the Zimbabwe Roads Department also has its own mealie-growing-facilities - though they are somewhat limited in terms of arable land available - because unless they are very careful where they plant, the darned motorists simply drive over their crop.

Here, then,  is the Roads Department in full agricultural production - on the Christmas Pass.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Feeding Fred - and a mystery.

As promised yesterday, I made a concerted effort to get pics of Fred being hand-fed by Della, my wife. And I was successful - to some extent. Unfortunately the 'strike' is incredibly quick, and my little ole camera battled to keep up. Plus I am no photographer!

However - I think we caught the essence of it all - so here is Fred waiting for breakfast. He is an ambush hunter himself, and he would not strike until the dogs had been put away, and once he felt that there was no threat to himself, he happily ate everything offered to him.

Here is Fred being shown his breakfast - a bright green, juicy, grasshopper....

Here is the strike - and you can see that his eyes are focused forwards, and he has already extended his tongue and is retracting it with the grasshopper before I could click the button. Quick! And sorry the pic is slightly grainy - but the best I could do.

For our next trick, I am attempting to convince Della to let Fred take the grasshopper from her mouth - or at least from between her lips. If I can get them both to do this, I am certain I could hire them out for children's parties and so on. (There's gold in them thar hills!). If  can - I will post a pic of Della holding the grasshopper in her mouth.

In the meantime - here is one very happy Fred. Yum yum!

And now - for today's mystery! Fred managed to create a gigantic poop - which we cleaned out of his cage.  For such a small fellow, his production was enormous - about the same length as my baby finger but about half the thickness, and we threw it away because a) it was smelly, and b) if you all want to see poop you can look at your own every morning. addition to his poop - which was a standard carnivore brown, he (she?) also produced a small, bright yellow package. I personally think that this is an egg pouch - and because the eggs were not fertilized by a male, they have been rejected. But I am not sure. I have seen a chameleon laying eggs before - they dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs there - but in the instance where I saw this happen, I did not disturb the mother, and so have no idea if this was a yellow pouch or single eggs. I do know that the eggs take about 10 months to hatch. And Fred did not bury them - he just deposited them on the sandy floor of his cage.

So - if there is anyone out there who has any clue as to what Fred produced - please let me know.

Thaaaaat's all folks. have a great day!

I think he's pregnant!

The children have a new pet.

When Della and I went to Peterhouse this past week-end to watch the girls swimming in an Inter-schools competition, they asked us to bring home their new pet. Technically it belongs to Dayna, and it is of the "flap-neck" variety - the other two that we get here being the "dwarf" and the "horned"

Any guesses as to what their pet is?

Named 'Frederick' - or 'Fred' for short, I am slightly concerned as he seems to be pregnant! Hopefully not, but he/she has been eating us out of house and home - Della spending at least twenty minutes every morning and evening crawling about the garden on hands and knees catching grasshoppers and the like to offer up. We have now reached the stage that Fred is eating out of her hand - literally! Even if he does stick his tongue out at her every time she feeds him! That is a photo for a later blog - as I haven't taken it yet!

Here are all our three girls with their new pet - starting with Dayna....

So - a chameleon!

They have independently moveable eyes - and they only focus together when there is prey to be caught - because otherwise they wouldn't have any depth-perception, would they? Fred has a telescopic tongue - which shoots out alarmingly when he is catching his dinner - and his tongue can stretch slightly more than his full body length. As he gets ready to shoot it out, he readies himself rather like a red-neck preparing a gob of spit in a spitting competition!

This is Cara holding Fred....... tell me how come no-one else thinks he's pregnant?

Here is Courtney holding Fred - any guesses as to whether a chameleon walking on your hand is slightly ticklish? The flap-necked chameleons have fused opposable toes (clearly visible on the pic above) - rather like the two-toed Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley, and their grip is remarkably strong. No wonder it gave Courtney the giggles - and........she had been instructed NOT to smile!

So - I shall try and get a pic of him eating in the next day or two.

The other problem is finding him - because he tends to blend into the background! But he can't 'do' blue with white stripe quite as well as he does green! But he/she did try - look again at the pic of Courtney holding him, and you'll see it wasn't a bad attempt!

Actually - chameleons do not change color to blend into the background - they are already cryptically camouflaged already - just as an Army uniform is, and they blend naturally into most backgrounds. Any change of color is entirely due to mood or temperature stimuli - being thrown enthusiastically about by three girls being enough to ensure a change! As kids we believed that a chameleon placed on a red surface would.....explode! But that isn't true either.

And the other photo I shall try and get is of Preacher and the other Staff meeting Fred. Expect some wide open eyes!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What is black & white, and red all over?

A Nameree Can!

Almost the whole time the Americans were here, it rained and rained and rained. Then it rained some more. Until the last two days, when a very weak sun managed to battle its way through the clouds. And just LOOK at what happened to the Americans! Half an hour of weak sun and.............. the effects on the representatives of the world's greatest super-power (after China, that is) were remarkable!

this is Melissa.....

this is Mona - in the evening

and this was Mona the next day

These visual effects have only been surpassed by Sarah (who was mentioned in "Sorry for that!"), another American braving the wilds of Africa, who managed a transition from translucent white, to pink, to red, to purple, to violet with strange black spots.

This was not the worst of the sunburn for this group, but regrettably the camera refused to operate as the legs got redder - the message on the screen telling me to re-adjust my settings!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Eaters of worms!

Apologies for no post yesterday - the rain came down, the signal went dead, and I had to leave for Marondera to attend a Swimming Gala at Peterhouse, and to visit my children there.

So - the worms.

In fact, this group was braver, byt percentage, than any I have hosted before. Although each of them were served two worms, of the Americans, only Jim managed to eat two, as did Simba the Driver; but he doesn't count, does he? Still - I think 6 out of 12 managed an enhanced protein intake (the "Lance Armstrongs" of Zimbabwe?), while the other 6 fell at the fence!

The first successful diner was, unsurprisingly, Jim - and he was in fact so quick that I didn't manage a photo. Here are the other five.......

What is fun to note as you look at the pics, are the facial expressions of the neighbors at the table! Remember the folk had the choice - as with a chocolate Easter bunny, of starting with the head - which is very distinct and black. Or the butt. Which is at the other end!

This is Arielle - who managed to look more horrified than the onlookers as she ate her worm - which was quite a feat!

This is Amy taking the plunge. She pronounced the worm 'crunchy' - but forgot to mention what it tastes like. (It tastes just as it should - like worm).

This is Melissa - who feel deeply and madly in love with Shupa the hotel cat! She ate the worm with 'long teeth' indeed - though why she had to hold a serviette under her mouth is anyone's guess! (And Barbara - in the background, was one of the 'decliners'!)

This is Charlie - the leader of the group. He was among the bravest of the lot! Two of the 'young ones' were too scared to even try eating a worm .....

This is Erica - with fork in the foreground - having just placed a mopane worm in her mouth. The bulging eyes are a dead give-away!

However - not all were honest - here are the two cheaters of the group - Sue and Debbie - showing clean plates after they...........gave their worms to Simba the driver to eat! Note the accusatory glare in the background!

A great evening - and lots of laughter! Enjoyed by everyone - except the worms!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Anyone for worms?

Yet another blog - with roots in "Sorry for that!".....

The group of Americans that we had staying with us were treated to a fine dining experience - and one which they could not replicate at home, even if they wanted to. Which (I am sure) they wouldn't!

We served 'em Mopane worms for dinner!

A truly African delicacy, the mopane worm is the larval form of the Imbrasia Bellina moth of the emperor moth family. These are distinctive moths - often 'hairy' in appearance, they have stunning pink 'eyes' on the wings. The caterpillars have orange and yellow markings, in addition to which they have distinct 'spines'

Called 'madora' by the Shona, and 'maC!imbi' by the Ndebele they are really beautiful to look at.....

The caterpillars feed off the leaves of the mopane tree (hence their name) and these leaves are extraordinary in that they contain between 12 and 15% protein. The caterpillars, or 'worms' as we call them, are consequently a very good source of protein, and they are eaten with relish by the rural population of Zimbabwe.

More enjoyment, certainly, than some American folk I know!

Generally they are just lightly fried, which removes the fine white hairs that grow out of the spines on their backs, but in deference to the delicate American palates, we cooked these ones quite well - so that they crunched, and opposed to 'popping', when bitten firmly.

Of course - we didn't just serve the worms plain. No Siree Bob, we didn't! We made them all that much more enticing by the addition of a delicate blend of tomatoes, onions and peppers with just a hint of garlic...

Truly a dish that could not be refused! Surely?

Here is the group being presented with their dinner - and there was an awful lot of 'thoughtful studying' of the food before anyone ventured to try eating one! And a lot of nervous grins! How many of them managed to eat a worm or two? Answer to follow.........

.......answer to follow tomorrow - when I shall post photographic proof. Or not, as the case may be!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A golfing legend is born...

Having missed several days - I am now posting twice today in an effort to catch up a little!

While the group was staying at La Rochelle, I had the privilege and very great pleasure of playing a round of golf with one of the participants - Dave Talbot. And on that day, a golfing legend was born!

The whole time the group has been with us - we have had rain - pretty much constant and heavy. Dave only had one afternoon on which he could set aside some time, and so we set out in pouring rain (after steady downfalls for the previous 5 days) more in the hope than in the expectation that we would be able to fit 9 holes in. As we reached the boom gate of the Leopard Rock - within sight of the first fairway, the rain stopped, and we were able to walk to the 10th Tee box almost straight away. A miracle!

Dave and his wife Beverley had played golf with me some years ago, and so the course was not new to him. Here are some pictures of the round.... with commentary.

The start of the Back Nine - with Dave having hit a vicious hook into the trees and thick undergrowth on the left of the 11th fairway!

This was Dave's most beautiful shot - the the most beautiful hole - the signature 14th at Leopard Rock. Angels in their flight must have hit to greens like this! (With apologies to David Livingstone!)

This is the 17th Green at Leopard Rock - with a magnificent view over the 'Burma Valley' - located in Zimbabwe. The clouds were just working their way back in below us when this photo was taken....

Here is Dave - having picked his ball out of the water hazard on 18 - allowing his back leg to collapse so that he could hit it right back into the water! Notice the mist in the background.

Modesty precludes me from saying who won the game - however there was a rather serious consequence to the day. Dave stayed a further two days with us - and every time I came into a room - in this instance the Dining Room, he would leap to his feet, raise his hands and face heavenwards, and shout out loudly "All hail the great golfer Simon". He would then prostrate himself on the floor or across the table and remain there until I had left the room.

Most curious behavior - which continued for two days!!

I think the facial expressions of the rest of the group show what they thought of this development?

So who's the great golfer now?

McDaniel College

Apologies to regular followers for the protracted silence - the recent heavy rains have proved problematic with connecting, and we have had a few computers battling for space. Normal service is hereby resumed!

We have been host for the past 2 weeks to a group led by Charlie Moore (who is mentioned in "Sorry for that!") and they mostly have a connection to McDaniel College in the good old U S of A. Their objectives have been varied, and they have been out most days on various projects - with a day at Imire thrown in for good measure.

Herewith the group that has been hogging all my bandwidth, laughing at me in my own dining room.........

In addition to the connectivity problems - I am still having hassles with uploading pics if I go in through Google - and have to use Google Chrome if I want to upload. Anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The day gravity kicked in......

This morning during a rather quiet patch - one of the trees fell over in the garden. Literally splitting in two with a might 'crack', the magnificent Chinese Elm which used to shade the playground area is now no more. This tree has stood in the gardens for just under 60 years, and apart from the shade, the canopy used to literally hum with thousands of bees in summer as they collected pollen from the little white flowers that used to cover the tree.

The centre of the tree, unbeknownst to us, had been eaten by termites, and the recent rains had loosened the soil and further made the spreading branches heavy with water. This was just too much for the old lady, and split down the middle and crashed to the ground.

Crushing one of the swings, it looked as though it had been cleaved with an ax. Old Joseph, predictably, came along to inspect, and he gives a little perspective as to the size of the tree.....

The one half of the tree fell onto the 'boat swing' - and that is now pretty inoperable at this stage. Having seen some of the lady visitors who have clambered onto it over the past 12 years, I can state that it was indeed a sturdy piece of equipment. No longer.

This picture best shows the 'rot' in the trunk which caused the collapse.

The other half of the tree fell over towards the hotel - narrowly missing the little blue horse - which had to lean to one side to escape the full brunt of the collapse!

So ends another chapter.......

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One mow thing......

On the grounds of La Rochelle we have a small school - and today, as for the entire country, was the first day of school of the whole year. We have 7 children who have started at the Centre - four of them in Grade 1, and two in Grade 2. This is our Grade 1 & 2 Classroom - in the first ten minutes of term, and the kids are 'heads-down-and-focused' already!

We usually have just 8 kids in this classroom - four per Grade, but this year we have eleven, so to me the room looks positively bursting!

Because of the extended rains, and also the fact that I have been busy with Christmas, New Year and two weddings, I have not touched the mower at my house for the past 3 weeks. In the middle of the rainy season in Zimbabwe, this means BIG grass! This morning one of my dogs was lost in the thick undergrowth for ten minutes when she went out to wee, and so today, when the sun came out, I decided to mow.

Big mistake!

I have two swarms of bees living in the roof of my house, and normally we co-exist quite happily, but, for whatever reason, the smell of fresh-cut grass sends them 'crayzeeee, I tell you' - and in very short time I was stung twice - once on my head and once on my ankle. Let me assure you, the sting from an African bee is not a pleasant thing to suffer from!

Somewhat worryingly the sting on my head, while jolly sore at the time, soon faded - possibly because the bone of my skull saved me, but I have been hobbling around with a sore ankle all evening.

Here is the mower - abandoned in mid-mow, and though impossible to see on this pic, the bees flew around it for a good twenty minutes after having a go at me.

Darn bees!