Friday, August 30, 2013

This is just the pits!

On one of the days in Nyanga, we went to climb a small hill, and on the way there we stopped at the 'pit structures' - where an electronically-aged sign gives details as to the huts and the use of the pits.

Having seen these structures before, I think that the archaeologists have overlooked (probably intentionally so) the most likely use of the pits - and that is that they are a perfect place to keep your wife when she had to go to the 'naughty girl's corner' and stay there for some time.

Anyway - this is the interpretation they put out for the tourists...

The pit structures are basically holes dug into the ground, and the lined on the sides with stones. The various huts - as per the sign, all had different uses, and are built around the pit.

There is a subterranean path which leads into the pit, and this path passes under one of the huts. the hut has a hole on the floor, down which blocking logs could be pushed or raised, to control the movement of the animals below. Cattle, sheep and acting-the-goats were kept down there...

Here, then, a herd of wildebeest (which the Americans call gnus), in Nyanga. But the interesting thing about this photo is not so much animals or the crystal clear blue Zimbabwean winter sky, but rather the menacing and brooding presence to the left of the picture. Not a goblin, this time, but a mountain...

The peak you can see on the left is in fact Mount Inyangani - the highest point in Zimbabwe lies at the top of it, and minimum climbing time is 90 minutes. This is the start of the path up the mountain - and doesn't it look a gentle climb? Well... don't be fooled! This path merely leads to the base of the ascent, and from there it gets almost vertical in places. I was lured onto the start of the path - and began making my unsuspecting way up the mountain.

So the next blog will have pictures of our climb up Inyangani... and it wasn't easy. In fact, on the way up we found the skeleton of a previous climber - bones bleached in the sun, and left there as testament to the unforgiving nature of the mountain herself. But that will have to wait for another blog.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pushed by a goblin!

I am alive! Almost nine days after my last posting, I can report while I very nearly died - life is still in these old bones, and you can all look forward to the most interesting blogs...

In the world.

So what have we been up to while I was busy trying to kill myself? Well, my cousin was here from England, and so we managed to take a couple of days off. We went to Nyanga where we stayed at Connemara (up above Troutbeck), renting a house by the lake. This is the view from the house down to the water...

Now the same view from the house - first thing the very next morning. The frost was around, and the lake was smokin'! Tell me if you can't feel the cold in this photo?

This is a view of the lake to the side of the house - invisible with the mist coming off the water, and you can see the frost on the grass. Interesting little statue of a guardian angel in the pic too...

This is another side view of the frost in the garden, and this was the last picture I took... before I almost killed myself. Literally. If you look at the wooden railing in the foreground, you will see water droplets, - only it is not water (as I has thought) but ice. Solid ice.  I then walked down the steps you can just see leading downwards in the background - not realising that the bottom six steps were also covered in a solid sheet of ice.

And my feet went straight out from underneath me...

To say that I fell hard would be an understatement - my feet slipping away into thin air, and I crashed down onto the stairs, ribbling my way down that last 4 steps to the concrete at the bottom after a one-point landing on my butt while smashing my finger into the bannister. In the process I threw away the camera, and that has now ceased to work - the lens permanently extended, and the screen just a white outline. I can take photos though can't see what I have taken. But will persevere. And I was lucky - I could very easily have killed myself.

I must say that I had been aware that the steps were a little slippery, and thought I was being very careful. But it was almost as if I was pushed hard from behind by a goblin, or something.

(And for those of you who don't live in Africa, and who don't believe in goblins - they are VERY real indeed!)

On an entirely different note, I am happy to tell you all that I have managed, with the help and guidance of my cousin Alice, to re-edit the book completely, and a whole lot of punctuation has been changed. I also have changed the author pic, which many of you pointed out was taken several years ago, and I have replaced it with this up-to-date photo taken today. With my daughter's camera!

Let me know what you think? I think I look very handsome indeed. Thank you.

Have a great day one and all!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Goblins, panties and a whole lot of burrying!

Today we delve into the fascinating world of the Africa.

I am fortunate to live in a town that has a newspaper which manages to print stories not based on any actual occurrences - but almost entirely on their perception of the reading requirements of their devoted fan base...their readers.

Sex, scandal and other salacious gossip feature prominently, quite aside from straight-faced pronouncements on elections and other national events - in which the most incredible whoppers are recounted as fact.

Be that as it may, I have to say that many of their stories are quite remarkable in that while they appear wholly fabricated to a Western mind (such as mine) - when considered in the context of serious news by the African mind (again - such as mine!), these are in fact serious, credible and wholly true, stories.


OK - here then are three advertising hoardings placed on the street to entice a hugely gullible public to part with their money. I say this because pretty much the entire story is contained in the headline - with not much further information to be obtained if you actually buy the paper. Most of the readers of this blog are from Europe or North America, so you tell me if you find the following a little beyond belief, and therefore not true. Which of the following stories would you consider 'figments of the editors imagination' - and which are completely false fabrications?

In fact goblins are very much part of life in Zimbabwe, and 95% of the population believes in them. Hence, to a Zimbabwean mind - there is nothing false or extraordinary about this story at all. And where you have goblins - you have must have people dealing in them. So this is a true story as far as we are concerned.

Now then - how about this story - is this true. Or not?

Well - incredibly, this is part of Shona culture. In Zim, we have 2 basically parallel justice systems (not counting the one that ensures some are more equal than others and therefore inviolate where the law is concerned) - and these are the traditional courts, and the formal courts. The latter is where justice as you and I would know it takes place, and the other are the traditional courts, which dispense justice as laid down by custom and culture.

Sooooo - when a woman accuses her husband of infidelity, and takes the matter to arbitration within a village court, it is accepted that the way she indicates that her husband has been unfaithful is for her to remove her undergarments (called 'panties' in this part of the wold) and either throw them at him, or place them on his head.

If he is found guilty, the tribal court may then ask him to leave the village - and may require him to take the panties with him as a badge of dishonour.

So - this is a true, and perfectly reasonable, story.

Lastly - this astonishing (at first) headline.......

So is this true?

Of course - a Western mind will think on seeing this sandwich board, that a fellow from Moz killed his wife - and dug a hole in the sand into which he placed her. But look closely..... he burried her! Ha! BIG difference, wouldn't you say? As it is common practice for men in Zimbabwe to burry their wives when they are dead - this too, is obviously a true story! Some women even like to be burried when they are alive - (though I have heard of one or two instances of women leaving a marriage rather than submit to being burried - but this is not the norm here) so this must, again, be a true story.

In fact - it will positively improve your day if you try to burry the next person you see - even a complete stranger!

Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stuff that made me look twice.

Occasionally (quite frequently, actually) on my travels I come across things that make me take a second look. Zimbabwe is that kind of place. So today is a melange of things - but all of them made me look twice.

These four pics were all taken on a road trip to Harare and back - on the same day.

Along the way, we saw what looked like a hang-glider coming in to land - but though the wing span was correct, the shape of it was a little wrong. Incredibly it turned out to be a marabou stork! I have never seen these birds outside of the Zambezi Valley area of Zim - and so this was, for me, quite a sight.

Then - in the little-known town of Rusape - around the back opposite the pharmacy, I discovered - unbeknown to me, that one of the largest (I think the largest) retail chain in England has set up shop in Zim! I took this pic on the move because sometimes folk don't want you taking photographs, and you have to look carefully to see the name of the shop......

Yup - that's right, Tescos of Rusape!

In my book, I make mention of Shona proverbs, and how confusing they can be. Well, once the Shona get hold of an English proverb, they can twist and tweak it until the same thing happens. You know what they are getting at - but the meaning kind of eludes you!

Obviously fortune favours bolds. Yes?

Lastly - here is a business that has gone to great lengths to advertise their name on the side of their building. Several times. And..........all incorrectly spelled!

In case you are wondering - this is to the right of the ZESA building in Mutare.

Have a great day!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The day the driver lost the key. Shame.

So - today, just a few photos from some of our road trips.. Vehicles being used, and abused, in peculiarly Zimbabwean fashion!

What do you do when you lose the metal side struts of your vehicle, and you need to carry some poles? Well - simple enough, really.....

Now then - how to carry a load - Zim-style!

Is it possible to smuggle a dead rhino with a car? A little careful planning...... and the answer is a resounding 'Yes!'. All you have to do is find a dead rhino, get hold of a decent-sized tarpaulin, wipe off your number plate, and away you go! No-one will suspect a thing.....

Buses in Zim have an incredible capacity to store stuff on the roof. In fact, unless the bus is a 'luxury' bus, most all of the belongings will be transported up there. thank goodness we don't have too much rain here!

Here, then, is a Tenda bus. Considered the height of luxury, they have padded seats and all the mod-cons you could wish for, like windows and so on. They also have ample space for luggage - and here you can see the rear luggage compartment, into which the driver places the various suitcases and crates of chickens which normally go on top of our vehicles here. There are also compartments on the side, and these storage lockers are all locked while the bus is on its journey, so that vagabonds cannot steal the contents.

Sooooo.....what happens when the driver loses the key to the rear luggage compartment? Well - if that was to happen, can you understand that the passengers would take matters into their own hands and open the compartment by themselves in order to retrieve their luggage?

Of course, it is not so good for the bus when that happens, but c'est la vie.....

And on that happy note - have a great day!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Food from beyond your comfort zone!

A couple of things you need to know about todays blog..........

- it is essential that you have eaten chicken at least once in your life before you read on
- this blog, as above, is an observation on life in Zimbabwe

My post regarding worms elicited a couple of comments - one in particular about 'comfort zones'. Well, today I intend to prove that I was indeed very gentle with our American guests. Because I could have served them 'ngorzha' instead of Mopane worms. But that would have been a step too far I think.

So - what are ngorzha? And where do you find them? The answer to the second question is really quite simple - you find them at the road-works.

At this time, they are re-tarring the road over Christmas Pass - the mountain pass that lies between us and the city of Mutare where we do all our shopping. (Our vehicle, as you will see in the following pic, has a cracked windscreen because of the loose stones on the road - as do so many vehicles in Zim right now.) The cars are stopped at a traffic control point, and the vehicles are surrounded by swarms of vendors selling cans of Coca~cola, cigarettes, fruit, ice-creams, crisps, and other things.

Among the 'other things' being sold by the vendors are......... ngorzha. Here is an ngorzha-vendor in full flow:

If you are a regular reader, you will remember my blog about roadside vending - and the picture of the tomato-sellers that I posted in the blog titled "Suffering from piles" on 28th May? (All 145 previous blogs are listed at the top of this page on the right hand side if you didn't read them all - a great read for a rainy day!). Well - once someone hits upon a money-making idea in Zim, it doesn't take long for the market to saturate. Here are just a couple of the ngorzha-sellers......

Here I am holding a packet of ngorzha. They are sold pre-roasted, and there are 8 to a packet - which costs $1. I was hoping to show the packet close-up, but David the waiter is not so accomplished with the camera! The small red spot you can see in the photo is a chilli - every packet is sold with a couple of chillies and you have a nibble of the chilli and then crunch the ngorzha whole. All except.............for the legs!

So the obvious question is - what is ngorzha? This thing with legs? Sold roasted? With chillies?

Here is a close-up of an ngorzha. You can see from the bill that is it a seed-eater, and I can tell you that it is a quelea. These voracious seed eaters fly in huge clouds, and they can strip a field of wheat in a matter of minutes. They roost at night, and that is when they are trapped - often a tin can of petrol being lit under the tree and the ball of flame simultaneously catching and cooking the birds, or a fine mesh net is thrown over the roosting tree as they sleep.

Before I am accused of being an uncaring and beastly African (which I undoubtedly am!) for posting the following pics - and before the Bambi-syndrome kicks in - here are a few facts about the quelea:

They are the most populous the world. And yet they only live in Africa. They only eat seeds, and each bird consumes up to 25% of its own body weight in seed......every day. A large flock of these birds will contain up to 20,000,000 birds (yes, correct - twenty million birds) and they reproduce at an incredible rate. Zimbabwe - back in the days when we had farmers and stuff, used to have a department of the Ministry of Agriculture which dealt specifically, and solely, with quelea-control.

And........they are packed full of protein. Yum!

I don't usually serve ngorzha at La Rochelle, but possibly I can create a brand new culinary reputation for myself? Say - a tastefully decorated platter, with Sauce Marie-Rose, and a few birds-eye chillies? Yup - I see potential here..........

The very next time my American friends come to stay with me...........I promise I will serve them ngorzha, and those pics should be things of true beauty?

Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some not so true worm pics!

So - another day, and another blog. And - as promised, the rest of the American group eating Mopane worms. However...........

Despite this being a Mission trip - I have to (sadly) tell you that two of the following pictures are a lie. Although it looks as though the worms are being eaten with much manipulation of forks and worms, the dreadful truth is that:

a) One of the folk photographed did not manage to put the worm into the mouth
b) Another of the folk photographed managed to put the worm into the mouth - held it there for several agonising seconds............and re-introduced it to the table.

You try and work out who was the coward, and who regurgitated:

First off we have Ashley, who you will recall featured in the last blog - carefully cutting the butt of her worm so that she could eat it! You know she had the worm in her mouth - but did it stay there? And......why did she feel that she had to sing to her food?

Next we have Diane S. Could she have been guilty? Surely the fork was lifted the whole way? And the worm didn't go anywhere but down, down, down, did it?

Next was Diane T. The intention is there, but did she manage to bite down? And retain the worm?

Next we have Bob, with Jennifer - the star of the last blog, once again doing her thing in the foreground! Surely Bob would not have let the side down surrounded by so many women?

Lastly Elaine - who came to Africa to look for a younger boyfriend. And succeeded! Elaine is in the background in dark top - getting busy with her fork. (In the foreground is Dr Sylvia who managed the fastest time yet by an American lady - as per yesterdays blog. She is eating her food while being watched disbelievingly by Joyce - another great facial expression!). Surely Elaine didn't just play with her food?

So - just who were the "epic fails"? I can reveal that the person who.........

- Didn't manage to get the worm into her mouth despite pretence is in pic 3 - Daine T

- Managed to get the worm into her mouth but not past her tonsils is in pic 1 - Ashley.

Better luck next time ladies!

Have a great day one and all.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The day Jennifer ate a worm!

Apologies to regular readers for a prolonged silence since my last posting. A family tragedy, kids with medical needs and other personal matters have meant that I have not posted for a while.

But I'm back - hopefully here to stay!

Oh - and while I was MIA - we passed 10,000 Page Views! Amazing! Thanks. 10,014 to be exact, before today.

It is not often, as you will know if you have followed this blog, that I devote an entire posting to one person. However - in a break with tradition, I shall do so today. Because we had such magnificent facial contortions and manifest horror.............the day Jennifer ate a worm!

Once again we had a small group of Americans in-house - this time from a place called Noo Yark - wherever that is, and once again we served Mopane worms. We had, in this one serving two records broken - the one being the fastest consumption of a worm by an American (in this case Dr Sylvia and Marvin Reimer - 23 seconds) and also the slowest. By Jennifer. 22 minutes.

Herewith in pictorial form is a 20-minute period in her life which she would rather not have endured......

 Firstly the worms arrived, and were greeted with the usual horror. There is always a moment of quiet introspection when the worms first make an appearance - and this was no exception.

I call this picture "Study in dismay". Providing you don't look at Michael the Waiter, that is!

Michael the Waiter thought the idea of representatives of the worlds most powerful nation (after China, that is) eating Mopane worms was a funny one. Jennifer disagreed:

As one by one the various group members ate their worms, the rest of the group looked on and laughed. All except one laughed, that is:

Finally - after much discussion and a little 'pinky-swear' agreement, Jennifer and Ashley placed half a worm on their forks, and prepared to eat. (Being clever - they had cut the worms in half, so that they wouldn't have so much to eat. Being not-so-clever, they therefore both placed just a worm butt in their mouths, instead of a whole worm!)

By this stage Jennifer was really enthusiastic about eating a Mopane worm.

Or............maybe not?

The furrowing of brows and grimacing finally ended 22 minutes after the worms first appeared when they managed to place the forks into their mouths in unison....

Despite a healthy slug of Coca~cola to wash it down - nothing was going anywhere fast, and a little help was needed to stop it spraying across the table...

Finally, after an interminable pause - it was swallowed. And the applause rang out loud and clear. And none applauded louder and more enthusiastically than:

A smile at LAST!

The next blog posting will be of the other group members eating Mopane worms!

Have a really great day!