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31 July 2010

Zimbabweans and their vital cuppa tea

Zimbabwe has generally a very favourable climate throughout the year. For some places though, like Chipinge, there are times when the temperature plummets below favourable…well below favourable (for those who were not so keen on high school geography, Chipinge is a small town in the Eastern Highlands region of Zimbabwe). At such a time in such a town, that is when I found myself huddled up late at night finding solace in a warm black cup of tea.

On my third cup, the random wandering of an idle mind started pondering, of all topics, the avid tea drinking habits of the average Zimbabwean. It could have been a passing thought until I realized that these habits can’t possibly be normal.

I first noticed this fact when I went away to college. Prior to that, I used to fancy myself a champion tea drinker until I met a whole load of individuals who effortlessly laid shame to my claim day after day. This one guy had an early morning cup to jumpstart the day, then a one or two cups to support the breakfast meal at around ten. Lunch was also accompanied by a cup, and the same applied to supper. Oh, and if he happened to stay up late, the count of cups could rise significantly. I could tell you the number of cups he would have during exam periods (and the day he broke up with a long standing girlfriend), but you wouldn’t believe me.

Ok, I have to admit that this guy could be in the extremes, but Zimbabweans drink a lot of tea - and that’s a fact. Tea drinking in the country is more popular than the much more vital glass of water. Why, breakfast is not even called breakfast in this country- its called tea.

And our specialty is black tea. We don’t care if there is green or white or oolong tea. We don’t even care for the supposedly healthier herbal alternatives that they want to call tea, but are really just dried leaves and flowers from other plants. We stubbornly stick to our good old black camellia sinensis tea. (Please note: tea is not named, as some might have erroneously assumed, from the existence or absence of colour altering additives such as milk. It is named from how it is processed).

Chipinge Rural google satellite mapsIt came to my attention that Zimbabwe exports 15 000 tonnes of tea a year (that’s according to the UK tea council). Now that is a lot of tea by any standards, if you ask me. It all started some 80 years ago when some very enterprising spirit planted the first seeds on an estate known as New Year’s Gift in the Chipinge district of the Eastern Highlands (Click on maplandia to find out where that is)

Could it be that we drink so much tea because we make so much of it?

Maybe, I don’t know, but that is the conclusion I reached over my fourth vital cuppa tea. The fact remains that we never looked back ever since!

23 July 2010

Of extensions, explosions and what should be done about Zimbabwe's cheap imports

I bought a plug extension this other day for $3 dollars after spending a lot of time going around town. I thought myself awfully clever, considering I had browsed through a lot of shops to find a similar product going for as much as $6 – and I’d got mine for half the price! It was pretty handy, since it I could now plug a lot of appliances at once using one wall socket.

When I was away, my unsuspecting roommate tried adding an electric kettle to this list of appliances. We met later during the day, and he told me that my extension had exploded. I tensely told him that you don’t plug heavy duty stuff like kettles, stoves or an iron into such a gadget: the fuse would obviously pop.
Fuse popping? The understatement of the year. The extension had, like my good friend had tried to tell me, actually exploded. The cable had been ripped open from the plug all the way to the extension; the extension itself was all black inside and the plug…the plug’s internal organs were left a twisted black plastic mess.

You know, I never used to mind having substandard products being imported into Zimbabwe before. My argument was simple: the market contains both substandard and quality made goods. If you have enough kudos to go for the high end goods, go for it. If on the other hand, your financial disposition makes you hardly ever dream of acquiring the good stuff, then at least you can make-belief by getting yourself a cheap substitute. It kind of worked. For instance, some people are pretending that they have smart phones. It doesn’t bother them that much that some of these phones have the lifespan of the average housefly, as long as the bundle comes along with touch screens and dual Sims and mp3 players.

My mind’s changed though, after my close encounter with the plug extension. Breaking down is one thing, but actually putting on a fireworks display show is a very different other. It would be real nice if some of these imports could be restricted entry into the country when they are proven to be health hazards. Granted, it would be a mammoth task for the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (or whoever) to check all the brands entering the country for standards conformance. But really, some of these products are easy to spot.

Brand knock offs are a good example. If Nokia says the only double and dual sim mobile handsets it has are the C-100 and C2 respectively, then a Nokia 6300 dual sim should be blacklisted. Philip’s gadgets that prove over-enthusiastic enough to have two ‘L’s in the label are also out, and so is any Sumsung appliance. Note: this isn’t just about getting rid of products that easily break down. Like I said, it could be a matter of personal health. For instance, some cell phones from obscure manufactures have been proved through tests to have radiation levels above the normal limit. I do not know what they radiate exactly, but it sounds dangerous anyway.

Another way of spotting these products is through having inspectors open up the operation manuals for say, all electrical gadgets. That automatically means all electrical goods without user manuals should be barred (What type of quality electrical gadget doesn’t have a manual anyway?). The manual should be briefly read through, and any that has languag erors soch as tis should be deemed suspect. How can you make a safe product if you can’t even spell correctly? Even the packing and the body of the gadget can be a dead give away in terms of these errors.

I was left in stitches when I turned over the plug of my exploding extension. Painstakingly stenciled on the back in caps was the word ‘PUSE’. I guess I shouldn’t have expected a pused product to withstand the electrical pull of a kettle. Next time, I’m getting one with a fuse.