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30 September 2010

The So Typically Zim Concise Guide to Zimbabwe: Situations never to let yourself get into

I noticed that this blog is getting a fair amount of visitors from outside the continent. This gave me an idea: why don’t I act as a tour guide to this beautiful country? With that spirit, I took the liberty of compiling a short list of the situations you should do your best to avoid when you get into Zimbabwe.

Being in an over crowded kombi on a long distance trip between two…um…strong women: one who just won’t stop indulging in every purchasable food item at all stops along the journey, and another with a restless, noisy child on her lap who screams for all the food items the first lady eats. By the time you get to your destination, you are drowning in bananas, Cascades, oranges, infant screams, mealies, $1 for two creamed biscuits…and the like.

In a queue at the bank right on teacher's pay day. This is the perfect time to start reciting the months of the year in Shona. By the time you get it right, the queue could be noticeably shorter. If you are based in a major city though, you might want to count down from 100 to 1 instead, also in Shona.

Seated on the couch in the evening: happily skipping through TV channels (or alternatively, skipping the long boring extended parts of an ‘African movie’ to get to the crazy exciting parts). Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, the thing is, just when you get to your favourite programme, this is just about the time ZESA  decides to pull a fast one on you and leave you in total, electricity-less and extremely frustrated darkness, wishing you hadn't turned on the darn TV in the first place.

Get caught between two rival political parties without a membership card of either. That could be a deadly situation. Now this is a dilemma for people who prefer to remain apolitical for a number of reasons: which might be religious reasons, moral or just the simple use of common sense.

Riding a train. If you a romantic, you might have thought this is a novel way to explore the country. Don’t. The average Zimbabwean railway carriage is older than the ages of all the Zimbabwean cricket team members added up together. You will get to your destination, you just won’t know when.

Attend a soccer match where the home team is bound to get a good whacking…and the team tops the league table….and you are supporting the away team. If you do insist though, then make sure you sit yourself near the exist, and you are fit enough to be able to run very fast.

That concludes my list: which is short enough to prove this is a great country to be in. If you are able to avoid these situations, then guaranteed, you will definitely enjoy your stay in this beautiful country. See you when you get here!

23 September 2010

Unwelcome Food For My Thoughts

I stared at the glass of water in my hand, placed in front of me by the waiter, and contemplated my dilemma. I wasn’t supposed to drink that water, that’s according to scientists whom I used to trust enough to know they would only say something like that for my own good.

I am sure everybody knows water is good for you, but apparently not all the time: so say those scientists. I put the glass down. Nutritionists say that drinking cold liquids after or during a meal disturbs digestion.

I don’t consider myself a fussy eater. However, years of going through newspaper articles, internet articles and People Magazine have subconsciously turned me into a paranoiac consumer. They are never short of latest nutritional breakthroughs and ‘expert’ scientific advice on food do’s and donts. I hate scientists for doing that. 

It all started way back when I was little when scientists attacked one favourite delicacy of mine: ishwa. (Would you believe it: in English they call them flying termites: an unimaginative name for food, if you ask me. Way better to call them ‘tasty flying wriggly fatty thingies’ if they couldn’t come up with a proper name). Anyway, after years of being told that they contain healthy proteins, they had to go round and start talking about them being covered with ‘chitin’ which is supposed to give the stomach a hard time during digestion. Now everytime I eat ishwa, I feel the chitin scrapping my tongue, scrapping my throat and scrapping my stomach lining.

I wish these food experts could just make up their minds. For instance, we’ve always been told that chocolate makes you fat. Now this was a good piece of information. All the males of the world could potentially use it to avoid the impromptu dispensing of cash in a supermarket queue to gratify the whining better half. Sadly, researchers had to poke into this brown gooey sweet stuff to discover that it’s not that bad for you after all. It fights heart disease, fights aging, reduces high blood pressure and lowers your cholesterol.

This reminds me of the issue of fats. Since time immemorial, the general consensus has been that fats are nasty. But wait, new research says that there are actually good types that are very healthy for you…as long as you go for whole foods rather than extracted oils. In fact, 20-35% of your calorie intake should come from fats.

Then there is fruits. You can’t possibly go wrong with fruits, right? That’s what I thought until a Manica Post article told me that you shouldn’t have fruit for dessert. I researched the matter further (No, not because I don’t trust this paper of high integrity, but because I wanted to learn more). Additional information revealed that fruits should be taken on an empty stomach, or 20 minutes before another meal. Bothersome info, if you ask me.

Proven: scientists are crazy. They cant come up with lasting nutritional facts. Little wonder most of them still believe that man used to be ape. My advice to avoid Food Statistics and Facts Related Stress Disorder: just eat everything, and eat anything in moderation.

There is a light side to these scientific flip flops however. Not too long ago, I used to hear a lot about the dangers of tea consumption, especially its dehydrating effects. Being a self proclaimed champion tea drinker, I was recently delighted to discover that lots of tea is actually healthy! In fact, a BBC online article actually went as far as out rightly declaring that it’s healthier than your glass of water. It comes with disease fighting flavanoids and teeth cleaning fluoride. And yes, it actually re-hydrates your body, not the other way round.

I sighed, grabbed the cool glass of refreshing water and downed it in one thirsty appreciative gulp. The science can wait for the meantime: I wanted the water. Anyway, a few years from now someone is going to discover that a cold glass of water after a meal actually reduces negative butylated hydroxyanisole molecules, or whatever.

16 September 2010

ZESA Scores a Point for the Evolutionists

ZESA stands for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority. These guys mainly do two things in this country: one function being the digging up of trenches around the city of Mutare in a month, changing their minds, and then filling up the trenches again the next month. During a particularly uneventful month, they would re-visit the filled up trenches and dig them up again. This pastime is so enthralling that other companies like Econet have decided to join in the fun and started digging up trenches all over the country too.

The second function of Zesa is to switch off electricity during your waking hours, and then switching it back on just after you have entered the coma like state of deep R.E.M sleep.

It is this second function that has made a contribution to the theory of evolution.

As you probably learnt in your first year of high school, man used to be ape. Now this process is said to have come about through micro-evolution; small adaptations over short periods of time, adaptations which eventually accumulated into huge changes over much longer periods of time. Environmental changes trigger a species into undergoing micro evolutionary adaptations in order to secure its own survival. Got it?

In simple terms: when the environment changes, we have to change along with it if we want to survive.

That is where Zesa comes in: it is acting as the environmental trigger.

Take for example the fact that some habits of the general populace in Zimbabwe have turned nocturnal. You can’t count on there being any electricity during the day, so some companies are now depending entirely on the night shift: sleep during the day, work at night.

If you are lucky enough not to need electricity at work or you use a generator instead, don’t worry, you will not lag behind on evolution’s path of change. Zesa makes sure that when you get home during the early evening, you have no choice but to sleep. See, the television has become the centre of every household: whether it is watching African (read ‘Nigerian’) movies, playing Mai Nga on DVD or simply watching pirated digital broadcasts of foreign TV channels. Without Zesa, and the art of family conversation having been lost a century ago, you sleep and maybe wake up around 1am to catch up on some Sky News. A perfect example of microevolution.

Charles Darwin
I got another example. Have you ever noticed how Zimbabweans have micro evolved in an effort to provide themselves with energy? Cooking used to be a simple primitive matter of turning on the stove and laying the pot on the hot plate. Now the whole matter requires some ingenuity when there is no electricity. One method that is gaining popularity in firewood scarce cities is the use of sawdust to cook meals. Don’t ask me for details: just know that apparatus includes a tin, sawdust (not too fine), some matches and of course cookware which you wont mind scrubbing soot off of after the messy process is done. Another perfect example of microevolution.

The whole point is that Zimbabweans have adapted to the absence of electricity in seemingly ingenious ways to ensure that life goes on. Yeah, pathetic, but judging from the development of affairs, we should get used to this kind of living because it doesn’t seem to be nearing its end yet.

The bigger point is that Charles Darwin’s modern counterparts may take these trends to indicate that their theory of evolution was right after all! If adaptations can take place in such a small space of time, what of a million years? If the world were to survive till then, maybe this country could be inhabited by big eyed hibernating owl like creatures.

This article was about the theory of evolution. Anyone who read anything else in it should have their heads examined.

Addendum: I found an interesting piece on the circus they call evolution this other day. Everyone should read it...or most of it anyway (its a bit longer than what can be managed by the attention span of the average internet surfer).

11 September 2010

Whats Making You Laugh on Zim TV These Days?

Thanks to a free to air decoder, which snaps up any un-encrypted signal onto my TV screen, it has been a while since I did Zim TV. I got a little lost when a lot of people started talking about the new TV sensation, Kapfupi: his acting, his music and a whole load of other stuff. One day I heard this guy compare him to my all time Zimbabwean TV favourite, Gringo, and then I really started to feel like I was missing out on something.

A friend lent me the DVD; I sprawled on the sofa and got ready to be entertained. I don’t remember the title, but I do remember it all started with Kapfupi and his trusty sidekick, Marabha, climbing over a gate to get to a house in an effort to look for employment at this residence. That elicited a smile out of me, and raised in me an expectation of a wild and hilarious adventure ahead.

After a little while, my smile turned to uneasiness…then slowly into disappointment and a little bit of disbelief. The show was over-acted, over improvised, poorly edited and the sound quality was terrible. In one scene, I actually spotted one of the cameramen uncomfortably crouching in the bushes.

I wondered if this was the current prime of Zimbabwean video production. It was as if the whole crew and cast came to the scene without a clue as to what they were about to do, entirely depending on the whims of the lead actors:

“What do you feel like doing today?” the director would ask.

“I don’t know,” Kapfupi would answer, “I wanted to record a song when I woke up this morning but it seems like a perfectly sunny day. Let’s act.”

“Ok. Um…what do you wanna act about?”

“Oh I don’t know,” Kapfupi would answer, “Just start the cameras rolling, I’ll think of something along the way.”

Maybe it’s a new way of making dramas in Zimbabwe: the impromptu approach. It kind of reminds me of an article that explained how they make African (read ‘Nigerian’) movies. The total number of cast members and crew would be about ten; extras are taken from whatever location the filming is taking place. Filming is done using hand held camcorders: which explains why an earthquake occurs every time the camera has to follow someone around.

It takes about a week to shoot a Nigerian movie and one director actually boasted that he could make a movie in three days flat. Considering the quality of their products, I believe him. I also believe that if our own Kapfupi decided to do a full length feature movie, he could lay that Nigerian director’s claim to shame by doing it in a day without a script.

I wonder whatever happened to the creative days of Paraffini, Mukadota and the actor I best remember for on-screen improvisation, Mutirowafanza. Those names invoke warm funny moments of the whole family gathered up before the TV during prime time to laugh away the evening and share the humor first thing tomorrow morning at school, at work or with the neighbor hanging out the laundry next door.

I think the peak quality production in comedy drama was reached with Gringo. Gringo’s cast was memorable, the storyline well thought out and the improvisations by the main actor, Lazarus Boora, could barely be identified as such. After that, the industry decided on a downward spiral and never looked back.

Granted, it is very brave of Kapfupi to make this bold undertaking to revive the genre. I tried him, but I don’t think him good enough yet. For the meantime, I’m going back to my Everybody Hates Chris and George Lopez on neighboring countries’ TV until we get someone who doesn’t throw a half baked idea onto our screens.

06 September 2010

Chronicles of a Kombi Crew

When I still in crèche, I wanted to be a bus conductor. The thought of spending the whole of my working life riding up and down the country thrilled me, especially considering these guys never had their moms screaming at them to sit down when the bus started moving. Of course, I changed my mind ages ago. In Primary School I decide to aim higher - I wanted to pilot a plane.

I hardly think today’s kids ever dream of being conductors or drivers. They all want to be Akons and Shakiras (you should attend any kindergarten party to see the type of music they are ‘whining’ to). Apparently, this profession has lost appeal even in the feeblest of minds.

However, a recent discussion I heard in a kombi made me spare a thought for the people in this industry. It was invoked by a woman who tactlessly cared to comment that this profession, compared to a number of other jobs, wasn’t all that hard to do. The kombi conductor and driver didn’t take this lying down: they decided to defend their livelihoods with only two, but well articulated points.

The first point brought forward was that the most difficult jobs in the world involved dealing with the public…and a kombi crew is high up there in the customer service sector. You get to be yelled at by a number of people letting off steam from their own personal problems, and you get to do an awfully lot of yelling back at people who fail to perform the basics of riding on a kombi.

Take, for example, the guy who gets into a kombi, pulls down an ‘aisle seat’ before the back seat gets filled and sits there. I’ve seen it happening myself and I got to say, it doesn’t make any sense unless you intend to pay for all the empty spaces behind you. Then there is the guy that gets in, waits for the kombi to fill up, pulls out his brand new G-tide and starts playing music full blast, impairing other passengers' attempts at conversation, and even drowning out the car radio. Wouldn’t that just give you a headache?

The second point involves the long hours put in by most kombi crews. This particular kombi crew stated that they wake up at around 4.a.m and usually drop of the last customer close to 9.p.m after an exhausting day…and we are talking 7 days a week. The conductor probably gets the worst of it since he has to awkwardly hang at the door for the duration of the journey. This can be particularly torturous in a small kombi and is probably going to create a new health disorder,  ‘Curved Back Syndrome’ or something.

The long working hours also mean these guys have no social life. The conductor stressed this by saying that he doesn’t even drink anymore since he would simply doze off on the bar counter before the first drink. He woefully added, “This other day, I held my 8 month old child and she cried, she didn’t know who I was.” Tragic, really.

Just a glimpse into the day of a kombi crew. I am not saying you should start teaching your children to want to be kombi drivers and conductors when they grow up. I am just encouraging you all to spare a thought for the humble kombi crew next time you are commuting.

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory states that the universe started off with one huge explosion from an infinitesimally small point called a singularity. Right now, it is rapidly expanding in all directions as evidenced by galaxies all around spinning away from each other. Sounds fun, but the theory also goes on to say that if this expansion doesn’t slow down soon, the whole universe is going to end up all cold and dark, all the energy having been spent in expansion.

This interesting piece on astronomy came to mind when I spent nearly a week unable to make any calls, txt, or even sent a Call Me Back using my Econet line. It seems as if the network became congested with calls just after they introduced per second billing. Per second billing is still a cool new feature in Zimbabwe and it seems everybody’s keen on finding out how it works, and whether it would really save them a couple of cents…hence the network overload.

Econet is by far the country’s largest network. It started in 1999 and now possesses over 75% of the market share…a large and undoubtedly unfair chunk of the pie if you ask me. Think four million Zimbabweans all experimenting with making multiple calls in an effort to stretch the humble dollar. Not good.

My possibly alarmist question is: did this company bite off more than it can chew? I have absolutely nothing wrong with a company expanding, but shouldn’t this expansion be supported by infrastructure on the ground? Doing it any other way can only lead to gross inefficiencies. Try calling the Econet helpline, for instance, and you will reach the inevitable conclusion that they are the ones who need a lot of help in customer service provision.

I can’t help thinking about Microsoft at this juncture. Everyone knows that these guys own the PC operating system world (For all we know this side of the equator, Mac OS and Linux could be the latest hybrid offerings from Toyota). However, everybody also knows that it is most unwise to be the first to get the latest operating system package from them. A gross period should be allowed: a period characterized by bug fixes and the release of ‘improved’ versions of the same product.

Now I am scared of and for companies that are big but haven’t done much wrong yet. Think Facebook with its recently reached membership of 500 million people. It makes me more than a bit uneasy that Wikipedia has separate page dedicated to Facebook criticisms. Some of the privacy issues in this article could make you squirm.

While ‘Facebook owns social networking, Google owns everything else’…that’s according to a Cnet article I recently came across. I cant argue with that, seeing  Google now seems to rule the internet. Picture this: if you spent your day on the internet, you might start your day by launching the Google Chrome browser, then search on Google to access your Gmail, blog with Blogger, network with Buzz, watch videos on YouTube, manage digital photos on Picasa, find places with Earth…need I go on? And the company is only 13 years old.
Little wonder, in 2006, the word ‘google’ was added as a verb in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary. But what if Google gets so big that it becomes blatantly inefficient? Or (should I say it?) what if this giant actually collapses? I am sure such an event would immediately kick start the long aforetold biblical great tribulation.

 Becoming big, no doubt, is nice. A recent IPC Consultancy survey rates Econet Wireless as the most admired employer in Zimbabwe; Google, according to a Universum survey, has gained the best employer status globally (closely followed by Microsoft). Everybody’s falling over each other to work for them big companies.

 But being big should be managed. Expansion without proper management can only lead to gross disappointments. It would be like following the bad footsteps that, according to astronomers, the universe has laid out from the very beginning. Tragically, a couple of billion years from now we are all going to be sitting in the dark, all cold and gloomy,  wondering why the universe couldn’t just slow down when it was growing up.

02 September 2010

Zimbabwean Wedding Guide: How to Make Yours a Success

I was eavesdropping on a conversation this other day taking place between two women. One of them (I’ll call her Mai T) had just attended a wedding and the other (lets call her Mai Nga) wanted to know all about it. 

The talk was a chatter of rapidly fired excited questions and answers, but I managed to grab the main ideas. These ideas led me to a conclusion: weddings in this country follow a few basic rules which, when followed, will eventually lead to the success of that event. Let me share bits of this animated talk with you:

Mai Nga: Muchato wanga uri sei?
Mai T    : Muchato wanga uri right zvisingaiti, ende takadya!

That is the first rule: lots of food. If you want to make your Zimbabwean guest happy, pile lots and lots of food in front of him - more that he knows what to do with. Don't worry about having food left over afterwards - as unlikely as that might be considering the gastronomical capability of the populace. Actually, having leftovers could raise the feast up a notch on the success scale. 
By the waylots of food means I mean lots of beef, lots of chicken and lots of rice. This is not the best time to serve your favourite dish (shaquille stuffed shells grilled with teriyaki sauce or whatever). Variety and uniqueness is nice but at the end of the day, quantity will determine how the vote will be cast. Just don’t forget to throw in at least two coke bottles per guest.

01 September 2010

The Death of Shona As We (Should) Know It

This serves to mourn the death of Shona in Zimbabwe. The everyday language being spoken these days does not deserve to be called Shona. It doesn’t really make any sense anymore.

Ok. Before you all go all crazy and start shouting about unpatriotism and ignorance and hate speech, let me make a few points clear before I proceed. First point: I love Shona, otherwise I wouldn’t use it to talk. In fact, this very post proves I am a Shona lover, as you shall see. Second point: I believe that all languages have their peculiarities and none is superior to another (off the record though, German sucks, French rocks, nothing personal). Third point: the only language I really know is Shona, so by default, it’s the only language I am qualified to comment on.

And I say it doesn’t really make any sense anymore. Case in point:

Archie walks up to Tatenda and asks, “Uri kutambira nhamba ani?”

Tatenda looks back with a blank stare for a split second before smiling back and answering, “Ndiri kuDefense.”

Archie nodded, seemingly in understanding, and comments, “MaOne.”

If you are the type that is always up to date with the latest trends in the world of conversations, you might have no trouble understanding the interchange above. I, on the other hand, am one of the conservative types and when I heard it, I found it kind of puzzling; especially considering none of the participants above ever walked a soccer pitch in their lives.

Shona is getting chaotic by the day. Slang used to form only a small fraction of the whole language, but it now seems to rule. Proper words have all been morphed up into abbreviated and twisted substitutes that lack the beauty of the original form and sound. Contrast the nice sounding baba (father) with the modern blunt form mdhara. You got to admit, the original sounds beautiful and the modern is ugly.  The other relations have not been spared this brutality, such that we have a whole ugly line up: blaz, sistren, ninez, gulez, kulez

The beautiful vocabulary of expressive words has probably suffered the most. For instance, just one word bears the mammoth task of summarizing just any emotion, or concluding any sentence under the Zimbabwean sun. It doesn’t matter if someone has asked you how you are feeling, how the party you attended was like, or how business is these days. You simply answer: MaOne. Given the economic circumstances in the country, some might add, or substitute with the gloomier zvakadhakwa.

Just a few examples, but I hope they have proven my point.

 I blame the kombi guys for this trend. See, these are the people that seize the latest and juiciest phrases and start throwing them all around until they find their way into ordinary respectable conversation. A huge portion of the Zimbabwean population commutes using the kombis so the language easily spreads around. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear, a couple of years from now, a preacher in church sternly advising the congregation: “Hama neshamwari munaKristo, nekudhakwa kwaita upenyu musasatambire defense kunaMwari.”

I got to ask Tatenda, much later on, what the whole conversation with Archie was supposed to mean. The answer I got? “I have no idea, I just played along.”

Well, at least it proves I’m not the only one lagging behind.