The last few weeks have certainly been interesting, and very unusual, times in Zimbabwe. Many things have happened that I never thought would happen in Zimbabwe. For example, one of the students at the school where I teach apparently got high on LSD, grabbed his dad’s 2.2 rifle and set himself up at an intersection to take pot shots at passing cars last weekend. You know, as one does on a quiet Saturday evening in Harare when you have no other plans.
What could perhaps have been a forgivable (although highly stupid) stunt turned into a very serious situation after he shot a passenger in a passing car… who, in the small world that Harare is, is a former student of the same school. To cut a long story short, the guy who was shot will be okay and the “sniper” and his accomplice spent the next 5 days behind bars awaiting their bail hearing. I’m pretty sure those must have been the most terrifying 5 days of their lives.
None of that story is very funny. However, you would think it was comedy central the way some of the students in my statistics class talk about it. As lightly as they may appear to be dealing with the reality of their school mate becoming a “sniper”, they’ve all been affected by it… and have certainly received a bit of a wake-up call concerning the possible consequences of some of their own behaviour. Walking down the corridors, there’s been a persistent murmur of “sniper, sniper” amongst the students all week.
In my statistics class earlier this week, one (rather earnest) student put up his hand to ask a question. We’d been working on conditional probability and most of the students were struggling with it… naturally, I thought he was going to ask a conditional probability-related question. Instead, he asks about how bail works, which just set off a myriad of legal questions from everyone in the class, all wondering what the “sniper” may get charged with, whether he’ll be tried as a juvenile, what his punishment may be, whether he’ll have to serve time in the notorious Chikurubi Prison, etc, etc.
After having answered their deluge of questions for about 20 minutes, I tried to get them to calm down and focus on their statistics again, “Ok gentlemen, enough legal questions for now. Only probability questions are allowed for the rest of the lesson.” “Ok ma’am,” they responded, disappointed, and the class quietened down. For about 30 seconds.
Then another student put up his hand to ask a question. “Yes?” I asked. He replied, “Ma’am, what’s the probability that he’ll have to serve time in jail?” And the mob of questions began all over again… this time with each question preceded by “Ma’am, what’s the probability that…” All I could do was shake my head and laugh at their ingenuity.
This same class of students continuously crack me up. Last week, one student asked if he could do the working for his correct answer on the board for the rest of the class to see. I said that was fine, and he went to the board and started writing. While he was writing, one of the other students grabbed his school shorts and pulled them down to his ankles. Eish, the way I was soooo relieved that at least his boxers stayed up! That could have been a thoroughly awkward situation!
In retaliation against the student who had pulled down the other student’s shorts, someone drew a big penis on his maths exercise book cover. “Ma’am, I don’t want to use this exercise book anymore! Someone drew a penis on it!” cried the student, feigning disgust. “Well, that’s rather rich coming from you, considering you just pulled down your friend’s shorts,” I responded, “Just be quiet, open your exercise book and do your work”. “Um, ok ma’am,” he said, while he coloured in the penis with a coloured marker, having realised that doing that was probably more fun than statistics.
Despite my time teaching at this almost all boys’ school, there are some things that I’m still unable to understand. One is teenage boys’ obsession with drawing penises. Everywhere. All the time. Seriously. Their favourite thing is to draw them on the seat of chairs, so when someone sits down on the chair, he has to lower his bum onto the penis, while the rest of the class laughs at him. So ridiculous. They’ve even drawn penises all over the elephant and giraffe bones in the biology lab.
The other thing is teenage boys’ obsession with their friends’ mothers. Given the opportunity to mess around in Paint or Powerpoint, or even just to draw on paper, they will, literally 99% of the time, write or draw something about a friend’s mother. And it’s not even as though they’re always rude or disrespectful… sometimes it’s very polite, talking about “Mai Naidoo” or “Amai Tanatswa”, etc.
And, well, other times they aren’t so polite… the koala picture that comes standard in Windows’ sample pictures has been modified on almost every single computer at that school. If it hasn’t had, for example, “Mai Musango” written on it, it’s had a moustache and/or beard and/or devils’ horns and/or red eyes drawn onto it. It’s like an unspoken memo was sent around to wreck that stupid koala picture… yet each boy proudly thinks that he’s the first one to vandalise it.
In unrelated news, the police roadblock at the end of my road has notched up a level of sophistication. I was driving home the other day and saw a high-tech kombi parked near the roadblock, with a policeman pointing a big scanner at cars approaching the roadblock. Panic automatically set in, as generally happens at roadblocks in Zimbabwe, but especially so when you have a scanner pointing at you and you have no idea what it’s searching for.
As I slowed down, forced to a near-stop by a big, luminous yellow, plastic speed hump erected at the roadblock, the scanner focused its attention on my car and the siren went off. My mind was racing – did I get a speeding ticket that I didn’t know about? Is there a problem with the new vehicle license? What on earth was going on?
“Aaaah, pull over,” instructed the policeman standing near the fake speed hump. I slowly moved to pull over on the dirt on the side of the road, and as I did so, I saw that the guy operating the scanner was wearing a “ZBC Radio Licensing” bib. It suddenly dawned on me… all this fuss was being made of ZBC car radio licenses! Yes, you are supposed to have a license for your car radio in Zimbabwe… which obviously I don’t have because it costs $30 for the license and an additional $20 fine for not having one. And it’s not even as though I listen to ZBC radio (except to hear about the odd “whooping” win in the sports news… which, I figured, is supposed to be “whopping”, but is just so much funnier when choped).
I already have a stack of about 7 radio license tickets that I’ve accumulated for not having a car radio license. I make up names and addresses, so they appear to not all belong to me… but they do. It’s the only way that I can fully deny any knowledge of having received even a single one. After having found a car radio license inspector waiting for me at my car after doing grocery shopping the other day, confronting me about my lack of a radio license, I tried to claim that my car radio doesn’t work. I turned the radio on to prove my point, making sure he could clearly hear the crackling static. He told me to tune it to 89.7 and listened carefully whilst I stuffed around, wasting time in the hope that he would lose interest. He didn’t. So eventually I put it onto 89.7 and, yes, as you can imagine, music started blasting loudly and clearly. No static at all. The radio worked perfectly and I looked like a moron. I had no option but to give the inspector another fake name and take another ticket, feigning that I didn’t have enough money on me to pay the spot fine.
So now, parked on the side of the road near the scanner with its incessant siren, and with the license inspectors closing in on me once more, I quickly ejected the face of the radio while making a concerted effort to not look like I was doing anything dodgy. I dropped the radio face down the side of the seat, out of sight. The siren stopped immediately and confusion passed over the face of the inspector who had just appeared at my open window.
“Why did it stop?” he asked. “Um, I don’t know,” I replied, giving him a suitably puzzled look and a slight shrug of my shoulders. He glanced into the car, saw no radio there, and reluctantly said “Aaaah, it’s ok, you can go.” He continued to watch me in his confused suspicion as I pulled away, oblivious to the fact that I was laughing so hard that I could barely drive. I survived to be ticketed another day. Only in Zimbabwe!