The Elephant Whisperer

This morning I received an email that made me remember once more an amazing man, Lawrence Anthony, a brave South African who put himself in danger countless times fighting for the protection of wild animals – danger not just from the (often very abused) animals themselves, but also from the conflict and instability in some of the areas where he did his work. He even worked with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Southern Sudan to promote the conservation and protection of the Northern White Rhino… if that’s not bravery, I don’t know what is. Many know him not by name, but by the title “the Elephant Whisperer”, and it doesn’t take much to understand why he’s called that.

Among other things, he founded Thula Thula game reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, where he lived with his family – it had been one of my dreams to go there to meet him, but sadly he passed away suddenly earlier this year just before a gala dinner that he had organised to raise funds for combatting rhino poaching in South Africa. I will still go to Thula Thula though – and I hope some of you do too.

One of the most amazing things about Lawrence’s death was the response of the elephants in Thula Thula and the surrounding areas. Although he wasn’t even at Thula Thula when he passed away, his elephants seemed to sense his death immediately and went into mourning. Those who witnessed it said it was nothing short of bizarre and miraculous, one of those things that human science just cannot explain.

It was almost reminiscent of Lawrence’s return to Thula Thula many years ago after an extended period of time away in Bagdad, Iraq, where he was involved in rescuing wild animals from Bagdad Zoo after the US invasion triggered war in the country and the animals had been left to starve. He’d been away for many months, but his elephants knew the very night he was to return to Thula Thula… and they were waiting for him when he arrived. Neither he nor any of his staff could believe it, nor could they even guess as to how the elephants knew that he was coming back that night. They just knew.

Two days after Lawrence’s death, after friends and family had gathered at Thula Thula to mourn his passing, about 31 wild elephants arrived at his house, led by several matriarchs. They had walked over 12 miles during those 2 days and had very obviously come to pay their respects.

As you can imagine, those gathered at the Anthony’s home were in total awe – not just at at supreme intelligence of the elephants for having sensed Lawrence’s passing, but also because of the profound memory and emotion the elephants clearly felt toward Lawrence.

An expert, asked for his opinion, could explain it no more than to say: “A good man died suddenly, and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at his home. If there ever was a time when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants are grieving. This man’s abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now they have come to pay loving homage to their friend.”

Lawrence’s wife, Francoise, was especially touched. The elephants hadn’t come to the house in over 3 years, so she knew that it wasn’t just coincidental timing – she knew they had come because Lawrence had died. The elephants stayed for 2 days and 2 nights outside the Anthony’s home, without eating anything, and then one morning, they left, making their long journey back.

There are so many stories in Lawrence’s life that have changed the way I regard animals. Please give his books a read if you can, I guarantee that they will change the way you see life: Babylon’s Ark (on the rescue of animals from the Bagdad Zoo); the Elephant Whisperer and The Last Rhinos. Even if you’re not an “animal person”, in fact, especially if you’re not an animal person, I highly recommend them!



the day I ran across Manhattan in a hurricane

Regardless of where you are in the world, you must know that this last Monday evening Hurricane Sandy touched down in New Jersey, just south of New York (yes, yes, by then she was technically “post-tropical storm Sandy”, which is the lamest name ever, and she’d been a hurricane all along, so she’ll always still be called Hurricane Sandy). The storm had a diameter of approximately 800 miles and New York got hit by the right-hand side of her as she passed over New Jersey, which is the more lethal side to be hit by (but obviously not nearly as bad as having the centre of the storm go over you).

By the time Sandy arrived, the whole of New York was tangibly waiting for her. The transit system had closed the day before, trains and buses had been moved to higher ground to escape any flooding and the subway entrances were gated closed. If you needed to get anywhere, you walked. Homeless people and people living in low-lying areas like Coney Island had been evacuated. Classes were cancelled and all but the most industrious shop and restaurant owners had closed their establishments by noon on Monday. The few that remained open served the late panicked customers searching for alcohol mainly (although maybe a few people were buying tinned food and water) in preparation of the looming storm and potentially countless hours stuck indoors.

For the first half of Monday, things were pretty normal apart from the fact that classes had been cancelled and that it was raining quite heavily. But there was a weird air of anticipation – we were waiting for a hurricane to arrive and no one had any idea how bad it would be. Most of us had no idea what a hurricane was even like. Would we lose power? Would our building be damaged? Would our windows shatter from high winds and flying debris? Would we have to be evacuated? Basically… would it be the zombie apocalypse? (Should we stock up on weapons?)

By mid-afternoon my internet had crashed, and with it any hopes of making my deadline that day. I met up with Miks, a friend who lives on the floor below me and is in the same masters program as me – he’s from Latvia and was a journalist there before starting our masters program. Journalists are fun people to be with when disaster is looming… they are the combination of fearless and adventurous that is needed in such times.

We went up onto the roof of our building … climbing through a small window and then going down the fire-escape (because obviously the doors to the roof had been locked in order to, you know, prevent people going onto the roof in the storm). “How do you know this way onto the roof?” I asked, totally bewildered. “Smokers always know routes” was his reply. True that.

This was our view of the Hudson River from the roof, downriver and upriver (both with New Jersey in the background):












And this is us on the roof:

Police cars and fire engines were trawling the streets, their sirens blaring, and the loudhailers of the police could be heard everywhere. It was crazy and exciting being in the storm on the roof… so obviously we decided to do the next logical thing…. and walk to Times Square in the growing storm. We grabbed an orange each as rations (they were eaten by the third block as were a pain to carry) and Miks considered picking up fallen branches to use as weapons (like some passing people had). I must admit, I started the journey having accepted that we probably wouldn’t make it all the way to Times Square… which is 81 blocks away (over 4 miles and almost 6.5km) from where we live.

We moved quickly, having opted for running shoes in the event of having to run (more from the police than from the hurricane) and saw really interesting things along the almost-deserted way. There were still lots of joggers out (heaven forbid New York joggers would stop for a single day, even in a hurricane) and people walking their dogs, as well as fellow hurricane adventurers. We tried to take photos but it was raining very hard, so our phones were getting wet and the pictures didn’t come out so clearly.

The gyms were still full (there’s a gym on the second floor that was totally packed) and people walking their dogs below:

And shop owners sand-bagging the doors of their shops:

We went down onto a pier on the Hudson and jumped around in the storm. If you jumped up off the ground, the wind carried you and you landed  several feet away from where you were before… it was awesome.

One of the people jumping on the pier with us said he lived in a nearby building and pointed to it. Turns out he lives in the Trump Towers… we totally should have seized the moment and networked with a millionaire in the middle of the storm… but we didn’t, we carried on with our adventure instead.

As we left the pier, the cops arrived and used their loudhailers to yell (and swear) at the people still playing on the pier: “Get off the pier! Get off the pier! Get of the f*ing pier!” It was strange and totally hilarious hearing the cops swearing over loudhailers! Everyone on the pier ignored them and next thing the cop car was driving on the pier after people! It was ridiculous. The pier was undoubtedly my favourite part of the journey!

We saw people who had been evacuated from New Jersey being bussed in to an evacuation centre in midtown Manhattan:

Then we came across “the crane” that such a huge fuss was made of… as well as the crowd of reporters lurking on the street below, reporting live for various news stations (hoping, although they’d never admit it, that the crane would fall and make their reporting career):

Finally we reached Times Square… and there were only a few other people there (but the adverts blared on as per usual). It was deathly quiet and still – the rain and wind had stopped momentarily:

We were soaked through and exhausted so we caught a cab home instead of attempting the return journey on foot. By the time we got back up to 123rd Street, debris was beginning to fly, trees were breaking and scaffolding fell off the roof of our building (the closest we came to real danger all day). We ran inside and the adventure was over.

The next morning, I walked just over 100 blocks with some friends, examining the damage in upper Manhattan, which was extremely lucky and had little more than broken scaffolding and fallen trees. This is the small park attached to the residence where I live. About half of its trees were down.

And Central Park also had many of its trees fall, some onto cars (stupidly) parked nearby:

Power is slowly being restored to areas that lost power, but many in Manhattan are still blacked out, and far more in Brooklyn, Staten Island and elsewhere:

All in all, Sandy was an interesting experience. I’m grateful that our area wasn’t badly damaged and I think often of those who lost loved ones, their homes or valuables in Sandy’s destruction. The skies have been cloudless for the past two days and it’s hard to believe that such a storm passed by mere days ago.

Oh, Gokwe

Some of you may have heard about the drama in Gokwe a few months ago following 26 women apparently waking up without their panties on. The Herald was obsessed with it, providing regular updates on what Chief Njelele was doing to try to solve the “mystery” in his area. I found out about the mystery once they’d already solved it, but I still continue to stumble across pearls of ridiculousness that took place whilst investigations were unfolding… Gokwe and this panties saga really is the gift that keeps on giving.

It seems the whole story started when 26 females, “including schoolgirls” woke up to find their panties gone. All on the same morning. The women were adamant that they had been wearing panties when they went to sleep, but when they woke up, their panties were gone. Needless to say, panic and mayhem ensued and an emergency meeting of all those living in Njelele Village was called.

In addition to calling the emergency meeting, Chief Njelele also reported the matter to the Gokwe Police Station. Eish, the way I wish I had been a fly on the wall of that police station during the reporting of that incident! I’m pretty sure the facial expressions of the police officers as they listened to Chief Njelele’s story must have been absolutely priceless!

Anyway, some time either before or after Chief Njelele’s reporting of the matter to the police, The Herald caught wind of the story and asked Chief Njelele about the incident. “What happened in my area is so scary and everyone is in a state of shock and panic. I have called for a meeting with my subjects in the two villages where the incident occurred and I am scheduled to meet them so that we can chart the way forward,” Chief Njelele said.

The missing panties were discovered later in a “bushy area”, “spreading panic among the villagers”. Chief Njelele confirmed that most of “the owners from the two villages had positively identified their panties”.

So, obviously, a witch-hunt ensued.

In fact, it was more of a “witch-hunting ceremony”, just as Chief Njelele promised it would be when he engaged the police to allow him to conduct it. “I will ask the police to allow us to invite the tsikamutandas [traditional healers] so that we can conduct a witch-hunting ceremony”, he said.

Police in Gokwe confirmed the incident. They said, however, that it was very difficult for them to investigate this issue, they said the only person who could possibly solve the mystery was the tsikamutanda.

So everything was on track for the scheduling of a witch-hunting ceremony. And then, suddenly, Chief Njelele directed village heads in his area to stop the arrangements to invite a traditional healer to conduct the cleansing ceremony in the villages. It was reported that the move came “in the wake of more mysterious happenings in Chief Njelele’s area”.

What were these “more mysterious happenings”? Well, Chief Njelele said a “huge owl invaded village head Pauro’s homestead and grabbed a male mature dog with its legs before vanishing with it while the village head and his subjects were at a meeting to discuss the invitation of a traditional healer following the missing panties saga.” I love the precision of the description of the dog: “a male mature dog”. Just in case we thought it was a female not-yet-matured dog… as though that would make it any less bizarre.

“It is mind-boggling what is going on in the area,” Chief Njelele told The Herald. Mind-boggling.

Chief Njelele stated that most of the women had since claimed their panties from the stash that was found. “Some have burnt them while others said they would perform some rituals before disposing of them. I am keeping them [the unclaimed ones] at my own risk because as the leader, there is nothing I can do”, he said.

At some stage, despite the owl-dog incident, a cleansing ceremony was in fact held in the villages. And then the mystery was solved and reported boldly in all leading Zimbabwean publications:

“A 62-year-old Gokwe man has come out in the open and claimed ownership of a goblin which has been terrorizing women in his village by taking off their panties at night while they were asleep.

“The man, Mr Lameck Ncube of Village Charisekera, under Chief Njelele, made the startling revelations at a cleansing ceremony in the village.

“The cleansing ceremony, conducted by a n’anga from Hwange District in Matebeleland North and a prophet from an apostolic sect, was attended by Chief Njelele, hundreds of villagers and journalists from different media organisations.

“It also emerged during the cleansing ceremony that the mysterious goblin had been tormenting women in the villages since 2004. The ceremony was characterized by drama and chilly witchcraft stories as villagers took turns to stand before the n’anga and the prophet.

“Mr Ncube, who became the 25th villager to appear before the tsikamutanda and the prophet, then confessed that he owned the “menacing” goblin, which he claimed to have acquired long ago to enhance his luck.

“Mr Ncube told the puzzled crowd that the goblin had, however, turned “hostile and weird” to a point of going around sleeping with women. A police officer who had been invited to the occasion to maintain order at one time moved in to restore order after some villagers whose wives fell victim to the goblin’s “sex” escapades threatened to beat up Mr Ncube.

“The n’anga, who was accompanies by six aides, was forced with his team to temporarily stop the witch hunting ceremony as they accompanied Mr Ncube to his homestead to “capture” the goblin which shared a bedroom with one of Mr Ncube’s sons.

“There was more drama as the villagers jostled to have a glimpse of the decorated goblin after the tsikamutanda brought it before the crowd. The goblin, which looked like a living creature, was wearing a pair of blue female panties, which village head Charisekera’s wife, Ms Silvia Marumbe, claimed to be hers.

“Ms Marumbe claimed during the event that she lost her panties in mysterious circumstances in 2004.

“The goblin was later burnt before the crowd.”

“In an interview after the burning of the goblin, Mr Ncube said he was happy that he was now a free man, saying the creature had been giving him sleepless nights for a long time.

“Mr Ncube said he bought the goblin in Chakari near Kadoma in 1983 when he was still working in Kwekwe.

““When I bought this goblin, my purpose was to try and have luck in my life. I also wanted to get promoted at my work as well as acquiring wealth, but when I later retired, I then learnt that the goblin had not performed to my expectations,” he said.

“Mr Ncube said he started having problems with the goblin after he tried to get rid of it through n’angas.

“He said different n’angas he consulted told him that the goblin was now “weird” as it was going around homesteads looking for women to “make love” to.” I’m not sure about you, but I really think that “weird” is rather an understatement.

““As it is I did not know that this goblin has been taking away the villagers’ panties until today. What I only knew was that the goblin was at my home, but we were no longer on good terms,” said Mr Ncube, who at that point looked down in shame.

“Chief Njelele said he was happy that the culprit who had been wreaking havoc in the area had been identified. He warned villagers against engaging in witchcraft. “People in my area need to behave and desist from engaging in witchcraft. Because of this strange missing panties saga, my area is now known the world over for the wrong reasons, which is a shame. I therefore want to warn my subjects that we will deal with the culprits decisively at our traditional courts,” he said.

I just want to know what and/or who they burnt.

And who the headman’s wife had been engaged in “mysterious circumstances” with in 2004.

Such craziness is, however, not limited to Gokwe (although, if we’re honest, Gokwe does have more than it’s fair share of craziness in the news). Montana, USA, also has it’s own brand of crazy. Recently, a man dressed in a military-style “ghillie” suit and ran across a highway, apparently trying to provoke reports of a Bigfoot sighting in northwest Montana.

Anyway, he was hit by two cars and died.

The police ascertained the deceased’s motives by interviewing his friends. They reckon that alcohol may have been a factor. Unsurprisingly.

And then yesterday in Florida, there was a manhunt for a manatee-riding lady. Outraged witnesses photographed an unknown lady riding a manatee:

(She looks like she’s having the most awesome time, right?)

“The sheriff’s department called a deadly serious press conference in which they asked the help of the public in identifying the perpetrator. The lady was wearing a white cap, red shorts and a black bikini top.”

The press conference was described as a “surreal gathering”, which, considering the tongue-in-cheek tone of the news reports on it, basically meant “a total joke”.

The sheriff decried the lady’s abuse of the manatee. “Go ride a Jet Ski. Don’t use animals,” the sheriff said. “She needs to be held accountable for her actions.”

“Under Florida law molesting or annoying a manatee is a second degree misdemeanour.” Manatees are endangered and considered to be pretty much sacred in Florida.

“It’s a wild animal. It’s not something to be ridden,” Susan Butler, a manatee expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainsville, told the Times. “I can’t say that as a biologist I would ever, ever condone that, or say that (the manatee) wanted them to do that.”” Duh. It’s a wonder they had to interview an apparently qualified biologist to get such an obvious (and lame) comment.

Anyway, after the manhunt started and public pressure mounted, 52-year-old Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez turned herself in to police. “Gutierrez admitted to the offense claiming she is new to the area and did not realize it was against the law to touch or harass manatees.

“The charges have been referred to the state attorney’s office for prosecution”.


sniper, sniper

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!

Mr Ugly 2.0 (Harare)

Life in Zimbabwe is ticking on by as per normal… I drove past a house today where the bricks on the driveway have been painted purple. Yes, purple. As in a purple driveway. And I’ve had to swerve to avoid hitting a goat, 2 chickens and a vervet monkey whilst driving in suburbia in the last week alone. The goat was being chased by a large group of suited men who looked like they were supposed to be at a funeral. I couldn’t help thinking that having to chase the event’s meat down the road was probably rather awkward at a funeral… I mean, it’s hilarious, but are you allowed to laugh though?

News-wise, things are much of the same nonsense too. All motor vehicles in Zimbabwe need to be re-licensed (despite the fact that valid licenses were already in place…??!). Anyhoo, everyone had to do it in the space of a couple of weeks, which was a nightmare, so the government announced that it would extend the re-licensing deadline to 30 June to give everyone time to get it done. 6 days later, they were like “oh, just kidding” and cancelled the extension, sending the cops out everywhere to bust people who hadn’t managed to re-licenseAvoiding cops in the last few weeks must be a little what driving through a battle field must be like, with people blatantly doing U-turns when they see cops ahead. Even though the cops can see them U-turning, they have no police cars to chase them down, so they’re forced to watch people avoiding them. It’s ridiculous. And then the government backtracked and reinstated the extension. And then they backtracked on that again. And now no one really knows what’s happening… so we run from the cops just to be safe. Only in Zimbabwe.

Slightly further afield, on the outskirts of Harare, Margaret Masango of Kuwadzana has been charged with defamation after spreading rumours that her neighbour, Lizzie Kamombe, was breastfeeding 26 cats and conducting witchcraft lessons. Margaret also said that Lizzie’s daughter, Theresa, was a goblin and that Lizzie used her when going to South Africa. Seriously. Needless to say, Lizzie was a little upset when she heard that the neighbourhood was talking about her breastfeeding 26 cats… so she pressed defamation charges.

Scanning through the Herald website today, I came across many useful articles on things like the “Effects of overheating laptops” and the benefits of full-cream milk in “In defence of fresh milk” (which, although it’s written in typical Herald-journalist style, was actually written by Dr Timothy Stamps… which I found simultaneously confusing and scary.)

Leading news is that the Mr Ugly competition is back, this time upping its game and moving to the capital. The Herald tells us all about it, encouraging ugly men to take this opportunity to shine. (I’ve left the piece intact to do it proper justice.)

“In the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve, no sun sets without its own histories. Even ugliness becomes a brand with its own stories for night talk. Here, the grey haired say, a person who stammers would eventually say “father”. It might be delayed, but the word will eventually come out. So it is never too late! The village soothsayer, the ageless autochthon of knowledge and wisdom says the world is a shallow place and there is no denying it. We are all so busy fawning over handsome guys and beautiful women that sometimes we forget about the ugly.”

(Apart from the fact that autochthon (yes, weirdly, it’s actually a real word) means ‘an aboriginal inhabitant’ (which I only know because I googled it), I can’t really shed much light on what the introduction is really about. And why he speaks about himself in third person is really anyone’s guess…)

“Harare, the city of a forever madding crowd, last week came up with yet another anecdote, about its ugliest man and indeed, our newspapers – for long bereft of good exciting human interest copy – ran full throttle.

“The organisers were looking for a man, very, very ugly and with some face that conjures fear in children and make them scamper for cover or hide behind pillows.

“This villager is told the organisers of Mr Ugly were looking for a truculent wonder – very unattractive or unpleasant to look at, offensive to the sense of beauty and displeasing in appearance and indeed they found him.” (‘Truculent’ means aggressive, brutal or hostile… again, I had to google it. Thoroughly awkward thing to call someone.)

“The man – William Masvinu –a beastly figure, gifted with a furrowed forehead, a pugnacious face and a big nose that straddles both cheeks and squats on the face like a bullfrog, dotted dead pimples, chickenpox potholes and rough, wire-brush hair emerged the proud winner”. (Like wtf tho? How can you actually describe someone like that??!! It’s just so wrong on so many levels!)

And it’s also not true… William really doesn’t warrant that description. And if the photographer hadn’t been such a hater with his angle, his picture would have been at least a little more flattering…

The article continues: “Masvinu has become a celebrity overnight after being crowned Mr Ugly, Harare. He even beat another man who shed tears!” (Men crying over losing the Mr Ugly title… awkward)

But, as the writer reminds us, “If God created man in his image, he must both be handsome and ugly, so it helps.” (Err, helps what exactly?)

“This villager understands that Masvinu is a bitter man, for it is quite some unfortunate oeuvre to be ugly and sad, and to be famous without fortune. The combination is disastrous.” (Oeuvre? I googled that one too… it means ‘the works of a writer, painter or the like, taken a whole… or any one of them.’ And no, it doesn’t make sense to me in this context either.)

“But the full import of this instalment is that Mr Ugly who hails from some village in Gutu, Masvingo and is now ordinarily resident in poverty-stricken Epworth must know that in the village, a tethered goat never grazes beyond the radius of the sisal rope that leashes it. It is this tolerance for states of life close to zero that keeps the goat going and hoping for the better.” (huh?)

“This innocent rhetoric from this domain of socio-moral idiosyncrasy at once appears much less innocent when one grasps which tendency is here draping the mantle of sublime words about life.” (yes… you start wondering where the story is now going…)

“Mr Ugly must be helped to make money from his condition in the same manner our beauty queens have been helped to make money. Our beauty queens are driving top-of-the-range cars and living large.” (his condition?)

“But Mr Ugly doubles up as a street porter and tout at Mbare Msika, carrying luggage on his head in a typical tale of two worlds. Just look at Vanessa Sibanda. It is squarely comparing those smooth cheeks, the cultured smiles, the pencil slim and sleek bodies of the queens to the muscular, rugged and contoured face, the beastly looks, the blood shot eyes, dry thick lips and the stray looks of Mr Ugly.” (Firstly, the “stray looks” of Mr Ugly? So not ok! Secondly, Vanessa Sibanda is the reigning Miss Zimbabwe Tourism apparently… had to google that too.)

“Mr Ugly should build a brand around his condition and this villager thinks that he can be a tourist attraction. In fact he is already one.” (but, like, a tourist attraction tho? This writer is seriously running amok.)

“The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, famed for its rebranding process can rebrand Mr Ugly and turn him into a security officer or doorman. Blazio Kasawala, the ZTA boss control manager could actually find a real worker. They can even find him something to do for, his condition is God given.

“Mr Ugly could also do with lucrative endorsements by fashion designers, blue chip companies as well as advertising agencies. Who said clothes don’t fit the ugly and besides there are too many ugly business executives who are saved by their pockets.”

Mr Ugly himself agrees, saying, “I am expecting to benefit a lot from being Mr Ugly and I hope that this will go a long way in improving my lifestyle. I won US$100 plus a voucher to spend a night with my wife at a hotel in Harare, but this is not enough.”

“In the village, even the ugliest of all men does marry and the wife could be the most outstanding village beauty. The face is nothing to show for life than the heart and the depth of character.

“What makes Mr Ugly, Harare’s story quite a mouthful is that he dropped out of school in Grade Three after the death of his parents. That means he is an epitome of poverty and even though he likes his looks – which are a plus to him – poverty has stalked him day and night.

He laments, “I am happy with my looks and I think it is a gift from God. I’m proud of my looks and I was created in God’s image. But maybe because I an ugly, wherever I go looking for a job they say hapana basa.”

“But this villager has other ideas. How about making him a strong brand ambassador advertising pesticides, killing those insects? How about heavy construction equipment and machinery like front-end loaders? Being uneducated, unemployed, poor, orphaned and ugly is a buffet meal for trouble. It’s a free cocktail.

Finally, “Whoever sees mucus in the nose of the king is the one who cleans it. This villager meant to clean this one.”

I mean… really?  I’m not entirely sure how that conclusion about the king’s mucus even followed from the story. All in all, I’m actually just weak.

the peacock lady

A few weeks back, I was driving with my sister and we drove past a lady handing out fliers at an intersection. She was a petite, well-dressed coloured lady with long pig-tails hanging down to about her knees… actually, they looked more like two long, thin dreads than pig-tails. She should probably do something about that. Anyway, the robots were green for us, so we didn’t stop to see what was on her fliers, especially after my sister urged, “Don’t stop, don’t stop, it’s the peacock lady!”

“The peacock lady?” I asked as we drove off, watching her grow smaller and smaller in my side mirror.

“Yes, the peacock lady. You know the peacock lady right?” my sister asked.

“Er, no, I don’t know the peacock lady. Why should I know the peacock lady?”

“Come on! You’re joking right? How can you not know the peacock lady?”

“I’ve never heard of the peacock lady ok? And why is she called the peacock lady anyway?”

“Because she takes this peacock around with her wherever she goes. She’s seriously crazy.”

“Well, I didn’t see any peacock with her. I think you’re making this up”. (My sister is a scrupulously honest person who (mildly) overreacts when she’s accused of making stuff up. Which is exactly why I accuse her of making stuff up. Yes, yes, it’s quite mean, but it’s also quite entertaining.)

“No, I promise! She ususally has a peacock with her!” she protested adamantly. “Last time I saw her, she gave me a flier with a recipe for chocolate brownies on”.

“Like for brownies or brownies?”

She laughed and then said, “I can’t remember.”

“You mean she just walked up to you and gave you a recipe for chocolate brownies? I think you’re making this up.”

“Whatever Sarah! She has a peacock and she gave me a recipe for chocolate brownies! I’m not making it up! The first time I saw her riding her bicycle with her peacock, I was driving and almost crashed. Do you know how ridiculous someone looks riding a bicycle with a peacock on it?! It was just sitting there on her handlebars! At first, I thought it was stuffed and just tied or glued onto the handlebars, which is weird enough, but then it shuffled around a bit and I realised it was alive! I swear, I almost veered right off the road!”

As you can imagine, I was literally killing myself laughing by that stage.

Since then, I’ve seen her riding her bicycle around Harare several times, her pig-tails flicking at her bicycle wheels as she rode. But no peacock.

Then, this last weekend, I came across her at the same intersection again. She was clutching a fruitcake in her left hand (no jokes) as she gave out fliers. “I make reeeally good pancakes. I can make them for you one day. Also, this fruitcake is only $5. Very good too.” She flashed me a gold smile.

“Not today thanks” I replied. Tempting, but no.

“Then take one of my fliers.”

“Ok” I said, and took one.

This is what the flier said:

En Course En route…

Have you got the coming of Jesus

in you Yet

Start sexual therapy now & come off

the habit of me in we. ($30.00 per hr)

Get your Satan gown ordered now

& start your knowing with you! ($500.00)

Massages & probus card reading working the treat

for you to come on too! ($50.00 per hr)

Call Marilyn 0775 887270

for you requested vestment!

Too awesome! Talk about offering a very wide range of services. And what, pray tell, is a Satan gown?

I got home and showed my mum the flier. “Did you get this from the peacock lady?” she asked.

“How do know I got it from the peacock lady?”

“Because the peacock lady is the only one I know trying to spread the word of sexual Jesus.” Sexual Jesus?! Sooo finished!

Clearly I was rather delayed in finding out about the peacock lady. She seems to be somewhat of an institution here. I’m yet to see her peacock, but if you’re looking for fruitcake (or sexual therapy), give her a call. Or try the intersection outside Borrowdale School.

beautiful Zimbabwe

Happy 32nd birthday beautiful Zimbabwe! April 18th has always been the most special and celebrated of days in Zimbabwe, and for good reason too – a day to remember and honour those who fought and sacrificed so much for the independence of Zimbabwe (which is something which is easily said, but is something that I still struggle to grasp the gravity of) – and a day to just celebrate Zimbabwe and being Zimbabwean. A friend of mine summed up today so well – “I love you Zimbabwe, today I celebrate you, the land that taught me to work hard, the meaning of family, that I am worth something regardless of my colour and what others say I am…” Zimbabwe has undeniably made us all the people that we are today, an identity that we should rightfully be proud of.

Having been lucky enough to have visited some of Zimbabwe’s most untouched places recently, today I also celebrate the sheer beauty of this nation. There are few things in this world that make me as happy or at peace as being in the bush, so the last few weeks have been really awesome.

Easter weekend was spent at a friend’s hunting camp in Chirisa, which is a couple of hours drive beyond Gokwe (which is itself in the middle of nowhere). It was amazing to see what he has created within such an untouched, remote location. The days were spent relaxing in great company, eating copious amounts of delicious food, checking out the wildlife ambling past and having sundowners whilst trying to absorb the beauty of the most amazing landscapes.


I then went on to do a 4 day, 3 night canoeing safari down the Zambezi River with my sister. We’d driven up to Kariba the day before and spent the night at a lodge on the banks of Lake Kariba – it was pretty basic, but very comfortable. They had a big pool and plenty of cold beers, which was all that is really needed in Kariba. And they did a great fish and chips dinner… which was literally a fish and chips… as in whole and unfilleted. Too awesome.

We were collected by the safari company the next morning, met up with our fellow travelers (a New Zealander family and a quirky, elderly British artist) and, after signing an indemnity form indemnifying the canoeing company against any death or serious injury that may take place whilst on our trip, we were off.

The New Zealanders had never been to Africa before and had come over for the wedding of their cousin to “an Afrikaans” in Cape Town before deciding to do this canoe safari, which had been recommended to them by Zimbabwean friends who now live in New Zealand. They were the outdoorsy type luckily, having spent many summers “tramping” around New Zealand… which must be pretty amazing if the scenery in The Lord of the Rings is anything to go by.

The British lady artist was doing the Zimbabwe leg of a tour of many African countries, creating unique art pieces in each country she visited: she’d canoed the Congo River, drawing a Constantina-style visual journal as she went, moulded pots in Mali, sculpted in Mozambique and sewn a quilt with various pieces of material she collected whilst travelling through Ghana. Zimbabwe was the country she was most hesitant about visiting, due mostly to it being the country she felt the most connection to – she was born here 50 years ago and this was her first visit back since she left the country at the age of 17. It was great to chat to her about her impressions of Zimbabwe compared to what she remembered of the country all those years ago. She’d attended Queen Elizabeth High School in then-Salisbury and had visited it shortly after arriving in Harare. She was astounded by how little the school had changed over the decades and how well-mannered its students are, and was humbled by the warm welcome she received from the school’s teachers and students. She was so proud of what Zimbabwe is today, which deeply touched me.

After a rather long and bumpy ride, we reached Chirundu and loaded up the canoes with our luggage, tents, sleeping bags, equipment and food for the trip. Then the canoeing started. Within about half an hour I was thoroughly over paddling through the choppy afternoon waters and, with no way of turning back, I began to dread the remaining 3 days of the trip. But as our guides started telling us about every tree, bird, butterfly and animal that we passed (full Latin names included… so impressive!), the wind died down and slowly I forgot that I was paddling and eventually it became second nature.

Over the 4 days we canoed a 70km stretch of the Zambezi from Chirundu to Mana Pools, setting up camp on islands for the nights (sleeping on islands being somewhat safer than sleeping on the main land – mainly because its harder for lions to get to you… no jokes). Waking up to this every morning was amazing:

I came far closer to many animals than I’ve ever been in my life, which was incredibly special but also pretty scary sometimes.

Beyond a doubt, it was the hippos that frightened me the most – avoiding them whilst caught in fast-flowing currents carrying you straight towards them literally made my heart skip a beat more than once. Some of the areas are so densely populated with hippos that they’ve been named Hippo City, Adrenaline Channel, etc. Those places were terrifying. Although there wasn’t a moment that I actually thought I was going to die, there were many moments when I was intensely afraid.

Just for the record – no one got hurt on the trip, we all just acquired a huge amount of respect for wild animals! If you ever have a chance to canoe the Zambezi, I highly recommend it (but, like the canoeing company, I cannot be held liable for any death and/or serious injury that may take place!) It is a spectacular way to explore Zimbabwe.

Once again, mokorokoto Zimbabwe! I hope and pray for a little more giraffing and a little less crocodiling in Zimbabwe in the coming years – onwards and upwards!