Ibumba

•January 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Since then, I have endured stand up comedy (dodgy as anywhere and quite a lot of it very anti-white in sentiment – which is sorta weird when you are the only whitefella squirming inwardly, trying to be invisible, in the audience), watched political theatre with the most hilarious (and no doubt very risqué) impersonation of the President… and witnessed a lot of amazing dancing. Traditional groups from Zambia and Zim have been extraordinary – with wild percussion and butt and pelvis shaking that make bellydancing and south pacific islander forms look quite frankly lazy and tame.
I have seen dances that I imagine to be the precursors of tap routines, astonishing in dexterity and articulation, and a whole lot of fusion of modern, traditional and contemporary forms. Phantoms of Josephine Baker, Beyonce and Michael Jackson arise and I am forced to reconsider all I have taken for granted as Western culture.
Then there is the music… marimbas and mbiras – ubiquitous drumming – and the singing – the sheer talent and capacity puts too many of us first worlders to shame. It is glorious, proficient and joyful.
Opening night was a big success – G & I worked on the performance together and it was great fun in spite of intense jetlag and feeling like the afore mentioned white, blobby, flatfooted fraud. I have never worked with folk who could integrate and take direction so instantly – immediately embodying whatever was suggested and executing it first time off.
It was fun working with Ishmael too – who leads the singers – I felt a bit audacious suggesting tempo changes and then the interweaving of other themes and vocal lines – but he took it all with great good natured gusto and we made a lovely vocal score together. Fun.
Ishmael is a singer and actor and was one of the gang (of many) who greeted me warmly each day and who kept a weather eye out for me at night, when the festival ground transformed into a live music venue and folk from townships poured in to groove, fight, drink and generally carryon as festival goers anywhere do. I felt safe as houses. I know festivals and at the very least can read the vibe of a crowd fairly well.
The only thing I couldn’t really take was the interminable lip synching and sing-along to very nasty backing tapes… inevitably played too loud so that the bass throbbed distortedly and the treble whined like a swampful of mosquitos (of which by the way there are very many varieties here). This sort of hybrid karaoke performance is ‘in’ at present – which breaks my heart when you consider the talent! America and the West – you have too much to answer for – you borrow and steal forms and give back junk!
I teched for Tumbuka when they performed ‘Rebirth’ in the local theatre. Fun also – nice to be engaged in stuff even if it is just pressing GO for sound cues. Maylene and Cathrine (Gilbert’s sister) are lovely dancers – very different physically – but I loved watching them dance together particularly in a piece G had choreographed form them about birth &women’s business – sounds weird I know – but it was very tender and beautiful. A young actor/ musician – John Lennon as we call him – played mbira and sang in accompaniment – his voice is glorious. One day I am sure this guy will be a BIG star. He has that actorly way about him – that self obsession, drive, ego – but man, he does have big musical talent that’s for sure.
Erina, one of the Outreach team who teach dance at schools, took me shopping at the flea markets one day. Nice to hang out with a chick and do girly stuff I confess – mostly just wandering and looking… laughing, eating chips and sipping coke… we bought a pair of shoes each – blingy, strappy, flat, bronze sandals for me and something equally out there for her.
Erina is, of course, in to bling – and like most African women has a serious hair do going on. When we first met she had a magnificent weave, which framed her very pretty face in a cloud of frizzy dark teased fluff. Nowadays she is sporting a very stylish angular cut with a vastly long fringe and the odd strands of wavy copper amidst glossy flat dark fibres. I envy this continuing reinterpretation of personal style, but at the same time realise what a bloody hassle it must be to have to maintain such wayward African hair.

I am determined to find a wig – just for the fun, you understand.

Tibetan Pop is an anagram of Bon Appetit – or travelling backwards in time

•January 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Ok so a bit more about people.
Let me back track.

When I arrived in Bulawayo – to a 1940’s airport tin shed with no carousels or fluorescent lit signs and a very bemused set of customs officials –  I was met by Ibumba Festival crew Consolata and Thulani. I see Bulawayo now as sort of fun and easygoing – confessedly a lot easier than Harare. A smaller city perhaps… less palpable anger maybe… or it could be just further from the disturbing vibrations emanating from the seat of power.
Consolata is a gorgeous woman – sporting an amazing afro (later I was to find out this was a wig – a whole chapter must be devoted to hair)… she has the physique of an amazon – long limber legs, fabulous, nay magnificent African butt, and the brightest smile. She is an actress and dances and sings – of course… and of course she wears bling and the TIGHTEST jeans with supreme confidence. I think she is about my age – but it’s hard to tell, with wig and style and all. I feel drab, white and flabby.

I liked her immediately and was charmed by her name – the consoler…
Indeed she would greet me daily with a drawling and almost apologetic: “Awwryyte?” looking at me with a pinched concern about how the interminable waiting, the sadza, the general malaise of Makokoba township might be impacting upon me.

Makokoba township aint a place many white fellas go.
In the late 1980’s there was a massacre here – in Bulawayo – with special forces recruited by the government (largely young Shona men trained by North Koreans apparently – and seduced to arms by large sums of money) to attack the Ndebele – who are traditional foes but also are more pro ZAPU pf and anti Mugabe. Around 50,000 folk were slaughtered… and so you can imagine that now barely 20 years later there are still tensions and hostilities between folks from Harare and those from Bulawayo. Apparently most of these special forces personnel have either ended up with serious mentally illnesses or have committed suicide.
I find it odd that Bulawayo – known as the ‘city of Kings’ is literally translated as ‘place of killing’.
It seems a brutal name to me – but life here is just that I suppose.

Ibumba Festival run by Siyaya Arts operates out of Stanley sq and Stanley Hall on Waverley Rd, Mokokoba. Mokokoba is one of the oldest townships and has a rough reputation even by Bulawayo’s standards. All these starchy proper anglo names of past colonial glory on streets and public buildings belie the current bedlam – but no – enough of that… back to the people…

When I arrive at the Festival grounds, awaiting the arrival of the Tumbuka crew from Harare, everyone is instantly welcoming and kind.
People warmly introduce themselves – if you catch someone’s eye or even glimpse their presence it is considered bad form not to acknowledge that other soul – most often with the phrase:
‘HowAre YOU?’ – emphasis on the YOU with a slight breathy and clipped upward inflexion – earthed with a warm shaking of hands & flicking thumbs or pressing of knuckled fists together (particularly if you are of Rasta persuasion).

Desmond, who was frequently to be our driver, greets me and politely makes me feel welcome in a way that would be deemed unusual in restrained anglo cultures. We talk about the festival and the Siyaya arts company a little, their Edinburgh Festival success with ‘Zambezi Express’ – but conversation soon turns to politics and the possibility of upcoming elections. I am surprised at how vocal he is in his distaste for the current regime.

After a while I perched myself on the roots of an ash tree and from the shade surveyed the grounds. Stanley square – once a place of political rallies – has the strange hybrid look of a stockyard crossed with a Greco Roman amphitheatre but with a concrete hard core boxing ring at its centre… As I wait, and wait, and wait there are beautiful cascades of soaring voices in insane rumbling harmonies – people practicing for the festival opening in two nights’ time.
Already I am smiling more – it’s necessary. Like a chimp baring its gums in the face of unpredictability, I declare myself benign and unthreatening. It just seems wise. The messages these facial grimaces send my brain, however, are clear. I am light headed and feel light in spirit. Dwelling in chaos. Hanging out – waiting – for 7 hours after a 30 hour flight – for Gilbert and the Tumbuka gang to get here. And for anything like a bed to luxuriate on I must wait another 4 hours or so till we have all eaten at Dickies the local African Restaurant… I am already doing it African style… hanging out… waiting… reminded of what levels of patience will be required in the coming weeks and months. Waiting is a BIG part of life here and this is my initiation.
Jet lagged in Africa is ok – but I would murder a cold beer.

Harare highlights

•January 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Gilbert took me to a huge flea market – deemed ‘the solver of problems’ – where we found two clean second hand hand-sewn quilts for a tenner each.
I was the only white person, causing everyone to stare. This is a ZANU PF stronghold – white people used to come here – but no longer… I don’t know whether my discomfort was due to the attention or a perceived latent & measured hostility.
A huge council sponsored street sign declared proudly “Building infrastructure that promotes sustainable development’. The sign sported a huge decaying hole in its centre and had clearly been hit by some truck or other as it skewed off square; misshapen mockery.

All around the ghetto seethed with people selling & buying, hustling and just meandering – filling in time when not deployed on the task of making a living.
Later we went to the hardware market. Acres of scrap this and that – of every imaginable substance – recycled and scrounged – carpenters making tables, hideously florid lounge chairs, double beds like coffins, galvanised iron glinting pristinely silver, scrap metal, engine bits, car bits, refrigerators … wire… recycled wire… acres and acres – I was definitely a fish out of water.
Few people smiled – just glared as if the shock of seeing me there augured badly.
I weakly muttered ‘tatenda’ now and then when new directions were given – and was relieved when we made it back to our car and found it still in one piece. It could so easily have been stripped.

Cans of even the most simple foods cost more here than a can of beer: twice the price in fact. Tinned tomatoes that you can pick up for 75c ‘back home’ cost easily double that, sometimes 3 times more. Lion lager costs 80c a can or a $1 for a stubbie.

There is no longer any manufacturing in Zim – so everything is bought in from South Africa or China. Cheap Chinese crap abounds and is depressingly of an even more inferior quality than that found ‘back home’. There are no consumer standards here, no ASIC, no ombudsmen to champion rights. So everything breaks. Everything breaks quickly and costs way, way too much. Because it can.  It’s heartbreaking really.
Folk who can scant afford the crap they are buying are continually hustling to make ends meet – to eke out a living. The cost of supermarket groceries is just tacitly unaffordable for many folk. Unlike in 2008, when there simply wasn’t any food in supermarkets and people had to cross borders to find bulk provisions in other countries, now shelves bulge with costly items that so very few can afford. When beer at 80c is a luxury, canned food is simply out of contention.

And dolarization is not as simple as it sounds… there are no US coins here – so if you purchase something at a supermarket and do not make a round figure – say if something costs you $4.20, you must either scrabble for something to make up the 80c – something you had not intended buying – or you ask for a credit note… assuming you go back to the same store and have the right amount of credit to match your next purchase. If you happen to have any ZAR – rand coins – these can be handy – but they are scarce – well everything is really – except the Chinese crap.

Farms here no longer produce much – they have been taken over by ZANU PF cronies who have no skills or interest – and so once fertile they now lie fallow and in disrepair. Maize is grown everywhere – and anywhere there is space. Small fires char grill long cobs by the roadside, even in the city streets – selling snacks to passers-by. The only fast food that seems healthy here.

Chicken Inn, Pizza inn, Baker’s inn, and Creamy Inn (ice-cream) franchises congregate together in showy street front phalanxes tempting with fast and almost-but-not-quite affordable food in every town centre. They are always together, found in a menacing pack touting their addictive carbohydrates, sugar and fat.
Often there is more than one string of outlets per town.

It is hard to reconcile the fact that I can sit in a café and order a double espresso ($4) and perhaps eat a chicken crepe ($10) and that after another coffee and a bottle of water I have spent $20 – or what some folks families survive on for at least two weeks – often more. It’s hard to reconcile being a first worlder – requiring little luxuries to endure in what is such a stressed out place. Bernard put his thumb on it when he reminded me of how crap it felt to live through the ten years of the Howard era… imagine 30 plus years of Mugabe – with no end in sight and the very real possibility of another civil war. The stress is palpable and the depression implacable.

So the litany of sadza ne ma bonzo, sadza chicken stew, sadza beef, sadza ne ma trotters (which I mistook, admittedly slightly horrified, for tortoise – African pronounciation leads to some amusing misconceptions on my part) is understandably constant.

Sadza is a corn meal made into either a thick porridge or more solid sticky mash. When eating the latter, you break off and roll a small portion into a ball then fashion a divot to soak up some of the smaller quantity of accompanying meat and sauce.
Sadza is eaten at every meal – ideally. Zimbabweans on the whole seem completely nuts about it – you just haven’t eaten of you haven’t had sadza. Thankfully because G is allergic to it I am not eating it more than twice a week – if that.
It’s fine… sort of like a tasteless polenta… but very stodgy and does strange things to an unaccustomed belly.

In keeping with the Soviet era allusions…
We went to Immigration the other day as my visa needed extending.
It was a Kafkaesque experience. After ascending via a grubby stairwell, with no signs to suggest that we were headed in anything like the right direction, we came to a wood panelled office where surly, bored, officials grunted disapprovingly and barely audibly from behind plate glass. Finally, grudgingly – after some persuasion that I was really not here to work illegally – my passport was stamped for another 30 days.
It was bleak. I felt unwelcome. An obsolete and alien presence – why on earth would anyone come to Zimbabwe for holidays these days anyway – was the underlying unspoken question.

Fauna, Botanica and reading the signs…

•January 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Herons.
Jacaranda, Poinciana, bougainvillea, gum trees, frangipani, flame trees, casuarina, lots of succulents, lantana, spider lilies and flame lilies.
Skinks.
Lush and lovely terracotta earth coating everything – tinting fingernails.
Paint fading, stippled and chipped.
Heavy afternoon storm clouds.
Full-moon with occasional thunder.
Potholes.

Heavy soaking drenching downpours that make gutters gurgle and pulse with swirls of terracotta stained flood. Laughing as we dodge fat raindrops and inevitably end up wet to the skin, hair plastered across foreheads and a delightful tingling bought of shivering as a sudden breeze tickles wet skin.

Yesterday on our walk in to Bulawayo town centre we passed ‘zebra butchery’ and the ‘try again shop’… ‘Cloud form motors’ and ‘personality dry cleaners’… there are signs somehow not surprisingly pointing to ‘MARS’ and one later spied in Victoria Falls that simply and enigmatically read ‘& BEYOND’.

Later as evening fell, we passed a supermarket window where scores of mice (or rats according to Gilbert) frisked about the packaged food on display with gaiety and free reign. Up and down, scurrying along the safety grills that adorn every shop window like miniature workmen industriously & proficiently scampering along scaffolding.

South African Airlines in-flight magazine – read on flight from Jo’burg to Bulawayo

•January 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

Are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and the truth and the greatest improvement of the soul?

Socrates

If not you, who?
If not now, when?
The Talmud

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star
Nietzsche

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus
Mark Twain

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough
Mae West

I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves – such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way, & time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully have been Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
Albert Einstein

 

Life is trying things to see if they work
Ray Bradbury

land locked 2

•January 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Its weird you know – being in a place where there is no vast body of water nearby – no rivers to be seen since we left the Zambezi and Mosi oi Tunya… the Limpopolies to the South near the Botswana and Sth African borders and Zambezi is to the North bordering ZAmbia and Mozambique.

Speaking of Mozambique, we went to a memorial service for one of the young dancers from the national ballet who tragically drowned on Xmas day. She was Mozambican. It was such a strange affair… an old world Rhodesian white woman pastor lead the service in the most callous and uptight white failed missionary Christian way you could imagine. Her hair was swept up in a grey and blond horse plaited coif which reminded me of Deborah Kerr movies… Black Narcissus… All in white she presided over her flock with little empathy or sincerity and trotted out the most hackneyed of readings and prayers. I was appalled and ashamed yet again of my whiteness. At one point, after some eulogies had been offered by the lass’ fellow dancers, she strode back to her rightful place behind the ‘altar’ (decorated with the most dismal fake roses and dimly glowering candles) whilst cradling and stroking a huge Siamese cat. Such domesticity and mundane behaviour was glaringly out of place – which the cat seemed to sense and when plopped on a nearby chair, it knowingly eyed the altar and gathered itself up to leap squarely on to the sacrificial table. I suppressed a giggle. Said missionary went on without a blink – someone else removed the blaspheming moggy – and trotted out notions of redemption, transcendence and salvation which quite frankly left Christ dead and lifeless in his tomb. The only moment of grace was when the congregation joined in voice to sing a Shona lament for the dead girl. A soloist had started but broke in tears and the others in the room lifted and carried the song for her and with her – it was moving and felt so personal. THis song wore the tone of a lament well known and over used. It was too familiar and sorrowful.

This service left me in a strange mood.

there is little to do but drink beer here – and my tummy is surely showing the bloated benefits of such indulgence. Food is not such a turn on… and everything except beer is expensive. Beer and water are roughly the same price – sometimes the beer is cheaper.

Enough for now… more anon.

 

land locked

•January 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well where do I begin?
Perhaps the bus trip from Bulawayo to Harare?

In a ‘sprinter’ – read popup toaster van crammed to over capacity with folk carrying anything from chickens to fireworks…

Sitting in the suicide seat next to teh driver – who listened to soft rock love songs at inestimable decibels – whilst eating corn cobs, texting and dodging potholes… when it started to rain he changed to techno with a bass buzz that totally did my head in – continued texting and dodging potholes and cops…

WE Arrived in harare with no accom but soon found a run down hotel – well as previously noted EVERYWHERE is run down – as I keep saying Zim is like Soviet era Russia but with better Music… By this stage I had started to develop some ailment or other which has laid me low for about a week – feeling shitty, weak and out of sorts. No hot water, a bed with very pronounced springs and a thin veil of dirt and disinterest all over the room. I needed to stay put here so spent a very surreal NYE half in fever and half listening to the inevitable countdown, explosions and cheering celebrations.

We soon moved on to a youth hostel – ten bucks dearer but bloody luxury – comparatively. From here we chanced upon a house in the neighbourhood – I just couldnt quite get my first world up tight white arsed head around staying in the Ghettos – its full on enough being looked at at markets and in the main street of harare – let alone in the burbs… where I am distinctly a fish out of water – and perhaps not a welcome one either. There is a lot of residual distrust and dislike of white people here – and some of these areas are ruled over by a very anti white ZANU- pf … its hard to know how I would be accepted in village life. certainly I would have been talk of the town.

So, middle class Avondale it is… our pad is a 3 room ‘guest wing’ within what was once a white persons luxury home I imagine. As with so many places in ZIm a swimmingpool languishes mockingly empty and decaying in the backyard. There is a HUGE Rhodesian ridgeback Fuzz who guards the house and our landlady is apparently a Zim tv personality.