Oh my Africa – February 2015

It’s just over a week into February and already there are three unique and remarkable competitors for this post.

Mugabe almost won with his complete denial of tripping over a red carpet and the resulting memes that have swept the internet.

Also tempting was the riot at the Africa Cup football semi-finals.  Equatorial Guinea fans were pissed that their team was losing and started throwing stuff.  Apparently, police tried to quell the uprising but we viewers at home could only see the helicopter they sent in three separate times which didn’t accomplish anything.  I think they just wanted to show off and/or play with, their whirlybird.

I’m going with the local story though, this compelling read from the Namibian, an English-language newspaper over here:

As far as I can tell, a newspaper’s job is to inform its readers; tell them stuff they do not already know.
One thing all Namibians are very well aware of is that it is not raining.
Yet, in the first paragraph, readers were informed that a new bulletin “indicated that rainfall was generally low in the north-west and north-central parts of Namibia in November and December”.  And that satellite images of vegetation also indicated below-average grazing conditions in some of the northern areas.
Surely, this million-dollar satellite could be put to better use.
The article goes on to tell us that the rest of the season could bring normal or below normal rains.  Which could reduce crop yields and delay harvests.  It all depends on an El Niño event that might occur in the 2014/2015 season.

But, it concludes, “not all El Niño events have resulted in low rainfall in the region, with some areas being more regularly affected than others”.
Thank goodness for the falling dictators and rioting soccer fans to fill the rest of the newspaper.
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Oh my Africa – January 2015

Maybe my mind is in the gutter here, but perhaps this is not the best name for something you want people to eat.  It’s a good example of how snappy abbreviations and misspellings for product names, though extraordinarily popular for some reason, aren’t always a good idea.  Yet, the commonality of this product in stores around the country, and probably southern Africa, suggests I’m alone in my opinion.  Any thoughts?

Crackers anyone?

Cracker anyone?

 

Something new for dinner

My explorations into Namibian cuisine have taken another step.  You may not want to hear about it, but hey, if you read my oryx brain story, this one should go down easy. Ready?

Jay and I ate deep-fried zebra snake.

Seriously.

It went like this:

Our chickens were in a major brooding mood.  A few of them were just desperate to sit on some eggs, and we wanted more chickens, so we let them.  The first hen hatched 13 eggs, and with that we doubled our chicken herd.

The second clutch was a bit of an accident.  The hen hid her eggs in tall grass and before we knew it, she disappeared to sit on them.  In time, we found her and her eggs, and with a bit more time, 10 chicks hatched.

Back in the coop, we could hardly keep the hens from sitting so we let one more have a chance.  Eventually, 8 more chicks were born.

Doing the maths, we now had 31 baby chickens running around.

No matter where in the world they were, these helpless balls of meat would attract predators.  I knew better than to expect them all to survive to adulthood, but nevertheless, when they began to disappear, it was depressing.

The original thirteen stayed strong.  Either their mom was tough and kicked some ass whenever something tried to grab one, or they just got lucky.  The second batch of ten, though, had a newbie, slightly air-headed, mom, and within a week, they were whittled down to five.

Then, the third batch began to dwindle – one or two at a time, every few days.  We had a repeat offender on our hands; a nocturnal snake who knew he’d found the jackpot.

When a python took one of the thirteen, who were now pretty big, he was too fat to escape.  So we hauled him out the next morning and transported him far from the house.  But the chicks kept disappearing.

One morning, I found another of the thirteen unable to walk.  His leg had a clear snake bite on it, and he died soon after.  Now we knew we had a venomous snake – that ruled out another python.  And mambas being day snakes left only one other suspect: the zebra snake.

http://lh6.ggpht.com/4bg4hIj9USj_Bg2m3vXYujHdaZjILZaxrUtNn2dht0fFbzewxiqquaYLkKRJFCNd7lQ0fo-nQkihkCE3MfTcDA=s1200

Zebra snake. Photo courtesy projectnoah.org

We began fortifying our coops.  Normally, we use just one, but with all these new animals, we were using two old, non-snake-proof ones.  We fixed holes, cemented around the bases, put up extra mesh fencing, and rested better once they were done, thinking the chickens were safe.

Yet the next morning, two more of the oldest chicks were dead but not eaten, a third paralyzed, and one of the younger chicks gone and another half-eaten and then regurgitated.  It was frustrating enough having my chickens become snake food, but to have them killed and not be anyone’s food was even worse.

I declared war.

My grand plan of attack, as told to Jay: hang bells around the coop wherever a snake might enter and then sleep outside.  “Whenever a bell rings”, I told him, “I’m going out there, and I’m taking the shotgun.”

Jay assured me this wasn’t necessary (kindly brushing aside the fact that we own approximately two bells, one being strapped to a goat’s neck, and I have only a slim idea of how to work the shotgun which is a bit overkill, anyway).  His much more realistic plan: attach a spotlight to a car battery and set it near the coop.  We then set the alarm for 3 a.m. and go out there, well-lit, in search of a snake.

Right on schedule, the snake turned up the second night.  And we didn’t even have to set the alarm, he was in the coop before we went to bed.  Jay took the appropriate-sized rifle, I held the light, and a minute later we had a dead, meter-long zebra snake.

Doing my maths again, this one snake had killed 14 chicks.  To ensure that they didn’t die in vain, in my mind, there was only one thing to do: we had to eat the snake.

Our farm staff was as clueless as we were about how to prepare a snake, not to mention completely revolted by the whole idea.  So, we briefly consulted the internet, then grabbed a knife and chopped off its head.

headlessThe head contains the venom, so headless venomous snakes are safe to eat.  The next task was to remove the skin.  First, we cut the bits holding it to the muscle,

skin be goneand after that, the skin peeled right off.

skin removalThen, out came the guts,

gutsthat contained the last of the last baby chicken,

my chickand just like that we had innards to toss, meat to eat, and a skin to . . . do something with.

3 of a kindIn the kitchen, the meat was chopped up,

filetsbattered up,

bread crumbin'and fried up.

deep fryMost people say that snake meat, ironically, tastes like chicken.  Not being a big meat eater myself, that’s the best comparison I have for you.  Jay constructively noted that it tasted like snake. In any case, there was about as much meat as there was bone, making for a tedious meal.  I’m certainly interested in trying other, fatter species, though.

So, ye legless varmints beware, there be snake eaters on this here farm.

Oh my Africa – November 2014

I’m bound to read any news article that has the word ‘bizarre’ in the title, but unfortunately, this one ended in ‘puts newly discovered species in jeopardy’.

Yes, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the new plant species, along with 900 other plant varieties and 1,400 chimpanzees, are unprotected against roaming people, their cattle, and other destructive activities.  Some folks misread some maps, or perhaps didn’t read the maps at all, and put the reserve’s borders more than 50 kilometers west of where they should’ve been.

To add salt to the wound, this newly discovered flowering plant, Dorstenia luamensis, found only on a few cliff faces inside this once protected area, was named after the park, the Luama Katanga Reserve, which no longer exists.  Established in 1947 near Lake Tanganyika, and a globally important biodiversity hotspot called Kabobo, the actual borders were confused during the DRC’s civil wars, and now the government has reserved a chunk of not-so-globally-important land.

“The moral of this story is that keeping track of parks – and especially getting maps and boundaries correct – matters hugely for biodiversity. The call to action here is to fix the records and re-protect the reserve before this unique plant and all the biodiversity it contains…are destroyed,” said James Deutsch, Vice President of Conservation Strategy of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), whose scientists discovered the plant and the mapping error.

Although the WCS has lobbied the DRC government to fix the mistake, they have taken no action.

The new plant. Credit: Miguel Leal/WCS

 

Oh My Africa – September 2014

Namibia “has begun the construction process of a historic solar project”, according to The Namibian, a creatively-titled English-language newspaper over here.

Why historic? Because it’s the country’s “first utility-scale ground mounted PhotoVoltaic (PV) power plant.”

Why is this in my collection of weird, funny, and ridiculous things in Africa?  Because Namibia, the land of 300 days of sunshine a year, the land with a sun on its flag, just now, nearly 15 years into the 21st century, stopped piddling around with coal long enough to build a solar power plant.

This may have something to do with its serious energy deficit, and that it imports nearly all of its energy from other countries, and that those deals are on the verge of expiring, but hey, at least they’re doing something.

As the Namibian reports: “The 4,5 megawatt (MW) renewable energy power plant will supply over 1% of Namibia’s domestic power generation.”

Hey, like I said, at least it’s something.

Baked mud

The sun. It don’t mess around.

 

Oh My Africa – June 2014

We’re all guilty of stereotypes.  I believe it is human nature to categorize things, especially unfamiliar things, into nice, tidy standards.  But in a self-perpetuating cycle, publishers are using our stereotypes to sell products which further the stereotype, because as it turns out, we really do judge books by their cover.

The folks over at the blog Africa is a Country recently posted about a meme created to show how African literature routinely gets the “acacia tree treatment”.  Basically, they write, “the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”

Their proof:

bookmeme

As if all of Africa exists in a permanent state of sunset.

After reading the blog, I was compelled to see if it was true for Namibian books as well.  Though there aren’t many works of literature set in this country, there’s a whole heap of photography books.  Let’s hope their contents vary more than their covers:

So, Namibia is a sandy, lonely place with elephants, trees, and a sun.  Like all stereotypes, that frustratingly ignores all the rest the country has to offer.

According to a book cover designer interviewed on this topic by the Washington Post, publishers package books based on readers’ expectations because that makes them comfortable.

It won’t be the publishing houses then, who step up and teach people how other parts of the world really are.  So, as the Post points out, we’ll have to do it ourselves, through social media and blogging; show the world through our own words and pictures how life on our side actually is.  We’ll have to be brave, honest, and open.  But readers will have to be, too.

Maybe then, by the time my book is finished, they’ll be ready for a bit more unconventional photo for the cover:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The mystery of the black cat and the full moon

Like most places in the world, every month or so, we get a full moon here on the farm.  Generally, it is a welcome occasion.  There is a local theory that it brings rain, but otherwise, it simply allows us to move about at night without clinging to a flashlight (or torch, depending on your English proclivities) or walking into things.  Plus, it’s pretty.

moon 'n cloudsThere is one drawback, though.  When the full moon slides into the sky over the hill in the east, it takes the sanity of one of our three cats with it.

She isn’t ever really normal.  Normal is not a cat adjective.  But back in the States, this little black cat of mine had no reaction to the state of the moon.  Maybe it was because we lived in an apartment and the outdoors were not a part of her life.  Maybe coming to this Namibian farm has brought out the leopard inside of her.  Maybe her brain is flashing images of huge yet very slow lizards, or hordes of giggling mice traipsing through the kitchen, champagne in one hand, cheese gobs in the other. I don’t know.  She simply cannot control the instinct telling her that she must go outside.

the cat

The little black cat, covered in dirt, and probably hunting something.

It seems to only affect her in the winter.  She’ll patrol the room, pacing back and forth, mewing and squeaking, informing us of her distress.  And this is when we are still downstairs eating dinner.  We can hear her through the wall (which, to be fair, is made of logs and fairly porous).  Once we climb into bed the fun really begins.  Like a pouting 4-year-old, she stomps over us to get to the window above our heads, wails her misery to the world on the windowsill for a few minutes, and then leaps down again with a four-footed landing and stomps back the other way.

This is then repeated throughout the night.

Jay and I used to just sleep through it, or pretend to.  I felt guilty for subjecting him to my apparently PMSing cat, but once we got some sleep again, we’d laugh it off and forget about it.  Til the next month.

But this time, I thought of a solution.  It was so simple, it was aggravating to think of how much sleep was lost by us not having thought of it before.

Water.

My cats hate water.  Unless it is going down their throat – by their own doing – it is evil. I tried to give them a bath once when all three became infested with fleas.  I walked away from it bloody and wetter than they were.  When a stream of water comes their way, they will do anything to avoid it.

Thus, needing a water-launching device and not owning a water gun, I turned to the syringes left over from multitudes of cow injections.  Once the needle is off, those things can shoot surprisingly far.

Problem is, our little syringes only hold one round, and it’s easy to miss a small black cat even with a full moon.  Which is, of course, exactly what happened.  So I stepped it up a notch.  With a whole glass of water in my mouth, I headed toward the warbling.  The first squirt hit the ground, and the cat bolted across the room, still singing her woes.  I caught up to her, and let out another squirt.  Another miss, another puddle.  She was hiding behind the bedside lamp now, by Jay’s head.  He seemed semi-asleep despite the commotion, but I was on a mission.  I shot the last of my water and hit the cat square on.  She took off again, silent this time, and I climbed back into bed for a triumphant sleep.

The cat spent the night and those to follow on the lonely chair by the glass door.  I suppose she was either mad or she wanted to keep an eye out in case those oafish lizards wandered by.  In any case, it seems mother nature had heard her distress calls.  One night a gust of wind blew the door open and by the time we noticed, the cat had long ago disappeared into the night.

Luckily, she returned by morning with that innocent cat look on her face, despite the headless mouse in the shower.  I have no idea if it was meant as a gift, to say all is forgiven, or if she brought it as proof, to say “I told you so”.

I don’t believe that I will ever figure out my cats.  I don’t intend to try.  I would only like to sleep.  And, if it’s not too much to ask, keep decapitated wildlife out of the bathroom.

the gift

Thanks.