Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Was There!

I Was There!
Independence Day, and I was slumped in front of the TV watching the beginning of the celebrations at State House, when in walked Sara wearing her best bubu. ‘Come on!’ she said, ‘we’re off to Plot One!’
‘What!’ I gasped. ‘Did you get an invitation?’
‘Hah!’ she laughed, ‘do you think those goons at the gate would dare to ask new ministers for their invitation?’
‘But we’re not ministers!’
‘We know that, but do they know that? There’s fifty new ministers and they’ve no idea who is who or which is which. When they see a confused old man with a beard, they’ll probably think you’re Fackson Shimenda!’
Half an hour later we were walking towards the gate, with Sara hissing at me ‘Try to look confused!’
As she spoke, the guard at the gate drew himself to attention and saluted, and the Protocol Officer moved forward to shake my hand. ‘Dotty Scotty, sir, welcome to the party! Is this your good wife, Lotty Scotty?’
‘Good gracious no,’ I laughed, ‘she can’t stand these rituals. This is Joyce Banda, the Vice President of Malawi. We have been very busy cementing good relations.’
‘Marvellous!’ laughed the Protocol Officer, ‘I just hope your wife doesn’t mind!’
'Dotty Scotty and I,' purred Joyce, 'are getting on so well together, that I'm thinking of staying here with him.'
‘Oh Christ!’ I said, as we reached the great circle of tents, ‘All the men are dressed in suits! They must be sweating like pigs!’
‘They don’t sweat,’ Sara sniggered, ‘they’re all cold blooded reptiles. Snakes that can wriggle out of anything, dinosaurs from previous regimes, lizards quicker than pickpockets and chameleons that change colour after every election.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Elections come and go, but the ruling class remains the same.’
As I was talking, a shushushu in a black suit, black tie and black shades tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Excuse me Mr Vice President sir, His Excellency has asked me to tell you that you’re not appropriately dressed for the occasion.’
‘What’s wrong?’ I wondered. ‘This is my best chitenge shirt!’
‘Exactly sir. H.E. has said that he doesn’t want people dressing like Africans. Follow me, sir, and I’ll find you a suit, so you can look more like a European.’
We followed him into an ante-room of State House. ‘I’m sorry this is the only suit left,’ he said. ‘The previous Excellency left this behind because he had grown too fat for it.’
‘It’s huge!’ I said, as I put it on, and Sara, I mean Joyce Banda, burst out laughing. ‘Better pull the belt tight or your trousers will fall down!’
‘Now you really look the part,’ she chuckled, as we walked back into the throng, ‘Dotty Scotty is known for always being badly dressed.’
People were now coming up to me, slobbering and fawning, saying ‘Should we call you Your Vice Excellency, or Your Excellency, Your Excellency?’
‘No,’ I told them, ‘The President is His Most Excellent Excellency, and I am His Almost Excellent Excellency.’
We walked grandly around, with people bowing and scraping on all sides, until we finally came to the Royal Tent. ‘Here’s my cell phone,’ I said, ‘you take my picture with Supersata, then I’ll send it to my Facebook friends on The Zambian People’s Pact, just to rub their ten thousand jealous noses into my extraordinary success.’
‘Hullo Kalaki,’ said Supersata, as we shook hands.
‘Shush,’ I said. ‘Everybody thinks I’m Dotty Scotty.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’ve just had a message from him at the gate saying he can’t get in. They’re accusing him of being Spectator Kalaki, and telling him to bugger off.’
‘Just as well,’ I said. ‘One Dotty Scotty is quite enough, two would get the entire nation completely confused.’
‘Kalaki,’ said Supersata.
‘Yes, Your Most Excellent Excellency,’ I replied, getting down on one knee.
‘I’ve got something for you,’ he said.
‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ I replied, ‘that’s why I came here for a bit of a grovel.’
‘I’m appointing you as my ambassador to Outer Mongolia!’
‘Oh thank you,Your Most Generous Excellency,’ I said, as I burst into tears of joy, and then rushed over to Sara, formerly Joyce Banda, to tell her the good news.
Outer Mongolia darling!’ I said. ‘The Auditor General has never managed to reach there! We’ll be rich! After all our years of struggle, now we can build our mansion in New Kasama!’
‘You silly bugger!’ she shouted, ‘You resisted when Muwelewele wanted to deport you to England, but now you celebrate when this one wants to deport you to Outer Mongolia!’
But as she was shouting at me, everybody else had fallen quiet. Supersata had begun his majestic walk to the rostrum, where he was about to honour a new batch of national heroes who had suddenly been discovered.
‘Our first hero this afternoon is Spectator Kalaki!’ he announced. I was bewildered! But humbled! I marched up to the rostrum, trying not to trip over Nyamasoya’s trousers, climbed up the steps, and stood in front of Supersata.
‘Spectator Kalaki!’ he announced, ‘You are a national hero. The PF victory was entirely due to your Facebook campaign.’ So saying, he took a fifty kwacha note from his wallet and stuck it in my front pocket. ‘Here’s more money in your pocket!’ he declared.
I saluted smartly, causing my trousers to fall down, so that when I turned to go down the steps my feet were caught in Nyamasoya’s trousers. The whole crowd cheered as I fell flat on my face, and then blacked out.
The next think I knew, I was staring up at Sara’s face, and I was back home. ‘Did the ambulance bring me back?’ I asked.
‘What are you blabbering about?’ she laughed. ‘You fell asleep in front of the telly.’

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Death of MMD

The Death of MMD

Yesterday we had a surprise visit from our former colleagues at Yunza, Birigit and Petrus, now retired to Germany.

‘How nice it is to see you again after all these years,’ said Sara, as we all sat down on the veranda. ‘I’m told you’ve already been here for a couple of weeks. What have you been doing?’

‘We’ve just come back from a couple of weeks in Mfuwe,’ said Birigit.

‘Staring at animals!’ I scoffed. ‘I thought your field was sociology! Now you’re more interested in animals!’

‘Exactly,’ laughed Petrus. ‘After forty years of staring at people, we both have to admit that we can’t understand them at all. Forty years of asking thousands of questions, but still we’ve got no answers! So we’ve given up!’

‘What d’you mean?’ scoffed Sara. ‘Those thousands of questions must have produced thousands of answers!’

‘They did,’ Petrus admitted. ‘What I meant was that the answers seemed to cancel each other out, instead of adding up to something. We were looking for the Grand Theory of Human Behaviour, but we never found it. After forty years of academic toil, we can’t even predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’

‘So Mfuwe was more amenable to your newly revised intellectual ambitions?’ I suggested cautiously.

‘Very much so,’ said Birigit enthusiastically. ‘With the help of the game ranger, our new friend Dingiswayo, we could understand exactly what was going on. The first morning we got there, before we’d even finished breakfast, Dingiswayo came rushing in, saying Come quick and see the fall of the MMD!’

‘The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy?’

‘No!’ she said irritably, ‘the Mad Mfuwe Dictator! That was the name they had given to the rogue elephant that had been terrorizing Mfuwe for the past twenty years. But now he had been spotted in the middle of the forest, standing motionless, unable to steal a mango, let alone trample a village.

Hamba manji manji Herr Petrus and Frau Birigit! urged Dingiswayo as we tried to urge our ancient limbs into the back of the arthritic landrover. We were driven into the forest and shown the dying MMD, standing there swaying, surrounded by a crowd of laughing baboons and hyenas.

‘MMD had promised, explained Dingiswayo, to protect the forest and provide free fertilizer so that everybody could grow maize. But instead MMD sold the forest to Ching Chang, and invaded the maize fields at night to eat all the maize himself, leaving his droppings all over the field. That was the free fertilizer he had promised!’

‘Watching an elephant die!’ said Sara. ‘Rather a morbid pastime!’

‘Animals’ death is different,’ said Petrus. ‘They don’t demand privacy. The whole of Mfuwe was watching. And celebrating.’

‘When exactly did MMD die?’ I asked.

‘It happened the next morning, when we came back to watch. MMD was swaying dangerously, then he made one long trumpeting noise, which Dingiswayo said meant I shall rule for ever! Then he fell over sideways. Dead.’

‘How did you know he was dead?’

‘When an animal dies,’ explained Birigit, ‘all the parasites leave the body. The moment MMD died, a cloud of fleas immediately rose from the body. An army of ticks released their grip and dispersed quickly into the forest, looking for other victims. Several bats flew out of his ears. Then we saw a long snake beginning to wind out of the anus.’

‘It must have been a tapeworm,’ I suggested.

‘No.’ said Birigit. ‘Dingiswayo said it was the notorious Red-Lipped Snake that had crept up the elephant’s arse three years earlier. Now it was abandoning the corpse.’

‘Next was even worse,’ said Petrus. ‘Suddenly the huge distended belly split open, and out stepped a little hippo, whose name, Dingiswayo told us, was Bokosi. Apparently MMD had once had a great taste for Bokosi, and had entirely swallowed her.’

‘Really?’ I asked. ‘How?’

‘In an act of love,’ explained Birigit. ‘An act of monstrous coition between two monsters. MMD opened his mouth wide to give her a big voluptuous kiss and accidentally swallowed her whole. He became pregnant with her, instead of the other way round.’

‘A rare example of gender equality,’ declared Sara.

‘I’m not sure I can believe all this,’ I said, looking at the bottle. ‘How many gin and tonics have you had?’

‘How many brandies have you had?’ retorted Birigit.

‘I’m not the one who’s telling the story!’

‘I know it may sound strange,’ said Petrus, ‘But what happened next was even more peculiar. Out of the forest trotted a large buffalo bull, but with little horns and not much in the way of, ah, reproductive equipment.’

‘Dingswayo said it was the Tonga Bull,’ explained Birigit, ‘known for appearing at funerals in order to steal the assets of the deceased. With two big kicks he knocked off both the elephant’s tusks. With another mighty kick between the elephant’s rear legs he cleanly cut off the elephant’s famously large equipment, which was then sewn onto the Tonga Bull by a clever chimpanzee. Then, with the long tusks over his little horns, and his new scrotum dangling in the dust, he trotted off into the forest, as the baboons all laughed and squealed Another Great Leader!’

‘So what happens next in Mfuwe?’ Sara wondered. ‘Can MMD resurrect after all the parasites have left? Or will the Tonga Bull take over? Or will the animals of Mfuwe finally discover democracy?’

‘What do you think?’ I also asked. ‘After your new zoological experiences, are you now in a position to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow?’

‘Yes,’ said Petrus confidently, ‘I think I can now confidently predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.’

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Tomorrow,’ he said slowly, ‘We’re both going back to Germany.’

[Thanks to Facebook friends for their contributions to the discussion on the death of MMD, and especially to Francis Mwelwa Bwalya for his description of the deathbed predator]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Spectacles

The Spectacles
‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘it’s time for you to tuck me up in bed and tell me a story.’
‘Once upon a time, a long time ago,’ I began, ‘there was a great leader of the people called Supersata.’
‘What made him great?’ asked Nawiti, suspiciously.
‘His spectacles,’ I said. ‘He had very powerful spectacles.’
‘You mean he had great vision,’ said Nawiti.
‘On the contrary,’ I explained, ‘his vision was terrible. That was why he needed such powerful spectacles.’
‘So how did these spectacles make him such a great leader?’
‘Because he was able to see the plight of the people. He could see their problems, and could see what to do about them. He would just stand in front of the people, thousands of them, and say I know you are hungry and I will give you food. I know you are poor and I will put money in your pockets.’
‘Then I don’t see anything very marvelous about his spectacles,’ snorted Nawiti. ‘He was just seeing obvious things which were right in front of him.’
‘The most marvelous thing about the spectacles,’ I said, ‘was that they also worked the other way round. When the people looked at him, they looked through his spectacles, and they saw themselves. They saw an ordinary Man of the People.’
‘Hmm,’ said Nawiti, still not convinced. ‘Did his magic spectacles enable him to see what was causing all this starvation and poverty?’
‘Oh yes,’ I said, ‘they were very good at that. He saw that the evil King Nyamasoya and his nasty friends were stealing all the money from the treasury, and the judges were all wearing their silly wigs back to front, and pretending they couldn’t see anything. Vote for me, Supersata would say, and I will lock them all up, and you will be rich and happy!’
‘So did they vote for him?’
‘Oh yes. They all voted for him, chased away the evil King Nyamasoya, and carried Supersata to the palace.’
‘And did he become a good king?’
‘That evening, when all the crowds had gone, he put on his Superman suit and stood on the palace balcony and spoke to the stars, saying I am King Superman, Man of the People, appointed by the people to sweep corruption from this land, get back the stolen money, sack the corrupt judges, and jail the thieves, all with immediate effect, if not sooner! And so saying, and believing himself to be Superman, he threw himself into the air, in order to begin his mighty works.’
‘Could he really fly?’ asked Nawiti.
‘There must have been a bit of a problem with his Superman suit,’ I admitted. ‘No sooner had he launched himself into the air than his whole body suddenly became unusually susceptible to the Force of Gravity, and he plummeted down onto the flagstones below.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti, ‘was he hurt?’
‘Not really,’ I said, ‘but his pride and self-confidence were dreadfully wounded. And even worse, he landed on his spectacles, which were completely broken into a hundred pieces. Now the previously far-seeing king couldn’t even see his own hand in front of him.’
‘So what did he do?’
‘The problem was soon solved. One of the palace lackeys came running up to him with a beautiful pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, saying Do not worry, O King, take these spectacles, we always keep a spare pair at the palace.
‘So the next morning he dressed up in his Superman Suit, put on his new spectacles, and went to look at himself in the mirror. And what a marvelous sight he saw! His cloak was now made of gold cloth, and a crown was on his head. Better still, he was now a large and powerful king. Very good! he said to himself, What lovely big spectacles! Now I have a much bigger opinion of myself!
Then the lackey came running in, saying Your Most Mighty Excellent Excellency King Superman, thousands of your faithful subjects are here at the palace waiting to hear your words of infinite and all-knowing wisdom!
Then the king went to the balcony where the multitude stretched into the far distance, all crying together We appointed you as our leader, now arrest Nyamasoya who emptied the treasury! Arrest the Chief Judge who murdered Justice!
But Superman looked at the mob with aristocratic disdain, as the sun glinted angrily on his new gold spectacles. I was not appointed by you! he shouted. A king is appointed by All Mighty God. I do not do your bidding, but listen instead to the advice from My Almighty God, who speaks only to me. And do not accuse anybody of a crime unless you have firm evidence! Which one of you ever personally saw Nyamasoya filling his wallet at the treasury? Which one of you saw the bullet fly from the gun that killed Justice? Where is your evidence? If you have any such evidence, go to the police immediately, and they will investigate your involvement in the crime!’
‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti sadly. ‘What did the people do when they heard all that?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘That’s the end of the story.’
‘But how do you think the people solved the problem?’ Nawiti asked irritably.
‘Well,’ I gulped, ‘I suppose the people had to choose a new leader, and then carry him to the palace.’
‘That wouldn’t have worked!’ Nawiti declared.
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘Because,’ replied Nawiti slowly, ‘once the new leader reached the palace, he would just put on the same pair of gold-rimmed spectacles!’

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Dear Diary, It’s our first day at State House, and my dear husband is so excited. I had just sat down for breakfast when he came galloping down the stairs in his Superman suit, shouting ‘I am Action Man! I am Supersata! I’ll catch all the rotters! Sack all the baddies! Get back all the stolen money! Put money in every pocketty! Supersata strikes again! I’ll chase all the cockroaches back to Chipata! Clean up the world in ninety days!’
‘Sit down and eat your cornflakes,’ I said sternly. ‘I’ve got a busy day ahead of me and I can’t stand much more of your nonsense.’
‘Just help me pump up this Superman Suit,’ he pleaded, ‘I want to grow big like a real Superman. Even bigger than Nyamasoya the Nasty Dinosaur. I’ll float like a butterfly and sting like a bee! Put the world to rights with a single blow! Sack them all with immediate effect! Immediate effect! Wow! Pwow! Zing Zong!’
‘Don’t be silly, the real Superman fell off his horse and broke his neck.’ I said as I pulled at the zip on his Superman suit. ‘Go and take this off and put on your old baggy double-breasted suit that hides your paunch. And while you’re at it, clean your teeth, your breath smells terrible. The press is waiting for you in the conference room and they expect to hear something sensible. And make sure you don’t smile, or they’ll see your teeth.’
Oh My God! If I don’t control this man, the nation is going to rack and ruin. At breakfast this morning I picked up The Post to find that my dear little Superman has pre-occupied himself with trying to solve old problems by giving them new names. Livingstone Airport is now Nkumbula Airport and the humble Man of the People has now become His Excellency Supersata.
Zambia has been re-named Satabia, and the kwacha now becomes ten pabwato, thereby putting more money in our pockets! By changing windfall to rainfall he has also put more money in our buckets. By changing the name of compounds to suburbs, he has solved the housing problem at a stroke! The Editor of The Post is so annoyed with all this that I counted twenty-five references to Proverbs in his editorial.
As I was reading my dear husband came bouncing down to breakfast in his Superman suit. ‘I think I can fly!’ he sang as he leapt into the air, and landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, screaming and nursing his left ankle. I bandaged his ankle, and made him change his suit and gargle with mouthwash. ‘There’s another press conference waiting for you,’ I said grimly. ‘This time they’re waiting to hear of your new appointments. And don’t change the name of Western Province until you’ve done some consultation.’
Dear Diary, why do men never really grow up? He arrived at breakfast this morning by sliding down the stairs on the ironing board, shouting ‘Today’s headlines! Superstar Supersata leads Superteam to Superprosperity!’
I looked up from The Post. ‘Not all the newspapers are as enthusiastic as yourself,’ I said dryly. ‘They are calling it the Geriatric Cabinet, saying they’re either too old, or too Bemba, or too corrupt, or in some cases all three.’
‘They shouldn’t worry about the Cabinet,’ he laughed, ‘they’re just old friends of mine who need assistance to have their ailments attended to at the Morningside Clinic. They’re not important, I shall be taking all the decisions myself! I am Supersata!’
Oh Dear Diary, Husbands are so difficult to control. I’ve got him fairly well house trained, but once he sees a microphone there’s no telling what he might say. Now The Post editorial has had to abandon Proverbs and has taken instead to more severe and magisterial language borrowed extensively and repetitively from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
Apparently, at the press conference yesterday, my dear husband appointed a commission of enquiry into the sale of the Fiddle Bank, but in the next breath gave it back to Mr Fiddle. He also commissioned an enquiry to find out if it the Energy Relaxation Board was energetic or relaxed, but in the next announcement fired all members of the Board! ‘Surely,’ I said to my dear husband, ‘don’t you see that you need to hear the result of an enquiry before you take action? Don’t you have any common sense?’
‘Ah, my poor dear innocent wife,’ he replied, as he twirled around on the Persian carpet, his Superman cape flying in the air, ‘how little you understand about how politics really work. This little nuisance, Witless Kwindi, was insisting on a cabinet job, so instead I had to fob him off with the job of chairing a few totally irrelevant commissions.’
Dear Diary, Superman came bouncing down the stairs this morning in a jovial mood. ‘Good morning my dear,’ he said cheerily. ‘How lucky I am that God appointed me to be Supersata, and that He has guided my hand in appointing a new Cabinet! I hope my people are now beginning to appreciate what God has given them.’
I looked up from The Post. ‘Things are getting worse,’ I said. ‘Now the Women’s Movement is asking why there are only two women in the cabinet.’
He stopped in mid-spoonful of cornflakes. ‘What! Two women! How did they get in! I must check the appointment lists more carefully in future! That Dotty Scotty has let me down again! He’s too old to know the difference!
‘What are you talking about?’ I shouted. ‘You promised gender equality in decision making positions!’
‘I’m all in favour of that!’ he retorted. ‘You make your decisions in the kitchen, and I’ll make mine in the government. We must all stick to the things we know and understand! If I were to follow your advice, I’d soon get myself into a complete mess!’