Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Die Laughing

Die Laughing



            Yesterday we had a visit from Aunty Cathy. Which meant, of course, another funeral in the family. Aunty Cathy is our organizer of funerals. I sometimes wonder how, after Aunty Cathy passes on, the rest of us will ever get buried.
          Sara’s nephew Emmanuel had given his life, a couple of days earlier, trying to defend his minibus from a mob of Punching Fist thugs in Kamwala. He had staked his life to save his minibus, but had ended up losing both. Just a routine little incident which never made the evening news, but it had affected our family deeply. As a peaceful nation, we are always shocked by the high rates of intimidation, thuggery, terrorism and murder.
Anyway, we shouldn’t complain. That was the mistake that Emmanuel had made. He had joined a demonstration. He wasn’t like the rest of us, content to defend his own two hundred square metres from inside his concrete fortifications, and ignore the screams from outside.
By now Aunty Cathy was explaining the distribution of funeral responsibilities. ‘If Sara and you could just buy the coffin,’ she explained, ‘that will be your bit. The only problem is, there’s been a terrible shortage ever since this government came into power. You may have to go as far as Kafue to find one.’
‘What about Chongwe?’ Sara suggested.
‘Don’t you read the papers?’ said Aunty Cathy. ‘That’s where the shortage is worse.’
As we were talking, we heard a banging at the gate. ‘Probably ZESCO come to cut us off,’ said Sara.
‘That won’t make much difference,’ I sneered. But when I got to the gate, and unbolted the fortifications, I found Uncle Kelvin and Aunty Mary. ‘Come in, come in,’ I said. ‘Nice to see the old landcruiser is still on the road.’
‘Indeed it is,’ replied Kelvin grimly. ‘We must thank the Lord for small mercies.’
‘Uncle Kelvin and Aunty Mary!’ exclaimed Sara. ‘So you heard about the funeral!’
‘Which funeral?’ they asked in unison.
‘Emmanuel,’ said Aunty Cathy. And so she told the story all over again.
‘Well,’ said Aunty Mary. ‘I thought our story was worse, but at least we’re still alive!’
‘Why,’ we all said. What has happened?’
‘The farm,’ said Aunty Mary, as Uncle Kelvin just sat there with his head in his hands. ‘It’s gone. Nothing left. The house has been demolished and the workers attacked and chased. Several of them were shot and some may be dead. They had lived on that land for fifty years. We managed to escape by the skin of our teeth. Our neighbour phoned us just in time after he saw the army coming, and we managed to get out through the back road. All we’ve got left are the clothes we’re wearing and the old landcruiser. But we're the lucky ones.’
It was some twenty years ago that Uncle Kelvin retired from the Ministry of Education. He and Mary had worked all their lives to establish that little farm for their retirement. It was all that stood between them and destitution.
‘Had there been any previous attempts to steal your land?’
‘It all started about three months ago,’ said Aunty Mary. ‘The Ward Chairman arrived one day and said that the farm belonged to the council and we had never paid the rent. But we showed him our title deeds. A month later he came and said that he had checked at the Council and Ministry of Lands and there were no records of the land being allocated to us. He said that the title deeds must have been obtained by dubious means and that we would have to vacate.’
‘So what did you do about it?’
‘We didn’t take it seriously. We just thought that the Ward Chairman must be an idiot.’
‘A couple of weeks later our workers found some party youths with pegs and string, demarcating plots. We complained to the police, but they said that they could not interfere in party matters. So we complained to the District Party Chairman, but he got angry with us, saying the party was working hard to stop land grabbing, and we were accusing him of corruption. We complained to the DC, and he told us not to worry, we should just have a word with the District Secretary.’
‘And did you?’
‘Yes. And the District Secretary told us that the previous council meeting had already allocated our farm to the DC, who had also been given planning permission to build twenty-four houses.’
‘So then you took it seriously?’
‘We raised the matter with our area MP, but she told us not to try to politicize the problem or we would regret it.’
‘So you hired a lawyer?’
‘Yes. And he managed to get a judge to issue a court order staying the hand of the council, pending an ex parte hearing of the interested parties.’
‘So you showed the court order to the DC?’
‘It was only yesterday when I went to see him,’ said Kelvin. ‘He tore up the court order in front of me and laughed in my face, saying that the judiciary was separate from government and could not interfere. He also told me that he was aware that my parents were born in Malawi, and that my citizenship status was being reviewed. Within less than twenty-four hours, in the early hours of this morning, the army arrived with bullets and bulldozers.’
‘My God,’ said Aunty Cathy, ‘I thought this government had a policy of fighting corruption, not innocent citizens!’
‘Ha ha,’ Kelvin laughed drily, ‘that’s a good one!’
‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ said Aunty Cathy seriously, ‘When Michael gets to hear about all this, he’ll take action and put everything straight.’
For a moment we sat there in silence. Then we all burst out laughing.

It’s better to die laughing.




           

            

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trapped in Zambia

Trapped in Zambia


            ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I’m checking out this morning. I’d be obliged if I could have the bill.’
          ‘Certainly, Mr Kalaki,’ he said, as he moved towards the computer, ‘I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in Hotel Zambia.’
          ‘I always enjoy coming back,’ I said, ‘to see how the old hotel has developed over the years.’
          ‘Here’s your bill, Mr Kalaki,’ he said. ‘It’s always nice to see our old regulars again. It’s only a pity we can’t attract foreign tourists. They always stay at the Hotel Victoria on the other side.’
          ‘You could try changing this tatty carpet,’ I said, trying to be helpful. ‘And what happened to the huge pair of tusks which used to frame to the entrance to the cocktail bar?’
          ‘Stolen,’ he said sadly, ‘by the previous management. The case is still in court.’
          I looked at the bill. ‘K750,’ I said. ‘Seems a bit steep.’
          ‘If you look more carefully, sir, I think you’ll find most of the charges were incurred at the bar.’ His phone rang and he picked it up. ‘Yes, sir. No sir. No, he’s still here sir. I was aware of that, sir. Everything is under control sir. Thank you, sir.’
As he was talking on the phone he took the money and issued a receipt.
          ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘There’s just one more thing. I left my passport in your hotel safe.’
          ‘Bit of a problem on that one, sir. That was the General Manager on the phone, instructing me not to release your passport.’
          ‘What!’ I said. ‘What are you talking about! That’s my property!’
          ‘No, Kalaki. It’s now the property of the hotel!’
          ‘Look!’ I shouted. ‘I can’t go anywhere without my passport!’
          ‘That’s exactly what the General Manager said,’ he replied calmly. ‘In fact you’re to be confined to the hotel until outstanding matters have been sorted out.’
          ‘Oustanding matters!’ I shouted. ‘What are you talking about? I’ve just paid the bill!’
          ‘There’s no need to shout, sir,’ he said in a soothing voice. ‘Otherwise I shall have to call security, and that will be another case against you?’
          ‘Another case? What are you talking about?’
          ‘Last night in the dining room you were drunk and disorderly. Standing on a table and shouting obscenities.’
          ‘What! I was merely trying to attract the attention of a waiter. After twenty minutes of trying to attract his attention, my patience snapped.’
          ‘Yes, sir. And so did the table leg.’
          ‘Accidents will happen!’
          ‘Yes, sir. But we need time to conduct investigations. You see, there is also the question of the urine found in the swimming pool.’
          ‘I never pissed in the pool.’ I screamed. ‘I deny it!’
          ‘You may say so, sir. But the lab test showed a high concentration of brandy in the urine, so you have been identified as the prime suspect.’
‘What rubbish! I can’t be detained here to listen to such nonsense!’
‘And there’s something else, sir. Something more serious, and rather sexual and pornographic in nature.’
          ‘What! What on Earth are you talking about?’
          ‘A young woman was seen coming out of your room at 9.15 this morning, sir.’
          ‘That was the chambermaid. She was clearing out the empty bottles.’
          ‘You may say so, Kalaki. But I have to tell you that Beauty is the General Manager’s favourite chambermaid.’
          ‘I don’t believe any of this!’ I sneered. ‘Let me speak to the General Manager myself!’
          ‘That won’t be possible, sir. The General Manager is in Beijing, seeking investment funds so that he can turn Hotel Zambia into a first class hotel for rich Chinese tourists, and not have to entertain the local riff-raff in future.’
          ‘Riff-raff? Is that what I am? I’ve been coming to this hotel for the past fifty years!’
          ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and the General Manager is most upset about the lies you’ve been writing on Watchdog about the poor service, piss in the swimming pool and the brothel on the sixth floor!’
          ‘Ah Ha!’ I exclaimed. ‘Now it’s all becoming clear! Now I understand the trumped up charges! Well, I’ll show you! You can’t trap me in this grotty place! I’m a free man! I know my rights! I shall get a court order forcing you to return my passport!’
          ‘You’re free to do so,’ he smiled. ‘Go to the judicial suite on the top floor, and ask for Judge Loveless Chikopo, I’m sure he’ll be able to assist.’
          ‘Chikopo! What’s he doing here!’
          ‘We give him free accommodation and allowances, in return for which he investigates and prosecutes all judges who issue court orders.’
          ‘If you think you can trap me in here you’re mistaken!’ I shouted. ‘I’m just going to walk straight out of here! Just watch me! Just try to stop me! I can’t be intimidated! I can’t be kidnapped in my own country in broad daylight!’
But even as I spoke I felt the handcuff close around my wrist.
____________________________________

But no, not handcuffs, it felt more like fingers closing around my wrist. I woke up with a start, to find Sara sitting at the side of the bed, taking my pulse. ‘You’ve been asleep for twelve hours,’ she laughed. ‘I was just checking to see if you’re still alive. It’s eleven o’clock! You shouldn’t drink so much!’
‘What!’ I said. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up? Christ, what day is it? Thursday! I’ll be late for the MISA meeting! I’ll miss my free lunch!’
‘There are riots all over town,’ she said. ‘We’ve all been advised to stay indoors.’
‘You mean we’re trapped in our own yard?’ I shouted.
‘Exactly,’ she replied.
     
           


             



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Police Station

The Police Station

video

           
            ‘Good morning,’ I said to the officer behind the counter, ‘My name is Kalaki. I need a police report on the loss of my driving licence.’
          ‘Certainly sir,’ she replied. ‘You just have to get a report form and fill in the details. That’ll be fifty pin for a report form.’
          ‘Oh really?’ I said. ‘I thought it was done free of charge.’
          ‘Maybe you thought a long of things, sir. If you read the newspapers you’d know that all subsidies have been removed. So instead of thoughting a lot of things and upsetting yourself, just give me the fifty pin, get your report and go on your way.’
          As it happened, I had just had an unexpectedly pleasing encounter with the very ATM that had in the past been continuously unsympathetic to my financial problems, and I was therefore on a high of financial exuberance. So I carelessly took a bundle of fifties out of my pocket, peeled one off, and said, ‘OK, darling, give me a report form.’
          She fixed a swiveling beady eye on my little hoard, suddenly whipped away the fifty pin like a chameleon catching a fly, and disappeared down the corridor. She came back only two minutes later with a blank piece of paper. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘just write down all the details.’
          ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘this doesn’t seem to be a report form.’
          ‘Report forms are out of stock,’ she said. ‘So just write me a report of what you lost and when.’
          As she spoke a grimy half naked figure appeared at the metal grill door behind the counter. ‘Please madam, I need to go to the toilet.’
           ‘Toilet!’ she screeched in mirth. ‘That’s a good one! Toilet!’ Then, turning to me, she sneered ‘Since the Police Service has been privatized, we get some very demanding customers.’
           Then turning back to the wretch in the filthy metal cage she said ‘My dear sir, I saw from the moment you arrived that you were a gentleman, accustomed to the very best. That’s why I took the trouble to give you the very best self-contained accommodation. You’ll find the bucket in the corner.’
          ‘Excuse me interrupting,’ I said, ‘but can I have a receipt for my fifty pin?’
          ‘Certainly,sir,’ she replied politely. ‘Receipts cost fifty pin.’
          Just then there was a kafuffle outside and then two youths were hurled into the station by a rowdy group of men. ‘We found them walking down the road holding hands!’ declared the leader of the gang of ruffians.
          ‘A blatant homosexual act in broad daylight, contrary to the Penal Code Section 1175, as amended in 1734!’ the policewoman squealed in delight, as she closed the steel door behind the pair of illegal hand holders.
          I was just about to again raise the matter of my police report when a man and his wife came in holding a young boy by the scruff of his neck. ‘This thief stole our son’s bicycle!’ shouted the woman,’ as if in a paroxysm of hate against all humanity.
          ‘That’ll be fifty pin to open a docket and fifty pin to write a statement,’ declared the policewoman, as the grill door clanged behind another captive. ‘Go to Room 6 down the corridor and speak to CID.’
          It was some time before she managed to return to me and my little problem. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I’ve written down the details here. What do I do now?’
          ‘You pay me a fee of fifty pin to sign and stamp it. Then we make a photocopy for our records and put it on file. That’ll be another fifty pin.’
          Just then there was a sound of running feet, and a man came panting up to the counter. ‘There’s a whole gang of thugs coming down our street with pick-axe handles and pangas, and they’re heading for the Evangelical Church!’
          ‘Why are you telling me all this?’ shouted the policewoman. ‘We’re non-political and non-partisan. We don’t take sides in these things! We don’t even have bullet proof vests, so how can we get involved in politics? I suggest you make a complaint to your member of parliament.’
          As he ran out cursing, I turned to the policewoman. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘Even if you can’t do anything yourself, can’t you phone HQ and warn them about an attack on a church?’
          She turned to me with a sneer. ‘And why don’t you mind your own business, just as I mind my own business? My job here is just to lock up people when there is a complaint against them, and release them when their relatives arrive.’
          ‘It’s a nice little business,’ I admitted.
          ‘This is just a peaceful community police post,’ she said. ‘My husband and I bought it during the time of privatization. Like all small business people, we just get on with our daily work, and keep out of politics.’
          ‘What about HQ?’
          ‘Now that’s big business. We keep clear of them. They have a contract with the ruling party.’
          Just then a distraught woman came in sobbing. ‘You’ve locked up my Billy for stealing his own bicycle.’
          ‘For only fifty pin,’ said the policewoman in a kindly voice, ‘I can release your son on police bond.’
          The policewoman turned to me. ‘You see how we keep both sides happy. The complainants pay to put them in, and then the relatives pay to get them out.’
          ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s a nice little community service. I’m sure we’re all grateful. Now if you’ll just sign and stamp my police report, I think I’ll be off.’
          ‘There’s just one other thing,’ she said.
          ‘Oh?’ I said. ‘What’s that?’
          ‘I notice from your report that you lost your license last September. So there’s a fine of five hundred pin for driving without a license.’

Video courtesy of Flip artists: www.flipproject.wordpress.com