“What Colours Are In Front of A Car?”

I have written many exams in my life, from spelling three-letter words to solving differential equations. And then there was the Zimbabwean provisional (learner) driving license exam – the hardest exam I have ever written in my life. You laugh?

Just humour me.  When I took my learner’s driving license in California, it was all a breeze. I downloaded their free handbook online, studied for a few hours and went to take the test the following day. I walked out with my provisional license that afternoon and went back to school to finish my engineering class homework. No big deal.

Back in Zimbabwe, I borrowed a study guide (it wasn’t free), studied for a few hours and went in for the test the following day. I failed. Just then, I knew something was wrong – there were huge discrepancies between the test and the study material. My dad thought I should just retake it. I refused, and only returned a year later. This time I bought a different study guide. I failed once more. So I bought yet another different study guide. I failed yet again.

Must think it fishy now, eh? Good, you’re on board. See, this little thing called corruption is so widespread in Zimbabwe that it has essentially taken over the car and driving license authorities in the country. Everyone has to pay (a bribe) in order to get ahead in the licensing process. The first hurdle at which they get you is the provisional license phase. Ingenious people they are, they realized they could just make the test as difficult as possible, so that as many people as possible failed. That would force more people to pay bribes, or to resort to shady driving schools that have connections with them.

So, how to make a simple exam difficult, even for engineering graduates? Well, you use questions such as

What colours are in front of a car?

A. white and red

B. yellow and red

C. white and yellow

Yes, the English in that sentence is not really amazing. I should mention that the original guide, published by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe, has near-perfect English, and that it actually makes sense. However, the language in the test, together with the nonsensical content, is mind-numbing. Folks, that’s how much corruption drags things down.

We are a nation that wants to always boast about our superior literacy rate in Africa. Yet, it is so shameful to juxtapose that ‘fact’ with the contents of the learner’s driving test. We have people who are running important offices who do not have any sense of standard or quality whatsoever. It is so embarrassing. The scary thing is that they are not embarrassed at all. How demoralizing.

Well, in the end I went to a driving school that sold me a special study book. It contained many of the questions I had seen in the provisional driving license exam – complete with the ludicrous expected answers. I studied the booklet and passed the exam (It is all a little bit complicated because they used different exams for different days with widely varying questions. Anyway, the bottom line is that I passed eventually). I was very relieved as I had spent a lot of money paying for the tests and buying the study books.

Yet the take-away here isn’t that perseverance ultimately yields results. No. It is instead the fact that I have had to disgracefully play the system in order to progress. With the 15% pass-rate that I observed, I know that I am sadly not alone. Many more will have to be victims of this circus. Victims of a pandemic corruption.

Oh, about the multiple-choice question I asked earlier in this piece, I have no idea what the answer is.

Books: My Top 5 Picks

I have had this list in my mind for a long time, and I am finally publishing it here. The books in this list are not the best I have ever read; instead, they are books that have influenced me the most in one way or another. The fact that it has not been too difficult to pick them out means they really do stand out to me. I have not put the bible in the list, even thought it is the outright Number One. The books are not in any particular order.

1. Oliver Twist [Charles Dickens]

I first read this book when I was maybe eleven or twelve, and then again when I was fourteen. I do not remember much of it now, but it is the book that made me love to read. I am not too fond of fiction now, but that is where I started. And Oliver Twist is the piece of art that really got me started. I credit this book for making me love to read.

2. Julius Caesar [Unknown]

I do not remember the author of this book. It was probably a kid’s book too, because I must have read it when I was ten or so. That is when I first learned about the concept of being great. Since the time I read that book, and initially because of that book, I have always aspired to be great. In fact, because of that book, greatness has always felt more like a destiny than a wish since I was young. I am still holding on to that feeling.

3. Physics Book [Unknown]

I am sure not too many people expected to see a physics book in this list. Do not be too troubled because it was not all numbers and formulas. I discovered this coverless physics book at home when I was about fourteen. That is when I became crazy about science – and physics in particular. I learned about how binoculars and car gear boxes work, how heat is transferred and what radiation is. Since then, I have always been interested in science, and engineering in particular. And that is why I am an engineer today.

4. I Write What I Like [Steve Biko]

Having grown up with an underlying racial inferiority complex, I was absolutely stunned by this book. I nearly shed tears of emancipation when I first read it at age twenty. Really. Here was a black intellectual who took the evil that was apartheid head on without fear. Through the astounding depth of his thought, and the power of his words, he wrote what he liked beautifully, in the most powerful act of defiance against apartheid. They killed him. But his book has given me a powerful consciousness, as he intended.

5. Capitalism Hits the Fan [Richard D. Wolff]

Growing up (this thing of growing up!!!), I was indoctrinated in socialism and communism. In college, I was indoctrinated in capitalism. When I therefore read this book that dismantled all three systems, I was quite surprised and impressed. But mostly, this book made me understand the very core of laissez-faire capitalism, and how most of its ills are systemic, rather than mere products of unfortunate events. Another thing that I appreciated about this book is that, unlike most other works, it urges the reader to study on his/her own to arrive at the given conclusions. I can say that I now understand how many things work in the modern economy, thanks to this book.

Okay, those are my Top 5 picks. Here are a few more that just missed the list:

Confessions of An Economic Hit Man [John Perkins]

Reading this book is the closest I have come to becoming a conspiracy theorist. It contains wild tales of how evil businessmen headquartered in the grandest corporate corridors of the ‘free world’ orchestrate economic turmoil and conflict in the ‘third world’ to create the most favorable conditions for maximizing profit (or ripping the locals off). If it is only half true, then greed runs this world. I have seen it with my own eyes, though. Not with the West, but with the East here in Zimbabwe. And that is a great revelation.

The Bitter Harvest [Ian Smith]

This is the swan song of the bitter and now late former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith. Not only was this book a valuable historical piece about my country, but it was also a great revelation about historical distortion. The book itself contained a lot of distortion, of writing the wrongs of the past with the stroke of a pen. And from this I have learned to be more critical of non-fictional material. And with it I now understand this history is seldom an objective matter.

I think I will stop here! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books, and do let me know what your Top 5 looks like. Oh, here’s another thing…


In my English Composition book, lightning flashes lit up the distant sky, a sharp contrast to the surrounding gloom of a dreary winter night. The light drizzle held steadily, almost urging her tears on as they streamed down her cheeks. The atmosphere on the other side of her bedroom window seemed to be the perfect metaphor for her heart. She could hardly believe how different this night was from the last…

In his English Composition book, a coterie of juveniles stood curiously close to an elegant jewellery store, prattling on under the moonlight. To a hawk-eyed, habituated detective such as Mr. Duvant, only one thing could be the subject of the unkempt group’s chatter. There was not a grain of doubt in his mind about the subsequent events. He was now primed for action.

My English teacher liked both opening paragraphs, handing each of us a “70%” grade, something which she said she reserved for the best works she ever came across. And so we were dead tied again – the best English Composition writers at my high school. All the same, all the peer plaudits went to him, because he used the ‘big’ words. That was the currency among the students – the best composition was quite simply the most flamboyant use of high-power English words. He was the winner after all.

But I was not discouraged. I was determined to try to be different. I wanted to write the best English compositions without the excessive use of ‘big’ words. I wanted the depth of my imagination, the skilful manipulation of simple language, to propel me to the top. Even so, the pressure was still there. Every single day seemed to be a battlefield to really prove my worth as a supposed ‘brilliant’ student. It didn’t matter that I had come first in class nineteen times out of twenty at that point. I had to flaunt my vocabulary around in order to be taken seriously. But I just wouldn’t. I dared not.  I only dared to be different.

In the grand scheme of things – whatever that may be – writing high school English compositions differently isn’t exactly the epitome of daring to be different. Nonetheless, when I trace back this attitude of mine – to always try to take the less-travelled road – I go back as far as that English class at Milton High School. The more I consider it all, the more I realize that there isn’t a single major event in my life that says “I Dare To Be Different.” Instead, it is the little decisions and choices I have made along the way that seem to echo that mantra.

Truth be told, almost every wide-eyed child is told to chase his dream, yet the wide-eyed youth is asked, “Why can’t you be like everyone else?” It is one of the most perplexing paradoxes of life – that one is encouraged to reach for sky, but only the sky that everyone else is reaching for. The result is that everyone ends up aiming for the same sky. The same old, glorious sky.

But the urge to be different is like a burning, constant ache in the heart whose only remedy is a bold voyage into the unknown. They call it ‘daring.’ It is this sensation that keeps pushing against the heavy clouds of conformity and far beyond the glorious sky. It moves in little pushes, or in giant thrusts – in the small decision to stay indoors on a weekend night, or in the giant leap from a banker’s suit into farm overalls. Or in spending the weekend night out, and in leaving farm overalls for a banker’s suit. Daring to be different in the little things, and the great ones.

Daring to be different, in a way, is an act of defiance. And every act of defiance needs sustenance, lest it retreat into oblivion as quickly as a drop of water disappears in a fire. What sustains that burning urge to be different? Is it focus in a unique life goal? Is it an unwavering self-belief? Or a habit of being different every day? And perhaps being different everyday means being different. Perhaps it doesn’t necessarily come in the form of one giant life-changing decision. Rather, it could be in the habitual little things – like using less fancier words and a more fiery imagination on, and on, and on.

What makes you different?

A Loaf of Bread

Some kids recently came to me requesting help on a school assignment that asked them to describe the time in which we had hyperinflation in our country. Anyway, that period is still fresh in my memory, and it got me reflecting…there are a few days/incidences that stick out, and this is just one of them….


My cousin Douglas (we called him ‘Dougie’) and I woke up just after 2 am on one Friday night. We quickly put on warmer clothes and dabbed our eyes with damp towels before stepping outside. It was the first time I found myself walking outside at that hour, and I was very afraid. My only comfort was that I was with Dougie, who was four years older.

We were greeted by a stinging breeze of cold air, and we walked briskly to try to escape it. I expected to see a few people on the way, but the dusty path felt lonely. We must me too early, I thought. As we walked, all my attempts at maintaining a conversation with Dougie were fruitless,  and perhaps understandably so. We were both annoyed at being up so early. But I still talked to him because I was afraid.

When we turned the last corner toward Spar, the local supermarket, we were greeted by a collective murmur of grumbling voices and the characteristic commotion of a bread queue. My heart sank as I studied the queue and realised how long it was. There were well over a hundred people huddled close to each other, one behind the other, all expecting that priceless reward in the morning – a loaf of bread. Dougie and I made our way to the back of the queue. Out in the open space, we were at the mercy of the unrelenting chill.

In a bread queue, some authorized person – usually a security guard – handed out numbered ‘tickets’ to the people in the queue in order from the one at the front to the one at the back. Usually, the highest number corresponded to the quantity of whatever we would be queuing for that was available. For example, if the last number was ‘150,’ it meant that there were a hundred and fifty loaves of bread available. But sometimes this was not the case.

On this night, the security guard decided to hand out the tickets well before shop opening time, presumably to allow people to return to their homes to get some sleep before returning to use their prized tickets once the store opened. As soon as people realized tickets were being handed out, there was a sudden uproar.  There was a sudden frenzy in the queue as people tried to hold down their positions.

My feet barely touched the ground as people behind and in front of me pushed and jostled. The queue now resembled a giant snaked caught in a trap. The body of the snake – children, adults, women, men, young and old – convulsed wildly under the dim security lights. What has happened to us? I thought. People were screaming obscenities. Men and women were grabbing at each other in unimaginable ways. But here there was no time to consider morals. I just had to hold on to anyone – or anything – just to stay in the line. I had to get a loaf of bread.

The chaos was not abating, and two more guards soon arrived – with them a guard dog. As soon as it arrived, the crowd-control monster began lunging at people, its masters ensuring it did not sink its teeth into anyone. But the poor dog had underestimated the magnitude of the task. A few moments after arriving, it had already sought refuge in a large trash can that the crowd had overturned. The snake had reared its ugly head.

Although I do not remember how, calm did finally prevail. I did receive my ticket – a small piece of clumsily cut-out cardboard inscribed with the number ‘247.’ It was not promising. Even as I walked back home to steal some sleep before returning, I had little hope. Dougie, however, had a better number – he had been more adventurous than me, taking advantage of the chaos to move up the queue. Our hopes were with him.

Dawn brought its fears, and they were duly realised. We returned to the supermarket with my mother, and we found that they were using different tickets from the ones they had handed out several hours earlier. They must have handed them out while we had gone to sleep. It was unfair, but not at all surprising. This was our new society.

While we stood by wondering what could have been, I caught sight of a local vendor. She already had several loaves of bread stacked beside her, and it seemed like she was waiting for more. She was our only chance of getting bread that morning, but her double-price was prohibitive. We left with drooping heads, afraid to think of what lay ahead.

And what lay ahead in the coming years was far worse than we had ever experienced, or imagined.

Scientist Discovers Self

Originally posted on The Scrutiny:

A researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s Applied Nuclear Physics Department has made a stunning discovery. Ron Foester says he was sitting in a recreational area inside Stanford University’s famed linear accelerator complex SLAC, now a US Department of Energy lab, when he found his true self.

Speaking to fellow researchers at Berkeley, Foester described how he made the discovery. “I was sitting there sipping on my coffee, when I suddenly discovered myself – as in, my true inner self. That is what I have been searching for in the past few years, and only just now have I truly found it – my true being. And it happened – would you believe it – at Stanford University, of all places!”

Foester says his discovery is significant, as it will help reduce self-discovery costs world wide. He posited that people usually go on expensive retreats, hire expensive life…

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Burundi President Discovers Possibility of Being President for Life Through ‘Constitutional Error’


Trying my hand at satire. Please be gentle :)

Originally posted on The Scrutiny:

Speaking today in Bujumbura, Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza said that the revelation had come to him while he was taking a shower.

“You know all this time I thought I could extend my tenure by just one more term, but now I know I can extend it for life,” he said to rapturous applause. “You see, the constitution says that the Head of State can only run for two terms, but my official title is not “Head of State,” but “President.” Therefore, officially, I haven’t been running the country. Next month, I am still running for President, then after the end of that subsequent term I will run as Head of State. That will make me a life president.”

Supporters were elated at the revelation; however, at the announcement, there were fears of more widespread violence in the troubled country, but supporters downplayed these fears. Nicayenzi Miburu, a fervent Nkuruzira supporter…

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And We Are Off [ON]!


Computer Center Open!

Originally posted on Kindle:

We finally kicked of the computer center this past Friday! Several kids came by and they were excited at the prospects of learning computers.

We have three fully functional computers which we installed inside a small church kitchen. It’s a start and the little place actually looks great!

While the kids enjoy typing, math and Super Mario-like games, we’re already planning ahead. We figure it would be great to have Internet for the kids and older people alike. The set-up fees are relatively high, but I believe we’ll manage to set it up eventually.

It has been great watching wide-eyed kids have their first encounter with computers. It takes me back to when I first used one myself. There are no words to adequately describe the feeling.

the opening ceremony had kids pulling out their dance shoes the opening ceremony had kids pulling out their dance shoes

I enjoyed being DJ (i.e. clicking PLAY and PAUSE) I enjoyed being DJ (i.e. clicking PLAY and PAUSE)

volunteer Nokuthula helping the kids volunteer Nokuthula helping the…

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