Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Lotteries and Certainties
Over on Craigblog.co.uk, Craig has written about winning a few hundred pounds on the lottery. He goes on to reflect on the fairness or otherwise of the distribution of prizes, including some complex calculations that lost me completely. I am neither a mathematician nor a gambler so I skimmed over most of the article and accepted his conclusions without argument.

The post did remind me of something from my years in Africa, however, an interesting custom amongst the Shona employees of large companies. I thought the system strange at the time but understand a lot better now. It was a system, not of gambling as such, but of redistribution of earnings to make life interesting. It worked like this:

On payday, which was a weekly affair if I remember correctly, the Shona would gather together and pool their wage packets. A list had already been established with everyone's name on it, the order decided by date of entry to the scheme. Starting from the top, all the wage packets would be handed to the person whose turn it was to receive the bonanza. He would then have a week of outrageous wealth and spending (and some of the biggest hangovers known to mankind), while the others somehow scraped their way through the days until they were paid again. Then the next person on the list would get his chance to be rich for a week.

As I mentioned, it seemed a crazy idea to me then but, having experienced periods of poverty in my life, I now see that it had its advantages. Perhaps the worst thing about existing on low wages is the lack of hope that things will ever get better; those guys had found a way to have something to look forward to, something that made the daily grind and struggle a little easier to cope with.

That, after all, is the reason for the success of lotteries - the only point in buying a ticket is the chance that it may bring riches and free one from endless drudgery. Hence the popularity of lotteries amongst the poorest of the population, those least able to afford the cost of a few tickets.

We all know that the chances of winning are microscopic, there being so many hopeful ticket buyers and only a few prizes to hand out to the lucky ones. Yet we continue to buy into the scheme, week after week, hoping that one day our number will come up. Not even the horror stories of those whose lives have been ruined by big winnings deter us; we have more sense and will treat sudden riches more carefully, we tell ourselves. And then we dream of how we would spend the money, always remembering to stash the bulk of it in a savings account somewhere so that the interest can keep us going for the rest of our lives.

Funny that we never hear of lottery winners who actually do this. Either life is so arranged that only the spendthrifts win big prizes or careful winners are not newsworthy and so are ignored by the media.

To tell the truth, I have never bought a lottery ticket. That is not because I have any particular objection to the idea but rather that the process of selecting numbers and filling in the slip seems altogether too complicated to me. Being male, I refuse to ask for help in going through the process and prefer to avoid the issue completely. But I understand the drive to participate and often indulge myself in daydreams of what I would do with the money were I to win.

And this is the beauty of the Shona wages scheme - you may daydream, but with the certainty that one day your dream can be real. Sooner or later, your name will come to the top of the list and you can buy what you have lusted after for so long. There were some who treated the scheme in just this manner, using it as an unusual way to save for a new bike or stereo system; but the majority seemed to blow it in wild parties and celebrations, enjoying the relief from the usual scrimping and saving of every day.

Of course, the combined wages of even twenty or thirty employees did not amount to the millions possible with a lottery win. But it was a sum substantial enough to make a huge difference to one life for a week. Perhaps there is more sanity in partaking of such a guaranteed scheme than in buying the weekly lottery ticket in the unlikely hope of winning big.

I have not explained as yet that the Shona are the largest tribe in Zimbabwe, a people that I came to know and appreciate well while I lived in that country. There is a laid-back and easy attitude to life common to all of them that I feel is to be admired. Rarely are they driven by ambition to world-shattering achievements; their wisdom is in the knowledge that life is to be enjoyed and that great achievements are not necessarily a route to happiness.

And the wages scheme is just one example of how they found another way to be happy, even when the circumstances of life seem depressing and monotonous. Not for them the empty dream of a lottery win - they understood that the certainty of the wages scheme was far better than a mere dream.


Happy New Year!
Date Added: 30/12/2007

Gone Away
Thanks, Wayne - and the same to you!
Date Added: 31/12/2007

Well sure, MOST people who win the lottery squander it in no time and end up worse off than they were to begin with, but I think I am willing to take the risk.
Date Added: 01/01/2008

Yes, I think that, in the interests of ensuring the evil influence of huge winnings does not spread to those who cannot cope with it, I would be prepared to shoulder the burden too!
Date Added: 01/01/2008

I have yet to get my own job and etc., but I personally would not squander that money. I would be one of those individuals who would hoard the money and save it for some great object like a car, but then again, I have always been a penny-pincher. (On a side note, your blog finially worked ;D!)
Date Added: 03/01/2008

You forget to mention the Shona traits of ingenuity and entreprenurism. Those guys could think up a way to make a buck with one piece of wire and a cork. I suspect that spirit is the only reason anyone survises at all in Zim right now.
Date Added: 03/01/2008

Gone Away
I'm the same, TehAzn - not a gambling man at all. But I find it interesting to watch my fellow man and see the reasons for what they do. ;)
Date Added: 03/01/2008

Gone Away
That is true, Mad, the Shona are endlessly ingenious. But I prefer not to think of how they manage to survive these days - it is too sad to think of how terribly that great country has been ruined by the insanity of one man.
Date Added: 03/01/2008

Goodness! I thought you were "Gone Away" Happy New Year and it's wonderful to read your posts again.
Date Added: 08/01/2008

Hi Clive - Sorry I've been 'gone away' for so long. Good posting (as they all are)! Hope this new Year brings you more blessings than the last one did. As for me I took some savings and bought a library. For the rest of my life I'll be cataloging books and listing them on my new website. - Time permitting of course. Better get back to it. - Paul -
Date Added: 08/01/2008

Gone Away
Hi, Easywriter - great to see you. :) And thanks for the compliment. Hopefully I'll be updating rather more often from now on - I got dragged off into other things back there...
Date Added: 08/01/2008

Gone Away
Hi, Paul - sounds as though we've both been gone away for a while. ;) All that new reading material - what more could anyone want? Enjoy and have a great new year!
Date Added: 08/01/2008

Clive, Good to see writing better than ever. A much belated Happy New Year to you. I suppose it's basic human nature to long for something better, especially when we seemed mired in a life of thankless jobs and low wages. I play the lottery now and then, but never have won anything. Probably never will. Probably better to keep my money period. I had to change my URL thanks to Blogger's switch over. I'm at http://slcunningham.blogspot.com Same blog. though.
Date Added: 20/04/2008

Gone Away
And an even later happy new year to you too, Scot. So good to see you again. I wander over to the old blog occasionally but had more or less given up hope. Presumed you were consumed with your new life in Texas. And now I really must see to updating Gone Away more often...
Date Added: 20/04/2008

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