Sunday, December 31, 2006

Victoria Falls

We just got back from an amazing holiday in Victoria Falls. I highly
recommend it. We stayed at the A'Zambezi River Lodge, and it was
lovely.

Highlights of our trip include:
- Seeing the Falls (they're incredible - even as a proud Canadian I
have to admit that they're much better than Niagara Falls)
- Going white water rafting on the Zambezi between Zimbabwe and Zambia
(it was much more intense than when we went in B.C. We fell out of the
boat so many times - but thankfully did not get any crocodile bites!)
- Riding an elephant
- Taking a day trip into Botswana for a river cruise and game drive
- Jumping off a plank into a gorge for a 70 metre freefall (it was
CRAZY! the pictures will tell all!)
- Eating game (now, normally, I'm not a big meat eater. Like, I don't
see animals and have the desire to take a bit out of them, but I
discovered that warthog is really yummy. I also like crocodile tail
and ostrich. I'm not so keen on buffalo and kudu, but eland is really
yummy too. Warthog - who knew??)
- Drumming at The Boma (it was a real cultural experience - with
eating worms and drumming and everything...)
- Watching a monkey eat my orange slices (it was so cute, trying to
stuff everything in its mouth at once and licking its juicy hands!)

Well, pictures will probably tell the story better than words, so
check out our photo gallery. WARNING: we did some fairly dangerous
activities, so some of the photos are a bit intense!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

This has been the strangest Christmas season of our lives. No snow, no lights, no carols, no festivities or parties. We couldn't believe that Christmas wasn't mentioned in church yesterday (on the 24th), and that, instead, there was a 45 minute financial report on all of the income and expenditures for the year. But after church we did get some of the youth to come around to the pensioners and play and sing some carols. Then in the evening we did an Ivany family tradition - Chinese food!

Today is Christmas, and it was a wonderful day. We woke up, turned on some Christmas music and opened some presents together. Then we did some laundry (everyone else had their clothes out on the line, so I didn't want to miss a Christmas tradition!) and got together some groceries and presents. We headed over to Mac & Alice's house. Alice wept when she saw all we had brought. She kept saying, "God sent you to me to be my son and daughter." All of their children have died. She danced and cried all at the same time. We also brought some money to a few friends. One gentleman got very teary-eyed - "God bless you. Now I will be able to give my children something for Christmas. Maybe they can even have a cake." We skipped the service at our church (because we were afraid they might not mention Christmas again!) and I went to another Salvation Army church. I sat with some friends from Mozambique and the Congo and sang all the carols loudly and thankfully. In church, we heard the story of a grandmother who has lost all of her children and is trying to raise 11 grand-kids - all school-going age. But she only has enough money to send one child to school, so she is praying for wisdom over this holiday to decide which one. At one point in church we were asked to think about the one thing we would like more than anything in this world for Christmas. A very ragged-looking man stood up and shared that his Christmas wish was for everyone else to have one dream come true this Christmas. It made me feel rather selfish. My first thought about a wish had been "to spend Christmas in Canada!" But then I really reflected on it, and realized that although it's been a tough and strange season, I am grateful to be here. I am grateful to be sharing life with my neighbours and friends here.

After church we feasted at the Wards'. Mrs. Ward went all out (chicken and ham - no flying ants!), and also filled us up with yummy chocolates. We even had a stocking and Christmas crackers with funny hats! We swam in their pool - outside - on Christmas! When we got back home we headed over to another family's house for dinner. Sadza and bybles (cow intestines) were on the menu, and for once I was grateful for no electricity because it was easier to eat without being able to see the food. It was a really nice family time. We've also been able to talk with our families at home in Canada. So, it's been a great day. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tambourine concerts and flying ants

This afternoon two girls came over for a visit. One of them is Caroline - a teenager with some social difficulties, and she brought a young friend with her. They walked in, sat down, and started speaking to each other in Shona - never looking at me or addressing me. After a few minutes, I was feeling a little left out, so decided to pick up a book. I finished the book (but it was only 89 pages). Then, as I was trying to figure out my next plan, Caroline asked me - in English - if she could play the tambourine. For the next hour, she belted out old Salvation Army songs and waved the tambourine around with flourish. Her young friend also started joining in with a shaker. John was trying to take a nap in the next room - yeah right. Finally I just couldn't handle the concert anymore and said that I needed to take care of some business with a neighbour. You can only take so much tambourine - even if it is with flourish.

The other day our house was invaded by flying ants. They're quite impressive, actually - and really do look like ants with big, white wings. They snuck in through a crack under the door, and it seemed like hundreds of them. The next morning John was asking for advice on what to do with the bugs. People thought this was quite funny - "they're not bugs - they're food! You catch them, boil them, fry them, take off the wings and eat them. They're white meat." I have been longing for turkey lately, but maybe Christmas 2006 will involve another form of white meat - I'm not sure... (By the way, I was telling my grandparents this story and they were getting quite a kick out of it - it was great to hear their laugh! Oh yeah, Skype is my new favourite thing).

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mosques and pantomimes

Today was a very good day. It is a national holiday - Unity Day. This
is how I celebrated: I slept in (til 6:30am -ooh, aaah) and then
watched an Ivany home video of when I was in grade 1 and my baby
brother Josh was literally a baby. It was so cute, and it just made me
so grateful for my 2 brothers and my sister, who I love a lot. They
share my history. I also noticed that we sing A LOT on this video.
Then, I went and did some visiting with some neighbours. I visited
Noreen, and asked if I could accompany her to the mosque where she
attends. She said yes, so, I did, and she leant me a scarf to cover my
hair. It was a very interesting experience to walk to the mosque with
her, and a few people who know me did a double-take. Of course, the
men and women were in separate rooms. The imam was with the men, so we
just had to listen while staring at a white wall. My favourite part of
the "service" (?) was when we spent time looking at our hands -
thanking God for creating us and also asking ourselves what he made
our hands for. When we got back, I had a curry lunch at Noreen's
house, and shared jokes with her daughter. Her daughter, Melissa, has
down syndrome, and we can't really communicate verbally together, but
we always have a lot of laughs. After that, John and I met up with
some other friends and went to Jack and the Beanstalk (a pantomime).
It was fun, and we also went out for ice cream afterwards. Then we
came home, and I got to talk to my dad and best friend and my
grandparents through Skype. It feels like a technological miracle, and
I am so grateful that this has worked out for us for the moment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

High and Low

High: Last night was the Community Christmas Concert. I must admit, I was very nervous at 5:45pm (start time) when only 3 people were in the audience, and only half the choir was there. So, we started a bit late, but it was a great evening. People loved it. The youth sang so well, the monologues were poignant, my talented husband gave a Christmas "thought" and did a third of it in Shona, the raps were awesome, and people came. It wasn't a full house (I have big expectations!) but I think people just weren't sure because it was a new thing (Joel thinks it's funny that I am the one to introduce Black gospel to our Zimbabwean church!) It was really cool to see the youth afterwards on the "high" that I always got during and after a UTGC concert. So many people were like, "It felt just like Christmas! We should have done this on the 25th!"

Low: Yesterday we found out that our friend Chenai's husband was killed in a car accident the night before. Chenai works in the office opposite mine. The day before we had been chatting about her upcoming 23rd birthday and sharing laughs. And then that night her husband was killed. And so now she is going to have to raise her child on her own. She's a widow at the age of 22. One moment can change everything. I felt so disturbed and saddened by this news. When people at work were talking about this, they were talking about all of the youth casualties in the country; and how youth are at risk. It's almost the same rhetoric as countries talking about "their boys" being killed in war. I guess our war is against poverty (things like making sure cars are repaired), HIV/AIDS, and hopelessness. Chenai's mother-in-law just kept saying, "This is my Christmas. This is what God gave me for Christmas." It is such a tough time of year for so many people....

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update

I miss: skating at Nathan Phillips Square, the year's first snowfall, hugging my family

I am grateful for: a package of double chocolate cookie mix that we got in the mail from Winnipeg yesterday - mmmmm

I forgot to tell you that: we have new pets - 2 hamsters (Winston and Julia) and a gecko (Orwell)

Cute moment: Sunday we were coming home from church (a six hour long service - I took a lunch break between the fourth and fifth hour!!) and we got caught in a downpour - in our fancy uniforms, of course. So, John came home, changed and went out to dance in the rain. People
think we're crazy anyway.... :)

Sobering moment: Yesterday I was talking with a new friend. This is what he said: "It's so hard to believe Christmas is a week away. Our parents tell us stories of Christmases past when there was feasting and celebrating. I guess it won't be like that during our lifetime, but hopefully for our children. I was reading 2 Chronicles 7:14 abouthow if God's people call on his name and humble themselves and pray and seek his face, turning from their wicked ways, God will hear them from heaven and heal their land. I was just thinking - haven't we humbled ourselves enough? I guess not."

Please pray for: tomorrow night. The youth at our church are hosting a community Christmas concert. We're singing gospel music, and it's very "different" from what people are used to (we're even having some rap - it sounds awesome). Please pray for all the details (finding lights, the sound system, finding firewood to cook the tea, etc.) and especially that people from the neighbourhood would come. There is a HUGE split between "church people" and "community people" here, so this will hopefully bring the crowds together. Everyone I've invited is like, "really? we're being invited to The Salvation Army church?" If you're the praying type - please pray about this. Thanks!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Victory!

This morning I went to our local shop to buy: tea, coffee, sugar, milk and bread. The shop opens at 7:00am, so I got there by 7:15am. The hunt began. No coffee, so I got a instant coffee "substitute." Tea was no problem. No sugar, milk or bread in the shop (note: this is the only shop of its kind in the neighbourhood - the whole community uses it). But I met a lady I know and she heard a rumour that milk was coming, so to wait by the back door. I did so, and eventually a guy came in wheeling a cart of bags of milk. He saw me and told me I better take what I needed before the crowds saw the milk. I was thankful. Then I heard another rumour that bread was coming. So, I stationed myself near where they usually store it. There were lots of other people hovering about these shelves too. Eventually a big tray of fresh loaves came out and there was a mad scramble. It was insane. People were pushing, shoving, elbowing, grabbing at these loaves. It took about 30 seconds for the 50 loaves to be dispersed, and I was victorious - 2 for the McAlisters! I asked a few people about sugar. One guy said that he heard about one shop that has it in one of the wealthier neighbourhoods. Two guys gave me their addresses and suggested I come by their houses and check with them later on today. It's all so covert and mysterious. Grocery shopping is an interesting experience here!

Friday night we went to a Christmas concert. It was so nice! These kids from Waterfalls put on this amazing drama, and sang so exuberantly. It helped put us in the spirit a bit. Yesterday we spent most of the day at The Salvation Army's Territorial Thanksgiving Ingathering. It was less Christmasey, although we did sing "Silent Night" at about 2:00pm in the bright sunshine! Our territory raised over $53million to support its operating budget. Our territory is working hard to become self-sufficient. They also announced how many soldiers and junior soldiers had been enrolled in the last 6 months. I was amazed at one division (Harare East) - 347 senior soldiers and 101 junior soldiers. That's a lot of new Salvation Army members!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where we're at

It must be really hard to feel out of place in your own skin. Whenever
I see an albino, I think about this. I also thought about this a lot
after I met a woman for a counselling session and realized after a few
moments that she was a man. Transgendered people must feel really out
of place in their own bodies. Sometimes when I was growing up, I would
wonder if I was born on the wrong continent, because my thinking was
just so different from other people's. Sometimes I felt really out of
place in my own culture. I had this wild dream of coming to live in
Africa. And now we're here - me and my dream husband. God made the
biggest dream of my life come true!

This morning I was listening to a worship song that I remember singing
on Canada day last year. When I sang it on Canada day last year, I was
thanking God for being in Canada, but also for calling me to be in
Zimbabwe. And so as I listened to the song this morning, I just
thanked him that I'm here. Yes, life is tough, yes, we're far from
family and friends this Christmas, but wow - we're here! A few things
have happened, even in these last few days, that have just confirmed
that we're right in the place where we're supposed to be. That's an
amazing feeling.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas box

We had our THQ work Christmas party yesterday. It was quite fun. I was on the decorations committee, although I wouldn't say decorating is my strength. I jokingly suggested that we put the tables in the shape of a Christmas tree. We did it. Someone said it looked like a spear. So, it was sort of a Christmas-tree-spear theme! John took all the family photos, and also entertained over 90 children with movies and games. We were also put in charge of the children's Christmas pageant about 5 minutes before it happened. The narrator told the Christmas story - in Shona. So, we had to wait until someone would call out to us in English "shepherds!" (and then we would tell all the kids to go out as shepherds and sheep) or "angels!" (and then we sent them all out with flapping wings!) Father Christmas was a hit. I like a Black, dancing Santa Claus! We also got Christmas gifts of curry powder and dried onions. It was a lovely meal, and nice to see everyone all dressed up and festive.

There is an interesting tradition here called "Christmas box." Basically, whenever anyone says "Christmas box" to you, you have to buy them a Christmas present. It's quite a blunt tradition! Of course, this phrase is often directed our way. Even this morning, I was out for my run, and got stopped by a stranger who said, "Christmas box!" I was telling my mom about this tradition, and she said that at least it's not called "Christmas kiss" because that could be quite awkward!

It WOULD be nice to give everyone a Christmas box - or even just some school fees. I was talking with a gentleman yesterday. He is really worried because he has 2 girls in secondary school and 1 in primary. The school fees due in January are over 3 months' salary for him. "I am trying to work out how I can pay the school fees, because I know it is important that my girls go to school. But there are certain things I can't give up. I have to keep paying for transport to get to work, and we do need to keep eating. When I think about my future it is very painful." Never mind saving for the future. Never mind Christmas gifts. He just wants to have food, school fees and transport money to get to work. That is painful.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Happy Human Rights Day!

Today is International Human Rights Day. It is celebrated each year on
December 10, to remember December 10, 1948, when the United Nations'
General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I've been part of Amnesty International since high school, and at our
church in Regent Park, we used to sign petitions on behalf of
prisoners of conscience. We also sent them Christmas cards! Human
rights are very important, and - of course - include many freedoms
from, and freedoms to.

I read some interesting headlines in the paper yesterday from Zimbabwe:

- Land reform goes on international trial next week (some evicted
Dutch famers are opening a case against the government at the
International court for their forced evictions from farms, sanctioned
by the government)
- Prisoners fume over toil on government officials' farms (prisoners
in Zimbabwean jails are being used as cheap labour on government
officials' farms, which has resulted in food shortages in prisons
because the prison farms are thus neglected)
- Firms should stand up to government over arrests (two of the largest
bakers in Zimbabwe were arrested last week, and received prison
sentences of 6 months for selling bread above the controlled price -
i.e. trying to raise the price of their loaves to the equivalent of 13
cents US)

This year's theme for Human Rights day is: Fighting Poverty: A Matter
of Obligation, not Charity. Of course, poverty affects all human
rights, and so we need to continually work towards its eradication. I
have blogged about poverty many times, so I won't go into it again
today. Let's pray for human dignity and human rights to be upheld all
over the world - today and always.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stress, romance and mango

Well, I have been a total stress case these past couple of weeks. I
have been working like a madwoman on this leadership school that is
supposed to start in January. I have been smacked in the face with my
North American-ness in my desire to plan ahead and organize and make
it "good," when I just keep getting told, "it will happen - relax!"
We're meant to start with 19 students the second week of January and
currently have 1 student. But January is so far away!... :) Last night
was good though. I was talking with one of my friends here about life
and death and relationships, and the importance of friendships. And
then I spent some time with Mac & Alice & Gogo. I am so blessed by
them - for their courage, and for the way they just accept me as part
of their family. They're all senior citizens, and I just love them. I
realized yesterday that I love meaningful conversation and
relationships. It's sort of like air and water. I can get discouraged
about my work here, but it doesn't really matter what your "work" or
your "job" is as long as you can have relationships and meaningful
conversations.

Thursday I was speaking at this gathering of youth leaders in The
Salvation Army here. They did this exercise where wives and husbands
had to sit together and share - with the whole group - what each
other's strengths were. I was so blessed - especially when men were
sharing about their wives, and the wives just looked so touched. One
guy said, "My wife is brilliant. I think she could be one of the best
women this country has ever seen. I believe in her." I don't know.. I
just really like hearing men honour their wives in public - maybe
because it's harder for men to share their emotions. I'm a romantic -
through and through. I almost cried just listening to these couples
bless each other in that way. I was just thinking that if I had the
opportunity to share John's strengths, it would take me a long time.
Here's one: John's just so good at everything he tries! People are
always coming up to me and saying, "John's so fluent in Shona - why
aren't you?" Or, right now he's on a 36km run - just for fun, and to
train for an 89km race next year. He dreams high and goes for it. I'm
madly in love with John, and so grateful that we are here together.

By the way... I tried dried mango for the first time this week. Yum! I
think I like it about as much as Lindor chocolates - and trust me,
that's saying a lot! Random...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Air & Water

Ok, this will sound really lame, but I love air and water. It's hot
here, and so I am truly appreciating an open window in my office and
in the combi. Fresh air feels so nice. And water - well, don't get me
started! I like drinking it, I like bathing in it, I like swimming in
it.... Mmmm air and water - God is good!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

So, in a lot of ways, it's hard to believe Christmas is coming. It's extremely hot here, and I'm thinking that it's not going to snow! There are no Salvation Army kettles, nor Salvation Army bands playing carols. There are one or two stores that have Christmas decorations up, and generally you don't hear Christmas music anywhere. We know, however, that Christmas is coming, because we're missing our family and friends in Canada. Monday we got a whole bag of wrapped Christmas gifts sent from my Mom & Dad through the Wards, who just came back from holiday in Canada. I was really touched. Monday I also arrived home to a garbage bag full of food. The Salvation Army in South Africa sent these Christmas bags up to officers in Zimbabwe. People were, of course, thrilled. We took some treats out of our bag (chocolate cake mix and jello - we couldn't resist!) but we didn't really need the rest, so last night John gave some out to some of our friends. He said it was quite moving to hear one couple say, "Christmas came early to us this year! You are truly our son" when he gave them sardines and peanut butter. He said they almost cried, but were too happy. Another friend came by last night, just saying how tough life is, and hoping that he can go back to the Congo soon, "where at least you know you can have enough food to make it through the month." Yesterday a dear friend came by my office. She had baked us a whole tin of cookies, which we shared with all of the staff at our office. Her name is Mrs. Jumbe, and she is one of the most beautiful women I've ever met. I admire her courage and her generosity. Yesterday I was showing Gogo some photos from Canada. She was saying, "Rochelle, you look so happy in all of these photos. If all of these friends and family members are still in Canada, why did you come here?" Before I had the chance to answer, she said, "Wait! I know why you came. You came to us! You came so that you could be with us! Now you're our daughter too!" I think it's quite amazing that whenever we start to really miss home or our family, God reminds us of our home and family here. Christmas is coming...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekend and Memory

We had a fairly normal weekend. Friday night we went to a wedding. I played the piano for it, and cried at the vows. I can't help it - I love wedding vows (I asked John if we he wanted to have a ceremony to renew our vows, but he said 4 years in is too early!) I think the kids in our neighbourhood are glad we're back. They came out in full force Saturday morning to play games and have a talent show. We found out that none of them could afford to go to the corps children's Christmas party, so I think we're going to throw our own little party next weekend. One of the kids was like, "do you think we can even have chicken at our party?" and then another said, "just because they're white doesn't mean they can afford chicken." But it IS Christmas... Sunday we were at our DC's retirement. John had to be up and down taking photos, but I found a seat in the back and brought a book. Do you think that makes me a bad person? Whenever there were music items, I closed the book and participated, but I read right through the 12 speeches and the sermon. After about 2 hours the young guy next to be started to get a bit antsy. I leaned over and said to him, "the last retirement we were at lasted 6 hours." He looked dismayed - probably wishing he had thought to bring a book. By the way, the book I'm reading is extremely good. "Exclusion and Embrace" by Miroslav Volf. Highly recommended.

Random memory: on one of our family trips to Florida, my dad, brother Josh, cousin JP and I were playing frisbee on the beach by the ocean. Our frisbee got caught in the wind and went over someone's fence into their swimming pool. We called out, but no one was home, so Josh (the youngest) climbed the fence and got the frisbee. It happened again. Josh went over, but this time actually had to get in the pool to retrieve the frisbee. And he said the water was wonderful. So, we all jumped the fence and had a grand old time swimming in this swimming pool. The owners came back. We froze, and didn't say anything. They went back into their house and we quickly jumped out of the pool, over the fence and back to the beach. Random! I love my family!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Je m'appelle Rochelle

*sorry, I tried to post this on Wednesday, but obviously it didn't work!*

I have a French name, which I love, because it makes me feel very Canadian. I am an anglophone, but I did French immersion all throughout school. I don't have much occasion to use my French here, but I have been using it a lot over the past two days. I have been a French interpreter for a wonderful doctor from the Congo who came to Zim to be part of a facilitation team at Howard Hospital. It was tiring, but quite an honour to be able to interpret for him. Translating from Shona to French was slightly more tricky, but English to French was fine. Basically this team of people was gathered at the hospital for strategic planning; looking at the future, particularly in terms of the hospital's relationships with the community. As part of the work, we toured the hospital. Amazing things are happening at Howard, and we saw our friend and fellow Canadian, Dr. Paul Thistle. Again, I was crushed by the children's malnourishment ward. I talked to one mother about her tiny little baby. I asked when he had been born, assuming that it had been a couple of days ago, and that he was premature. "He just turned 6 months." I waited until I left the ward before I cried. We also went out on visits in nearby communities. The Congolese doctor and I went out with a Zimbabwean community worker and a teacher and met with a family. They have a large homestead, and a big family. We talked mainly with the head of the family. He has two wives, and his main concern is agriculture, and being able to feed his children. We asked about their hopes for the future, and they talked about having enough fertiliser to be able to grow maize so that they do not starve. We asked about what they do when they are sick, and they said they pray. "We don't believe in going to the hospital if we are sick. We don't even allow our children to be immunized. We believe if God wants us to die, we should not fight it. If it's time, it's time." A fairly fatalistic outlook on life, and yet if you know you can't afford hospital fees... I also had a really sobering conversation with one of the teachers. He said, "you know, we used to say in Zimbabwe that the worst fate was death. Now we know that the worst fate is to be alive; there's no hope because it's like you are dead, but there's no rest or peace - just hunger and suffering." Last night we came back to the city, and today, I went to go play for a music exam. I saw someone who hadn't showed up for his rehearsals. So, I was joking with him saying, "what happened to you?" "Oh, I'm so sorry, Rochelle, but it's just that I had a funeral. My youngest daughter passed away. She was 5, but anyway, that is life. I hope to do my exam next year." That's life? Your 5 year old dying should not become a part of everyday, normal life. But I guess here it is. I realized over the past 2 days why I love hearing Zimbabweans laugh. Even when I haven't got a clue about what the jokes are about, I love it. Because if you're laughing, you're finding some reason not to cry. Laughing is good for the heart. It is a challenge, but I am committed and determined to maintaining my unrelenting belief that there is always hope. Il y a toujours de l'espoir.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beware of dogs

This morning something happened which I have feared from childhood. I got attacked and bit by a dog. OK, since we moved to Harare, John and I have both become terrified of dogs. There are dogs everywhere, and I'm guessing that they're not fed too well. Everywhere we walk, there are dogs jumping at their gates and barking loudly. A couple of weeks ago our DC's dogs jumped on an officer visiting from Portugal, knocked him down and bit him. The DC wouldn't apologize because "everyone has the right to security." What the f***'s with that? (sorry - just an inside joke for those who have read the previous post about our DC!) Well, this morning I was out for my morning jog, except that I was walking at this point, and two big dogs started barking and jumping, but their gate was open. I tried to do my usual praying out loud/talking calmly trying to reason with the animal trick, but one came over, ripped open my pants and started gnawing on my leg. I screamed long and loud, but no one came out to check how I was doing. I actually felt badly for screaming because it wasn't yet 5:30am, but still - it hurt! Praise the Lord - I got my 3 rabies shots before I left. I did consult with a nurse. She said only to worry if I start foaming at the mouth. Great. From dogs to mermaids... last night we went to go see our friend Kezia perform as The Little Mermaid in her grade 4 play. It will be sad to have both the Wards and the Johnsons leave in the new year...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rwanda pics

I've just posted some of our pictures from Rwanda in the photo gallery. There are some nice ones of mountain gorillas that you might want to check out. Consider visiting - it is an incredible country!

Innocent

OK, so I realized I'm a bit "innocent" this past week because of 2 circumstances.

1. Our divisional commander is retiring (he's kind of like a Salvation Army bishop). He came to our church last Sunday to give his farewells. At one point during his sermon, he said, "these f***ing people!" If you've been reading our blog since we got here, you'll know that swearing is not a big deal here. But I giggled! A big time church leader swearing in church - not for shock value, but just because it's everyday language!

2. A co-worker and I had an interesting conversation on Friday. She was giving me the inside track on culture. "You see, for us, sex is the only thing holding our marriages together. If you don't perform well in the bedroom, your marriage is finished. So, I want you to teach me some tricks that white people use. I know if you show me some moves, my husband will stay with me." I know that I blushed! First off, I was angry at the thought of my whole relationship with my husband being based on my performance in bed. When she kept on insisting that I show her some moves, I started feeling really awkward about how I was going to represent my whole race with my "tricks!" Awkward!!!!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Questions

I've been reading a lot this week about integrated mission, human
capacity development, and seeing people in their strengths rather than
weaknesses. I love this stuff. I love the idea of mutual learning and
mutual sharing, and not creating these unbalanced relationships of
givers and recipients. But sometimes ideas are easy to agree with on
paper, and more difficult to live out in real life. We are asked for
money all the time. When walking down the street, we see mothers with
small babies sitting by the road with their longing eyes and thin
faces. In our economy of 80% unemployment, they have found a way to
survive. What's the best way to acknowledge that? When we're getting a
ride in a combi and we stop at a set of lights, we're approached by
street kids who are waiting on the corner (street KIDS, not
teenagers). Last night we were treating ourselves to a pizza and a
child came into the restaurant showing us a receipt for school fees.
Who knows whether it was legit., but could we morally keep eating our
pizza while potentially not helping to send a child to school? Is it
wrong to give if the giving is guilt-induced? Last Saturday morning
someone came to our gate at 6:00am asking for food. He came back at
6:30am wanting money for transport. He came back at 7:00am wanting
more money. We give away a lot of money, because the truth is, we have
it and they don't. But is that crippling them; forcing them to remain
dependent on hand-outs? or is it a way for fellow human beings to
share what they have? Part of me hates the fact that we are
re-enforcing unbalanced relationships. I hate the thought of being the
white saviours, giving crumbs from our table. But would we be better
people if we didn't give? If we kept those crumbs to ourselves? I have
the feeling this will be something we will continually struggle with.
Of course, we should see people in their strengths rather than
weaknesses. But what if they're begging you to look at their weakness?
What if they don't want to spend time talking about their hopes and
dreams, but just want enough money to keep their baby alive? In
Toronto, when homeless men would ask me to spare some change, I would
usually say "sorry" and give them a smile or chat for a few moments.
And most would say "thank you" - thank you for acknowledging them as
human beings. Here, people begging don't like a smile or a chat -
maybe because they don't have the option of going to a soup kitchen or
a shelter if they don't raise enough money in a day. It's survival
mode. People here are incredibly gifted at survival, and I would never
want to hamper that. So, what's the best option? Sorry for those of
you who like answers more than questions...

Oh So Dangerous

Something that makes me feel nervous: Mothers here all hold their
babies on their backs, wrapped in towels/blankets/zambias. It makes me
nervous when they jay-walk. Overall I feel nervous as a pedestrian in
Harare anyway, but for mothers with little babies on their backs...

Something that makes me feel sad: There are just so many funerals
here. Life expectancy is 34. This week there was a funeral for a
Salvation Army officer. On the way back from the funeral, one of the
cars of mourners overturned and 2 people died. More funerals.

Something that makes me feel a bit suspicious: I'm accompanying music
exams for people in the air force again. I enjoy it, as it's a chance
to play the piano, but it makes me feel a bit suspicious when they
come to my workplace dressed in army fatigues looking for me! You'd
think that being a good Salvation Army girl, I would be used to
uniforms, but maybe it's the camouflage motif. Yesterday I arrived at
the music college early so that I could rehearse with 2 soldiers who
were doing their exams. I ran into a guy I had met before and he said,
"I'm so glad you came. I've been praying that you would show up,
because my exam is in 10 minutes, and I really need an accompanist!"
He was doing grade 8 and both piano parts were 13 pages and very
challenging. I faked my way through, and I'm fairly confident that he
passed.

Something that makes me feel happy: Getting mail from home. Our
parents are really good at sending us care packages of vital items
like chocolate and Kraft Dinner! This week we also got a small package
of letters from people in our home church in Regent Park. What an
encouragement! We've also started getting some "missionary Christmas
cards" from various home league/women's groups in Canada. I must
admit that it's nice, but it feels a bit strange. I used to write
these cards to everyone, and now we're receiving them. One group even
sent 2 tea bags! The people who deliver our mail to us were commenting
that we have a lot of friends in Canada. They also asked if Canadians
only send Christmas cards to other Canadians, and why no one from
churches in Canada sends them Christmas cards. My first thought was,
"well, they don't know you" but then again, most of them don't really
know us either!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Blogger Time

I've been a bit delinquent at posting on Canada's Salvation Army website, but another blog has been posted today. I enjoy writing for this site, so I will endeavour to be more regular in the future (this sounds like a high-fibre cereal ad). The blog address is http://www.salvationarmy.ca/blog.

Here are my three posts so far, starting with the most recent.

Small Body, Big Heart
http://www.salvationarmy.ca/2006/11/20/small-body-big-heart/

ABCs of Survival
http://www.salvationarmy.ca/2006/10/26/abcs-of-survival/

Three Orphans and Gogo
http://www.salvationarmy.ca/2006/10/11/three-orphans-and-gogo/

The next post published will be the first of a few reflections from my recent trip of Kenya and Rwanda. I know my mom can hardly wait to read them...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Monopoly & Blending

I made sadza (the staple food here) for the first time this weekend! I hate to brag, but it didn't even have lumps (likely because I used every ounce of arm muscle I could muster!) We also taught some friends the fine game of Monopoly on Saturday night. It was quite fun to see them get so excited and enthusiastic about a game that they had never seen before. John was ruthless even though it was their first time playing. He has this "thing" about Monopoly. He feels that being competitive (read: ruthless) is the best way to teach the realities of monopolies in the world. He won.

As I was carrying the Monopoly game from our house to the Wards' (where we are house-sitting for a month), I noticed that everyone along my path was staring at me. This is not an unusual occurrence. It is not because I am particularly gorgeous, but because, on first glance, I don't "blend" all that well here. Our first week here we noticed that everyone was staring at our Nalgene water bottles as we were carrying them. Someone explained that people probably thought we were carrying around poison and that they were scared that we might throw it on someone. I don't know WHAT they thought I was going to do with the Monopoly game!

Not blending definitely has its advantages. For instance, I can pick John out of a crowd REALLY easily! Most times I don't mind the staring, and I am used to it, but sometimes I find it exhausting. We are always watched; to see how we will react to things; to see if we are happy; to see how different we are. Most of the time I do feel happy, and most of the time I enjoy sharing my culture or my ideas. Sometimes, however, I don't want to represent all of Canada, or all of the Western world, by my actions or my opinions. Sometimes I just want to blend. In social work school I interviewed a fellow classmate for one of my school assignments. She is an extremely articulate and compassionate Black, Jewish, Lesbian. She talked about how it can be tiring to constantly have to explain herself and be a curiosity. I have a small taste of what she meant now. Normally I don't mind explaining my "strange" habits; my way of being different. But sometimes I long for people who just know me and accept me, and don't think I'm particularly "interesting" but just "normal." Don't get me wrong - I would rather be extraordinary than ordinary. I would rather stick out than fade into the background. I would rather be interesting than normal. But sometimes, just sometimes, I don't want to be a curiosity. Sometimes I just want to blend in.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today's my mom's birthday, and I wish I could take her out for a Great
Canadian Bagle or a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait, but I can't, so
I am going to write this short tribute instead.

Everyone says I look my mom; and that I act like my mom. I take it as
a compliment, because my mom is a very good person for me to try to
imitate. She's the best mom I could have ever asked God for. My mom is
an amazing communicator, an inspirational encourager, a compassionate
listener, and a hilarious story teller. She is fun, kind, talented,
hard-working, disciplined, and generous. I love my mom for who she is,
but also for who she is to me. Throughout the years, I have laughed a
lot with my mom. But I have also cried a lot with my mom. My mom has
literally held me in her arms when I thought I was going to fall
apart, and she has never judged me, even when seeing me at my worst
moments. She's one of those moms that just keeps on loving and loving
and giving and giving. My mom embodies unconditional love to me. Even
though we are continents apart, my mom is still always there for me.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you SO much! xo

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Highlight and Lowlight

Highlight of the day: Leading a Bible study for AFCO. This is a group
of Salvation Army officers from around Africa who are here in Zimbabwe
for a month. I had the privilege of addressing them today. It was odd
to be translated into 3 other languages (French, Portuguese and
KiSwahili) - mostly because the translators were in the room, so it
felt very noisy. But what an honour, eh?

Lowlight of the day: Getting very muddy on the way to this internet
cafe. The rains have come. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad the rains
have come. I've been praying for their arrival, and trust me, a
drought would not be good for Zim right now. And I actually like rain
- just not when I'm in a skirt and "Sunday" shoes and on my way to
work. My little white legs are covered in mud - not to mention the
Sunday shoes! :)

Oh, I forgot to mention - we crowned the Braeside princess on Sunday.
Braeside is the name of our neighbourhood and our corps (church).
Every year, the woman who raises the most money for Helping Hand
(self-denial) gets crowned as the princess. She got a tiara to replace
her Salvation Army hat, and all of the women were crowding around her
to hug and congratulate her. I've never seen anything like it at a
Salvation Army meeting! She even cried - just like at the Miss America
pageant! We're gaining so many more life experiences here!

Cancer

I was learning about cancer today. Of course, the two main forms of treatment for cancer (besides surgery) are radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is very expensive, and the great majority of Zimbabweans could never afford it. Radiotherapy is cheaper. There are two radiotherapy machines in the country, but they are both broken, and have been for a year. Even though I already knew the answer, I asked, "so if a Zimbabwean is diagnosed with cancer, what does he or she do?" "They die at home. But we (the hospice service) will try to give them some pain medication. And we just hope the cancer doesn't go to their spine, because that means they will be paralyzed before they die. You know, it's a very difficult thing to tell a family that there is treatment for their loved one's cancer, but that it is not available to them." The presenter said sometimes the family will give up everything to pay for chemotherapy, but then have to stop halfway through the treatment because of lack of funds. Because the treatment isn't carried out to its full term, it is pointless. As we were learning about this, participants in the seminar were very distressed. One person suggested that we stage a small demonstration to the Ministry of Health about the radiotherapy machines. But, of course, demonstrations are not allowed in this country.

The top headline in The Herald today is about a man raping his 10 year old daughter because she asked him for pocket change. It explained his reasoning, "I give her pocket change every month. But she started nagging me and wanting money more often - acting just like a prostitute. I did it to teach her a lesson." He also claimed he was filled with evil spirits at the time, and so cannot really be blamed. I guess the spirits will follow him to prison. Welcome to Zimbabwe.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blame it on the West

Today I was in a seminar on HIV/AIDS. Of course, you will all know that HIV/AIDS is crippling this continent, as well as many parts of the world. I wasn't really surprised to hear that HIV/AIDS was brought to Zimbabwe from the Western world (by tourists). I mean, I learned in school that HIV/AIDS actually started in central Africa, but who would really want to take the blame for the start of a terrible pandemic? I'm left-wing - totally. My education at University of Toronto confirmed my many beliefs that the West is to blame for most of the world's problems. It's interesting to live here though - in a place where absolutely EVERYTHING is blamed on the West - from the economy to water shortages to... yeah, everything. Doesn't the current government (who has been in power for 26 years) have to take some ownership of something?

By the way - some safari pics are up, so go check them out. You're going to love them! Speaking of pictures... on Saturday John started shaving his head, and the razor blew in the middle of the cut. I WISH I had a photo of him - half shaved, and half full head of hair. It was quite the sight to behold.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ethical Dilemmas

The other day I bought a sugar doughnut as a treat. After I started eating it, a man came up to me and started begging. My dilemma – give him the half-eaten doughnut or just keep eating it in front of him. I ended up giving him the half-eaten doughnut, but it felt terrible and undignified to give him something half-eaten, and not even healthy.

Flour is scarce in the shops these days. John promised a friend of ours that we would give her some. So, I went into the jar, and there were ants crawling in it. My dilemma – give her flour with ants or nothing at all. I went for the ants, but again, it felt like an assault to her dignity to give her something “tainted.”

Of course, I know the easy answer to these dilemmas – go buy another doughnut; go buy some more flour. But friends, keep in mind that we make $10US/month! Speaking of being poor, this relates to John's last post about my article in Faith & Friends (a Canadian Salvation Army magazine). The article is about how Zimbabweans have really been teaching us the art of sharing. The article finishes with, “It makes me wonder, who are the poor ones: them or us?” I never wrote that! It offended me too. I live my life trying to break down barriers between “us” and “them.” I am not na├»ve enough to think that there are not differences between us, but people in Zimbabwe aren’t “poor people” to us – they are our friends.

Friday, November 10, 2006

ABCS of Survival

I forgot to let my fans (ie Mom and Dad) know about my second blog
posted at SalvationArmy.ca/blog. Here's the link so you can check it
out: http://www.salvationarmy.ca/2006/10/26/abcs-of-survival/

Enjoy. I really like what Jeremy Watt's done with the Army's website.

I'll have a new post coming out there next week. Who knows, if I keep
working at my writing, perhaps Rochelle will let me start posting on
this blog more frequently...

By the way, Rochelle wrote a nice article for the November issue of
Faith & Friends. They even included a picture of each of us that they
took from our Flickr account. For the record, Rochelle did not write
the concluding sentence.

I'm fine

Greetings are very important in Zimbabwe. When you walk into a room, you usually greet everyone one by one. When you pass people on the street, you greet them. Clapping is always involved. We usually greet people in Shona, but sometimes we use English. For example, this morning when I was out for my walk, I greeted people with "Good morning!" Most people responded "I'm fine." This is one of my favourite Zimbabwe-isms. Whether or not you ask people how they are doing, they will tell you, "I'm fine." It's sort of ironic though, because actually the sense we get is that most people aren't really fine. We were away for 2 weeks, and both the real exchange rate (as opposed to the government's fixed rate) and inflation have soared. That means all prices are up. In the six months we have lived here, the pensioners' rent on our compound has gone up from $1,000/month to $25,000/month. That is quite a dramatic increase, and yet their pension is still at the $1,500/month rate.

We arrived back in Zimbabwe a bit later than we had planned. Sunday we flew to Nairobi, and still managed to miss our flight to Harare despite being 6 hours early at the airport. The rumour is that Air Zim never arrived in Nairobi, and just didn't bother to let anyone at the airport know. (By the way, they don't call it "Scare Zim" for nothing - when we got on the plane to fly to Kenya, my seatbelt was broken, as was John's seat, and let's just say it was quite a shaky flight!) Kenya Airways put us up at the Hilton Nairobi for the night (brie cheese and satellite t.v. - imagine!) and then they flew us in the morning. Unfortunately, they had to take everyone's luggage off the flight. They needed to bring extra fuel because there was none at the airport in Zimbabwe. No fuel at the airport. Sometimes it feels like a sad joke. It's good to be home though - to see friends, and to hear Shona again. We re-started classes last night. Our vacation was incredible, but it's also good to come back to some normalcy. That is, if you call this normal.... :)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rwanda II

This is our last day in Kigali. Tomorrow we will spend the day in airports and then arrive home in Harare tomorrow night. Being here has been surreal, and incredible. Rwanda is so beautiful. The hills, the green, the smiling children yelling "muzungu!", the banana trees, the gorillas, toilet paper in public washrooms ... and people are so kind. If you ask someone for directions, they will stop whatever they are doing, and take you to your destination.

A lot about Rwanda seems new. There is construction everywhere. There are lots of new houses, and new buildings, and new roads, and new signs. There is a new flag and a new national anthem. The message is that this is a new country - it is not the same land that was covered in blood in 1994. But you still see some signs - literal signs that are covered in bullet holes; mass graves and memorial sites all around the country, etc.

It's just so hard to believe. We were at the Mille Collines hotel the other day. It's hard to believe that it's not a movie set - but actually the place where "Hotel Rwanda" took place - 2 minutes away from where we're sitting right now. It's a new country, but how can you ever forget atrocities from the past? John saw a truck full of prisoners wearing the infamous pink prison clothes of the genocidaires the other day. There's no way you can forget. But I guess the question is how you make sure that "never again" really is never again.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mountain gorillas

First off; a very Happy Birthday to Dad McAlister who turns 60 today! Also a belated Happy Birthday to Sir Johnny Guida for yesterday. We wish we were there to celebrate with you two, but we are in the middle of Rwanda!

To celebrate these special birthdays; we went trekking through the rainforest to track the almost extinct mountain gorillas. It was INCREDIBLE! We got within a metre of them and they were huge and beautiful and humanlike and so majestic! It was totally worth getting completely covered in mud! This has been the vacation of a lifetime. Today we came to Butare to visit the national museum and the university. Sunday we fly home to Zim. All I can say is come to East Africa, because it is gorgeous!!! (Oh, and of course you will stop by and visit us in Zimbabwe, right?) :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rwanda

We're in Rwanda. This has been on the top of my "countries to visit" list for years. It feels like a miracle that we are here, and it is actually quite a surreal experience for me. This morning we went to the National Memorial Site for the genocide in 1994. It was very powerful to see the mass graves, and the thousands of pictures or people who were killed. There was this one wall just of photos of children who were slaughtered. I was humbled and I wept. We also went to the Ste. Famille church, where hundreds fled for protection and then were betrayed by their priest to the genocidaires. As we walked through the church, we heard the youth choir practising their beautiful hymns. I felt overwhelmed as I prayed on one of the benches where people had been killed; waiting for God.

I think Rwanda is the most beautiful country I have ever been in. It's the country of a thousand hills, and it's so green. There are banana trees everywhere. We just took a 2 hour drive, and I wish I could have taken a photo each minute - it's that beautiful. On the way here, we also flew into Bujumbura (Burundi) and that was the most beautiful descent in a plane I've ever been in. What a gorgeous, tragic part of this continent.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Safari & Marathon

Wow - we're having the vacation of a lifetime! We just got back from our Safari in the Maasai Mara. I totally recommend it - it's like "The Lion King" in real life! We saw so many animals! We spent a lot of time tracking a pride of lions. We also saw cheetahs (and some baby cheetahs), leopards, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, a black rhino (very rare), elephants, thousands of wildebeests, gazelles, hyenas, elands, and a warthog (being gnawed on by lions - mmmm). John was fascinated by the lions, since "shumba" is his totem. We stayed in a beautiful resort with a swimming pool and all-you-can-eat buffets. It was cheaper than the rough-it-tent-cook-your-own-food package. Go figure. John, Rhonda and I had our own safari matatu (van) and driver to take us around the park each day. It was amazing fun. We also learned a lot about the Maasai culture. They wear red Maasai blankets, which actually look quite Scottish to us. And it's amazing to see this splash of red in the middle of this vast green/brown expanse. It made me nervous that they were herding cattle so close to the lions, but obviously they know what they're doing. It was explained to me that they're strong and thin from a diet of cow blood, milk and meat. We saw a jumping contest too. Did you know that male Maasai attractiveness is based on ability to jump high?

Now we're back in Nairobi. John ran the half marathon this morning. He was going to do the full, but the altitude and weather conditions are quite different here, so he made a wise decision to finish a bit early. Because of his last marathon time, he was placed in the "elite" section. He tried to go with the regular marathoners, but they wouldn't let him. He was quite easy to pick out of the crowd, which was nice for me. I think it's really cool that John ran the marathon in KENYA with all of these top runners. I must say, they are skinny and SO fast!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kenya II

Wow - back at the internet cafe! Yesterday we met up with Rhonda and Nkatha. It was SO nice to see some friends from home (although Nkatha is from Kenya - she had just come to U of T to study and sing in choir with us!) Yesterday we went back to the giraffe park (it IS cool - trust me!) and today we took a road trip to Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley. It was beautiful. We saw a hippo and a buffalo that looked a bit drunk. We also spent hours trying to find Hell's Gate (a national park). By the time we got to Hell's Gate, we had to turn around and head home. We thought it was quite symbolic anyway! :) On our way here to the mall we stopped in at a baby orphanage. Wow. There were some cuties. I don't know how you'd ever choose. I wanted to take them all home. Tomorrow we go on safari... God is blessing us so much here in Kenya.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Living it up in Kenya

We are having an AWESOME time in Kenya! We arrived here on Friday (Kenyatta Day), and we've done so much already. Within minutes of being in the country we saw a giraffe on the side of the road, so we knew it would be a good place to visit. Some of our highlights:

* Feeding giraffes (oh my gosh - one of the coolest experiences of my entire life - looking into the eyes of a giraffe and feeding it pellets from my hand! John said he hasn't seen me that happy since our wedding day. It was just like a dream. I loved it! Pictures will come later...)
* Walking around Kibera (one of Africa's biggest slums - and the one that was featured in the movie "The Constant Gardener." Everywhere we went there were tin shacks, garbage, and kids screaming "muzungu! I'm fine! How are you?" We also had some sweet nursery school students sing to us - 85% of them are orphans, and it was very touching).
* Seeing storks (I don't think I've seen them in real life before, and there's a whole bunch of them that just hang out at one of Nairobi's big intersections) - oh, we saw a camel too.
* Slumming in the rain (our first morning in the country it was raining a bit, so I went out for my run. It started to pour, and I was free entertainment for so many people who cracked up laughing seeing a drenched white person. I also got quite lost, and ended up walking all through Kagemi - another large slum - up and down hills with the bright red earth. People were very helpful in getting me to the main road. John is loving the running here, because there are so many hills. He's even registered for a marathon on Sunday!)
* Going to the biggest corps (Statistically speaking, Nairobi Central Corps is the biggest Salvation Army church in the world. We went there Sunday morning for the English service, and for the first bit, it was only us and one other guy. I thought it was ironic. More people came later).
* Visiting an orphanage (we went to Kabete Children's Home today. It's run by The Salvation Army. I met two cuties - Faith and Susan).
* Going to Kithituni (we went outside of Nairobi for a couple of areas to visit a rural area called Kithituni, where The Salvation Army is doing some really cool community work. We met a beautiful woman named Agnes, who was orphaned at a young age, and has put 12 children - and many grand-children - through school. I asked her the key to a good, long life. "Trust God of course." Of course...)
* Eating Indian food, and home-made lasagna, and a chocolate brownie sundae and oreos (you know we love food! You can actually buy Lindor chocolate in Nairobi - imagine!)
* Taking a hot shower every morning (it's glorious!)

Man, it's amazing. We're staying with the Pelletier family - who are good friends of my brother's in-laws. They are a beautiful, kind, generous, wonderful family, and we're really enjoying spending time with them. They have 2 great kids - Josh and Jena. They adopted Jena from India. John totally wants a girl now! :) The adventure continues...

Friday, October 20, 2006

I love you

Last night I was visiting and calling some people, to say good-bye before we head off to Nairobi this morning. I was really touched as people seemed sincerely sad about us leaving. I heard some really nice comments like, "but you make me laugh every day - I'll be so sad when you're gone" or "but I will MISS you - 2 weeks is forever" or (my favourite) "Rochelle - I love you!" We have such a big, wonderful, caring family here in Zim - it is awesome. It's also just really nice when people share words of life with you. Oh, and don't worry - John's loved too. 3 of his friends came over last night to hang out with him, and they prayed for our trip. It was so kind. Oh man, a life of love is a life worth living (I know, I know, John - I should work for Hallmark!) :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Imagine

When I was a kid and people would ask me what my favourite part of myself was, I would always say my imagination. I've always liked making up stories, and letting my imagination run wild. It's also nice to see someone else's imagination working. I have a friend from Tanzania, and she asked me to help her with her English. She only got to Grade 7. So, we meet and go over dialogues from her textbook and do grammar exercises, but my favourite is when she writes compositions. Of course, in her schooling, everything was very prescriptive - memorize this, copy this, etc. There wasn't much room for creativity. It's wonderful to watch her, as an adult, creating and imagining. She was asked to write a fictitious report on a school club or team. She said that when she was in school she sang in the choir, so we used that as a base. It was wonderful to watch her write this composition, because she got to excited about it. She named the choir Tam Tam ("sweet sweet" in Swahili), and made herself the star singer. She kept laughing and making comments as she was writing, like "wow - I really am a good singer" or "Yes, the choir really is sweet!" She was really picturing herself in the story, and it was a wonderful thing.

And imagine this - tomorrow we're taking a holiday to Kenya and then Rwanda. 2 brand new countries for the McAlisters. I'm so excited!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Consider Yourself at Home

"Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself one of the family... It's true we're going to get along." I sang these words in the musical Oliver! during my prestigious albeit brief acting career that spanned Grade Seven (for those of you familiar with the Von Ivany family, you can see that I wasn't exploited as a child like Rochelle and her siblings). For my role in Oliver!, I had to learn how to pick pockets... which is actually quite a handy skill as no one (to my knowledge) has managed to pick my pocket since. And I'm a world traveller.

Zimbabwe is a wonderful place to live, even with the occasional pickpocket. In our first five months we have been made to feel welcome by so many people. While we miss the familiarity of Canada, and especially our friends and family, we feel at home here and part of many families. Of course when we read the newspaper or have to interact with certain people, it's very clear that there is a small percentage of the population who thoroughly dislike us because of the colour of our skin. We apparently come from "Blair's White Tribe" whose primary mission in life is to destroy Zimbabwe, or so the newspaper tells us.

To be fair, over the years far too many white people have treated Zimbabweans horribly. Zimbabweans have good reason to be angry and distrustful of white people. But Zimbabwe has been independent for 26 years now, so I'm not sure how Bush and Blair can continue to be blamed for nearly everything that goes wrong. On an almost daily basis, the newspaper presents the image of Bush the Devil and his Western Allies working hard to frustrate the valiant efforts of Zimbabweans striving to move forward and rebuild their country. And while I'm sure the USA and the UK do muck around with things a bit (as they do with Canada and Mexico and nearly every other country in the world), I think it's sad to see them continually used as a scapegoat. Not because I care about Bush or Blair, but because Zimbabweans end up being incorrectly portrayed as sensational, gullible or extremist (such as with Venezuelan President calling Bush "the Devil" at the UN, which received favourable coverage here). And continually deflecting blame and promoting hatred and racism can't be good for the character building of future Zimbabweans.

The sad truth of the matter is that while Blair is very familiar with Zimbabwe, and I'm fairly certain that Bush can spell Zimbabwe, most Westerners haven't a clue about Zimbabwe and probably think that Africa is a country rather than a continent consisting of many countries. Most Americans don't even know the name of the Canadian President (which is actually a trick question as Canada has a Prime Minister) and they're neighbouring countries. I know I'm rambling, but the whole Western conspiracy angle gets very tiring.

I don't have these conversations in Zimbabwe. People talk to me about politics, and I listen, but I don't offer my opinion. They don't need to hear my opinion because they know the situation better than I do and I'm not sure that they want to hear it, as it's not very encouraging to have a foreigner reaffirm the obvious fact that the situation is not looking good.

In my first few weeks here, Zimbabweans would talk about how great their country is and casually mention that they were just facing a few economic challenges. They always wanted to know what I had heard about Zimbabwe before coming here, and did their best to reassure me that Zimbabwe is a safe and wonderful country. But in just a few short weeks, as they began to consider me part of their family, they began to open up about the significant challenges they face. It's a privilege to have them trust me and be honest about life here, but it's something I need to remember not to take for granted. As I watch and listen to other murungus (white people) interact publicly, I've learned an important lesson: Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.

In Canadian culture (please correct me if I'm wrong), we often have one or two close friends that we share our personal struggles and challenges with. If a friend tells you that his father is an alcoholic and treats his family badly, it may be acceptable for you to discuss the issue together. However, if your friend's brother were to come into the same room, it may not be acceptable for you to make comments about the father. It's okay for family members to admit that there are problems, but not for outsiders to point them out. So, unless the brother also accepted you into his family circle you would know when it was appropriate to talk (ie with the close friend) and when to shut up (ie around other family members). And even if the brother and mother and family hamster accepted you into their close inner family circle, you certainly wouldn't make comments at a family event with their cousins or aunts or uncles.

In Zimbabwe, people know what's going on with their country and they frequently talk about the situation. They don't seem to hide too much from me (although since I don't understand much Shona I miss out on a lot), but I have the clear impression that they don't want to hear my comments or judgments. They are very open to my questions and requests for clarification, but they don't want to hear my opinion after. I've done pretty well at this, but I have had a couple of slip-ups (especially early on).

I believe that Zimbabweans need to chart their own future. Sadly, this may take time and much pain and anguish. As a Westerner, I look at the situation and I see many problems and challenges. But the West had its time in Africa and meddled and harmed many. When invited, it may still be appropriate for the West and Westerners to respond and assist accordingly. But we mustn't push our agendas onto an independent nation that is still working out its identity. Given its history, I think Zimbabweans need to fight and work for what they believe is right. They did that years ago, and perhaps they need to keep at it. But it needs to be their battle, not one engineered and crafted by the West. Does this mean that the West needs to sit back and watch? Well, yes in a way. And that seems harsh but I can't think of how else to see true independence happen. Zimbabweans need to own their country’s future.

The challenge is figuring out my role in Zimbabwe as a Christian with an acute sense of social justice. Is it wrong for me to remain quiet when people are suffering? When is it appropriate to speak out as a foreigner in an incredibly politicized nation? Especially given the past history of war and liberation from white rule.

**
Salvationarmy.ca will be publishing a short reflection from me every two weeks. The first one popped up last Tuesday. For those that are interested the link is here: http://www.salvationarmy.ca/2006/10/11/three-orphans-and-gogo. The reflections will offer a slightly different flavour than my blog posts on this site.

Waves and Monkeys

Some habits are hard to break. When I see someone from a distance that I know, I wave. I don't really think about it - it's just a reflex. People don't wave here. They either clap their hands together, or, if they're Salvationists, they give the Salvation Army salute. People actually look quite awkward when they wave - like it's totally unnatural. We realized yesterday that the MDC (the opposition party) salute is an open hand. So, actually, when we're just trying to give a friendly gesture, people might be thinking we're trying to give political signals. Ah, communication!

Yesterday we had the day off (all of the employees at our workplace were given a "stress" day). So, we went out and had brunch with monkeys. No, we didn't eat monkeys - we just tried to protect our brunch from them! It was actually fascinating to watch them jumping from the trees to the tables and just hanging out. There are definitely some plusses to living in Africa!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

That's a weekend

Yesterday I went on a youth group trip to Criston Park. It was a beautiful, hilly area. We went to the house of a lady at the church who has just started raising chickens. So, we saw chickens laying eggs, and then the baby chicks, and then the thousands of live chickens, and then we had a big braai (BBQ) - chicken! It was kind of strange to see the whole life cycle, but what can you do? Chicken feet and heads are popular to eat here. I'm not a big meat eater (sort of like my sister the vegetarian who eats meat - sorry, inside joke), so yeah, I couldn't do the chicken head.

Today was "building Sunday" at our church. We're trying to build a new hall, and today we were focussing on the gables. Man, sometimes I feel like they talk more about money than God at our church. But, we shouldn't judge. Times are tough.

We got to talk to Johnny last night. He's John's little brother from Regent Park. Man, we miss Johnny. We used to spend every Saturday with him, and we had so much fun. He was saying that he's getting good grades in French. That's our boy! Did I tell you I ran into the French ambassador's wife in the supermarket?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

In the news

I was just reading that the president of Tajikistan is wanting to put in new legislation that no one employed by the State can have gold teeth. He feels that it's bad press for his country. "How are they going to believe we're poor if our teachers have mouths full of gold?" The legislation will affect 50% of workers, who will have to resign or else get new teeth.

In Zimbabwe, the two pieces of legislation being currently debated are a domestic violence bill and a witchcraft bill. Both are controversial. One member of parliament said, "Well, in the Bible, men and women aren't equal, so why should they be under our law?" and "I think women should just learn to be good wives, including dressing properly. That should stop the problem of violence." Right. As for witchcraft, there have been some disturbing stories in the news, including one of a 13 year old boy who bit off the nose of a corpse at a funeral, as he was instructed to do by a witchdoctor.

Interesting times.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Poverty Kills

Yesterday I was in another module of my bereavement course. One lady in the class talked about an NGO that goes into the rural areas to test people for HIV/AIDS and then gives out ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) and supplements to those who test positive. The problem is that the people then go on to sell the medications in order to buy basic foods, or to pay for funerals or to pay for school fees. So, people die of HIV/AIDS. Another lady made a plea for her aunt. Her aunt has been told that she has a heart problem, and will die before the end of the year if she doesn't have surgery. But, of course, the familiy doesn't have the money for surgery. And so the kids are watching their mom die. It would have almost been better if the doctors had said, "there's nothing you can do" because there is something they can do - but they can't save their mom's life because of poverty. Another lady shared about her friends. They had a baby who was born with an enlarged heart. They couldn't perform any surgeries here in Zim and so the family spent all of their savings on taking him down to South Africa. 6 months later there were complications, and they couldn't afford another trip to South Africa, so their baby died.

Sometimes we get this fuzzy picture of poverty - we admire people who live simply; who don't get caught up in material things; who know what real life is about because they are poor. But poverty is also killing people. Sometimes life is harsh.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bright Skin and Food

John's been away for a couple of days in Guruve at a farmers' training workshop. You never know when some farming skills might come in handy! He unfortunately terrified a couple of young children with his bright white skin, but what can you do? He says they only cried and screamed for about 5 minutes.

Of course, with the main cook in the family gone, I had to step up to the plate. John makes a nice scrambled egg with onion. I gave it a try. It turned out more as onion with a big of egg, but hey. I also got quite creative and had a crepe without the crepe. I put some nutella (thanks Anita!) on a banana, and it tasted just like the inside of a crepe - just with the crepe part missing.

Speaking of food, I was talking with a lady on the way to work today. She was saying that their family has made a decision to starve themselves in order to build their retirement home. She thinks it's a good way to invest in the future. I asked, "how long do you have until you retire?" "More than 10 years." That's a long time to starve! Interesting times...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday I found out that a friend's baby was born 7 weeks premature, and so is in an incubator. Yesterday I found out that another friend started taking drugs to deal with abuse and hopelessness. Yesterday I was asked advice from another friend about whether or not to sleep with her boyfriend, who has AIDS. Happy Thanksgiving! Yesterday I also got to visit Gogo in the hospital. Last week she tripped over her kettle cord and burned herself badly, but she eventually agreed to go into hospital, and she is recovering slowly. It was nice to see how happy she was to see me. She kept saying, "oh my darling" and kissing my hand. Yesterday my family included me in their Thanksgiving celebrations by calling me from my aunt's. That was quite special. And yesterday John made us some chicken drumsticks, to try to make up for the turkey dinner were were missing in Canada.

There are so many reasons to give thanks. I am thankful for being here in Zimbabwe. I am thankful to be alive and healthy. I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful for my Zimbabwean family and friends. I am thankful for John William McAlister; and that I am here with him. I am thankful for so many women in my life that I can look up to and learn from and lean on. I am thankful for electricity and phones and internet and running water. I am thankful for smiles. I am thankful for an unrelenting belief that there is always hope. God is good.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Congrats

By the way, this is a little late, but congrats to our friends Geoff and Cynthia on the birth of James Richard on September 21st. What a cutie! And a Happy Belated to John's favourite brother (and my favourite brother-in-law) James. (John was supposed to post on the actual day, but we all know I only let him go on our blog once in a while!) James is hilarious, and sincere, and has a Star Wars collection that could rival anyone else's (nah nah!) We miss you!

Random Thoughts

I realized this morning that in my dreams, I'm always in Canada. I'm not sure exactly why. During the day, when I'm awake, I feel very present here in Zim. But I guess my subconscience must think of home a lot. I like it though. It's good to spend time with family and friends - if only in my dreams (literally!) The other night John woke me up and asked if I was alright. I was dreaming about my parents telling me funny stories, and was laughing in my sleep.

People here generally don't drink milk as a drink. They just have milk in their tea. You buy milk in little 500ml bags, and it's 3.5%. It's great for me. I grew up in a 2% milk family. John prefers skim, so we had to negotiate when we got married and get 1%. But man, 3.5% is nice (and might be contributing to the weight gain!!) :) Fresh bread is nice too. I got a loaf last night - sorry a "super loaf." :)

It's been a really intense week. We had the funeral last weekend. Then Monday night we were at a surprise party, and danced the night away. (Again, it was great, people kept on commenting on how we're such good dancers, when really we're both pathetic - maybe they just think that's the way Canadians dance, culturally!) And all week I've been on this bereavement course. It was amazing, and I learned a lot, but it was emotionally draining. I think maybe one of the toughest parts about being a social worker is just staying with people in their feelings. We always want to help and fix and make things better. But sometimes you just have to sit with people in their pain, and not run from it. I did have to have some Kraft Dinner for self-care though. By the way, I think good old regular is much better than "extra creamy" (just for those of you considering a care package...) :)

The pre-retirement seminar I've been organizing for next week has been postponed. And I watched 4 episodes of LOST (Season 1) today. I'm getting psyched for Season 2 - which I'm told is in the mail. Did you know that in Shona culture, you shouldn't mourn for a baby (up to teething age)? And it's bad to see the deceased in your dreams. Bad omens. And it's ant season here - there are ants EVERYWHERE in our kitchen!

I TOLD you this would be random! (Welcome to our life!)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beauty and Ashes

I'm on a bereavement training course this week. I'm learning a lot, and it feels good to be back in the social work arena. I think the skills will also be most helpful - as everyone here has been bereaved multiple times. I was walking to work from the course yesterday and I was admiring the jacaranda trees. They're beautiful with purple bulbs (I'll try to get a photo soon). Yesterday I walked by this one area where the ground was black from something being burned - and amidst all of the ashes were these purple jacaranda bulbs. Beauty mixed with ashes. That's usually the way, isn't it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

4 day funeral

Well, it's Monday morning, and our 4 day funeral for Colonel Mhasvi is now finished. What an intense weekend! Thursday night we were at their house. Most people stayed the whole night, but we left at 1:00am. Friday we went to work, but the family had constant visitors. Friday night we went to their house again, and there was another service. Saturday there was another service in Braeside (our neighbourhood) at our corps, and then most people who could find transport went up to Mt. Darwin - his rural home (about 2 hours north). We were blessed to find some friends who were going up Sunday morning, so we got a night in our own bed. We missed the singing and dancing throughout the night. Yesterday we left here at 5:30am and got home about 5:00pm. There was more body viewing, singing, speeches, and then the actual burial. It was HOT in Mt. Darwin! About 1,000 people came to his rural home, and it must have felt like quite an invasion. I know some people were worried that there wasn't enough food (they killed 2 oxes). The expense of funerals is incredible. But everyone loved him, and wanted to show their respect. Please keep the family in your prayers. Rumbi sang and danced at all of the funerals. I know she is happy that her dad is in Heaven. The family has such faith, and have been so strong throughout everything, but once everyone leaves, the reality may have more of a chance to set it.

In other news, Friday a few people from my work met with the 2 main national women's organizations to talk about sexual trafficking. It was a great opportunity. This past weekend was The Salvation Army's international weekend of prayer for trafficking. I think in Zim there are lots of issues that are more pressing than trafficking, but women and girls are still vulnerable, so the issue needs to be talked about. When people get desperate, they're more willing to do anything.

And a Happy 81st birthday to my Grandma (for yesterday). Grandma - you are a strong, funny, caring, wonderful woman, and I love you!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bread II

We were just at the grocery store and saw a bread mob. There was this huge line of people that extended out the door, and then the bakers pulled out a cart with fresh loaves of bread. People were grabbing and pushing and rushing the bread. It was gone within seconds. Yesterday we went to a bakery and were surprised to see many loaves. John pointed to one and asked, "how much is the bread?" "We don't sell bread." "OK, well, how much is that?" "Oh, the twisted loaf? It's $300." See, officially bread has to stay at $200, but if it's not technically bread, then other prices can be charged. But you have to be careful. Several bakers have been arrested. "Give us this day our daily bread" is quite literal in Zim these days!

Lieutenant-Colonel Mhasvi

Last night Colonel Mhasvi died. He was the personnel secretary for The Salvation Army here. He was a good, kind, righteous, respectful, gentle man. He had developed cancer in the liver and kidneys, and was in a lot of pain, and so it is good that he is now at rest - restored and completely healed. But, of course, it is also sad. I was so touched when I visited Col. Mhasvi in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He was so frail and weak, and yet took time to ask how I was doing, and how John and my family back home were doing. In his weakness, he wanted to bless me.

Someone knocked on our door at about 9:30pm last night to tell us the news. "Col. Mhasvi has just died. We are going." So, we got dressed and went to their house. Within an hour the house was packed. Everyone shows up. The immediacy of everyone's response really marked me. Everyone hears the news, drops whatever they're doing (including going to bed), and shows up to mourn together. When we got to the Mhasvis house, we greeted all of the men outside, and then went inside and one-by-one greeted all of the women. All of the women sit in the house on the ground - lining the walls. All of the furniture is removed from the house (or at least the living room). The men stay outside, but as they arrive at the house, they come in, crouch down, clap their hands together, and pay respect to all of the women. I was touched by this act. It's the women that seem to hold most of the pain and the grief, but the men know it - and they show their respect. There was a lot of singing, and crying, and wailing. One woman was screaming all the way down the street, and then when she got inside the house she just collapsed. After awhile, everyone moved to the backyard, where we had a memorial service. Members of our corps band came and played, we sang, people shared memories, there was a sermon on Job (and how even the righteous have to suffer). We left at about 1:00am, but some people stayed throughout the night.

In the middle of the service, Colonel Mhavsi's wife and children came. They are a family of deep faith and grace and joy. I sense that they are all trying really hard to be strong for everyone else. Sam had his dad's wedding ring on his finger, and talked about how he had never stopped praying for a miracle, but now he just had to accept. He's 23. Please keep this family in your prayers. Pray that they will have strength and comfort and grace.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kariba

We had an AMAZING weekend holiday in Kariba. We went with the Johnsons and our friend Hope, and stayed in a little cottage beside the lake. It was wonderful to be by water, and it really refreshed our spirits. Being by the water also made me feel closer to Sherri and my family, and reminded me of lots of happy family vacations. There was a swimming pool where we stayed, and it was wonderful to be able to just swim around in the sun.

We saw lots of animals. We drove up really close to an elephant that was on the road and then discovered that there were 6 other elephants surrounding us. It was cool. We also saw an elephant charging at some villagers. I think being charged at by an elephant would be quite terrifying! A 10 minute walk from where we stayed, we could watch and listen to hippos. They are majestic creatures. We saw crocodiles too. Oh, and buffaloes and zebra (but from afar). We also got to go on a boat cruise, and to walk along the Kariba dam wall (which is on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Hope was thrilled because it was her first time out of the country!)

We got some amazing photos (if I do say so myself), so have a look at the photo gallery. I've put some captions on most of them, to help tell the story.

Monday morning I woke up early to watch the sunrise. I was sitting on a rock, enjoying the sounds of the waves lapping along the beach, and reading some Psalms. I read this verse from Psalm 143:8 "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love..." and then I looked up, and there was the bright pink sun. It was a beautiful moment, and a reminder that God brings light every single day. And then a crocodile swam past right underneath the sun - which was cool. God is good.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bread

Zimbabweans love their bread. I have been amazed at breakfast or tea time to see people take 5 slices at a time. One guy at our church eats a whole loaf of bread to start the day. Right now there's a bit of a bread war happening in Zim. When we got here, bread was $85,000 ($85 revalued), and the price has jumped twice in 5 months to $200. The government sets the price, and so anywhere you go, a loaf of bread will cost $200. Well, last week, the bakers raised the price on their own (to above $300 a loaf) because inflation is causing the price of ingredients to go up all the time. The government ordered the price back down to $200, and so the bakers stopped producing so much, and now it's really hard to find bread anywhere. Rather than go to the blackmarket, my resourceful husband got out some good Canadian flour that we had brought and baked us a couple of loaves last night. I had heard that near-future conflicts in the world would be over resources like land and water. I hadn't expected bread! (P.S. Speaking of my resourceful husband, I must admit that it's a lovely treat to have some nice strawberries on your cereal that have come from your own garden!)

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Week's WrapUp

Good news: Our friend Sean's brother Luke is in remission from cancer! And my brother Josh got a job.

Bad news: Our friend Chris was killed in gang violence.

Cool news: Our friend Elizabeth Shepherd was on the cover of NOW magazine in Toronto. I feel so proud of her. My brother Joel blogged about it, if you want to check it out.

Interesting news: All week I've been at a Training of Trainers that our department organized. I've been so impressed with the delegates, who have come from all around the country. They've worked hard and shown commitment and vision. Some of them gave presentations yesterday. They were each asked to present on something that's a training need in their area. One guy got up and said, "My topic is the importance of men and young men shaving under the arms." I thought he was joking, and laughed, but he wasn't. It was explained to me that if men and women shave off hair everywhere, it will help them to be more clean. John says he's not up for it. I guess you can't adopt EVERYTHING in a new culture.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Parents

One of the traditions (or practices) here is that when there is a musical presentation in church (such as a choir singing or someone playing a solo or something) and you really think they're doing a great job, you take some money from your pocket or purse, wave it in the air, ululate and walk up to the front to give the money to the church. This shows that you think the music has been top-notch. On Sunday, our young friend Brilliant was leading the timbrel/tambourine group for young people. And she's good. It made me so happy (and emotional) to see her mom take out this $100 zim bill and wave it around, smiling and dancing the money up to the front. She showed her daughter that she is really proud of her. This sacrificial act of love really touched me because this family doesn't have a lot. The father makes about $15 US a month (with 2 kids). I was really touched. I thank God so much for my own parents, and I wish I could give them a big hug right now! Mom & Dad - thanks for being proud of me - I love you!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Forgiveness

Yesterday I participated in a very interesting conversation about forgiveness. Forgiveness is something I've thought about a lot, but rather than give my own thoughts at this time, I'll share a couple of the comments from yesterday:

"Forgiveness is a subject that is close to my heart. At one time I killed 5 people in one family. It was hard, but I knew that I had to go ask for forgiveness. So, I went to the family home, and was taken to the 5 graves. I asked the surviving kids for forgiveness, but they refused. I asked them if I could bring them anything or do anything for them. But they said that all they wanted was to see their parents again. It is very hard not to be forgiven." (I found out later that this happened in the context of the war, and that this man has been mentally tortured ever since this experience).

"I think it's hard to forgive when your husband takes on a second wife. I used to have a great life, and was well respected. Then my husband took on a new wife. Now, I live in a separate house with my children. I cannot forgive that second wife. She took everything from me. I still say "The Lord's prayer" but I can't say the part about forgiving others, because I won't forgive her."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Old Man John


Good news: We've had hot water three mornings in a row and our phone is working again. Not so good news: We still experience power cuts and our ceiling seems to be caving in. There's a big crack down the middle and every morning we pick up pieces of plaster. I should probably check into that.

**
After four months of laziness, I've finally got into a consistent running routine. In Canada I used to run after work, but it gets dark too early here without street lights, there's crazy dogs roaming the streets and it's getting hotter now that winter's over. So, I get up at 5:15 every morning to run. It took me a long time to adjust from being a night owl to an early riser, but now I wake up quite easily. Sadly, once 9 pm hits, I start falling asleep like an old man (no offense to my father-in-law).

I'm running six days a week (when scheduling permits) with a longer run on Saturdays. It's taking a while to get back into shape, but I'm feeling better each day in spite of a sprained ankle. I've decided to run the Comrades Marathon that takes place in South Africa on June 17. It's an 89 km race, but I have nine months to train for it. I'm joining a running club next Friday so that I can train and qualify for the event. It will be nice to meet with people from outside of Salvation Army world. We're both suffocating a bit from the whole Salvation Army ghetto experience.

Every morning I run by a protected woodlands about 4 km from our home. I usually see zebra and impala and sometimes even wildebeest and giraffe. How cool is that? Much more exciting than squirrels.

**
Now that it's hotter, the lizards are roaming all over the place. I enjoy lizards and there's quite a variety living all around (and in) our home. I'm hoping not to see any snakes, though, as they are very poisonous here. The over-friendly dog living next door has left with his family, so no more scratches on our skin or ripped clothing. But he also kept the nasty neighborhood dogs away, and they have started roaming near our property again.

**
I was watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith on my laptop yesterday with one of the kids from the neighborhood. Whenever the scene shifted to a new planet, he asked if that was Canada. Close, but not quite. But I was forced to admit that I was a Jedi.  

**
We held a newborn baby this week. She was small and delicate and beautiful. She was born premature, and her mom has AIDS. When Rochelle joked that she wanted to take the baby home with her, a family member said that she may just have to. Very sad. It was tough seeing how weak her mother was, especially since we spent the night before at another home where a young woman had just died from AIDS. So much death and suffering.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cell Phone Culture

Cell phone culture is quite different here in Zim. (Geoff - we think you'd love it!) A lot of people in Harare have cell phones, because they tend to be a bit more reliable than landlines. It is unusual to be in a meeting where someone's cell phone doesn't go off. And it's not a reaction of, "oh dear, I left my cell phone on, I'm so sorry." It's just like, "well, I had better answer this immediately and right here." Monday night I went over to our neighbours' to offer them a little farewell gift. In the middle of my prayer of blessing for them, the Major's cell phone went off. So, he answered it (I guess, just in case it was God, giving some sort of response!) Wednesday night, John and I went on a date (it was very romantic!) We saw a movie and so many people answered their cell phones during the movie - having a full conversation. I have a friend named Beauty who is Zimbabwean, but moved to Canada a few years ago; where I met her. Thursday night I went to go visit her parents. Communication was difficult because of language, so I sang a song for them. And a cell phone went off (to the tune of "Jingle Bells") in the middle of the song. Oh yeah, I should have mentioned, no one uses the "vibrate" function here.

Friday night, I learned that my friend's sister was not feeling well. The sister had been staying with them, and was quite sick, so I decided to go pay them a visit. I discovered upon arrival that she had just died. I was told to go into the room where the sister was lying on the bed. I know it's wrong, but I only stayed about 2 minutes in the room. I was feeling a bit faint. It's like you could feel death in the air. My friend was obviously really upset, and it was hard to see her anguish. Thankfully, she had tonnes of visitors. The whole community comes out to support one another. Again, cell phones were a feature. People's cell phones were going off in the room of the deceased. One thing I did find quite significant was that in the family's living room, many people were coming and laying their cell phones on the table - so that they could be used to let various relatives and friends know the news. We all just kind of sat and offered our presence to the family as we waited for the police to come and collect the body. It felt weird to me to have "Auld Lang Syne" or a samba beat coming loudly from a cell phone in the middle of our prayers and songs for someone who had just passed away. Cell phone culture is just different here. Please keep the Jamu family in your prayers/thoughts.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Deep Well of Love

"We are often unaware of the deep well, the sanctuary of love, within us, and our capacity to love with the very love of God. We may in fact be frightened of this loving tenderness that we sense rising within us because we see it as weakness." Jean Vanier (John's hero).

Sometimes my love feels like weakness. I feel silly for crying, because when someone is hungry or grieving, what good do my tears do? But my tears come from a deep well of love that God continually puts in my heart for others. My love causes me great pain, because I feel that I always want to do more. When I visit someone who has had both legs amputated, or is on their deathbed, or who doesn't know how to pay for their hospital bills, or who is grieving their son, my prayer or my song or my few dollars or my tears seem so insufficient. But I wouldn't trade the pain of loving for anything, because it accompanies great joy - in sharing in the life and suffering and joy of others.

There is so much death and pain, but there is also hope. Last night I got to hold a 9 day old baby. She was adorable, and it did my heart good to literally hold new life. I have a persistent, unrelenting belief that there is always hope. God is good.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

News

Members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were arrested and beaten for protesting in several Zim cities yesterday. Of course, demonstrations are not allowed, and require police clearance. From The Herald: "Protests planned by the ZCTU in major cities and towns flopped dismally yesterday when workers ignored the strike call." The demonstrations were against the inflation rate (over 1000%), and for increased incomes and more money for HIV/AIDS. In other news, the World Bank has also announced the Zimbabwe's life expectancy is down to 30. John's 32. Please keep Zimbabwe in your prayers!