Friday, June 30, 2006

Is gazillion after trillion?

I finished the Human Resources and Development Department budget. It
was the first time I'd made a budget. I must say, it made me feel
rather important to think that I am one of 2 members in a department
that has just submitted a budget for 1.4 gazillion dollars. Yep,
that's right - for next year we are not asking just for millions or
billions or even trillions. But over a gazillion. Or is it
quadrillion? I decided to estimate a 900% inflation rate for next year
(seeing as we're at 1200% right now). My boss laughed when she saw the
figure. I told her we were just trying to be realistic, but it does
seem ridiculous!

Buying anything at our local shop (the "OK") takes a long time,
because they don't have money counters (like the nice grocery stores!)
so, you're in line forever, waiting for cashiers to literally sort
through piles of cash. Life in Zimbabwe!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How to Respond

Some experiences hit hard. You encounter people in desperate situations, feel compelled to respond, but don't know how. Or more accurately, how to respond in a way that will make a difference beyond the immediate.

A few weeks ago we were in the south of Zimbabwe near the Botswana border. We drove through a rural area and visted a family comprised of four children, the oldest being 13, and their extremely old Gogo (grandmother). When I asked how old their Gogo was, they said 110, but who knows. She seemed extremely old and frail. She was also blind, which meant that in many ways she wasn't able to be the primary care giver for these children. So, the 13-year-old girl was the head of this family.

Child-headed household

This puts the children in a very vulnerable situation as they have no money for school fees, uniforms or food. If someone supports them by paying for their school fees (such as super Salvo Max Vincent), do they choose to farm for food, or get an education? They are also at risk for abuse and exploitation by members of the community.

We didn't know what to do, so we bought them some food. So that helps them for a few days, but what then? Is that really a sustainable response? What happens next? Who is there to help them with their next meal? The hope is to offer sustainable assistance, such as helping with irrigation and farming. That offers them some independence and a way to feed themselves. But in this case, cows and goats grazed through their vegetables and maize while the kids were at school. With a 3-4 km walk in either direction, it makes it difficult for them to be school kids and farmers.

This week I visited a seniors' home that has been hard hit by inflation (over 1,200 percent), the economy and lack of funding. They're only working at less than half of capacity as they can't afford to admit any more residents. But sadly, they haven't enough resources to adequately feed the residents. So old people are starving to death and there's little anyone can do. I think nine have starved to death in the last month or two. They could shut down completely, but then the residents would be in worse shape as there is nowhere else for them to go. So they keep on hoping to help as best they can. The Salvation Army brought some food and soap but that will only last a week. What's the solution? How do we help in a feasible long-term way?

This is what we experience. Sometimes just the street kids surrounding us on our lunchtime walks, most of them too young to be living that kind of life. Other times the tragic reality that the marginalized are really suffering in this country. God calls each of us to look after orphans and widows in their distress. But it's a lot easier to take a Canadian kid to McDonald's and pray for them than to watch so many suffering here and have little idea how to truly help them.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Praise amidst Lament

Saturday morning we arose bright and early to go to Horseshoe, Guruve (a rural area in another province). It was a beautiful drive, and we saw all kinds of rural homes with thatched rooves. The Salvation Army officially opened Horseshoe as a gathering place, and also a training centre for farmers. Then we had the territorial self-denial ingathering. All of the various Salvation Army divisions and institutions gathered to bring in their donations for self-denial/partners in mission. There was a lot of suspense as the figures were being announced. I was amazed that the territory raised almost $10 billion (ZIM) towards helping countries in need. What a generous outpouring from a country that is itself in need. There was a lot of excitement and jubilant singing and dancing (someone made the comment to me that I can't seem to stand still, but I can't help it! This is the music of my soul - I just have to dance to it!) The service lasted 6 hours, but it didn't seem that long with all the dancing. Well, OK, maybe it seemed longer for John - he's less of a dancer, and has to take photos of every single speaker and singer! The service ended with the Territorial Commander getting a live goat as a gift from the Guruve division.

Sunday we celebrated Fathers' Day at our corps (better a week late than never). I must admit, I had a few tears as children went to the front and presented gifts to their fathers. I was missing my dad. But then right afterwards we sang this joyful praise song. Every time I hear singing in this country, it is a reminder of the great honour I feel to be sharing life, and sharing praise, with people here at this time. The sermon was all about claiming restoration. We sang a song of lament at the end, and my heart was just breaking for the Zimbabwean people, who have been suffering so much, and just calling out to God for so long. I cried again, just weeping for the people here, and pleading (with them) for God to listen. And then after the lament, we sang another joyful worship song, and everyone was clapping and dancing and singing. It's a stereotype, but that's one of the things I really love about African people - they continue to praise amidst sorrow and lament, and they continue to find joy amidst great pain. And that's true joy - not a happiness that ignores and avoids pain, but a joy that sees and feels all pain, and yet still finds room for hope. I long for this type of praise in my spirit - the type that trusts God and lives in hope despite any and every circumstance. Amen!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

We're legal!

We got our temporary employment permits today! That means that we can
live and work in Zimbabwe for 3 years - legally. We didn't realize
that we didn't have these documents until we arrived in the country,
and it is just a real relief that they are here and in our hands.
We've been in Zim 2 months now - it's hard to believe! God is good.

Shout out to Lindsay - HAPPY BIRTHDAY for tomorrow! We miss you and
James a lot...

Public transit

Last night, after Shona class, we decided to take public transit to get back home. Last time we didn't have a ride we took a taxi, and it cost almost $2 million, so we decided to go public transit. We walked for about half an hour to get to the main road, and then got on our first combi to get to the "city centre." Then we walked another 20 minutes (through a nice shady area of town) to get to the next transit station. There, we were directed to a combi that would take us to Braeside (our neighbourhood). The driver thought we should sit up front with him - the special seats. Bad sign number 1: no door handle. Bad sign number 2: the driver reaked of alcohol. Bad sign number 3: he then offered to sell John some marijuana ("special African herbs.") Bad sign number 4: he continued to drink alcohol all the way home. I prayed a lot during our journey. Particularly after we almost crashed into a huge lorry truck when our driver forgot to check his mirror. Although it was a chance to practise our Shona (important phrases such as "careful" and "watch"), I think next time I think we'll just pay the millions. I miss the TTC...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pics are up

John has posted some pictures of our new Zimbabwean life. Just go to "photo gallery" in the right hand column. Please let me know if you
notice any major changes in my appearance. The other day the market
lady who sells us vegetables exclaimed, "Every time I see you, you
look fatter. That is good - it means Zimbabwe likes you!" I tried to
take it as a compliment, but also started to reconsider our
"eat-peanut-butter-sandwiches-twice-a-day" menu plan! :)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ALL creatures great and small?

It's quite cold here in Harare. A friend gave us some firewood so that we could have a fire in our home (don't worry, we have a fireplace!) to keep warm. It was lovely and romantic to sit and watch the fire together until we discovered termites in the wood. Sunday night, John started a bonfire in our backyard to get rid of all the termites. At one point, I went outside to check on the fire. Our neighbour, Ruth, asked me what the fire was for - and if we needed ashes for something. I explained that we had found termites in all the wood, so we were burning it. She looked so disappointed and said, "haven't you noticed that I do some cooking outside? I would have really liked to have that wood. It's ok if the termites are outside. I would have really liked it." Oh, I felt so guilty. I apologized, and she just looked sad, "I just wish you would have asked me first." I felt so wasteful. A lesson learned - in Canada, your neighbours likely won't want your termites, but here, nothing is ever wasted.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Nouwen for Monday morning

    A quote from Henri Nouwen for this Monday morning. "How can someone ever trust in the existence of an unconditional divine love when most, if not all, of what he or she has experienced is the opposite of love - fear, hatred, violence, and abuse? They are not condemned to be victims! There remains within them, hidden as it may seem, the possibility to choose love. Many people who have suffered the most horrendous rejections and been subject to the most cruel torture are able to choose love. By choosing love they become witnesses not only to enormous human resiliency but also to the divine love that transcends all human loves. Those who choose, even on a small scale, to love in the midst of hatred and fear are the people who offer true hope to our world."

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I've been thinking about attitude a lot over the past couple of days.
A quote from Viktor Frankl (who survived a Nazi concentration camp):
"The one thing you cannot take away from me is the way I choose to
respond to what you do to me. The last of one's freedoms is to choose
one's attitude in any given circumstance." It's so true that attitude
affects everything, and yet - remarkably - it's something we have
complete control and choice over each day. Often we think of people
(or God?) making life difficult for us, and yet it is we who control
how we will react to to those actions, right? Over the last few
months, I've been challenging myself to check my attitude

We met someone with an amazing attitude last Sunday. Bernadette is a
new friend who discovered a brain tumour 10 years ago. In the
operating room, there was a slight slip of the doctor's hand, and she
ended up paralyzed on her right side. She couldn't speak for 6 months,
and then "like a child" she had to learn to talk, and say her
children's names, and walk again. Bernadette is an amazing woman -
full of faith, life, joy, love, determination, and a love of soccer!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The purpose of life

Tuesday night I went to youth group at our new corps/church. It's a group of young people who come together to sing and pray and each week one of them leads a discussion on a topic. I just love it. Each week I get such a blessing and refreshing in my spirit from this group. This past Tuesday, Samuel was leading a discussion on purpose in life. He asked us "what do you want to be when you grow up?" (OK, so I'm a little old for the group, but I really like it!) Everyone answered, and then he asked, "What do you think God wants you to be?" It was fascinating to hear how almost everyone's answers didn't match up (between what they want to do and what they think God wants them to do). There was a guy who wants to be an authour, and yet feels God wants him to be a politician; a girl who wants to be a gynacologist but feels God wants her to be an accountant; a girl who wants to be an accountant, but feels God wants her be a nurse, a housemaid who feels God wants her to be a pastor, etc. Then Samuel pointed out to the group that Jesus was a carpenter, and yet his purpose in life was something much greater than his occupation; so the jobs we do are certainly not the be-all and end-all to life. And so he asked us to think about what our purpose in life is. A big question!

Samuel said something that I won't soon forget: "I refuse to believe that we are here on earth without a purpose. I refuse to believe that we are meant to be born, eat, work a lot and make money, and then die without leaving a trace. I refuse to believe it." He was so emphatic. I refuse to believe it too! There is a reason we are here - there is a purpose. Discovering that purpose gives such meaning to life.

In our van ride home from work the other day, one of our neighbours was saying it would be better if we were all animals. Because if we were animals, we could graze the land, and not have to worry about finding money for food, and then finding electricity to cook the food with. Everyone was just quiet; reflecting on whether this would be better. It was sobering. But I refuse to believe it. Life can be hard, but there is a reason we are here. Each morning I soak in the bathtub and pray and thank God that I have the chance to live here, and dedicate my day to God, and then re-dedicate my life to God. It makes a huge difference in my attitude, and makes little frustrations seem a lot less important.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Yesterday a man called me at work and said, "Hello my name is Karanga." So I replied "hello." Then he said, "Hello, my name is Karanga." So, I replied, "hello!" For a third time, he said, "Hello, my name is Karanga - are you having trouble hearing me?" :)

It reminded me of a few years ago when I was organizing an exchange programme for students from Thailand. I remember the orientation well, when students were meeting their Canadian host families for the first time. One conversation of a girl meeting her new family stands out particularly in my mind.
"Hello! We are the Russell family. Welcome to Canada. What's your name?"
(a bit louder) "Hi! What is your name?"
(a bit louder and much slower) "Hi. We are the Russells What is your name?"
At this point I jumped in and explained that the student's name was Hai.

Ah - communication is a beautiful thing!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Acts of Kindness

When you're in a new place (country, school, city, etc.), acts of kindness can make all the difference. Yesterday (at least) 3 people showed me kindness.

My dad is currently at the World Cup in Germany (not playing, but just watching/volunteering). Yesterday morning, one of our neighbours said, "Rochelle, I saw your dad on TV at the world cup last night!" I said, "oh really?" and she replied, "I'm just kidding, but I knew it would make your day!" So cute!

In the evening I was getting a ride home, and squished in the back seat. Everyone was laughing and speaking in Shona, and I heard the word "murungu" (white person) a few times. I didn't understand what they were saying, so I wondered if people were laughing at me, and I was feeling a bit lonely. Then this one girl, Noreen, just started talking to me, in English, about every day things. I almost cried - it was so kind. Being referred to as murungu feels awful. I feel like shouting "get to know me for me, not just for my skin colour!" but then I realized last night that I've probably done this dozens of time - referred to someone as "the Chinese lady" or "the Indian gentleman" or "the homeless guy" - giving them a label rather than actually knowing them. A good lesson.

And yesterday afternoon, I was explaining to someone how I was feeling a bit faint, and I think I'm just getting used to the higher altitude here. She said, "I want to tell you something, but I'm a bit shy to say it." I insisted and then she went on, "I used to feel faint like that when I was pregnant..." I thought it was very kind. But don't get too excited, Mom! I'm fairly sure I'm not pregnant...

Anyway, I thought I would share these kindnesses, to encourage more. It really does make a difference!

Monday, June 12, 2006


We're connected to the world again. Yes, we got internet at home. And
we got a phone. It's like we've entered the modern world. Well, minus
the whole "have electricity in the evenings and mornings" thing. One
shouldn't be too greedy!

It does feel nice to be able to actually see our blog again. In the
last 2 days I've "chatted" with Joel and Rhonda. And I've talked on
the phone with my very best friend Sherri, and my mom and Nana. God is
good. It's so nice to feel connected with people when you're so far

Kraft Dinner

Saturday night I ate half a box of Kraft Dinner. It was delicious! I
must admit, it makes me feel like I'm at home. Maybe I should do an ad
or something "nothing says home like Kraft Dinner." A big shout out
and thank you to my Auntie Cathie who sent it to us - along with other
treats like real chocolate (yum), my very own stapler (supposedly my
department was given one 3 years ago, so I wasn't allowed to have my
own) and black socks (even I, being the unfashionable person that I
am, have been feeling guilty about white socks with black shoes!) It
was great to get a care package!

John also cooked a steak dinner on Friday night. That was fairly nice
too! :) Steak is cheaper than chicken here. And apples are really

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Life is precious

I often think about how precious life is when I'm crossing the streets in Harare. Crossing the streets is a bit of stressful experience for us here! We're still always looking the wrong way for oncoming traffic, and pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way here. In fact, it almost seems like there is strange live-video-game culture of try-to-speed-up-and-hit-the-pedestrians! We're trying to be careful.

Tuesday night John and I went to a youth service at our corps (church). This is a week of prayer for at-risk children, so the youth are gathering each night to pray. I was humbled as one girl got up and spoke about the fact that life is such a risk for Zimabwean youth. She talked about how with HIV/AIDS and other infections and vehicle accidents are claiming so many young lives, that it can be stressful just to think about how long one might be able to stay alive. I think the life expectancy is down to 34 for Zimbabwe now. Crazy!

On a lighter note (sorry! my last couple of entries have been quite sobering!) we had home-made lasagna at the Wards last night. Oh my gosh - yum! It was especially nice in contrast to the lasagna I bought as a treat last week that used sugary ketchup as the tomato base. Right.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Weekend at Tshelenyemba

We just got back from our 4 day trip to Tshelenyemba. Tshelenyemba is in the far south of the country - about 2 and 1/2 hours from Bulawayo (the second largest city in Zimbabwe). It took us about 10 hours to get there. We spent the weekend with a legend - Dr. Dawn Howse. She is a Canadian doctor (and Salvation Army officer) who has been in Zimbabwe for almost 20 years. What an incredible woman! She is the only doctor within hours, and she shows great passion, commitment, humour, "spark" and love. It was a blessing to spend time with her.

Monday we did rounds of the hospital with Dawn. There was no electricity and no water on Monday. They do have a generator, but the diesel is rare and expensive. Can you imagine - no water nor electricity for a hospital. I felt so badly for patients shivering in the cold, and patients who were told to wait for their x-rays or surgeries until power was available. Some of the patients who looked extremely sick were trying to say that they were feeling much better so they could be discharged (because of difficulties paying hospital fees). Life is so harsh for people.

There is quite an extensive HIV/AIDS programme at Tshelenyemba - from a voluntary counselling and testing centre to youth prevention programmes to home-based care. We met one family at their home. It was a profoundly moving experience. There are 4 orphans in the family - the oldest being 14. She heads the family, although their 110 year old, blind grand-mother recently moved in with them. My heart broke to see this grandmother. She just kept saying how hungry she was, how there was no food, how desperate she was. The 2 oldest kids are being sponsored (by Canadians) to be in school, but that means that they can only farm on the weekends/holidays, so their harvest was not good this year, and they are scrounging for food. My being was shattered by meeting this family, and it just left me with so many unsettling questions. Of course, I wanted to help and "fix" everything, but how can you "fix" something so big? And what's really our role (as outsiders) to "fix" anyway? Of course, we went and bought them some food, but it felt empty - because what will happen when it runs out? It also felt wrong to give a hand-out/to create dependency, but how is this family going to be self-sustaining? How are four kids and an old woman supposed to make ends meet? Orphans are at-risk - of dropping out of school (that is, if somehow they can find fees to actually be in school), or of abuse of "friendly" neighbours/passers-by who want to exchange food for sex. The situation seemed so desperately sad, and yet there was also strength. I was really impressed by the 2 oldest girls. I was impressed at the way they are taking care of their siblings. I was impressed by the way they are looking after their grandmother. I was impressed that they make the 4km trip (walking) to school every day, and manage to learn things despite the stress of their lives. I was challenged by the way they don't just sit and grieve and wish things were different, but simply continue on living and trying to make things better. I was impressed and challenged... and just kept thinking how young they are.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Gourmet caterpillars

Last night we were invited to our neighbour's house for dinner. She went to SO much effort to cook a beautiful meal for us. We had rice and sadza and soup and beef stew and fried chicken and potato salad and pumpkin, and green vegetables mixed with peanut butter (it was good!), and cake with custard. And they also served a gourmet item - madora (roasted caterpillars). Not bad - very crunchy, and full of protein! There were so many dishes of delicious food, and someone even commented that it was like a Christmas meal. This meal must have literally cost this family millions of dollars, and I was truly blessed by the effort and sacrificial love that went into it. Generosity is a beautiful thing - true communion, right? At the end of the meal, they asked me to sing a song, and so (of course) I sang the Sparrow song. It made me miss my Jamaican mother - Joy, who sang this song for us on our last Sunday in Canada (and who also celebrates her birthday tomorrow - HAPPY BIRTHDAY!)

In other news, I think we're going away for a few days, so don't fret if you don't see any posts for a bit. Also, John has managed to set up a system whereby comments posted to our blog will be e-mailed to us, so we can read them. Oh, and Zimbabwe introduced a new $100,000 bill (actually, bearer's cheque) yesterday. So, you can buy a loaf of bread (this week, at least) with a single piece of currency.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Death of a hero

We learned today that our friend Brenda passed away recently. I remember her laugh, her smile, her beaming pride at her son's wedding, her joy at holding her grand-children... Brenda was a member of our church in Regent Park (Toronto). Brenda was a hero. She had a rough background and ended up working the streets. But then her life got totally changed around. She found Jesus, and she found hope. She started working for The Salvation Army, and had an amazing ministry to other girls working on the street, because she knew them. To her, they weren't people she was helping or people she felt sorry for. They were her friends. Unfortunately, she got caught up in a harmful lifestyle again, but felt she couldn't tell anyone, because she was everyone's hope; everyone's success story; everyone's proof that lives can change.

Brenda taught me a lot. One of the things she taught me is that it's hard to be a hero, because most people expect that if you're a hero then you won't mess up. She taught me that when we celebrate people's victories, we often don't leave room for their failures. I guess we don't want to hear about the failures, because we like the happy endings from Hollywood movies or Christian magazines. I don't know... maybe Brenda was a hero because she left so many legacies. Maybe she was a hero because she loved through pain. Maybe she was a hero because she was real. Maybe she was a hero because she didn't fall from grace; because, in fact, she was proof that you can't fall from grace. Brenda - may your soul find gentle peace and delightful joy.