Friday, July 28, 2006

Zambia & Sherri

John and I are heading to Zambia for a few days to meet up with some good friends (Bram & Anita). We're so excited about it! Speaking of friends, I want the whole internet world to join with me in wishing my very best friend Sherri a Happy Birthday tomorrow. To me, good friends are truly worth more than gold. God has given me many treasures through people, and I promise never to take those I love for granted. Sherri - you are brilliant, funny, compassionate, wise and a true example of grace and love to me. Happy Birthday, my dear friend. We love you!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

3 Month Anniversary

Tomorrow is our 3 month anniversary in Zim. Here are just a few of the things that are normal to us now:
- Clapping whenever we greet people
- Greeting people in Shona
- Eating starch (potatoes) with starch (rice) with starch (sadza) with starch (bread). Tonight we were at a surprise birthday party, and even had pasta to add to the combo!
- People's English names - like Trustmore, Gift, Evernice, Confidence, Efficient, and (my personal favourite) Salad
- Being thrilled when we have electricity or hot water
- Having someone extend her/his wrist to you if their hand is wet or dirty
- Washing and then re-using zip-loc bags
- Carrying wads of cash around and spending millions
- 3 to 6 hour Salvation Army meetings (and timbrelists who smile while they play!)
- Wearing a sweater and jacket, and yet still being cold in Africa (yes, it is true!)
- Having a vast Zimbabwean family
We do miss our family and friends (and Canadian chocolate...), but we're just so happy here. God is good.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tough Times

You know times are tough when it costs you more to get to work than what you make at work. Public transit fees have just gone up. I was talking to a friend at work. The amount that she spends on public transportation (for her to get to work and her daughter to get to school) is more than her monthly salary. That's just transportation - not food, rent, soap or anything else. Payday is so depressing here. Inflation keeps rising, as do the prices, but not salaries. I'm making less than $10US a month now. That masters is really paying off! :) I honestly don't know how people are surviving (even though we're all millionaires). Last month, the big international news out of Zimbabwe was that a chicken cost $1 million. The reaction of Zimbabweans was: "Did they mention which store?" because by the time the news got out, the price had already increased.


On Saturday some boys were flipping through a "You" magazine that one of my neighbours leant to me (because she said even in Africa it's important to keep up on celebrity news). As they were turning the pages, each time they would come to a photo of a beautiful supermodel they would point and say, "that's Rochelle!" Of course, there are 3 explanations for this. 1. they were flirting (but trust me, they were too young, and are still in the girls-have-germs stage). 2. All white people look the same. Or 3. I've missed my calling as a supermodel.

On Sunday I was chatting with a group of kids who had just been on a trip to Heroes' Acres. They were all so excited to tell me about their trip, and there got to be quite a crowd of kids. At one point little Glenda started pushing them away, saying (in Shona), "Give the white lady some space. We don't want to get her skin dirty!"

On Sunday I also found out about "white jokes." My friend explained, "white jokes are jokes that aren't really funny at all, but white people laugh anyway."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

UNO, Roti and Joel's Birthday

Bringing UNO (the card game) to Zim was definitely a good idea. The kids around here love it. John was out Saturday morning at a Territorial Stakeholders' Meeting, and as fun as it sounded, I decided to stay home. Some boys came over and played cards, and then we all baked peanut butter cookies together (men in Zim don't do any kind of kitchen work, so I thought it was a mildly subversive way of promoting feminism!). Later a friend came over and said she wanted to try something "Canadian." I suggested Kraft Dinner, and she was quite excited to try my ethnic food. Unfortunately, as I was cooking it, she looked at the box, and got quite alarmed by all of the ingredients (acids, etc.) I tried to explain that in North America we eat a lot of processed foods, and that it's ok. The more I tried to explain it, the more I realized I probably shouldn't be convincing someone to eat un-natural foods! She was looking at our bookshelf and asked about the book "Who are these Salvationists?" She asked, "who is Shaw Clifton (the authour) anyway?" I explained that actually, he's the General of The Salvation Army. Her response was, "well then, shouldn't he know who these Salvationists are already?" :) John made delicious beef roti for dinner, and we celebrated our "Island" roots. Then, we went to hear a concert of a 5 woman group called "African Voice." It was AMAZING. Listening to the Southern African tunes, I had one of those "wow - I live in Africa with John - God made my biggest dream ever come true" moments.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my little brother Joel. Joel is deep, fun, funny (in a Dave Ivany sort of way), very talented and terribly good looking. Joel - I love you as a friend and a brother. Happy 26th!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Who Are My People?

We are asked for money all of the time here. John was commenting last night that between us, I am the tough one. He finds it almost impossible to barter with the market ladies, and when I am not around, he gives to people a lot more. I decided to reflect on this "tough" reputation of mine. I realized that I have become used to saying "sorry" to street people in Toronto. Rather than part with loose change, I would usually give homeless people a smile, sometimes some food, and a referral to one of the hundreds of charity and church organizations in the city. If they choose to, homeless people in Toronto can have 3 meals a day and a roof over their heads at night. Of course it's not ideal, but people can have their basic needs taken care of. Not so here. There is no welfare system. I haven't heard of any food banks. When we see listless mothers with small children begging on streetcorners, I'm not sure where their help will come from. So, what's our responsibility?

In Zimbabwe (and I'm guessing, in Africa), your life is not your own. Individualism is a foreign concept. You share your time, your money, your food, your home, your beds, your everything with others - without question - as long as they are your people. Your people can be members of your family, or your totem, or sometimes your workplace/church. I've been really challenged by this idea. And it's got me thinking - who are my people here? Of course we can't help everyone, but who are we supposed to help? There's a passage in Matthew that says we should give to everyone in need who asks us. Do you suppose Jesus was exaggerating at that point? I've always been of the opinion that a lot of marginalized people need love, attention, a listening ear, etc. much more than money. But what about when they do need money - just to feed their kids and stay alive? Then, what's my responsibility as a fellow human being who, only by the extremely mysterious grace of God was born in North America, and who has access to finances, and who is a follower of Jesus?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Little Old Ladies

Yesterday I spent the morning at a senior citizens' home here in Harare. The site was quite beautiful. The whole time I was there, I kind of felt like I was in a different country. This was because 1. the place was so nice and well-kept and 2. almost all of the residents were white. It was interesting to talk with a number of them. I sensed such a profound disenfranchisement. It's easy to look at the history of Zimbabwe and look at the whites as the bad guys. I guess yesterday I was thinking about what happens when the bad guys get old. I was thinking about their loss - most of their family members have left the country, most of their friends have either died or left the country, and they've also lost the country that they once knew. Pensions are deplorable in this country, and they know they're not really wanted here. When asked about the challenges in her life, one of the little old ladies I met said simply, "I guess the biggest challenge is just not to give up, and to keep on wanting to live every day."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I just read an interesting news story out of Cameroon. It was about a (new?) practise - "repassage des seins" (ironing of breasts). A women's group in the country felt that the best way to protect their young women from sexual assault was to reduce/eliminate their breasts (so that sex-thirsty men would no longer be so attracted to them). There are many methods used, such as pouring salt or petrol on the breasts or else using hot rocks or other objects. They reported some trauma in the girls who have undergone this procedure. I propose another method for curbing sexual assault - tell men to control their sexual desires and to have respect for their sisters in the human race. Honestly!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sister Sister Day

When we were younger, Kirsten and I used to have "Sister Sister Days." This usually involved me (the older sister) convincing Kirsten to do things I didn't want to do alone - like ride our bikes to the library so I could sign out 12 books (the maximum limit - always have been a bit of a geek). Sometimes it would also involve business activities (like when I would charge her for makeovers), or educational activities (like when I would make her write a letters to our prime minister about pressing social issues, and then read them aloud using good public speaking techniques - as I said before - always have been a bit of a geek!)

Well, my sister and I are now continents apart, but I feel kind of like I had a Sister Sister Day today, because at lunch John and I went to the National Art Gallery to take in a photographic display. The photos were great, and I had one of those "wow, I'm not just dreaming of Africa - I actually live here!" moments. It also reminded me of my sister - who is an amazing photographer. And then I got to talk to her on the phone for the first time since we've been in Zim, and that was really nice.

My sister left the hallowed halls of McGill university to spend the last year in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, fighting for justice, loving her neighbours, and praying her heart out. I'm proud of you, Kirst. Happy Sister Sister Day!

Congrats Denise & Dave!

Our good friends Denise and Dave got married on Saturday. Sadly, we couldn't be there, but our friend Heather has posted some pics -
We wish you two so much joy and love and fun in your marriage, and we miss our double dates!

P.S. Speaking of marriage, I was speaking with our DC the other day (the guy who is in charge of The Salvation Army in our area). He was making small talk and then asked if John and I sleep in the same bed. I thought it was a tad personal, but realized this morning that he's probably just concerned that we don't have children yet! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cookies and Seven Year Olds

I had a GREAT day yesterday. I spent the morning baking peanut butter cookies. Being the non-domestic person that I am, this was a big deal. John and I are addicted to the home-made peanut butter here, so I figured we needed another way to injest the delicious product. Mom,
you should be proud - I only burned the first dozen! The baking part was comical, but the best part of making the cookies was giving them out. I went and visited a bunch of my neighbours, and had great chats as I delivered the treats. (It was much more successful than my similar plan when we moved to a new apartment in Regent Park - I made cookies for all the neighbours on our floor and barely anyone would even open their door to check them out!) I got a lot of compliments on my baking, but I think the fact that sugar can be hard to come by here - and Zimbabweans love their sweets - had something to do with it.

One neighbour's comment really struck me. Her name is Noreen, and she is Muslim. We had a great chat about life, and as I was leaving, she thanked me for the cookies and the visit. Then she said, "your book says that you should love your neighbours as yourselves, right? Well, my dear, I think you do that very well. I'm just wondering why so many other Christians don't. So many of the Salvation Army people around here look so smart in their uniforms, but they seem so gloomy or unfriendly to me; maybe because I don't have one of the uniforms." Hmmm...

Today was more sobering. I went for a walk before church and ran into a family that was heading in my direction. I was talking with the mother, and she (of course) asked me if I have children. "Not yet." "Well, as you can see, I have these two daughters. I used to have a son too, but he died in February. He was 7. The good thing is that he only suffered for 4 days. He came down with stomach pains, and died 3 days later." As she was saying this, the boy's 2 beautiful,
older sisters just looked down at the ground. There was such pain in this wonderful, friendly family. There is something so unjust about a seven year old boy dying! We heard a great sermon in church today on "having the spirit of Jephthah" (a man in Judges 11 who was the son of a prostitute and went on to become a mighty warrior). The main idea is that we all have potential, and should not be held back because of any circumstances. I kept thinking about the woman beside me - and whether she was wondering what potential her late son had. Life is so hard. Thank God for grace.

Some people find this blog depressing, but I'm actually just trying to honour the lives of people that I'm meeting. I am blown away by the joy and faith and love and generosity that people have despite very painful situations. Grace.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I was visiting with some friends last night, and they were asking me
about healing. They had seen a commercial on t.v. for a faith healer
who is in Zim from Canada, and they thought I might know him (being
the small country Canada is!) We don't have a t.v., so I wasn't aware
that there are so many broadcasts of faith healing on television here.
They were comparing the various healers for me ("when Chris heals, the
people always fall down first, and then they're healed. Jeremiah's
good and he heals people of blindness and deafness, but Edwin can even
heal people who have never walked.") So, they were asking me what I

I felt nervous. I am a bit skeptical by nature, but I also really
respect people's faith, and would never want to hinder it. I said that
I truly believe that this type of instantaneous healing is possible.
Jesus did it and said his followers would do similar things. I also
said that there is some controversy around this type of healing.
People always ask, for example, why these healers don't make a trip to
the children's hospital instead of just having the huge campaigns. I
also said that I worry for people who don't get healed. It is blamed
on them for not having enough faith, but this kind of guilt can be
really painful for people who are already suffering. My friend
responded with, "oh but I would have enough faith. I believe in God
very much, and I have been suffering a lot, so I know that if I went,
God would heal me." Of course, I would never want to hinder that
faith. I hope He does heal her - but what if He doesn't?

I do believe that God can heal people. I pray for healing for people
all the time. I guess I just always assume He will do it all on His
own, or through some sort of medical process or something (rather than
a firm push on the head). Maybe that makes my faith weaker; I'm not
sure. What would you have said?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Street Kids

I was unprepared to see so many street kids. It breaks my heart to see a group of them warming themselves by a fire in the early morning. Most of them are orphans. Today I saw a boy who looked about 3 years old, standing at an intersection, and then approaching cars with his little hand outstretched - no parents/older siblings in sight. I wonder what his future holds...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Conversations in Zim

Three conversations from the past week:

"My children were sent home from their (boarding) school this week. They were sent back because we hadn't paid the full amount for school fees. I felt so ashamed. We had told the school that we just needed a bit more time. The fees went up so much this past term. We pleaded with them, and they were allowed to go back on Thursday. My daughter asked if she could have some money for groceries. I gave her all I had. So, now I'm just waiting for the 15th when we'll get paid again. It's hard to not have money for your children, when you just want them to have an education. But we keep on praying..."

"I'm studying Information Technology. I really like it, although it would be easier if I had my own computer. That's my dream - to have my own computer someday."

"These are my children - their names mean "Blessing" and "We thank you God." They are the blessings in my life. When they get older, this one will be a pilot, and this one will be a business manager. And then our family will be happy. Right now we live in a one room shack, but not forever! I think I will only have to wait another 20 years, and then I will be able to live in a real house. That will be great!"

Saturday, July 08, 2006

So city

This morning I went to take my bath and there were hundreds of ants
swarming all around our bathtub and the floor. Yuck! Of course, my
first instinct was to beckon my heroic, insect-killing husband, but he
left for a band trip to Chinhoyi this morning. So, I had to take
control of the situation. I grabbed some toilet paper, and starting
smushing and squishing as many as possible. It felt sort of like a
movie scene - me at war with the ants with Vivaldi's 4 Seasons playing
in the background! As soon as I got most of them out of the bathtub, I
turned on the water. No hot water today. I had a fairly short bath,
because, well, it was cold, and there dead ants floating on the top of
the water.

I went to wash my hair in the kitchen sink, and I love hot water, so I
decided to be clever, and boil some water first. I put the hot water
in a juice jug, and tried mixing that with the running cold water. It
worked fairly well, and my hair has a lovely juicy raspberry scent.
You don't think ants are attracted to that sort of thing, do you?

Sometimes I just feel "so city" (to quote our friend Geoff). John's
more used to camping and stuff. Although, the other day, as he was
breaking up cow manure with his bare hands to put on our garden, he
even had an "I'm so city" moment. Speaking of cows, I had cow heart
for the first time this week. A little chewy...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Gogo's prayer

The other day I went to visit Alice & Mac, and one of our other neighbours, Gogo ("grandmother"), was there. She asked if we could have a prayer together, and I was really moved by her prayer. It went something like this, "Dear God, thank you for birds. I thank you for the way they chirp in the morning, waking me up, and making me realize that I am not alone. Many people try to kill these birds, but I love them. I thank you for times when a car drives by my house very early in the morning, because it reminds me that I may have visitors. I also thank you for my daughter in Australia. She is very far away, but sometimes she sends me postcards, and she promised that one day she will let me come and live with her. I know she must be very happy with her family, and so I pray that you would bless her." Walking by Gogo's house is a bit of a risk, because if she sees you, you'll be caught talking for quite a while (and likely having the same conversation you had the day prior), but she is a daily reminder to me that life is hard to go through when you feel alone.

There is also a men's shelter on our compound. I was asking the security guard the other day how the men find money for alcohol (because around the neighbourhood, I often see them drunk). He explained that when well-wishers come, they will often bring things like soap or socks. And then the men use these items to sell and then buy alcohol. "We try to check them at the gate, to make sure that they're not carrying out their things to sell, but you know, these men are so lonely and hurting, that they just want to buy alcohol. Alcohol allows them to forget for a short while, so they will sell all they have for it."

Loneliness (which is so different from solitude) can be such a soul-destroying disease. All of the major religions have some sort of notion of loving our neighbours, and yet there seem to be a lot of neighbours in our world who feel really alone. Sometimes I wonder if loving our neighbours gets lost in the debates about the more "complex" areas of religion.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Abnormal Life

I was just talking with my friend Grace. Her only daughter, Christine, was in an accident yesterday on her way to high school. The combi she was in had no brakes, and therefore went right through a red light and got smashed on the side by a car. There were a lot of schoolchildren in the combi. Grace went to the school and then brought her daughter to the only public hospital in Harare (which is actually just down the street from where we work). They were waiting in the queue for 5 hours. There are only 2 doctors in the hospital. She said that generally people can't afford the hospital fees, and so only go to the hospital for emergencies. Grace saw several people die while they were waiting in the line. When she finally got to see a doctor, he took a look at Christine, said she looked fine, and suggested she take some painkillers for any aches and pains. Grace is debating on whether going back and spending the $5 million on an x-ray just to make sure. When she was reporting the incident to the police, they said that the day before, a gentleman had been in a combi accident. He went to the same hospital. They looked at him, said he looked fine and sent him home. He died the next day. So, Grace is a bit freaked out. Sometimes life here feels normal, and then sometimes it just feels really abnormal. Is it ethnocentric to say that public transit vehicles should have brakes, and there should be more than 2 doctors at the one public hospital in a capital city?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Music exams and Life Lessons

I have spent that last two days at the Zimbabwe College of Music, accompanying various members of the Royal Air Force band for their music examinations. One of them discovered that I play piano, and there aren't a lot of pianists in Zim these days, so I ended up playing for all of them. It was sort of nice to play some classical piano again, and the guys seemed to really appreciate it. Last Saturday I was playing the piano at the O.T.C. (Salvation Army Officers' Training College) and 4 young people walked in. I ended up giving a group piano lesson. I taught them some simple chords (C, F & G) and this one guy was just thrilled because he was able to sing a song he wrote using the 3 new chords (plus a little A minor). I must admit, all of those years and hours of piano practising had much more meaning as I saw this guy's face light up.

The examiner for the air force exams is a lady from the West Indies who has relocated to Zim. We had a great time together. Today she brought her adult son to the exams with her, because he really loves music. He is mentally challenged, and she said he really connects with music, and it soothes him. She also said to me today, "you know, people look at me with my son and they feel pity for me. But they shouldn't. Nicholas has made me who I am. He taught me to be gentle and kind and patient. I would have never learned those things on my own. I owe him my life."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Shame, Shame

Death has befallen us. When we came home yesterday we discovered that one of our banana trees had collapsed onto our herb garden. We suspect foul play. Sure, it could just be that the bananas were too heavy for the tree but the neighbourhood kids looked a bit too guilty for it to have been just an accident. There are these other Murungus (white people) who live nearby and are always chasing the kids away from their guava and mango trees. Most of the little kids are afraid of them, so I'm going to be relaxed about the whole thing. Kids will be kids. When we left home this morning my friend Va Mafigu was chopping the tree down completely for me. When my neighbours saw the fallen tree and my squashed herb garden, they said, "shame, shame." That's a common phrase here when something goes wrong. Like my mangled sage and basil. Shame. But there are three smaller banana trees that will hopefully mature soon so that they can produce fruit.

The good news is that after a few classic mess ups, my garden is doing quite well. It's been a great connection point with my neighbours and they've started telling Rochelle (or Amai Shoko - people have decided that her totem is monkey) that I'm a good farmer. They're exaggerating but it is exciting to see things growing. We now have carrots, onions, green peppers, chillis, eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, covu, rape, green beans, pumpkin, butternut squash, beans, garlic, chives, basil, purple basil, rosemary, three types of thyme, mint, sage, strawberries and lots of flowers. We should be able to eat vegetables regularly from the garden within a month. We also have banana trees, a full-grown guava tree and a small avocado tree. We're planting a lime tree and a naartje (orange) tree this weekend. As you can tell, gardening is my new hobby. And quite productive. Rochelle said that I had to mention the sacrifice she made by carrying the naartje tree for over four kilometres. To be fair, I was carrying the much heavier lime tree. Rochelle got quite a few smiles and cheers by carrying it on her head most of the way. Unfortunately, I think she now has a headache. It will be about two years before we can expect fruit from the lime, naartje and avocado trees.

We purchased a small camping stove this week so that we can cook when the power is out in the evenings (usually at least three times a week). We've usually been eating peanut butter or avocado sandwiches when the power is out, but we can't keep that up. Especially since our breakfast and lunch normally consists of peanut butter sandwiches as well. The stove uses a flammable gel made of sugar cane that is supposedly cleaner than other fuel sources for the environment (David Suzuki would be proud). The gel and stove were imported from South Africa. It seemed a better option than cooking over a fire in our backyard. I cooked some onions and green pepper with the stove yesterday and it worked great.

I found a spiritual director to meet with once a month. He's a Jesuit priest who has been in Zimbabwe since 1964 and his parish is in the community where we live. We had a really great session earlier this week and I think meeting with him will be beneficial to my spiritual development. I also think it's healthy to have someone outside of The Salvation Army to speak with.  

Thanks to everyone who has been sending us e-mails. We've really appreciated hearing from you. And feel free to drop us a line through the blog as well as all comments get forwarded to Rochelle's email address.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day! We decided not to set fireworks this year, just in
case... but we did listen to Avril Lavigne as we had breakfast, and
handed out Canada flag pins to all the neighbourhood kids.

And I thought I would tell a funny story to honour my homeland (even
though it has nothing to do with Canada). This week, our territory was
visited by the International Leadership and Development Secretary from
International Headquarters of The Salvation Army. So, our human
resources task force met with him to share ideas, etc. At one point,
this one very respectable, distinguished senior member of the task
group was talking about how the group had spent over a year working on
a policy document. And he looked at this Salvation Army Colonel from
England and said, "I've got to be honest. That shit took a hell of a
long time." The Colonel almost fell off his chair, no one else
flinched, and I did my best to suppress my giggles. Is it bad that I
found that really funny? The thing is, he really wasn't trying to be
rude at all - here they're just not considered to be bad words. Maybe
because it's in their second language? In any case, I guess people are
getting to know me a bit here, because It was decided on Friday that
my totem is "monkey" (whereas people automatically thought "lion" for
John! Hmmm...)