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


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.

** 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: 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


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!