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!


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


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

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

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

Small Body, Big Heart

ABCs of Survival

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!


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 Here's the link so you can check it

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


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.