Sunday, December 31, 2006

Victoria Falls

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

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

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

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tambourine concerts and flying ants

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mosques and pantomimes

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

High and Low

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 17, 2006


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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where we're at

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas box

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Happy Human Rights Day!

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stress, romance and mango

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Air & Water

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekend and Memory

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Je m'appelle Rochelle

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

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