Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Do you ever have one of those really good, really intense days where statistics become real to you and your life is never the same afterwards? Yesterday was one of those days for me. I spent the day with some nurses and social workers from Island Hospice, where I am hoping to do some volunteer work in the near future. We went into a high density area and spent a few hours at a clinic. We met about 40 women and children within a few hours, and all of them were HIV+.

The first boy I met was 16, but he looked about 11. He had just tested positive for HIV, and was saying that he knew he had to be strong and ignore his aunts who were accusing him of bringing shame to the family. Both his parents are dead.

We met another 16 year old who was just getting back on ARVs. He had been going to a church where the pastor told him that taking the drugs was a sign of weak faith. So, he stopped taking them and had a stroke. After much struggle, he's back on the retrovirals.

We met an 11 year old girl who looked about 6. Since going on ARVs she has put on some weight, and her mom is so proud of how beautiful she looks in her school uniform. Many women spoke about how their children are angry with them for passing on the HIV virus during childbirth. Imagine the guilt...

We met a woman who has been on ARVs for a few years, but has just been re-infected. The only way she can put food on the table is by selling her body, and most "customers" don't like condoms. I guess it's a choice she makes - die now (hunger) or later (HIV/AIDS).

We met a cute little 3 year old whose 4 year old sister died last week of malnutrition. The nurses were pleading with her 11 year old cousin to take good care of her. The 11 year old has 7 kids to look after.

I spent the afternoon at a support group for kids who are caring for dying parents (or, in some cases, grandparents who are their guardians because they are already orphans). There were about 15 kids - aged 10 - 16, and I developed such a respect and admiration for them. They had received 3 days of training from Island, and then had monthly support group meetings. Some of their comments really struck me:

"I learned that when I am cleaning up my mom's diarrhea or vomit, I need to protect myself by wearing plastic bags on my hands. And I learned that I can't be upset when my mother messes or when she yells at me. Because she is very sick."

"I find it difficult to talk to my mom about dying. I don't want her to die. I keep praying that she'll get better."

"I had always dreamed of going to boarding school and getting a good education. My grandmother promised me that she would put me through school. But on that fateful day, she was killed in a road accident on the way back from the rural areas."

"I love school, but I can't go anymore. I'm 16. I have to be an adult now."

"I didn't like it at my mother's funeral when people kept telling me not to cry or be upset. It was painful."

"The people we share a house with always make fun of my mother, but she is too weak to say anything. She just goes into her room and cries. But I yell at them."

"It hurts me when my father whips me. He sends me to the market so early in the morning that sometimes I fall asleep in school. He is always shouting at me, but all I want to do it take care of him."

"I think an example of spiritual pain is when people tell you your parent is going to hell, and then they die."

Of course I have known about HIV/AIDS for a long time. I know the statistics. But to spend a whole day meeting people infected or severely affected by the disease... So many stories, so many lives, so much poverty, so many emotions. This is a crisis day after day, hour after hour...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lindor, cockroaches and a farewell

Yesterday we were at the shops and we saw Lindor chocolate! We both love Lindor, and we've never seen it in this country before. Unfortunately, a package of 3 Lindor truffles would have cost us (at the official exchange rate) $75 US dollars!

This morning I was jogging, and saw a man on the side of the street with a big tank (it looked kind of like a helium tank). He stopped me and said, "I spray cockroaches." I said, "Excuse me?" He said, "I spray cockroaches - don't you have any in your home?" I said, "Actually we don't?" Then he pulled out a tiny thumbnail-sized piece of paper with is name and number on it, pleading, "please tell your friends. Some of them must have cockroaches." (I did ask him if he ever sprays dogs, but I was joking). Everyone in Zimbabwe has a business.

And we farewelled the Wards yesterday. Our fellow Canadians flew to Canada for a month with their family before moving to Chicago. We will miss them, but thankfully we have many other members in our big Zimbabwean family.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


John and I have been SLIGHTLY addicted to LOST this past month. We finished Season 2 last night. Man, what a suspenseful show - we love it! Of course it ended in a cliffhanger, so we'll just have to wait until Season 3 comes out on DVD so some good person (like my father-in-law!) can send it to us. Please DON'T tell us anything that happens, ok? T.V. kind of fear is good...

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I am so afraid of dogs now. When I'm out jogging and I see a dog, I cross to the other side of the street, and my heart starts pounding like crazy. The dog bite sort of traumatized me, I guess. It makes me think of how difficult it must be for women or girls who have been raped - they would have constant reminders and that fear would always be re-surfacing. It's a horrible feeling to be consumed by fear. Last night I was talking to a friend who has a lot of fears. He was traumatized by the war, and has been on medication ever since. He has started seeing things that he knows aren't real, but - of course - it's scary for him. I often think about that when I meet people with serious mental illnesses - what a way to live - always being afraid of everything. We're supposed to be free; not fearful.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Adventures in Travel

The other day we were coming back from Guruve via public transit. Combis don't tend to travel unless they are jam-packed, because fuel is too valuable. So, we were hanging around Mvurwi (a town) trying to find people to travel back to Harare with us. John and I were in the front bench of the combi. A couple of guys came to the door, saw us and said (in Shona) "no way! We're not sitting beside those white people!" and refused to get in unless others would trade places with them. I was offended, and thought "how racist!" I was telling the story later to some friends, and they explained "they were probably afraid that you would speak to them in English; that they wouldn't understand, and then everyone in the combi would laugh at them."

The other other day we were in one of our first ever Harare traffic jams on the way to work (maybe because so many people are importing fuel for private use now, more people are on the roads). Our driver decided to drive straight into oncoming traffic. To us, this sort of felt like taking our life into our hands (driving in Zimbabwe has really improved my prayer life!) but to the others in our combi it was like, "now we're in America!" (because we were driving on the right) "aren't you happy?" Well, we did get to work quicker than others...

From Zimbabweans - with love

"We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirst, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." 1 Corinthians 4:10b-13

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How is Canada?

When you're new to a country, you tend to have the same conversations over and over again - about how long you've been here, about whether or not you like it, about the weather, and about your home country. A question we are frequently asked is, "How is Canada?" The first few times it caught us off guard. How do you sum up a country? Usually I just say, "it's big" or "it's cold" or "it's nice." (By the way, speaking of Canada, I just read about the serial killer who killed at least 26 women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver - how sick!) Anyway, the whole "How is Canada?" question has made me think a lot about the question we all ask each other all of the time - "How are you?" How can you sum up how you're doing in a quick 30 second conversation (if, indeed, the person really does want to know how you're doing?) How are YOU?

Some Lessons Learned

1. Look first. Yesterday I went for a walk to Harare Gardens. It's really lovely there, and I wanted to just sit in the shade and read a magazine. So, I found a nice bench, sat down and started reading. I felt a few ants here and there, but just tried to ignore them ("going with the flow" is one of my big new years' resolutions!) Eventually I had to look down. There was an anthill on the bench! I literally had ants EVERYWHERE in my pants. Yuck! Look first.

2. Ask first. At the farewell programme for the Z.S.Y.L. the Divisional Commander gave a few words. At one point he said, "we are so grateful that you chose to come to Guruve for your orientation. Many people have been scared to come here because of all of the malaria and cholera outbreaks, but you still came - thank you." Yep, didn't know about those outbreaks! Ask first.

3. Lunch after lunch. One interesting thing I've noticed about THQ (where we work) is that everyone has lunch after lunch! We have 1 hour and 15 minutes for lunch break. Everyone sits around and chats and does each other's hair, etc. Then when it's over, people bring out their lunches and eat them at their desks. Lunch after lunch. (Oh, by the way, related to another post - our new I.T. assistant at work is named Admire!)

4. It's good to be alive. I was thinking about this on my run this morning. I'm not an athlete like John, but as I was gasping for breath, I was thinking about how good it is to breathe. God is good, and it's good to be alive. Amen!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Brilliant started boarding school two weeks ago. I was talking with her mom yesterday, and she said Brilliant's doing really well. Their family makes much less than even our pathetic salary, and so there is no way that she would have been able to go to secondary school. Except for a very kind man in Canada named David Ford - who sent money for her school fees and uniform, etc. We are grateful to our friend David, because to be honest, it seemed a shame for a girl named Brilliant to have to finish school after grade 7. Poverty is a massive problem and it is not solved for this family, but at least Brilliant is in school.

I just posted a photo of her in her nice new uniform in our photo gallery. There are also some pics of Christmas, our trip to kumusha and Guruve.

I am used to.. but...

I am used to Zimbabwean names, but sometimes they still catch me off guard. Like today, I went to the installation of our new Divisional Commander. His first name is Funny. In Guruve I met a girl named Attitude, and heard about a family where the firstborn is Favourite, the second born is Average, and the lastborn is Finish. I am dead serious. Names are usually given according to the circumstances of the birth (so let your imaginations run wild for these names!)

I am used to long meetings with many offerings, but I still believe a good service doesn't need to go beyond 3 hours, and one offering is sufficient.

I am used to police roadblocks on the roads into Harare, but they still make me uneasy. It's strange to have police examine your bags and body search you. Saturday the policewoman who searched me was quite curious about my soapdish (which was also wrapped in a ziploc bag). But it really did only have soap in it.

I am used to sadza and we ate it every day in Guruve, but I can't eat a mountain of it like Zimbabweans do. I only take a small hill. By the way - we finished up our orientation with a big braai of all of the beast that was leftover. Oh, it was yummy!

Monday, January 15, 2007

100% raise

We got a 100% raise yesterday! That's pretty good, eh? (Well, until you consider that last week I went to the corner store and noticed that a juice box would have cost me 20% of my monthly Zimbabwean salary!) Don't worry, Mom - we're fine!

A prayer

The other day I was walking home from church with some officers (pastors). We passed my friend Lionel so I said hi to him and wished him Happy New Year. As we were walking on, the officers said (totally within earshot) "that's good Rochelle. That man is a drunk and a sinner. I think you should try to make him a (Salvation Army) soldier." I suggested maybe what he really needs is someone just to say hi or be kind to him. Last night I was visiting a family. The wife was telling me that she wants me to pray for her husband because he is not a Christian. We actually ended up having a prayer time a few minutes later and the husband prayed something similar to this, "God, thank you for this day. It is a miracle to be alive, because many of my friends are dying every day. Thank you for my wife, and for food that you give us. And God, from the bottom of my heart, I pray that you would bless our government and show them how to turn out country around. Because we are suffering. Amen." Hmmmm, I wonder what makes a good Christian....

Hey - I have an article posted on therubicon.org about my struggles with the "missionary" label (under blog reads if you want a shortcut). The brilliant Sherri Golisky (a.k.a. my best friend) also has an article, and it's really good. Check it out!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

The orientation for the Zimbabwe School for Youth Leadership is going really well. God is good. Thanks for all of those who have prayed for this initiative. We're based at Horseshoe - which is a run-down country club that was donated to The Salvation Army in the middle of nowhere. It's actually quite a beautiful place with mountains and farms and lots of green. I'm used to prayer walking in downtown Toronto. It was a bit of a different feel when we did a prayer walk and didn't see another person for the first half hour! But we had some nice prayer over the borehole and trees! The roosters wake up early at Horseshoe - 4:30am is rise and shine! So far we have 12 students, and they seem to be really enjoying themselves and learning a lot. When I look at them, I feel so proud! You know you work so hard on a programme, and then when people actually show up - it feels like a dream come true. The group is great - they're willing to try anything. They did a whole obstacle course blindfolded, and showed such determination. A whole bunch of kids from the school came out to watch. They were fascinated to see all of these teenagers doing crazy things (and it amazed me that some where still more fascinated with my "bright" skin than all the craziness!)

Rest assured - we did find a beast! The whole group got together to slaughter it and then clean out the insides. John and I have been involved in a few leadership training schools, but this was my first time to kill a beast. It wasn't even like, "hey, this would be a cool team-building activity." It was like, "hey, we need to eat." I was amazed. No one asked, "ok, who knows how to do this?" Everyone just stood up, got the ax, and went to work - whether they were from the slums of Harare or the deep rural areas. When people started getting splattered with blood, I suggested they might want to remove their ZSYL name tags!! I got to see the "byble" that we ate at Christmas in its very raw form. We gave the head of the bull to the Divisional Commander (I guess that's custom because it's a delicacy) and the liver to the Territorial Commander (don't forget protocol!) Other than that, we've been feasting. I'm not a big meat-eater anyway, and the whole slaughtering thing didn't exactly help, but when in Rome... and it was nice beef.

Everyone's always concerned about my health, so I'll just say that I'm fine - a few "washroom problems" but nothing major. The first night was a bit brutal - I got a hundred bug bites, and peed on my pyjamas (it was dark when we arrived so I was figuring out the whole outhouse thing!) Mostly I'm just really happy. It's so cool to see all of these emerging leaders and to see that they're being challenged but up for the challenge. I'm pleased with how the distance education course I wrote turned out (John designed it). When I presented it to the students, they seemed very intimidated, but I know they can do it (I told them so) and I think they're up for it. I need to sort out some stuff at work and then I'll go back up until the end on Saturday. I must admit that on Tuesday at 12:00pm when we were supposed to be leaving Harare and we didn't have any: students, food or course books I was a TAD anxious, but it's all come together. God is good.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Leadership, logistics and legs

Tomorrow is the first day of school, and tomorrow the Zimbabwe School
of Youth Leadership will be born. 18 youth from all over Zimbabwe are
going to be coming to participate in the two week orientation, held in
Guruve (a rural area). Most of the leadership training will happen in
the youth's own provinces/divisions, but they will come together every
3 months. I'm nervous and excited all at the same time. Personally, I
have already learned a lot about leadership from trying to prepare
this course!

A lot of planning is happening last minute - particularly around
logistics. Today people went out to buy the food. This was a challenge
because the prices that we got quoted last week have all jumped (side
note: our friend's daughter is starting kindergarten "grade zero"
tomorrow. Last Friday jerseys cost $13,000, and today they're $38,000
- the price jumps are incredible!) We're also still trying to locate a
beast; which we can eat for the 2 weeks. We went to collect our money
from the cash office, but they said that the bank is limiting what
people can take out at one time, so we weren't able to have any money.
That makes purchasing things a bit tricky! And then there's the hunt
for fuel... I've mostly been trying to prepare the course material. We
went to photocopy today, but the photocopier in our building was
broken. There is a photocopier in John's building, but they haven't
had electricity since Christmas. So, no photocopies. It's a bit
difficult for John to work on creating the website without electricity
nor internet access...

John decided to run home from work today, so as we were all waiting in
the parking lot, he arrived in his short shorts and running gear. One
girl kept staring at John's legs (which is understandable, because he
has nice legs!) I teased her about it and she explained that she was
just admiring how John is the same colour in his legs as in his face.
She said that it is an advantage of being white. She guessed that even
his buttocks were the same colour. No comment...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Friendship of Women

"No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverance" (George Eliot). I just read my first book of 2007 - a Christmas gift from my best friend - "The Friendship of Women The Hidden Tradition of the Bible" (Joan Chittister). I have many good male friends, and I am grateful for them, but there is something very special about friendships between women. Here's one quote: "Men, very often, conduct their friendships "side-by-side," in shared activities, in project development, in group play, in situations that bring no basic threat to power and demand no emotional vulnerability. Women, on the other hand, shape their relationships "face-to-face," in mutual dependence, in honest conversation, in exposures of personal weaknesses." I am so grateful for friends who can "go deep" with me; for friends I can be vulnerable and honest with. I am grateful for friends who take my pain or anger or self-centredness or deep joy - and accept me and love me without judgement. When I think of good friends, I think of people who have shared life with me - those who have been with me to share laughs and tears; ups and downs; adventures as well as every-day, ordinary life.

This past week I was speaking with my friend Grace. Her family is from Tanzania, and The Salvation Army has just appointed them back to their country. She has decided to leave her 4 kids in Zimbabwe so that they can get a good education (they lost 2 years in their move here, and Grace fears the same thing will happen if they bring them back). As she was talking about leaving her two youngest children in this country, Grace started to cry, and so did I. I was feeling Grace's mother heart. She kept apologizing for crying, but she shouldn't have - it was a beautiful moment of friendship that we could share. I will miss Grace...

Yesterday I went to Agnes' funeral. One of her friends gave a eulogy - talking about how they met in 1972 and had shared so many joys and sorrows. 35 years of stories, phone calls, troubles, jokes, visits... Most of the older women who are our neighbours attended - all walking to the church, crying and mourning together. I was sitting beside Ruth. Ruth is the one who was with Agnes in her final hours. Ruth also lost her daughter when she was just a teenager. Ruth spent much of the service weeping. At times I just let her cry. At times, I just put my arm around her and prayed for her silently.

"With true friends, even water drunk together is sweet enough" (Chinese proverb). With good friends, life is sweet - even if we're only sharing water. With good friends, we can face the darkness with hope. Thank God for good friends!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Wise words

"The essence of being an African Christian is joy amidst sorrow. When
people are silent, it's not that they are stupid or do not know how to
speak for themselves, but they trust in a God whom they believe will
make all things right in due season." Gabriel Alalade (wise words from
our friend - love it!)

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time
is today." (Chinese proverb)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

There is a reason

Two of our neighbours have died in the last few days. I will miss
Agnes. She was such a lively, bright woman. She called me "Rochelley"
and liked to share laughs. I had promised to have her over for dinner
in the new year. Too late... Last night I went to youth group. Isaiah
's theme was "2007." He was emphasizing the point that we have crossed
over from 2006 to 2007, and so there must be a reason for that. He
asked us to look around at each other and marvel that we all made it
to the new year. "Who knows how many of us will make it to 2008, but
right now we are alive, and that means that God has a reason for us
coming into 2007. There is a purpose." In North America, people - and
especially young people - think they're going to live forever. Here,
people are amazed and grateful if they make it through another year.
It's such a different worldview. But I'm learning a lot from it, and
last night it made me think - if I have been given the gift of being
alive in 2007, what is my purpose for this year?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! May you find new joys, new grace and new adventures in 2007.

John and I brought in the new year by jumping into a swimming pool. It was quite fun! We had spent the evening playing monopoly and eating as much as possible. Today we went to kumusha (rural home) with our sawiras (close friends) - the Rutanhiras. It was really nice. People traditionally go to kumusha for the holidays, although many people can't afford to any more because of fuel shortages. It was a lovely drive. It's been raining a lot, so there is a lot of green everywhere. Something happened to our engine on the way back. We stopped at the side of the road and asked if there was a mechanic nearby. The response was, "turn left and ask for Canaan." We turned left and approached a large set of huts. We found Canaan in the bar. That made me a little nervous. But after a while, we did get the engine working. We also met a myriad of kids who were very excited to see white people. The kept smiling and dancing, and killing themselves laughing whenever we would smile or wave back. When we were leaving I put my hand out the window to give high fives. Everyone wanted to rub my arm, although some were frightened and just ran up, touched me, giggled and ran back to brag about the "victory" to their friends. Going to the rural areas is always fun.

Of course I made resolutions for the new year, but I also picked a few "theme verses" for 2007 that pretty much sum up the kind of attitude I want to have this year. They come from 1 Thessalonians 5:14b-18 - "Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Amen!