Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Risky ice cream

Yesterday (the 28th) was our 10 month anniversary in Zim. We decided to celebrate by eating lunch in the park, and then walking into town to share an ice cream cone. We got quite close to the ice cream store when all of a sudden we saw everyone - masses of people - running towards us. John saw men with batons chasing everyone, grabbed my elbow and shouted, "run!" We asked someone after what was going on. "A demonstration" (which, of course, are illegal here). It was kind of scary though. It was like we were on a movie set - or on BBC in one of those "far away" countries where that type of thing happens. 5 minutes later John thought we should go back around another way, that I should wait at the corner, and that he should try for the ice cream. I didn't let him. (And he worries about MY danger perception!!) Right... Happy Anniversary!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Party Time

On Saturday we took about 35 kids to Mukuvisi Woodlands. They played in the playground, and got to ride horses (all of them for the first time) and then a guide took us out to walk amongst the zebra and wildebeest (unfortunately, the giraffes were hiding). Then we came back and had a braai (bbq) and cake. The kids even got "treat bags" with maputi (popcorn), biscuits (cookies), sweets (candies) and a straw (this was a big deal!) to take home. I loved the extremely loud singing on the combi ride home. It was a great day, and so nice to see all of these kids just having so much fun. Life is tough, but sometimes kids just need to have a little fun. And besides - it was the week of our president's 83rd birthday. Seeing as the life expectancy for men here is only 34, he's done very well!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Inner Conflict

Last night I went to a send-off party/prayer meeting for two officer friends who are moving to the U.K. I had arrived late, because I was at choir, so I tried to "slip in" and sit on the floor right near the door. Someone suggested that I go sit with the ladies, but it would have meant walking right in front of the person giving the speech, so I said I was ok. Well, it turned out to be a big commotion until I went over and huddled with all of the other ladies. All the men, of course, were sitting on chairs. When it came time for tea, a couple of women were appointed to bring a jug and basin around to everyone (men first, of course) and wash their hands. Usually I do this, and people love to see me on my knees - taking my place and fulfilling my role - because it's respectful of culture, and shows that I want to fit in. Tea and cakes were served to everyone, but a special plate of meat was brought out for the territorial commander (the leader of The Salvation Army here) because he had come to the party. To give some context... I had spent the day with orphans dressed in ripped clothes (at a non-Army centre as the Army doesn't even have one orphanage in this country) and eating the peanut butter sandwiches we gave them as quickly as they could because they were so hungry.

I am a person of values and principles. Here are two values that I hold on to dearly:

1. I believe that all human beings have value and dignity, and were created in the image of God. I believe, thus, that all human beings are equal.

2. I am an anti-racist and an anti-colonialist. I respect other people's cultures and beliefs profoundly.

I think I have some inner conflict when these values conflict! I came to Zimbabwe swearing that I would listen and learn rather than teach. I came to Zimbabwe knowing that there was a lot of bitterness here against a race that had dominated for too long, and so I came to Zimbabwe determined to be humble, and to fit in, and to respect the way things are done here. I'm absolutely committed to this attitude, and yet... I'm also committed to the idea that all people are equal.

I admire they way Zimbabweans show respect to each other. But something screams within me when some people are treated with so much more honour and respect than others. When I taught at the training college the other day, I ate lunch afterwards with the staff. We had a totally different (and much better) meal than the students. But I ate it - I didn't want to cause a fuss. Last Sunday we went to a Salvation Army event and were invited to have lunch before the service. It was all the officers and us. And we were hungry, so we ate. But it also felt wrong to eat in front of everyone else. Our territorial leaders always get gifts at every event, and it's a sign of respect to them (and it's "cultural" because this is what you would do for a clan chief too). But it also feels wrong that the "rich" keep getting richer at the expense of the "poor." Jesus showed an undeniable concern and favour for the poor and marginalized people of his time, and so especially as followers of Jesus in the Church, it pains me to see those people remaining at the "bottom" of the heap. And yet, I don't want to have a critical/judgmental attitude either or come in with a "superior" mind-set (and I obviously know that my own culture has a lot of problems/issues too, but I feel more free to express those!) See my inner conflict?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brothers Karamazov

I just read "The Brothers Karamazov" (Fyodor Dostoevsky). It's a long read, but it's amazing! As soon as I finished, I wanted to go and re-read it. The Russian authours have always intimidated me, but John brought a copy to Zim, so I decided to go for it. The characters are fascinating, and there are just so many thought-provoking ideas - about God and human beings and relationships and life. I know it's one of the best books of all time, so it doesn't really need my extra recommendation, but I totally do recommend it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

First Snake

I'm used to the lizards and the wall spiders in our house. They honestly don't bother me. I'm used to clearing all of the ants out of our bathtub before taking my morning bath. The other day I found a cricket in the sink and a cockroach in the laundry, but the icing on the cake was the snake that John stepped on in his barefeet on Friday night. It was in our living room - and we don't know if it was poisonous or not. Thankfully our friend Sam was visiting at the time. He grabbed one of our Maasai spears (we knew they would come in handy!) and used it to put the snake in a box, then bringing it out of the house. Sometimes you just feel like you're in Africa...

To be totally honest, I'm more afraid of dogs than snakes. I have a new running route that is relatively dog-free, but there are 3 dogs that sleep right outside of our house. They've chased me back in the house several mornings. Now John acts as my bodyguard, and we have a host of protective weaponry ranging from a broom to small rocks to a musical shaker (actually, I was thinking this morning that the mix of the barking, growling and shaker might make for an interesting alternative CD!) Maybe I wouldn't be so afraid of dogs if they didn't look so hungry. The thing is, people are having enough trouble feeding their kids - never mind stray dogs! The other day I saw a friend devouring a mango. He explained, "I'm starving!" and it was striking to note that he meant this literally.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reviewing the situation

This week we have been having a 20 year review of Salvation Army officers (pastors). This is the first time that these officers have come together since they got commissioned (ordained) 20 years ago. I have been quite moved by hearing their stories and testimonies. 20 years is a long time to be committed to something. One man talked about the 6 years when he, his wife and his 6 children all shared a bed in a one room house. Another man talked about being moved to a rural area with a newborn baby and struggling to find food for months because of drought. One woman started to cry because she said, "I guess we're going to retire without ever driving a car" (because only important people like divisional commanders and cabinet members get access to cars). The review really made me think about what officers back in Canada complain about....

We had really interesting discussions on integrity (in a place where the abnormal has become normal), status, retirement age (which has just gone up to 63, even though the life expectancy here has dropped to 31 for women and 34 for men), and other matters.

There were 2 ironic moments for me on the last day. The first was when we had a talk on stress relief that went 1 hour longer than it should have - and into lunchtime. The delegates were getting so stressed, but the teacher would just not stop talking! The other was in our final meeting - when the territorial commander came - and one item on the programme was for the 20 year review delegates to sing a song. They wanted me to sing too. So, we all gathered in front of the T.C. and sang - and he reviewed his notes the whole time; not looking up - even though he was the only person listening to the song! No one else seemed to find these 2 things funny, but I did.

Valentine's Reminders

I was reminded of 5 things on Valentine's Day this year:

#1 - I have the best husband on the planet. Everyone knows I'm crazy about John, but we have this amazing relationship and marriage, and it just keeps getting better. As a surprise, he got us a room at the Meikles hotel for the night. This is the classiest hotel in the country and it was marvelous! Our room was so fancy and had a shower and satellite t.v. and complimentary chocolates and orange juice. We also had a Valentine's 5 course Dinner with live music and roses on our table. It was SO romantic, and a wonderful mini vacation. We even swam in the pool that was on the roof. Man, I love my husband - we share an extravagant love.

#2 - Love never grows old. I was talking with a retired Salvation Army Colonel the day before Valentine's and asking if she had any plans. She laughed and said that she and her husband have been married for 53 years - and that Valentine's day is for young people like me. I argued with her that it's never too late for romance. On Valentine's I asked if anything had happened. She said she gave her husband a kiss and a hug and then giggled like a school girl. It was so cute!

#3 - Valentine's day can be stressful for men. I was asking some of the young guys at our church what they had planned for Valentine's. They said that their plan was to turn their cell phones off and then blame "poor network" the next day.

#4 - Valentine's day can be stressful for women. I was talking with a 21 year old today. She is HIV+ and has recently had a stroke and can't walk. But her main worry is that not a single guy called her for Valentine's. She wonders if she will ever have a boyfriend.

#5 - STDs are bad. On Valentine's day just before lunch I was at the 20 year review of officers (I'll write more about this in another post) and we were having a session on family life. The presenter was mostly talking about the importance of romance, but also discouraging "small houses" (affairs). She said she thought that the best way to discourage small houses was to show a video about sexually transmitted diseases. So we all watched graphic images of men and women's private parts with various infections and diseases. How romantic!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Valentines Day!

I love: God

I love: water, air, sleep, freedom, peace, chocolate (the basics)

I love: learning, good conversation, vacations

I love: family and friends

But in the romantic, Valentines way, there's only one that I am crazy, truly, madly in love with and that's Mr. John McAlister

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thank God

Last night I read John 1 (from the Bible). Verses 3 and 10 stood out to me: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." These verses reminded me of a conversation I had with Admire - a guy at work. He was asking me about Canada, and whether Western countries are truly like how they look in the movies - with lots of food and cars and nice houses, etc. After a while he said, "all Canadians must love God." I explained to him that actually Canada is quite a secular society and that many people don't believe in God, or at least don't seem to practise Christianity. He was incredulous - "but you have so much there! People should be thanking God every minute of the day for all that you have there." I couldn't really argue with him. I tried to explain to him that many North Americans feel that they have done the work themselves - without God's help. He couldn't grasp the concept. It's such a cliche, but people here have so little, and yet they are so grateful to God for what they have. And in the West, we have so much, and yet complain about what we still want. There is so much to be thankful for. Thank God.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A little lighter

And now for something a little lighter... I remember as a young teen meeting a missionary from Africa who was home on furlough, and she was wearing a skirt and her legs were so hairy. And I thought, "man, she is totally out of touch - she doesn't even know you're supposed to shave your legs!" Well, I wear more skirts now than I ever have, and I just looked down - yikes! (By the way - I love the whole don't-worry-about-nylons-when-wearing-your-uniform thing!) Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever fit in when we go home... The other day I was reading a scene in a book where a man drops breadcrumbs in his son's grave so that the birds will come, eat them and give him company. My reaction was: wow - that's quite a sacrifice to give his dead son bread, since it's so hard to come by. Right.

P.S. Huge shout out to Kathy, Carie and our dear parents who all sent chocolates in time for Valentine's. God is good (and so are they!)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Economics 101

Living in Zimbabwe is a very interesting way to learn about economics. Many people thought that Dr. Gono (reserve bank governor) would devalue the currency in his last speech, but he did no such thing. So, our fixed exchange rate still stands at 250:1 (250 Zim dollars to 1 US dollar). The real (floating) exchange rate fluctuates, but is at about 4700:1 (which is quite different from 250:1). Of course, prices for goods and services tend to reflect the real exchange rate, and prices are going up all of the time. For international non-governmental organizations, this causes a huge challenge. Money from overseas obviously gets transferred through the bank, so that when it comes out, it is at the official rate. Therefore, most of the value of the money is lost - which is very sad, because that money really could have gone a long way in helping people who really need it.

NGOs are hard hit because of increasing prices for everything, but also by donors who cannot understand why Zimbabwe is always asking for more money. When my department at work made our annual budget, we accounted for a certain percentage of inflation, and so the amounts we requested were very high - much, much higher than last year's budget. And so only 1% of our budget got approved. Now we are trying to plan training events, but the amount of money we have to work with is next to nothing. The amount of foreign exchange that used to sustain an organization for 2 years now won't even last a month, because the value of that money is decreased so much. NGOs are wary of the ever-increasing demands for money, and many are pulling out. Of course, people say that it's better if all NGO work is sustained by Zimbabweans anyway, without relying on overseas transfers - but that is also a challenge when 80% of the population is unemployed, and the majority of people are living in poverty.

The rate at which prices and inflation are rising is incredible. Of course, the government is trying to crackdown on the black market, but it is a large task. There is a parallel market for currency, because it is almost impossible to get foreign currency from the bank. Everything from problems with our water sanitation system to problems with electricity and problems with our communication system is blamed on lack of forex ("no forex, so we can't buy parts.") There is also a parallel market for goods such as fuel or sugar or bread. For example, you can find sugar in shops now, so you see LONG sugar queues outside of shops. Some people buy many bags, and then sell them on the street at a higher price. The parallel market causes shortages, but also helps people to access goods in times of shortages. I took basic economics in university, but living here has made concepts quite a bit more real. Dr. Gono is a well-educated, intelligent man. Please continue to pray for great wisdom for all of those making decisions about the economy, and all of those who are affected by it. Most people are waiting for a miracle.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Poverty is brutal

I was talking with a friend the other day. He was mentioning how the cost of public transport has gone up again (it is four times what it was in December). The amount he pays to get to and from work is far more than his monthly salary. He was mentioning that he has to borrow money from neighbours to pay for transport. He also has 4 kids, and he was telling me that despite his whole budget going to transport, he feels that he needs to keep on feeding them (I agreed). He told me that the other day one of his daughters came home from school telling her dad that she needs a new pen because her other one has run out. He said he almost had a breakdown because he wondered how he would ever find the money to buy a pen. That's depressing. I can't imagine the agony of truly wondering if you are going to be able to feed your kids and buy them basics like pens. And this is a man who works a 40 hour week. Please pray.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Such a rebel

Last night I went to youth choir at our church. I had an interesting conversation with one of the guys afterwards. He was saying that on Sunday all of the youth were asked by the corps officer (pastor) to stay behind after church (we weren't there - we were at Howard). The youth were then lectured on various things, but one was about dress. The corps officer was saying that he never wants to see one of the girls wearing trousers inside of the church building (i.e. for youth group or youth choir), because "it's not our culture." In fact, he said if he catches one of the girls even coming past the gate wearing trousers, the following Sunday he will call them up in front of the whole church and publicly humiliate them. He also mentioned that "John and Rochelle McAlister have a different culture, and a different way of doing things." He told the girls that I don't know any better, so it is ok for me to wear trousers, but others shouldn't be influenced by me. Well, I feel like a complete rebel! There are not too many times in my life where I have been mentioned in front of a whole crowd of people as being a bad influence!! Majoring in the minors...

By the way... congratulations to Billie-Marie and Curtis on the birth of Addison. She is such an adorable baby. Check out: for pics.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Our weekend

Friday night we splurged and went to Meikles hotel - the finest hotel in all of Zimbabwe. And oh, it was fine! We both had really nice meals, and shared an enormous slice of chocolate cake. This is going to sound ghetto, but the thing that impressed me most about the hotel is that they had 2 ply toilet paper in the washroom. I always think the place is great if there is any form of toilet paper in the washrooms, but Meikles exceeded my expectations. 2 ply is so nice (what a luxury!) It was a lovely date. One thing I find strange about living here is that we're viewed as rich. Like, we just walked into this fancy hotel and people didn't look twice. Whenever we're walking on the street, we'll be targetted as people to beg from. It's just strange...

Saturday John went for his usual "light" run of 30km. Then we went to a children's home with our friends Alice and Mac. Alice's grand-daughter lives there. Actually, Alice had to tell the 8 year old that her mother had died (her late son's girlfriend). She was understandably very nervous about it. 67 kids live at this orphanage. The youngest child they've had there was 4 hours old (just left at their gate) and the oldest would be about 10. Adoption is not part of the culture here, and so it's really discouraged. The hope for these kids is that they can get an education and learn to be independent. Of course, you just want to bring all of them home and hug them a lot. The kids kept fighting over who would get to hold our hands. We'll be back there.

Yesterday we spent the day at Howard high school. A new administrator was being installed, and so they wanted John to take photos. We were at an assembly of 600 kids, and wow - can they sing! John introduced ourselves in Shona and the place was roaring with cheers and clapping. We got to see Brilliant, and some other young friends who attend there. On the way home, we had to stop in at a Salvation Army church to pick up some sound equipment. Well, their church service was still going on, so the officer asked us to come and greet them. So, we went up to the platform, and John did his introduction again. People LOVED that he spoke in Shona (and that we announced our totems). It felt like we were rockstars in this remote little church! John offered to take a photo of the congregation, and this made him even more of a hit! It was a good weekend.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's a strange world!

There are people selling things on almost every corner of Harare. Yesterday we saw a guy selling a single, used shower cap. Random!

We went to buy some bananas at a corner near where we work. John said (in Shona) "I would like 3 bananas please!" The man smiled and told us the cost was $1500. So, John pulled out $2,000. I said, "C'mon John - let's just buy 4!" so that the man didn't have to search for change. Later John explained, "I only know how to say I want 3 bananas, so I always just buy 3!" :)

In other strange news... the media here really likes news from China. The other day the paper carried a story about a Chinese thief who stole a cell phone from a teacher. The teacher started text-messaging her phone, and after 21 "moving" messages, the thief returned the phone - saying he was sorry, admiring her tolerance and telling her he wanted to be a better person.

I also read the story of a Bosnian hospital patient who went to have an operation to remove his kidney stone. When he got to the hospital he was told that the machine was broken, so he asked for a toolbox. He spent 7 hours fixing the machine and then had his surgery. How bizarre - how painful!