Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ZSYL in Murehwa

Rochelle and I have been in Murehwa this week with the Zimbabwe School for Youth Leadership. This is the second of five gatherings with the young people, and we are really pleased with how the school is developing. Fifteen youth managed to make it to Murehwa, which means that 15 out of 18 regions in Zimbabwe are represented by an emerging young leader. We had a full complement of 18 a couple of weeks ago, but one bailed because the course was too difficult and two couldn't raise enough money to make it Harare to take the bus with us (we found out too late). We're not happy about this, as their regional leaders made the decision not to invest in this programme (or their youth). Two other regions made the same decision, but we were able to find funding for them in time.

In addition to seminars and workshops, the youth will be involved in community home visits and open-air meetings in various community townships. Most of them are doing really well with their course work and assignments. We are very proud of every one of them.

I came back to Harare today, but Rochelle will stay with the group until Saturday. When I arrived in town this afternoon, I was walking to work from the bus terminal and noticed a heavy presence of police armed with AK-47s in the streets. The police had blocked off a major area of the downtown core and people were forced to walk many streets out of their way. When I looked down one of the main streets it looked like a deserted city. It turns out that the police were arresting members of the opposition party (including the opposition leader) and had blocked the major streets near the party headquarters.

Things are getting very tense here these days. The economy is very bad (it's beyond deteriorating) and the political situation is becoming more and more violent. Obviously this puts a lot of stress on our day-to-day life, but more importantly, we are worried about the Zimbabwean people who have to live through this chaos. Things are escalating, so please continue to pray for the people of Zimbabwe. Many of them still remember the horrors of the last war that happened in this country, and no one wants to experience another one.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Another Sunday evening in Harare... the weekend went by really quickly. Friday night I went to the shops with a friend (an officer) from work. It was so depressing. Each time she picked up an item, she looked at the price, and then had to put back because it was too expensive (things like soap, laundry soap, milk, etc.) There were so many things left on the shelf beside the check-out counter - obviously by people who realized they couldn't afford what they had intended to buy (or maybe because the price had gone up while they were in the shop!) Inflation is insane. Actually, all the workers at THQ have been meeting this week and trying to negotiate for a transport allowance. The lowest paid worker at our office gets about $1/month. This isn't Nike - this is The Salvation Army! The Salvation Army gets money from the UK, but all of the value gets lost in the fixed exchange rate.

Saturday John ran 50km. He's crazy. He came back looking all relaxed - "I picked up some bananas at the market on the way home" - as if he'd just been on a light jog. I guess being addicted to running is better than being addicted to illegal drugs... He's actually keeping a secret blog about running but I wouldn't tell you that the link is: because he doesn't want anyone to know about it (thinks it would be too pretentious!) I didn't run 50km on Saturday, but I did make a recording in a studio of some piano music. There aren't too many pianists in Zim these days, so I was recording some accompaniments to choral music so that a certain church choir can play my CD and sing along with it. Listening to myself (edited by a machine to cut out my mistakes!) was actually kind of a thrill, and made all those many, many long hours of practice as a child seem sort of worthwhile (my mom - who doubled as my piano teacher - used to only give us allowance if we practiced - it was a good incentive!)

John and I head to Murehwa tomorrow for a week. It's the second installment of the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership. If you're the praying type, please pray about it. Many students are phoning saying they don't know if they'll make it because transport costs are out of this world. We're also struggling to make our funds stretch to feed 25 people for a week (you can only fast so many days...) We're really hoping that it is a good time. We've got our bucket ready (for bathing) and 5 litres of boiled water (for drinking), so we should be fine.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fight or Flight

There is this theory that in moments of crisis, you either take flight or fight. This is an embarrassing confession, but I think I’m more of a flight person. I’m fascinated by heroic characters in movies that put themselves in dangerous situations over and over again, but usually I say to John that I just wouldn’t do that – I would likely just hide. I don’t think I’m really the hero type.

Life is tough in Zimbabwe. Almost everyone is struggling. Every day I have conversations with people who are afraid of not being able to buy food and starving. And it’s tiring. A huge part of me wants to escape from this harsh reality – to fly back to Toronto and wander around the Eaton Centre, or to eat at a restaurant where I will be surrounded by people who can afford to eat out. I guess it’s because I grew up in the wealthy west – where we know about the realities of the world, but we can either change the channel, or write out a cheque from our “extras” to assuage our guilty consciences. Here, it’s “reality t.v.” all day, every day. I read a true story recently of a boy who was so hungry that he was eating grass. His stomach had atrophied so that he couldn’t digest anything, so green was pouring out of cuts on his legs and face. He was starving to death. I’m afraid of seeing that – with my own eyes... and knowing that I have access to US dollars. Of course, we help people – as many as we can. But it feels like it’s never enough.

It’s a horrible thing when a feeling of helplessness leads you to doing nothing, or just desiring to ignore and flee. I’m committed to encouraging the disheartened rather than becoming disheartened myself. But sometimes the engulfing waters threaten me and the deep seems to surround me (Jonah 2:5).

I’m embarrassed to write all of this. When I was at home and watched World Vision commercials, my feeling was always that I wanted to be here, sharing in people’s pain; feeling some of it; forcing myself not to ignore. I just always felt that sending money wasn’t enough – I wanted to be there. To be here. Now I’m here. And of course I’ll stay and fight it out, and of course we’ll keep doing what we can. But I have this shameful desire in me to flee – to go back to “normal” life. But it’s not really normal. This is reality – for many, many people in the world. And the most real part of me wants to stay, and is grateful to God that I can share life with people here. Sometimes it’s just hard…

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


So, have you heard about the Abraham Center of Life? It's the "world's first embryo bank" in San Antonio, Texas, and clients will be able to place orders for ready-made embryos (from looking at detailed profiles of egg and sperm donors). Tailor-made babies! Does this not seem just a little crazy? Does it not just spit in the face of the idea that we are all equal?

In university, we all had to take one science credit, and mine was "Science and Social Choice." We learned a lot about genetic engineering. I wrote a satiric paper based on a dating service where people could choose a mate based on profiles like this. I failed the paper and had to be called in for a special interview with the professor. She was quite concerned about these dangerous ideas, and suggested that I never use satire when writing an academic paper (good point!) I tried to make my paper really exaggerated, but now... was it really that far out of this world? If you can tailor make your baby, why not your life partner too?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Best and Worst

The best moment of my day... was seeing John teaching I.T. He was teaching these big, important men and women the very basics of computers, and they were so attentive. John is a very patient, kind computer teacher, and so the students thrived and were so excited to open, close and save documents for the first time in their lives. It was beautiful!

The worst moment of my day... was at lunchtime. We were walking around downtown, and John had just about finished his meat pie. The wind caught hold of the wrapper, and some crumbs fell to the ground. A woman quickly rushed over, grabbed the crumbs from the ground, and shoved them hungrily into her mouth. It was disturbing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What's in a name?

We spent the weekend at Mazowe High School. It's a Salvation Army boarding school for boys, and we were spending the weekend with the administrator, his wife (she is an amazing cook - I think we both put on at least 10 pounds on the weekend!), and his 3 very cute kids. It was a relaxing weekend. We watched lots of kungfu movies (the kids like it, and don't seem to notice that the VCDs are in Thai/Japanese, etc. - they just like the action), and taught the kids how to play "Rook." Amai made us hamburgers - which was so sweet of her, but it was hilarious to watch the kids struggle to eat this strange food! We were going to get a tour of a nearby prison, but people are a little sensitive about prisons these days. We did see into one of the buildings where the inmates sleep - there were no beds/mattresses, but we were assured that each person gets his own blanket. We went to church with all the boarders this morning, and it was amazing to watch 450 boys jumping, dancing and praising the Lord!

We asked our friend what his Shona surname means in English and he explained that it was actually a nickname that his father was given, but that it had then become his surname. It means "you are going to be killed." I guess our friend's grandfather used to beat his grandmother quite badly, and so they thought the name would be a propos for their child. We met another Salvation Army officer whose surname means "drunk" (which is interesting because Salvationists aren't allowed to drink alcohol!) Oh, and we just visited some neighbours whose baby turned 1 month today (we brought a cake, but he couldn't enjoy it). His name is Bothwell, and he's a cutie. I asked the mother why the name, and she said, "oh my husband likes names starting with B." So, I asked him why all of his kids have names starting with B. He explained - "all the way through school, I was second in my class. All of those years I had a boy in my class who always came in first, and I could never beat him. I was always second. He was A and I was B. So, I just wanted my kids to have that memory." What we pass on to our children is powerful...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Day at the spa

I stayed home from work yesterday, to rest and try to get over this cold. It was actually quite a lovely day. I stayed in bed til 11:00am – reading, and watching one of my favourite movies, “Whale Rider” (it’s so touching – I always cry in the same parts!) Then I got up and painted my toe nails. I drew a nice, warm bath and gave myself a foot massage. Before we left Canada, my sister-in-law Lindsay gave me a bunch of Avon products. I had been saving the “body soufflĂ©” for a special occasion, and this was it. Oh my gosh – how luxurious – to have my body souffled! It was almost like a day at the spa. I was thinking about how many companies in the west offer "mental health days" now. And I was thinking about how mentally exhausting it is when almost every conversation you have all day centres around the theme of "how are we going to survive?" or "are we going to starve to death?"

Of course, I know that taking my own mental health day/day at the spa was a very luxurious thing to do. My gosh, one of the most common conversations you hear these days is the debate about whether or not to buy soap. When your salary isn’t even covering your transport to and from work, you have to give up luxuries, and so the debate is whether soap is a luxury or a necessity. The jam-packed combis (public transportation) are drenched with the smell of human sweat, and so I’m guessing that most people are relegating soap to luxury item. What next?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Coloured toilet paper

Our toilet paper comes in beautiful shades of pink, green and blue. Forget the old, boring white stuff! Although... we started thinking the other day about how healthy it is to be putting artificial colouring in these sensitive body areas. Hmmmm. Today I am tired of coloured toilet paper. I am sick again and so I'm on like a roll a day. I remember the good old days of kleenex and 2-ply toilet paper. They do sell it here, but I can't bring myself to having that kind of luxury. I'm tempted though...

Tuesday I read the book "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." It was written by Jean-Dominique Bauby - who was the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in Paris and then had a massive stroke - becoming paralyzed and losing all physical abilities except for blinking his left eyelid. He "dictated" the book by having people go through the alphabet and blinking on the letter he wanted. His book talks about his being caught in his useless, dead-weight body, and yet the adventures and travels that take place in his mind. He talks about his desire to reach out to his young kids - how they would call him and talk to him on the phone in the hospital, and how he would long to be able to say a few words back. How he longed to reach out and tousle their hair or grab them in a hug or tell them those beautiful words, "I love you." So, I guess I shouldn't really complain about a stupid cold...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Shumba!

A very happy birthday to my handsome, talented husband! I think he is going to honour this day by not running, and since he runs like 25km every day (with way longer runs "for fun" on the weekend), this is a big deal. It would not really be a special treat for him if I cooked (I don't have the culinary gift!) so we'll likely go somewhere for dinner. I love you, Johnny!

Prisoners of Hope

I came upon some interesting word imagery in the book of Zechariah (9:12) the other day - "prisoners of hope." It reminded me of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are a hopeful people. We have noticed that since we got here - the belief that things WILL get better, because they can't possibly get worse! And so, Zimbabweans have clung to this hope, and things have been relatively peaceful. And yet it is not real peace. There is a constant, underlying tension here. People want to avoid war at all costs, because memories are still very fresh of the chimurenga and all the suffering that ensued from the fighting. Everyone wants peace, but it is not real peace when lawlessness, fear, hunger, starvation and death abound. (Another phrase from Habakkuk 2:5 - "greedy as the grave" reminded me of Zimbabwe too). Thing keep getting worse - all the time. Everyone is living under incredible stress (high blood pressure and strokes are hugely common), and some people are giving into despair.

Because of a mix of fear and hope, people have been kept from protesting too much, but we seem to be reaching a breaking point. The opposition leaders were detained and beaten badly in prison for wanting to hold a prayer rally on the weekend. Young people are fed up, and trying to prevent anyone from coming to the city centre to work. It's like people feel there is nothing left to lose. People have been controlled by fear for so long, but if you think you're going to starve to death, you don't fear torture as much. Of course we don't want to pray for unrest and violence, but it also seems wrong to pray that people will remain prisoners - even if it is of hope. The present situation simply cannot continue forever. People are struggling to survive. I believe in hope and know that it is a powerful force that can sustain people through anything, but I have also seen how hope can be a prisoner, freezing people into inaction. It's a double-edged sword. For those of you who are worried about us - we're fine. But please, please keep Zimbabwe in your prayers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Salvation Army fags

Part of John's job here is to create a website for The Salvation Army. It's a challenge though because we don't have internet access at work! (when we came, they said, "oh soon - maybe next week!" Hmmmm). Another part of John's job here is to produce The Salvation Army's quarterly magazine. The magazine is called "The Salvationist" and he is doing an amazing job with it. Before he came, there was quite a series on rabbit-rearing, but John is trying to keep things a little more snappy. The latest Salvationist came out last week and looked amazing. But then someone started asking about the "fags." It would seem that the printing company made some sort of technical error that removed many of the i's and l's throughout the publication. There were over 100 spelling mistakes, and every time he talked about the Salvation Army flag (a powerful metaphor here), it read the Salvation Army fag. Zimbabwe has a way of keeping you humble.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I turned 29 today. Man, 29 feels old! It's so very close to the big 30. The day started off fairly typically - the sweet sounds of a rooster crowing and dogs barking. Then we got up and started boiling water for the bucket (our hot water was fixed, but now we're without electricity!) Thankfully we have one of those little stoves that runs off of sugarcane, so John was able to make some apple pancakes, and we celebrated with the last of our nice Canadian maple syrup! And now we're getting ready for church. We did celebrate early by spending the day with our good friends in Nyanga yesterday. It's in the east of Zimbabwe and it is GORGEOUS! There are so many hills, and the scenery is incredible. We hiked up Mt. Nyangani (which was quite arduous, but breath-taking at the top, and when we passed the waterfalls), and we went trout fishing (which made John very happy). God is good.

I am thankful for parents who love me and raised me well, siblings to have shared growing up with, an amazing husband, lots of friends and family members, good health, clean water and the chance to live and learn and love in Zimbabwe.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I like the name: Obvious. The other night we went for pizza and this is what our waiter said, "hello, I will be your waiter for the evening, so if you need anything, my name is Obvious!" Love it! I did wonder if he used to get in trouble a lot. (Imagine a teacher asking, "what's your name?" "It's obvious" "Don't be cheeky!") :)

I am thankful for: hot water. After a week of bucket bathing, we got our hot water fixed, and I had a nice, long hot bath this morning. It was divine!

I am proud of: my brother Joel - he's going to be directing operas in Edmonton, Montreal and Italy this summer. He's living out his dream, and I am so proud of him!

I found it interesting: to read about that Turkish politician who got sentenced to jail for calling Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan "Mr." (by showing respect, he was showing support??) I also found a conversation we had with a stranger yesterday interesting. He said, "I just want you to know that I"m available." John asked, "available for what?" and he said, "available to care for you." He was a bit high, so we didn't take him up on his offer immediately...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Happy Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day to all of the wonderful women in my life who are inside my heart, and who have kept me laughing, crying, thinking and loving throughout my life (John thinks I should work for Hallmark). Today I'm also thinking of all the women around the world who are suffering - from having lost children or dreams or husbands or homes or hopes or identities. Many of them are suffering in silence, but they are not alone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Are you still a mother?

Yesterday I spent some time talking with a strong woman who lost her 5 1/2 year old son last year to cancer. He was her only child. My heart was breaking as she told me about his last words and moments, and how much she misses him. She also misses her identity as a mother. Are you still a mother if your only child dies? You still feel like a mother, and love like a mother. It's unfortunate that there are so many grief "myths" in society. Like, "don't talk about the person who has died because it will trigger them and make them sad." But she wants to talk about her son, and obviously she's always thinking of him anyway. People often try to give a reassuring platitude like, "you can still have other children" because these platitudes may make the speaker feel better, but they really offer no help to the grieving person. I have learned a lot about bereavement and grief in this past year. Children dying is so wrong though - I can't get used to it. And I really feel for parents who lose their children.

Speaking of mothers on a happier note, a big congratulations to my friend Magda and her husband Sebastian on little Anna Katarina - she's half Colombian and half Polish, and what a cutie!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dollar a day

The whole "living on less than a dollar a day" idea has captured people's imaginations for years, and NGOs have used it to try to make reality hit home for people. You know things are tough when a dollar a day seems like a pretty good deal. Last night I was talking with a neighbour. Her husband makes the equivalent of just over $3 US per MONTH. This is his pension - after 25 years of work with the same company. Some well-wishers pay for their rent, but that $3 has to cover water, electricity, medical bills, transport, and food for the month. They weren't one of the lucky ones to get a farm, and she has a small garden in the backyard. She was telling me about the dramatic price increases in everyday items, and seriously contemplating the possibility of starving to death. I sat beside her as she wept. This wasn't a lady I was watching on t.v. I couldn't change the channel and switch to a comedy. This was a neighbour and a friend - considering a future which includes starving to death. Of course I went home and brought over some food and money. But my friend still had that far-away, "is there hope?" look on her face. Poverty is a harsh reality. We all know it exists.

Sharing life

Happy one year wedding anniversary to my brother Josh and his lovely wife Jenn!

Despite being sick, I had a lovely day yesterday. Our friend celebrated his 30th birthday, so we had cake, and listened to him reflect on his life. He was orphaned at a young age and then lived on the streets for years. Now he's got a steady job, but struggles with alcoholism. He was marvelling yesterday at making it to the age of 30, and wondering how his life would have turned out differently had he taken one wrong turn. I asked him what has sustained him throughout all his struggles and he said, "prayer" right away. "There was a man who used to come talk to us on the streets and bring us food. He would even sleep there with us through the night for safety, but he always insisted that we pray."

Then I got to hold a brand new baby! OK, here's a confession... we have a maid. She comes to our house one morning a week and cleans. When we first moved here, I insisted that we were not going to have a maid, because it just seems so bourgeois! But everyone here has maids (all the officers, all our neighbours, etc.) and they were saying that we were being really selfish by not hiring someone because so many people are unemployed. So, Esnath comes once a week to clean our little house. She cleaned all the floors on Thursday and then Friday night she had her baby (she's a remarkable woman!) The baby is SO cute! What a miracle to hold a little life that was not yet 24 hours old! And then in the evening we had some friends over for one of John's gourmet meals and some really nice conversation. I love sharing life with people.

We've posted some pics in the photo gallery of the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership orientation (some nice photos of the beast we killed!) and our trip a few weeks ago to the Chinhoyi caves. There are certainly some beautiful places in Zim.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


When I was a kid, I believed that the police were on my side, fighting the bad guys and keeping me safe. When I moved to Regent Park, I learned that most of the kids have a bad relationship with the police (even though the police are making some sincere efforts to change this). All of a sudden, I started averting my eyes whenever I saw police - not because I have ever done anything particularly illegal, but because all the other kids were doing it. And now I'm in Zim. The other day, a friend was telling me about being beaten with batons by police just for walking by himself late at night down an empty street. When he heard the police, he thought about running, but then he realized they had guns. So, he waited and got beaten. They thought he must have stolen something. A group of church friends were arrested the other day. They were on a street corner saying good-bye to one another, when the police accused them of a breaking a certain law which prohibits more than 5 people congregating in one place without specific permission. This police officer drunk, looking for a bribe, and maybe just wanted to show off his power, but he did bring them all the way to the police station. I think I like my childhood perspective of the police better. Lust for power is an ugly thing.