Monday, April 30, 2007

Fallen hero?

Three universities (Edinburgh, Massachussetts and Michigan State) are considering revoking their honourary doctorate of law degrees from President Mugabe. These degrees were conferred upon the president in 1984, 1986 and 1990, respectively, and in light of recent state repression and violence, torture of opposition members, etc. there are campaigns to revoke his degrees. But there is some controversy. Some feel that it’s an easy out – that our President was carrying out atrocities and state violence (i.e. against the Ndebele people; his own citizens) even in those years – and that he’s no different now than he was then.

It’s generally agreed on that he was viewed by the international community as a darling and a hero when he led the country to independence in 1980. So, when did he change? Or did he change? 27 years is a long time to be a country’s head of state... It seems that absolute power corrupts – I think that’s inevitable. But does power corrupt innocence and heroism, or does it just find the inherent evil or cruelty that is a possibility in each of us?

As a kid, I had a phase where I wanted to be the Prime Minister of Canada. I had visions of leading the country to a new heights with good, moral, ethical leadership. I don’t have that desire anymore. Power can be scary… I think it’s a real challenge for people in any leadership position to make sure that the power bestowed upon them is kept in check.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

1 year in Zim

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the day we arrived in Zimbabwe (and it's also my beautiful sister's birthday - Happy Birthday, Kirst - I love you! xo) In a lot of ways it feels like we've been here 10 years rather than 1. There are so many memories, but here are some highlights:

* Being called "mwanangu" (my child), and having a Zimbabwean family. We have met some amazing people here.

* The singing (I love being in the middle of Zimbabweans singing - it's either totally joyful with dancing or else has this lamenting/crying-out-to-God feel to it. It's incredible and full of passion!)

* Growing and becoming a deeper person.

* The laughing (I love when we're in the combi driving home, and we hear people talking and laughing and cracking jokes. It is great to see that persistent joy breaking through suffering, worry or pain. I also love "low fives" - people do them whenever they make a joke).

* Funerals (They have had a big impact on me - the way people share their presence and pain, and the way a whole body can weep....)

* Sharing food and conversation with people (either the Zimbabwean meal - sadza, green vegetables, tomato soup and fried chicken, or some of John's cooking. I am so thankful for those who have invited us into their homes for a meal - because I know the financial sacrifice that was made).

* Greeting and clapping all day, every day (I can't believe I used to say hello to people without clapping my hands, and doing a little curtsey/bend of the knee!)

* Volunteer work with Island (getting good training in bereavement, going out into the community, sharing people's pain).

* Starting the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership and seeing a dream become a reality.
* Special places (Nyanga, Victoria Falls, Kariba, Tshelanyemba, Chinhoyi... there are some beautiful places in Zimbabwe!)

* Sharing life with people (birthdays, new babies, weddings, farewells, the every day ups and downs of life...)

* New gratitude (for running water, hot water, electricity, food, safety, etc.)

* Running past giraffes in the morning (much nicer than running past tanks full of armed soldiers heading into the city!)

* Praying with people - in their huts, or under a tree, or in their homes, or in a hospital, or silently beside someone who is weeping or pouring out his heart.

* Being with John and seeing how much people love him here.

Things we've had to get used to:
* Inflation (the dramatic price increases all the time, fighting for bread, seeing how a blackmarket develops, carrying around stacks of money, becoming millionaires....)

* Political climate (the tension, the fear, the way people's eyes dart whenever they make mildly political comments, the headlines, the state media....)

* Salvation Army land (everyone knowing The Salvation Army is a church, the salutes and uniforms everywhere, timbrels, flags, marches of witness, 6 hour services, the countless offerings and gift-giving, the separation of officers and soldiers, the marching, the congresses - my grandparents would love it!)

* Being so noticeable, and always sticking out

I am so thankful for this past year. There have been ups and downs, joys and challenges, but God is good, and I am grateful.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Investing in children

We had some people over for dinner tonight. I love sharing meals with people in our home, because John's a good cook, and it's also just nice to get to know people. People always want to talk about how we're finding Zimbabwe, and how our culture in Canada is different from Zimbabwean culture. And people are always shocked that John didn't have to pay for me when we got married. Of course, a form of lobola or bride price is still quite common in many areas of the world - including Zimbabwe. We heard about a young Salvation Army officer last night who wants to marry a cadet when she gets commissioned. Her father is charging $5 million and 7 oxen. Thankfully he has a sister in the UK who can help with the funds.

Our friends last night were saying that the price of a bride goes up dramatically when she is educated. I have two university degrees, so that makes me very valuable, and thus our friends were even more shocked that John just "received me" for free. (Do you know how strange it is to think of yourself being sold and purchased?) This is the idea: my father paid to invest in my education with the hopes that I would always take care of my parents. If I get married, then all of a sudden it is my husband who is benefiting from me rather than my parents, so my husband should pay for me. It's an interesting logic (besides the whole I worked to put myself through university thing). And it did make me feel rather proud to know that at least I'd be expensive if someone was going to buy me!!!!

The man was saying that he decided he wanted to be a Salvation Army officer after he had already completed a diploma at college. And his father demanded the money back for his education because now it would be "wasted." This way of viewing kids as vessels for deposits and withdrawals is an interesting way to approach family life!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


John and I went to a yoga class last night. I'd never tried it, and had a bad experience of pilates in university, so I was skeptical. But it was wonderful. The stretches were incredible, and it just made us feel so peaceful and relaxed. We loved it. I'm not so sure about the whole sun salute thing. Our instructor said that if you do 10 sun salutes a day, you don't have to do any other exercise. My ultramarathonner husband wasn't so sure about this theory! I always thank God for my mind and my emotions, but last night as I was moving my body, I felt so fluid and just kept thinking "God, You made me and we are part of each other." I hope that doesn't sound new age! I'm just thankful for a healthy body.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Words on the street

People say sort of random things to us on the street. Like "you're jogging!" when they see me jogging or "American dollars" when we're downtown (because they want us to change money - which we don't do - John always says "we're not Americans - we're Canadian!") The other day someone started winking at us and smiling. He was trying to sell a hose to siphon off fuel from cars. John and I looked at each other and just started laughing. It's not exactly the kind of purchase we're looking for. One of my favourites was the guy who tried to sell us a shoe. It was a nice one - and very clean - but what are you going to do with ONE shoe?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Who is to blame?

It seems that in every bad situation, there is an irresistible desire to know who is to blame. For example, Zimbabwe is going through some very challenging times right now. They are actually thinking of inventing a new name for our hyperinflation, and there have been many incidences of kidnappings, torture and even death of people seen as being anti-government. So, who is to blame? If you read the state media - it is the West - primarily Bush and Blair - who desire to keep Zimbabwe down because of a racist, colonialist agenda. They are funding members of the opposition, because they hate our president, and they want all land to be returned to white farmers. Others say that the government is to blame. The same government and president have been in power since independence in 1980. Government is making interesting choices, corruption is rife, and a handful of people seem to be able to tolerate seeing the vast majority of their population hungry or suffering. Some blame Mbeki for not stepping up as the powerful regional leader and president of South Africa. Others blame Zimbabweans themselves for not risking their health and their lives by standing up for themselves. So, who is to blame?

P.S. On a vastly different note, pictures of John's marathon in Cape Town are up in the photo gallery. Now he's training for his next race. He ran 65km yesterday. Some would call it insane, but he seems happy!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom

Happy birthday to my mom. She's my favourite mother of all time. Even more so than Mary, whose statue sits on the small table by my bed. The Mary statue was made in Rwanda, but my mom was made in Canada, where I, too, incidentally was made. I miss Canada, but I miss my mom more. She took very good care of me growing up, and always made sure that I had lots of nutritious food and Star Wars figures.

By John, who wishes his mom a wonderful birthday (well, as wonderful a birthday as she could have without me there to celebrate with her).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Beggars can't be choosers

I love Kraft Dinner. I know it’s gross and unhealthy, but it reminds me of home. Yesterday, John and I shared a pack of Kraft Dinner, but it had been expired for 3 months, and so the cheese packet didn’t taste quite right. I know it was kind of someone to send us Kraft Dinner, but I was quite disappointed that they went to all the trouble, just for it to be expired. I know we have an adage about beggars can’t be choosers. I know that we live in a land where many people are hungry, and so we should just be thankful for any kind of food – expired or not. But it still left me with an uneasy feeling.

At Christmas our territory received tonnes and tonnes of food from another territory, and it was gladly and gratefully accepted. It was all expired, and infested with cockroaches. But we wrote a wonderful thank you letter, and I’m sure the donors felt happy. We’ve also received a shipment of used computers that are slow and don’t work that well and have parts missing. It’s nice, but is it?

When we’re wealthy, we’re lucky because we get to make decisions about what charity we will bestow on others. But doesn’t it seem unfair that we get to choose what others deserve (namely whatever we have no use for anymore?) I used to never give change to homeless people on the street because I thought, “they might use it for alcohol or cigarettes.” But why should I decide what they will spend their money on? Why should I deem cigarettes much more unworthy than a coffee or a donut?

Having said all of this, someone recently gave us a box of expired food, and I in turn gave it to someone else. But I wondered if it was right. I can understand why some people abhor the word charity. It seems to mean giving whatever you don’t want to those you think are so poor that they should still appreciate you and make you feel good for doing it. Whereas love is about giving our best, right?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in Zimbabwe. Today our nation is celebrating freedom from the colonialists and our victory in the long war for freedom. I had wanted to go hear the President make his address at the stadium (I thought it would be interesting), but I was advised by several people that this would be very dangerous for me. I am white, and therefore I am a colonialist. This is not my day. Today I am the enemy. (P.S. Not everyone believes this, but it's just what's preached in the state media!)

Identity politics fascinate me. Something that I am curious about is which facet of our identity trumps other at the end of the day. What’s the bottom line to who we are? Our race? Religion? Gender? Totem/family? Nationality? Language? Humanity? Miroslav Volf says that “In situations of conflict, a group identity can become a terminal identity, subsuming under it and integrating a whole range of other identities.” Of course we know that we all have various components of who we are, and that leaders manipulate our sense of identity for their own purposes (especially in situations of conflict). In situations of conflict, one aspect of our identities seems to become far more important than others. All of a sudden, our nationality, or the colour of our skin, or our ethnicity becomes more important than anything else about us. (Trust me, when you’re in a minority group and your country is somewhat unstable, you start to think about these things!)

I believe that at the end of the day, we are all human beings, and that that common humanity binds us together with our many differences. Maybe it’s due to my religion (and belief that all human beings are children of God) or due to my idealism (that does get wounded as the years go on, but which I still maintain). I do understand the harm in blindly saying “we’re all part of the human race; differences don’t matter” because that kind of statement tends to ignore inequalities and injustices that have happened in the past and continue to happen now. But, I do believe that we are all part of the multi-cultural, multi-coloured, multi-faithed, multi-personalitied human race. That doesn’t mean that we should all somehow become the same or assimilated. It means we have to have love and respect for one another even though we continue to be different.

P.S. “Exclusion & Embrace” by Miroslav Volf is one of the best, most intelligent and interesting books I’ve ever read. Totally recommend it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good News

My Nana's out of the hospital, which is a huge relief. We have a very close relationship, so it was good to be in touch again. And Gogo's back. I was so surprised. I didn't think she was going to come back from Australia, but she's got a quirky personality, so I think her daughter probably found her a bit overwhelming. I was happy to see her again, and she's the same as ever. She asked me who had hit me, and I answered no one. Then she asked why it looked like I had a broken nose. I wasn't sure how to turn that into a compliment... :) At another point in our conversation she hurriedly opened her housecoat and flashed me. Her daughter had bought her a new bra, and she wanted to show it off.

Congratulations to Tsahai and Peter and Tafadzwa and David (who just had babies!) and to my good friend Nedim, who became a Canadian cititzen yesterday.

Oh, and we got a 100% raise this month. Hallelujah! It's good news, because the Saturday we returned from SA, we spent 2 months' salary on: tomatoes, potatoes, onions and green peppers. Bring out the big spenders!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Way of the Cross

I know it's late, but I still want to tell you about Easter. Easter Sunday morning we went to a sunrise service on the mountain. It was cool to watch the sun rise over the city and to think of the celebrations that were going to happen all over Africa and the rest of the world. I love Jesus.

Good Friday was very significant for me this year. We went to a service in CapeTown, and at one point we were challenged to try to identify with the suffering Christ. All of these images of friends in Zim started coming to mind - friends who are really struggling and suffering and crying out to God in faith. And then later we were asked, "are you ready to accept the way of the cross?" There was a big wooden cross at the front of the church. Near the end of the service I went and knelt underneath that cross. I wept and prayed and cried out to God on behalf of my Zimbabwean family and friends. Not many in the church had any idea who I was, so I'm sure there was some talk that I was either crazy or the world's biggest sinner come right off the street, but I couldn't help it. It was an amazing, humbling feeling to be literally kneeling underneath the cross. My heart was breaking and crying out, and I just kept asking God to give me strength and grace to follow the way of the cross with others. Living the way of the cross; sharing in people's pain and suffering and sorrow is difficult and painful and challenging. But that's what we're called to - in grace.

Cape Town

We arrived back in Harare this afternoon. We had an amazing vacation, but it's good to be back too. It was sort of like a mini retreat to Canada - malls, coins and real currency, chocolate, McDonalds... Two things I hadn't realized that I miss: English muffins and streetlights (they just make you feel so much safer!)

OK, Cape Town... I used to think it was the most beautiful place on the planet, but Rwanda has now superceded that title in my mind (sorry). But it's still gorgeous - like Chapman's Peak - wow (and I have to admit that I am in awe over my husband who RAN up those hills!!) I loved driving around and being next to the water. We stayed with friends - Merrilou and Gerard, and their adorable kids Jeremy and Emily. They were a little concerned about our weightloss in the last couple of months, so we got spoiled rotten. (I must admit that I did cry in the grocery store - it was ghetto, but I just couldn't believe how much food was in one place. I mean, there were rows and rows of cheeses and fruit juices and vegetables and breads, and you didn't have to fight for them or race to the cashier to get there before the price changed - all that food was just... there... waiting to be bought and eaten...)

My favourite moment was fish and chips on the beach (which reminded me of White Rock). I also enjoyed the top of Table Mountain (we took a revolving cable car up). Gooey cinnamon buns with hot chocolate was delicious. Watching John run 56km was pretty awesome. Our only regret was sharkdiving. We drove the 3 hours to get there, and then it was cancelled due to poor weather. Boo! I had totally psyched myself up for getting in a cage underwater and facing the great whites. Maybe next year...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oreos in Joburg

Greetings from Joburg, South Africa. We're staying with our friends Stacey, Buhle, Bijou, Nhlanhla and Trinity, and having a great time! We went to McDonald's yesterday. I had Chicken McNuggets, and John went for a BigMac meal. When he finished, he had a certain gleam in his eyes, so I said, "go for it" and he went back for a second Big Mac! We're being spoiled! Oreos, Mars bars, milk... you name it!

Today we went to the apartheid museum. At the beginning we were issued two cards - "white" and "non-white" so we had to use separate entrances. It was fascinating to go through the history, and to see how far South Africa has come in 17 years. I spent some time in the solitary confinement room. I don't think I could do it. I think I'd go crazy.... you've got to respect Mandela - 27 years of imprisonment, and yet coming out full of grace and forgiveness. It was also just wonderful to think of what change is possible when youth or women or just people come together, stand enough and fight for justice.

Last night we went to the movies. James jokingly asked us recently if Ghostbusters 2 had come out in Zim yet, and it's true that we do get movies very late, so we decided to go see some new movies while we were here. John and Buhle saw "300" and Stacey and I saw "Pursuit of Happyness." What a beautiful movie. I was touched, and humbled, and just determined to be determined. John always says that people are capable of anything if they work at it.

I have so much to tell you about CapeTown, but I'll wait for another post. I WILL tell you that John was AMAZING in the Two Oceans marathon - 56km in just over 5 hours. He's a star.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Off to CapeTown - Happy Easter!

We're flying to CapeTown today. I am SO excited. I was there in 1998, and it's one of the most beautiful places on earth. John is running his first ultramarathon (56km) on Saturday (Josh's birthday - love you Josh!!). I feel tired just thinking about 56km, but he's very excited, and I know he'll be fabulous! It's called the Two Oceans, and you run from one ocean to the next, so I'm guessing that it's a pretty cool run. Easter in CapeTown should be amazing. We're staying with some friends, and then spending a few days in Joburg with Stacey and Buhle. This will be John's first trip to SA. I can't wait!

A very happy Easter to everyone! May the suffering Jesus on the cross move your heart to compassion, and may the victorious risen Jesus cause your whole body and spirit to dance and rejoice!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


When I was doing a social work placement at a high school in Toronto, I was counseling many girls and hearing all about relationships - friends betraying friends, dating relationships, meeting someone for the first time, etc. It was only about 2 months in that I realized that all of these relationships were happening over the internet – all the friendships and all the dating relationships. I was flabberghasted.

And yet… within 24 hours of being home from Murehwa, I was on the net – checking e-mail and checking facebook. Have you heard of facebook? It’s this site where you can go and look up old friends, and re-connect with people. I’ve been able to find old friends from elementary school and high school, and it’s been cool. I like it but part of it feels SO strange to me. I feel like I’m living my real life – praying with people in huts, sitting in the dark because of powercuts, seeing tanks and soldiers with guns all over the downtown area in case there is any open opposition to the government... and then I’m living my cyberlife where I’m interacting with people I never actually see, who are a world away - going for coffee and making real money at their jobs.

A friend of mine was telling me about this study on people who live outside of their home countries – and how they’re able to maintain their whole life back home – reading news online and using e-mail and skype, etc. You could almost retreat into a completely online world. I don’t know… I’m obviously VERY grateful for opportunities to connect with my family and friends back home. But I need to live my real life here too… so, let me get back to it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Toilet seats, dancing and pics

* Last night I posted some photos of our kids' party and Nyanga - check 'em out! *

I think that toilet seats were a really good invention. Most homes in Zim that we’ve been to that have indoor washrooms don’t have toilet seats. I guess it is a luxury – if you think about it. But what a lovely luxury. Never mind the cushioning – think about the cleanliness. You always have to share a toilet with men, and sometimes they don’t have the best aim.

I’m also a huge fan of running water. We stayed at the DC’s place in Murehwa – which was a treat, because we got a bed. Each morning they had water cuts. I got caught a bit unawares the first morning. I was so thrilled that they had a shower, and got under it and all lathered up in soap when it cut. At least I was clean! They have power cuts every night too. They said that it’s because people in the rural areas never complain about the government, so ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) can do what they want. It’s not much better in Harare though. Within 24 hours of being home, we had 3 power cuts.

Saturday night we went to a dinner dance/fund-raiser at our church. It was fun. The meal was excellent, although I just couldn’t do the cow feet. John had my portion. John threatened all night not to dance, but then a couple paid $20,000.00 to see our Canadian moves, and he couldn’t resist. I’m afraid we both promote the whole “white people can’t dance” theory – and I’m horrified to think that we were representing our whole nation with our moves!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week

Holy Week is about remembering the suffering of Jesus on the cross, and trying to identify. I was talking with a friend after work today. Her husband is diabetic, and her salary won't allow her to buy fruits or vegetables any more. So, she's watching him deteriorate before her eyes, and feels helpless to do anything about it. "But we need to trust God, Rochelle. He will hear our prayers. He has to...."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mountains in Murehwa

We had such a good time in Murehwa last week. It's such a cool experience for me to be with all of these young, vibrant youth leaders. They are passionate about learning and sharing and becoming good, godly leaders. As a person committed to justice, I have wondered a lot in this past year what justice looks like for me here. In the current political environment, I think that being involved in training up good, unselfish leaders is probably one of the best things I can do. And it feels like such an honour to share this journey with them. Thanks to all of you who are supporting the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership in prayer.

Most of Monday and Tuesday I was marking students' assignments (they're all taking a distance-education course I wrote) and then holding individual interviews with them.

Wednesday we spent the afternoon visiting people in their huts. I was impressed with how immaculately clean each hut was - when we were arriving for a surprise visit. I was also blessed by their generosity. We got 3 heaping bags of ground nuts to bring back. People sometimes boil and sometimes roast these peanuts. My friend Esther really blessed me on these visits. When we visited one woman who had had a stroke, she immediately started to wash this lady's pots and pans. The lady was so happy. She explained that all of her children have died, and so she has no one to help her. My friend's humility and heart of Jesus blessed the lady - and me.

Thursday we went to the shops for an open-air. The students had tried to think creatively about different ways they could draw a crowd. It turned out to be a bit unnecessary. All they needed was me! I don't think they get a lot of whites in Murehwa. I asked someone, and he was like, "no, there aren't any murungus in this area, but did have two Chinese exchange students at the hospital a while back!" Someone asked my friend how much she would sell me for. Thankfully she said I wasn't for sale!

Friday night we had an all-night of prayer at the church. I'm used to going to bed at 9pm in Zim, and so it was a test of will (or God's grace!) to START the all night of prayer at 9. At our old corps/church in Canada, when we had all nights of prayer, people would come up with all of sorts of creative ways of praying and keeping us awake. Here, it was basically an 8 hour church service. In my sleepy state, I found it challenging to focus on the 8 Shona sermons, but the singing and dancing were amazing. And I am always blessed and challenged to hear people literally crying out to God for daily bread and school fees and a stop to our crazy inflation.

Friday afternoon a few of us climbed a mountain in Murehwa. I love literally being on top of a mountain. It is a glorious, wonderful feeling to have that kind of perspective on the world. I also love spiritual mountain-top experiences - when I feel close to God and have a good, mature perspective on life ("the bigger picture"). Challenges make us stronger. Tough times make us grow and become more beautiful people. All of my "natural" self wants to avoid pain and suffering at all costs, but when I'm on top of the mountain, I can really see how God uses challenges and pain in my life to make me more like Him. God is good.