Monday, May 28, 2007

The Bachelor

Rochelle managed to make it to Uganda on Saturday. She was away much of last week as well, so I'm feeling a bit like a bachelor these days. It's winter here right now, and quite cold. I woke up the other night shivering and shaking and had to pull on some extra blankets to keep warm. The bed is so much warmer when Rochelle is around. I think that may be why Zimbabweans are so accustomed to sleeping close to each other, as they rely on each other to keep warm.

A few months ago I went to a farmers workshop in a rural area of Zimbabwe. I stayed the night in a small room that had the smallest bed I have ever seen. I think it may have been a bed designed for a small child. A very tiny child. As it turned out, I had to share the bed with a coworker. Thankfully he is the smallest person I work with, but the bed was barely wider than my shoulders so it made for an interesting night. The bed was also slanted, so I had to keep myself propped up on my left shoulder so that I wouldn't roll on top of him.

A month later, I attended a training workship in that same rural area with Rochelle. We were given the same bed I had shared with my friend previously. When evening came, Rochelle said that she wasn't sure how we would be able to sleep together as the bed was too small for two people. "Trust me," I said. "I'm pretty sure we will manage."

So while Rochelle is away, I have piled on the blankets (currently three as I am allergic to the fourth) and will continue wearing a sweater to bed. I keep losing weight (down to 147) so there's not much natural insulation these days. I have been eating an excessive amount of food the last few weeks to try to get my weight back up. I may need to see a doctor if I keep on losing weight. I'm a bit dizzy these days as well. Well, at least more dizzy than usual, as my father would probably respond.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Africa Day!

Today wasn't my best day. First of all, I went to have a nice bath, and the hot tap just poured out dirt and sediment. I posted a lovely photo in the photo gallery. Have I ever mentioned that I love clean water? After I bathed I made some nice scrambled eggs in roti for a special breakfast in anticipation of my big trip. Then I went to the airport. And they wouldn't let me board the plane to Nairobi. There were a host of reasons from "you haven't paid" to "Zimbabwe doesn't have the capacity for e-tickets" to "we can't print your ticket - all our machines are broken" to "this is Zimbabwe!" They had actually let me through to the gate, and 20 minutes before takeoff had to escort me out. I felt like a criminal, and I cried for an hour straight. I was just so frustrated, because I was holding documentation that had "Confirmation of Reservation" and receipt written all over it (note: money for these flights was taken off of our visa weeks ago). I also did not have any Zim dollars to take a taxi home, and no phone numbers to call anyone. Eventually someone from the airport drove me home. I think I looked quite pitiful!

I'm going to Kenya Airways first thing tomorrow morning, and hoping to get on a flight tomorrow. Please pray that this happens - I've been REALLY looking forward to my trip to Uganda! I came home, ate chocolate and oreos and watched movies for the rest of the afternoon. It helped a bit, but I had really wanted to be in Kampala tonight...

Thursday, May 24, 2007


We don't have a printer in our office, so anytime I want to print something, I go to an office across the hall - where a woman I admire works. Today I was at the printer and she said, "panic." Then she said it a bit louder and then a bit louder - "panic!" "PANIC!" I asked if she was ok, and she just said, "please, I need to know how to spell panic!" :)

By the way, if you don't read me in a while, don't panic - tomorrow I'm going to Gulu, northern Uganda to visit a dear friend Kathy, and meet some of the kids who have been affected by war in that part of the world. By the way - for May 25 - HAPPY AFRICA DAY!!!!!

Breaking bread

Last night we had some friends over for dinner - two couples. One couple work with us, and live on our compound. They are Salvation Army majors who are going to retire next year. The other couple are Congolese, and they are a lot of fun. We had such a great time. Of course - the first shock of the evening was seeing John in the kitchen. So, we had our typical conversation opener about gender roles, about the shocking truth that we don't have lobola (bride price) in Canada, and about how John is the better cook and actually likes cooking. I tempered the culture shock by getting on my knees and washing the hands of all of our guests with a jug and basin. Very Shona. We put all the food on the table and then I suggested it was sort of a "help yourself" sort of style, but if they really wanted to have a cultural experience, the men could serve the wives.

"No, no, no, I couldn't do that - it's not African. I don't even know how!" but then the wife, "No, I like it. I'm not getting up. I'm sitting here!" And so he did it. This old man who is terribly traditional actually served his wife some food and brought it to her. She cried tears of joy, and I was really impressed that he did it. She was thrilled, and I know she will remember this evening for the rest of her life!

It was a wonderful evening - just chatting about culture and life and family, and then playing krokinole (sp?) - to complete the Canadian experience. At the end of a meal there is always a formal speech, and I like this tradition - because our family does it at special occasions too. And in the formal speech, this Major said, "this evening has been very special and we feel honoured. We have known and worked with white people for many years, but this is our first time to be invited to one of their houses for a meal." Both John and I agreed that the meal felt a lot more meaningful than our actual work does here. There's just something about breaking bread, sharing food and sharing lives. Jesus was on to something when he gave us a simple instruction, "love your neighbours as yourself." I think he meant it literally.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I'm injured. The side of my mouth is all cut up from ripping at sugarcane, and my thumb has a big blood blister from shelling groundnuts. Don't worry - I think I'm going to make it! I'm just so city... :)

I just got back from Manicaland province in the east. We stayed in Mutare for 2 days, and I love the east of Zimbabwe - it's so mountainous and beautiful. Yesterday I led another team-building training under a tree. This time 30 people came, and we had a great discussion. They also really liked the activities. We did this one activity on communication where one person pretends to be catching a chicken, and isn't allowed to talk. Another volunteer joins the group and is told to just help and not ask questions. So, they start running around - totally confused. Then another volunteer to do the same, etc. It's hilarious, and everyone was cracking up. I've really enjoyed geting out of the office and doing some training. I'm not a desk girl - I love being out with the people - it has more meaning for me.

Zimbabwe's not really a hugging culture. There are greetings galore, and lots of clapping and handshakes, but hugs are rare. And sometimes you need a good hug. We stayed with the Nhelenheles - who are friends of ours and officers from Mozambique. And Amai Nhelenhele envelopped me in a huge hug when we got there. It was almost like hugging my mom, and made me so happy. I shared a room with their 8 year old daughter - Neidy. Neidy has been learning a lot of English, so we had a great chat in the morning when we woke up - before she went to school. We talked all about our friends and brothers and sisters, and what we like to eat. It was SO sweet, and totally made me feel like I was having a sleepover. It's nice to stay somewhere where you feel like family.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Back to Murehwa

I spent the weekend in Murehwa. I went with a couple from work. On Saturday they led officers' meetings and I went to do a training for local officers. It was a training on team-building. I came armed with printed notes and flipcharts. As it turns out, only 4 ladies came to the training, and we met under a tree. But they were so excited, and we managed despite a language barrier. Teaching these ladies was one of those "woah, I'm in Africa" moments. At the end they kept smiling and saying how happy they were that I had come. Sometimes I struggle with meaning in my work, but this felt meaningful. We spent the afternoon sitting outside, chomping on sugar cane, discussing crops and electricity and water shortages. Again, it was one of those "I'm in Africa moments."

Sunday we visited two Salvation Army churches. The first was called Chipikiri and it was in the middle of nowhere. I loved it. The church had gathered under an almost-finished thatched roof with no walls. The Salvation Army flag was flying atop of a sugar cane! Women all sat on the ground on their mutagitas (sp?) and men found bricks/stones to sit on. Someone brought chairs for us - the special guests. Our next service was in another part of Murehwa called Choruwa. Everyone sat under a tree and got up to sing and dance and praise. I was quite moved. I was blessed to see old gogos (grandmothers) sitting under a tree, singing the songs. I was blessed to see men and women kneeling in the dirt to pray. I was blessed to see so many children listening attentively to the sermon.

At both corps, I gave a testimony (on how I see miracles every day in Zimbabwe - every time there is food on the table or a child goes to school, etc.) and did half in Shona. I also led a Shona chorus and danced, and people went crazy with joy. After church, all of the kids were daring each other to shake my hand. And all the ladies were coming up to me and saying they were either my aunt or mother-in-law or grandmother. At Choruwa they presented us with gifts. I was given a bag full of sweet potatoes, avacadoes and ground nuts and $100,000.00. I was touched. The people I was with got a live chicken. It peed on my shoe, but I was just grateful that it wasn't on my skirt. Everywhere we went, people spent time cooking for us, and it was just such a blessing. My only regret is that I didn't bring the camera. Sorry...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Just because...

Just because I'm not an officer doesn't mean I don't love God or want to serve God with my life. Just because I'm not pregnant doesn't mean I don't want to have a family. Just because I'm young doesn't meant that I don't know anything. Just because I don't have kids doesn't mean I hate children or that I'm selfish. Just because I'm not a good cook doesn't mean I'm not a good wife. Just because I'm not fluent in your language doesn't mean that I don't understand when you insult me. Just because I'm not walking in town with my husband doesn't mean that every guy has the right to stare, whistle, make rude comments or proposition me.

Speaking of which... when someone on the street says, “hey baby” I pretend I don’t hear them. When someone simply says, “psssst” or snaps their fingers in my direction (both common occurrences), I ignore them. When someone yells “murungu” (white person) I pretend I don’t understand what they are saying. And when someone honks their horn at me, I ignore it. In my neighbourhood in Canada, there was quite a thriving sex trade. So, like always, I would ignore men honking their horns or calling out to me. I remember one morning, walking down the street, and someone was honking at me. I ignored it. They kept honking, and I pretended I didn’t hear anything. The third time, I looked, and it was my pastor and friend, Geoff, saying “Rochelle, you’re making me look really bad here!”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

In my dreams

Last night I had a dream that I was discovering and detonating a nuclear bomb. It was all very exciting. I often have these suspenseful, action-packed dreams. Sometimes it makes it hard to wake up in the morning, because I want to see how it turns out. I'm one of those people who can press snooze and return to the adventure. I pressed snooze 6 times this morning, and missed my run. But I'm sure you can understand - what with the whole nuclear bomb situation.

I finished watching 24 Season 2 last night. Wow, the suspense (note: there's a nuclear bomb in this one). Jack Bauer is just such a classic hero. He's brave, selfless, nationalistic, and respectful of damsels in distress. And he shoots people - a lot. I don't shoot people in my dreams. I even found it difficult to hold a gun in Chechnya - which people found hilarious! I'm much more courageous in my dreams, and I seem to be able to run a lot faster too...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blackmarket songbooks

So, we received a strong word at announcements this morning. The Salvation Army blackmarket must stop! Officers must be encouraged to stop buying mutagitas (sp? they're the material that you wrap around your uniform skirt so you don't get it dirty), song books and Bibles etc. at trade, THQ, and then selling them to soldiers for a higher price. A Salvation Army blackmarket is just so... Zimbabwean!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Zimbabwean father

I am asking people around the world to pray for Captain Christopher Pamacheche. He is my Zimbabwean father, and he has liver cancer. He started his medication today, but he is relying on friends far and near to pray for him and his family. His wife is a beautiful, faithful, intelligent woman full of grace. She is a rock. They also have amazing kids - from a daughter who is pregnant, to a son in the USA and another who just took his SATs, to 2 adopted daughters, to their youngest daughter. Every time I go to the Pamacheches' house I cry, because it is difficult to see someone you love in pain. But I also pray every time. And I am asking those of you who pray to join with me and pray for Capt. Pamacheche.

Captain Pamacheche is a wonderful man. He is the Education Secretary for The Salvation Army here. He is continually optimistic, sincere, funny, wise, gentle and kind. And he is my Zimbabwean father. He addresses me as mwanangu, and once in a public meeting, I was there with his youngest daughter, and he introduced us both as his daughters - not in a joking manner. He is the one who gave me my totem (tsoko-murehwa or monkey-baboon), and your totem is your family and your identity in Zimbabwe. Thank you for the prayers for my dad.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers' Day!

This is a shout out to our moms. We love you SO much! I know I'm married and grown up and living in a foreign country, but I will never stop loving my parents, and being grateful to them for the way they brought me into the world, raised me, and gave me such a good start. My mom is: unconditionally loving, full of grace, hilarious, generous, full of faith, and makes really good big cookies. I'm also thankful for a good mother-in-law who cares without interfering and is also hilarious and intelligent, and understanding - even about things like chocolate addiction! Happy Mothers' Day, Moms!

I've also been thinking all day of my friend who lost her only son last year, and who was praying for courage to stand in church when they make the annoucement for all mothers to stand. Because she still feels like a mother. She is still a mother. And she is believes that God is good, but wants to see His goodness...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Water vs. Electricity

Did you ever have those debates as a kid about which would be harder - being blind or deaf? This week I've been having my own debate about which is better - water or electricity. Water won. Clean water is wonderful. I love drinking it, bathing in it, washing my hands with it, looking at it even... Water is life.

But electricity is also nice. It's the talk of the town because of these anticipated 20 hour/day power cuts. We had two friends over last night, and they were wondering if electricity is going to be something from the past that they tell their children about... Electricity is lovely. It allows me to write this blog to you. It allows me to boil my water so that I can drink it. Electricity gives light, and heat (remember: it's becoming winter here!) and makes cooking a lot easier. Electricity also allows me to listen to music (right now I'm listening to the Elizabeth Shepherd Trio - she's an old friend and very talented - check it out).

Speaking of good music - tonight is U.T.G.C.'s Gospelfest and live recording... if you're in Toronto, check it out. I'm a bit biased because I sang with them for 7 years, but they ARE awesome!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bad news and butts

Zimbabweans are very sensitive about bad news being spread about their country. People are very offended at all the international press about how violent and poor Zimbabwe is. There was a big discussion about it this morning at work, and people are upset about the bad press that makes Zimbabwe seem so bad. I feel torn. Obviously, Zimbabwe is a great country. People are kind, hard-working, entrepreneurial, industrious, hopeful and full of faith. There is so much potential here, and tonnes of natural beauty. There is peace (although I would call it more an absence of violence than peace) and people miraculously keep on finding ways to survive. And yet... it's tough in Zimbabwe too! People ARE struggling to buy food and send kids to school. Are people sitting around aimlessly, so depressed that they cannot even swat at the flies surrounding them? - no. But are people affected by poverty, inability to access medical treatment, and constant funerals? - yes. I guess I've realized that it's really important for people to hold on to hope. And it's harder to have hope when the rest of the world is either mocking your country or shaking their heads in pity when they hear where you live. Anyone with an ounce of nationalism in their blood can see how that injures self-pride...

On a lighter note, yesterday in the hallway one of my co-workers said to me, "Amai McAlister, in those clothes, you can see that your butts are getting much bigger!" I laughed out loud - at her use of the plural and also at the fact that she considered it a high compliment. What can I say? Bananas are by far the cheapest fruit!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Do it for the wheat

The front cover story in The Herald yesterday was about how Zimbabweans should expect more power cuts in the near future. We need to do this for wheat. You see, those producing wheat are being impeded in their production and need to have assurance of constant electricity. And therefore, the public needs to be prepared to sacrifice their own power. They're saying that we're going to have 20 hour power cuts each day, but that it should only be for a few months, and it won't be every day. As if 2000% inflation, 80% unemployment, and mass poverty wasn't enough! While it certainly doesn't seem like good news, we do have to think about the wheat....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

CLUSTER marriage

I attended a very interesting seminar at the youth congress on the weekend. The topic was: Preparing for marriage. I was curious! According to the speaker, if you want to prepare for marriage you have to have HEALTH:

H - Healthy - this mainly involves bathing - and bathing a lot. It also includes staying free from sexually transmitted infections like HIV.
E - Energetic - there are a lot of tasks in marriage, and you need to make money so that poverty will not enter your marriage, so you need energy.
A - Attractive - this is key - especially for women. Women should try to always look pleasing for their men. Be sure to look your best at 5pm when your husband comes home from work, and don't be clumsy - that is not attractive.
L - Loving - you need to be loving towards your spouse and your in-laws.
T - Trustworthy - husbands who go out for "reasons" should always eventually come back. And wives should avoid the garden boy.
H - Humorous - enjoy making jokes together.

Oh, and once you're married, wives, remember to: cook for your husband, bathe your husband, and make sure he is dressed. Trust me; if your husband is at work and complains of being cold, you will be asked why you did not give him a sweater (sorry, jersey!)

The session was interesting, and made me reflect on my own marriage. My marriage to John is something I will never take for granted, because it is an incredible marriage, and it keeps getting better. I came up with my own acronym - CLUSTER.

C - Communication. Being able to talk with your partner and to communicate in many different ways is VERY important. I'm an over-communicator, but I love the way John and I talk about absolutely everything.
L - Love. An obvious one. Love means thinking of the other person before yourself - wanting the best for them, and giving of your best; not just what you have leftover. Mutual submission and mutual joy.
U - Understanding. Having empathy and trying to see things from the other person's perspective can save you a lot of grief in marriage! My famous line in our first year of marriage was, "I'm not saying that what you're doing is wrong, but I'm just trying to understand why you're doing it."
S - Sharing. Sharing life, sharing adventures, sharing sex, sharing jokes, sharing tasks, sharing friendship.
T - Trust. If you can't trust your husband/wife, you can't have a marriage.
E - Eternity. OK, I needed another vowel, but I think that a good marriage is based around a mutual love for God. In a marriage you need to have enough common values/beliefs/goals and principles that you're both going in the same direction.
R - Rain. Commitment to stick together and support one another and be a team through many rainy days, difficult times and suffering.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

You know you're in Africa when....

We were traveling back from the congress and stopped in a motel to use the washrooms. I looked up on the wall in the lounge and instead of a moose-head there was a mounted giraffe-head. Of course, much of the neck was there too, so it was quite large!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Youth Congress

We got back from Gweru last night. We were there for 4 days attending the Salvation Army Territorial Youth Congress. They were expecting 3,000 youth, but almost 7,000 ended up coming. Everywhere you looked there were masses of young people in uniform (although some were rebellious and wore “normal” clothes for the sports afternoon!) They arrived jam-packed like sardines on the back of big lorries – singing loudly and very excited.

The event often reminded me of a refugee camp. It was held at a teachers’ college, but because so many thousands of teenagers came, the facilities were quite inadequate. People were everywhere – sleeping in every classroom, every hallway, ever bit of lawn space. Everywhere you looked there were people cooking on campfires and others lining up in the smoke with their cup and spoon. There were some tents, but a lot of people just slept under the stars with the sweet smell of sewage… oh yeah, the toilets. There was a severe lack of water, and so the few toilets that were on site were DISGUSTING. It took every bit of grace in me not to throw up whenever I used one. I had prayed before we left that there would be toilets. I forgot to pray that there would be toilets WITH water! Yuck. I started feeling very nervous when people started mentioning dysentery, cholera, malaria and estimating how many deaths were going to have from disease. On the first day, all of the delegates were asked to pray that the city health inspectors wouldn’t visit us because they would cancel the event due to overcrowding. Is it bad that I was praying that they WOULD come?

In spite of all of this, I was really blessed on the weekend. I was blessed at seeing so many young people singing, jumping and dancing for Jesus. I was blessed that they sang through all the powercuts. I was blessed that they stayed attentive to long sermons even when the sound system wouldn’t allow the words to be carried to the back of the crowds. I was proud of the ZSYL students’ performing and being examples of leaders. I was blessed that in these tough economic times, so many youth sacrificed and fund-raised and did whatever they could in order to come together and pray and praise – no matter what the conditions. I was also blessed by the whole Zimbabwean tradition of two breakfasts. See, when you wake up you have tea and bread. Then later you have more tea, bread, and beans or an egg. I like it.

The choir that I sing in performed on the Saturday. The keyboard player was called into work and so didn’t make it to the Congress. They asked me to step in. We sang this one song that modulates up 3 keys. Kiwanis festivals and piano recitals flashed to my mind as I fumbled to get the last key (I’ve always had trouble playing by ear!) I eventually stopped playing and tried to hide my embarrassment by singing and clapping along to the singers. I had the joy of being humbled in front of 7,000 people! I tried to blame it on the keyboard, but the leader saw right through that one…. J Ah well, God is good.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Status and Respect

So, it's been an interesting week. I've been thinking a lot about status and respect, and how these are earned. I have this strong belief that all people possess inherent human dignity, and therefore should be well-treated and respected based on that dignity. However, I do believe that one can earn another degree of respect from people - through hard work or good work or kind actions or wisdom or... a host of other things.

I live in a culture where status and respect are given based on fixed things like age and rank (Salvation ARMY!) And I've got to admit that it sucks to feel like I'm a nobody or that I'm being disrespected or maltreated because I'm young (and look even younger!) and I'm "just" a soldier/a regular church member in my organization that truly values its officers. I have an advantage that I'm married, but have no children, so that is a disadvantage. It feels so strange that my education or thoughts or hard work don't matter... respect and status are based on fixed categories. It's a classic example in cross-cultural differences. And it can be frustrating!!! I'm honestly not all caught up in status and power, but I expect some common respect for who I am - not because I'm fabulous, but because I'm a human being. You know?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Yesterday was Workers' Day, so we celebrated by not going to work! We actually spent the day at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), and it was a GREAT day! In the morning we went to a play called "Invisible Prison" and then in the afternoon we had Mongolian food while listening to Zimbabwean jazz. It felt just like the Harbourfront in Toronto (minus the water) - which is my favourite Toronto summer spot (and something I miss....) Then we walked around the craft market and listened to Shanik (a singer from Swaziland).

In the late afternoon I actually had my own concert for a church youth choir I joined. The concert wasn't very well organized. John was one of 4 people in the audience. He tried doing the wave, but it wasn't too successful as a solitary exercise.

Then in the evening we had some Indian food and went to the HIFA opening show. I was truly impressed by the way everything went smoothly, by the quality of the performers (you should have heard this trio of 3 songs "Redemption Songs" "Tomorrow" and "There's going to be a revolution" - amazing!) I was impressed by the sound and lights, and mostly by the way people were so free and happy. There were even fireworks, and they were beautiful. It was one of the first days since moving here that I sort of felt like we lived in a "normal" place where we didn't have to apologize for anything. There was electricity and joy and quality - a world class performance!