Friday, June 15, 2007

Bits & Pieces

We leave for South Africa today. John's running the (insane) 89km Comrades ultramarathon on Sunday. Unfortunately, he's quite sick, so please pray for his health. I'm guessing that running 89kms is not particularly fun when you're sick. Actually, I'm still trying to figure out what's fun about running all day in the first place...

Please also keep praying for Capt. Pamacheche. He's still in the hospital, awaiting results of some tests. I was talking with his wife last night. She is a remarkable woman. She said that she wakes up each night to pray for him from 12 - 2am. Then she's up at 4:30am to wash and iron pyjamas, so that he has a fresh pair every day. I admire her - that's love.

I had toast this morning. It was quite lovely. See, our power goes off every day at 5:30am. This means that when I come home from my run, it's not possible to make toast. But today it was still on at 7:00am. Maybe the ZESA guy fell asleep at the switch, I'm not sure. But it was a nice treat.

My friend paid $1,000 for a match the other day. Due to the power shortages, people are cooking over fires and lighting candles more. Therefore the price of matches has risen dramatically. You know your economy's in a bad state when a single match costs $1,000!

This weekend our good friends Bram and Anita are being commissioned as Salvation Army officers. They've been in training college for 2 years, and they are moving to Drumheller, Alberta (famous for its dinosaur museum, I'm told) to be pastors. We're SO proud of Bram & Anita, and wish we were there to celebrate with them. It's a huge leap of faith to become an officer, and we admire and respect our friends.

Happy Fathers' Day (in advance) to my dad. Of course I'm biased, but I think I have the best dad in the world. He's got a quirky sense of humour that we all seem to have inherited. He's an encourager, he's fun, he appreciates the small things in life, he's friendly, he has integrity, he's true to himself, and he gives really good hugs. Dad - I love you, and I'm proud to be your daughter.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is culture the bottom line?

I've noticed that the phrase "that is our culture" is sort of a conversation stopper. When you're the minority guest in a foreign country and you're trying to question something, if the phrase "that is our culture" is used, it's sort of just the end of discussion.

Ethical dilemma: I'm out with some important leaders visiting The Salvation Army's work somewhere. We get gifts - lots of gifts. In fact, the whole back of the car is full of food that people have grown on their farms. And then we get envelopes full of money. And they are presented to us in front of everyone. I know how people are struggling - particularly in the rural areas. At one place, we were presented with the gifts in front of the whole church who were sitting on the ground under a tree. No one looked wealthy. And it felt very wrong for me to take the money; for us to take the money. But I knew it would be rude to refuse it in front of everyone. I thought of privately taking aside the church leader afterwards and giving it back, but I know that would have been interpreted as ingratitude. I ended up receiving the money graciously and then giving it all away the next day.

Technically, in The Salvation Army internationally, you're not allowed to accept gifts - particularly money. In my case, the leader I was with said publicly (in English) - "It is good that you gave us this gift, and I hope no one complained about it. Because we are your leaders, and so you are supposed to give us gifts. And cash is best." To me, there is a difference between accepting a few tomatoes as a thank you, and demanding the people give you hard cash. "But that is our culture." I get that honouring people with small gifts is part of culture - but expecting gifts? requesting cash? Is that cultural or just selfish? I wanted to question it. I wanted to tell them afterwards that I don't feel it is right for us to take money from people. However, I know that if I say I will no longer accept money, they will think it's because I'm rich and don't need it, and they will probably be happy because next time they will get my share! I don't know if that's helping the situation. The few times I've questioned the excessive gift giving to SA leaders, the response has been, "that's our culture. It will never change. It should never change." In other words, you're white, you can't understand, and we're benefitting, so you shouldn't question it.

I remember in university discussing female genital mutilation with a friend from Somalia. And I was saying, "maybe it's ok, if that's your culture" because hey - I don't want to be one of those neo-colonialists who imposes all of my own thoughts and beliefs on others! But then he said to me, "if the practice is harmful to those in my culture, then we have to get rid of it. We can't use the cultural excuse when people are being hurt." Of course there are questions of "who gets to decide what is harmful?" etc. but it makes sense that we should ask the questions, right? Of course I believe that culture should be respected and honoured. But so should universal principles like "the rich should not steal from the poor" and "we are all equal" and "the dignity of all human beings has to be respected." I don't think culture should always be the bottom line. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A good thing

All of the top leaders of The Salvation Army in Zim are away at their Territorial Executive Conference. They had to appoint people to take care of the territory while they're away. John was made the interim Secretary for Personnel (as he's not even an officer, this announcement caused surprised laughter and then huge applause). This morning, the interim Secretary for Personnel did a really good thing. This morning, he had each THQ officer and employee come to the front, receive some applause, some words of appreciation, and a small gift of $200,000. In real life, that's only about $4, but here it's almost a full month's salary for 2 people. It was a good thing. Morale here is generally low. Prices go up, life expectancy goes down, skilled professionals leave the country and salaries (if you're among the fortunate 20% to have employment) stay stagnant. People at the top are always going to be ok, because they're always going to have people giving them gifts and honour and taking care of them. But if you're not at the top; if you're just an "ordinary" person, it's very tough. But today there is lots of singing and laughing in the corridors. I married a good man. We all have the power to build each other up and encourage one another. So, why do we so often choose to tear each other down and destroy each other? Today, let's do a good thing.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Last night we watched "Blood Diamond" - set in Sierra Leone. It hit on some things that make me the most angry - war, child soldiers, greed of the Western world for Africa's resources... but it also made me think of home. We have hyperinflation. I never thought much about inflation until I moved to Zimbabwe. Inflation, in my former life, meant minor price differences or minor wage increases for a low, single-digit unit that was our inflation rate. Now, inflation has a huge impact on us, and on everyone around us. Friday I went around the house looking in all the drawers for loose bills (coins are, of course, a thing of the past in Zimbabwe). I wanted to gather up any stray money because it literally loses value by the hour. Some friends and I were talking yesterday about how kids in this generation are growing up with absolutely no sense of value for goods. Prices go up daily, so how are you supposed to ever guess how much something is actually worth? All of us were told off at work for complaining about salaries. We were told told that we should be grateful for what we're getting, and for the fact that we keep getting increase after increase. But the truth is that the increases can never keep up with the prices of basic goods; and the inflation rate. I make less then $3US/month (at a real exchange rate).

Ah yes, the fixed exchange rate - 250(zim):1(usd). No matter what happens, the official exchange rate stays the same. Did you know that for John and I to take public transportation to work and back for one day, it would cost us $320US at the official exchange rate? One day on the overcrowded combis! Ridiculous. It's almost like a game with play money. Except that the game is not that fun, and the stakes (i.e. feeding your children) are very high. Hyperinflation isn't flashy; it's not really exciting or newsworthy. But it is extremely painful.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


A week today John runs the Comrades in South Africa (a crazy 89km race) - please pray for a healthy week for him.

I love Saturdays. Yesterday was my first Saturday at home in a month, and I relished it - sleeping in, not waking up early to do a run (John, of course, went for a run - we all have different ways of relaxing!), reading in bed (I just finished "The White Masai" - it made me SO grateful for the amazingly good health I've had since moving to Africa, and for my non-jealous husband), watching movies (I watched 2 "Heartlines" (values-based) episodes from South Africa - they're so good), watering the garden (we've planted cauliflower and peas along with carrotts and onions), visiting (we went to have a 17 year-anniversary tea with some friends and then we went to visit Capt. Pamacheche in the hospital) and then having burgers in town. What a great day. We even had electricity for a few hours! God is good.

Friday, June 08, 2007

I.D.P. camps

"Anyone who is among the living has hope..." Ecclesiastes 9:4

We went to two I.D.P. (internally displaced persons) camps when we were in northern Uganda - Omel and Choruwa (sp?). Since the peace talks started, a resettlement process has started, and people are being encouraged to go home, but - of course - after 20 years of war, people are cautious. I don't know why I was expecting to see UNHCR tents. The camps basically consist of traditional huts crowded closely together. People built their homes closely together for reasons of security. A few government soldiers were meant to patrol the camps, but sometimes they just used their power to rape women who lived there. There were young kids everywhere in the camps, and most were wearing fairly dirty, faded clothes. None of them had shoes. We asked why they weren't in school and got vague answers about "their parents are really busy" or "their parents don't have money for school fees" or "their parents don't have hope." We went to the camps with CPAR - a Canadian NGO. Their purpose was to hand over money to landmine advocacy groups. In the second camp, the advocacy group put on a presentation of song and courtship danced (I wasn't sure of the exact connection with landmines to that one...) and then a drama about the dangers of landmines and abduction.

I was talking with one man who shared about his uncle being captured by the rebels in 1998. His name was on their list because they needed someone to perform catechism. The family has hope that he is still alive, but his wife died of trauma within the year. "Everyone has trauma here. Children have seen too much violence. There are mad people wandering the streets. Women have suffered. Youth are at a high risk of suicide. But, you know, we hope for peace. We have to...."

Sometimes love looks like...

Sister Rosemary is a legend. She is the nun who runs St. Monica's. She is one of those people who has been to hell and back several times, and yet has an infectious joy. She is a strong, independent, wise, intelligent woman with a hearty laugh and an eye for fun. She told me she liked my cheekiness. I was blessed by just spending time with the sisters of the sacred heart in Gulu. I admire their simple life, their commitment to prayer, and their devotion to God. When I left I received big hugs, and they sent me on my way with a huge block of home-made cheese. I love cheese, and it's crazy-expensive in Zim. John and I have been melting it on bread every night. I have discovered that sometimes love looks like cheese.

Sister Rosemary also introduced us to the man who reminded me of God. He is an old man, and his photo is in our gallery. His daughter was captured by the LRA, and she disappeared into the bush where no one heard from her for years. This old man never stopped crying, praying, hoping, and singing songs about his daughter. She is back now. I just loved that image of the Father's heart. I think God is like that - loving His children, singing over us, always hoping and waiting for the day we will be reunited. My heart goes out to people who think of God as a harsh, punishing judge. I wish they could meet this old man in northern Uganda. Then maybe they would know...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Finding hope

While I was in Gulu, I stayed at St. Monica's Tailoring School for Girls. It is a school run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and it is a school where young women can learn trades - tailoring, catering, secretarial, etc. Most of the girls are boarders, but there are some day-schoolers. Almost all of them dropped out of secondary school for various reasons (i.e. they were abducted from their homes and taken into the bush, they were orphaned, there were no school fees to continue education, they became pregnant, etc.) There is a creche on the premises for children of the girls, and some other children from the community. Some of the kids were born in the bush and their fathers are still fighting for the rebels. We visited the creche and interrupted their alphabet lessons under the tree to introduce ourselves. Kathy asked one class if they could sing a song for us. Immediately they all broke into this lively song, and when we asked the teacher the meaning of the Acholi words, she said, "Oh, this is one of our traditional songs. It's about how our fathers can't pay our school fees because they are drunkards." Our "head and shoulders, knees and toes" seemed a bit tame afterwards... I guess one thing that struck me about the kids was how innocent they all looked (you can see the photos in our gallery). It seems absolutely incomprehensible and evil to me that someone could look at a child like this; kidnap them from their home and family and force them to kill. When we saw giggling children in town it was sort of eerie - like seeing ghosts - it could have been them to have their whole childhood ripped away from them.

I was blessed to meet these girls, and to share life with them for a few short days. I admire their courage, their strength, and the way they are carrying on and persevering with grace. I was blessed to hear them saying the Rosary and repeating over and over "pray for us" "pray for us" "pray for us." I was blessed to play volleyball with them. I was blessed to sing with them, and to hear the rhythms of the drum and the shaker. I was blessed to share tea and beans in ground-nut paste with them. I was blessed to see how much faith they have in God. It seems that in North America, when things get tough, we blame God or doubt God. In Africa, when things get tough, people trust God and turn to Him. It would seem to be the smarter choice; and it's often the hope that's keeping people alive.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

War in northern Uganda

I've been interested in Africa's civil wars for a long time, and I've been praying for peace in Africa for as long as I can remember. For years, I have been praying for northern Uganda and writing letters with Amnesty International to important people who might be able to stop the 20 year-long conflict there. (I remember a couple of weeks after our church in Regent Park sent advocacy letters, someone asking me, "have we heard back from the president of Sudan yet?") In the summer of 2005, some of my friends started hearing about northern Uganda. The Gulu Walk phenomenon came to Toronto and raised some interest in the conflict. Torontonians like me, John, my dad and many others walked 12.5kms to get downtown and then sleep over, only to walk back the next day. This activity was aimed at raising awareness for "night commuters" - children in northern Uganda who were walking long distances into towns like Gulu to spend the night in what they hoped would be safety. For too long, children have been abducted from their homes, and taken into the bush to learn to be taught the art of warfare. Many were tortured. Some were forced to kill their family members or other children to ensure that they would be "owned" by the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army).

After years of praying and advocacy, it was quite incredible to actually arrive in Gulu; and to meet so many people there. Their stories enlarged my heart and gave me huge respect for people who have endured and survived by grace. I will write more on my experience later, but please join me in prayer - for real peace to be achieved at the peace talks; for physical, emotional and spiritual healing for all of the children who are trying to lead "normal" lives after their escape from the rebels; for those who are still in captivity...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Normal life

Ah, back to normal life... when you become thrilled at the sight of a lit lightbulb because it means you have electricity; when you are thrilled that you can "chat" with your Dad or receive an e-mail from your brother; when your co-worker tells you she's going to quit next week because her current salary isn't even covering the cost of 2 weeks' of public transport rides; when the price of bread jumps from $10,000 to $15,000/loaf in the week you are away; when your friend confides that she can't afford vaseline anymore and so is using cooking oil on her skin - but is worried that people will notice the smell and make fun of her; when the "souvenir" you bring home with you for your African mother is pain medication; when everyone is genuinely happy to have you back. It's good to be home.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Crocodile Burgers

Uganda was awesome, and I have a lot to talk about, so it will be another post. For now, let me tell you about crocodile burgers. They are delicious (sincerely) - yum. Saturday we were at a reptile park in Lusaka, Zambia, and we got to visit the crocodiles and then eat them. I also got to hold a big snake and jump on a trampoline. Trust me, you don't really appreciate freedom until it is snatched from you.

On my flight into Lusaka I sat next to a very interesting man. He turned out to be the leader of one of the opposition parties in Zambia. He was giving me the inside scoop on some Zambian politics and business (he's also a businessman), and his views on corruption and leadership. Then he started talking about his family - his wife dying, his problems with one of his children, etc. and I felt like we were in a bit of a counselling session. He was very open, and a small part of me wondered whether he might be making it all up. Then we arrived at the airport, and he was officially greeted and started being referred to as "honourable." He had offered me a lift, so told me to stick close. We bypassed immigration authorities and went straight to the VIP lounge. He told me to give my passport to his parliamentarian assistant - "we have people to take care of these things for us." I was mortified that my bag was the last out of the plane, because it meant that these important people had to wait around! Then, this man's girlfriend turned up and wanted to drive him home, so he told the assistant and driver that they were to take me wherever I needed to go. I'm sure they were thrilled. I tried to joke around that I was their newest politician and the response was, "well you must be very senior!" I assured them that I am!

John took the bus from Harare to Lusaka and we met up there. We also met up with our friends Heather, Dave and Judith. This was my third continent to see Judith on. We met in Toronto on our MissionPrep training. The first day she was like, "did you come to Germany with a gospel choir? I remember you!" She had attended one of our concerts, and remembered my shiny white face! She now works as a midwife in a rural clinic in Zambia. It was great to see her. Dave was one of our teachers as MissionPrep. He is a humble, godly man, and was able to listen to us for hours. Heather is from our home corps, and brought a whole pile of letters that kids in Regent Park had written to us. My favourite was a child that wrote: "We miss you. When you come home, please bring a lion and a tribe!"

I feel like I lead an extraordinary life.