Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sinead O'Connor look-alike

Tomorrow is my first big function as HIV/AIDS coordinator. I'm going to do an official handover of some ARVs to a hospital in Karoi. There are going to be a lot of important dignitaries there, and I have to give a speech. So I thought I'd better get a haircut today. I had a meeting all morning, so I was running late, and didn't think I'd have time to go all the way into town to my regular hairdresser's. John recommended a hair salon up the street. I guess my first worry was when I sat down and there wasn't a pair of scissors in sight. Then he started with a razor, and kept going shorter and shorter and shorter. I know he was enjoying it, and kept saying, "you like it right? I'm doing a good job, right?" I don't think he gets too many white customers. Let me just say that John and I look like identical twins now! I'm so embarrassed. When I asked the guy if he didn't think I looked like a man, his response was, "well, you're still young" and then he proceeded to whack me in the face with a towel to try to remove all of my precious locks that were stuck to my clothing. I saw the TC in the parking lot and his response was, "well, John is going to get a shock!" He did, and advised that I wear lipstick for the next couple of weeks. At least I'll be in a skirt tomorrow...

Power - yay!

Last night our electricity came on at 9:30pm. All around the compound we heard a big "YAY!!!!!!" (very similar to the "yay" you hear from kids when Santa Claus appears at the Christmas party). John and I were in bed, and we'd just said our prayers (including a prayer for ZESA!) I was so happy! I put on some laundry, and started boiling some water right away (I have a full litre to drink today!) And this morning we had a nice, long, clean bath. Mmmmmm. It took me a long time to fall asleep because I was so excited. I know I shouldn't worry about things that I have no control over (like electricity), but I don't try to hide the fact that I'm "city", and I enjoy some of life's comforts - like being clean or cooking on a stove or using a washing machine. I'm spoiled. I'm also pretty ghetto. Imagine - being so thrilled that I couldn't even sleep! Or having this huge grin on my face seeing hot water coming from the tap this morning. I've also started killing cockroaches with my fingers (because if you wait for a piece of toilet paper, they get away). That's ghetto (or pro-active, depending on how you look at it). Anyway, the power went off again this morning at 6:30am, but nothing could spoil our joy - of having a bath and putting on clean clothes. John thinks it's sort of like being in prison when you get over-excited and over-grateful about the small "privileges" they give you...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Name them one by one...

There are many things I could complain about today. For instance, we haven't had electricity since Sunday morning. That means no hot baths, no drinking water, no laundry, cooking on firewood in our fireplace, etc. Last night we had to clear out our freezer and fridge. Have I mentioned how I hate wasting food? There are bread queues everywhere - people snaked in long lines waiting outside of shops to find bread. Of course, there are also longer queues for rare items like sugar or cooking oil. For those, you have to stand in line all day. Yesterday a man yelled at me in town because he is trying to help orphans and The Salvation Army (my new department!) isn't doing anything to help him! I just made our departmental budget, and was told not to expect any money for the entire year. We want to get next year's Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership applications out, but none of our photocopiers can do more than 20 pages a day (and we need 200 applications). So I'm going to pay to take them to a printer's, and it's going to cost me almost 3 years' salary just to do the photocopying!! Being poor sucks. The Mayalas are returning to the Congo today, and we'll miss them. Yesterday I ran into a friend in town. Her mom had just died, so she was trying to find transport money to return to the rural areas.

BUT God is good. There are many reasons to give thanks, and I was trying to count my blessings as I was bathing out of a bucket this morning. I had a glass of milk last night. I know a lot of good people. I have access to the internet at work. I have a new job - which is a huge challenge, but a blessing. I have been published this week (on - an article I wrote about being white and labels we give people). We read a lot more here. John reads about 2 books a week. I can recommend 3 good books I read recently: "Half of a Yellow Sun" (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), "The Book of Negroes" (Lawrence Hill) and "The End of Memory" (Miroslav Volf). They're all good - check 'em out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mi casa es su casa

Our house is one of the popular hang-outs for kids in our neighbourhood. Kids love to come to our house to play games, to have talent shows or fashion shows (fashion meaning they try on our hats!) to wrestle or just fall over giggling. I want to be honest, so I will admit that sometimes we lock ourselves into our house, stay really quiet and pretend we're not home. Introverts like my husband need some privacy! But usually we love having the kids over.

In our living room we have a big collage of photos on the wall. There are photos of friends and family in Canada as well as friends in Zimbabwe. And the first thing any visitor to our home does is stare at the wall. Of course they try to find themselves first, and then they look at the other photos. The kids love looking at the photos, and naming all of their friends, and their friends' parents on the wall. I realized yesterday that this may be one of the reasons that they feel so comfortable in our house. They see their faces on our wall, and so maybe they think that this is their home too. Which it is, right? In the West we have this "my home is my castle and my private area" mentality which is very, very foreign here. I guess it's something we all have to figure out - how to make our homes a welcome and a refuge for people. For us - we just put our smiling friends and family on the wall! What do you do?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Saturday in Harare

Saturday we spent the day with the Sterlings and the Mayalas. The Mayalas are going home to the Congo this week, and we will miss them. We went to a Lion & Cheetah park that is just outside of Harare. There weren't any cheetahs (the guide said they all died of anthrax), but there were over 30 lions, and they were magnificent to watch! We had one scary moment when a whole pride started to run towards our car, and the car was having some trouble starting (you just never know...) but it all worked out well. We even got to play with some lion cubs! We went out for lunch (and I did manage to eat some food!) and then went to a couple films at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. The first one was a Sudanese movie called Fellow Strangers. It was subtitled, but we couldn't read the subtitles because they were written in white lettering (and most people were wearing white). The music seemed quite dramatic though. The second movie was amazing - The Lives of Others (about the secret service in East Germany). Seeing the movie in this context was quite interesting...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Never, ever heat up your food twice

I'm not a huge fan of leftovers, but obviously since moving to a country with severe food shortages, I've become more of a fan. A few weeks ago John made a West African peanut butter stew. It was delicious, and he re-heated it (from the freezer) Monday for our meal. But there was a bit left, so Wednesday night I suggested that we finish it. John thought it would be unhealthy to re-heat it twice, but I was stubborn. So I put it on the frying pan and ate it all myself. The next 24 hours were PAINFUL! I did not realize that so much waste could come out of one person's body (and from various orifices!) Truly disgusting. When he came home from work, I convinced John that the whole "I told you so" approach was not helping, and then he was a bit more supportive (and even watched "The Notebook" with me last night - I cry every time!) I totally take my health for granted, but as I was clinging to the toilet bowl yesterday, I was crying out to God for my life (I tend to be a bit dramatic when I'm sick) and gave him much thanks for my (normally good) health. Today I'm fine - praise God!

Two of my family members have died in the last month - Uncle Ernest and Auntie Ethel. They were my great aunt and great uncle, and they were quite a pair. I remember our last visit to them - before we moved to Zim. Uncle Ernest was trying to talk to us (in French) about books and philosophy and religion while Auntie Ethel just kept flirting with John and trying to get me to stop talking in French and to start singing her some of her favourite hymns. They were both old and I am happy that they are now at peace and in good health, but they will also be missed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A prayer

The other day I was visiting a friend, and she asked me if we could share a prayer. I was really blessed by her words: "God, thank you for this day. God, you know I am sick and I don't know how to make myself better because there are no medications in the chemists. So I know that you need to heal me, and I am waiting for you. God, I pray for those I love - that you would make sure that they don't die of hunger or in an accident. You know I'm trying to take care of my family the best that I can, but it's difficult because there is no food in the shops. We need a miracle from you, God. I pray for Zimbabwe. Our country is going through so many challenges. God, speak to the leaders, and change their hearts. We know that they can make things better if they only get help from you and stop trying to help themselves. God, I know that you are going to set things right. I feel weak, but I know you are very strong. Take care of us, God."

Monday, August 20, 2007

How do you live on $1/month?

Morale is low at work these days. 5 people have quit in the last 2 months. I'm actually surprised that there are any employees left, since the monthly salary only covers about 10 days of public transport. Most of the non-officers are not only volunteering their time to work at THQ, but actually having to borrow money just to come to work. One of the maintenance men makes $190,000/month. That sounds like a lot, but it's about the equivalent of $1US/month. He went to someone in leadership with his paycheque, saying that it just wasn't enough to sustain his family (note: if he can find bread, his monthly paycheque would buy him 6 loaves; but nothing else). The leadership's response was a bit less than what you would hope from a caring, compassionate, Christian organization, "we already told all the employees - if you're going to complain; just quit. We don't need you!" Nice. It's interesting - I used to campaign against sweatshops and exploitation of labour, etc. Now I work for an organization that is paying its top employees the equivalent of less than $5/month (but those people do get houses with electricity, water and landlines paid for). I hate it that the best and brightest Zimbabweans have all left the country, or are thinking of leaving. But you can't blame them. I was telling someone the other day about Ontario's minimum wage of about $7/hour. It's way more than she makes a month here - working 5 days a week. Before I moved to Zim, some friends showed some concern for the living conditions I'd be facing and the salary I'd be making. My response was, "it's an international organization! I know we won't be making a lot, but surely there will be some international standards applied!" I guess not.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I miss baseball

When you live far from home, there are some fairly standard things that you miss. My big ones are the 4 Fs – family, friends, food and freedom. (Having said that, I am grateful for the family and friends I have here, and for the wonderful food my husband cooks – his vegetarian extravaganza last night was delightful!) I miss going for walks with my parents or good friends, and reading entire books in Chapters (you’re allowed – they don’t kick you out – this is how I read the Kite Runner!) I miss singing in the 614 worship team, and in UTGC concerts (and going to Jun Juns of course!) I miss seeing my grand-parents do a dance in their doorway before we leave their condo, and listening to Johnny’s clean jokes. The other day I had this irresistible urge to go to a baseball game. I’m not even a sports fanatic, but I just really wanted to meet up with my brothers and some friends and just go to the Skydome. I had it all planned out in my mind – we’d go for lunch at the Spaghetti Factory, and then go to the game, and then head to the Harbourfront to have an ice cream and listen to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the stars. It was a nice day-dream. But hey, in Toronto you don't get to see giraffes on your morning run...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

HIV/AIDS Coordinator

The sad news is that our local shop had milk yesterday - and we missed out on this exciting opportunity. The awesome news is that I got a new job! I'm still working for The Salvation Army's national office (THQ) in Zimbabwe, but I have a new position. You're looking at (well, I guess I should write you're reading...) the new HIV/AIDS Coordinator. I am THRILLED about the change. Since moving here I have struggled with my job. People are my passion; particularly vulnerable or excluded people, and so that is why I did my masters in social work. People are facing so many social challenges in Zimbabwe, and I have desired to be out in the community and meeting people rather than behind a desk processing paperwork. I will continue on with the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership, and then hopefully get myself involved in a variety of other outreach/social work/justice/training/linking with other agencies, etc. initiatives. I like a new challenge! You'll be hearing more about this...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Great Zimbabwe

We went to Masvingo for the long weekend, and spent Heroes Day and Forces Day at Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe was built by the Shona king in the 1200s and is actually quite a large structure (to accommodate his hundreds of wives). The king lived on the top of the mountain and all the wives lived below - so he could keep a good eye on them. The ruins are quite impressive, and it was awe-inspiring to walk around these old African structures. There is one big conic structure that has become a symbol of Zimbabwe. The guide was telling us that it has two meanings - the official one (being a silo; representing Zimbabwe's achievements in feeding the continent) and the unofficial one (being a representation of the king's "member" - a sign of his sexual power). How about that for a national symbol!

We were supposed to go on a boat cruise, but when we called to confirm our pick-up we learned that our space had been cancelled and given to someone else. I was tempted to give the "white" reaction and throw a temper tantrum about injustice and corruption and organization. But I didn't. I am learning to go with the flow and to be patient. We did enjoy all of the monkeys around our hotel room, and found it fun to watch them steal sugar packets off of the housekeeping tray and eat them furtively on the roof. Of course monkeys are viewed as pests here (like raccoons) but we're still foreign enough to enjoy them!

Getting home from Masvingo was an adventure. Transportation is a huge problem because of the lack of fuel (it's actually kind of eerie to know that you can't find fuel at any service station!) We hitch-hiked, and via 4 different pick-ups, we got back to Harare. There were so many police road blocks on the way home, and it actually came as kind of a relief to know that it is indeed illegal to travel with so many passengers on the back of a truck! One guy in our truck used a trick from the movies - shouting out to the police officer and saying "remember me from school?... yes, we're just coming from the rural areas - this is my mother, these are my friends from Canada, etc. It's so good to see you!" (of course we'd never met him before). I guess it's better than paying a bribe. He said he's seen the police officer on the news, so knew his name.

I've posted some pics in the photo gallery (and there are also some photos of the famous chicken slaughtering, as well as other events).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lord, hear our prayer

Every morning to start the work day we have prayers at our office. It usually involves one person standing at the front, reading something from the Bible or the "Words of Life" and some singing and praying for a certain topic. And then we have announcements (such as "don't steal from The Salvation Army or else you will be cursed with poverty for the rest of your life." An employee was fired this week for stealing and selling a trombone. Then, one of the top leaders had his teaspoon stolen this week, and he was threatening to fire the thief if s/he was caught! Trust me, I checked my drawers, just to be sure!)

Anyway, this morning's prayer subject was law and order, and the sekuru (grandfather) sitting beside me was asked to pray. I was really blessed and challenged by the passion with which he prayed for Zimbabwe - for good leadership and honesty and an end to corruption and hope and change. Most people in this country are afraid to speak of change or even to dream of change. There are serious consequences for even mentioning the word "change" in a public place. You learn to accept everything, and you learn to avoid talking about anything mildly political with anyone - even friends - because you don't know who might be lurking or listening. But this old man prayed for change. And he prayed long and loud, and at one point said, "God, it would be wrong for us to keep on meeting every day and praying to you if you were not going to answer. We are waiting." Yes, we are waiting. I find myself often thinking of that serenity prayer... Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I pray that today for Zimbabweans, and I am thankful for those of you who read this blog and join your prayers with ours - thank you.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We've got mail!

It's a good day at the office when someone delivers a little slip to either me or John saying that we have a parcel waiting at the post office. Yesterday we got TWO packages in the mail. One was a Valentine's package with some kraft dinner, chocolates, and those heart candies with the messages that are a bit like fortune cookies (my first one was "fat cat" - how romantic!) It took awhile to get here, but this is definitely a case of better late than never - shout out to Jeff and Whitney for thinking of us! We also got a package from Kathy (sent mid-July - the postal system seems a bit erratic!) - who also sent an extravagant package of Kraft Dinner (God is good) and chocolate and books and CDs, and some medication for Alice, and hot chocolate, and photos. It was like celebrating Christmas and Valentines' all in the same day!

Another very exciting thing that I got in the mail recently was a silver star from Anita. It's a Salvation Army thing. When someone becomes a Salvation Army officer (pastor), they give silver stars to their parents. But recently they made a change saying that people could also give their silver star to spiritual parents if they want. Anita (one of my closest friends, and my accountability partner - I love her) gave me one of hers. Man, was I honoured! I wear it proudly on my uniform, and so far no one has asked about any children I might be hiding...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Je m'appelle Rochelle

I love my name. I am grateful that my parents gave me a name that is uncommon (and French!), even if people often have a difficult time with it. My whole life I’ve had people call me Michelle or Rachel or Raquel. In Canada, not many people called me Mrs. McAlister, but, as a general rule, adults don’t use first names in Zimbabwe. It’s viewed as disrespect. As soon as you’re married, the wife takes the husband’s last name and is from then on referred to as Amai (or Mai) McAlister. It actually means Mother McAlister, and in the beginning people joked that I was now John’s mother, but that just seems a little odd to me. Many people also call me Amai Shumba (because Shumba – lion – is John’s totem). I’m a tsoko (monkey), but no one calls me that – I am who I am because I’m married to John. Everyone knows I’m crazy about John, but it still feels strange that my whole identity is caught up in being his wife. You know? If I have a baby, I will also be referred to as Amai _____ (baby’s first name). No matter how many other kids I have, I’ll always be known by the firstborn (see – being a firstborn has its advantages!)

Some people here call me “mwanangu” (my child) and others refer to me as “muroora” (daughter-in-law). I’ve got to be honest – I prefer mwanangu. When you’re a child, you’re just loved and accepted as part of the family. When you’re a daughter-in-law, you’ve got to do everything right, or else you’re sent home. Someone was telling me the other day that when a couple is first married, the mother-in-law will come each day and inspect the house – especially the washroom – to make sure that everything is impeccably clean. If not, the muroora is sent back to her family to get training. If that doesn’t work – divorce. I don’t think I would have lasted 3 days!

When we got married, I thought it would be really strange to think of myself with my new last name. I was surprised at how quickly I got used to it. But my favourite is still Rochelle. I was born Rochelle, and I will always be Rochelle. Rochelle is me. I am Rochelle.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


One of my many blessings from God has been to have incredible grandparents. Today is my Nana's birthday - 84 years strong. I love my Nana (my mom's mom) a lot, and I am thankful for the many, many things she has taught me over the years - from how to play Scrabble and croquet and Rook to how to be a good person. I admire her in many ways, and I am thankful to have her strong influence in my life. I know that my Nana's daily prayers for me have had a huge impact on me being the person that I am. Here are a few lessons my Nana has taught me:

1. Be kind. We all have a choice to judge others, to speak mean or harsh words to them and to secretly wish misfortune on them. Or else we can be kind - in attitude, in word and in action. We can choose to love people, and to show them gentle kindness. This is my Nana's way, and I want it to be my way too.

2. Be generous. Ever since I can remember, I have received a monthly letter from my Nana. She writes all about the weather, and the family happenings, and tidbits of advice. She always shows an interest in what I'm doing, and she always includes a treat (i.e. a cheque or bar of chocolate). My Nana is famous in family folklore for spoiling us, and always being generous in her time and her treats.

3. Trust God. No matter what. No matter how dismal things may seem, or no matter how much you can't understand what God's plan is. Just trust that God is faithful.

Happy Birthday, Nana! We love you, and we miss you! Thanks for everything... xo

Monday, August 06, 2007

Jenn Power

Our friend Jenn Power has been visiting us since Thursday afternoon, and it's been a delight to have a friendly face from home. Ever since we came, we've been having a lot of electricity. I thought it was perhaps because of her surname, but then someone told us about an ad that was in the paper from ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) - saying that due to some glitch, they have been supplying more electricity than normal. They were apologizing for any inconvenience and saying they're trying to rectify the problem! What a country...

Thursday we had a mini birthday party for Jenn - sharing some brownies with Alice, Mac and Gogo. Then Friday we celebrated our anniversary with pizza and a movie (Music & Lyrics - very cute - great music!) When we got home, John lit some candles (by choice, not because of lack of electricity - trust me, it makes a difference to the mood!) played some music and we danced. What a romantic! Saturday we went to Mukuvisi Woodlands to go horseback riding. We got SO close to the giraffes. There's something very magical about looking into the eyes of a giraffe... it's a beautiful thing. In the afternoon we had a "cockroach extravaganza" whereby we attempted to attack all of the cockroaches in our kitchen. Jenn was very brave. I suppose it was an odd "guest" activity - but we wanted her to get the full Zimbabwean experience! Yesterday we attended a farewell service for some friends, visited a lady in hospital and then drove to Mutare. Our friend Hope is starting university tomorrow, so we were dropping him off. Mutare is lovely, and on the way back Jenn got another Zimbabwean experience - standing in a bread queue and then experiencing the victory of getting bread (and eating half a loaf as your lunch/supper). God is good, and we are thankful that Jenn came (and brought chocolate!)

Anyone else is welcome to home... we don't make ALL of our visitors kill cockroaches... :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

5 years

Today John and I are celebrating 5 wonderful years of marriage. August 3, 2002 - best day of my life, for sure! To have my family and friends there and then to see John looking hot in a kilt and then to get to MARRY my dream man!!! Marrying the right person is one of the biggest decisions of your life, and it can make your life SO happy. I know our (Canadian) culture is against commitment, and about half of marriages in North America end up in divorce, but it doesn't have to be that way. Before we got married, people told us that we'd have to work at our marriage, and I was like, "whatever! If you're in love you don't need work." But of course you need to work at your marriage, and nurture it - but it's fun work! I have never taken our marriage for granted, because I know it's special and beautiful. I'm so crazy in love with John! We even skipped our run this morning to stay in bed and celebrate (ok, ok, too much information - I know!) :)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Monopoly money and ketchup

I told you that Sunday night we taught some of our friends Monopoly. It was interesting to play with them - of course they insisted on having a blackmarket! As a kid, you feel all thrilled that you get to hold a $100 bill or a $500 bill. Of course, now these notes seem quite small. John was actually commenting that it would be cheaper to use Zim money than to replace the monopoly money. In Zimbabwe, a $10,000 bill won't buy you too much these days (if you can find anything to buy!) I carry around $100,000 - just in case. Imagine! Money is scarce these days though - it's hard to find, and maybe this is the government's way of trying to stop the blackmarket. It feels so unsettling though - first the food was gone, and now cash is going. I must say, I am impressed by how shops are attempting to make their shelves full. We went to one shop that had this massive, beautiful display of ketchup. And there's still a lot of toilet paper. Trust me - you can use toilet paper and ketchup to give the illusion that your store actually has goods! Someone suggested we join a sugar queue this morning, but they were saying we'd have to stand in line for 4 hours to get sugar - and we had to come to work. Ah, life is interesting here...