Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

I am often amazed by people who don't just think of doing good things, but who actually do them. My friend Gaia - who I went to high school with and got reunited with on facebook - sent us movies and Halloween candy. I must admit, I wasn't expecting Halloween candy this year! She sent candy corn, which is kind of funny, because John and I always joke that Zimbabweans like maize in any form. And maize is similar to corn - so now people can all try a whole new form of maize!

I know a lot of Christians get uptight about Halloween, but we're a very Christian family, and we always celebrated in full force. Not in the "worship evil spirits and dress up as ghosts and ghouls and have an excuse for vandalism" way. But we got dressed up and had lots of free candy, and always went to see old people in our costumes so that we could sing for them. And we always carved jack-o-lanterns with my dad and then baked the pumpkin seeds. My dad was really good at making creative faces on the pumpkins. And the 4 of us would always come home and start trading. Uh oh - I'm getting sentimental, and I just might cry.... happy halloween!

P.S. Happy engagement to our good friend Kim and her soon-to-be-husband David!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A year and a half

On Sunday we celebrated 1 and a half years in Zimbabwe. So now we're over halfway through our 3 year term here. I'm tempted to say, "my the time has flown" but if truth be told, it's felt like we've been here 10 years already!! Of course (geek that I am) I had to evaluate myself and the past year and a half. There are things I could have done better at (i.e. learning Shona or visiting people more) but there are things we've done well too. We've made some good friends, and done some good work, and shared life with people.

For example... Saturday I went to my friend Alice's baptism at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was eventful. I was sitting with Gogo and Melissa. Gogo is quite old and doesn't know how to whisper, so she was making all her comments to me in quite a loud voice (like when someone was testifying and she said "I have no idea what she's going on about, but she looks sweet!") Melissa has down syndrome. She would say random things to me (like "I don't want to go to Afghanistan") and at one point she was enjoying the singing and so got up and started dancing. We were in the front row, and this caused quite a stir. I refused to ask her to sit down even though everyone behind us was sneering! Sunday night we took some friends out to celebrate birthdays - and it was just fun to eat together and share jokes. That's what we came here for - to share life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Back to business

And we're back! It's so marvelous to have electricity/internet/phones at work again. John's bagels are so yummy too. I've got an amazing husband. Oh, from last time - Amai Shumba: it means Mrs. Lion (John's totem is lion, and a lot of people here men by their totems).

We continue to learn new and interesting things in Zimbabwe. I was reading an article in the paper last night that caught my attention. It was entitled, "Employees adopt survival plans" and it was about how employees are using their businesses/government offices/places of employment to run their own business. For example, Moses works in a garage. Customers come in to the well-known establishment, and he tells them the prices for service but then in a hushed tone says, "but if you come to my place after work, I'll do the service for cheaper." Or Thomas works in a bar and stocks half of the fridge with his own beer to sell and make personal profits on top of his salary. Blessing works in a government office which registers companies. But he ends up referring most of them to his friends/partners who operate a company registration firm and give him a share of the profits for recruiting so many customers. People use company vehicles/phones/time for personal business transactions. Would you call this unorthodox? Corrupt? Survival?

I remember when we moved here, everyone asked me what my business was going to be. I explained that I had a full time job with The Salvation Army, and they were like, "no, outside of your work." EVERYONE here has a business - whether they're unemployed or working full-time as church pastors or government ministers or business people. It just gets a bit tricky when there's corruption involved, or when this business takes up all of the time you are supposed to spend on your "real" job. But I guess it's survival. By the way - want to buy some onions? :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ahem, yes I'm the new secretary!

You are looking at (ok, well reading the words of) the newest Secretary to the Executive council of the Zimbabwe AIDS Network - Harare chapter. Yep, I won the election today. The funny part is that no one even knows my real name - I ran as Amai Shumba, because I knew no one would be able to understand spell either my first or last (real) name. It will be a lot of work - but great exposure.

In other news, we're still without power at work - it's been over a week now. It makes you realize how dependent you are on computers! The Pritchetts are visiting Zimbabwe, and it's wonderful to have faces from home - they brought us chocolate and Pringles too - God is good. And our friends the Wards are heading to Pakistan to lead The Salvation Army there - which is huge! There's a short little update. 2 months til we land in Toronto for Christmas....

Friday, October 19, 2007

I miss electricity!

Sorry I've been out of commission for a while. We haven't had electricity/phones/internet at work this week. We're on the same power grid as the main public hospital, so we think they're rewiring cables to make the hospital a separate grid (so that they can keep their power on while giving the rest of us in the city centre our fair share of load-shedding). Fun! Although, obviously I'm thankful that they're interested in keeping power on at the hospital. I'm writing you from an internet cafe in town - and it only took 20 minutes for me to load up this page. I shouldn't really complain. It's just that I thought we were going to get a raise this week, and we didn't (so with inflation, now John and I each make 50 cents each a month!) It's so hard to know what to do with our monthly salary - buy 4 tomatoes or combine our salaries and get an ice cream cone (it's hot in Harare these days!) I'm just kidding of course. As soon as we get paid, we give the money away. I wonder if there's a way to store electricity in our suitcases when we go home at Christmas....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Trusting God

Last Sunday I gave a presentation on sexual trafficking at one of the churches here, and as a thank you, they gave me $2million (what can I say? I'm a good speaker!!) Anyway, John and I agreed that we should give this money straight away, so when we got home, we brought it to one of our neighbours. As it turns out, she had been very sick, and was heading out the door to buy medication. She was dressed and ready to go, but did not have any money, so she had been praying that God would send her some. And He did - $2 million; right on time. Saturday she was marveling about how God always takes care of her. Whenever there isn't a morsel of food in the house, she prays, and then someone comes by with a little something. Every time. She and her husband had been arguing over giving money in the offering plate at church. He was saying that they have so little, and she was saying that if they gave it, God would continue to bless them. When I came by yesterday with a small gift, she said to her husband, "see? now you have to admit that I was right!" I'm not a fan of the prosperity gospel - the whole idea that you can become rich if you give to God; televangelists asking people to put money in the offering plate, or send money via a cheque so that God can bless them threefold. It just doesn't ring true to me because I know too many people who are poor economically but very faithful to God. But my friend made me think twice. There's definitely something very special about trusting in God and listening to God and sharing. There's something wonderful about giving to God - not because you expect to become rich, but because you expect that He will use your family members and friends and neighbours to take care of you and bless you. My friend's faith humbles me and astounds me. She (and so many of our friends here) are literally relying on God for their daily bread - and trusting in a good God who will continue to take care of them. It's a simple, beautiful faith that I admire and desire. Our friend got tears in her eyes when she said to me, "I thank God every day for you and John. All of the time I was crying because all of my family is gone, and then God sent you - in an airplane - all the way from Canada. I know that you are a gift to me, because God always answers my prayers." What an honour - to be part of a miracle; part of the answer to someone's prayers. I see miracles every single day. I love God.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In sickness and in health

Yesterday I finished up the two day workshop on mainstreaming gender into the church. There was this one really interesting discussion/debate on whether pastors need to review the wedding vows - particularly the part about "in sickness and in health." It would seem that in Zimbabwe this verse is interpreted as "a woman must stick by her husband and obey all of his wishes including unprotected sex and reproducing children even if he is ill; and even if he is HIV+ and exercising these rights means that the wife will become infected. This isn't exactly the framework I was thinking of on my wedding day... Personally I feel that these conjugal rights are related to lobola. If you buy your wife, you probably feel like you have the right to do whatever you want to her/with her whenever you want, right?

There was also an interesting discussion on paternity leave. One guy spoke up and said, "but if you have 6 wives, you'll be on paternity leave all year, and that will severely affect production and the economy of the nation." True... I guess if you're in that situation, you just really have to get your timing right!

The Great Zimbabwean Bagel

We ate bagels this morning. I baked them two nights ago, and I was surprised at how easy it was to make them. The key is to boil the dough before baking, which gives the bagels a smooth and chewy crust. Yumm… Does anyone know how to make Montreal smoked meat?

My next culinary experiment will be replicating the Big Mac. It’s good to have goals.

We are running out of books!!! I just downloaded four new ones to read on my Palm Pilot, which will hopefully get me through the next few weeks. I downloaded Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock, Ernest Hemmingway’s Short Stories and Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I’m really looking forward to reading Murakami’s stuff. I read one of his short stories from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman last night and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style.

We’re coming home to Canada at Christmas for a short vacation, so we’ll be stocking up on some more books. I will definitely be picking up MG Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song and Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air. Do you have any book recommendations?

Two of my recent favourites: Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Rochelle’s brother Joel just sent us some movies, so that should slow down my reading rampage. We watched a few episodes of Lost last night (thanks, Joel!) on my laptop while we ate a very Canadian supper: Fried egg on a bagel, corn on the cob, watermelon and strawberries. All of the food was grown locally, except for the flour used to make the bagels. We haven’t spent much time on our garden lately, but we’ve got onions, peppers and carrots growing right now and we’ll plant a new batch of sweet corn this weekend. We also have plenty of lavender growing in the front of our house, so I occasionally cut a few branches and throw them into our morning bath.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gender, curses and a feast

I just spent the morning at the Holiday Inn for a meeting with UNICEF. They were gathering churches from the National Faith Based Council to come and talk about gender mainstreaming within the church. Gender is such a fascinating topic anywhere, but in Zimbabwe it always makes an interesting discussion. I was sitting next to a woman who has founded and pastors her own church. The first Sunday she led services her husband was ashamed and left home never to return. There is such a difference between what people say in meetings like this one, and what they say over the lunch table afterwards - or in the combi ride home. (Like, "gender equality is a foreign, white thing. It will never happen in our African culture" or in The Salvation Army they'll say, "oh of course my wife could be a divisional commander, as long as she knows she's the slave at home!") Right. I still can't get over the whole "girls are only valuable because they bring in money at their wedding" thing. At the wedding on Saturday they raised $182 million (we know this, because each relative and friend goes to the front and announces their gift as they present it and then totals are announced). I can't imagine being bought by my husband (although here, everyone can't believe that John got me for free!)

I am SO thankful for a husband who both loves and respects me. Actually, last night I was visiting some friends, and one of them asked me if I had given a magic potion (made mostly of boiled lizards) to John. You see, he was home making bagels (who does that? what a clever guy - they're delicious!) while I was out visiting. Because John likes to be in the kitchen, people assume that I have put a curse on him. And they're serious! I know one thing for sure - I would not have lasted 1 week as a Zimbabwean wife (because of my total lack of skill in almost every home-making activity!) People here generally preach that if you don't go by prescribed, traditional gender roles, you will be unhappy in your marriage, and it will never last. But it works for us! We don't fit the mold at all, but we're happy, and we both feel like we have an amazing marriage.

P.S. We had a buffet lunch after the meeting. I don't know where hotels are getting their food, but it was a feast! At the end, one of the waitresses came up to me and asked if I'd like to settle the bill for everyone. I realized I was the only white person in the crowded restaurant. I guess assumptions are hard to beat in any category!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sorry about the jacarandas

There are jacaranda trees all around Harare. They are beautiful trees which make lovely archways and a beautiful purple carpet on the ground. They are similar to lilacs (my mom's favourite), and remind me of Anne of Green Gables. Yesterday I was in the back of a pick-up truck and I asked if the jacarandas were native to Zimbabwe. Then I got an earful! As it turns out, the jacarandas were brought here by the varungu (whites) who thought they looked beautiful, and so they planted them everywhere. They even used to have festivals where they would all dress up in the same colours to match the trees and get their photos taken. But most "real" Zimbabweans are allergic to jacarandas. It makes them cough and sneeze (the people talking coughed here to emphasize the point). The people who were telling me about the jacarandas were angry. So I decided that I should apologize - on behalf of "my" people - the horribly racist whites who obviously wanted to poison the Blacks with their lust for beauty (wait - this is sounding like "The Herald"!) So, I said I was sorry, and this satisfied the people in the back of the truck. I didn't have much to do with this tree decision, but I'm guessing that no one else is lining up to come here about apologize about the jacarandas. (By the way, did you see that descendants of Lothar van Trotha apologized to the Herero people for the 1904 massacres and forced starvation over land ownership in Namibia? Better late than never, I guess...)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! We are missing family, friends and turkey in Canada, but we still have hundreds of reasons to give thanks. I am thankful for John, family and friends, running water, flour from Zambia (and a husband who makes good bread), our health, people who support us in prayer, our washing machine (and enough electricity on the weekend to do 2 loads of wash!), e-mail, our garden, great neighbours, people who don't judge me, chocolate, so, so, so many good people that I know and love.... I won't get into the whole list, but you get the idea.

We had a good weekend. We spent the day Saturday at a wedding. It amazes me that in these difficult circumstances, people still pull off events with 8 bridesmaids in gorgeous dresses and feeding hundreds of people, etc. etc. It was a beautiful event, and the photo shoot was at a wonderful sculpture garden (which, of course, the Shonas are famous for). In the evening we went to a concert to commemorate World Palliative Care and Hospice Day. It was put on by Island Hospice, where I do my volunteer work, and it was a delightful concert - with everything from the National Ballet to African Voice to a jazz band to classical piano. It brought back a lot of memories - of high school days in the stage band, to piano recitals, to seeing the Canadian national ballet at the Harbourfront to singing at National, etc. It made me thankful for my past, present and future.

Then yesterday I had my own little private Thanksgiving service - listing so many things I'm thankful for - and just really being grateful to God. It's so easy for me to complain, and yet when I looked at this list of all I'm thankful for I wondered how I can ever not give thanks! In the absence of turkey, we celebrated at a French restaurant (I had prawns and John had lamb curry - yum!) with our friends David and Brenda. At home I chatted with Gogo for a bit (she had this long, intricate, fascinating story about being bit by a monkey!) and then watched "Moulin Rouge." It was an odd Thanksgiving weekend, but a nice one. Thank you, God!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Teachers' Strike

This morning I was asked to pray about the teachers' strike, which is a sore point for parents because many students are supposed to write exams starting next week (i.e. grade 7 exams, which determine where kids will be able to attend high school). Teachers are requesting $16.7 million/month, up from their current $3million (note: I met a teacher last week who was still getting $30,000/month, so I guess things are even more desperate the rural areas!) This is quite a rise, but keep in mind that we have the highest inflation in the world and that in real money, this pay hike would still amount to less than $35us.

Paying teachers is quite an important justice issue - at least paying them enough to feed their own children and send them to school. Zimbabweans are always bragging to us about how ours is the best education system on the continent. I would guess that in order to keep it that way, we would need teachers who need to be slightly motivated to keep on teaching. Before the strike, some teachers were refusing to teach during regular school hours, and then charging their own rates for after-school tutorials. Everyone in Zimbabwe has some form of business. In fact, it was one of the first questions people asked us when we moved here - "what's your business going to be?" They meant outside of our full-time jobs, of course.

About those jobs... my new job is challenging but great, and I'm trying to learn as much as possible in a short space of time. We're still going strong at $350,000 each, but we get housing/electricity/water/phones, etc. paid for. Well, when there IS electricity, and hmmm, when was the last time our phone worked?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The Salvation Army is working on a national-level partnership with World Vision, and so last week I spent 3 days with World Vision staff in Hurungwe, seeing how they work. Of course, I have always been impressed with the multitude of services World Services offers and the way they are helping so many thousands (millions?) of people around the world. I'm also impressed by the way World Vision is trying to integrate disability into a more general HIV/AIDS framework. Last week we visited a Disabled Persons Organization deep in the rural areas. When we arrived, the whole crowd was huddled into a building they had constructed themselves. Their strengths were obvious from the beginning. For example, 40 out of 56 disabled children in the community are not attending school, and so the group is advocating for them. The district told them that the kids were not allowed to be integrated, and that they needed special classrooms, but that there are no spare buildings. So the group started making bricks, and they're still fighting. I was touched by the way members of the group helped each other - a woman using her only hand to guide a blind man using a stick, a man with a heart problem inventing sign language to communicate with a girl who cannot hear.

In this country there is a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities. Children are often hidden away in their homes, and not allowed to play with other kids. Pregnant women fear seeing disabled children, because some believe that the sighting will cause their babies to be born with a disability. An officer couple we know had a disabled child, and suddenly their church attendance dropped, and rumours of curses spread throughout the community. How painful!

I must say, Zimbabweans continue to impress me. Sometimes I get into a "woe is me - I live in economic hardship" mindset. And then I meet people who are not only living this hardship, but living it in the rural areas with drought, HIV+ and with a disability - and yet living with grace, hope, strength and a desire to help others. It's humbling.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Giraffes and meat

You know it's going to be a good day when you go for your morning run and see a mother giraffe walking with her brand new baby in the Woodlands near your house! By the way, we heard about a random giraffe that ended up in Chitungwiza (a high density suburb). Supposedly there was great debate in the community - do we set it free or kill it for meat?

Speaking of meat... the other day I arrived at a friend's house, and he served me meat on rice with some vegetables. I was surprised to see meat, and he said that a friend had given it to him that day, and so he decided to give it to me. He also said that this was the last food in the whole house. I awkwardly ate it as the rest of the family members looked on. I knew it would be rude to leave anything on my plate, but I couldn't help it - I left the best pieces of meat because I knew kids in the kitchen would eat it later. When I had finished, the family asked me to lead a prayer, asking God that somehow there would be food on the table the next day. Sometimes I feel like I'm a character in a Bible story, and it's humbling... (by the way, the prayer worked - someone gave us a chicken the next day, so we slaughtered it and killed it. It was really hard for me to get the meat off the bones because of its age. I learned the true meaning of "tough old bird!")

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's good to laugh

The last two nights I've woken myself up from a deep sleep laughing. I feel sorry for John, but I obviously couldn't help it - my dreams were just very funny. One of them was about a childhood play that my brothers and sisters and I put on about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and the other one was about negotiating about meat prices in the rural areas (and I was laughing because of how Zimbabwean I've become). Actually, there have been a few times lately where I've noticed how Zimbabwean I am - like when I spend a million dollars without thinking about it, or I join a queue without knowing what it's for (but it's got to be for something good - like bread or sugar - if people are lining up!) or I look at what other people are carrying (like eggs) and then think, "I wonder where she got those? I wonder if there are any left?"

It's good to laugh because there is simply too much to cry about it. Last week after church a young man came up to John and asked who he was. John said his name, and then the man said, "oh good, I have something for you - from God." It was a fresh painting - very nouveau art with the whole paper being covered in dark green and brown. And it smelled like a toilet. The event was so random that I broke out into giggles, and could not even stop them to greet people properly. In Francistown I approached a security guard at the mall and asked where I could find the washroom. He was confused, so I said, "sorry, I mean the toilet" and his response was - "why do you want to wash in the toilet?" Crazy white people!

P.S. Happy Birthday to my Grandma - a courageous woman of prayer who has kind eyes and a wonderful laugh. We love you! xo