Monday, December 24, 2007

We're in Canada!

We arrived in Canada Tuesday night to a beautiful banner and huge hugs. The journey was long (40 hours) but we got to tour Amsterdam, and I'm actually glad it took so long because this is a whole new world! It's cold here... Toronto and Harare are quite different - in every way. I must admit that I'm loving being in Toronto - eating all kinds of foods, using a bank card and wallet, seeing familiar streets, walking everywhere and feeling free, saying whatever I want, getting lots of hugs, eating mountains of food (have I mentioned this already?), hearing all the old family jokes, etc. It's amazing to see family and friends, and I am constantly happy (although crying a lot too).

Oh yeah - John is here, and we didn't even need to do a prison break. But you can keep praying for our safety.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! This is definitely going to be a memorable one for us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We're coming home for the holidays!

This is our last day in the office for 2007. Tonight we're having our church concert (I hope people come with despite all the thunderstorms!) tomorrow is the Thanksgiving ingathering where all Salvation Army divisions come with their financial offerings, and then Sunday is the retirement of our Territorial Commander. Monday morning we jump on a plane to Nairobi, and then catch another one to Amsterdam, and then finally a third one to our beloved Toronto. We'll be home next Tuesday afternoon - yay! I'm so excited to see family, friends, food and all of the Christmas festivities. We'll be home for 2 1/2 weeks.

In a way, it feels like betrayal that I'm so excited about going home. Everyone always says to me, "you must just love living in Africa!" And there are definitely things (and people) that I love. But Zimbabwe is a tough place to live too. I was reading a beautiful Advent devotional this morning about how only the poor can see God; and about how Christmas is really for the poor. I do believe it's true that when all else is stripped away, the Saviour shows himself more clearly. But I need to say again that there is nothing romantic or beautiful about real poverty. It is horrible. It makes you feel sub-human. It makes you live in a constant state of worry about your survival. No one here wants to talk about Christmas - it's too sad because no one can afford to go home or to get food or treats for their kids. So, is Christmas really for them? Last year we were disappointed that Christmas wasn't even mentioned at church. Surely the birth of Jesus is still important if no one has money! This year I have a better understanding of why it's avoided. It's painful. We had hoped to give away some money for Christmas, but it was impossible because when we tried to exchange money it was confiscated by the police (and John was temporarily put under arrest - now that was scary!!!)

On a more cheerful note: If you're still looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts, consider goats, sheep and school fees for people in Tshalanyemba, Zimbabwe:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anyone got cash?

So, there's a huge cash shortage in the country right now. There are long, snake-like queues at every bank - people waiting for hours and hours to withdraw their own money. Our friend had her salary deposited into her bank account Nov. 15 and she has gone to the bank every day since then trying to withdraw it. She is still unsuccessful, so has to beg and borrow for money to come to work every day. And what with inflation, the money has lost most of its value by now anyway. It's so sad. Everyone's looking for cash - for daily groceries never mind Christmas gifts and trips home to the village...

A friend invited us over for dinner last week. We were so touched. Then she came to my office and showed me the list of food items she needed to buy and how much each cost. So we had to fork over the money, and then the dinner ended up being canceled! Hmmm... good business opportunity (scam)! When she showed up with a new purse and hairstyle, we had to ask for it back!

This morning on the way to work there were police men (and women) with guns everywhere. The amount of resources spent on security for one man is quite remarkable. They were standing around in the rain. It has been pouring since last night. I don't know how our newly planted tomatoes are going to fare - they are drenched. I know we've been praying for rain, but this is a bit much... If only we could sell rain for cash... (uh oh, I'm starting to think like a Zimbabwean!) :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


For the past few years I have read the Bible cover-to-cover in a year. This year I read it backwards - by book, not by word (I'm not insane!) What a great book. I know the Bible has caused a lot of controversy over the years, and I don't want to get into all of that. I just want to say that it is an incredible narrative. Seriously, there's something in there for everyone - historians, cynics, poets, romantics, story tellers, those of us trying to lead a full life. Sure, there are boring parts (is that sacrilegious?) but there are also amazing parts. Can I just say that I love Jesus? It's true. I love the way he loved others, I love the way he bothered religious people, and I love the way he started a revolution. The Bible - check it out!

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Monday

Yesterday I was walking the last few minutes home of my run (it's really hard to actually run when you're having digestion problems!) and I heard a loud gunshot. I ducked, looked to my left and saw 4 young guys laughing and playing with a rifle. It made me nervous, but it also reminded me of when we were first married and we moved to Regent. We would lie in bed, listening to the sounds of our neighbourhood and make guesses - firecrackers or gunshots? We'll be home for a holiday soon - we can finally say NEXT WEEK!

Yesterday was also international human rights day, and we had the day off (although I think that was more to do with the fact that most people who work at our office are officers, and they are having an officers' councils). We actually both had to work in the morning, but we took the afternoon for a movie and pizza (Bourne Ultimatum - has it come out in the theatres yet for you?) :) Then we walked home and tried to plant some tomatoes, but it started pouring.

By the way, did you read about Christopher Smith? He is a man with schizophrenia who was deported to Jamaica last month. He was found roaming the streets of Kingston, and his family in Canada were very concerned. So Canada Border Services brought him back! The world will never stop amazing me!

Friday, December 07, 2007

3 everyday occurrences

#1: Inflation. A man was selling tomatoes outside of our office building, and they were cheap - only $400,000/bag - so everyone was buying some. Our friend who was driving our combi home bought two bags. Then on the way home, we drove past a lady selling tomatoes outside of her house. He offered her one of his bags for $800,000 - double the price. That's inflation! Everyone is always thinking of business opportunities here.

#2: Stealing and consequences. Sunday at church the youth choir got up to sing their song, and while they were doing so, one of the youth had her cell phone stolen from her purse. This is quite common. You often hear of people going to pray at the mercy seat up front and finding their purse/cellphone/money/child in one case(!) missing when they come back. This particular girl had had things stolen on several occasions, and had a suspect. The officer (pastor) talked to the suspect, and the girl kept denying everything. So the police were called. When the police arrived, they asked the pastor to leave. The police recovered the cell phone within 10 minutes. The girl had been beaten and thrown in prison, and she doesn't have any family, so no one is bringing her any food in the cell.

#3: Accidents. 4 officers were driving to South Africa this week to try to find some food for officers' councils. A cow ran into the road, so they swerved to miss it. They ended up in a ditch, and before they could get back onto the road, they went onto a bridge, and then off of it at a 90 degree angle. It's a miracle that they're alive. Road accidents are unfortunately very, very common here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Flying ants and farmers

Last night I went to visit friends and there were a multitude of flying ants in their living room. I was conscripted to run around trying to catch them by their wings. Then I put them in a bowl of water. They would later be stripped of their wings, fried in oil and eaten. You can't knock free protein! I have been missing the hustle and bustle of Christmas - concerts, lights, snow, caroling and hot chocolate... but I guess I'm making new traditions!

I read a very interesting book on the weekend: "When a crocodile eats the sun" by Peter Godwin - a white Zimbabwean now living in the U.S. It was strange to recognize most places in the book; to have met some of the people in the narrative. The book tells the story of his family, but also the story of Zimbabwe up to a few years ago. To be totally honest, before moving here, I didn't have much sympathy for white Africans. I got a very liberal, anti-colonial education at U of T. In reading this book, however, I was really moved to compassion reading about white farmers who had their lands taken over in the early 2000s. Of course everyone agrees that land distribution had to take place - it's obvious. But the way it was done was so... horrific. So dehumanizing. So economically devastating. Imagine - people who had legitimately bought and tilled their land, and employed hundreds or thousands of black workers had to flee and see everything they worked for just demolished and taken over by war veterans, or people who claimed to have seen war but really just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity. It was so disheartening to read of young men who had been adopted, cared for and schooled by some of these farmers then turning on them in violence. My family has joked that I'm racist against white people, and maybe I am a bit, but it's really not funny. Racism in any form is wrong. Abuse of power and oppression is wrong in any situation. One of the major themes in the national media here is that the West only cares about Zimbabwe because they are in solidarity with white farmers; and they want to punish Zimbabwe because of what happened to the whites; they are racist. For myself, I don't really feel a connection with these evicted farmers because we share similar skin tones, but because they're human beings. Just like I feel a connection with Zimbabweans who don't have a similar skin tone as me but are also fellow human beings - who are hungry and mourning and coping in miraculous and marvelous ways. Do you believe me?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We got mail!

Today I got a wonderful surprise in the mail - a Catholic hymn book in Acholi. One of the girls that I met in Gulu, northern Uganda, sent it to me. When I stayed with Kathy at St. Monica's we would sing with the girls in the late afternoons until the sun set. This one girl - Nivana - was very curious about me because I knew some Acholi words (which were similar to Shona) and I can also sing harmony ("are you sure you're white?") :) She was very sweet, and today she sent me the hymn book in the mail, marked the numbers that were my favourite, and said in a letter "things sound tough in Zimbabwe - I'm praying for you." She also invited me to her wedding next year. I can't tell you how touched I was! God is good. It's a wonderful thing to be remembered. My highschool friend Katherine also remembered us. We got 9 packages of Kraft Dinner and chocolate bars in the mail. She had posted them in February, but better late than never!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Weekend in the South

We have just been away for 5 days in the south of the country. It was hot, and we fought mosquitoes and runny stomach (did you need to know that?) but it was a great trip. The people of Zimbabwe are friendly, welcoming, fun and gracious. Wednesday we had a heavy 5 hours of rain in Harare, which was amazing. Zimbabwe REALLY doesn't need more drought right now... We got absolutely drenched on our lunchtime stroll, but we couldn't really complain, because we have to think of farms and food production, etc. To be honest, we tried to escape the rain by going to the country's best burger joint. Unfortunately, they didn't have any burgers. In fact they didn't have anything we tried to order. Eventually we suggested that the waiter should just tell us what they were serving rather than bring a menu!

Thursday we drove to Bulawayo with the Chief. Bulawayo is the second largest city, and about a 5 - 6 hour drive south of Harare. There was barely any traffic because of the severe fuel shortages. Friday we went to Tshelanyemba hospital. It was good to be back there. Our friend Dawn is a Canadian doctor who has been serving the rural community there for ages. Actually, she is due to retire soon, so if you know of a doctor who is willing to work for peanuts and be the only doctor for about 100kms with water and electricity restrictions, please let us know asap. We were there for the unveiling of an irrigation project, a container of supplies and "Canada house" (built and paid for by Salvationists in Newfoundland). It was sad to be there - to hear of the numbers of people dying of hunger, to hear about the difficulty in accessing basic medications, etc. but at the same time it was a hopeful place - because you see the commuity coming together despite hardship. In the late afternoon we drove through the beautiful Matopos (they say God just started throwing rocks down at the place, because the way they balance on top of each other is incredible!) and spent the night at Masiye camp - which is gorgeous. In the morning we ran to a beautiful dam, and more than once John asked why we had to have been posted in stressful Harare at THQ!! We saw some really beautiful places this weekend.

Saturday we went to Usher Institute - a Salvation Army boarding school which is infamous for the murder of a few white teachers back during the troubles, but famous for its quality education. They have about 700 female boarders - secondary and primary. The young ones were very cute - we'll have to post a photo. Usher is struggling to retain teachers, so again, if you want to teach in a rural area and get paid in tomatoes - please let us know!

Sunday we had 2 church services in Bulawayo, and we got to hang with our friend Kim. I had the chance to speak out against discrimination in the church re: HIV/AIDS (since December 1st was World AIDS Day) - and that was good. A Salvationist came up to me after saying that she's positive and thanking me for my words. HIV is still really associated with adultery, prostitution and sin and so there is still a lot of stigma in the churches. The decor in the second church was interesting - they had made centerpieces of fake flowers, spinach and carrots. I noticed there was a mad rush after the service to get the produce. We didn't shop, but we heard that there is food in stores in Bulawayo. They say the food is expensive because they get it from Botswana, but at least that's better than the bare shelves of Harare. I think it's one of those stresses that kind of goes un-talked-about - the fact that you can't buy food in shops. It's all about connections. We have a lady who can connect us with eggs, and our neighbour is now sourcing bread for us. We hear rumours about sugar or flour and then follow them up. It doesn't matter if you have money (although, obviously money helps if you're going to the blackmarket!) - you have to have connections in order to get basic commodities (which are usually found through someone doing cross-border trading). Even cash - you have to have connections to get money! Right now people are lining up for hours to withdraw the daily limit of $5million (less than $3u.s. in real money). We're all just waiting for the new currency to be announced. Oh, and did you hear that Zim made it into the Guinness book of world records again? Next year's government budget has been proposed, and it's the only in the world to be in quadrillions (12 zeroes). Ah, Zimbabwe... Unfortunately, we missed the million man march in support of the President on the weekend. Never a dull moment...