Thursday, December 11, 2008

Almost 3 weeks old

Apparently, time flies when you're a new mom. Tomorrow Kieran Tinashe will be 3 weeks old. I remember 3 weeks ago today - all of the anticipation and waiting; all the normalcy (we went for Japanese food, watched movies and I did the irnoning) and craziness (intense contractions!!) of the day. And then our baby being born!! Our lives changed forever!

I love being a mother. As soon as Kieran was born I started bawling. I cried for a good 10 minutes before I said anything because I was completely overwhelmed with love. Those were my first words - "I just love him so much." It was instant and immediate. Of course I loved him while he was growing inside of me for 9 months, but as soon as I heard him and saw him... and then got to hold him... wow - nothing like it.

In honour of the 3 weeks, here are 3 of my favourite things that my baby boy does:

1. He gets excited about his bottle. Newborns sleep a lot, but they wake up when they are hungry. Kieran cries until the moment when the bottle comes to his mouth. Then his head shakes a little and he brings both his hands to his face - like he is ready to box. He's so happy! It's very cute to watch, and a humbling reminder that he is totally dependent on us for survival.

2. He snuggles well. Is there anything more peaceful than holding a sleeping baby? Or having him lie on your chest while you both have a nap? Or gazing into his face and watching him fall asleep or wake up? Or just looking into his eyes and having a good chat at 4am? He's a really good snuggler.

3. He makes people happy. I prayed for a mild-tempered and sociable baby and God heard my prayers. Kieran is not too fussy and so we've been able to be out and about a little bit. Wherever we go, he makes people happy - whether it's at a homeless dinner or a gospel choir concert or at church or at THQ or just on the street (people smile at you if you have a baby stroller!) People love seeing a baby. It brings out the best in people, and it's a beautiful thing to watch. My son is a joy-bringer. I'm such a proud mom...

Friday, November 21, 2008

God is with us

For those friends and family not on Facebook, we've got big news: Kieran Tinashe McAlister was born Friday morning at 4:22. He weighs 8 pds 2 oz and has reddish hair. Mommy and baby are both doing well and will be released from the hospital on Monday. Dad is trying to be as helpful as possible.

Tinashe is a Shona name that means "God is with us." More updates soon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still waiting

I had a dream two nights ago: I was out for a walk, and when I came back to the apartment, there was a message from John to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I went, and he explained to me that I'd missed the labour and birth. Sure enough, I looked down to where my normally huge belly is and I had a flat stomach. The doctors said it was a medical miracle! John explained that since they hadn't been in touch with me, they brought my sister in to the meet the baby. He thought I should go in, so the baby wouldn't be confused about who the real mother was. The baby was SO cute! He never cried, and just loved smiling and cooing. Ah, the fantasy life... :)

Our baby's 6 days late, but it feels longer. It feels like I've been pregnant a very long time! I think mature people can appreciate waiting. Spiritually mature people can appreciate that God can teach us so much through times of waiting. I don't feel very mature! I feel impatient! I feel huge and heavy and nervous about the impending labour (supposedly he has a big head - yikes!) I feel like I'm incompetent somehow when everyone's like "what's up? what's wrong? where is he?" Whereas really, I should just be happy that our little baby is safe, healthy and growing. Besides, with his combination of Ivany-Island-African roots, he didn't have a chance of being early or on time!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Our baby has still not arrived. I think he's too happy/comfy in there. It makes sense - who would want to come out to the dreary weather we've been having if they have a nice warm waterbed they're swimming around in? I continue to stay home and rest. Daytime t.v. has become a bit boring, so I'm trying to keep my mind active, but maybe I'm spending too much time thinking!

Last night I didn't sleep well. I had a dream about Zimbabwe. Usually when I dream about Zimbabwe, it's a situation where I have arrived back but not been allowed to bring anything with me. So either I'm stressed, wondering how I'm going to find food or money or else I'm just stressed because I don't have anything to give those I love. And then I always see people I love from a distance, but something keeps me from being able to talk to them. The dreams are kind of sad! I often feel helpless when I think about Zimbabwe. I worry when I don't hear from people, but then when I do hear from people, I also worry. And I feel helpless.

Yesterday I got a letter from one of my Zimbabwean mothers. She and her husband are pensioners that live on the compound where we used to live. They've both lost all of their children, and so they adopted us and really believe that we were sent to Zimbabwe to be their kids. The letter made me feel horrible. She wrote about how they had not heard from us on Mac's birthday and that he was disappointed about that (I did send a card, but I guess it never arrived). She wrote about her poor health and asked me to send medication. She said they're struggling for food. She said all of the money we left is finished and that we should send more or else they would die. I read this letter and just felt totally deflated, guilty, and most of all just HELPLESS! I just kept repeating, "I don't know what to do."

Zimbabwe was so real for us. The relationships were real. It really did feel like we were adopted into families; that we became son and daughter. It was a beautiful thing. But how does that continue now? When we were there, it was easy to be good kids. It was easy to bring food and money, to access medicine, to bring cake on birthdays. It was easy to visit with people, to listen and to share life. But now? From here? Zimbabwe is complicated. It's hard to transfer money. It's hard to know if parcels and letters will arrive. The phones are usually down. Even if it were easy to send money, how much should we send and how would we decide who to send it to? I've seen it from both sides now. I've lived with families who are counting on their "rich overseas relatives" for survival. And I've worked in Canada with refugees & immigrants on this side who don't feel very rich and struggle to make ends meet while still sending as much as possible "home."

We never meant to create dependence. We know what good development is. We know that it's better to teach people to fish than give people fish. We didn't want to make people dependent on us. But it's Zimbabwe. 80% unemployment, a trillion% inflation, shortages on all basic goods. How are people supposed to make and save money? Even those who are working full-time struggle for basics like school fees. We've been there. We've borne witness. So what's our responsibility?

It's heart-breaking to feel helpless. I know I can't be stressed now. I know that I have to rest and save up all my energy for giving birth and having a newborn. I just struggle to integrate the extreme experience of Zimbabwe into my Canadian life. I don't believe that God brought us all that way and showed us so many things and gave us so many people to love just to forget now. But I don't know how to re-member well or to bring the two different "lives" together. I don't want to be one of those people that gets so overwhelmed with "the weight of the world" that I don't do anything. But I also don't want to go crazy or feel guilty/stressed/sorrowful every time I think of our friends and family in Zimbabwe.

Well, maybe Dr. Phil will have some insight for me today...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Due date

So, today was the big day... but nothing happened. I guess our baby's on African time. I must admit that it's weird at this stage to just be waiting. I'm at home, trying to rest and entertain myself (I dusted!) but it's just waiting and wondering, knowing that a major life change is going to happen, not knowing exactly what that will be like and ready to find out. I feel like I've been pregnant forever, and I'm starting to have dreams about him never coming out (I'm also having dreams about being chased by crocodiles... I'm sure it's unrelated).

But there are still good things:
- Eventually our son will come to the outside world and be held in my arms instead of my tummy,
- Melissa Fung was released, unharmed,
- Barack Obama won (attitude change IS possible),
- I have a while to get used to being a parent before having a teenager (watched a scary Dr. Phil about salvia and sexting - new teen trends - very scary!)
- We don't have cockroaches OR crocodiles in our apartment...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

Today is November 11 - Remembrance Day - the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. Imagine how that must have felt to the world - peace at last. What a shame that so much war is still going on, and mostly affecting civilians.

I must admit that I feel conflicted about Remembrance Day. Maybe it's because I grew up in multicultural, postmodern Canada; maybe it's because I'm a pacifist. Part of me struggles to honour people that fought. Part of me struggles with the phrase "fighting for peace." And yet I know this makes me sound so selfish and ignorant because I get to live off of the avails - in freedom. A woman in the doctor's office this morning was distressed because her poppy had fallen off. I gave her mine, and she shared how she had lost the two people closest to her in the war. My heart went out to her. Of course I get choked up when I see old men in uniform, standing proudly or weeping softly - remembering all of those losses and tragedies from so long ago. Of course I feel compassion, respect and gratitude for them. But if I'd known them when they were young with guns?

Maybe I've just had too many scary experiences of young (often drunk) men in military fatigues with guns and a seeming disdain for human life.

"Lest we forget." One theory is that if we remember war and document it and keep it in our minds and our children's minds, we will not return to it. The other theory is that as long as we remember it, we will feel that loss and a need for revenge. But maybe that doesn't count in Canada because we don't really have any enemies and there is no revenge to be had. To remember or to forget. I guess most people who have seen real war don't have a choice. I have a small understanding of the inner conflict you feel in wanting to both remember and forget at the same time.

Friday, November 07, 2008

5 days to go

Well, I'm due in 5 days. So I'm finished work and resting at home. I guess I'm overdoing it a bit. I threw up 5 times in the shower yesterday. At least it was easy to clean up! But I spent the whole day today relaxing and catching up on day-time t.v.

John's nesting. He keeps wandering around our nursery, making sure everything is in the perfect place and that we have everything in order.

I'm enjoying... warm baths before bed, cheesies, back massages, thinking about holding our little son...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More than a doll

We went to our last pre-natal class last night. They taught us to swaddle babies and bathe babies and breastfeed babies and attend to babies' (minor) medical needs (John asked about a gushing leg wound and they said just to go straight to emergency for that!) I got really emotional with the doll - talking to him and wanting to hug him. I can't imagine what I'll be like with our own son. It's just so amazing to imagine that he will be us - a part of us and with us forever. Ah, God is good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When the words won't come

I'm an "emoter" and a "sharer." I don't have a problem sharing my feelings, because I wear my heart on my sleeve. So it's frustrating when I can't express what I want to. This morning we were asked to share about our Zimbabwean experience at THQ (where we work). I worked on my little 8 minute talk for hours. I knew I didn't have a lot of time, so I tried to cram in as much as I could. And I couldn't express it. I couldn't express what life was really like or the various stresses. I couldn't explain that ever-present joy mixed with sadness. I couldn't express how much I admire the people there, and I couldn't express what our relationships were like. I tried to create the mood of what the praise is like - the singing and dancing and exuberant joy. But I couldn't. I sing differently now. It's like I've lost my Zimbabwean voice. I was so committed to not forgetting; to remembering well. But I don't know how to honour my experience and all the courageous people I met. Life there was just so very, very different than life here.

In baby news... all is well. 3 weeks to go. Yesterday we had an ultrasound and learned that our little boy is already a great size and moving a lot. I can't wait to meet him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thankful for voting

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving. We had a busy weekend, and Thanksgiving kind of came and went rather quickly this year. It's a shame, because it's such an amazing holiday - a chance to thank God for the hundreds of thousands of blessings in your life. I could talk all day about all the things I am thankful for (including the fact that I have our BABY growing inside of me, and that I am not worried about dying in childbirth!)

One reason I'm thankful today is that I was able to walk into a school across from our apartment to vote. No one intimidated me, no one beat me or threatened to kill me. No one noted my presence so they could attack me later on. I just got to calmly walk into the school, go behind a secret booth and place my little checkmark beside the name of the candidate I want. I find Canadian politics a little boring, but I have to vote. Voting freely is a privilege that hundreds of my friends would love the chance for.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mother and Daughter

"My own daughter came back with two children from that abuse inflicted on her by the rebels. She was 14 when she was taken and she came back after eight years. I am sure in your country, a child goes missing (pause), let’s say a parent goes to pick a child from school and he is not there. Five minutes is enough for that parent to panic. But eight years I have been waiting, knowing very well what the rebels do, their brutality... Every day we were wondering, “Has the child died today? Has she been injured? Is she bleeding to death? Has she been abandoned in the bush alone? Has she been killed and her body is rotting somewhere?"

"For the past eight years I have been in the bush. I was totally cut off from the world. It’s like being put in a tomb, you are still breathing, but you are in there. In the bush it was always horrible. I didn’t understand at first what they were talking about, you know, someone very old, in his late 50s. You cannot imagine. I thought maybe he was out of his head, not joking, because I have never seen any of them joking. But after that, they just have to tie you up and somebody rapes you, just like that. I was always, always afraid they might ask me to kill somebody, I was always, always afraid to do that. One day some girl tried to escape, and they asked us, all 30 of us girls to come. We went there not knowing what was going to happen. They gave us all big sticks and they ordered us to beat her to death. We could not imagine doing this and we refused, we refused... we refused, but, we were beaten so badly, to the extent that we all had to beat her to death and so we did... There was no day when you would get up and smile to see the sun rise, because everyday you would think, maybe today, maybe today will be the end of me."

Young woman abducted at 14 years of age and given as a forced wife to an LRA commander. She is the daughter of the woman quoted above.

Life can be so sobering. Last May I went to Gulu, Northern Uganda and met brave, beautiful young women who had been forced to marry LRA members; others to march around in the bush and fight. They're not just statistics. They're real people - mothers and daughters... waiting to be reunited.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Talking to God

I've been thinking a lot about human trafficking in the last couple of months, because it's the social issue that I'm working on. There was a series of articles about trafficking in the Sun this week. Monday's article really moved me. It was about how Aboriginals are affected disproportionately by sexual trafficking in Canada. Aboriginal youth are only 3 - 5% of the Canadian population, and yet they can be 90% of the visible sex trade in this country. 75% of young Aboriginal women are sexually abused before they are 18. They're trafficked into the sex industry at the ages of 7 - 12. In some places, the sex industry is so racialized that Aboriginal women are solicited when they are just on a smoke break outside of their workplace. I can't imagine. It's shameful. These women and children need to be treated with dignity and respect, and they need healing and prayer.

Last weekend was an international weekend of prayer for victims of sexual trafficking, so all across the world, people in The Salvation Army gathered to pray about it. I organized services at my work and at church, and it felt powerful to be praying alongside brothers, sisters, mothers and daughters all around the world. Prayer is powerful.

I'm trying to make a decision about something right now, and it's bothering me that I'm spending so much time thinking and mulling over the options. I just chatted with my brother, and he asked "did you pray about it?" I should have. But when I tried, the issue just seemed so insignificant to bother God about! Oh, I know God wants us to come to Him with everything, and that He can listen to all things at once. But I don't know... sometimes I wonder if we're being a bit irreverant by asking God to decide for us about "little things." There are such big things that need attention!

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Well, yesterday was something else, eh? The start of Eid for the Muslims (and the end of all of that Ramadan fasting) and Rosh Hashanah (new year) for the Jews. It was also the International Day for Older Persons yesterday. Talk about celebrations! When we walked to work yesterday morning, the normally empty (apart from pigeons) mall parking lot was jam-packed with cars (since it is the biggest parking lot close to the mosque). I felt like we should go attend, but I didn't know how that would go over. I always want to say "Salaam Alaykum" in the elevator too (since everyone says that to each other) but I don't know how it would go over. An Iranian friend told me in university that I speak too cheerfully to appear respectful in Arabic. So I'm a bit self-conscious. At lunchtime yesterday we saw a bunch of kids chowing down on pizza - enjoying food and the holiday for eid. It's quite a discipline for families to fast for a whole month - I admire that. I must admit, I felt a little left out with all the celebrations, and not fitting into any of the categories. So I went for supper with my best friend to celebrate... friendship and that was nice too! It was my Grandma's birthday yesterday too. She's a remarkable lady who just turned 83. One year younger than President Mugabe. It's hard to believe he still wants to run a country at that age...

I miss seeing my toes and being able to throw on "anything." But my son tickled me yesterday afternoon and it made me laugh so hard! It's worth it...

Friday, September 26, 2008


People ask me a lot if I get or got cravings during my pregnancy. It's hard to say. In Zimbabwe, I craved a lot of foods, but I don't know if it was pregnancy-related. I think it had more to do with the fact that we couldn't get almost all foods. One of my delights of being home has been able to just buy any food that I have a fancy for. Like today, I craved some Doritos, so I went and bought some. They brought me right back to my childhood. The cool ranch ones always do. You see, my mother is probably the most disciplined (in a good way) person I know. As kids, we always got to have a bed-time/evening snack. But it wasn't ever, "what do you feel like?" It was assigned - in teacups. When we'd have a baby-sitter, we would get chips - all lined out on the kitchen counter in 5 teacups (one for the baby-sitter). We never thought to ask for a second cup or a bowl or (gasp!) the bag. It just wasn't the system.

I can remember the day in grade 4 when I bought myself a big, huge bag of cool ranch doritos. I was allowed to keep it in my room -in the top drawer - and to eat it all by myself (no sharing with 3 siblings). Of course, by grade 4 I had inherited, some of my mom's discipline, so I made that bag last a long time. But each time I reached in for a few chips, it was the taste of freedom. And that all came back to me this afternoon on my way home from work with my little snack!

Generally, I eat my food guilt-free. After all, I've just returned from Africa, and I'm pregnant. But I must admit that I had a twinge of guilt as I was eating my Doritos waiting for the elevator. I had the sudden realization that every other person in the lobby was fasting due to Ramadan. Woops. But they still tasted good...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Size discrimination

I went to pick up one of my maternity shirts at the drycleaners' yesterday. They got the stain out, so that was a blessing, but I noticed that the price was quite high. I asked the lady why she was charging me for cleaning a dress. She answered "this is a dress!" I explained that no, it was a shirt, and not possibly long enough for a dress. I showed her the shirt I was wearing, and said that it's the same thing - a maternity shirt. But she insisted that it's so big that it needs to be charged as a dress. I hate being ripped off. I'm huge, but not that huge. John's shirts are still bigger than mine. I think it's a CLEAR case of size discrimination!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Coffee, pizza and a banana

Today I went for "coffee" (I didn't really drink coffee) with 2 beautiful friends. It felt deliciously normal. The other day I was walking home from work and grabbed a pizza pizza square. Because I could. There is food everywhere in this country. Again, deliciously normal. (And it reminded me of Farhad - the pizza pizza man who, in high school, used to give me and my brother free slices because he liked us).

I was taking the bus home from downtown and 2 stops from my house, 2 very old Chinese ladies got off. One fell as she was getting off, and this young Black man ran to her, helped her up and checked if she was ok. 2 Muslim ladies also stopped to make sure all was well. That is Toronto. And then right outside of my building were about 30 Afghani/Pakistani boys playing baseball. It made me smile. Another smile this week was when a banana peel fell from the sky right in front of me. And then half a banana right behind me. I guess I could have been ticked off that someone was targetting me with a banana, but I just felt really blessed that the person missed both times!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Life goes on

News coming out of Zimbabwe:
The good news is that there was a power-sharing deal made on Monday, meaning ZANU-PF and MDC will share power. The president will remain the president, but a new post of prime minister will be created for Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe keeps control of the military, and Tsvangirai is tasked with the day-to-day running of the country. I've become a little pessimistic about Zim's future, but I do hope - for the sake of Zimbabweans - that this works. I hope peace will really be peace - that people will really have freedom (and that they'll have food). There's a new $1000zim note (which in the old currency is $10trillion) - and that's worth less than $3us. Our old neighbourhood is having problems with sewage coming out of the taps, and our neighbour's son was sent home from boarding school because there is no food and they haven't had water in weeks. Life goes on.

A friend told me last night that I have to forget about Zimbabwe - that I can't let the sadness of Zimbabwe affect my health and my baby. But I can't forget. However, I don't walk around depressed all of the time. Sure, I have days where I cry my eyes out, but I also have days where I sing and dance and laugh my heart out. That is life. One of my biggest prayers for my little son is that he will grow up knowing about the pain in the world, and yet will have immense hope, joy and faith through that.

Speaking of our little son... he's still kicking up a storm and growing healthily. I'm now sleeping with 3 pillows, so John is learning to conserve every inch of his side of the bed. I can no longer see my swollen feet, and I'm on a tight schedule of visits to the washroom every half hour. But it's a joy. I can't wait to meet him. It's cool when you can love people before you've even met them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lost and Found

Sometimes I feel lost. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to be or who I'm supposed to be. I feel confused by myself and have no idea what I want. I'm excited and scared about the future all at once. There has just been so much change in the past few months; so many emotions... On Saturday I had this glorious moment where I felt absolutely at home within my own skin. I was on my way home from a friend's gorgeous wedding. I love weddings, and I loved the chance to sing with my old choir. I was in a big truck with blaring raggae music, my friends were talking in good Jamaican patois, I had just tried sweetened tamarind for the first time (mmmm), I had just been called "Ro" for a couple of hours, and I shared lots of hugs and laughs. I was so deliciously happy. Then I went home, took off my too-tight sandals, ate pizza and watched "P.S. I love You" with my mom and sister-in-law. I cried way too much in the movie, but it was a good crying, and I just felt like me. That was a great feeling too. Feeling lost or alone is not fun at all, but feeling found; feeling at home; feeling loved... that's good stuff.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Freedom and Beauty

We walk to work, and I love that. Maybe I won't love it in a snowstorm, but right now it's nice because I love walking places and not having to fear for my safety or my life. It's also pretty great to go for a walk at the side of a hot guy and to know that you're the one who gets to kiss him before you fall asleep. On the way to work, we pass by a community living building, and there are always people outside who have developmental disabilities. There is one woman that I admire. I don't know her name yet, but in my head I call her Joy. She always has earphones in her ears and she's always dancing. She smiles a lot too. The other day she saw her friend down the street, and so she bounded towards her and gave her a bear hug and said, "I love you!" She is so free!!! Freedom is such a beautiful thing. You don't really appreciate it until it's ripped from you. I guess here, freedom isn't usually ripped from you - we just let it erode by becoming "grownup" and conforming to our conservative society.

I got my hair cut yesterday by a cute Pakistani girl. Something came on the radio about Tom Cruise. My hairdresser started laughing and said, "who cares? I'd rather cut your hair then Tom Cruise's. Everyone always talks about how beautiful these people are, but look at us. I think we're the beautiful ones!" Too true!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Taste of Heaven

Last night I went up to Jackson's Point. It's one of my favourite places on earth. It's a place where my life always sort of fits together. We used to go there as a family and rent a cabin and spend the days building sandcastles, swimming in the lake and playing croquet. Then I worked there, and went to national music camp there and had some amazing times with God in my teen years. So many memories...

I dropped by to see my uncle Ray, who lives in the neighbourhood. He is 86 and has trouble walking around, but his mind is sharp, and he was so happy to see me. He said I'm all grown up and gorgeous (and his eyesight is still good!) He was the youngest in a family of 12 kids (my late grandfather was the second youngest) and now he is the only one still alive. He was saying that as soon as he goes, the whole family will be gone. It was sobering to think of a whole generation of people gone. But that's life. It was also kind of cool to think that a whole new generation is coming up - and will start by coming out of me (ours is the first baby among all my cousins/siblings). Ray was smiley, gracious and kind. I hope I'm like that at 86.

The reason we went to Jackson's was for a concert and the music was beautiful. All kinds of music bless and touch me - gospel, classical, brass band... There was this one piece that reminded me of Heaven, and I got this vision of being up there and seeing some of my friends from Zimbabwe being seated in the best thrones in the place and given a beautiful, plentiful feast of delicious foods. These friends are humble, hard-working, suffering people, and so they were trying to give up their seats, but they just kept being told, "no, this is where you sit - you've earned it." Of course I cried, because it made me so happy to think that one day there will be no more suffering, and one day those who have had the worst lot in life will have the most wonderful celebration for all eternity. A planet where some of us live here in North America and some of us live in Zimbabwe doesn't really make sense. It's too unfair. But maybe it all works out in the end...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Do you ever feel like you want to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time?

Do you ever feel dissatisfied with your society's continual state of dissatisfaction?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with your social life and lonely all at once?

Do you ever feel like your head, body and heart are all in different places?

Do you ever wonder where you really belong?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Good things and Not so good things

Good things:

- On Sunday my Jamaican mother (Joy) said that she wanted to listen to her grandson. So she put her ear up to my belly and right away the baby kicked her in the face! She was shocked and so happy! She said she can't wait to meet her first white grandchild. (This kid's actually got a lot of black grandmothers as well as his white ones... what a heritage!)
- John slow-danced with me even though he was tired (I'm so in love with him - I feel so blessed to have found him...)
- My co-worker brought me a home-made chocolate chip cookie out of the blue this afternoon
- Our friend Kim made us a roast-beef dinner last night
- My mom and I have been going on a walk each day this week
- Hope is flying to the USA today. Hope flies! God is good (and thanks to those of you who helped him out)

Not so good things:

- We saw a great (but sad) movie - "Lars and the Real Girl." I thought it would be stupid, but it really moved me. Loneliness is a hard thing.
- Work has been stressful (although I'm thankful to have a job...)
- The other day mom and I were walking in my neighbourhood near the mosque (and Tim Hortons). A guy about my age asked if we knew where we were going and we said yes - we were just out for a walk. He seemed really angry. Then he asked if we - as Christians (I guess he knew we were Christians from my mom's Sally Ann uniform) thought the devil could come to earth in human form. I didn't have a lot of time to think this through theologically so said no. Then he turned to me, pointed his finger in my face and said, "I curse you to hell." He said all we have to do is look at all of the evil white people in prison to know the devil could come in human form. Then he told us to go back to our Christian building. It was so unsettling! It's not nice to be cursed to hell...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A church service

So, it's right back to Toronto life... we're both busy with work and getting settled back into our "new" life. The sexual trafficking work is very interesting. Sad, but interesting.

It's good to be back at our old church - 614 in Regent Park. I was quite moved several times in the service on Sunday. 2 women became official members (soldiers) and we have known both of them for a long time, so it was special. One woman had been in the sex trade for a long time, and has contracted AIDS. I remember meeting her mother a few years ago and hearing her talk about her "baby girl" and how she had had so many hopes for her and just wanted her to be at peace and happy. She definitely looked at peace and happy on Sunday. I guess seeing her become a soldier also reminded me of the many, many women struggling with HIV around the world - most of whom don't have access to the treatment that our friend is getting, and so don't have those life-prolonging, life-enhancing medicines. And that's unfair, but that's life. I was also really moved when we were asked to consecrate our lives again to God and take a piece of bread at the front. One gentleman came up in a wheelchair and gave his life over to God again, and I was blessed by that. I was also touched after the service in sharing a meal with a woman with developmental disabilities. She was asking me about my pregnancy and I stupidly asked her if she had children. Later on I started a new conversation and saw that she was crying. I don't know what about, but I was thinking that it would be hard to want to have children and to not be "allowed" - for medical or social or other reasons.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Hope for Hope

We got an email from our friend Hope last week. Hope is a great guy - full of potential, leadership skills and charisma. Hope got a full scholarship to study business & economics at a university in the USA. Hope also got a visa to the USA, which is a minor miracle. All he had to do was raise $2200US for his plane ticket from Zimbabwe. When we left Zim, he was in great spirits about this opportunity, but last week he wrote to us saying that his family was not able to raise the money, so he would have to forego the scholarship. This did not seem right at all. He was $1200US short, and his parents are very hard-working Salvation Army officers (meaning they would need to work for about 1200 months to raise this kind of cash!)

I thought about what it would feel like if I were a parent, dreaming of my children having an education and a better life, and being so close - yet so far - from giving him this opportunity. Hope's parents are great, and so he's sort of like a nephew as well as friend to us. Of course, we want him to go to university. Also, it's hard not to want to help someone named Hope! So, we've committed to coming up with the $1200US. Some friends have already given us some money, but we still need about $620 Canadian. To be totally honest, we're a bit broke from our moving-back-to-Canada-we-haven't-made-money-in-years situation but we've promised him the money. We can't stop buying groceries either, because our doctor is thrilled that I've put on 22lbs (!!) and says I have to keep on eating...

So, if you want to give Hope some hope, just contact us. That's what makes a difference in this world - one changed life at a time.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It's a boy! (and we're not psycho)

Sorry to let out the news to those of you who wanted a surprise, but we can't hold it in any longer... we're having a baby boy! The ultrasound lady did a triple-check and was "100% sure" (which is fairly confident...) We have the names picked out, but they're a secret (everyone needs a bit of suspense in life), so you can guess, but please don't pester John - he might cave under the pressure! :)

We have both started work. We're back at THQ (territorial headquarters) for The Salvation Army. This is starting to be a theme with us... but we're thankful for jobs. John is editing The Salvation Army's websites as well as the main magazine. I'm working on campaigning the international days of prayer for victims of sexual trafficking. We're both actually doing pretty much what we were doing before we left for Zimbabwe. In a way this is comforting. In a way it's like we're in a time warp where I'm wondering if (the 10 years is felt like we spent in) Zim ever happened. But they did.

We had our psychological debrief of our experience in Zimbabwe, and well... they let us leave the building, so that's a good sign! :) Basically the psychologist said that we both need time to seriously de-stress because we've been over-extended in every possible way in terms of stress and "vigilance." He said it's way too early for me to try to integrate our Zimbabwe experience into our Canadian life. I guess that will come later...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Huge and happy

It's our 6th wedding anniversary today. We're still madly in love. Married life is the best (as long as you marry the right person).

We got to hold a 5 day old baby yesterday (Benjamin Hutchinson). It was incredible. Seeing John hold the baby made me want to cry. Babies are such a miracle.

I feel huge!! (I know, I know - I've got to get some photos up...) I've always had a high metabolism and flat stomach (all my lady friends - please don't hate me!) so this is quite an adjustment. We picked up my parents from the airport last night (after having seen them in B.C. two weeks ago) and they both zoned in on my ever-growing belly. I think our baby is enjoying the whole "living in a country with lots of food" thing. I bought 2 pairs of shorts when we moved back to Canada and I can't squeeze into them anymore. I obviously expected to grow, but I didn't expect it to happen so rapidly! All of a sudden our double bed seems small. I feel like I hardly have any space and my loving husband insists I'm taking up most of the bed! Normally I love my big belly. I can't resist touching it and showing it off, because our little baby is in there. But at night it's a bit frustrating (who enjoys sleeping on their side?) and I feel like I've started to waddle. Oh well, huge and happy...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A few little updates

I am typing from our new home. Moving was not as stressful as it could have been, and it felt so good to sleep in our own bed last night. When we first got married, I had trouble sleeping because I was just so excited to be sleeping next to my hot husband (did you need to know that?) and last night I could not sleep because I was just so happy to be in my own space (and still sleeping with my hot husband!) This is my 16th home (if you count home as 3 months or longer). That's a lot of moving. I wonder if I will be one of those people who keeps moving or who eventually wants to settle in one place. It's one of those "how will being a mother change me?" questions I have!

We had a level 2 ultrasound and we got to see our baby! The ultrasound lady said everything was "textbook." That has to be good, right? The baby gave us the thumbs up again, so either s/he has only the one finger, or s/he is really happy in there and wanting to reassure me! There is lots of kicking, and that is wonderful.

Just saw in the news that Zimbabwe is cutting off 10 zeroes from their banknotes tomorrow. 10 zeroes!!!!!!! 2.5million% inflation will do that to you, I guess.

Happy Anniversary to Mom & Dad, who gave me a good example of a loving marriage. Congrats to Dave & Denise on little Benjamin!

Friday, July 25, 2008

To be honest...

We just had a blessed few days in Kingston. It was great to see Bram & Anita and we fell in love with baby Wesley. It's hard to imagine how much love we're going to have for our own baby (although I have an idea from the way John kisses my belly and says "I love you! God bless you!" to our baby through my ever-expanding stomach every night!)

Let me share honestly. I had some mild panic attacks in Kingston. While we were there we saw and met many young couples with young children, beautiful houses, huge t.v.s and gorgeous backyards. We got a lot of advice on babies and what babies need. In Zim, if you are expecting, you save money in order to get a towel (to wrap the baby around you) plus some cloth diapers, a blanket, maybe some bottles... Here it seems like you "need" a mountain of furniture and supplies, and thinking about all the stuff we need made me panic. I cannot really explain how different this world of middle-class Canada is from the life we have been living in Zimbabwe. Although I have seen it with my own eyes, it is hard to conceive of the fact that both of these places are on the same planet. I am struggling mentally and emotionally to figure out how to "be." How to live in Canada while having experienced Zimbabwe. I know that God sent us to Zimbabwe and I know that we are not supposed to forget our experience there. I am just mentally straining to figure out how to incorporate those life lessons into the Canadian way of life. I am terrified of getting caught up in the consumerist rat-race that is North America, but I don't want to be a social recluse/bitter missionary either. "Stuff" is fleeting. At 4am yesterday we started wiping up water with towels because our friends' place (where we were staying in the basement) started flooding. Anything could change in a moment and all of our coveted "things" could disappear, so John and I have always valued people and experiences above things. But you need some things. A baby needs some things. How much? Right now, I have no idea!

To be honest, when we came home at Christmas, I had mild panic attacks the few nights before we were supposed to go back to Zimbabwe. At the airport, I was literally making myself sick (which I'm sure was a huge comfort for my parents!) I'm horrified that I'm admitting that to the world, because I know I shouldn't have felt that way. I love Zimbabwe and I loved our life there. But it was hard - physically, emotionally, spiritually, ethically. It's hard to watch people you love suffer. It's hard to see the place where you live get worse and worse and to know that it's a mad-made disaster. It's hard to feel helpless. It's hard to stress all the time and to know that you shouldn't stress because if you were a better person you would just trust God completely and not worry about "minor" or selfish issues like having water/electricity or finding food.

I am thankful for some friends who have been "defending" us on our blog about whether or not we should have left. These friends (and others who didn't comment) are being empathetic and not wanting us to feel worse than we already to about leaving. But I'm not upset that someone anonymous asked the question or whether or not we should have "retreated." It's a great question - something we wonder about every day. We have to live with the guilt associated with privilege. Privilege that allowed us to walk through those airport gates to an easy life, waving to people we love and care for who are struggling to survive in a place that gets worse and worse, day by day, week by week. It was heart-wrenching. Period.

And now it's: what now? what next? Now that we're here, how do we live our life? What impact does Zimbabwe have on my choices in Canada? And that's what we're trying to figure out. I guess I want you to keep remembering Zimbabwe and praying for people there, but we still need some prayer too! I'm wondering whether it's worthwhile to keep up this blog (since we intended it to share our life from Zim) but maybe it's helpful to someone somewhere to know some of the thoughts/feelings of someone coming back.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back from B.C.

Well, we are back in Ontario after a lovely vacation in beautiful British Columbia. If you haven't been to this province, try to go (even though there's a crazy fuel tax on flights...) We had a chance to go to Vancouver Island to see some of John's family. We enjoyed Victoria, Nanaimo and Protection island. One of John's uncles (Ron) looks just like Robin Williams (I will try to post a photo soon) and he is funny too.

I loved spending time with my Nana, and I was blessed one morning when I went in to see her and through the crack of her bedroom door I could see that she was praying earnestly. My Nana is a prayer warrior and I know for sure that she prays for us daily. I can't tell you what that means to me. It was also good to play Rook and -crabble on the beach with Auntie Barbie and the crew and to have Moby Dick fish & chips and Andy's ice cream. Spending time with my beautiful, passionate, fun and sensitive sister Kirsten was also great. Family is great. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of everything... family, health, good marriage, food, electricity, water, life experience, mental health, being able to walk and see and hear and hold...

My dreams are easing up and we feel sort of rested (although I painted my toenails today and it took every ounce of energy out of me. That can't be healthy!) :) We are off to Kingston to meet baby Wesley Pearce... Happy Birthday (tomorrow) to my dream-chasing, passionate, loving and talented brother Joel.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Beautiful B.C. and a kicking baby

Greetings from White Rock, B.C. We have been in British Columbia for a week, and we are here for one more. It's been great to catch up with John's parents, my Nana, my sister, and other loving relatives and friends. We went to Granville Island, and the Vancouver Aquarium and Pike Market in Seattle. And of course, we've been eating a lot. Vancouver is a gorgeous city, and I must admit that for a few minutes we wondered if we'd settled in the wrong Canadian city. Toronto's nice too, but you can't beat the mountains, enormous trees and ocean! I was reflecting on this article on cities that my mom told me about a few weeks ago. Vancouver (where we are now) was ranked #1 city to live in whereas Harare (where were were 2.5 weeks ago) was ranked last. Life is strange...

I'm having a love-hate relationship with sleep. I get tired easily, which makes me want to sleep, but I'm having bad dreams. They are not the nightmares of Zimbabwe, but they're still not pleasant. Usually they are about people (from here) being angry with me or calling me bad names. Maybe part of me is wondering if people are judging us for coming back early (or I'm just judging myself). There was a big story on the news here about two elderly Canadian missionaries in Kenya who were beaten and raped and macheted, but they say they want to stay and continue to show forgiveness and love. They're the "good missionaries" right? The ones who will stay despite anything... so what does that make us? I know that, all things considered, it was good that we came back. But I guess not all of me knows that...

The baby is fine. S/he is starting to kick up a storm, which is pretty cool (another sign convincing John that this child will be a natural runner). I bought my first maternity clothes on Saturday. The pants have this elastic band that gives you 4 months to grow (John asked if there was a men's section). With everything I tried on, I'd ask John "does this make me look too big?" and he'd respond "of course not - you look beautiful!" I did trick him at one point, putting in the "fake belly" that was in the change room. When he still said I didn't look big, I wondered about his sincerity at the other comments... :) I've put on 15 lbs already, but everyone says I'm still small...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Trillionaires, Afghani food and a baby on the way

THQ hosted a "farewell tea" for us before we left Zimbabwe. It was really nice, and the chance to give a speech of thanks to everyone. We decided to treat everyone to pizza, even though it cost a small fortune ($2.5 trillion for 16 pizzas). It was worth it to know we'd hit trillionaire status, and also to see people's smiles as they had this rare treat. We could use a trillion now. Even a million... Life in Canada is expensive. I suppose it's just because there's so much to buy! I must admit that I love that about this country. If you're hungry, you can go to any number of shops/restaurants and get something to eat. If you need to pay for something, you can do so in any number of forms (i.e. withdrawing cash from the bank, debit, visa). The simple pleasures of life in an "easy" country... Church is more calm here though. I miss the dancing and hoshos and vibrant praise. We need to meet some Zimbabweans.

We found a place to live. It's a 2 bedroom apartment in Thorncliffe Park, and I think this will be a really interesting neighbourhood to live in. Once again, we are in the minority. Last night we had supper at a local Afghani restaurant (the food is SO good - try it!), and we were the only non-Middle Eastern people in there. I like that. Saturday I went to the medical clinic in the local mall, and I felt like I was standing in line for the United Nations instead.

We felt our baby move for the first time last night. I think s/he was doing somersaults. That's got to be a sign of athleticism! I went into the baby section of Zellers to look for a baby shower gift. The baby clothes are so cute! I bawled my eyes out from being so happy. What a miracle...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Happy Canada day!

Happy Canada day for yesterday. Of course, it was a surprise for us to be in Canada for this day, but we proudly wore red and white and ate burgers and corn on the cob to celebrate our nation.
Some things I like about Canada:

- Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, etc.
- We have lots of food here. I mean, LOTS... (have I told you I'm averaging 6 meals a day since being home??)
- No one knows what a Canadian "looks" like - we're a very diverse people
- Pedestrians have the right of way
- There are lots of trees and green space
- Being nationalistic in Canada means that you're tolerant of all people
- I don't feel afraid - even when walking alone in the innercity at night
- Canada borders two oceans and there are lots of lakes
- You can drink water straight from the tap
- You don't have to mix your milk from a powder - they sell it fresh everywhere
- There is lots of electricity
- Women can wear pants without being labeled as prostitutes
- We're not a military state; you don't see soldiers walking around the streets
- There are dogs, but they're not wild nor desperately underfed and vicious
- With your cell phone, you can make a call that will actually go through immediately
- Politics are boring, not life threatening
- etc.

Those are some of the things I'm appreciating about the true, north strong and free this year. As for adjusting... well, it's an emotional roller coaster. I feel new things every day. Grieving for Zimbabwe is a complicated grief, because in a way I loved Zimbabwe (the people, the way I was growing there and being part of something significant and meaningful, the adventure, my friends and family...) and in a way I hated Zimbabwe (watching people suffer, self-censoring all of my speech, feeling stressed constantly about what could happen next, living in a place that continually gets worse and knowing that it is because of poor leadership, ethical challenges...) My family is all so relieved that we're back - they can stop worrying about us. But now I have a whole host of people to worry about, and yet I'm not supposed to stress. Of course there's stress in Canada too. Because we have so much choice here. What cell phone do I buy? Where should I live? How much is reasonable to pay for rent? What type of ice cream do I want? What should I do with my life? The burden of choice - the burden of wealth...

Monday, June 30, 2008

A surprise - back in Toronto

We're back in Toronto. It all happened really fast. Last Tuesday (the day after I last blogged) it was announced in Zimbabwe that we would be leaving the country. Then we left Thursday afternoon (two days later; the day before the re-run of the election). The Salvation Army in Canada had become quite concerned about our situation in Zimbabwe. Things have definitely changed since March (the election). No longer were we just stressed about not finding food or lack of electricity or water or freedom. All of a sudden there was a widespread campaign of terror, with many, many people being beaten, tortured, killed, forced to attend political meetings and rallies, others being forced to flee their homes, crackdown on all NGOs... the list goes on. The violence started coming into Harare, and to be honest, I wasn't feeling as safe anymore.

The past week has been incredibly rushed, emotional and crazy. We had two days to wrap up our two years and two months in Zimbabwe. It was insane (although I thank God for those two days, because one option being considered was for us to leave straight from South Africa, and then we wouldn't have been able to say good-bye at all). We packed up our little house and had to decide who to give what to. We gave away almost anything, and yet minutes before we left, there were still children and old women looking through our garbage outside to see if there was anything to salvage. I know it was the right decision to go. I know that it's not healthy to be pregnant and constantly stressed about what could happen. But it was so hard to leave. Starting from Tuesday we had a steady stream of visitors in our house - people coming to say good-bye; people coming to say that they understood why we were leaving, but they were just so disappointed. It was beautiful to have so many prayers prayed over us - from old gogos to little kids. The hardest good-byes for me were with my two mothers. They have both experienced a lot of loss in their lives, and our departure was just one more. Thursday many of our friends came out to farewell us at the airport. I was crying by the end, and John thinks my sobbing made our exit past immigration/CIO/customs, etc. nice and easy. But I bawled and totally wanted to turn back. I'm thankful that it was such a long journey home, because it gave us time to adjust to the idea of being in another world.

How do I feel? Physically I feel fine - just a little tired from lack of sleep in the past days and stress. Emotionally I feel all kinds of things. It's good to be home. I feel like eating everything I see and I like the sense of feeling free and safe, and being with family and friends. But to be honest, mainly at this stage I feel like part of my heart is missing, and I'm worried for my family and friends in Zimbabwe. Also, it feels weird to just resume my "old life" when I've had such a "drastic" experience (that has felt more like 10 years than 2). However, we're back, and now we just need to start a new chapter. Right now we don't know what that will look like, but in good time... Of course, thank you to all of those who have prayed for us, and who have prayed for Zimbabwe. Please don't let the prayers stop! They're still so needed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back in Zim

Saturday we went hiking in the hills with Stacey and Bijou, so John was thrilled (even with the "war wound" to his leg) and Buhle cooked us supper. I think that's the first time I've seen an African man cook in the home.We got back to Zimbabwe yesterday. Besides new forms for entry (requesting our parents' names and places of birth, etc.) everything went smoothly. Monitoring people's movements is becoming a big feature in Zim these days. If you want to leave your village to come to the city, you need to get written permission, and to state exactly where you're going, why and for how long. And of course, many, many people have been moved beyond their will to flee violence and that means they cannot vote Friday in the place where they are registered.

I went to our church for the afternoon service. Since becoming pregnant, I've been skipping the afternoon service to take naps, but it is a better service, in my opinion. There's much more dancing and lively singing and hosho playing and timbrels. I can't believe I spent so many years of my life without dancing in church... I have always admired the joy in church services in Zimbabwe. Joy through tough times; dancing upon injustice. Yesterday I was also just thankful for the freedom to go to church. Many people in our nation were prevented from going to church yesterday - either because they were afraid to leave their homes, or because when they got to church, the whole congregation was loaded into a bus to attend the mandatory political rally (making it look like all the churches are supporting a certain party).

A friend came by after church to give us some advice. He said that people in town (and at road blocks) are being stopped and requested to say one of the new political slogans, to prove their support and to show that they've been at the rallies. The one he taught us was "WW - win or war" (catchy? scary?) I think our white skin might betray us, but at least we know it if we're asked. We were also told not to go out at night. Many people are "disappearing" for an evening or a night and coming back bruised and beaten. One of the main slogans for ZANU-PF is "100% independence" and "100% empowerment." Is this true independence and freedom? Or is it fear and intimidation? We heard that the Opposition has backed out of the re-run (because he's being prevented from doing any campaigning, and there's no way this is free or fair), so we are unsure what will happen this Friday. Please keep praying for Zimbabwe.

Friday, June 20, 2008

World Refugee Day

It's World Refugee Day today. I worked at The Salvation Army's Immigrant & Refugee Centre in Toronto for 2 years and loved it. It was an awesome job, and I truly appreciated the joy of being surrounded by newcomers to Canada from almost every country imaginable. There will always be a special place in my heart for refugees. I cannot imagine the pain of being forced to leave your home due to violence. Although now I live in a country where this is happening on a daily basis...

Today we went to an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp here in Joburg. It was eerie to drive by the thousands of tents in one camp on our first night - to see that scene in South Africa. But they've been set up all around the country due to the xenophobic attacks here. We went with the local Salvation Army to serve lunch, and my French really came in handy, because we met many Congolese and Burundians who had been victimized. John was giving out the apples and oranges, and being the health-nut that he is, allowed people to come through 3 - 4 times to get their fill of fruit! They told us horrible stories about being chased, thrown out of combis, kicked out of their jobs and their homes, being beaten, some even being burned alive. There are plans to repatriate them, but the problem is that many of them came to South Africa to escape violence and war. We even saw one of our Zimbabwean neighbours in the camp. He had moved to South Africa to try to survive and make a life for himself, but then he faced this hatred. Stacey was telling us that one woman who gave birth during the attacks named her child Xeno. He will never forget. This is the rainbow nation with 11 official languages, and a huge victory over apartheid in its recent history, but the huge inflow of illegal migrants has caused competition for housing and jobs with poor South Africans, and therefore this hatred erupted. Let's pray for harmony. One thing that did amaze me was that in the camp (and in Stacey's English class yesterday) when people heard we were living in Zimbabwe, they said "sorry!" and showed pity. Just like when I was in the IDP camps in Northern Uganda last year, the people in this terrible situation felt sorry for US!

On a cheerier note, we did go ice skating last night - which was random and fun. Trinity (the very cute two year old that we're staying with) skated on her own, to the delight of her Canadian mother as well as Zulu father. I was impressed too. Ice skating is so magical and romantic - as long as you can stay on your feet and get hot chocolate afterwards! It was an awesome night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comrades and Durban

Greetings from Joburg. We are back from Durban. John ran the Comrades on Sunday with over 11,000 other people, running from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (89kms). Unfortunately, John got sick and was vomiting, cramping and generally enduring pain. It was also quite hot. I was SO relieved when I finally saw him run into the stadium in just under 11 hours. I admire John for many reasons, but one is his determination and courage to press on even when things are really tough. He did it! Of course, he was disappointed, but I was really proud. I had an interesting chat with another "fan" in the international tent. She asked where I was from. I said, "Canada, but I live in Zimbabwe now." Her response was, "well, those are 2 very different countries. I think Zimbabwe made the front page today - let me check my newspaper. Yep there's the headline, "Mugabe declares war" (on his own people) - oh, sorry about that." Canada never makes the news - it's such a "boring" place to live (and yet so safe and with so much food!) That night we celebrated John's achievement in our hotel room with room service (cheeseburgers). I was so excited! We haven't had room service since our honeymoon! It feels so grown up... :) We also saw the top 3 female winners in our hotel the next day. I felt starstruck. They're all Russian and REALLY fast.

The next day we rested and spent time at the beautiful beach. I LOVE the ocean - seeing the waves crash in and just feeling God's majesty. Then it rained for 2 days. We spent one at a mall (OK, I was amazed and overwhelmed by the cornerstore, with all of its bread and milk products, nevermind a mall!) And then we spent a day at uShaka marineworld. There was a dolphin show, a seal presentation, and we dined with sharks (it's a restaurant in the bottom of a ship with a huge window leading to tank with sharks in it). They had giant seaturtles too. The aquarium was beautiful. The fish were so cool, and there were so many species I'd never seen before. I wish I could show you photos, but we didn't have the camera. All I can recommend is that you come to Durban and visit uShaka. You won't regret it. There is also a lot of food in South Africa. It's nice to see and John thinks we've gained 10lbs since Friday. Now we're in Joburg with our friends til Sunday. Everyone thinks Stacey and I are sisters since we look "exactly alike." She's a lot of fun, and so is her family. I've heard rumours that we're going ice skating tonight...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

NGOs, a rooster and a race

All Non-Governmental Organizations have been asked to cease activity and help until further notice (i.e. likely until after the run-off elections on the 27th). Certain agencies were accused of telling people that unless they vote for the opposition, they will not receive food. Now the people don't have a chance to comply or not to comply. No food is being given out. Some people who were relying on NGOs for their ARVs are now stranded; missing their life-giving drugs. I was meant to attend a meeting today of various HIV/AIDS organizations. It was called off because the organizers fear widespread arrest (the guy who phoned me to tell me about the meeting asked, "do you honestly want to be in jail until after the 27th?" Uh, no!) Only "voter education" meetings are allowed these days in the country (i.e. how to vote for the ruling party). All other gatherings are suspect. Church services have been interrupted, and even funerals can be hijacked. A friend was telling me that he attended a funeral for a relative in the rural areas. A war veteran stood up in the funeral and started pointing his gun at the mourners - telling them to make sure they vote the "right" way. The situation in this country will not cease to devastate me. I get it - pride, selfishness, thirst for power, fear of personal security for the future... but how can you live with yourself knowing that you're making your own people suffer so much?

Now, I know I'm supposed to refrain from the stress-inducing/depressing blogs, but sometimes I need to get it out. On a lighter note, have I told you about the rooster? He is our neighbour's and he has a very high and loud voice! Unfortunately, I think the rooster is developing some form of dementia. In my mental health courses at grad school, we never actually covered poultry, so this is just an educated guess. You see, this rooster (which is actually closer to our house than to our neighbour's - convenient!) crows throughout the night. We used to think it was a "quaint" alarm clock, but now it's a really loud on-the-hour chime. John is generally a peaceful, easy-going man, but he is considering the option of premeditated murder. We need to pray for him.

We also need to pray for John because he's running Comrades on Sunday - yes, that insane 89km race in Durban, South Africa! We fly out tomorrow and we're going to spend a few days' holiday in SA before returning to Zim. He's been training a lot, and doing more hill work, so he hopes to complete in less than 9 hours. (Is this insane?) He found some running buddies a few weeks ago, so we'll meet up with them when we get there. Go Team Zimbabwe! In case I'm not on the net - Happy Fathers' Day for Sunday! Three cheers for all the amazing dads out there...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nice things

- We had a doctor's appointment today. I love the ultrasounds - seeing our little one moving around. The doctor says everything looks good and healthy. Also, that my slight dizziness when I stand up to sing is normal! The baby waved at us and also looked relaxed with her/his hands behind his head! For the third time in a row, the doctor has given us a free appointment. In this context, that is crazy generous (the woman before us paid $45billion)! Most women here have never had an ultrasound, so we are blessed.

- A man offered me a free banana on the street the other day. Again, incredibly generous in this context (since they cost $500million/each). When you've got it, you've got it! (I wonder if I'll still look 18 when I'm 60?...)

- We had caesar salad last night for supper and it tasted like a miracle.

- There's a Salvation Army church that sends us CDs of their services once a month (Woodroffe Temple). The one I listened to this morning had my parents' voices on it because they were the guest speakers. What a treat! I even got to hear my dad tell a story for kids' time - just like the good ol' days.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Our angel and my son-in-law

Last night an angel appeared at our front doorstep. She didn't have wings nor a long white robe, but her smile was angelic. Our friend Kim is the administrator for Masiye Camp - this amazing Salvation Army camp in the south of the country that runs holiday camps for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. They also serve their community with a whole variety of incredible programmes. Kim is a superstar and we love her. For her work she often has to travel to Botswana to get food supplies, etc. This time she went and thought of us. Check out what she brought to our doorstep last night (out of the blue)... caesar salad dressing, lasagna noodles, bacon, eggs, oreos, tomato paste, corn flakes, lemons from her garden... She is a pregnant woman's dream! I was really touched by Kim's generosity (so much so that I ranked her with angelic status). What a friend. It's clear that she read my blog about food cravings (don't we all want friends who truly listen to us?) and then she went out of her way (ok, she went out of her country!) to buy us special treats. I am truly touched. Friendship is a beautiful thing. Being loved is a beautiful thing. So many of us think of doing nice things for others and then don't take action. Kim took action. Thanks, Kim!

I just spent the day at an interesting inter-church meeting on the national HIV behaviour change strategy for Zimbabwe. I blogged about behaviour change yesterday, so I won't go into it. But three interesting things happened at the training: a) when we were making introductions, one woman got up and said "I am 59 years old. 8 years ago I found out that my husband had another wife and was living in a polygamous marriage without my knowledge. I went to get tested for HIV and learned that I was positive. We got divorced and now I'm living positively." The room was silent. b) they gave us a "sitting fee" just for showing up. This amount was more than we have in the entire HIV/AIDS account at my workplace and my monthly salary put together. Hmmm. c) They served us lunch at this meeting. I sat down at a table, and then an older man came and sat beside me and I learned that he is a Lutheran bishop. Someone came by and called me Mai Shumba. I explained how we were given totems when we came to Zimbabwe and that John is a lion and I'm a monkey. Then he got nervous and said "so you're my mother in law and that means that I can't eat facing you." I told him that I thought we could let it pass - seeing as he didn't know about our connection when he sat down! :)

Monday, June 09, 2008


In my undergrad I took a fascinating course on African politics with a brilliant Nigerian professor. He loved my first paper and thought I was a genius (which was great for my ego!) Then I wrote my second paper - on AIDS in Africa. I did a lot of research and tried to cover as many "aspects" as possible. He didn't even mark it and returned it to me with the comment, "see me after class." So I did, and he said he was shocked and disappointed to read my section on behaviour patterns that promote the spread of HIV. I had written about the mines in South Africa - how migrant men were kept alone for months/years working in the mines without seeing their families and the availability of prostitutes and then the men bringing HIV back to their families. I had written about the dangers of truck drivers carrying HIV within and across borders. And many other examples. In my essay I covered the massive effect of poverty on HIV and the role of the West, but I also wrote about how Africans could change behaviour patterns to lower the risk. My professor called me racist and a huge disappointment, since he had thought I was so promising. I was crushed. A person like me finds the "racist" label pretty hard to swallow.

Now I'm an HIV/AIDS Coordinator living and working in Zimbabwe. Of course I'm still very young in this field, and still a visitor in this country. I'm very far from being an expert on anything, but I've had the opportunity to be in many forums on HIV and I've had open ears and eyes. I still believe that the West's failure to help and extreme poverty are huge instigators for HIV, but I can't dismiss behaviour change either. I've heard some frightening stories - like the sex worker who was sexually abused as a child and later raped and infected by a family member. She took on her profession as revenge - to try to infect as many men as possible. Or the truck driver who keeps himself "safe" by only sleeping with married women along his routes. He picks them up and makes them pay for their "lifts" with sex - often in front of her children who are with her. Many people in the church still promote the idea that condoms are evil/sinful or that if a wife requests her husband to wear one, it's because she is being unfaithful herself. I've blogged before about the persistent belief that men simply cannot control themselves sexually, and therefore if they are dissatisfied at home, they have the right to go find other women to meet their needs. Then there's polygamy... I'm a liberal. I'm used to blaming the West for everything. But some of these practices aren't that helpful! We ALL have a responsibility to ensure that millions of people on this continent stop dying so unnecessarily.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Scary white people and winter mornings

The other day some kids were playing at the back of our house. One of them - Gina - climbed on a pipe in order to try to look in our window. She fell and the pipe broke. When I came home, one of the other kids told me about this, so I went to Gina's parents, explained, and just asked them to remind her to be careful. They did more than that. They told her that they were angry, that I was angry, and that if I ever saw her around the house again I would eat her! Yesterday I saw the poor thing and she ran away from me as fast as she could. I went to the house and made peace. I can see where some kids get the idea that murungus (white people) are scary!!

It's winter here. The middle of the day is still quite warm, but the morning and evenings are cold. We have blankets and sweaters, and it's not exactly winter by Canadian standards, but mornings can be tough: #1 - getting out of a warm bed (thankfully, this is made easier when you get to snuggle the love of your life before you do so), #2 - getting out of a hot bath (thankfully, this is made easier on days when there is electricity and you can make yourself a hot chocolate), #3 - eating oatmeal that makes you gag because there are no other breakfast alternatives (thankfully, this is made easier by dousing the oatmeal with raspberry jam!) Food shortages suck - especially when you're pregnant. But we're ok. John even made a sort-of-version-of lasagna the other night. He's a culinary genius.

P.S. I had a dream about a baby just before I woke up and it was marvelous. I actually recognized this baby as my brother Josh (24 years ago!) and he was bouncing like crazy, so happy to see me. I woke up REALLY happy! :)

Thursday, June 05, 2008


If you've spent time with many missionaries/international NGO workers, you'll probably have noticed that when they come home they're either: a) amazing people with a broader worldview and a beautiful grace and gratitude or b) bitter and angry. I really hope I can be a! I think I will be, but I must admit that sometimes I do feel bitter and angry.

The other day I was looking at the website for a Salvation Army officer serving in the Philippines. She is working at a children's home, and I was looking at her photos from Christmas day last year. It was so cute to see all of these kids with wide smiles at their one gift and special meal for Christmas. But (I'm ashamed to say) part of me also felt anger/sadness at these photos. I thought back to Christmas 2007 in Zim. It was a tough one in this country. Even people who were working could not access their own money from the banks (because they said they were empty). No one had cash, or special food, or toys. I don't know a single child who got a Christmas gift this year. That is not fair.

We were talking to a friend the other day - a Salvation Army officer. He is really committed to his work. He works 14 hour days for a pathetic salary, and yet he always seems to manage a smile and good attitude. He was saying his youngest son approached him saying "Dad, bring me toys from town." When he recounted the story, our friend laughed, "where could I ever find toys?" He spent some good hard-earned money on an orange and brought it home for his son. The son cried and said he wanted a toy! My heart broke for our friend. Imagine being a dad and not being able to afford a single toy for your child...

We came home the other day to find kids working in our garden. When we first moved here, John was quite handy in the garden, but he has lost his spark this year, and our backyard is full of weeds. So these kids came and started digging, hoeing and pulling up weeds. As a reward we gave each of the kids a pencil with a butterfly eraser and a half pack of gum. You should have seen them staring at these erasers - bursting with pride at their "prize." (And you should have seen how many kids we had working in the garden the next day!)

Of course it's a blessing to see kids being creative - playing with sticks and old tires and plastic bags rolled into soccer balls. But part of me thinks it's really unfair that none of them have a real toy or a kids' book. I've said it before, and I will say it again - extreme poverty SUCKS! And yet there is grace and gratitude, because these kids are unbelievably happy. Joyful. It doesn't make sense, and yet it's beautiful!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I'd pay a billion (zim) dollars for a caesar salad right now...

I'm craving... caesar salad, lasagna, apple sauce... (why do I do this to myself?)

I'm finding it strange... to look down at my stomach and see a "bump."

I'm wishing... Happy Birthday to my Jamaican mother - Mama Joy! I love you!

I'm learning... that if my family was Shona, John's parents would be WAY more excited about this upcoming baby than mine. Because the baby would be their REAL grandchild (with the McAlister name and totem). But in all honesty and Canadian-ness, I think mine are pretty excited!

I'm amazed... that there is a $50billion note now. When will the madness end?

Sunday, June 01, 2008


My mom was telling me about an article she read last week on best and worst cities. I'm not sure where it was published. Vancouver was #1, Toronto #5 and Harare.... dead last. When she told me this my first reaction was to burst out laughing (I live in the worst city in the world?!?!) and then I started to reflect on this my adopted city.

If I were to be honest, I'd tell you I'm not a huge Harare fan. One of my favourite things about our Christmas holiday in Canada was walking the familiar streets of Toronto - feeling comfortable, at home and safe. Harare... well, it's just different. There's something about all the armed soldiers and riot police walking around, the power and water shortages, the sometimes-empty or sparse shops, the phones being tapped, the skinny yet fierce stray dogs, the sewage and garbage piling up (especially in the high density areas), the long queues for bread, sugar, cash or other rare items, the lack of entertainment (but this could be just because we don't have a car)... Honestly though, it can't be the WORST city in the world to live in! There's a great pizza place (maybe this doesn't count because 98% of the population couldn't afford a pizza?), the roads are still quite good (just try to avoid potholes), the weather is awesome (can a city take credit for this?) and the crime rate is amazingly low. I can't say Ha-ha-harare is fun capital of the world, but it's not that bad. I feel guilty for having written this - like I'm betraying my adopted land. We do love the people in Zim, but the city... well, we could take or leave it.

By the way, God gave me a miracle on Saturday. We were taking a combi partway home from town. In order to make maximum profit, the combi drivers stuff as many human bodies as possible into their vehicles. I was squished between the side and a big man, and then another man came to lean on top of me. My face was literally in his armpit. The combi was stuffy and I started feeling really faint. Then God gave me my miracle! The window next to me actually worked and I could open it a crack. Fresh air. Beautiful, wonderful fresh air - so much nicer than armpit residue! Thank you, Lord!

Dad and John

I have the best dad in the world. You can try to argue with me, but I already know I'm right. I love my dad so much! He's honest, fun, funny (in his own way), kind, thoughtful, spiritually deep, encouraging and many more. Also, when we were kids and my mom would go away, he would let us make "cheese in a cup." It's a simple recipe - you take a block of cheese, put it in a cup and melt it in the microwave. Mmmm. Mom didn't let us do this, but Dad did. Happy belated birthday, Dad. Wish I were there to give you a hug in person...

I have the best husband in the world. You can try to argue with me, but I already know I'm right. I love John so much! He sacrifices a lot for me (including the covers on a cold night). He always takes the bath water after I've used it and lingered in it when it's most hot, and when I order a meal that's too heavy or that I don't like, he always trades with me. He also believes me now that some foods just make my stomach turn (due to pregnancy) and so he doesn't force me to eat them, even if they're healthy. John is the love of my life. I almost always fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow but the other night, John miraculously fell asleep before me. I watched him sleep and started bawling at the thought that I love him so much. He was even gracious about being woken up by the sobbing!

See, there are some good men out there!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Famous and free (?)

We did it! We reached 1,000,000% inflation (yep, that's a million percent and climbing!) We're in a country that's making history. Too bad it can't be for something good... I always pray for a complete turnaround in the economy here. But it will take a miracle.

We just got a huge salary rise ($9billion each or $22US/month). That's better than we've had in a long time. In fact, it can buy 2 chickens or 2 high school exam fees for one student. Last night we were visiting with some good friends from Nigeria. They have 4 children here who are all in school, and they are struggling to pay for their fees and exam fees (never mind finding food...) I admire them immensely for their integrity, and the way they are avoiding the corruption that has become normalized in society and in the church here. They are in high positions, and so they are always getting pressure to just "take" money from the Army funds, or to start a business or to accept financial gifts, but they refuse. "It's not The Salvation Army way." It's a bizarre situation here, where hardly anyone is making enough to survive off of. So "alternate means" have become normal and accepted. I heard a youth complaining yesterday that no one talks about spiritual matters at his church anymore; it's all just (informal) business deals. When I was at the training last week they encouraged us to mix and mingle and to try to refrain from only meeting people to sell them the goods we had brought for our business. One lady told me she steals from her boss' account each week in order to get money for transportation. Her boss found out that she was stealing from the company and when she explained what the money was for, he said, "well, I guess that makes sense." Does it? I do wonder... when the economy does stabilize; when people do get paid enough to both eat and send kids to school - will the corruption and the business deals stop? Or has it just become a way of life?

Oh, and about school. School should be free. That's my belief. They say school is free here, but it's absolutely not. We've been paying for several students to be able to take their high school exams, because if they don't, they'll never finish school. We paid $3billion 2 weeks ago for one friend. She came back last weekend saying the school had a small "top up fee" ($4billion) - more than the original. We also heard about a high density area where the sewage is getting really bad and cholera is a big problem. People in the community were told, "if you're worried about it, just try to fix the problem yourself." Public sewage has become a personal responsibility. And don't get me started on the private hospitals and mission hospitals that are full of people who have been injured in political violence (note: public hospitals won't take them). I'm not allowed to talk about that.

The other day I was humming along to the radio and my neighbour said to me, "do you know what this song is about?" no. "It's about the liberation struggle. They're playing all of the old war songs on the radio these days to remind people of liberation." Is this what liberation looks like? Is this what freedom looks like?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A nice long weekend

First off... CONGRATULATIONS to my brother Josh and sister-in-law Jenn - they are pregnant. The cousins will be very close in age. We're so excited for them!

Happy Africa day (for Sunday)! I hope you celebrated in style. The only celebrations we heard about were political rallies, so we decided to abstain. We did enjoy the long weekend though... Friday night we hosted an exciting game of Monopoly with some friends. John and I tend to get a wee bit competitive with this game, so we decided to tag-team. I started playing with our four friends while John cooked pasta. Then we broke for dinner, and John took over my (pitiful) hand while I did dishes and baked (don't get too excited - it was a "just add water" mix!) It was fun. Saturday I spent most of the day writing a sermon, and John ran, but we also had yummy Thai food at the Blue Banana. We were going to walk there for exercise, but a white guy in a meat-packers' truck offered us a lift near the shops. He kept referring to the fact that Saturday was his drinking day, and he had just packed away a few, so we were thankful to arrive safely. Sunday we spent the day at Highfield Temple - a huge Salvation Army corps. There were people everywhere - standing at the back, sitting on the floor, and sharing seats. It was a blessed day, and I enjoyed preaching/leading the service/using my limited Shona. John gave two excellent talks on giving and praying. We went to Highfield with one of John's mother-in-laws, and we discovered that she is a bit picky for food. Between the services we went to the officers' house for lunch where 2 of the home league women had spent the whole morning preparing rice, beef stew, chicken, coleslaw, etc. (a feast). This officer sat down and said, "I don't take rice. Make me sadza." And she wasn't joking. So we all ate and she waited for her sadza. When it arrived she complained that it wasn't cooked well. Our hosts also brought bottles of fanta (a big treat) and she immediately said, "I don't take fanta - find me something else." But that was all they had. The salvation service started and had been going on for 20 minutes, so the C.O. came in and suggested, we may want to go in. My mother said, "can't you see I'm still eating my ice cream?" So we waited a bit longer. I was reminded of the importance of graciousness! Monday we rested. To be honest, we slept in, and then when John went for his run, I got in the bath and stayed there for 45 minutes. I was a prune. After I got out I went to read and ended up having a 2 hour nap. Talk about a day of rest! What am I going to do when I can't "blame" this type of behaviour on the pregnancy any longer? We did walk (exercise!) into town for an interesting movie about Saudi Arabia. I stupidly wore my "I'll fight club" t-shirt (referring to William Booth's famous speech about fighting injustice). Not a good choice for tense Zimbabwe these days... In the evening we visited some friends, and I was humbled and blessed by these two old women who have failing health and yet spend most of their time caring for others who are not well. That's Zimbabwean women for you - very self-sacrificial. I hope I can be like this when I'm an old gogo!

This morning in the bath I was thinking about my totem (monkey-baboon) because we referred to our totems at Highfield and that was a big hit! I realized that because totems are passed through the father, all of my siblings, and my dad and his siblings and my grandpa are also monkeys/baboons. And I started picturing a family reunion and it got me cracking up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A few tidbits

Well, I was all offended about John's comment that my pregnancy is resulting in mood swings and then last night I had a complete meltdown. So yeah... it's true.

It was awesome to see our friend Kim this week. She is a continual source of blessing and encouragement to us. Plus, usually when she comes to Harare, we get to go out for yummy Chinese food. I really miss all my friends in Toronto who used to bring us bags of fresh dumplings! I know how to make them, but it's much more fun to make them with my friends.

My training is over. Thankfully I knew how to put a condom on a wooden penis (gotta love those demonstrations) and my bag wasn't chosen for the object lesson on discrimination. They took all of the ladies' purses and put them on a table. Then they announced that they would be emptying the contents of one. The ladies went crazy (a woman's purse is private!) As it turns out, they had planted a "used" condom (thankfully only filled with water) in someone's bag. But when they pulled it out the "chosen" lady just started laughing nervously and saying, "I was sure I disposed of that last night..." AWKWARD!

New photos are up! Namibia, swimming with penguins in Cape Town, Z.S.Y.L. in Trojan and even one of me looking a bit pregnant.

Please pray for South Africa. As I'm sure you know, there is a lot of violence happening against Africans from other countries (including a lot of Zimbabweans). I'm proud of my friend Stacey who has been mobilizing a lot of action to help them and volunteering her own heart and time. We need to keep that country in our prayers.

Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Q&A with John

Rochelle is attending an HIV/AIDS training seminar at a local hospital this week, so I said that I’d post another blog today. I usually prefer to publish a blog post once every three to four months, but I’m sure the parental figures will appreciate reading another entry and knowing that I’m alive and well and still know how to spell correctly.

I have nothing profound or particularly moving to share (which is why I never bother to blog), so I thought I’d just answer a few questions that have come from various friends and family members over the past few months.

How is The Salvation Army different in Zimbabwe from Canada?
Well, The Salvation Army has over a hundred thousand members in Zimbabwe, so it’s quite a bit bigger than in Canada. When we walk down the street, we frequently meet people who want to introduce themselves to us and tell us that The Salvation Army is their church.

Salvationists love wearing their uniforms. We have a cream-coloured uniform that we wear in summer (Sept-April) and a grey uniform in winter (May-August). Women always wear Salvation Army hats or head cloths.

In Canada, The Salvation Army is primarily known as a social service agency. In Zimbabwe, the Army is a church first and foremost. We have two hospitals, a few small social centres and schools, but the emphasis of the Army is always on church life.

Zimbabwean Salvationists love dancing and using their timbrels and hoshos (a small gourd that is filled with seeds or beads and shaken to make music). It’s not uncommon for meetings to last many hours (we’ve been to lots of six to seven hour services), so it’s good that the worship is lively and fun.

Salvation Army officers (pastors) receive a lot of respect. At regional or national events, the officers have special seating apart from other Salvationists and will also eat separately from them.

What is the hardest part about working for The Salvation Army in Zimbabwe?
I’ve always been a bit suspicious of organized religion, so it can be difficult to work with such an autocratic organization. Culturally, the structure works well here in Zimbabwe, but as a postmodern Canadian, I have trouble conforming and surrendering my individuality and freedom. I have to keep reminding myself that I am an outsider, and that I need to be respectful of the way things work here. I also struggle with the way senior leaders have so much power and authority over others.

I’ve been a bit critical about the Salvation Army’s involvement with politics, but I probably need to chill a bit about that. It’s easy for me to decide what’s right and wrong, but I will never truly understand how complicated and dangerous the issue of politics is for local Salvationists. I can always jump on a plane and leave for Canada, but Zimbabwean Salvationists need to live and survive through it all. Some Salvation Army officers and soldiers have lost their homes and belongings and even family members due to political violence, so it’s important to use wisdom and discernment when dealing with politics. The activist in me wants to do something, but as a foreigner, the best thing (I’m still figuring this out) is for me to just shut up and concentrate on loving people.

To be honest, the hardest thing is seeing our coworkers struggle to survive in harsh economic conditions. They keep smiling and remaining cheerful, but we know that it is not easy to feed, clothe and educate their children when their salaries are so low. And many of them are looking after their nieces and nephews as well.

We have been treated with so much kindness and love by Zimbabwean Salvationists. There are frustrations, of course, but we have enjoyed the privilege of living and working here and sharing life with so many people.

What’s with the electricity blackouts? How often do you have no electricity? How do you cook?
It varies week to week. Due to the economic challenges in the country, we face frequent power cuts or load shedding to conserve power. Last week we had no power in the mornings or the evenings, but then we had electricity for most of the weekend. Some weeks we have lots of electricity, and then the next few weeks we will be surprised when the power is on. You get used to the situation pretty quickly. We have a small camping stove that we use to cook our meals. Most of our neighbours cook over a fire in their backyards. We have a rechargeable lantern that helps us see in our home, which enables us to save money on candles. We actually don’t mind the electricity cuts too much. We only get anxious when we experience water shortages.

What do you do to relax in the evenings?
Most of our neighbours have TV’s and satellites, so they generally watch South African television. We don’t have a TV, but we do have a laptop that we use to watch DVD movies or TV show series. The laptop is great because even when there is no electricity we can still watch a movie or TV show. We also read a lot, but not as much these days as it is dark early (winter) and we have power cuts most evenings.

We heard that there are food shortages? What do you eat?
The worst of the food shortages were last year, between August-December. These days the situation is pretty good, but the prices are very high. We eat very simply, though, and get a lot of our food items from a local fruit and vegetable market down the street from our house. We eat tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, potatoes, squash and, when available, peas and corn. We also have oranges and apples and, when in season, avocadoes and mangoes. Every few months we travel to South Africa and buy lots of rice, pasta, lentils and milk powder to tide us over. I make bagels for Rochelle every couple of weeks. We also have some beef a few times a week. In the morning we usually have some oatmeal. We eat healthily and we seem to be in good health. My dad sends me lots of chocolate, so I probably eat too much of that.

What’s with the running? Do you really enjoy running such long distances? What exactly is an ultramarathon?
I think I’m most relaxed when I’m out running. I don’t run too fast, so I just cruise along at a comfortable pace and then think or meditate or just float along without worrying about too much. Once you’re in decent shape, running is just like walking, so you don’t have to concentrate on what you’re doing. When I’m out running, there are no distractions, so it really is a great opportunity for me to relax and find some peace and quiet. Sometimes I bring along my iPod, but I usually run without music. An ultramarathon is any race that is longer than a standard marathon (42 km). So a 50 km race would be a baby ultramarathon, and then there are 50 mile and 100 mile races, although there are other distances as well. I’m running an 89 km (56 mile) ultramarathon on June 15 in South Africa. Running long distances is easy as long as you stay relaxed and bring water and some type of food with you. Shoes are optional.

Are you really addicted to chocolate?
Yes. It’s not healthy, so I need to do something about it. They say that the first step in beating an addiction is admitting you have a problem. Does anyone know what the second step is?

Does Rochelle look pregnant yet?
I can tell now, but most people would never be able to notice. She’s about 15 weeks at this point, so it’s still early for her to be showing. And since she’s so skinny, she could probably hide her pregnancy for at least another couple of months. Her mood swings, fatigue and constant gagging provide much more obvious signs of her pregnancy.

Do you know the sex of the baby yet?
No, not yet. We might find out next month. Feel free to vote on what gender you think the baby will be (see poll to the right).

There are lots of news reports about Zimbabwe these days. Are you sure you’re safe?
At the moment we are quite safe as long as we are careful about where we travel. There are definitely some areas of the country (and even in the city) where it is not safe for us to visit, so we just stay away. We hope that the situation will calm down after the run-off elections being held on June 27. We trust that no matter the outcome of the presidential election, peace and stability will return to Zimbabwe and the country will move forward. We are safe at home and at work, so please don’t worry about us.

Let's talk about sex!

I'm in a training this week with Ignite Africa. It's about finding a new way to talk about HIV/AIDS and it's really interesting. In Zimbabwe, it seems that most people are tired of hearing about HIV and yet there are still lots of misconceptions and so education needs to continue - but perhaps in a different way. Yesterday we spent most of the day talking about sex. The really strongly held beliefs here that I struggle with are: a) "sure a woman is equal - she can even be the president of a country; but not in the home. At home, a woman can never be equal. It's not Christian" (this might be related to the high price of lobola that men pay to "buy" their wives) and b) "men need to go out and have girlfriends outside of marriage, but a woman should remain pure."

An awkward moment yesterday was being put into groups. The officer John shares an office with was in my group. Our topic was: "common mistakes made before, during and after sex" and they wanted specifics. Things like "not knowing the movements" and "not assessing climax time" were some of the more "tame" ones. There were some young girls in our group with honest questions, and they were asking us (as married people) to give the details. It was just awkward. I view my sex life as private/intimate! Oh well. We need to learn to talk about sex if we're going to address HIV!