Thursday, February 28, 2008

Living Positively

Yesterday I travelled to Mazowe Highschool to present a prize to a student who won first prize in our "Fighting HIV/AIDS Together" writing competition. A friend in Canada sent some money for prizes, and this student was ecstatic with his $25US (I would have been too - that's 8 months' salary!) It was encouraging to see these hundreds of boys whistling, cheering and jumping out of their seats because they were so proud of their colleague. Right now someone in Zimbabwe is being infected with HIV every 3 minutes. If we can't reach our young people we're in trouble. So we had 2 hours of a special HIV/AIDS assembly. I went to Mazowe with the Education Secretary, a drama group and a courageous woman named Ellah. Ellah gave a talk on "Living Positively with HIV." When Ellah told the boys she was positive, there was evident shock in the room. She looks so healthy! I admire Ellah a lot. She is honest, courageous, and determined to live well. She didn't speak in English, but she told me part of her story on the drive back to Harare.

"I met my husband when I was 18. I was at a Salvation Army youth retreat, and I was thirsty, so I went into a hotel to get a drink. I had my tambourine with me. My husband was there and his brother said to him, 'you should go talk to that girl - she's beautiful.' So he approached me and said he just wanted to be friends. So I gave him my phone number and address. He seemed nice. He started calling and visiting and he was so sweet. Our first date was to an ice cream parlour. I'd never been to one before. We were engaged and married within 6 months. Our marriage was so happy. We had a son, and I have so many happy memories. I was 26 when he died - a painful death from meningitis. I still shudder to think of his last days. The night before he died, I left his hospital room, but he called a nurse to bring me back. He was crying, and kept saying "please forgive me, please forgive me." I didn't know what for. Later I got tested, and discovered that I was HIV+. I was angry. I asked his family why they had not told me that my husband was HIV+. They said they were waiting for him to tell me. I guess he never thought I'd marry him if I knew. I was angry and bitter for a long time. But I am on ARVs, and I just want to help and counsel people to end stigma and pain. I want to live. I want to live positively. My son supports me. When I think of my husband, there is still lots of pain, but I loved him. Actually, this song (on the radio) was played at our engagement party. I was so happy then."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I've never really been into wrestling. My brothers were - and they were devastated as kids when our house got broken into and the robbers stole their wrestling figurines along with my mom's jewelery. A former baby-sitter remembers my two brothers wrestling with my sister while I read in my room. I guess I wasn't too good at defending her - sorry Kirst! WWF Wrestling is really popular here - with adults, kids, men, women, etc.. This morning someone was asking us in the combi if it's real or fake. We gave our opinion that most of it is choreographed/planned/essentially fake. He told us that his 4 year old son had been injured the other day became he climbed to the top of the sofa and jumped off - trying to fly to imitate a move he had seen on wrestling the day before. This father (who's a really good man) thinks it was a good lesson for little Tawanda. Poor little guy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Deep Thinker

** This post has been updated by the Editor **

Rochelle writes some heavy stuff in this blog, but you should know that she isn’t the only deep thinker in our marriage. I, too, have occasional moments when I reflect on loss and deprivation. For example, I spent some time this weekend mourning the nearly 30 years of my life spent without Nutella. When I was growing up, I always knew that something was missing, that there was an unexplained void in my diet. But now that I’ve been introduced to the creamy chocolaty miracle hazelnut spread, I promise that I will never waver in my enthusiasm to share the good news of Nutella to the world. I’m a changed man! The sad thing is that I’ll never get those wasted years back.

Ed. Note: While John certainly loves his Nutella, he most certainly did not spend any time this weekend contemplating his life without it. He doesn't spend time contemplating anything.

Speaking of wasted years, I have become a major time waster. I’m supposed to be updating a website, designing a newsletter, training new personnel and working on my creative writing assignments for school, but instead I’m blogging. And I hate blogging, so I guess I’m desperate for distractions. I finished reading the entire internet last week (even the Japanese sites), so I figured that the only thing left to do was to add to its nonsense by blogging. It would be far more educational for me to just read a book at work, but then it would be obvious that I’m slacking off. Instead I just stare at this screen and read about Brittany Spear’s domestic challenges online, letting people think that I’m busy working on a book or something.

Ed. Note: John doesn't know anything about Brittany Spears. He does, however, spend far too much time researching websites about obscure poets and writers.

I am not writing a book, but I should be since I spent a whole lot of money to enrol as a student in the Humber School for Writers. I am, however, working on a few short stories that will help me remain almost famous. Or at least almost almost famous. My writing mentor thinks I have promise, and that’s not just because she’s paid to say that. My mother also thinks I have promise, and I don’t pay her anything. In fact, she still buys me supper when we see each other.

Ed. Note: John only writes stories in the hopes of getting free suppers. His only motivation is his appetite. And he better be writing some stories because he spent waaay too much money on this program.

I’m currently reading Grace & Poison, a collection of poetry by Karen Connelly; Selected Stories by Alice Munro; and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami. On Sundays I also read a letter or two from Our Life Together by Jean Vanier, just in case Jean can help me become a better man. By the way, has anyone delved into the collected letters of Ted Hughes? Looks interesting…

Ed. Note: If John read fewer books and went outside more, he'd probably have more Facebook friends. I hear his wife has 400 more friends than him.

I’m not a musical person. When I was younger, I tried to be, mostly because I belonged to a cult that expected good boys and girls to toot horns and twirl tambourines while wearing identical outfits. Yes, it’s true; I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club.

Ed. Note: It's true. John is not the slightest bit musical. He can't even hum properly.

Rochelle, as most of you know, is quite musical. As is her whole family: The Von Ivanys. In fact, when we got engaged, there was considerable debate about whether Rochelle should be allowed to marry a non-singer. This was supposed to have been kept a secret, but the story leaked out last year. Apparently the family caucus was quite contentious, with three in favour, two opposed and one abstaining. All I can say is that the McAlisters never held a vote about whether I should be allowed to marry someone who couldn’t cook.

Ed. Note: So, so untrue. The Ivanys only thought of this after the wedding, at which point it was far too late. Sadly, it was the elderly residents at Meighen Residence who suffered the most, having been forced to listen to John sing a solo during a family rendition of We Three Kings.

Despite my musical inadequacies, I do enjoy listening to music. Sometimes I even remember to turn my iPod on when I’m out running. I once ran 33KM before realizing that there was no music coming through my headphones. Anyway, the iPod is usually on these days, so I’m listening to lots of music. And since I’ve been missing Canada a bit lately, music has provided a bit of home for me.

Ed. Note: John always forgets to turn on his iPod. Why bring it if you're just going to forget to turn the thing on?

Some mornings I listen to the stuff I grew up on: The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Sinead O’Conner, New Order, Blur, Oasis and The Beautiful South. I’ve also got into some new artists, such as The Shins, Jet, Interpol, Bloc Party, Spiritualized and my current favourites: The Bravery, The Moldy Peaches and The National. Rochelle and I do not share the same taste in music, which could explain why she’s the saint and I’m the sinner.

Ed. Note: True. Rochelle is far more holy than John. And better looking. And she has better taste in music.

Blogging is so ridiculous. Why do we do this???

Ed. Note: To enrich the minds of the masses. And to be a blessing to others.

The old man and Marius

John and I ran 21kms together on Saturday. He found it to be a restful, enjoyable, light jog. I was sure I was going to die the whole second half. My knees were sore, my legs were aching, the sun was beating down on us, and it felt like I'd been running forever. But I survived. 21kms - not bad! John's mantra in a long grueling run is: "Give them nothing, take from them everything." Mine is: "I don't hate my husband, I love my husband" (since he's the one who got me into running!) :)

Yesterday I didn't feel like moving much. So after church I just read until it was too dark and there was no electricity (by the way - seeing the stars shine even more brightly is an advantage of power cuts - and we saw a cool solar eclipse last week). I'm reading "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. Long, but amazing book. I was really touched by a part yesterday about Mr. Gillenormand and his grandson Marius. They have a fight over Mr. Gillenormand's son (Marius' father) and politics, so the grandfather and grandson don't speak or see each other for 4 years. They both long for each other and have deep love for each other but don't show it on the outside. Pride. Finally after 4 years they have the chance to meet. The old man is overjoyed on the inside but insulting, proud and rude on the outside. We read of his pain and agony at wanting to show and receive affection and kindness and yet showing a gruff, brusque exterior - so much so that Marius walks out insulted and the grandfather's hearts breaks once again. I can identify with this stubborn, proud old man.

I get angry sometimes. Often it's for good reasons (such as injustices committed against others) but sometimes it's just for stupid reasons - like the phones not working, or the photocopiers and printers not working, or not meeting my (very high) expectations of myself. When I'm angry at myself, all I want is forgiveness, grace, love, a hug saying that it's ok. But I get tough, bristly and rude - because part of me thinks I don't deserve that love, grace and forgiveness. I punish others which punishes myself even more. "How ridiculous!" you're thinking. And it is. I would suffocate or be institutionalized without grace. And yet sometimes rather than accept it, I choose punishment, anger or guilt. It doesn't make sense...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Random bits of news

I'm a bit worried about the wives of monkeys. As you know, Zimbabweans have totems, and John is a lion (shumba) and I am a monkey-baboon (tsoko murehwa). Well, there are rumours going around because three of our friends have had surgery in the past few days - and they are all wives of monkeys. Now since I am their aunt (husband's sister) these ladies should be cooking for me and doing my laundry, but I'm giving them the week off since they're in hospital/recovering (just kidding - I wouldn't actually make them do this, although they've offered!) Of course I have been concerned about these 3 friends, but never made the connection of them all being wives of tsoko murehwas. (I'm still not Zimbabwean in this sense - I think of people in terms of individuals or families - forgetting to categorize everyone into totems). Of course there's talk of cursing and who's to blame - the women or the monkeys. So superstitious!

I'm a bit worried about illegal phone calls. So, we share a cell phone, and every so often we need to buy "air time" with a "juice card" (our card is actually mango - yummy juice!) But right now they are not producing the cards, so the only way to make a phone call is by buying a card on the blackmarket (at increased prices). Of course the blackmarket is illegal, but sometimes you just need to make a call. Eggs are available on the blackmarket too, so we're considering the moral ethics of an illegal omelette.

Our friend's sister died, leaving 4 kids behind. I was talking to my friend and asking what would happen to them. "Well of course we will take care of them. They will be split up between the sisters who are still alive." I admire the courage of my friend so much. She has raised her own kids, and is already looking after children from 2 other relatives. And now some more are on the way.

We're a bit tired. 3 times this week we've been awakened after going to bed by a phone call from Canada. Don't get me wrong - I love calls from Canada, and I know the time change is a bit confusing - but 3 times! Having said this... we do go to bed at 9pm. I know that makes us senior citizens, but it's just because we get up at 5am to run and we need our beauty sleep.

Speaking of 5am, our president (who wakes up at 5am every day for exercise) turned 84 yesterday. He is still fit, although maybe a wee bit worried about the elections. But I won't get into that. (Please pray for elections - March 29). And happy birthday to another Bob - uncle Bob Ward - for today!

Patience and Praise - part II

Hopefully you will remember Patience & Praise - I told you a bit of their story a few weeks ago (see post Jan.25). Their situation seemed so helpless and completely gutted me. But I have some good news to report. Some friends that I used to sing with in Canada raised some money that bought several tins of baby formula for Praise. Then this week, our friend Jennifer who is a new mom, felt convicted and sent money for Patience to be able to buy 20kg of peanuts. This will mean that she can re-start her peanut-butter making business, and have a source of income. (She brought a sample for us - it's delicious!) She came by yesterday to collect the money and she was SO thrilled. She kept saying "thank you" and "God bless you." Now she has a way to make money both for baby formula and to pay school fees for her other daughter who is in grade 7.

To me, Patience is a hero. She is a small, thin, soft-spoken woman who will do anything to make sure that her baby grows up in good health for a bright future. I admire her courage in the face of adversity. And Praise - well, she is a cutie - bright eyed, healthy with a beautiful smile. In North America we can get so paralyzed with not knowing what to do that we don't do anything. But it felt like a miracle yesterday when we were able to connect some friends in Canada who gave from their hearts with a mother who is giving from hers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Last night the most amazing thing happened. After work, John and I didn't have to squish and squash into our THQ combi. We jumped into a "champ" (a little car!) and we drove to a yoga class which was held under the stars. We stretched, breathed, felt our poor little hamstrings suffer, and felt very relaxed by the whole thing. Afterwards we drove to a Mama Mia's and had some ravioli in cream sauce. Then we drove home. Amazing! I was thinking about how "normal" this was, and yet in this context - for us - it was amazing. Amazing that we got to use a vehicle and there was fuel. Amazing that we were in an exercise class full of white people - whom we barely see in the city. Amazing that the restaurant had everything on the menu. Amazing that we paid $200million for our meal and thought it was reasonable! Amazing that we didn't have to try to hunt down a taxi to come home. I hope I always remember to thank God for amazing things!

I must admit that it is a wonderful thing to see food back in the shops. Of course it's expensive, and one could argue that it's better for no one to access than food than to create this vast disparity in who can access food. But I'm a bit of a worrier, and when there was no food in shops for 5 months, it made me a bit uneasy. I will always remember that Sunday night when a neighbour came to our house saying, "hurry - run to the OK - everything is on sale, and it's going fast!" We chose to just relax at home, thinking we'd go in the morning. The next day everything was gone. The price war had started, and people took everything they could to hoard at home and sell for extravagant prices to survive. It was worrying but I never imagined it could last. It did - for months! We would still go to the shops - and odd items would appear like shelves and shelves of mustard or toilet paper or hot dogs at one point. If I saw dishsoap, I'd buy 2 bottles, if I saw laundry soap, I'd buy 2 bags (after the initial day, every store limited you to 2 of any given item). It's a miracle that people survived. So now, things are expensive, but this past week we have found fresh milk, bread, meat, and cheese in the shops. Even Twix bars! Amazing!

Monday, February 18, 2008


Last week I attended a meeting of ZINERELA+ (Zimbabwe Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV & AIDS). The group is part of an African umbrella organization, but it was started in Zimbabwe by Pastor Maxwell Kapachawo. This pastor of a pentecostal church had been sick for many months, and so went to get an HIV test, and discovered that he was HIV+. He had to deal with being kicked out of his church (because he became a disgrace to them - think about that word...) and the initial silent treatment and hurt of his wife. He still hasn't told his mother because she has already lost 3 children to AIDS, and he worries that she would have a heart-attack if she found out about her youngest having contracted the virus.

As I sat in this meeting, I was full of admiration for the courage of these pastors. HIV/AIDS is associated with adultery and prostitution here, and so it is hard for pastors/religious leaders to come out and admit that they have the virus - even though they may have contracted it long before they became pastors. Pastor Maxwell said that the self-stigma is even more painful than the stigma that society and the church put on you.

As The Salvation Army, I feel we are doing a lot of good in helping people "out there" "in the community" who are suffering from HIV and AIDS. But we're having trouble accepting that it's in our church. There are officers who are HIV+, but they will never come out because of stigma. Or likely they will never get tested so that they can pretend that everything is ok. The churches are burying more people than baptizing. HIV and AIDS are in the church - we cannot ignore it. The environment/social treatment of people with HIV has a huge impact on their quality as well as length of life. I met a pastor who's been living positively for 15 years. She's never even taken ARVs - she just got tested early, has been supported a lot, and has excellent nutrition. So why judge when we can embrace? Why ignore when we can help?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The hero

Yesterday we went on a THQ retreat to Mbizi game lodge. It was good to be with people from our office in a different setting - out of uniform, out of stress, just out enjoying nature. Food makes or breaks an event in Zim, so thankfully there was LOTS of food on this retreat. As we had our 2 lectures we ate bananas and apples, and then when the lectures were finished (and people woke up!) we all stood around the 2 braai stands (bbqs) and took pieces of freshly slaughtered and cooked meat. We had beef and pork, and there was lots of it. After gorging on meat, they announced lunch. A truck arrived with huge pots - full of more beef, chicken, rice, potatoes, vegetables, soup, salads, crates of coke... People were happy, and I saw a few slipping pieces of meat into lunchboxes hidden under the table. Hey, why not?

After lunch we went on a game drive, and saw some giraffe, zebras, impalas, tsesebe and elands. Supposedly there used to be hundreds of animals, but due to meat shortages, people have been poaching for survival, and there are hardly any animals left. I did learn something about impalas. They have an ability to predict when a drought season is approaching (atmospheric change) and if they know it's coming and they are pregnant, they eat a certain type of poisonous tree and inflict self abortion. They don't want to have children when they know they will not survive. Interesting...

We also had the chance to go canoeing. Most people had never been on a canoe before, so John became the second guide (there was only one staff member at the canoes), offered to skip the game drive and took about 12 groups of 3 people out for a little ride on the lake. People were nervous, but there were no incidents... until the end of the day. Four men went out on a canoe without John (but with the "official" guide, and one didn't wear a lifejacket. Major C is a very large man, and said the lifejacket would not fit over his head. Their canoe capsized. John and I were on shore, and started hearing "uyai! uyai!" (come, come). Two men (including the official guide) were holding onto the capsized canoe. Major C (the man without a lifejacket) was just flailing about in the water - he didn't know how to swim and he was panicking. He was trying to grab hold of Mr. N - who is much smaller, and was trying to stay afloat. John immediately jumped into a canoe, and paddled to them as quickly as possible. By the time he got to them, Major C was spending more time underwater than above it. He got them to reach for the paddle, and then hold on to the side of the canoe so he could paddle them back in. If he'd tried to get them into the boat, it would surely have capsized. John is very good in emergency situations, because he speaks calmly and confidently and makes others calm down. They all arrived back on shore, and the two men who almost drowned collapsed, spit out water, and thanked God for their lives. And everyone else - who had been watching the whole thing from shore - started thanking John and calling him a hero. And he is a hero! He literally saved 2 people's lives! Death is so common here that it would not have been extremely tragic/shocking for us to come home from the one-day retreat with 2 casualties. But it would have been tragic and shocking for us! Good thing he didn't go on the game drive! I'm so thankful these 2 men are alive, and I'm so thankful for my husband - the hero!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Everyone knows I'm madly in love with my husband, so I will resist the urge to make this a mushy post about my undying love for John. I will also resist the urge to bemoan our lack of chocolate this holiday. I know some is on the way...

This morning I was reflecting back on our first valentines as a couple. It was a Sunday, and so we planned to meet for a romantic brunch before church. Unfortunately, I was so caught up in what outfit to wear to this momentous occasion (forgive me - it was our FIRST valentines!) that I arrived an hour late. So we went to McDonald's. It's not the most glamorous, but I can still taste those hash-browns! I did bake John chocolate chip cookies in the shapes of the letters of his name that year. That won me some bonus points!

I was joking with men in the combi last night about not forgetting Valentine's. It's not really a practised holiday here, but people who have satellite t.v. know about it from South African commercials. The men said that since this is a leap year, it's the women's turn to take care of their men rather than the other way around. I'd never heard of this tradition! Sounds like a scam... :) I know a lot of people hate Valentine's and get depressed at this holiday, but hey... just try to spread some love today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Good things

- Home-made chocolate chip cookies. My friend Sophie sent us a mix. All we needed to do was add milk (powder). We made these Saturday and ate them all within a few hours. Yum!

- Running. Keep it quiet, but we skipped our divisional farewell of the T.C. on Sunday. We've already been to several farewells, including the big territorial one. The vice president of the country was in attendance at that one, and John's white face snapping photos was making her security agents quite nervous. But yeah, we skipped another gift-giving opportunity and ran 18kms on Sunday! John said that after such an athletic feat we both deserved a FULL package of Kraft Dinner. What a splurge!

- Waking up laughing from a dream. This happened to me the other night. My brother Joel was being SO funny that I woke myself (and John) up laughing.

- Electricity. We had power ALL weekend. It was glorious. I did laundry, ironed, cooked, read at night, watched movies... (Life is intense in Zimbabwe, so sometimes you just need an escape from reality - like a comedy).

- Bakeries. When we were home for Christmas, I had this habit of just walking around Toronto with a big goofy grin on my face. Particularly this one day when I passed by a bakery - FULL of bread. I had to double-take and go in. I just stood in the midst of all of this bread and was smiling. The lady asked if I was ok and I said, "it's just so good to see bread in a bakery." I may have told you that one before, but trust me, it was a memory I've been feasting from! :)

- Flip flops on Mt. Royal. Before we left for Zim, I went to visit my sister in Montreal (now she lives in Vancouver) and we hiked Mt. Royal. She wore flip flops! This past Christmas I convinced her to walk from Yonge & Bloor to U of T and then down to Harbourfront. And she wore high heel boots. I love my fashionable footwear sister so much!

- Toilet paper. I know, I know, it's bad for the environment, and a luxury item, but I just like it.

- Sick days when you're not TOO sick. I stayed home yesterday - exhausted, headachy and runny-nosed. I watched "Eve & The Firehorse" (great Canadian movie) and read "The English patient" (great Canadian novel). I guess maybe I was homesick as well as being home sick...

- Milk straight from the bag. Yep - I had to add this one, because we just got back from lunch - and we found FRESH MILK in the shops - so we came back to the office and drank it straight from the bag. Mmmm. :)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Food, girls and leadership

Back in Harare. The orientation is done - praise the LORD! Wednesday morning I arrived at Pearson to meet the students and one of the leaders came up to me saying we had something to discuss: "Rochelle, just so you know, we've run out of food." What???!!!!??? Literally - nothing in the pantry. I had no cash on me. There were 32 people to feed. I panicked, wept and cried out to God for about an hour begging my almighty father to send us some food. I thought it was an appropriate way to start Lent! Food did arrive. A lady donated some pumpkins (did you know that pumpkin leaves are really tasty?) and then another man finally brought potatoes that we'd paid for the day before. So we ate pumpkins and potatoes, and then John arrived from the city in the evening with some money to purchase some items for the next day. I've got to admit, it was a horrible feeling to think that I was responsible for a large group of people and I had no idea how to feed them. Being part of the youth leadership school is always teaching me new things about leadership. I don't like it when leaders micro-manage and take charge of everything. Delegation is good, and we've always delegated food to others on our leadership team. But it doesn't always work out, and at the end of the day, a leader has to take responsibility. I think it's ok to panic/cry/be frustrated at people who didn't follow through for a while, but then you have to make a plan. I still have so much to learn.

Wednesday the youth did an amazing programme for the kids at a near-by school. It was good to see the kids having fun. Most of them don't have shoes to wear to school and their uniforms are ripped, and yet they have this joy... Thursday all of the ZSYL students hiked through the mountains for about 7 hours. It was tough, but amazing too. Yesterday was the last day, and in the afternoon we had a prayer time. I was really praying for reconciliation amongst the girls in our group. We learned that the girls have divided themselves along class lines - the "rich" or "urban" girls (who have nicer clothes and brought extra food like biscuits) sleeping separately from the others and telling the others to wash their clothes in the river, etc. This broke my heart - it's such poor leadership and so anti-Salvation Army. So we took some action and spoke with the girls. Last night I noticed some improvement. Things aren't perfect, but at least they were laughing together, sitting together, etc. I read the evaluations last night and one person had written, "this school should only be for boys. The girls are always late and they seem to hate each other." Ah, girls...

Speaking of leadership... did you hear that Simba Makoni is running for president of Zimbabwe in March? He's already being trashed as a Western puppet in the state media. He used to be the finance minister. Could make for an interesting election...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Shady peanut butter deals?

Finding food is one our biggest challenges for the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership. For the Z.S.Y.L. we ask all of the Salvation Army divisions to contribute by bringing food items. This means that the students of the youth leadership school can eat for the 2 weeks or 1 week that we gather. Unfortunately, most divisions brought cash instead. It's hard to eat money! Of course, in a normal situation, you could just take that cash and go buy your items, but although some food is finding its way back into the shops, there are still some very bare shelves. The other problem with cash in Zim is that is loses value every day. OK, to be precise, in Zimbabwe we don't actually have money/cash, we use bearers' cheques, but you know what I mean. John and I decided that we would contribute the peanut butter for the week. Peanut butter (dovi) is used in porridge, vegetables, etc. So yummy. There is an officer who is raising orphans and selling peanut butter to supplement her income, so we decided to buy our 16 bottles from her. The price was $7 million, but last Monday she only gave us 13 bottles and said the other 3 would be coming. Last night I went to go pick them up. "Sorry, the price has gone up to $15 million per bottle. Can you give the top up?" Now, this is actually not an unusual situation in Zimbabwe - the price of an item more than doubling in a week. But when you already paid and agreed for last week's price? Seemed a bit shady to me... Sometimes it's hard to determine what's "normal" here never mind what's "fair."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The thrill of ironing

I'm not all that "domestic." I admire people who love cleaning, but I'm not one of them. In fact, in our first year of marriage, whenever I would be scrubbing the floor or the bathtub, John would be subject to (what I had thought were internal) rants about the subjection of women in the institution of marriage, etc. Obviously they were not fair rants since my husband does all the cooking! :) I digress. This morning I woke up at 6am and the power was on. I was so excited because I got to iron. Ah, the gentle hum of the iron, the sweet smell of the steam. People here are very particular about neatness ("smartness") including always wearing pressed clothes. I was laughing at myself for my delight in ironing, but I was honestly thrilled. Even yesterday, I did 2 loads of wash by hand (which is a lot of work!) and then our electricity came on at noon for a few hours and I did some more laundry with our machine. I was so happy! John's getting used to the whole idea of HAVING power once in a while. Yesterday for lunch he started pouring gel into our little cooking stove, when I reminded him that we could use the real stove - the power was on!

P.S. New figures released by the government: inflation is at 24,470%. That's pretty high! We got a good deal on bread yesterday though - only $1.7 million per loaf!

Friday, February 01, 2008


I'm in Harare for the weekend before going back to Mazowe for the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership orientation. We have a great group of 22 students this year. They are eager to learn, happy to be here, and already showing amazing potential. My favourite student names are: Temptation, Never and Obrain. As usual, we have struggled to find food for the students. We are serving sadza and green vegetables for most meals, and tea breaks have just become breaks, but no one has complained. I really respect that. We also have about 6 divisional youth officers who have joined us, and it's really good to see them participating in everything, out of uniform, just enjoying and being "equal" with the students. The team-building has been fun to watch. Last night the students had a dance party - going all-out crazy with moves - all the while singing memorized songs from The Salvation Army songbook (no electricity, so no luxuries like a CD player!) They want their own flag and t-shirts. They want to study hard and care about others and be good leaders. It's inspiring.

I'm big on education, and have been pretty much considered a geek my whole life for how much I love school and learning. But here, learning is a privilege - not a right, and having the chance to go to school is something people take seriously and with joy. Yesterday we were at a primary school and we saw all the pupils on "Thursday afternoon worksections" cutting grass with long metal poles and going to fetch water from the borehole. Most of them had torn uniforms and no shoes, but they were just happy to be at school. The other day I was watching the girls singing and dancing and the boys kung-fu fighting at recess, and I nearly cried. It was so good to see them so happy! This morning we were in a combi that was dropping off children at another primary school. As we approached the school, all the kids started smiling and cheering. They were absolutely jubilant! I asked why and the lady next to me said, "they're just really happy to be on time, because if they're late they miss some of the teaching."

I have taken my education for granted way too many times. Not any more. I am SO thankful that I got to go to public school and especially to university. I know so many young people here who would love the chance to go to university, but will never have it (in contrast with so many first-years in Canada who spend their whole year drinking, failing and wasting their parents' money!) I am so thankful that I always had clothes and shoes to wear to school and a packed lunch and snacks. Education is so valuable.

P.S. I wrote a Psalm from Zimbabwe and it was published on the Rubicon this week. It's a bit depressing, but straight from the heart...