Monday, March 31, 2008

Back and waiting

Namibia was great. It was our first desert experience, but we also marveled at the great variety in landscapes - mountains, ocean, desert - all within minutes! We went sandboarding (like tobaganning, except on sand - fun except for the sandburns!), we rode camels (John refused to wear the bedouin headcovering), we searched for the "little 5" in the desert (snakes, beetles, chameleons, etc.), we drove in and around the sand dunes, we went on a dolphin & seal cruise (and saw cool pelicans), we had long, romantic walks on the beach (and stayed at the Seagull B&B - right on the water), and we ate a LOT of food (fresh prawns - heavenly...) It sucked to miss skydiving (maybe our mothers prayed too hard about this?) and the great dunes of Soussusvlei - but that just means we'll have to go back sometime. John says Namibia is his favourite place in Africa. Mine's still Rwanda.

We're back in Harare (and we heard our luggage might come today - hopefully the cheese that we packed to specially is not totally wasted!!!). We are of course awaiting election results. Everyone is on tenderhooks - attached to their t.v.s and radios, awaiting news. The town is quite quiet - I'd say like a funeral except that funerals here aren't that quiet. I think everyone is just... waiting. The state media is playing African movies, old sports matches and cartoons, there are lots of rumours; we're hearing things from South Africa and the internet and tonnes of speculative text messages are going around. We wait and see. Things are generally calm, although there are rumours of "incidents." We'll wait and see.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New beginnings

A brief blog from the airport in Windhoek, Namibia (details on our trip to follow....)

* One of my closest friends Anita just had a baby boy - Wesley - CONGRATULATIONS Bram & Anita! I am so excited to be an auntie, and actually wish I were in Drumheller, Alberta rather than Namibia at this moment...

* Elections are happening in Zimbabwe today. Please pray hard for this. We'll be back in Harare tomorrow to check things out.

* It's been an awesome holiday except that we had to miss skydiving (boo!) An unfortunate combination of bad weather and plane servicing made us miss each day we were signed up. Oh well, it's just an item on the "bucket list" (we just saw that movie) that will have to wait.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cape Town was awesome!

Greetings from Joburg! We arrived at Stacey & Buhle's last night after grabbing McDonalds and staying up til 1:30am chatting. Life is good. We had an AWESOME time in Cape Town. It is the most gorgeous city and I totally recommend going there. (OK, fine, I admit that we did have a few "why do we live in Harare when we could live in Cape Town?" moments...) It will do your heart good to see the beaches, the oceans, the mountains, the food in the grocery stores... (I only had a minor meltdown - it's just so unfair to see so many TYPES of cheese, milk, bread, chocolate, meat, etc. never mind just having the items, but we loaded our suitcases as usual).

We ran our Two Oceans race on Saturday. I was petrified the night before and didn't sleep, but as soon as I started the half, I LOVED it. It was the best run I've ever had, and the whole time I kept thinking, "am I going to crash? this is way too easy!" (shout out to people who prayed for me - I felt God's grace!) It was just so exciting and I felt like a real runner. Usually I bribe myself to take extra walk brakes on a run, but on the race I had to convince myself to take them (even on the hills!) I think I was just full of adrenaline. I did it in under 2.5 hours, and just had an amazing experience. Of course John also did fabulously on the 56kms. It was so exciting to both be at the finish line. As John says, "a couple that runs together stays together!" (is this brainwashing?) I thought I might retire after my first race, but I can't - it was too fun.

We had such a good time with Merrilou, Gerard and their fun kids - Jeremy and Emily. They treat us like family, spoil us with amazing meals, and wait in the sun for hours to cheer us on at the race. They even took us to Boulders Beach where we got to hang out with penguins. Cool! We love spending time with good friends.

Easter was special as usual. I always watch "The Passion of the Christ" and it really moves me. I know some people were against the film when it came out (too violent), but I find it profoundly moving. One thing that always gets me is the agony of Mary in watching her son be tortured, misunderstood and crucified. This year it really reminded me of all the mothers in Zim who are watching their children die agonizing deaths from AIDS or starvation. At our Good Friday service it sort of hit me that I live in a country where people don't have to try to identify with the suffering Christ - they do it every day - in the constant funerals, the physical and emotional pain of searching for food, the fear of what could happen if you say that wrong thing to the wrong person, the uncertainty of life, the total trust that God has a plan even when you can't quite see it... Anyway, happy belated Easter! We're off to Namibia, so more later...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

3 matters arising

3 matters arising (pardon me, I'm on too many boards at THQ...)

1. We're going away! This afternoon we're flying to Cape Town, South Africa. We're staying with our good friends Merrilou and Gerrard for the Easter holiday. Saturday we're running the Two Oceans marathon (with John doing the ultra - 56km and me doing the half - 21km). You can pray for us - this is my first race as an adult... Then Sunday night we visit our good friends Stacey and Buhle in Joburg and Monday we fly to Namibia. We're spending a week's holiday in Windhoek and Swakopmund. We have a night in Joburg on the way back and then we'll be back in Harare on the 30th - the day after elections. So, if you don't hear from us - know that we're having fun!

2. New photos are up on our flickr site if you want to check them out.

3. HAPPY EASTER! Easter is always really special for me. There's the long lenten period of reflection, sacrifice, denial, meditation. The agonizing Good Friday where I always admit with guilt that I probably would have been a betrayer/denier of Jesus, and feel so humbled and thankful that Jesus - my hero and the one I serve and want to be like - died to forgive me. And then glorious Easter Sunday morning where we celebrate the fact that Jesus was victorious over the grave and is still alive today. It's an awesome holiday. In post-modern Canada it's highly unfashionable to speak about Jesus, but you have to admit there's something quite amazing about the Easter story and the freedom it brings.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Communication fun

Our new friend Elizabeth arrived in Zimbabwe last Monday. She is a Salvation Army officer from Australia and she is working with us here at THQ. It has been interesting to journey with her this week, and see Zimbabwe, The Salvation Army, our neighbourhood and our workplace with her "new" eyes. I've especially re-noticed the pace of work here. I had great expectations when I came in terms of what I could get done in a day, and that slowly but surely diminished. Because making a phone call or printing a letter or photocopying a document are not easy tasks in Zimbabwe.

I had to laugh to myself (but not in a mean way) when someone was trying to teach Elizabeth the morning greetings - "mamuka sei?" (which means "did you wake well?") She was repeating back, "mamuka" and the ladies would say, "mamuka SEI, mamuka SEI." But sei is prounounced like "say" so Elizabeth must have thought they kept repeating "SAY mamuka" which she was... Ah, communication is fun. This reminded me of when I organized a trip for exchange students from Thailand. One of the girls was named "Hai." She had a hard time introducing herself to her host family because they said, "hi, what's your name?" and she responded "Hai." A little slower and louder, "hi, good to meet you but what's your name?" "Hai." "Hi. WHAT IS YOUR NAME?" I had to watch from a distance for a while and then eventually intervene and explain that the girl's name was Hai and she actually spoke English quite well - no need to yell! Or there was the time my mom and I went canvassing for Salvation Army. We were at a Chinese family's door requesting funds. The lady said to us, "Will you come in?" which we thought was quite kind - much better than a door slam or "sorry." She repeated "Will you come in?" so I made for the door and then she yelled, "WILL YOU COME IN?" It turns out their dog was named "Will Yu." :)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flooding and relief

Friday was John's birthday. Unfortunately, I missed most of it, but thankfully we celebrated Thursday night. We totally splurged by taking 2 friends out to the best restaurant in Harare - "Amanzi." Our "wallets" (as if we could use wallets in Zim!) are $3billion lighter, but it was an amazing meal - even according to John (who is a bit of a food snob!) I must admit that I never pictured myself a billionaire by the age of 30. HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN!!

Friday I left Harare at 5am with a team from THQ. We were going to Muzarabani to distribute food relief. On the way we stopped at The Salvation Army's Howard hospital. We went to a few of the wards to pray for patients. It broke my heart to see the over-crowding in the women's wards and so many women lying on mats on the floor. I cried. A few hours later we arrived in Mt. Darwin for breakfast (it's one of the nice things about traveling with important people - you get food served to you everywhere you go!) We had bread for breakfast, which was nice since it's scarce these days (people at the Association of Bakers have been imprisoned again for trying to sell flour at a fair price). Mt. Darwin is a ZANU stronghold, and they were having a political rally that day. We saw a lot of people wearing t-shirts and dresses with the President's face printed on them. Elections are less than 2 weeks away, so campaigning is going strong. We always hear the 3 helicopters overhead - one for the President and 2 for his bodyguards (is 3 helicopters in a country starved for fuel an unfair campaign advantage?)

After breakfast we made our way through the mountains and into the lower Zambezi valley to Muzarabani. The scenery was amazing, but I don't have photos because I was squashed in the middle of two large women in the backseat, and that did not allow for grabbing my camera (some of it reminded me of the island from LOST though...) Muzarabani was flooded from heavy rains in January. 27 people died, as well as almost all livestock and crops. People have been resettled temporarily at an old farm. The Salvation Army was donating mealie meal, sugar, cooking oil and kapenta (dried fish) to the people. The local authorities had a list of residents and ensured that the food was given out fairly by the Salvation Army volunteers. We all gathered under a tree (the area is very hot) for speeches, food distribution and a drama from the residents about the flooding. The people were so happy to receive the food. They started singing and dancing, waving the kapenta and cooking oil over their heads. As for myself, I was a big source of entertainment for the kids. The brave ones shook my hand and then stared at their own hands afterwards (to make sure non of the white had rubbed off).

One lady told us that she finds it hard to even drink water now, because it reminds her of how she lost everything; she she's had to start her whole life from scratch. Last night, John and I sat in our warm, dry, candle-lit house listening to the thunderstorm outside and discussing rumours we'd heard about a cyclone coming. And I imagined the fear and helplessness of being flooded and watching my life wash away. Let's continue to pray for people affected by natural and man-made disasters.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Birthday Bash

Last night I had my 30th birthday party. It was awesome. John planned it, and it was just as I had dreamed. He cooked up a beautiful meal that totally impressed me. Of course he's my favourite chef, but he amazes me here because Zimbabwe is still "food-challenged" (so politically correct!), and yet he comes up with these beautiful, colourful, healthy, tasty treats. And we had an impressive guest list. It was a family affair, so my Zimbabwean mother (Amai Pamacheche) and sister (Crystal) came, as well as my grandmother (Gogo). My other mother (Alice) was sick, so we went to her house at the end to cut and share the cake. Her husband (Mac) came, as well as John's mother (Amai Mhasvi) and our new friend Elizabeth from Australia. The crowd was random, and not your typical "joining the 30s" bash, but it was so fun and I loved it. The power even came on at the end of dinner so we could see the beautifully made cake. Fine, I confess, I ate some leftover icing for breakfast. I know that's gross... sorry. I got some great gifts too - some toilet paper, soap and bananas. God is good. The party was very... us. We love mixing with different people and bringing people together who would not normally come together. Most people in the world generally only hang out with people that are just like them - in terms of age or interest or religion or culture or even looks. But when you do that, you really miss out! And of course the good food. Ever since I've been married I've had this suspicion that people only want to come to my birthday parties because John will be cooking... It was an awesome birthday. I was serenaded by my husband, my grandparents, my brother and sister-in-law and my mom and her conference group in Washington. I got touching emails from family and friends and a some touching cards and greetings from friends here. The 30s are looking alright... :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am 30! I have hit the big 3-0. I can't believe it. I am unbelievably thankful for my life, and God's grace through every day of it. I had a bit of a panic a few weeks ago when I thought about being 30. 30 is so grown up. Am I grown up enough to be 30? I don't have any kids, I don't have a career or a real salary, I don't own a car or house or any property (except for a lot of books!)... but then I started to think about my life, and realized that I'm right where I want to be. I have an awesome marriage, I'm living out the biggest dream of my life (living in Africa and sharing joys and sorrows with people here), I have amazing family and friendships, I have traveled to over 20 countries (places as different as northern Uganda and Chechnya, Tokyo and Rome). I have had some amazing life experience and met some incredible people.

I must admit that the twenties were good though. I met John when I was 20. The first time I saw him at band practice I thought he was so handsome. It's been an awesome decade of falling in love, getting married (happiest day of my life) and then just sharing our life together. I also first came to Africa when I was 20. Of course I had dreamed of Africa and fallen in love with it before that, but 20 is when I first set my feet on African soil. I volunteered in Soweto for 3 months, came back at 22 to volunteer at Mountainview Hospital in KwaZulu Natal for 2 months, and then at 28 moved to Zimbabwe. I know a part of my mind and heart will always be in this continent. Some of the closest people in my life I met in my twenties. I sang with UTGC and first went to Regent Park and 614 in my twenties. The twenties were great. And now we'll see what the thirties have in store...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Conversations in the south

John had a busy weekend running, doing strategic planning in Mt. Darwin and then attending a long welcome service for the new T.C. Again, it's amazing that people can come up with billions for gifts when there is so much economic hardship! Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Robinhood-backwards movie. I spent the weekend in the south of the country, and it was great. Bulawayo has such a different feel than Harare - more relaxed and free. To be honest, I like Zimbabwe a lot, but I could take or leave Harare (although there is a pizza place - I can't knock St. Elmo's). We have a new neighbour moving here from Australia today. I wonder what she'll think... Anyway, I went down south to meet with some potential donors who are interested in The Salvation Army's HIV/AIDS response and Masiye Camp in particular. Masiye is doing *awesome* work and it's set in the beautiful Matopos. If you have not yet been, consider it. Check 'em out -

The weekend was also full of very interesting conversations. I'm a social worker, and I like to listen to people's stories, so I was treated to a feast of them. There were lots of thought-provoking conversations about aid/donors, corruption, the temptation to steal money or food, etc. I had a fascinating conversation about politics with 2 grade 7 boys as we dipped our feet in the cool water of the dam. There was a conversation with a man who told me about how he used to be a poacher in the national parks - having struck up a business deal with a police officer (who was supposed to be the one safeguarding the park!s) He says elephant is quite good, and lasts a long time because of its size. He seemed like a good guy, but poaching???... There was this other conversation with two women who are self-acclaimed "SRB" (strong rural background) who gave me detailed information on how best to kill various animals - and precautions to take if you're doing this while heavily pregnant (I guess this information could be useful in future?!?) There were conversations about the liberation struggle and the terror people went through. There were conversations about the farm invasions and land reform. There was a conversation with a Zimbabwean man who went to a small town in Kentucky for school and how he found the adjustment. One lady poured out her heart to me about how her husband cheated on her and left her. She works for a church, and the church has since called off all benefits (such as paying for school fees for her 2 kids) and taken away her pastor's status. Doesn't seem very Christ-like to me... And then there were the two kids who were having a blast trying out every English word they knew on me and laughing like crazy when I would respond in Shona. I love people - and getting a glimpse into their world.

Today is my last day in my twenties. I can't believe it...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Half-marathons and women

Ohmygosh I just looked at the route map for my first half-marathon which I'm going to be running in 2 weeks in CapeTown. Yikes! I'm flipping out. Keep in mind that this is not John-McAlister-insane-runner-who-can-do-anything-a-marathon-is-an-easy-jog typing. This is me - Rochelle McAlister, who only got chosen for sports teams in school because I'm good at making friends, not because I have an ounce of athlete in me. Rochelle McAlister - who used to only run to try to catch the bus! Yesterday we ran 10km in the morning as the sun was coming up and then 12km after work as the sun was coming down. And it was hard. But that wasn't even including hills and involved quite a work-day-long break in the middle. What am I doing??!!??

Happy Women's Day for tomorrow. A big shout out to all of the brave, courageous, faithful, endlessly hopeful women in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world. I am so thankful for the way Zimbabwean women are teaching me to be a better person. Another shout out to the many other women in my life who I love a lot and who have have had a big impact on my life. Sisters, I'm proud to be one of you!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Birthdays and Blessings

Most people don't acknowledge their birthdays here, maybe because there's no money for gifts or special meals. I visit with a dear, lonely old lady who lives near my workplace. Almost all of her family members and friends have passed on and she is ready to go too. I visit with her, ask her about her life and try to make her laugh. Last time I went to her apartment she told me she had just celebrated her 85th birthday - and had had a birthday party for the first time in her life! Never too late... This week we took out some friends to this lovely lunch place where you eat in the garden. They had both been too preoccupied with funerals to celebrate their birthdays, and they were so happy to have the chance! It's a popular hang-out for people from the embassies, and as we were walking out, we ran into one of their friends, "oh, you are big people now - walking out of a place like that!"

I'm reading Miroslav Volf's book "Free of charge." He's my favourite theologian. OK, he's probably the only theologian I read... :) His book is all about giving and forgiving. I'm finished the giving section, which is full of basic and yet profound thoughts - God is a Giver by nature and everything we have and are is from God - our breath, our lives, our children, our food, our health, etc. God loves to bless us and give to us and see us enjoy the blessings. Volf argues that we can't really give anything to God because everything is from God in the first place. But we can be channels of blessing. We can enjoy blessings and then pass them on. He quoted Genesis 12:1-3 where God blessed Abraham so that he can be a blessing to others. It reminds me of a quote I had in my locker at school for years - the more love you give away, the more you'll have. I've spent hours and weeks and months wondering about the inequities in the world; wondering why obesity reigns in certain countries while starvation does in others; wondering why God seems to bless some people so much more than others. The only answers I've come up with are: a) inexplicable grace and b) we are all supposed to share and be channels of blessing. I have been loved every single day of my life. I am thankful for this, and wish everyone has had this experience. I could either feel guilty about this or else enjoy this love and share it with others. The latter is much more enjoyable; trust me. I thought I was close to being poor growing up, but I really wasn't and the older I get the more privileged I realize I have been. So, I can be a channel of blessing (even with my current pathetic salary!) So can you.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Teeth, sex appeal and 3 way translation

I've had braces on my teeth 3 times. The first time, I got them from our family dentist. He was taking orthodontics at night school and so said he would give my family a really good deal on braces because he was just learning. When the braces came off, my teeth were straight, he was happy, and there was no follow up. So they went crooked again. A few years later, we were trying to decide if I should get braces again. We consulted my grandfather who asked me to smile for him. I did and he responded, "well no one's going to marry her with teeth like that." Then he gave his Papa chuckle (I miss him...) and it was settled. I got new braces. Later, when we moved back to Toronto from Montreal, I got a new orthodontist, who said that he could not work with the Quebecois braces I had, and so those had to be stripped off to give me good Ontario braces (the English can be so bourgeois!) Anyway, I was thinking about this story about my Papa because yesterday we had a situation with our daughter.

We adopted a cadet - Esther - and she is a very sweet, kind, compassionate girl. She complained of a tooth-ache, so we gave her some money to go to the dentist. The tooth was extracted and there was more bad news - 7 more teeth need to be pulled. Cadets (people training to be Salvation Army pastors) in Zimbabwe receive no medical coverage, so basically you can get treatment if you have money. 7 more teeth seems a bit drastic (and trust me, I felt guilty for bringing cookies AND candy to parent visitation day!) so I asked one of the teacher-officers if there was any other option. "Well, yes, she could get them filled, but it's $120 million per tooth and that's too much." We're looking at about $50US. Obviously we do not want our (as yet unmarried!) daughter to lose all of her teeth, but kids are expensive when you make $2US/month! Anyone want to help?

Not having medical insurance/coverage is just horrible. It gives you a pit in the stomach. Of course I've been spoiled as a Canadian in this respect. It's just a horrible feeling knowing that you need treatment and wondering how on earth you're going to come up with the money. Actually, this reminds me of another story of when I was working with immigrants and refugees in Toronto. One day an elderly Turkish woman in the level 2 English class fell and landed on her middle finger. The finger was at a 90 degree angle backwards. She wasn't in pain, but it looked awful. She was also brand new to the class, so could only greet people in English. Thankfully there was another man in the level 4 class who was Turkish but spoke French. The 3 of us went to the nearby hospital. After waiting around emergency, we ran into a kind, young doctor in the hallway. It was a 3 way translation - he talked to me in English, I talked to George in French and George talked to the elderly woman in Turkish - and then back the other way. As you can imagine, simple question and answer took a while. The lady (I'm forgetting her name... too many Zimbabwean names in my head!) did not have medical insurance because she was so new to the country. The doctor looked left and right and said to me, "if you want, I can probably just pop it back into place right here. It will hurt, but I could do it and not tell anyone." I translated to George, and he translated to the lady (but I learned after that he left out the part about the pain!) So the doctor grabbed the woman's hand, pushed really hard, and bam - back in place. No medical insurance required!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Monday already?

Monday morning already? The weekend flew by. Friday evening on the way home from work we heard about the tragic case of a five year old girl from our church being killed in a car accident. She had accompanied the family maid to the store to buy bread. They were walking and holding hands when the girl forced herself free and ran into traffic. It's so sad! Here, children are buried even faster than adults, so by the time we got to the church, the service was already ending. There was a lot of weeping - obviously. For stress relief, we decided to go for a run. I don't like running in the evenings as much as the mornings. The ratio of drunk/offensive men out on the streets is much higher at 5pm than 5am - at least in our neighbourhood.

Saturday John spent the day in Karoi with a team of people doing strategic planning for The Salvation Army. They left at 6am and didn't arrive home til about 8pm. I was supposed to go to a wedding in town, but I didn't feel like going into the city centre by myself and to a wedding dateless. (A friend told me later that day that she saw police beating people on their way to church that day - they were suspected of being supporters of the opposition party). Anyway, I had the day and the house to myself so I did laundry, made some nice pasta, read Time magazine (fascinating controversy over Oscar Pistorius, eh?), visited friends and spent 7 hours watching t.v. This is not typically Rochelle. I did have some moments where I was like, "maybe I should read Dostoevsky or start learning Mandarin or something." But nope. I just watched 24. There's something to the whole "day of rest" idea of God's. Besides, I had to take advantage of having electricity ALL DAY on Saturday. Upcoming elections have some advantages!

Yesterday we travelled to KweKwe for the installation of our new Territorial Commander (big boss of Salvation Army in Zimbabwe & Botswana). It was a five hour service which seemed much longer because we were sitting on these little, tiny chairs (you know, the kind that kindergarten and grade 1 children use...) But the music was good, and I got to sit with my friend Kim and another Captain who are hilarious - so it helped pass the time. The territory gave the new T.C. many gifts, which is "cultural" but always amazes me seeing as my HIV/AIDS budget is constantly at $0 because we have no money.... Priorities, I guess. And now it's Monday morning, and we have another welcome for the T.C. in a few moments. Have a great day!