Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Off to the Congo

Saturday John ran 66kms. He just loves it. He said he got to the last 6kms before he realized that he had forgot to turn on his ipod (and yet the earphones were there the whole time!) I went to a wedding. Oddly enough, he came home looking healthier (it was an outdoor wedding on a sunny day, so I got quite dehydrated - although it WAS cool to see a giraffe walk by in the background of the ceremony). My favourite part was when the couple kissed and all of the old tetes (aunties) started screaming and cheering "one more time!" So they kissed again. We both needed to relax for the rest of the day. Sunday we went to a long retirement service. I was quite impressed with the family gifts - a trillion dollars, a car, 2 airtickets to Canada (where their daughter studies) and a stove. Some people in Zimbabwe have money! But not many...

We're going to Lubumbashi, Congo tomorrow for the long weekend. Random! My friend Rachel from university is working there, and so she invited us to come visit for the weekend. Why not? John thinks I'm crazy for having a new years' resolution of visiting 2 new countries every year, but it seems to work out... (and how cool that our unborn child will have been to 4 countries even before having eyes!)

Monday, April 28, 2008

2 years in Zim

2 years ago today we arrived in Harare - full of excitement and anticipation. It's our 2 year anniversary in Zimbabwe. Some of you are thinking, "the time has flown by!" but to be honest, it hasn't for us. I still sometimes feel that we're in a giant game of "survivor" and yet life has become normal in Zimbabwe... We no longer react when the power goes off (although I still get anxious when it's for more than 12 hours). We're used to being the only white people in a huge crowd and to only understanding a third of what is going on. We're used to LONG Salvation Army services (although, I confess that after 3 hours yesterday I went home for a nap... it's my "condition") and we're sort of used to THQ and Salvation Army politics (The Salvation Army has been our biggest culture shock for sure). We're used to the morning combi rides that are mixed with reports of who died the night before and jokes about family antics - that familiar combination of Zimbabwean sorrow and joy that is daily life. We're used to food shortages - eating what we can find and not eating what is not available. We're used to being billionaires, living with hyperinflation and the prices of goods and services going up almost every single day. I'm used to nightmares and occasionally waking up crying because I've had a dream about my family, but it wasn't quite enough time to spend with them. We're used to uncertainty and the inability to plan in advance. We're used to clapping and greeting people all day. We're used to seeing miracles. We're used to giving and receiving and sharing life. We're used to relying on God for everything - daily food, health, safety on the roads, etc.

God is so good. I am thankful for these 2 years - for the many lessons learned (endurance, faith, survival, patience, joy, politics, human nature...); for the way my thinking has been challenged; for the way my heart has been stretched; for the tears I've shed and the laughter I've shared; for my Zimbabwean family and friends; for a chance to be involved in work that is meaningful (HIV/AIDS and youth leadership); for our little house; for the way John and I have become even closer and the way we are growing our family; for the way we have been supported and prayed for; for grace. Zimbabwe will always be part of us.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my beautiful, fun, passionate, compassionate, crazy and wild sister Kirsten. We love you! xo

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I love the hugs; hate the hat

It has sucked to not be able to tell our "big news" to our friends and family in person. I was blessed to get my parents on the phone (my mom bawled; supposedly my dad's eyebrows shot up), but for most people it's been email/blog/facebook. I'm thankful for this technology, so I can't really complain about it. It has been really amazing to tell people here about it face to face. John made me tell my boss first. Awkward! Supposedly you don't tell men this sort of thing in Zimbabwe - you just wait for them to find out. So I think he was shocked, but understood. One of my Zimbabwean mothers burst out crying. The other did a dance. I've been getting lots of hugs, lots of huge smiles, lots of "this made my day!" and lots of "finally!" It's good to feel like you're part of a family.

In other news, our Chief (2nd in command of The Salvation Army in Zimbabwe) left today - to be stationed in Liberia. A few days ago we got the message, "a few people will go to the airport" to see him off, but this morning the message was different - "all of THQ will go to the airport and all of you must be in full uniform." So everyone had to go home first and put on the full outfit. The rationale behind the uniform was that when in battle, you need to have your full battle gear on. I tried looking around the airport for the battle, but I didn't quite see it. Anyway, if I had, I would have been totally prepared in my skirt, suit jacket, fancy shoes and hat. I got away with not wearing a hat for 2 years, but a new sheriff is in town. They don't actually sell hats at trade, but a friend let me borrow hers. It is way too small, but if I don't move at all it rests gently on top of my head. I look absolutely ridiculous, and yet so ready for battle! Did I tell you that I'm having nightmares about protocol (literally...)?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some answers

Happy Earth Day! They say it's the one thing that might unite all human beings - the fact that we all share this planet.

Thanks for all the congratulatory messages! To answer a few of your questions... yes, I'm being serious about pregnant (don't tell me I have a reputation for lying/exaggerating/playing make believe!) Yes, we're planning on having this baby in Zimbabwe, but the country's future is so uncertain that we can't say anything for sure. Yes, I'm feeling ok - although I've gone from athlete to couch potato quite quickly! Yes, I will be home soon enough for the baby to get a good West Indian upbringing (thanks for the concern Rhonda!) Cravings? Well, I'm craving Kraft Dinner like crazy. I can't necessarily blame that on the baby, but if any well-wishers want to send fake food to Zim, just let me know and I can give you our address. :) I had been craving a Licks burger, and my wonderful husband took me to get a burger at Spur today. Unlike last time we went there, they actually had beef, which was beautiful. We got two with fries and drinks for less than a billion bucks - what a steal!

Monday, April 21, 2008


No, it's not that we have $50million notes now (although that's true). No, it's not that it's my mother-in-law's birthday (although that's true, and we're happy for her). No, it's not that we had electricity ALL weekend (although that's true), nor that we had beef and chicken at a Salvation Army event yesterday (also true).

Our big news is that WE'RE PREGNANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We're going to have a little Zimbabwean baby in November! It's exciting and terrifying all at the same time and a true miracle. We've already seen the little one on an ultrasound and of course I burst out crying when I saw the little heartbeat. What an amazing thing to have a little, growing LIFE inside of you! God is good. Generally I'm tired and queasy most of the time, but feeling healthy too. John is very excited (especially about the fact that his child has already run a half marathon!) and is researching every little thing about what to do and what not to do (although I have to admit that the recommended diets are quite laughable from our standpoint of food shortages in Zimbabwe!) We bought lots of powdered milk in South Africa, and I'm on multivitamins so I'm sure all will be well - but you can continue to pray for our health and safety!

Cool, eh? We're going to be parents!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Independence and Trojan

Happy Independence Day! 28 years of freedom... although many in this country are asking, "freedom for who?" and "is this really freedom?" Celebrations went on as usual with the President addressing the nation and rallying the troops. The presidential election of 3 weeks ago is simply not mentioned - because the wrong person won... or so we heard "unofficially." We heard last night that they found a shipment of arms from China waiting to be delivered to Zim from South Africa. That can't be a good sign... BUT WE'RE SAFE!

We just got back from a few days in Trojan mine, Bindura. It was a good experience, and our hosts were amazing, but I have to admit that I'm glad to be back to our bed and our toilet (I'm used to the squatting, but still have this fear that I'm going to pee on my shoes in the Blair toilet!) Trojan is a huge nickel dime, and we were there with the ZSYL. It's inspiring to be with these emerging leaders, and to read their thoughts (I mark all their assignments) and participate in their journey. They're an amazing group. I found out that one of our students (Itai - meaning "do it") has the middle name Anywhere. Do it anywhere - a new favourite Zimbabwean name.

So many students this year are double-orphans - caring for younger siblings and working full-time. Their commitment and courage humble me. One student was sharing his story about being the child of a second wife, but being raised by the first when his mother was chased from the village. Another one was asking for prayer because his 4 older brothers have died, and at the latest funeral the "prophets" were all saying that he would be next. I talked to his pastor about it, and he said the brothers all died of "this disease" (people are still reluctant to name HIV/AIDS). He said that Obrain (our student; pronounced Obrian - maybe the parents just got the spelling wrong...) is under a lot of pressure to go "take care" of his brother's family. This "taking care" is traditional, and also involves having sex with his late brother's wife. If he does, he will get infected and he WILL be the next to go. It's all kind of scary! And it reminds me once again of the many, many challenges people in this country are facing, and the many, many reasons I admire Zimbabweans. If you pray, please pray for the students of the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership - and for Zimbabwe in general.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Leadership, guitar serenades and cheerios

Today the Zimbabwe School of Youth Leadership 2008 met to head to Bindura for a week. We're going to meet them tomorrow after a board meeting. Before they left Harare, they were given a speech about leadership where the main point was that you can tell a lot about a leader by the way they dress; by the way they style their hair. And here I thought I could be a good leader... with my bad hair life, I'm doomed! John and I have to wear Salvation Army uniform to work every day now. Maybe this new look will help us look more like leaders...

The other night I was just frustrated; up to my ears in protocol. I went to go visit a friend, and she wasn't home. On the way back I watched some young guys playing soccer (football). It was good for my soul to watch these young guys - not worrying about the 80% unemployment rate, not worrying about the low life expectancy (37 for men), not worrying about the potential crisis in the country. Just laughing and playing soccer in barefeet. Then just as I was on the path home, I ran into a guy with a guitar (quite a rare sight here). He asked me if he could sing me a song and then sang a very out-of-tune "let it be." It made my day.

Friday night we took some friends out for dinner. We went to a Thai restaurant, but our friends ordered chicken and chips. We knew this would happen. Zimbabweans don't seem to like a lot of variety. If you're home - sadza, green vegetables and beef (if you can afford the beef). If you're out, or it's a special occasion - chicken and rice/chips. I had pad thai with chopsticks and our friends were absolutely fascinated. I guess having the same thing all the time gives some comfort in an uncertain environment. Same songs at church. Same food every day. Same uniform for everyone. I'm still young enough to desire change, difference, diversity, different strokes for different folks. But I also understand how scary change can be for others. And to be honest, if I could, I would have the same breakfast every day (cheerios with 2% milk, tropicana orange juice and a toasted bagel with butter or cream cheese). However, none of those items are available in Harare...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Half-full or Half-empty?

Bad news: Trousers have been outlawed from my workplace (for women that is...) In this country, a woman in trousers is rumoured to be involved in prostitution.
Good news: I was the only woman who wore trousers anyway, so it's not a big deal. I have lots of skirts, and I'm a hearty Canadian who can surely stand up to winter without leg cover!

Bad news: We missed milk by 10 minutes yesterday in the shops.
Good news: An envelope full to the brim of Lindor Easter eggs arrived in the mail (thanks Mom & Dad). I guess they're not quite as healthy, but oh so delicious.

Bad news: Our server is down at work, so we haven't been able to use the internet.
Good news: I got a lot of work done today, and the power came on just in time for us to get home today.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Is reverse racism ok?

It's something I've spent a lot of time thinking about... is reverse racism ever ok? I live in a country which sanctions racism against whites. Oh sure, there must be some parents that tell their kids they should love all people, and there are many, many, many people who are kind and loving regardless of race. But all messages from the state media and even from schools seem to indicate that it's ok to hate - as long as you're hating the race that first hated you. I've been in so many conversations about how horrible the whites are or were. Maybe people didn't think I could understand, or maybe they didn't care if I could. I always dismiss it in my head, knowing that a lot of people have had bad experiences with individual white people in the past. My Canadian education tells me you're not allowed to make a jump from "Sally was really rude to me" to "all whites are rude" but that's not part of the education system here. I know I have white privilege. I'm convinced that a lot of white people did a lot of horrible things. I excuse attitudes that are racist against whites. But IS reverse racism ok?

Right now the state media is reporting that whites are flocking back into the country, and going back to farms to try to take back their land. It's hard to know how many people are believing this, but it makes a great excuse to take action if you do. Of course, most of these farms were seized already - back in 2000 - by "war veterans" (many of them too young to have actually been in the war of independence) who were given the ok by government to take back the land. Some white farms are left, and now there are reports of war veterans going to take them over - to take sovereignty once and for all. Most of these white farmers are Zimbabwean, African - born and bred here, but they're portrayed as foreigners, the enemy, the oppressors. Although the white farmers arguably did a lot for Zimbabwean agricultural production and the economy, I'm sure they also benefited personally. So they had to pay for that, right? To the real Zimbabweans? ZANU's slogan was "our land, our people" so it's quite a clever ploy to try to convince people that now that there are rumours of an MDC win (presidential results are still not announced), the whites are coming back into re-colonize. Even the West's promises of foreign aid for a new government are being cited as proof that the West has rigged these election results (which again, haven't even been announced).

I'm writing this post as a person who has also spewed a lot of reverse racism and felt a lot of anger towards people of her own race. I'm still trying to figure things out. I've been continually amazed at how living in Zimbabwe has challenged my views, my politics and my thinking. The older I get, the less I think I know. But I do know for sure that nothing is just black and white.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Happy Birthday to my brother Josh! Josh is the last born in our family, and 6 years younger than me. I have clear memories of him being born and being an adorable (yet stubborn) little kid. Lots of memories... family plays, Josh always asking me to race him - sure that he could beat me even though my legs were twice as long, bowties, lots of laughs, tantrums on mini-golf courses, heart-to-hearts, having a bad day and Josh coming to comfort me with a heart on a key chain, New Years... Josh is a good brother, a talented singer/song-writer, a kind, gentle-spirited person, and totally hilarious. I love you, Joshua - HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

It was Lionel's birthday on Friday. He turned 54. Lionel is a white guy, very thin, a chain-smoker who has lived at the men's shelter on our compound for 20 years. He has some serious psychological problems, and says inappropriate things, so most people don't like to talk to him. Lionel participated on the wrong side of the liberation war, and he was really traumatized by his experience (although it also seems that they were his "glory days.") I've talked to him many times, and he just seems so sad; so alone in this world. All he has to live for is his 80 year old father. I hadn't talked to Lionel in months because every time I tried, he walked away/ignored me. Friday I saw him sitting in the corridor of the shelter, and remembered that it was his birthday. I went home, wrote a card, and put together a parcel (bread, chocolate, soap, etc.) Then I went over to him and wished him a Happy Birthday. He got very teary and just kept repeating, "I can't believe you remembered." He explained that his medication has been unavailable for months, so he's been going through tough times. He explained that he believes in Jesus, but it's the devil who is always near him; always talking to him. I prayed with him, made him laugh a bit, and just treated him like a human being. It was a beautiful moment. There's a lot of power in just remembering someone.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Miracles and cockroaches

John's away for the weekend - in Bulawayo for some strategic planning and the farewell of the Chief Secretary from the southern region. I find it cute and kind that people worry about what I will eat when my gourmet chef is not around. I always manage (although last night I had to cook my rice twice - and for about an hour and a half - but it didn't burn!) No matter how many times I watch John cook certain dishes, I simply cannot replicate. I have a theory that when I turn my back for one minute (which I always have to when cutting vegetables.... hmmmm, suspicious!) he does some sort of secret trick. But he argues this isn't true. Anyway, no reason to fear. Today, I cooked myself a lovely lunch of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Now, some of you may be thinking that this doesn't actually involve cooking, but I didn't tell you that this sandwich was TOASTED! Actually, as I put my bread in the toaster, I felt like I was witnessing a tiny miracle! It's been a long time since we could get bread in the shops (because of government-regulated prices, which aren't high enough for bakeries to actually buy the supplies needed to bake the bread). We didn't even get this bread in the shops. It was obtained a typically Zimbabwean way (a mysterious phone caller with the message: "we've procured some loaves of bread - come with your money tomorrow and you'll receive further instruction.") Anyway, I was thanking God for the bread and the electricity to toast it, when 2 cockroaches crawled out of the top of the toaster from where my bread had just been inserted. It just seemed gross, but I quickly pulled myself together. I realized that sometimes in order to see the miracles in life, you have to ignore the cockroaches!

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Self-silencing sucks. I've always been the type of person to speak my mind - in a respectful way. I'm good at listening, and the older I get, the more I listen and the less I talk, but I still feel the need to speak out when I see things that I feel are wrong. This is made very difficult in the context I live in. I live in a context where it can be very dangerous to speak out against anything! We've been told clearly - directly and indirectly - never to question, never to criticize and never to say anything even mildly political. Of course this is not just us. A whole generation has grown up under this. When I mark ZSYL assignments, my biggest challenge is to get students to say what they really think or believe. People have been taught that it's dangerous to have an opinion without first checking if it is THE correct opinion.

This morning I was asked to pray for the country in these uncertain times (waiting for election results) and I felt myself self-censoring everything I was saying. It was frustrating because I was PRAYING - speaking to God, and yet doing it in public, so I had to be careful. I have to be careful in board meetings. I have to be careful when talking with almost everyone. I have to be careful in emails and on the phone. It's easy to get a head-ache just trying to keep quiet. I remember when I met up with my friend Kathy in Uganda and I just talked and talked for hours straight. Because there was so much I needed to let out!

My friend was telling me that her daughter has been listening to the radio/t.v. and is now going around her house saying, "chenja, chenja." This is cute, and yet part of me was alarmed when I heard this. Could this small girl get in trouble by the Central Intelligence Organization for merely saying the word "change"? A simple slip-up like that has serious consequences for adults. Could it for children as well? It's easy to be paranoid and to feel strangled - by self.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Earth Hour

So, I was reading a bit about "Earth Hour" and realizing that Zimbabwe is really progressive in this sense. From what I can see, the whole idea is for people to turn off their lights/electricity for one hour to reduce the global footprint. Great idea, but look at what ZIM is doing - they turn off the lights EVERY day for SEVERAL hours. Talk about reducing the footprint. Of course, there are certain issues like everyone cooking on firewood and burning garbage. I've heard those aren't GREAT for the environment, but still... Some say we're going back to the darkages (literally?) in this country, but maybe we're just being really celebratory of Earth Hour...

Still no definitive results on elections. They're telling everyone to stay calm.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An unexpected visitor, safe cheese and yummy mail

Still no definitive news on elections... we're still waiting.

Last night we got a knock on our door. I was in the washroom, but John called out, "do you know a white guy named Joel?" I secretly hoped it was my brother as a surprise, but it was just a stranded Canadian doctor awaiting a ride to go volunteer at Howard. He stayed the night, and it gave us an excellent excuse to skip our 5am run this morning. We ate omelettes instead.

We got our luggage back with the expensive cheese intact (God is good), but unfortunately our cellphone was taken from the bags. We thought our housekeys were also taken (we have no way of opening our front door!) but Stacey just let us know that those are at their house in SA. It sucks to lose your cellphone and all of those numbers. I'm trying to let it go. I have a family heritage of not being so good at "letting it go."

Shout out to Mom & Dad McAlister for the package full of gels for my race (mail's taking a bit longer than usual), chocolate peanut butter cups and other goodies, Uncle Brian & Jennifer for the package full of alfredo sauces, candies and other goodies, my friend Carie for the "just add water" meal of pasta, chocolate chip cookies and muffins, and our friend Elizabeth for the double chocolate fudge brownies. Mmmmm. Mail is yummy. We had a bit of a "drought" period for mail, and then yesterday it rained and poured all at once. God is good!