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June 2017

Snails and sweaters

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The rains bring out the insect life.  One day we were walking to the farm and as we walked through the grass flying ants flew up by the thousands.  We had no idea what they were or why they hadn’t been there yesterday.  We were told what they were and that the Shona people collect them and eat them and apparently they taste buttery.  I tried one and they were right.  Millipedes the size of hot dogs were everywhere.  Snails crept up the walls of houses, leaving gross trails of goo and poop on the walls.  We felt like we were living through the plagues of Egypt.  It felt like each day introduced a different new bug.  I made screens for our windows, but the doors are always open and the bugs find their ways into the house, so you just get used to living with insects on the walls and flying around the lights.

The rains stop around March and until till they start again in November there won’t be a drop of rain.  Every day is perfectly dry and great working weather.  I never had to plan a job around the weather like I did in Canada.  It’s funny how you can complain about perfect weather, though.  You get to the point when you wish for weather of some sort.  Winter in Zimbabwe was a great break from winter in Canada.  It goes down to around 7 degrees Celsius at night and to mid 20’s in the afternoon.  I wore jeans to work for a month, then back to shorts.  We have a fireplace in the house, but it doesn’t work well because the chimney is so tall and the wind blows the smoke back into the house, but we use it regardless.  It warms up the downstairs, but you don’t feel any benefit upstairs.  Houses are built with wall vents and the windows are not airtight or double pane, so it gets as cold inside as out.  We still found it funny to see people wearing puffy down coats and toques, when we were in sweaters or t-shirts.  One of the builders, Alfred, would wear a bright pink hat with ear flaps tied tight over his head and I couldn’t help but tease him about it.  We did acclimatise though, and would feel cold at 15 degrees.

Heat, rain and bugs

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One of our first purchases was our bed nets, which was good because even when it isn’t ‘bug season’ there are so many bugs flying around.  When the rains hit the insects really come out and we wouldn’t get any sleep without the nets.  We didn’t take any anti-malaria medications for the last 8 months and thankfully the nets worked and none of us got the disease.

It took a while to acclimatise to the weather in Zimbabwe.  When the four of us arrived in 2014 we had just had snow in Canada and then we arrived to the rainy season and temperatures in the high thirties.  It was a real shock to our systems.  We didn’t have bicycles so we walked everywhere.  Sometimes it was so hot that we would jog from tree to tree just to be in the shade for a moment.  Naomi found it especially difficult.  Thankfully there was an inflatable pool at the farm and the girls took advantage of it until it got a hole in it.  It was strange to live in a house with a thatch grass roof, especially during the rains.  We’d lay awake at night listening to the rains pounding on the roof, wondering how long it would be before we’d get dripped on, but it never happened.  The thatch works well to cool off the house and keep it dry inside, although it does start to smell a bit after a couple months of rains.

The thunderstorms in Doma are fantastic.  You can watch the rain coming in a wall across the fields.  It would hit the house and pound on the roof.  If the wind was blowing from the right direction water would pour in from the vents so towels and buckets would have to be spread out on the floor.  The rainy season lasts about 4 months during which time you typically get rain at least every other day, anything from a short drizzle, to a day-long downpour.  During our first term  Zimbabwe had the most rain in almost thirty years, with flooding and bridges washed out and some people drowning.  Our house would often have water and mud across the floor, so we dug a trench across the front to divert the water and put concrete slabs over it for a bridge.  Often Lia and I would sit on the veranda to watch the lightning and rain, and she would run out to play in the downpour.

Zimbabwean nights

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In the evenings we will usually play a game, watch a tv show recorded on our laptop or just hang out with others in the compound.  I had anticipated watching a lot of movies in the evenings, but we don’t.  We watch a movie once a week, on pizza and movie nights.  We make pizza on Friday night and watch something we bought at the movie shop in Harare for a dollar.  It’s a family tradition that we brought with us, one that has been important to the girls.  On Saturday nights we have our neighbours over and play canasta and chat for a few hours.  On Tuesday evenings we have dinner and a Bible study at the junior Frys’ house and a potluck and worship and prayer time there on Sunday nights.  Lia and Naomi have teen Bible study on Monday and Thursday nights.  It’s funny how busy we can be out in rural Africa.

We go to bed around 9 because of our early start in the morning.  It took quite a while for me to be able to fall asleep when we first arrived in Africa.  Every noise caught my attention and I wondered what it was.  We could hear people on the path and I’d wonder if they were in our compound.  Being married and a father of two girls I would lay awake at night trying not to think about all the terrible violence I’ve read about in Africa.  I would often get out of bed and go downstairs to make sure nobody was there.  We don’t have burglar bars on our windows and the locks don’t really work, so our house is less than secure.  We heard about some break-ins at a local village so we asked about getting a security guard for our compound at night and from then on we’ve had one.  A barbed wire fence and gates have also been installed, so this has helped me have more peace at night.

Some barn owls took up residence under our veranda roof and would take off with a blood-curdling screech and wake us up with our hearts pounding.  They would land on a vent opening above our bedroom and screech, so I eventually climbed up there and put chicken wire up so they couldn’t do that anymore.  They still land on the roof and pull at the thatch, digging around for rats, but at least they don’t screech right above our heads anymore.

Comforts of home

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We do our grocery shopping for the month when we go to Harare for our monthly immigration visits.  We try to have a detailed shopping list so we don’t forget anything.  Usually there are a number of trips to the city in a month from the orphanage and someone can usually pick up something we are missing, but it’s a hard enough trip for people that we don’t like to add to someone else’s already unrealistic errand list.  We buy eggs, chicken, beef and vegetables from the Eden farm, but other staples we have to buy in Harare.  Our meals in Zimbabwe are much simpler than what we eat in Canada.  We eat a lot of vegetables and eggs.  Unfortunately we eat a lot of bread too, just because it’s easier to put a peanut butter sandwich together than cook a meal.  We eat a restaurant meal once a month on our Harare day, that’s our big treat.   Our favourite place to go is St. Elmo’s Pizza, where they make pizza in a wood fired oven.

Lia has always liked to bake and she has taken it up again in Africa.  Thankfully we have an oven in the house and can buy the ingredients she needs to make cookies, squares and cakes.  We have a Bible study on Tuesday evenings and she always makes an entrance with a plate full of baked treats, which get devoured after the meal.  Lia has a loving heart and has really taken to serving the community by making treats for all of us.  It is fun to see how much everyone looks forward to seeing her come through the door with cookies, such a small thing, but comfort food like chocolate cookies can be a real boost.


The best room of the house

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Three evenings a week a group of men come to our house to exercise with me.  Mashayamombe asked me if he could come over to exercise one day and of course I said he could.  Then it became a group of six men.  I found an exercise machine in a storage container and repaired it and put it on the veranda and the men love to use it.  I made a pull up bar and hung it up, as well as a heavy punching bag.  We work out together and have become friends and are breaking down racial walls.  Again, this is something unusual in the community and is new to everyone.

We love to watch the sun set in the evening.  If I miss it I feel like I’ve missed out.  I will often just stand on the back veranda to watch it set, which takes about 2 minutes from the time it hits the horizon, then go back to making supper.  It’s really nice when Carole and I can have a cup of tea or coffee on the veranda and watch it together and chat.   After the sun is gone the real show begins with the sky turning bright red and purple.  In the spring when there are wildfires burning everywhere the sunsets are especially beautiful, another paradox in Africa, the danger and destruction of the fires against the beauty of the sunsets.  The veranda really is my favourite ‘room’ in the house. Reading, watching sunsets or thunderstorms, exercising, praying, watching passersby on the path, it all happens on the veranda.

We don’t have electricity in our house without a generator but I put off starting it because of the noise, but it usually gets started before we make supper as the sun goes down around 5:45 and it’s pitch dark by 6.

African transport

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Lunch break is two hours long, which drove me crazy until I found out why.  We live in a very rural farming area and when the Frys first moved there almost twenty years ago the local farmers asked them to use the same workday schedule that they were all using to avoid hard feelings and jealousy between Eden and the farmers’ workers.  The break is two hours long because the workers are usually out in the fields and would have to walk home, often several kilometres away, cook their lunch and then walk back to work.  Eden has stayed with this schedule and I’ve learned to appreciate it, especially since the day starts so early.  Lia and Naomi finish school at 1 pm and usually don’t have to go back after lunch, so I get to see them at lunchtime and I hear about their day at school.  I head back to work at 2 and work until 5.

It’s fun to watch people at quitting time.  You can see people watching the road to see if a tractor is heading back to the warehouse so they can try to get a ride.  Every day you can see a tractor go by with at least one passenger on the tractor and a flatbed trailer with 20 people on it.  This is African public transport.

Make a plan

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Guveya often wants me to go with him to look at something and discuss a problem.  A common issue is getting building materials.  In Africa everything is built with brick and mortar because termites and carpenter ants eat every piece of wood in sight, so we use a lot of cement which has to be brought in from Harare, a three hour drive away.  The closest hardware store where we can get smaller items is 100 kms away, so running out of nails, screws, window frames or steel is a real nuisance.  We plan our projects and trips to the city as well as possible, but there are often times when we have to ‘make a plan’ and find something else to do until we can get materials.  Eden has a few tractors, but they are all quite old and it is normal to have only one operating.  The building crew relies on a tractor to get sand, gravel and water to make concrete and cement and when the tractor is busy working the farmland we have to find other projects for the men to work on.  It is a constant juggling act to make sure we have everything we need to keep projects moving forward and it always comes down to Rory and I to organise it.  Living in Africa has taught me that I can still be task-oriented, but that I have to change my expectations of what’s possible to achieve.  The normal solution to a problem is to get more people working.  We don’t have a backhoe to load sand and gravel so we get eight men with shovels and it takes all day to get enough material to last the week.


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Teatime is very important to Shona people and the builders are no exception.  One of the tasks that one of the younger men have to do each morning is to get a fire started and get a pot of water boiling for tea.  I don’t know how they organize it, but someone brings teabags, sugar and milk.  I don’t know if they all pitch in to buy tea ingredients or how it happens.  Sometimes they will have two pots of water boiling and cook up a pot full of sweet potatoes that they fish out of the water, peel and eat at teatime.  The men don’t eat breakfast before starting work at 6:30 so this is their first meal of the day and will have to keep them going until they quit for the day at 3pm.  Everyone else at Eden takes a 2 hour lunch break at 12 and then work till 5, but the men work through till 3 and then quit for the day.  Again, I don’t know how this came to be, but it works for them.

Sometimes the men are working in our compound and I’ll go over with my cup of coffee and sit with them.  It’s not uncommon to see someone drinking tea out of a diet Coke can that they’ve pulled out of my garbage pit and taken the top off.  If some of the handymen, like Cloud, are working in the compound I’ll make tea or coffee for them and find some cookies and we’ll sit on the veranda and chat together, something else that is new to them.  What seems normal to me, making coffee for friends and drinking it together, is foreign to them because I’m white. Work starts again after tea and we all go off to our jobsites.

Being Teachable

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I will usually work with the building crew on whatever project is currently underway.  If it’s something they don’t need my help with I’ll go work on something else.  We have a lot to do just to keep up with the maintenance on all the buildings at Eden, so there is always something for me to be building or fixing.  I like to work with the men so that we can be learning from each other.  I tell them that they should be either teaching or learning while they work.  We have a few young men on the crew and they are learning on the job from the experienced men.  Due to living in a respect culture they are also at the bottom end of the hierarchy so they get the hardest and most menial of jobs, like moving bricks or mixing cement by hand.  This can be a challenge to deal with because the young men often have good ideas to make the work more efficient, but because of their age they aren’t given a voice and are shut down by their elders.

As a foreigner this is a cultural situation that I have to work through with Guveya.  We talk about things like this and try to come up with middle ground solution so that the young men don’t feel suppressed and the older men don’t feel disrespected.  It seems like there is always something like this happening and I’ve learned to talk to Guveya first to find out what the culture expects and we work through it together.  I don’t want to be the foreigner with all the answers who comes and makes others conform to my expectations.  Learning that just because something works back home doesn’t mean it will work in Africa is a valuable lesson that can head off a lot of frustration.

Pathway to Play

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I love getting out of the house and riding to the farm.  Sometimes I’m struggling with something, feeling tired, or maybe I’m worried about our impending immigration visit, but when I get out the door and start seeing the students heading to school, the workers heading to their jobs, I get out of my headspace and I can feel my anxiety and attitude change.  I can almost feel how my attitude changes from one of looking inward at my worries and problems to one that looks out and sees others and it reminds me why I’m in the middle of nowhere in Africa.  I’m not there to worry about myself and whatever I’m going through, I’m there for others and greeting everyone I see is a great reminder of that for me.  I love that Shona people acknowledge others, that they tell each other that they see them, that they aren’t alone.

One Saturday I decided to work on the path and make it safer for people riding bicycles.  I found a wheelbarrow, an ax, a pick and a shovel and I worked my way down the path digging out the small stumps and sharp rocks.  During the rainy season the path gets eroded so I filled in ruts and holes.  The wheelbarrow got filled with stumps which I took home to burn.  I worked for about 4 hours on the path and got a few blisters on my hands from the pick and ax.  The whole time people were using the path, I’d step out of the way to let them pass, and everyone thanked me for what I was doing.  Some would stop to talk to me, some wondered why I was doing this, while others just wanted to talk.  Some were surprised to see a murungu digging with a pick while others who know me just said hi and smiled and weren’t surprised at all.

I also make a point of picking up litter on the path.  People just throw candy wrappers, bottles, papers, cigarette packets, anything on the ground without a second thought.  I will often take a shopping bag and walk to the farm to pick up litter.  When I get close to the workers’ village the little children will run to meet me and one boy in particular runs at top speed and leaps at me every time, so I have to drop my bag of litter and catch him.  I throw him into the air and catch him and he squeels and then everyone has to have a turn.  They are the grubbiest kids I’ve ever seen, but I love to pick them up and hug them.  Then they help me pick up litter, making a game of it.  They are the only ones who ever help me clean up the path.  I never give them anything for helping, except a toss in the air and a hug, but they love to help.

If you missed the previous instalment click here.