Gogo Christine the Doma Queen

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One day I was at the warehouse building with the pickup truck dropping something off and as I was about to head back to the farm Bester, the supervisor, stopped me and asked if I could take Gogo Christine to the farm.  Of course I said yes and jumped in the driver’s seat.  I waited for Gogo to get in, but the passenger door didn’t open.  I looked in the rear view mirror and there she was trying to climb into the back of the truck with her bag!

Gogo means grandmother in Shona and Gogo Christine is certainly old enough to be a grandmother, but nobody knows how old she is.  Not even her.  She’s likely in her eighties and lives about 4 miles from the farm at Eden Children’s Village, yet she walks to the clinic at the farm almost every day.  She is about 3 apples tall, has the best face wrinkles ever and is smiling whenever I see her.  She’s the kind of grandmotherly woman you just want to hug.

And there she was trying to climb into the back of the truck!  And the men were helping her!  I jumped out of the truck and stopped them and brought her around to the passenger side, which admittedly I should have done initially, and helped her into her seat.  The look on her face was awesome.  She was so happy and surprised.  I got her buckled in and we drove off and she laughed and talked the four kilometres to the farm.  When we passed people walking she sat up straighter and waved at them, making sure they saw her in the truck.  I felt like I was chauffeuring a queen.  Gogo Christine talked my ear off and had a great time, I laughed and talked back to her, neither of us having a clue what the other was saying, but it was so fun!

When we arrived at the clinic, where she would get some eggs and other food supplements, I helped her out and she was glowing.  Of course everyone there saw her get out of the truck and I’m sure she wanted them to and that’s okay.  It is such a clear memory of mine and for good reason I think.  It was such a small thing for me to give Gogo a ride that day, but what did it mean for her to be given the front seat? It didn’t really sink in till later that such a small act gave her dignity.

This African Life, According to Lia and Nae

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 How have you seen the Lord work through you or someone else?

Lia: Ian is the first person I think of when I think of God working through someone.  Like just before we left and he went to that woman’s house to pray for her and she was healed.  I wasn’t there, but hearing about that, it was really cool.  And Debs with the teenage girls, just praying with them, talking with them, just being their friend.

How has Africa changed your view of the world?

Lia: Living in Canada for all my life, until 2014, having a house, albeit a little house, I thought it was normal to have our own house, run to the grocery store whenever we want, and just have anything and everything that we could need a five minute drive away, but then coming here.  I wouldn’t say reality hit me, but being at Eden and seeing how people live there, and when we’re in Doma and just driving by and seeing the small villages, we see how not everybody lives as luxuriously as we do.  It really hit me.  Reading it in books and seeing it on the internet, how people live, you see just little snippets, but I’ve seen and been to villages and talked with people who live out in the boonies, and kind of comparing them to people who live in the cities.  That’s kind of changed my perspective of the world.

Nae: That’s kind of exactly what I was thinking.  Like, it’s different everywhere.  You can get things and do things in North America that you can’t get or do in Africa.

Lia: But it’s also true vice versa.  You can do things in Africa that you can’t do back home.  I went diving with crocodiles.  You can’t do that back home.  We go out to the boonies and just drive around and look for elephants.

Nae: And get stuck in mud.


What’s the attitude of the people who don’t have all of these things?

Lia: They’re happy.

Nae: They don’t need those things.  Nobody really needs all those things.

Lia: We’re just so used to having all those things that we feel like we need them.  Things are unnecessary.  It’s a luxury to have them and we shouldn’t depend on them.

Nae: And we should know how to improvise.


How has being in Africa changed your view of God?

Lia: He’s real.  Back in North America I never felt Him or heard Him.  Like in middle school I didn’t really have anything to do with God.  The boy I liked went to church and that was one of the only reasons I enjoyed going, and hanging out with the youth, but it felt like we didn’t talk about God nearly as much as we do here.  We had fun, but it didn’t feel like that time was devoted to God.  But here, God is real.  I’ve felt Him.  I’ve heard Him.  I’ve seen Him work through other people.  Spiritual stuff is more real here.  Like when someone says the devil is attacking them.  At first I thought that was weird and freaky, but now it’s like yeah, ok.  And like at the baptism when that guy was baptized and starting shaking and screaming.  That was real.

Lia, if you had to bake one thing and eat it for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Lia: Banana bread, because it is really really good.  And you can change it.  You can put apples in it.  You can put chocolate chips in it.  It’s just really really good.

Nae, if you had to draw or read one kind of literature every day, what would it be and why?

Nae: Warrior cats because it’s fun and I just like it a lot.


What do you miss most about Canada?

Nae: People.  And person.  Like Tara.  And family.

Lia: I miss St. Stephen.  Like walking around, just meeting up with friends.

Nae: Like walking around in a place that isn’t roasting hot.

Lia: Yeah, I miss the woods.  Being able to be cold.  I really really miss October.  I miss wearing big sweaters and the color of the leaves.  Autumn.  But recently I’ve missed the idea of being in high school.  Mom, you loved high school.  Dad, you hated it.  But I’m also glad I’m not there because of people who do drugs, sleep around and are a bad influence.

How does being in another culture, sometimes being uncomfortable, relate to the life of Jesus, or does it?

Lia: It does relate, but more when we go back home.  Like here it’s really spiritual, but back home it isn’t.


How can we be praying for you?

Lia: School.  Definitely school.  Struggle with school.  Always struggled with school.  Don’t really enjoy it.  Sitting alone in a cubicle.

What kind of animal would you like to be and why?

Lia: A monkey.  Or a wild African dog.  They are beautiful.

Nae: I’d want to be a little monkey so I could climb and be flexible.

How have you changed since being in Africa?

Lia: Definitely spiritually, like I said earlier.  I’ve made good relationships with people, like with Debs and Ian, and people at Eden.  Older people.  I’m definitely more open to other cultures.  I’d see stuff on movies that other cultures were doing and I’d think that was really weird, but now it’s just normal.  That’s just what people do.


What do you love most about Africa? Like day to day life.

Nae: Probably also people.  Like Eden people.  Debs, Rory and Judes, the Frys.

Lia: The adventure.  Catching lizards.

Nae: Like sometimes you don’t have the things you need to do the things you’re doing.  Like if you’re cooking something and you don’t have something you need and they don’t have it then you have to improvise.  I don’t like it sometimes.

Lia: Different activities that you’re able to do here that you wouldn’t be able to do there.  Just being able to go for a walk and it turns into an adventure.  I like the relationships and connections the Shona people have with each other.  We live at an orphanage, but everybody relates themselves to each other.  Like they call each other ‘Auntie’, or ‘this is my brother and sister’, or ‘this is my father’ and really it’s your father’s second brother twice removed.


How does school differ between the two places?

Nae: The curriculum is totally different.  It’s totally independent.

Lia: You teach yourself.  You don’t have to depend on someone else to teach it to you and if you don’t get it you have to study and study.  The teacher isn’t going to give you the answer.  You have to know the stuff.  You have to have 80% or above to pass.

Nae: And you have to do it.  You have to get the answer the right way, not just any way you want.

Lia: Uniforms.

Nae: Uniforms.  You can’t just wear whatever you want.

Lia: It’s not nearly as social as public school.


What would you want to tell your friends back home?

Lia: It’s way more exciting here.  They need to come to Africa.  It’s eye-opening here.  It would be so cool if Mr. Legge brought the school kids here to Africa.  That would be pretty cool.  Those kids, if they break a phone, their parents would just buy them a new one.  That doesn’t happen here.  I mean, if I took them to the flea market, I think that would hopefully change them.

What has become normal for you guys? Like when you first arrived and you thought you could never get used to this or that?

Nae: The generator’s going to be turned off.  Nothing is going to be on anymore.  Can’t use anything.

Lia: Yep, generators.

Nae: Generators, no electricity.  No hot water.

Lia: No hot water.  Having to go over to someone else’s house in order to bathe.  Every single time. Unless you want a freezing cold one.  Riding in the back of a truck.

Nae: Walking.  I mean, not having a vehicle so you’re having to walk everywhere.  You’d have to walk a kilometre if you had to go get milk or eggs or a chicken.  The fact that we had to go to Agape (the Eden farm) to get milk, eggs or chicken, not a store.

Lia:  You have to be really careful with your cash because there isn’t any in Zimbabwe right now.  Beggars.  Just people in the street.  We didn’t have people getting down on their knees begging  for a dollar in St. Stephen.  Or people harassing you to buy their stuff.


What unusual foods have you tried and really liked or disliked?

Nae: Mopani worms because they are just really gross.

Lia: Kapenta.  It’s very small dried fish.

Nae: Warthog.  That was so good.

Lia: Crocodile tail.  If it was the only thing around to eat I’d be fine with it, but don’t care to eat it again.


So there you have it, from the mouth of babes, or at least our girls.

Working With The Murungu

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I love working with the building crew at Eden Children’s Village.

The men weren’t used to working with a white guy at first.  I think it sort of weirded them out a bit.  I remember working on the new herbal medicine clinic and getting the site prepared to move the shipping containers into and I grabbed a shovel to help with the digging and someone tried to take it from me.  I wouldn’t let them and started digging.  They didn’t know what to do, but eventually they learned that Mr Jeff, as they call me, works with the crew.  I don’t tell them what to do and then go inside.  They really didn’t like it at first.  I can be pushy.  I push myself hard and also those I work with.  It took months for the crew to get their heads around having to work with a murungu, a white person.  Over time they’ve come to like me, some of them love me, and I think most of them respect me.  A few of them have become my closest friends in Zimbabwe.  The men have nicknames for everybody, but I haven’t been able to get them to tell me mine yet.  Maybe someday.

I love working with the guys and listening to them talk.  I have no idea what they talk about, but they do it all day long.  I don’t care, as long as they don’t stop working to do it.  I actually like hearing them talk and laugh all day.  Sometimes I’ll ask Cloud or Guveya what they’re talking about and they’ll say that Sabora is telling a joke or talking about a new song he’d heard.  Sabora is the clown of the crew, he keeps people laughing, but he works super hard too, when he isn’t showing off his new dance moves.

I had a great time working with the crew just before we left at Christmastime.  We were putting a gable roof on a house which was to be covered with steel, rather than thatch, so it was a new experience for them.  They had to make the roof trusses first so Guveya taught the men how to cut the lumber and fabricate trusses.  I came along a little into the process and suggested they cut all the pieces they would need first and then assemble the trusses after.  I explained that this way all the trusses would be exactly the same, so they changed gears and did it the way I suggested.

I went back to the house the next day and all the trusses were up and they were starting to install the ‘perlins,’ the boards that are nailed to the trusses which the steel roofing is then nailed to.  They were part of the way through and it was a bit of a mess.  The perlins were running off on an angle and the spacing seemed rather random.  I asked them to do it again and explained that the nails in the steel roofing would be visible and they needed to be in straight lines.  So they removed the perlins and started again.  I stayed with them and helped.  It was almost 40 degrees and in the full sun, but it was fun.  Roughly half of the perlins got nailed down again, and again they were crooked.  Alfred was starting to get rather frustrated by now and would’ve gladly just kept going, but we pulled up the perlins again and I asked them to show me how they’d measured for the placement of the boards.  It was then that I realized what the problem was.  They were measuring correctly, but the trusses were not in a straight line down the peak.  When you looked down the length of the roof you could see the tips of the trusses were all over the place.

I love teaching opportunities like this.  I showed Guveya the problem and asked the men what to do about it. The last thing they wanted to do was to take off all the trusses and start over.  I told them they didn’t have to, that we could leave them but still get the perlins straight.  We nailed a string line from the peak of the first truss on one end to the peak of the last truss on the other end.  I explained that now we had a true line that we could measure from to get the correct placement of the perlins.  Everyone was pretty happy with this plan.

I went on to explain that it’s like the Bible and life.  If we just do whatever we feel like we tend to make a mess of things, but with the Bible as a guide we can learn to make better decisions.  It was pretty awesome to see the guys take this idea in.  Cloud and Guveya translated some of what I said for the ones who don’t understand my English so well and everyone got the object lesson I think.

That was a pretty awesome day.  I got sunburned, hung out with the men and built something and we all learned, or re-learned, a lesson together.

Fighting my DNA

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I like to think that I don’t try to impose my Western ideals and solutions on people in Africa, but I know I fail at it sometimes.  I know I make mistakes and likely offend people by trying to get them to change how they do things, but it feels like it’s in my DNA and I just can’t help it sometimes.  There is one example that stands out to me of a complete failure on my part.

I was asked to make a coffin for the father of a friend of mine.  This would be the third coffin I would make.  The first two were made out of scraps of plywood and chipboard I scrounged around for, but this time I had some sheets of plywood to use.  I was working with Cloud and Wilfred and they were telling me what size to make it.  It was going to be a simple rectangular box just deep and wide enough to fit the body.  I was feeling particularly sad about making this coffin because of who it was for and thinking that after a long life this man was going to be buried in a rough plywood box.  So I made it a bit deeper and wider than I was told in an effort to make it better or nicer somehow.  I just couldn’t get my head around the idea of such a shallow rough coffin.

I found out later that they had to break apart the doorway in the man’s home in order to get the coffin through the door and into the hut.  That was humbling and terrible to hear.  I went to my friend apologized and of course he brushed it off and said it was fine.

Even when I have the best of intentions, I sometimes muck it up.

I Confess

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I have a confession to make.  I like Pinterest.  There.  What a relief.  That’s out there finally.  I love that I can go on the website, I use Carole’s account to hide that it’s me, and I do searches for metal art, or pallet creations or woodworking ideas.  There are so many creative people out there who post photos of their work and I take it all in and get inspired to make my own stuff.

I found another website called Pinterestfail.com and I love it as well because it is a repository for photos of projects people tried to replicate from Pinterest and totally failed.  It’s hilarious.  And enlightening. You should check it out.  Baby photo shoot calamities, baking mishaps and decorating disasters.  You’ll never look at Pinterest the same again and it’ll give you a much more balanced view of the world.  If that’s what you want.  Maybe you don’t.  In the very least, it’s bound to make you laugh.

What would life be like if it was all Pinterest without the Pinterestfail experiences? I think about our life in Africa a lot.  It had its highs and lows, just like life anywhere does.  I don’t tend to talk about the lows though.  I try to not focus or dwell on them that much.  But they are definitely there.  I’m often asked what it’s like to live in Africa, how hard it is and I have to really think about it to give a few examples of the difficulties we live with.  I think that is partly due to the fact that it has all become normal to us.

The house we lived in had solar power until the generator caught fire early one morning and all our solar power equipment was destroyed.  That was a rough morning, but thankfully the house was saved.  We lived without electricity for three and a half months.  Our solar hot water heater was taken down after the fire so we didn’t have hot water either.  So what do you do? You just get on with it.  We got a propane lantern and used our solar flashlights and charged our devices wherever we could.  We took showers at the farm or used a camp solar shower bag.  We kept our food in our friends’ refrigerators.  Sure it was a nuisance, but you know what I remember most about that time? Playing canasta with our friends with the roar of the propane lantern on the table beside us.

We are thankful to have access to the internet where we are out in the boonies.  I think our house is radioactive or something though, because we can’t access the wifi unless we are outside on the veranda, which is no fun during mosquito season, or bug season in general.  And yes, the night-time mosquitoes can carry malaria.  It’s great to have internet because it helps us feel connected to family and friends back home, which helps us cope with feeling isolated and so very distant.  We were able to Skype with our church a couple of times and those were highlights for us.  Feeling disconnected is something we contend with, but when we get messages or emails from friends it totally makes our week.

The last couple of years have been the hardest and the most stressful of my life, but also the best.  The stress is due to our monthly visits to the immigration office in Harare.  We had to go into the city, a three hour drive, and ask to have our visas extended for another 30 days.  We never knew what they’d say, if they’d grant our extensions or tell us to leave the country.  This was a hard way to live, month to month, not knowing if we’d be here the following month or not.  It felt like we had no security or real stability.  In our first term I built the new medical clinic and I put in long days and weeks to get it done because I wanted to have it complete and ready to use before we had to leave.  Thankfully, it did get done and there was a great big celebration for the grand opening.

The most difficult thing for me is to see my daughters surrounded by Shona kids, but alone.  I ride my bicycle down the road past the church where they go to school and I see them at break time sitting outside together.  There are 30 other kids around, but they all speak Shona as soon as they step out of the building, so my girls are isolated and alone.  It breaks my heart.  Every time.  It was the same at the school in South Africa.  What I try to think about though, is just how close Lia and Naomi have become over the last couple of years.  They have become best friends and are far closer than they ever would have been if we hadn’t gone to Africa I think.  Does that make it worth it? I don’t know.  All I know is that my kids have sacrificed to go with us to Africa, but at the same time they are stronger together for it.

I could continue to list off all the difficulties and frustrations we experience living in Africa, but I won’t.  I realize that I should perhaps write about the hard stuff more often, but I just love to talk about the good stuff, the amazing stuff, so much more.  As much fun as it is to check out failures on Pinterestfail, I would far rather look at all the great stuff on Pinterest.

Trial by Fire

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Weeks later he felt that he needed to go to his family home and talk to his family.  He took his wife and children and off he went.  When he got there he found that there was a witch doctor living in the village and he was having a strong influence on his family.  Misheck went to the man and told him to leave and that he didn’t have any power or influence on his family.  The witch doctor told Misheck that he wasn’t safe and to watch out.  That night Misheck woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible burning on his leg like it was on fire.  He prayed to Jesus to take the pain away and fell back to sleep.  In the morning the witch doctor was furious and left the village.  Misheck came back to Eden with his family, where a couple days later his house burned down and he lost all of his new tools in the fire.  I heard about the fire and went to see Misheck and found him picking through the charred remains of his hut.  He wasn’t upset and smiled when he saw me.  Nobody had been hurt in the fire and he was already planning where his new hut would be built.  He apologized to me because a woodworking book I had lent him was burned in the fire.  I told him it was okay and to come by the house when he got a chance.

When he came by the next day I had another batch of tools waiting for him.  And yes, the new old hand plane was included.

A Little Elbow Grease

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I decided to refurbish the old plane and spent hours one Saturday oiling and sanding off all the rust, sharpening the blade and I sanded and refinished the handle.  By the time I was finished it didn’t look brand new, but it did look awesome, at least to a carpenter.

I wanted to show Misheck my plane so I asked him to come see it one day.  He was amazed at the change that had taken place with that plane.  He loved the finish on the handle and how sharp the blade was.  I asked him which one he wanted now and he said he wanted that one.  I said not a chance.  I also went on to tell him what I’d been thinking about while I was working on it.  It made me think of Jesus and how He looks at us and works with us.  We are all like rusty, dull, bent tools, but when we let Him, Jesus lovingly works with us, scrapes away the hurts, the rust, He gives us people to help sharpen us, like iron sharpens iron and we become beautiful.  We become useful.  The process hurts sometimes.  It takes real work.  It can take a long time.  But it is so worth it.  I have found old planes in yard sales and taken hours to clean them up.  I believe that this is what Jesus has done, and continues to do, with me too.

Misheck didn’t get my hand plane that day, but…

The Hand Plane

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Misheck Agrippa is the softest spoken man I have ever met.  He speaks in whispers, leaving me straining to hear what he’s saying and usually asking him to speak up.  Misheck’s heart is as soft as his voice, but is also strong.  He works at Eden as a gardener, but in his heart he is a carpenter and I steal him away from his gardening to do carpentry jobs every chance I get.  He and his brother make bed frames and wardrobes outside their huts at the workers’ village for extra income.  Misheck has been attending a Bible study with Ian Fry for a year now and has accepted Christ and is growing in faith and that faith has put him to the test.

When Misheck’s father learned that he had forsaken his traditional beliefs and was now a Christian he disowned him and took all of his carpentry tools away.  Being disowned by your family is a terrible thing in any culture, but to have your tools taken away, removing your opportunity to make money, was an added injustice.  Ian told me about Misheck’s situation so I found some hand tools to replace those he’d lost.  I invited Misheck to the house one day and showed him what I’d collected to give him his face shone as I handed him each tool.  He ended up with more tools than he’d had before.

I gave him a choice of hand planes.  I had an old one I’d found in a tool box, it was rusty, the handle was scuffed and loose, but it had potential.  I also had a new one I’d purchased in Harare.  It wasn’t a good quality one, but it was shiny and had a bright yellow plastic handle.  I let Misheck choose which one he wanted and he didn’t hesitate to take the shiny one, leaving me with the old one.  I was fine with that and he left smiling with a bucket full of hand tools.

Just Getting Started

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We have been asked why we think we need to return to Eden Children’s Village if they are able to continue existing and operating without us while we are back here in Canada.  That is a valid question.  Eden Children’s Village existed before we arrived and is continuing in our absence.  We believe we are supposed to return there because we don’t feel that we have finished what God showed me.  Our work there isn’t done and in fact has just gotten started.  Too many people and organisations go to developing nations and start projects and then leave before they should.  It isn’t enough to get something started and leave expecting it to continue.  People are creatures of habit and you shouldn’t expect them to change habits in a short period of time.  It takes commitment to stay for an extended time and invest personally in the people.

With over 150 orphans to care for at Eden, there is a lot of work to be done and so much rests on the shoulders of the administration and the missionaries there.  Everyone is already overloaded with responsibilities, often doing things because there is nobody else to do them.  The fact is that Eden needs more people to go help, more than just our little family.

We feel like we are just barely starting at Eden Children’s Village and are looking forward to living there for a long time and forming relationships and doing what we can to benefit the orphans at Eden and local people in the community.

Innovation for Conservation

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We burn a lot of wood at Eden Children’s Village.  People cook over an open fire outside in the kitchen huts, or just in the open.  They burn three long logs that they just keep pushing towards the centre to boil enough water to cook their traditional meal of sadza, a cornmeal porridge.  When they are finished cooking they pull the logs away from the centre until they need to cook again, then push them together again.

Every day you will see women walking with bundles of branches balanced on their heads.  Their lives are an ongoing task of finding firewood.  Eden buys firewood from local people who have licenses to cut down trees as well.  It always bothers me to see how much firewood we go through and I’ve been working on finding an alternative source of fuel or method of cooking.  I have been experimenting with two different types of stove, a top lit up-draft (TLUD) stove and a rocket stove.  I believe the rocket stove will be ideal at Eden. I made a prototype at our house using regular clay bricks, clay mud and some scrap metal, readily available materials.  I had a fire in it one day and made a large pot of rice in half an hour and only burned small dead branches I picked up in the bush around the compound.  We have just built new kitchen blocks at one of the workers’ compounds and these stoves will be perfect to make for them.  This will reduce the deforestation in the area and the cost in buying firewood for Eden.  The TLUD stove is a portable stove made out of metal which I will be able to teach others to make and sell in the markets.  I believe that we can be innovative in such a way that we have a positive impact on the environment and help people generate extra income at the same time.