Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Farai again

Since we initially sent Farai to the hospital, he and his dad have stopped by about twice a week.  They make the two hour walk to Nyadire to have some tests at the hospital and then join us for lunch.  Last week we gave them a lift to Harare so that Farai could have a consultation with a surgeon.  The consultation went amazing.  According to the surgeon, the tumor can be removed and he will probably be ok.  The surgury only costs $190, which is not affordable for the father, but we have become attached to Farai so we are covering the costs of the surgury and even transport into Harare.  

Every time that Farai visits, he acts more and more like a child.  Yesterday he was laughing and cheating at cards like any kid.  It was really amazing to see Farai transform from a scared kid witha  tumor in his eye to a energetic, laughing kid.

Farai and his father stopped by yesterday after receiving the results of some earlier blood tests.  I spent my time with Farai.  Kathy and Mary Beth on the other hand, spent their time with the father Richard.  Completely unsuspectedly, the blood tests discovered that Farai is HIV positive.  The hospital is only assuming that the mother (who died of Meningitis) was also HIV positive.  

Statisticly, at least as of 5 years ago, 1 in every 3 people in Zimbabwe are HIV positive.  The statistics are nowhere near as shocking as the realitiy.  HIV is not something that really comes up in conversation, so I have no idea who that I know here who is HIV positive.  I am sure of 6 people who are HIV positive (I am sure there are more, they just have not told me).  4 of them are children, 1 is am adult, and the other recently passed away in the hospital.

It is hard to believe that so many children have HIV.  Thanks to new medication (which is available in Zimbabwe), the chances of HIV being spread from an infected mother to the child has been drastically reduced.  Yet so many children still have HIV.  In Zimbabwe, I have found that there is a bit of a taboo around HIV.  While there is a surge in HIV education, there is not the needed readiness to get tested.  People do not seem to want to get tested, and even if they do they may not have the money for the test or have anywhere to go get tested.

It is hard to see a 9 year olds life melt away.  In two weeks time, Farai was told that he had a tumor in his eye and is HIV positive.  Had his mother been tested before giving birth and been given the current procedures, chances are that Farai would not be HIV positive.  Yet now he is 9 years old and has to take medication for the rest of his life.  Since his father cannot even afford the bus fare into Harare, I have no idea how they will afford the medication.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Today was the graduation ceremony for the Nyadire Teacher's College.  The strangest part was how similar it was to our graduation.  Granted, there were parts that were very different than at home, but for the most part it was what we would expect.  All the students were wearing robes and the graduation hats with the tassel.  Since graduation is an official event, it was done in English (thankfully) so I could understand it.  

The ceremony started an hour late, which is exactly on time according to African Time.  Reverend Tsiga opened with a prayer and a handful of dignitaries gave little speeches congratulating the graduates.  The audience was divided into two halves.  On one half sat the graduates facing the stage.  Interestingly, on the other half sat the families of the graduates, but they were facing the graduates.  Like every graduation, it started late, went too long and was too hot.  Nothing really notable happened until the groups starting giving presentations.  

The first group to present was the preschool.  They each stood in front of the audience and recited nursery rhymes.  Rather than face the audience, they faced the stage.  I guess that they were presenting to the dignitaries rather than the audience.

After the ECD presentation, the primary school presented a traditional dance.  The dance was the highlight of the ceremony, or at least the part that I sat through.  Luckily, we had a camera and got a video of it.

Sorry for the poor quality, this was shot with a normal camera, not a camcorder.  Also three of the Home of Hope kids are in the dance.  Tinotenda is in the white shirt, Lindiwe is in the green and Tineshe is the boy on the left side.  I am not sure why, but Lindiwe only shows up half way through the dance.

AH.  So the video is working right now.  The internet is too slow.  Im going to try and upload it again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


So far, I have avoided the hospital.  Maybe subconsciously I have been trying to avoid the most visible  signs of the desperation of Zimbabwe or maybe I've been busy.  Either way, I could not avoid it forever.

Yesterday morning our group split up into a variety of activities.  Mary Beth took a group to register orphans for her support program, the pastors went to a conference and Natalie, Maddie and I went for a walk.  This walk was more successful then notable previous walks.  Regularly getting lost early on in my stay seems to have helped me to find my way around now.  Our walk is a story in itself.  I will defiantly write about it soon.  It is an interesting story about me, Natalie, Maddie, Fatty, Lancelot and a bag of groundnuts.  

This story is about when I got back from the walk.  We returned a little after lunch and caught up with the other groups.  After sharing the story of our walk, Mary Beth and Cathy narrated their experiences with the orphans.  Our story was interesting, theirs was traumatizing.  

Mary Beth had sent one child (a nine year old I believe) to the hospital because they had an infected eye.  After examination, the doctor informed us that the child had a tumor in his eye.  The child, Fara, was sitting in the waiting room waiting to be transfered to Harare to have the tumor removed.  Cathy and I decided that we would go to the hospital and wait with him.  

We found Fara sitting alone on a bench with a tumor in his eye.  The teachers who had helped walk him to the hospital were outside socializing.  There was not a single person comforting the nine year old.  This really struck me.  Fara had no one.  He was an orphans living with his step-parents (ya, step-parents, we are trying to figure that out too).  His school sweater was too big, which covered the large rip down the side of his pants.  

Cathy and I sat down and tried to comfort Fara, which was difficult to say the least.  How do you comfort a nine year old orphan with a tumor in his eye?

Me:  "Unonzi ani?" (What is your name?)
Fara: "Fara"
Me: "Ndinonzi Ben, anonzi Cathy.  unoda kudya here?" (My name is Ben and she is Cathy.  Do you want to eat?)

Fara didnt even respond.  He just grabbed the granola bar we were offering, clapping his hands in thanks.  He ate two granola bars in less than a minute.  

The doctor later informed us that they couldnt do anything without the stepfathers permission, so Fara was sent home.  I am going back today, but  I am guessing that the family will not be able to afford the operation.  In that case, Fara will be lucky to blind.

As we were leaving the hospital, Diane approaches the boy and offers him a little stuffed dog.  And Fara smiled and laughed a little.  This was unbelievable.  Fara was scared, hungry and confused, but stilled have room to smile.  The last memory I have of Fara is him walked away from the hospital holding his stuffed dog, smiling.  I have no idea how he managed to smile, but it was a sight to see.

In shona, Fara means happiness.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mutoko Ruins

This  blog is a big deal.  I FINALLY figured out how to put pictures in my blog.  So, not only will this blog be heavily illustrated, but I will go back and add pictures to my other entries.  Since most of my entries regard culture, money, and little quirks that I have found in Zimbabwe that may ring a little dissonance with Western thinking, I will mix it up this time.  This blog is about history and trying to get you readers a visual idea of Zimbabwe.

Recently, the first mission team arrived in Zimbabwe and my stay has drastically cha
nged.  No longer I am the lone murungu (white person) in Nyadire, which prompted one individual to make me an honorary member of the Shumba (lion) totem.  Instead, I am here with 13 others, watching as they try and adjust to a totally different lifestyle.  In many ways its awesome, but I am finding that the true Zimbabwean culture is being hid behind their incredible hospitality.  There is no thrown-in-the-pool moment and I miss that.  Anyway, several people have been pestering me to include them in our blog, so.... STEPHANIE....NATALIE...MADDIE.....  happy?

Today, we took an excursion to see the Mutoko (moo-toe-ko) Ruins.  The ruins are 
the remains of an old civil
ization (14th century) that built their houses from rocks.  No mortar or anything.   They just relied on gravity.  In our schools, there is almost no education in African history, so many people assume that not much noteworthy has happened in Africa.  That is not even a little bit true.  Zimbabwe is named after these amazing stone structures which are found in several locations around the country.   The name Zimbabwe actually means house of stone in Shona.  While the structures are cool, they were defiantly not the best part of the excursion.  

After the ruins, we kept climbing.  We kept to the path as we explored the immediate area around the ruins...
.for a while.  Being more adventurous, Maddie and I decided to forge a new trail.  Which meant climb.  Literally climb.  We had found a HUGE boulder that stuck out of the side of the mounta
in and we just new the view would be unreal.  So we climbed boulder after boulder.  Then a tree. Then more boulder.  This climb was partially vertical and mostly dangerous.  But, the view was unre
al.  I really did not want to take a picture because I knew that there was no real way to communicate the beauty of the view.  This is only a sliver of what we saw, but is pretty common for Zimbabwe.  Note the amazing contrast between the flat country side and the mountains.  Once again, even in geography, Zimbabwe is a land of extremes.  Also, if you look carefully, you can see several huts.  

After finishing our climb, we climbed in the Land Rovers and raced to see the rock paintings.  We once again embarked on a climb.  Only this climb as a slightly steeper angle and eventually  found ourselves in a cave with probably 50 different paintings.   Once again, I have no good picture worthy of representing this view.  Instead, I have almost a hundred small pictures, but I hope this one picture will do.The dye used for the painting is a mix of animal blood with different clays and minerals.  Many of the painting were obviously painted using fingers and I just a chance to run my fingers along the same paths as the artist who created the paintings.  That was a truly awesome moment.  Seven centuries ago, an artist found himself in the same cave on the same mountain in the middle of Zimbabwe and traced the same finger strokes that I did.  For me, that rose goose-bumps.  It also made me think, "Woah, I am actually in Africa". 

Hopefully you guys enjoyed the pictures and got some visualization of Zimbabwe.  I am going into Harare on Wednesday or Thursdays, so I will try and take pictures and post them.  Until then, thanks for reading as always....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Environment Implications of a Dividing Worlds

As the world globalizes, we are beginning to realize several faults with our new small world.  The first is, the world is not equal.   Not even a little bit.  There are rich countries, like the USA and Europe, there are developing countries like China, India, Brazil, and there are terribly poor countries like the Sudan and Bangladesh.  Zimbabwe would fall into the category of poor countries.

The second issue that is plaguing our globalizing world is the Need for Green.  We are realizing that our way of life is killing the world.  As you have hopefully noticed, in the last year or so, there is a growing sense of urgency to clean up our act and try and make our way of life environmentally sustainable.  Businesses are promoting green products, grocery stores trying to use less bags, ect...  While we are a long way away from having that happen, I am glad that we are starting to realize that issues like the environment are CRUCIAL and cannot be ignored any longer.  What people haven't realized though, is that the rich countries are not the only ones killing the world.  Poverty and environmental degradation often go hand in hand.

We are killing the world because we have the money to care, but we don't.  The poor countries are killing the world because they cannot afford to save it.  Most people here do not seem to notice the implications of individual actions towards the environment.  For example (and everyone here does this), after finishing a coke or candy bar, people here just throw the can/wrapper on the ground.  EVERYONE.  I have noticed more litter here than most places at home.  And the first problem is education.  Its not that people do not care, its that people do not know.  Since we are struggling with the repercussions of our offenses against the environment, when we see someone litter so blatantly its shocking.  However, in Zimbabwe, people have no idea what the implications are of littering.  Already, goats are dying from eating the litter on the ground.

The second problem is with the infrastructure.  At least in Nyadire, there are no alternatives to throwing the trash on the ground.  There are no real garbage services (at least not here, I'm not sure about the cities).  So people either throw their trash on the grounds or burn it.  Everyone has a trash hole behind their house in which they burn the days trash.  Everything.  Plastic wrappers, coke cans, paper, ect....  This is not only a little dangerous towards peoples health, its terrible for the environment.  

The third and fourth problems are an ineffective government and individual poverty.  When the electricity is out, the only way to cook food is my fire.  Fires need firewood.  And to get firewood trees need to be cut down.  So treecutting is a decent business here.  However, there are no regulations to how many trees you can cut down, where you can cut trees, or how many trees you have to replant.  I mean, there are laws, but the fines are so minimal they are essentially a small tax on the business and do not discourage people from cutting down trees willy-nilly.  Most individuals cannot really be blamed though.  If you are making $100 a month, you would not stop cutting down trees for the sake of the environment.  Feeding yourself and your family comes first.  So I understand.  However, something needs to be done.  A bunch of department heads here understand the need to save the trees and went to the police stations last week to report some treecutters who had decimated the area around their houses and were now infringing on Nyadire property.  The police would not come.  Why?  The world cup was on.

I am going to abruptly end the post with that story because that is as Zimbabwe as you can get.  If there is one story to sum up my stay in Zimbabwe, that is it.  The law stopped because soccer was on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Of Banks and Men

Sorry.  That title is terrible, but it beat Bankwars:  The Interest Rate Strikes Back.  This article is about banks and people, so the title is a little fitting and we are all just going to have to live with it.  I'm really just picking up from the last entry about investment, so I would advise you to read that first.

Yesterday, Chiimba asked me if I wanted to go to the bank in Mutoko with him.  Being an economics major, the idea of going to a bank in Zimbabwe actually excited me, so off we went.  Mutoko is the closest town to Nyadire and is only a 15 or 20 minute drive (I think, I keep falling asleep in the car).  We finally arrive at a little strip mall that has a couple banks, a couple general stores and an internet cafe.

While waiting in line, Chiimba started complaining that bank charged too much for his account.  As an economics major, my first reaction was a loud "WHAT?".  He then explained that the bank charged $20/month for having an account and that he wanted to switch banks because the one across the street charged $10 less a month.

Thats not how banks work.  At least, not in the US.

In the US, banks provide an interest rate as an incentive to put money into their accounts.  They then invest that money into different types of loans.  The money that the banks makes is the return off of the loans.

So why do the banks in Zimbabwe work differently?

I have several different theories.

First.  Defiantly in the rural area, with a low wage rate, individuals are not saving much.  Most of their incomes go to necessary purchases.  With a low saving rate, banks have little funds available to turn around and invest.  Secondly, according to my research, Zimbabwe has still have a high interest rate, so the loans are expensive.  With little disposable income (I am redefining this term to include the income available to an individual after taxes and buying all necessary item, like food) individuals would be unable to pay back loans if they did take them out.  Therefore, banks in Zimbabwe are unable to operate in the ways banks normally operate.  Without the profits from loans, banks must use charges on saving accounts to create a profit.  


Ok.  The power is out again and we are using the generator, but we decided to close early so I have to go.  Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Dark Continent

Anyone who has ever tried to build a time machine has never been to Africa.

My first real moment of dissonance occurred in the middle of my flight to Zimbabwe.  I left Pittsburgh early in the morning and by nighttime I was approaching the coast of France.  Towns up and down the coast lit up the European coastline and welcomed the plane from its journey over the Atlantic.  After refueling in Rome, the plane headed South for Ethiopia.  Like France, the lights of towns on the Italian coast clearly defined the boundary between land and the Mediterranean Sea.  I was playing particularly close attention to the land below me as we entered Egypt, but to my dismay, there were no signs that we had entered Africa.  Not a single light on the Egyptian coast.  Or anywhere in Egypt for that matter.  Or even most of Africa.  The African coast just meshed with the darkness of the Mediterranean Sea.  

While at the time it seemed like a strange introduction from the continent, I now see it as the perfect introduction.  The lack of suffiecient infrastructure proves to be amazingly restrictive for Zimbabwe and even Africa as a whole.  Roads are inadequate in quantity and quality.   Electricity cannot be relied on and therefore never really expected.  If the power is out for more than a day, water stops running and may not start again until a couple days after the power comes back.  Zimbabwe is currently producing a little over 1000 megawatts even though, according to the paper, the need is around 2000 megawatts.  Zimbabwe's questionable political and economic future has throughly discouraged foreign investors, which has made it essentially impossible for Zimbabwe to acquire the money needed to upgrade its infrastructure (and most importantly its electricity production capabilities).  US-driven sanctions have further restrict Zimbabwe's access to cash.  The sanctions exist to punish Zimbabwe for its controversial land reforms in 1990s.  However, they hurt the lives of individuals who are already struggling to survive.  The newest imposition on Zimbabwean well-being is the ongoing debate with the international watchdog, the Kimberly Process.  The KP was created to protect human rights, and particularly prevent the sale of blood diamonds.  At the urging of the US and many European nations, the KP has restricted the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds (and industry that Zimbabweans are only starting to realize its massive potential).  While Zimbabwe does not sell blood diamonds, there are reported human rights abuses of mine workers.  While these abuses certainly need to stop, the scope of the KPs authority is in question.  But regardless of your personal beliefs of the legitimacy of these sanctions and restrictions, it is sure that they have held Zimbabwe back and prevented them from gaining basic amenities, like constant electricity and water.  Is that really fair?

Amusingly, in the time that it took to write this, the power cut out half a dozen times and we are now getting enough electricity to half-light a lightbulb (yet a mac works, they are incredibly power-efficient).

Zimbabwe, and Africa will not be able to modernize any further unless the developed world drops its sanctions and investors start, well, investing.