Friday, July 13, 2007

This is impossible..I can't find my way back into writing...i just can't focus...too far away from Africa, too many miles, too many months and in Zimbabwe too many mouths to feed...Zimbabwe, when I was there, last October/November, inflation was high at about 1200%. It was crazy then. Everything was done on the black market; I carried around a sack of paper money, wads of it wound up tightly with elastic bands, bulging from my backpack in the morning, only to have it gone by nightfall. Here in Canada we can't imagine this....but over there, since their President Robert Magawbe established an ab orted form of land reform in 2000, basically by kicking white farmers off their lands and handing out those farms to his cronies, not to the black farmers or farm workers who had been tiling that land all their lives...and soon the land went fallow..this proud country, once called the 'bread basket of all of Africa", supplying surrounding countries with the bulk of their vegetables, fruits, meat, lost over 45% of its farms, the remaining ones limping along...He did this to impress rural voters, insisting that once land belonged back to black people life would change for the better, but it hasn't. Thousands of farm workers were forced to leave their families behind in the country and migrate to the larger cities in the hope of finding work. Once proud and with means to feed their families these men threw together makeshift shacks of corregated tin, cardboard, rags - creating a hodge podge slum town in the middle of the capital city of Harare. In 2003 the government, suspecting opposition support seeping into this area, sent brute force in the form of bulldozers much like those we saw in Tiannamon Square, who charged in, crashing down and demolishing this semblance of homes, leaving behind construction piles of torn wood, metal and debris, and 750,000 people out of work and home.

Since then, the economy slipped and slithered out of the hands of the people, inflation rose, and since I left, it is over an astonishing 9,000% - the worst in the world. As Globe and Mail African correspondent Stephanie Nolan said in an article this morning, this means that a tube of toothpaste, if it could be found on empty shelves today, costs more now than a two bedroom bungalo did only a few years ago. Can you imagine! Last week the government, in their attempt to stop inflation, forced merchants and retailers to cut prices of their produce in half, causing desperate and starving people to stampede into stores to stock up on goods like cooking oil, maize, sugar and bread, to such an extent that police were brought in...clerks frightened for their lives dashed out backdoors, merchants refused to restock depleting shelves to sell at half price, and closed down their shops. 450 businessmen were arrested in the last two days and thrown into jail. 90% of the butchers are no longer in operation; when i was there there were fuel shortages every week or so, but today the gas tanks are closed down, finished. Electricity has been limited to a mere 5 hours a day; there is little drinking water and in some places, none. In the last 7 years, 3 million people from Zimbabwe have fled the country for Britain, South Africa, nearby Zambia and Malawi, earning money elsewhere and sending it back home; these days, nights between 2 - 3000 people a night are risking their lives crossing the crockedile infested rivers into South Africa, and for the rest, the situation has become life-threatening. South Africa has yet to intervene - Magawbe has been seen and treated as a freedom fighter, a hero, having freed his people back in 1980 with Independence from the British.

I am getting emails everyday from friends there.
They don't write of hardship; they can't.
The government is monitoring international phone calls and emails; people who appear to be in opposition of this government are arrested, their computers confiscated, phones lines torn and destroyed.
They write as if nothing is happening.

Emily, who created 12 batiks for me to sell over here as a fundraiser. I included $80. US for shipping, but each time she has tried to pay for air shipping, the prices have skyrocketed. She trucks them home...and doesn't get back to me for weeks, ashamed, I am sure, because one, she has not been able to keep her promise in getting the pieces to me, and two, I am sure, she has spent the money on feeding her children and grandchildren.

I totally understand. I would do the same.

And Tawanda..who I sent $450. for him to buy 6 bikes for my project coordinator Mary Meza and her five high density, translate 'slum' home-care workers. About 2 months ago, he bused down to South Africa where bikes were cheaper and better i am told, and bought all six of them. Upon coming back into Zimbabwe, the border people allowed him to bring only 4 across, forcing him to leave behind 2 bikes at the border until he could come back later with a second visa. The four bikes were brought back to Harare by bus, and stored carefully in his father's house. A few weeks later, a family friend, desperate for money to feed his family, stole all four bikes and his father's camera collection and made off to Botswana with the proceeds. Tawanda has yet had the funds or ability to get back to the border for the two remaining bikes.

And again, I understand.
He was straight up about the bikes. He was ashamed in his confession, broken, disjointed, as if this was his fault. And even if it was, I have learned to understand.
I live in a beautiful home, on a river lined with tall healthy trees. I have enough food in my fridge to feed myself and my friends, family for weeks, with money in my pocket to spare. There are groceries in nearby Creemore, a huge selection of anything anyone could want. There is fresh well water pouring out from my taps; fuel in my car, and more only five miles away.
I surely understand.

Cathrine, who sewed me a little bag covered in African lions which she presented to me as a going away gift, had a new little baby girl only a month ago and called her Lynn. She has a husband who is out of work, and two other children, aged 3 and 4 - how are they coping?

And Paddington, once an actor and film maker, who i met back in November at a workshop as a home care worker holding down a volunteer job of coordinating 70,000 people in his high density community of Rugere. By day, he worked part time in nearby Harare installing satalite disks to support his wife, five children and aging parents, plus the wives and families of four brothers he had bured with Hiv Aids. When I spoke to him back in November, both of us taking the bus back into Harare after a full day workshop he confessed to me how scared he was, even back then, that he wouldn't be able to make ends meet.
He used the metaphor of them all behind him scratching on his back.
Can you imagine what he is going through now?

And little Leo, the remaining twin i was buying milk, soup, soap for, his sister Leona having passed away of Hiv Aids, just before her second birthday, and the family of his father who has taken he and his brother in, both mom and dad gone now from Aids....what of those people?

I have had a little success with Zimbabwe..sending $200. through Western Union to Mary Meza toward an orphanage project she has begun, and another $200 to my friends who teach people how to grow vegetable and herb gardens now sprinkled throughout the ghetto slums of Mufakose.

Tanzania is another story....
and i will leave that for another day..
Funny, since coming home, i have barely been able to sit down and write, it is just not happening, writers block, not in the mood, too busy, I don't know...or maybe it's just not time, the information mulling around somewhere in my head, ready to leap out at some precious given moment..I find myself consumed though, by Africa...I have been out there making presentations, eleven of them in the last couple of months....fundraising speeches, showing pictures, talking about my experiences, what i saw, how i felt, just from my point of view and certainly not the last word on anything...and that has gone incredibly well....Grade 2 up to grade 6 classrooms filled with enraptured children, grandmothers with the Steven Lewis Foundations in little towns sprinkled around Ontario, learning about and raising money for grandmothers in Africa, a senior citizens nursing home in Creemore, a group of interested people in Orangeville, Dunedin, the Creemore churches coming together for the first time with an Ecumenical service, focussing on Africa. Raising money, quite a bit of it, dollar by dollar. I drew ten pictures of African masks and printed them into postcard packages, each one selling for $20. I have raised over $300. with these cards. Along with ICA, the NGO who was kind enough to take me on last fall, we are about to send 3 Masai girls to secondary school for a year, plus buy 30 goats and sheds for members of the HIV AIDS positive group in Handeni, Tanzania....tomorrow i am doing an interview with CFRB's Tabby Johnson, who i used to work with a long time ago in another life....

I started to say, back at the beginning of this blog, that i seem to have writer';s block....unable to get at any of this at home on my own computer, in the quiet of my office..I just haven't been able to do is hopeless! I am day with time on my hands, unable to get into this work, i washed my car down, not just the outside, but the inside too, a first, anything and everything to avoid today, I made a vow to myself that i was going to do it. I drove down to the city around noon, unloaded the car, my house spotless and waiting for a rental, with no excuse but to sit down and write. I couldn't. Couldn't. I got on my bike, road over to the Vieniese bakery at the end of the street, bought a brownie which i never do, and ate the whole thing wandering down the sidewalk, a new gallery on the corner of Ossington and Argyle, i take another twenty minutes to go through..where to go? what to do?
You get this horrible feeling of restlessness, a flakey feeling, of a summer's day wandering and wasting...of meandering into nothingness, and yet i have this book idea, book project. Book I have told each and every presentation i am busy writing...and i am not doing it. Jeeeessssseeee.
I just can't do it at in desperation, I bike up to an internet cafe on Bloor street and like the proverbial duck to water, where did that come from? I settle in. And the writing began. It was easy, just like being in some little internet cafe in Africa, hiding out in a tiny cubicle, focussed, the pressure on, even the fear of the electricity going down, it all came back, so get down to it, and write! And it worked!

Have a great day, and light a candle for Zimbabwe....