Dusty Roads

A Kiwi living in the new Zimbabwe

Books for (children in) Africa

July 5, 2018


If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to dangle a 20 foot container over your landlord’s house without permission I can tell you.

It’s a real giggle. A nervous giggle. In fact I captured that nervous giggle in a little video I made recently.

At least if the container had come crashing down on my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it would have been for a good cause.

The container, you see, wasn’t just to get our personal possessions across the other side of the world.

Three quarters of it was to be filled with books for the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Libraries Trust. These guys get together as many second-hand educational books as they can and send them over to poorer schools in Zimbabwe.

(By the way, these guys want to send uniforms over to Zimbabwe next. You can donate here)

In a coincidence of divine proportions, they happened to be sending a container about when we needed our things sent to Zimbabwe. The trust was more than happy to have us pay for a bit of space, and donate to help out with the rest of the costs.

Given that it was such a good cause, we also got busy helping to find books for the container.

We ended up sourcing so many that the container was parked where we were living at my brother Jared and his wife Jess’s house. We didn’t tell Jared about it going on the driveway because, like any good trady, he would instantly condemn anyone doing anything practical without his help as having “no idea what they’re doing”.

When Jared did find out, he pointed out that getting a container full of books out of the driveway might not be as easy as getting it in…we checked with the moving company and it turns out Jared was right. Trady 1, Nerds 0.

So the container was shifted onto the sidewalk (illegal), and the packing began. And honestly, this is where we need to do the biggest shout outs of our life.

We would NOT have had that container packed full of 500 banana boxes of awesome books without the help of the Cambridge community, the entire library Dave Firth found, and the good people of Raleigh St Christian Centre.

But most of all, it would not have been filled without the tireless work of Glenys Bichan, who was herself about to head to India, and Cam Ludemann and Samira Salomé van Hunen. These guys put the word out to friends and colleagues, and were there at all hours of the day, night or weekend, dropping off boxes of books and packing them.

THANK YOU!! And thanks to Waikato Regional Council for donating so much to Samira to send our way. THANKS to Faustinah Ndlovu for the hours of work packing with us. THANKS Southwell School for the AMAZING 20 boxes of resources you sent our way, and to the other schools around Cambridge for chipping in. THANKS Waipa District Council for ignoring the one complaint you had about the container being parked on the sidewalk and letting us keep it there a week longer because it was “for a good cause”. THANKS to Cambridge Hire for letting us have $300 worth of time with three cones for free -also because this was a good cause – so the complainant to council could walk safely around the side of our container…parked in a lethal cul-de-sac.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now to get the container safely to the other side of the world…

We’re moving to Zimbabwe!

July 2, 2018

It’s official people. On the 15th of August, at 11.00pm, Will, Kepler and I will set off on our craziest family adventure to date.

For the next five years we’ll be living in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa.

Here is a list FAQs for those of you wanting a little more info:

1.Why are you moving THERE?

Well, Zimbabwe is where Will grew up. He has always wanted to head home because he never stopped loving his country, and I knew that while I was dating him. Given that I grew up in Ivory Coast, West Africa (see our About Us page for dets), the idea didn’t entirely freak me out.

2. What will you do?

We are going to manage a lodge at one of the world’s up and coming tourist hotspots at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (see The Telegraph’s article, or this from Stuff.co.nz, or just look up Lonley Planet calling it a “genuine bucket list destination” and “one of Africa’s blockbusters”). The lodge is called Shongwe Lookout, and it’s a new build project being financed by a couple of investors Zimbabwe-side.

You can read more about it on our Shongwe Lookout page.

3. Is it safe?

What is safe? You realise you could literally die at any second, right? Honestly, I’m not great at answering this question because I grew up in Africa, so the idea of snakes and malaria do not equate to instant death for me.

There are local doctor’s surgeries in town, and we will have international health insurance to make sure that if anything crops up we can pop into a private clinic (which ex pats in Zimbabwe have raved about to us), or head home.

4. No, I mean is it SAFE?

Ohhhh, you’re wondering if the locals are gun-toting maniacs waiting to kill people! I understand now. No, no they’re not. Vic Falls is, from our research, a fairly safe little town and even better, Zimbabwe is not loaded with old Russian guns like the more violent African countries. So car-jackings and murders and the like are not heard of.

BUT you do still have security fences around homes, with razor wire on top…to stop the elephants from breaking in and stealing your citrus or pool water during dry season!

5. What is the weather like?

Well, it gets hot. I won’t lie. Summer runs from September through to April, with average highs of 32-34°C and average lows of 15-19°C. Wet season hits two months into that period, and lasts for the remaining five months of summer. Winter, which happens to be dry season, runs from May to August, with average highs of 25-27°C and average lows of 7-10°C.

6. What about education?

Aha! I’m glad you asked! Victoria Falls (and Zimbabwe in general) happens to have an amazing education system. Our little fella will have a Montessori and a daycare attached to the local primary school to choose from. Private care arrangements are also an option. Then there’s Victoria Falls Primary School ,which attracts students from neighbouring countries, it’s THAT good.

7. So, are we allowed to visit you?

Yes! Basically, if we even remotely know you we’ll be treating you like our oldest, dearest friends. We’re moving away from a town with generations of history on my side, as well as family members from both sides of my family. A friendly face will be more than welcome – just make sure you book in advance. Our calendar is already full of visitors for the first six months!

 

Keep an eye out for some changes…

March 5, 2018

For those of you who follow my blog, this will be old news. I have officially finished up with Stuff.co.nz as a columnist and that means something new is on the horizon.

There’ll be a few changes to this blog…a new name, adventure to follow, and perhaps one day, a little more about that Heavenly Father I wrote about in my last column for Stuff.co.nz.

But, initially, things will be a little hectic, so just getting updates and pictures through will be my main objective!

So stay tuned to find out what is around the corner!

 

A little farewell

March 5, 2018

Dear reader, it is time to say goodbye. Family adventures call, as does the feeling that this season of life is done. I’ll get to my final words soon, but first, let me thank you for the interest, the letters of support, the Facebook messages and personal emails (how did you find me?!).

I also want to thank the team at the Waikato Times for supporting me these last five years, especially Deborah Sloan, who defended me with fervor from the letter writers whether she agreed with me or not. Editor Jonathan MacKenzie needs a rather large nod for agreeing to take me on in the first place.

Now for those final words: the deeper I dig into different issues, the more I find they all run, like rivers to the ocean, into the very same subject.

You see, every issue that we as New Zealanders debate is done on the basis of certain assumptions. Whether we argue about euthanasia, same-sex marriage, sexism, the New Zealand flag or anything else, we are arguing about values.

We assume that those values, like individual freedom or the social good, actually exist.

But the more you stare at these issues, week in and week out, the more you find yourself asking one simple question; “says who?” (I’m not the only one asking. The faithless philosopher Jurgen Habermas is now earnestly asking the same question, and he is joined by a host of other secular thinkers).

It is a simple question, but it really, really matters.

After all, if we can’t point to some solid reason why all human beings have inherent rights, for example, then we are in rather a vulnerable position when someone comes along and disagrees.

It’s no good trying to say the most popular values of the day should win. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and a host of other big names from history are enough evidence to show that what is popular is not always the same thing as what is good or right for a society. Sometimes what is unpopular is the very thing worth fighting for.

Those who think what’s best for a society can be determined through survival of the fittest must first explain why the survival of our species even matters.

Surely, I hear you say, the best values for a society can be determined by research and evidence? Unfortunately we come unstuck there too. After all, finding a “solution” to a social problem depends on the solution that we think good, fair and right… so we end up back at values before we have even started.

The very simple fact of the matter is that our arguments all boil down to yelling “I’m right” very loudly at each other and hoping we will win, without ever being able to say exactly why we deserve to win.

Unless, as Habermas points out, we turn our minds to seeking whether those values are based in something or someone more permanent, more powerful, more persuasive than puny old us. Something or someone ultimately true, at the bottom of everything, or beginning of everything, depending on your viewpoint. Someone worthy of answering the question “says who?” with the words “I do”.

Someone like God.

So it is that week after week I have found myself with surprise at the feet of a familiar and beloved Heavenly Father, encountering not some ultimate truth or final argument, but rather a person. A person too big to fit into any one side of an argument, and quite determined not to most of the time.

Because, in the end, it’s not about which side of the argument we start on. It’s about whether we dig deep enough to find Him.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

Remembering well

November 11, 2017

I remember the sound of gunfire going off as we stood huddled under the doorway for protection from stray bullets. The roofs were tin, which couldn’t save us. I officially had my first introduction to war – a memory which would shape forever what I remember on Armistice Day.

It was Ivory Coast, and the exact moment at which this memory was forged is carved indelibly into my mind. It was midnight, the start of the new millennium. I know because the television was on, showing the celebrations occurring around the world at the exact moment we stood huddled against those bullets. I can still see the fireworks going off over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in my mind’s eye.

The sound of celebration, I remember thinking, was remarkably like the sound of gunfire. Even if it is the gunfire of drunken soldiers letting off steam in yet another dusty African civil war.

We came home to the peaceful green of New Zealand soon after that, and for a brief while I became a pacifist, reading up on the 800 conscientious objectors sent to prison during World War 2 in New Zealand. They were my heroes, until I started reading up on World War 2 and Adolf Hitler. Suddenly, saying the enemy was “fear and ignorance” or other such platitudes seemed too insubstantial to stand up to reality.

Reluctantly, I decided war is sometimes necessary, because man is sometimes evil. Like most of us, my ideas and ideals about war were then formed by movies, history lessons, and visits to old war sites around New Zealand or Europe. Like some of us, my thoughts about war were shaped by stories from a grandfather who survived it. Like a few of us, my opinions about war were molded by living in a country collapsing under the weight of a civil war.

We are 99 years from the first ever Armistice Day celebrations, and 72 years from the end of World War Two, and how I remember today is still changing.

Now, I have a son and a husband. The shape of war is no longer impersonal, the idea of good or evil no longer a generation removed. Those shapeless words, “sacrifice” and “service”, have been filled in, given flesh and blood, faces. What it took, the kind of people it took, to gain us the peace we enjoy, becomes more real every year.

In his best-selling book “Man’s search for meaning”, psychiatrist and neurologist Dr Viktor Frankl writes “there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the race of the decent man and the race of the indecent”. He wrote as a Jew who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz. But he was not comparing Nazis to their prison-camp victims. Those words came after he wrote about the Nazi soldiers who tried, in whatever way possible, to show mercy in Auschwitz, and about the fellow-prisoners who out-competed the guards for cruelty in their own desperation to survive.

Decent people, and indecent people, can be found standing on every side of every battle in life, said Frankl. The only difference between them, he observed, was choice.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This Armistice Day, I am remembering the race of decent men who made the choice to earn us the priceless gift of peace, and the parents who raised them.

What, and who, will you remember?

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

Ghosts of the past

November 7, 2017

If the demographers are to be believed, 500 years on from the reformation New Zealand still has not felt all of its effects onshore or off.

Those of us with even the slightest hint of European heritage can probably speak of an ancestor caught up in the wars between Catholics and a group that would come to be called Protestants, after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door.

Protestants made up the bulk of Europeans to roll into New Zealand throughout the 1800s, with 90 per cent of the European population identifying as Christian.

Today, according to the last census, just under half of all Kiwis call themselves “Christian”. Split those numbers out into denominations, and Catholics now top the list, followed by the Protestant denominations like Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist.

Virtually all are on a decline so dramatic it was the inspiration behind a story earlier this year called “Losing our religion“.

But here’s the interesting thing. A group called simply “Protestants” by Statistics New Zealand grew by 26.4 per cent from the previous census in 2006.

A group called “Evangelical, Born Again and Fundamental” grew by 11.2 per cent.

This abnormal growth was the feature of another article in September, and has caught the eye of experts around the world because it bucks the secularisation theory made popular in the 1950s, which predicted that in modern, educated societies devout belief would not survive.

As appears to be happening in America, according to the Pew Research Centre, traditional religion is in sharp decline. Chosen religion (based on conversion) seems to be growing, in countries both modern and modernising.

At the same time secularism’s growth is flattening out.

Why? Well, academics point out that it is largely thanks to birth rates. Those who attend church  more than once a week have on average 2.5 children. Those who attend once a month have on average 2.01 children. Those who do not attend at all have on average 1.67 children.

This holds true across all education levels and economic groups, and the more devout a person is, the less likely their children are to leave the faith. Aside from retention, Pew points out that pentecostal Protestants in America gain 1.2 members through conversion for every convert they lose – while traditional denominations have a net loss.

By the end of the century, according to award winning academic, and University of London Professor Eric Kaufmann, we in the West will face a “crisis of secularism”.

But the change beyond the borders of Western nations like New Zealand will be even more dramatic. In 2015 Pew made headlines around the globe with a study that showed the world is becoming more religious, not less, as we move towards 2050. Muslims and Christians will make up the lion’s share of global community in 30 years’ time.

China and Sub-Saharan Africa are the centres for substantial growth in Christianity. If “one of the world’s leading specialists on religion in China, Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang” is to be believed, current conversion rates in China would see two thirds of the population identifying as Christian by 2050.

Between the devoutly religious in modernised countries, and the newly Christianised in modernising countries, Pew predicts atheists, agnostics and religiously unaffiliated people will shrink from 16 percent to 13 percent of the world’s population by 2050.

International trends, as Kaufmann points out, will likely only accelerate the rate of religious growth and social transformation in the West. After all, many secular societies are already maintaining their populations thanks to immigrants, who tend to be religious. “The ‘browning’ of the West,” he writes “is injecting a fresh infusion of religious blood into secular society”.

So it is that the hammer blows which nailed a piece of paper into a door in Germany 500 years ago have not yet finished echoing in New Zealand or the wider world.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

 

#Mentoo

October 24, 2017

I can still remember the shivers that went up my spine as the story was told. A senior manager asking a junior staff member to pack items at a department store on the top shelf. The hands closing about the waist to “support” that junior staff member as they stacked. The notes verging on love letters left behind to say thanks for the help.

It was creepy. It was disgusting. It was sexual harassment.

But the manager was a woman and that staff member was male, someone I happen to know very well.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard a bloke talk about being sexually harassed at work. Far from it. In fact, I’ve heard enough stories to convince me that the sexual harassment of men is one of the great, untold stories of our time.

But it was the #Metoo social media campaign, in which “all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted” were encouraged to share their experiences, that I began to realise why we hardly ever hear these stories.

We don’t ask. And I suspect we don’t ask, because we don’t believe they exist.

According to the Human Rights Commission, an average of 72 sexual harassment allegation have been lodged per year over the past five years. One in five of those have come from males, although giving your gender isn’t required. Still, by the numbers, far fewer males make allegations of sexual harassment that do women – a pattern repeated in other countries.

Why?

Well, I couldn’t find studies in New Zealand addressing that question, but I did find an awful lot of assumptions. Far too many boiled down to the idea that the word “man” is synonymous with “perpetrator” while the word “woman” is synonymous with “victim”.

We seem to believe, in essence, that men cannot be victims.

Perhaps. But then again, if men under report on mental health issues (according to the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation), and under report on physical health issues (according to American studies), why wouldn’t they also under report on sexual harassment?

And if both men and women are capable of feeling sexual desire, and of acting wrongly, then why shouldn’t sexual harassment by both sexes be much more equal?

We know it is in the case of sexual assault.  A recent study of tens of thousands of cases of sexual vicitimsation in America revealed what the authors called “a surprising prevalence” of female sexual perpetrators. Males were the victims in one out of three cases.

“Gender stereotypes interfere with complex understandings of sexual perpetration,” claimed the authors. In other words, we miss these stories because we don’t believe they exist.

New Zealand is guilty of engaging in exactly this kind of harmful storytelling.

After all, it was only in 2005 that legislation was enacted making sexual abuse of minors gender neutral, so that women could be charged with abusing boys (and a raft of other sexual crimes).

Left unchanged was section 128 of the Crimes Act, which means to this day only men can be charged with rape. Women cannot.

It seems that as a nation we have bought into a story about “toxic masculinity” instead of a more accurate story about “toxic sexuality”. So, it is no surprise to find that we struggle with the idea of men ever being victims.

But that script needs to change. Sexual harassment is serious, it is damaging and it is wrong, whether the victim is a women or a man.

Outdated stereotypes won’t help us solve the problem.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz