Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Day in the life - settling in in Zim!

We have now been here a month and, I'm happy to say, are settling in nicely. (And, yes, as this is my first Zim post, I am way behind in the blogging...) David, Katy, Miles and Eliza have been most generous to allow us into their home and their lives. They have been incredibly welcoming, warm and inclusive and we are thoroughly enjoying getting to know their life, their schedule, their friends, etc.  I feel very lucky that we are able to take this opportunity to settle in for a while.  We have taken several weekend and school break 
trips -to Lake Chivero, Dombashawa, Lake Kariba and Victoria Falls - all of which will be described in future posts.  This post, however, is all about life in Harare- one of the nicest cities in Africa. Situated at an altitude of 5000 ft and a latitude of 17' 50 south, it boasts one of the most pleaseant climates on the planet. We arrived on the first day of spring. The last month of the dry season. It has been fantastic to watch the greening of the grass, the explosion of spring flowers, the busyness of the bees,  and to experience a few early season rain/thunder storms. (and I mean storms!!)

David and Katy have a lovely place - a little oasis in which to while away the days with a pool, tennis court, trampoline, hammock, wendy house, swingset, a huge garden and orchard and lovely flowers all around. Home life here is great. Zave has fallen into great relationships with Miles and Eliza and it's amazing how they can just disappear into the yard for some time without a worry in the world... Here is a glimpse of  life at the homestead...

Driveway to the house

Beautiful flowers at the tennis court

Front yard

Fun on the trampoline

Tennis lessons. He loves them!! (I'm taking lessons, too, but it's not worthy of photographing...)

Shepard and Panache join the fun on the trampoline. They are the sons of the housekeeper and gardener and share the yard. It's a lot of fun!

Little poser Eliza. She usually averages about 5 outfits a day :)

Zavion working on a workbook. Note that he using both hands!

Family cat, Mambo. This cat is awesome - he puts up with so much from the kiddos!

Family tortoise, Cindy. She makes her appearance when it suits her.

Zavion and Eliza helping David with Sunday morning pancakes.

Beating the heat in the pool

Ahhh, this is the life

The trampoline doubles as a post-swim warming tray

The yard is also a great place for a party! Eliza turned five this month and we were able to have two parties for her - a family party with Grammy and Grandpa Mike before they left (with scavenger hunt and family presents,) and a friends' party complete with bouncy house/water slide, face painter and fancy cupcakes.

Reading a clue for the scavenger hunt

water gun fight!!

It's my party, and I'll pose if I want to!


Dragon Man

Birthday girl! (and Dragon Man's sidekick, 'Butterfly Rose Princess')

Zavion is having an amazing time with his cousins. At first, he was mostly interested in Miles - the older, wiser, cooler BOY cousin. But, I'm happy to say, he and Eliza now play constantly (and sweetly) and are getting very close. Eliza has said that she wants Z to be her brother and Zavion has said that cousins are even better than best friends (more on all that in another post.)  Zavion and Eliza have found a way to incorporate her love for girly things and his love for all things boy... They will play Princess Glittera and her brave, impressive hero.  When Z is the mighty airbender, Aang, Eliza will be his air kitten... They developed the aforementioned Dragon Man and his side kick Butterfly Rose Princess...  etc. They are unbelievably cute together.  < Overheard the other day in the bathtub, > - E - Here, Zavion, you can have this Barbie. Don't worry, this one is a BOY Barbie. Z - What? How can it be a boy? It has make-up and boobies!  E- Welll, it's one of those boys who likes to wear make-up.  Z - ok, but what about the boobs??   It was a nice try in compromise, anyway.  (I'm not going to post a bunch of cousin pics now because there will be plenty in future posts. :)

Here is how the weekdays around here work: up at 6; David drives the kids to school at 7 (sometimes I join him,); I spend the mornings on various projects (often walking) or at the house; Eliza and Zavion get picked up at 11:45 and spend the afternoons playing in the yard (with swimming lessons on Mondays and art class on Tuesdays.) Miles comes home around 3. More playing ensues (often with Shepard and Panache, too) as well as homework (Miles), dinner and reading. All are in bed by 7:30. It's a totally different schedule from ours at home, but it's working! Believe it or not, I may actually be turning in to a morning person!
Saturdays include tennis lessons (all,) relaxation and ultimate games (David, Katy and I.) Sundays are free. (though we have been getting out of town a lot on the weekends, too!)


One of the things that I was most concerned about during these months abroad was having Z out of school for so long (yes, I know it's only pre-K, but I didn't want such a big gap in his learning/socializing, etc.). While he is quite advanced in his spoken vocabulary, knowledge of stuff, math/analytical/ problem solving skills, etc., he is falling behind in his fine motor/ writing/ drawing skills. He appears to be ambidextrous (see photo above,) but tends to favor his left side. One of his schools in Seattle had all the kids write right-handed, which I believe set him back. And I certainly don't know how to hold a pencil as a lefty- or to
show him how... All this to say, he gets discouraged and frustrated when it comes to writing and drawing and loses interest/ gives up quickly.

But I digress. I wanted to find a way to keep up on his skills in the most productive way possible. I brought several workbooks and we've  been working on them pretty regularly, but it wasn't enough and I am 
definitely not his ideal teacher. Also, I needed to free up my mornings so I could do the volunteer work I'd come here to do...  In Harare, I interviewed a potential tutor and looked at a local preschool. Neither excited me very much. What I really wanted was to get him into the Harare International School (HIS) with Eliza and Miles - I was really impressed with what I had seen.   Well, it was a long shot as we were coming mid schoolyear and only staying for a short time, but we were incredibly lucky to get him into the school! He is in Eliza's class and will stay a full term!  Happiness all around. :):) Here's a tidbit-

The school grounds

The pre-K classrooms

Zavion in the fallen jacaranda flowers

The resident guinea fowls and peacocks are a nice touch :)

Every couple of weeks, there are fun days at school. Last week, it was water fun day!

The boys vs. girls water fight! Zavion was quite enterprising - being the only one to use two cups!

Take that!

Eliza's revenge!

On another occasion, Miles' 2nd grade class put on a performance. Here is Zavion celebrating with the thespians after the show.

Family picnic at the school for Zimbabwe Day.

So far, he seems to really like it and I'm really pleased with his teachers and the work they do! I have also met many of the other parents (it helps that Katy is president of the PTO:).

A couple of days a week, I go in with David as he drops the kiddos off  and then I walk the  ~5K to various meetings/jobs (more on that below) and walk back to meet Katy to pick them back up.

The walking in this town is most pleasant- big, wide, vegetated lanes, streetsigns (!), and friendly people that mostly leave you alone after a pleasant 'good morning!' (it's so refeshing not to be constantly bothered and hit up for money- as I've experienced in many a town...)

Typical street that I get to walk down.

The jacarandas are in full bloom. I love it!


So, once I got Zavion settled into a schedule with his cousins and school, I  could concentrate on finding projects to get involved with. Still in the early stages are collaborations with CARE (working on a newly funded child nutrition project) and ZVITAMBO Village Health Workers Project (focusing on improving HIV prevention and care services - mostly with babies.) These projects should pick up significantly this coming week (this past week was a school holiday.) I am also in talks with a connection at USAID- dealing with gender issues.  Next week, I'll be meeting again with CARE and ZVITAMBO, touring the Newlands 
Clinic (foremost AIDS treatment center in Harare) and touring the largest seed and agriculture facility in the country. I'm looking forward to a busy, educational week.

Currently, though, my most involved project is volunteering at the Emerald Hills Children's Home. This facility is home to about 100 school- aged children- all sent to the home by the state welfare system. Almost all are victims of abandonment, physical and/or sexual abuse, and many of them are HIV+ (a product of the abuse, not MTC transmission.) They live at the home in 30 bed dormitories, attend school nearby, recieve meds, etc.  The home is in sort of a catch-22 situation, though, as they can't accept grants because they are funded 
by the welfare system, BUT, they are so drastically UNDERfunded that they are struggling to make ends meet. They need more individual donors and successful fundraising to stay afloat. As most of these kids have only one or two threadbare outfits and the toys are all old and in disrepair, I am hoping to arrange a clothing/toy drive thru HIS. Also, we are brainstorming on other fundraising ideas.

Every Monday, I walk to the center and guest teach to a small group of children. They range in age from 6-12 and are new to the center. Most have never been in school before and are getting intense training on 
basic skills (English, writing, reading, math) before entering the school system. I work with them on their assignments, practice English, and work on small projects with them. They are a great group and eager to learn and participate - despite the harrowing stories that brought them here... Here they are:

In their classroom

They enjoyed posing for pictures

The boys

If anyone would like more information about the home or how to help, please let me know.

I'll post more about the other projects as I get more involved...  But, suffice it to say, I'm very excited and learning a lot!!

I will sign off for now as this post has gotten way too long. For those of you still with me, I thank you - you show real patience and perserverance :)   I'll leave you with these two parting shots.

David and his beautiful family - our wonderful hosts! (and, no, the kids don't usually look that somber- it was the end of a long day!

Eliza and Zavi sacked out after a hard day at play

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