Thursday, 21 April 2011

More news from Hlekweni: how to hit the nail on the head

After all these months of waiting, I finally have my Zimbabwean work permit and officially started as Director of Hlekweni in April. It was quite a shock to hear that the permit had been approved – I had almost given up on it and we were starting to think of making plans to come back to the UK for good this summer. Instead, we have shifted into a new gear of preparing to be here for the next two years (thepermit is until Feb 2013), and being totally responsible for Hlekweni with all its rather pressing challenges.

The absolute poverty here is a constant source of frustration, and I am still struggling to adapt to a situation of absolute scarcity of all resources. As just one example; Moya and Jonathan's school has
been waiting for months to have a dangerously hanging classroom roof fixed – on investigation I discovered it was because there weren't any nails. I finally bought a bag of nails, but the work seems to be stalled again, pending the availability of something – perhaps we are out of hammers too...

Despite the general air of desperation about the place, there are also encouraging 'signs of hope' to help keep us going. The micro-credit scheme we have set up for the local community is working well, and focusing local people's energies on a renewed sense of possibility and self-reliance. The first loan we made was $160 to a group of women who are making Ndebele bead jewellery, and as well as selling to overseas visitors they are starting to become a fashion item around Hlekweni
too. I have designed a business plan template which lots of other groups are using to develop their small business proposals, and our farm manager Lungisani has led a workshop on business planning for the community. One local man told me how important it was to him that Hlekweni is now doing something to help the community who live here, as well as the people from rural areas who we provide training to. Moya and Jonathan are still having a great time, now just starting their month-long Easter holiday. Jonathan has introduced the local boys to the joy of home-made bows and arrows – there was a little band of them playing Robin Hood the other day. Moya has been helping sometimes at the Hlekweni library, reading stories to younger children as well as joining in with the new games club for local children (pictured).

Things in Zimbabwe generally are quite worrying. On the positive side, the economy is continuing to recover, with more foodstuffs available in the shops and businesses re-opening. Politically, the situation is deteriorating, as the security services and youth militias are being used intimidate the population in advance of elections. Hlekweni is still an oasis of peacefulness, and we haven't encountered any trouble ourselves – in fact this is probably the safest place to be in the
whole country. It is dispiriting to see the hopes of Zimbabwean people being crushed out of them though, as they feel totally powerless to change their situation. Despite their envy of the revolutions in North Africa, no-one I have spoken to sees any prospect of something similar here, where the army is so solidly and ruthlessly behind the current regime.

We are all looking forward to our holiday in the UK in June, where we are all being put up by some of our wonderfully hospitable friends. I have got a few speaking/fundraising events lined up, including a talk on 29th June at Friends House in central London, 6-8pm.

Thanks so much to everyone who has emailed, written letters and sent wonderful parcels. It is a highlight of our week to visit the Post Office where there is almost always something waiting for us as a reminder of all the love and support that keeps us going. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and stay in touch – there are more photos and news articles on our new website at: and we are also on Facebook at:

In Friendship,


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Present and Prevented

Sheffield Friends might remember that in May last year (and two years earlier, and I guess two years before that?) we took part in a national survey of attendance at Meeting for Worship and other numbers relating to our Meeting.

Nayler, a newish Quaker blog, has published a summary of the survey's results. I found them interesting: you might too.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Exclusive! While stocks last!

The other day I was in a department store which made me an ‘exclusive’ offer. This meant, ‘You are allowed to buy this, but those other people are kept out – it’s too good for them. There, that appeals to you, doesn’t it?’

Well, I’m not sure. It’s nice to be given a good offer by someone, as long as it’s something you genuinely need or want. But why is it better for me if it is denied to other people? I don’t think I want to be included in something from which other people have to be excluded. The best offers are free to everyone, if they can only pick up on them. If they can not see them or can not take them, more’s the pity.

Again, I saw an article in a glossy magazine, ‘The ten best-kept-secret British beaches.’ So, that’s not going to last long, is it? If the article is successful, obviously the secret is out. I don’t know – is that in the spirit of inclusiveness? Secret beaches for all?

It seems to me that the Kingdom, or Grace, or Enlightenment – whatever one wants to call it – may be ‘hidden in plain sight,’ but it is free for everyone, and there is enough for everyone. ‘While stocks last’ doesn’t come into it. These stocks will last.

Paradoxically, if we are to love our enemies, we must be willing to include those who would exclude us, or who don’t want us to include them.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A jolly and murderous life

Henry Williamson wrote 'Tarka The Otter' in the 1920s, living hermit-like in a remote Devon cottage among semi-wild dogs, cats, buzzards, gulls, magpies, and a rescued otter cub. His experiences in the First World War affected him deeply and permanently, and it is thought that he turned to nature in response. Tarka The Otter is known as a children's classic, but what the book group also saw in it this week was the expression of an adult's anguished experience, and an attempt to make sense of a world of killing. There is so much necessary, innocent killing in the book; every time Tarka is hungry he kills. Then he plays or sleeps till he is hungry again. Then kills again; sometimes for fun. Eventually he is killed. Full stop.

Somehow this doesn't make it a bleak book. Every page is packed with the huge gusto of living. For example, how's this for the cycle of life -

'The sickly trout, which had been dying for days with the lamprey fastened to it, floated down the stream; it had been a cannibal trout and had eaten more than fifty times its own weight of smaller trout. Tar from the road, after rain, had poisoned it. A rat ate the body the next day, and Old Nog [the heron] speared and swallowed the rat three nights later. The rat had lived a jolly and murderous life, and died before it could feel fear'.

Where's the goody? Where's the baddy? Who gets their comeuppance/who comes out best? You get the feeling that Henry Williamson earned very hardly the right to present his truths.

Tarka is finally killed by huntsmen after an eight hour chase. During these hours, in the few times when he is not running/swimming for his life, Tarka drifts and plays among the wild dog-rose petals on the water, and basks in the sun. It is like the Tao story (from memory) of the man hanging from a fragile branch over a crumbling precipice edge, tigers below ready to grab him, who is enjoying the scent of a wild flower growing near his head.