Ed. Note: Sincere apologies for the delay in posting this. These blogs were written during the production/filming of TAPESTRIES OF HOPE in Zimbabwe. Between sporadic electricity in Africa and getting to blogs back in California, we lost a couple of days. Afterwards, the crew was arrested and interrogated by the Zimbabwe Police, and the blogs were temporarily taken down out of concern for their safety.
We drove two hours from Harare yesterday to the rural town of Rusapa. The land is as incredibly rich and beautiful as the souls of the Zimbabwean people. We drove by rolling hills and spots of trees. There were patches of the hills that had been scorched by fire. Spring has just begun here, so there is still much brown along the countryside. There was a Zebra munching grass in a reserve along the way. We were one of three cars on the road, the whole two hours. There seems a forced isolation to these people caused by the hardships of their country.
Betty pointed out that much of the land we drove past was at one time all thriving crops. In fact, much of the area we are driving through was farmland a few years ago. In neighboring towns, the lack of food and petrol was severe. We stopped to buy 36 loaves of bread for the girls, but there was nothing else to buy in the stores. When staple foods arrive, long lines form quickly. We were lucky to have gotten there as the delivery arrived. A couple of buses were broken down along the route. People were milling about outside of the stranded vehicles. The stranded riders either start walking from a broken down vehicle or hope that another bus will come along. Many times they are stranded overnight. Automobile and bus parts are in short supply here. Betty has a couple of vehicles that remain in a shop waiting for parts. They have been there for two years.
Zimbabwe's current population is about 13 million people. Betty's tribe, the Makoni's, are the largest tribe of Zimbabwe. Their land stretches from Macheke to the Osborne Dam. Betty had to get permission to have us come to the village. We are the first white people to be allowed to come to the village in 6 months. She is also a princess here, and she is revered. Back when GCN started, she worked out a deal with Chief Makoni to create a girls empowerment village on the land. At that time she had 10 girls clubs already established.
As we drove up, I saw a number of huts set up somewhat of a circle. The kids of circle my four year old would draw. They huts were all painted a bright boy blue. Betty said she made the decision to paint the huts a color that had always been associated with boys. She wanted to take back the color for girls. "Blue is the color of the sky, and girls should know that anything is possible because there are no limits in the sky".
As I sat on the stone steps waiting for everyone to gather, I looked out over the mountain. It was stunning. I think God must have been born in this spot. The empowerment village sits on the mountain of Chitsotso, which means Fire Wood. It is breathtaking with its panoramic view.
We went in to the "greeting hut", which is circular with a fire pit in the middle. There was a feeling of sacredness in this place. A marble shelf held offerings and carvings. A woven basket was there as well, as when someone puts an offering in the basket it is thought to multiply. The girls all came in to pay their homage to "Princess Betty". One of the tribal elders came to ensure that all people present paid their respects to Betty.
On this day as well, there was a workshop being done with journalists from various parts of Africa. The Girl Child Network set the workshop up to sensitize journalists to the particular struggles of these young girls, and explain how to write and report about it in away to educate the public about what exactly the GCN does.
We stopped in the workshop a bit and introduced ourselves. There was a woman, Petra… from the African University here as well. She had lots of questions for Betty and needed some private time so I wandered around with a camera in hand. The girls were curious and I began to videotape them and then play it back. They were delighted.
A meal was prepared and served to us in the "greeting hut". The food was delicious. I am not much of a risk-taker on international trips, but the local greenery called Covo was rich with flavor, color, and taste of spinach. It is quite good.
Afterwards both the journalists and are team listen as the courageous girls stand up to tell their personal stories. Betty is a brilliant marketer. She understands that if her voice is going to be heard she needs to get others to help spread the word. There is so much widespread abuse that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It is the father who pays his wife to keep quiet as he rapes their 6 year old. It is the girl that is orphaned and ends up in the sexual slavery market to survive. Betty rescues all of these girls. Truly remarkable and tireless. I watch her field phone calls and requests of help on her cell phone by the minute. She is many people's only hope. I do not know how she does it. GCN is struggling to survive and she is the director, chief fundraiser and social worker.
There are so many cultural and traditional issues here with regards to gender. Not only is there the battle to examine and destroy the myths but also much of these beliefs are deeply entrenched in the culture. It will take a lot of time.
In this particular culture there are issues of the Traditional healers counseling men with aids that if they have sex with a virgin, they will cure AIDS. Many here believe that the blood of a menstruating female can bring them luck and riches. There is a long held belief here that once you marry, you wife's sisters are fair game for sex. They are part of your family. Part of this has to do with the practice of Polygamy. There seems no barrier between wives and sisters and incest in not truly understood by many. In fact, I have never heard the word here. Obviously there is a lot of work to do.
Today will be an interesting day. The Makoni tribe has called Traditional Healers to come sit with us. Even more interesting is that Chief Makoni believes that "virginity testing" can stop AIDS from happening. He is in favor of Virginity Testing. The process goes like this. A girl is told to strip, her legs are spread and they determine she is virgin by inserting a finger a portion of the way into the vagina to ensure that the hymen is still intact. Another way they do this is to look at the vagina and see if the hymen is pink. If it is not, there are many consequences.
It is hard to imagine that this practice happens anywhere in the world today. Many of these issues that I am exploring happen in the rural areas of this country. They traditional practices rarely happen in the big cities. However, rape is rampant both in large cities and the outlying areas. Betty is bombarded with requests for help. I am trying to talk to her about having her staff help out more, because she is on call 24 hours a day. The NGO's here are not much help with what she is focused on. She needs help!
More to come...