Zambezi Kiwi

Living in Zimbabwe

The elephant at the cinema

October 18, 2020

It was meant to be a surprise night out at a cinema under the stars.

Me and a friend had come up with the scheme when we decided it was high time to watch the Downton Abbey movie.

Since there is no cinema in town, we borrowed a projector, hooked up some speakers, and got the movie.

It was also another friend’s birthday, we decided to splash out with some nibbles, decor (fairy lights anyone? 😍), and bubbles.

By the time we had finished, our little home-made cinema was quite impressive, if I do say so myself.

The nibbles were laid out on heritage Blue Willow China, the bubbles were chilling in a silver ice bucket, the projector was set up and the white wall that would feature as our screen was edged with red curtains.

Fairy lights dangled above us and laterns, candles and sofas set the scene for a rather spectacular cinematic experience.

Birthday friend arrived, and was suitably delighted, so the movie experience began.

But, alas, about halfway through the movie my littlest love starting crying for a feed. So off I went to sort that out, while the others carried on watching.

When I got back outside, our little cinema was empty. Only Simba, our dog, was there, licking the last of the deviled eggs off the Blue Willow platters.

I looked around, baffled, when I heard voices drifting back from across the garden.

Friends meandered slowly over, as if nothing were amiss, but the movie definitely seemed quite forgotten.

Thanks to my ever-present weak character, I confess to feeling slightly annoyed that the deviled eggs had been abandoned to Simba, and asked what was up.

“There’s an elephant just over your wall,” came the reply.

As if on cue I heard the now-familiar sound of branches cracking and foliage being dragged into a large mouth.

My own mouth dropped open as I stared at the others, discovering that the movie, and even the deviled eggs, were now quite forgotten by my mind too.

“Go look,” said Claire, who could apparently see that I was torn between duty and the elephant.

The elephant won, and I scrambled over to our log viewing point to watch the gigantic black mass outside our wall rip branches off trees like they were twigs, and drag foliage slowly into that huge mouth.

Somehow, it never gets old.

We did eventually resume the movie and enjoy the rest of the evening. But in truth, the ele won in the surprise stakes.

And that is the story of how we ended up with an elephant at the cinema.

A small rebellion

August 26, 2020

I’ve always thought of going to church as a rebellious act.

So starting one, which we’ve sort of accidentally gotten wrapped up in (we got caught up in the wrong crowd) seems altogether off the rails.

Perhaps the feeling of rebellion comes because excessive drinking, drugs and sex are so stock standard for my generation that they seem quite conventional. But I suspect there is more to it.

After all, signing up to a community that requires commitment and self-sacrifice seems audacious in an age of individualism.

Saying to a world that tells us above all else to follow our hearts: “the heart is deceitful above all things” is outright anarchy.

And believing the truth is a person with His own voice, instead of a social construct we all make up, feels rather subversive.

It’s all very exciting.

Anyways, back to Victoria Falls. When we first moved here we nobly and generously decided to tell the Good Lord ‘mi casa, su casa’. In particular, we informed Him, our cottage was at His disposal.

We went on our merry way, expecting nothing to happen.

Then the guests started arriving. Week after week we were asked whether some person or other couldn’t stay with us for a few nights as they were passing through the Falls. In the end, we had guests for about 40 of the 52 weeks in last year.

Given that we live two kilometers from one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, that may not seem surprising. What was, however, was the theme that began to emerge in our guests. Rather a large number of them were Christian folk, from all over Zimbabwe and South Africa who, unknown to each other all told us the same thing: They were certain God was up to something in Victoria Falls to do with establishing a church, and they felt called to come and pray/encourage/the local Christians.

Our property, and especially the cottage, had unwittingly become the headquarters for the local rebellion.

Eventually, a couple from Bulawayo began to turn up quite regularly, and asked if they could host a Bible study at our house. We had told the Good Lord it was His property so literally for better or for worse, while richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, we opened the doors.

I confess to being a weak enough character that many times I resented just how seriously the Good Lord had taken our noble (but on my part apparently empty) words.

The dining room was bulb-less, so meals were shared by the light of candles rammed into empty bottles of spirits (not all ours) whether there were power cuts or not.

There was no lounge to speak of- a couple of cushion-less weave couches that didn’t fit together, our ‘office’ desk and a large chest. But we threw in some chairs and we were away.

Anywhere from two, to 10 people turned up on the night.

Once, with the full consent of the local fellowship leader, a church service was added in. Our garden was the cathedral, we sang a few songs, and someone spoke.

Then, just when our lounge got too small and we decided to formally find a building and call our group a ‘church’, COVID hit.

So, our studies were held on WhatsApp, which worked for most people because the internet was too dodgy for Zoom.

By the time we could hold services again, our group had grown to about 40, and we had found a mothballed bar and restaurant in which to hold services.

Ten noisy, loud children ran riot, up from one (Kepler) church kid over the past two years.

And so, here we are, a motley crew of wonderful people all singing away every three weeks to the sound of the Falls, and a guitar, with coffee and tea served from a bar counter after a sermon given with no powerpoint presentation but with a view of the rising mist from that World Wonder waterfall.

The Falls Church has been founded, and the joyful rebellion is on its way.

Elodie ‘Soy’ and the official apology

February 8, 2020

As John Buchan writes, any good adventure sets an essential task against a shrinking timeline.

This time around, the adventure wasn’t, thankfully, the long trip home. In fact, the only mid-air drama occurred when I wandered down an entire section of economy class (twice) to get snacks and fill up my water bottle, reached up to the over-head locker to grab a bag, then stood doing stretches by the toilet before realizing I had failed to zip up my breastfeeding top.

(My apologies to all those innocent victims in economy class.)

Instead, our latest adventure happened before we even got on a plane. It involved our newborn, a shrinking timeframe, and a critical document.

It started when we applied for Elodie’s passport- admittedly a bit later than we wanted thanks to a wee stint with her in hospital (she is ok).

Still, we expected the passport back with a few days to spare in case anything went wrong.

My first hint of trouble was when an automated email came back from the Department of Internal Affairs suggesting our child was named after a legume. The email assured us that any spelling mistakes in her name would be picked up by the humans processing the passport.

At 9am, five days before we were due to fly, and two working days (plus a weekend) before we left the house for Auckland, Elodie’s first ever NZ passport arrived.

Now, my nickname for her may be “bean”, but making her a literal bean was taking it too far.

We wondered if we weren’t already in Zimbabwe, as the error sent us reeling back to our permanent residency being granted.

We briefly wondered if we should just travel with Elodie Soy and try to sort the problem out from Zimbabwe. In the end we decided it would be easier to do from NZ, so we called the passport office to explain what had happened.

The passport office confirmed it was totally their fault, and said the new passport would be sent that afternoon.

We heard nothing more until the very end of the day, when the passport office called to say they actually needed the old passport back before the new one could be printed.

Will explained that time was in short supply.

We eventually reached a compromise (involving a picture of Elodie’s old passport clipped at the corner on the front page, but still showing her face on the inside page), and were assured the new passport would be there the next day.

At midday the next day Will called just to check how things were progressing.

We were told the passport couldn’t be printed because there was a POWER CUT in Auckland. We now seriously suspected we were already in Zimbabwe somehow, and stared at each other in disbelief.

By this stage the travel agent was getting quite vocal about needing passport details to add Elodie to our ticket. The deadline was 48 hours before flying, but of course that would occur over the weekend for us.

First thing Friday morning, Will called the passport office again…we could not believe our ears when they told us the passport still hadn’t been printed because the passport printing machine had broken down.

We gently (ahem) reiterated the growing urgency of the situation, and basically begged the office to give us a passport number so Elodie could at least be added to our tickets.

MERCIFULLY at midday on the dot, NZ morphed back into, well, NZ and we got the number. Our travel agent scrambled and Elodie was officially added to our ticket.

Little lady’s passport FINALLY arrived mid-morning the next day, with one day to spare before we left the house.

It all seemed very surreal, especially when we realized the drama was actually enough to warrant an official apology in NZ. Folded neatly into the bag containing the passport was personally signed letter of apology from a member of the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs.

And so, in the end, Elodie Joy went on her merry way to Zimbabwe, blissfully unaware of the whole drama, while Elodie Soy stayed behind in New Zealand.

Seven pounds of news

January 4, 2020

As you all know I was heavily pregnant (unflattering term) when I arrived in New Zealand with Kepler all those weeks ago.

Our little lady was due about four weeks from our arrival in NZ, and Will was due 10 days before bubs.

Both, I am very pleased to announce, made it safely, but the question was always who would make it first?

In the end, it was rather a race to the finish line.

After the hectic journey, both Kepler and I were shattered, and I spent a good two weeks getting over the jet lag.

By the time I emerged from the semi-coma of that jet lag I had two weeks to swan around admiring my beautiful little baby bump, proclaiming how distant it’s disappearance still felt, before Will arrived.

The mythical ‘distant baby’ bump.

This I did to all and sundry. I told my midwife (the amazing Katrina Woodham) baby felt a while off, and probably wouldn’t come before Christmas. I told my friends here and in Zim the same. I told my parents. I told my in-laws. I told the lady at the supermarket check-out.

Then, at 2am on Thursday morning, Will arrived. I was so excited I hadn’t slept. We both crashed and he spent the next day attempting to catch up on sleep.

Will’s arrival at the airport.

I woke up at 1am on Friday morning with a stomach cramp. I grumpily blamed a tummy bug, and went back to bed, restless for the rest of the night with tummy aches.

All of the next day, as Will and I walked around the lake, had our first coffee date together, had our first real conversation, bumped into friends (“when are you due?” “Anytime, but she feels a while off yet!”), climbed 118 stairs out of Lake Te Koutou, I vaguely remember my tummy bothering me.

I finally clicked at 9pm, as I stood rocking back and forth holding my belly.

“Babe, I think I’m in labour,” I said tentatively.

Will looked mortified. “Can you wait till morning?” he asked.

The answer was no. Almost 48 hours to the minute after her father arrived home, little lady was well on her way and not willing to give either of us any sleep. To his great credit, my extremely jet lagged husband managed to hold my hand AND stay awake until the big moment finally arrived.

It came at 7.32am on December 14, with the light of a new day streaming through the window. Little Elodie Joy Henson joined us weighing in at 6lb 11oz, or 3.05kg- almost three years exactly after we had first set our hearts on having another baby.

Everybody cried, and we let our tears wash away the weary waiting of the past few years and usher in the wonder of a new season.

After a couple of days at Waterford Birth Centre enjoying big meals, 24-7 midwife support, and our own room, it was back home. Mum and dad have been heroes, cooking, cleaning, washing and taking Kepler at all hours, so that we have been able to enjoy the adjustment, and wee man has been able to cope with losing all the attention after four years as an only child!

Waterford Birth Centre and one sleeping husband

So there you have it. Will won the race by the skin of his teeth in his usual style, and we are settling in to being a family of four before beginning the next adventure; flying back around the world with a preschooler and a six week old!

Alternative adventures and mid-air asthma attacks

November 14, 2019

As you all know, Kepler and I recently made the journey from Zimbabwe to NZ.

Months of careful planning meant that we had a) selected the shortest route home, though more expensive, as I’m 34 weeks mega pregga and b) paid extra for premium economy for me during the longest leg (12 hours) because I’m mega pregga.

All told, the journey from door to door was meant to take 29 hours, with Will’s dad David kindly accompanying us all the way back to Auckland for extra support.

We awoke at 5:45am on the big day to news that one of our flights had been cancelled. As I rolled out of bed in disbelief, Will began putting in calls to figure out what, exactly, was going on and what the back-up plan was.

After 45 minutes of back and forth with the travel agent in NZ, we discovered Qantas’ back-up plan was a code-share with Emirates that meant we would now be flying through Dubai…

Our total travel time had just jumped up to 42 hours.

I burst into tears that lasted the entire way to the airport (sorry David and Bob). With each new bit of news Will had to manage a fresh outbreak- first the news our longest leg was about 16 hours now. Then the news I would be in cattle class the whole way. I remember resentfully thinking that G.K. Chesterton was clearly not considering emotional pregnant women when he wrote “an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered”. Here’s our teary ‘about to leave’ photo.

Our first leg involved Will’s uncle, Bob, kindly flying us to Harare in his private plane.

After stuffing around with security at Vic Falls Airport (there was a power cut, and the generator had run out of fuel so they couldn’t scan us or bags), we finally made it. Now, a small private plane is a wonderful thing, but it is also a lot bumpier than a bigger plane- especially when you are flying through the gathering storm clouds of rainy season. By the time we made it to Harare I have to confess to feeling quite green, and having spent A LOT of time bonding with the Good Lord over the need for me to remain earth-side a little longer.

After a few hours with the wonderful Jo and Corks in Harare, cleaning out their pantry and drinking all their water, while Kepler destroyed his clean travel shirt playing with BFF Rafferty, we were off for the 9-hour leg from Harare to Dubai (with a layover in Lusaka for those who are wondering about that travel time). Little did I know cattle class would be the least of my worries.

Two hours into the Dubai-leg of our trip, Kepler started having an asthma attack. After a good half hour of coughing with every breath, the team moved us to the very back of the plane (apparently called the galley), where they contacted their doctor on the ground. I was holding steaming towels over Kepler’s face to try to open his airways, since his meds didn’t seem to be working, when they eventually called the onboard doctor. Praise the Good Lord (whom I spent a lot of time bonding with over the need for Kepler to remain earth-side a little longer), the meds started to kick in just as the wonderful Dr Leke did his assessment. He declared us fit to take on the next long-haul flight, after handing out a few instructions as to how to prevent the next asthma attack. I distinctly remember having to hold in an “I love you,” as he gently explained everything and dismissed our apologies for disturbing his flight.

I returned to my three seats, cleared by the kindly Emirates team (the fourth seat in my row remained occupied by a young, non-pregnant male who refused to move as he felt my request to lie down was unworthy), and managed to get in a bit of rest before we landed in Dubai.

How we are smiling in that photo I don’t know, as by now we had flown through the Zimbabwean night. After David arranged for wheelchair aid for me, we were whizzed around the airport to a waiting room seemingly reserved for the elderly, infirm and us. It was blissfully quiet, with huge bathrooms, and a little cafe. So I sat back, while David fed and watered us, then organised toothpaste so we could refresh properly, in anticipation of the final leg: a marathon 16 hour flight from Dubai to NZ according to the tickets.

In the end, although I had no extra seats to rest on, this leg was somehow the easiest. Kepler was a complete angel, and only melted down in the last hour, after sleeping or playing quietly for the ENTIRE 14 hour trip, switching out to sit beside me or David (turns out it was faster than the ticket said, YAY!!). I attempted to doze, woke thanks to baby thrashing my insides, and then repeated that process a few times. Unbelievably, after 14 months and 40- odd hours of transit time, it was finally time to land in NZ. Just as the cabin crew locked the toilets to land, Kepler declared an urgent need to pee, and began holding himself and talking loudly about how that part of his anatomy needed to go potty. Fortunately, we landed before I had to pull out the empty bottle, and Kepler made it on time. Then, we were heading through baggage collection, customs, and THE ARRIVALS DOOR!

After farewells and thanks to David, who had yet to fly to Christchurch and then drive to Ashburton, we headed to green, luscious Cambridge.

So there you have it, our unexpected adventure home…and I have to say that after a bit of sleep, plus happy reunions, I’m beginning to think that G.K. Chesterton wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

Fan-girling and Baby-mooning

November 4, 2019

In under a week Kepler and I jump on the first of four flights that will carry us back to New Zealand.

Fortunately, we have Will’s dad with us to help out should anything go wrong, but still, the count-down is well and truely on, which means that stress levels are a TINY BIT HIGHER THAN USUAL!!!

After all, it is 25 hours of flying, a month of separation for Will and I, with a very fine line between baby’s due date and his arrival. It turns out organizing baby stuff across two countries is also not that easy, especially in 41 degree temperatures (have I mentioned the temperature before?)

So, we were chuffed when some friends offered to take Kepler for the weekend so that we could get some QT together before our next cutie arrives.

It started as a suggestion that Kepler head to the farm with his besties Callum and Amelia- which he has done before and LOVED. Little man was up for the plan so we started making some of our own.

Will had been offered a comp at a nearby luxury camping lodge and they had one room free on Saturday night.

We made the most of Friday night by heading out for an intimate date at the River Brewery…where two other friends were also having intimate dates with their spouses (small towns eh?). Fortunately, we are preeeettttyyyy social as a couple so we stopped to have a good yarn and quite enjoyed ourselves.

The intimacy of the evening was further enhanced by the arrival of two politicians; one the former opposition leaders’ son (who happened to be staying at Shongwe) and the other the famed opposition force behind the writing of the Zimbabwe constitution. He is also the star of a documentary on said constitution called Democrats, which is on Netflix. It’s well worth a watch. Will instantly started to fan-girl, and walked over to introduce himself, before asking me to take photos.

He impressed the lads with his Shona speaking skills, before they insisted that we get back to our intimate date. Will reluctantly returned to our table where we talked politics and constitutions (just like our first ever conversation!!) for the remainder of the evening before I forced him to watch Pitch Perfect at home to lighten the mood.

Saturday arrived and with it the stress levels of trying to get to our lodge in time to watch the Rugby World Cup final. For some reason, luxury bush camps assume you don’t want a TV and came for other reasons- like game watching or enjoying the view. Go figure!! So I settled us into our stunning room while Will muttered and moaned as he attempted to get live streams of the game.

Rugby World Cup sorted, and we were finally able to kick back and relax for the next 24 hours – watching thunderstorms unleashed over the landscape around us, soaking in salt baths, and reading lighthearted comedies such as ‘Eugenics and other Evils’ by G.K. Chesterton. It was BLISS.

Meanwhile, Kepler was having a blast at the farm, and awaited a pick up on Sunday. After forcing me to do a ridiculous instagram photo shoot that I’m not allowed to publish, Will and I headed out to have lunch with the family he had stayed with.

Just before we headed off, we stopped in to meet the goats and the cows. Kepler introduced me to Nelly the cow, who happens to be pregnant and due in December. We forged an instant bond, as I whispered to her that I was Nelly the human, also due in December. Somehow, it made the weekend feel complete, and we headed home full of good food, having enjoyed good company and a mini escape all in 48 hours.

All of which means it really is time to turn our minds to the other side of the world, where my next update will probably be on living with your parents again, or long haul flights at 7.5 months pregnant.

Oh, and just one more thing: I love you babe. You’d break Instagram if these shots went up anyway 😘.

Clothes shopping in Zimbabwe

November 5, 2018

So, clothes shopping in Victoria Falls is a little different to New Zealand.

Back home, I had a range of fantastic Op Shops (second-hand clothing shops) to select from. They were all neat and tidy, the music was subtle and quiet, the sales people were mostly standing or sitting behind a counter.

I loved Op Shopping; the thrill of a bargain, the cheap-as-chips price tags, the treasures you might find on the next rack made it all rather exciting.

I think that excitement has been multiplied by a factor of 10 over here. But before we head to Comesa Market, here’s what Op Shops in New Zealand are like:

It’s all RATHER different to our bargain shopping mall here.

In Vic Falls, if we want cheap clothes we head to Comesa Market. I don’t know what it is, but the noise, squash of humanity together, colors, chaos and great drama involved in bargaining, just make it the funnest morning ever.

There are no racks, no counter tops over which to pass your purchase, and there is certainly no such thing as subtle, quiet music or dedicated changing rooms.

All you’ll find is piles of clothes – all second-hand donations from lovely aid or religious organisations who couldn’t sell them back home – and a bunch of humans lying around on them.

I thought I would bring you guys along with us, so without further ado, welcome to Comesa market.

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

 

The human cost

October 17, 2017

I first set foot in a brothel during my university years. It was an interesting experience for a number of reasons, but mostly for one unavoidable fact it shoved into the limelight.

That fact came to mind when I read of Auckland residents and prostitutes battling over street space a few years ago, heard the same in Hamilton later, and saw an update on the same war being waged in Christchurch this week.

The rooms I entered all those years ago were temples to the dissatisfaction of a nation, filled with priestesses and priests promising reprieve – for a fee.

That’s where the lesson came in. The fee. I realised the sexual liberation campaigner, who fought hard to legalise prostitution as a choice, had in fact achieved the opposite of sexual freedom. They had made sex less free.

That fee tells another story too. It tells us that no matter how we regulate and advocate and necessitate health checks for workers, we’ll never be able to bring this industry out of the shadowlands and into the light.

Why? Because it is an industry built on desires found in shadowy corners of the human heart.

I’m not being a moral prude. I’m merely being practical. If a man feels desperate enough to pay for that which should to be free, think what must be going on in his heart. His appetite is either desperately underfed or desperate to be overfed, whether it be for company, love or sex. Whatever the case, his life can only be very tragic to have to pay to find friendship, a feeling or physical intimacy.

I won’t pretend, along with the faux feminists or sexperts, that the women involved aren’t very often victims.  While it is nice of them to feed endless stories to our media about high-end, educated, “I have a way out” women-of-the-night, we ought first here to listen to the voice of the poor and the oppressed, the voice of the vulnerable.

Surely, they deserve a say too?

They do speak, by the way. In few and far-between reviews that show prostitutes are disproportionately women, less educated, and lack qualifications for other work. Reviews that tells us these women seem often to have been sexually abused as children, and are often under financial pressure.

The women speak silently, too, in stories like the ones in Christchurch, or Hamilton or Auckland. They speak in tiny details like the defecation done in public, the syringes left on lawns, and the hard words hurled into the black night.

Sometimes, silent stories speak the loudest.

That brings me back to sexual freedom, and its cost. As soon as we pay for any product in society we create a cost – but not just a financial cost. There are environmental costs, social costs, relational costs and all sorts of other costs we are only just discovering in every business on earth.

We are kidding ourselves to pretend there aren’t costs in this industry too. But in this case the product we consume is a person. The costs, then, must be personal.

And that is what the stories from Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch remind us.

Are we proud to pass over such public pleas for help in favour of the well-heeled corporate madam saying in soothing tones that all is well? Are we pleased to pretend laws more than a decade old are producing the right effect?

I’m not. When you count in people, the cost of our current system is too high.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz