It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, it’s hard to know where to start. I could write about my spiritual journey with the snow days—one more lesson in accepting the things I cannot change—or the great time I had in New York a few weeks ago to watch my friend Stephanie Smallwood get a prestigious award for her book, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. I could write about Lent and how I’m trying to make it meaningful as a Quaker married to a Catholic, which is kind of related to the snow issue since both remind me that I still need practice letting go of my own desires. But the most powerful reminder I’ve had lately about how much I have to learn about sacrifice has come through a series of emails about a woman who is today ending her 21-day hunger strike to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.
I visited Zimbabwe twice when I was in the Peace Corps in Botswana in the mid-eighties. At that time, it was the hope of the region. I bought my butter from Zimbabwe to support that country’s developing democracy. And now the people in this rich land are literally starving because of the rule of Robert Mugabe, who last week threw himself a $250,000 birthday bash. Although his electoral rival Morgan Tsangari has finally been appointed as Prime Minister, conditions in the country remain bleak. The New York Times reports that some human rights activists are being released from the torture-filled prisons, but not all. The world really does need to pay attention to this because although there are many brave people in Zimbabwe, they need support to take their country back.
So far, many of the most vocal allies have been South Africans, like Nomboniso Gasa, chair of South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality and the woman who is ending her water-only hunger strike today (pictured above at the end of her fast). She has been using her fast days to raise awareness of the situation in general, but especially the plight of women, who face the added threat of sexual violence. Before coming to New York this week, she made a video about the conditions faced by Zimbabwe’s many refugees. Nomboniso took over the fast from my friend Kumi Naidoo, the head of CIVICUS, and is passing the relay on to Dumisa Ntsebeza, the third South African in the chain.
You don’t have to fast for 21 days to support the cause. Some are volunteering for short stints. The Save Zimbabwe Now web site implores:
Join the fast and express your solidarity with the estimated five million Zimbabweans who are starving because of the greed, corruption and incompetence of the repressive Zanu-PF regime. The fast represents a wealth of solidarity and commitment from across the globe that policy makers and leaders of Southern Africa will not be able to ignore.
The Save Zimbabwe Now Campaign is driven by a broad collaboration of organisations and movements and has formal support from a wide range of groupings including the South African Council of Churches, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition the Khulumani Support Group, COSATU, the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, social movements from across the region, youth and student formations, CIVICUS, ACTION for Conflict Transformation and the National Constitutional Assembly in South Africa. Popular support for the campaign is growing daily as the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate.
And so we come back to Lent and the practice I need at letting go and sacrifice. My first response to this is that I couldn’t possibly fast because I’m way too busy—and then I remember that Kumi is way busier than I am. I feel lightheaded if I don’t get a mid-morning snack, and then I remember the fact that people in Zimbabwe often go days without food. We will be attending an inter-faith Lenten supper this evening, but the big sacrifice there is that we will only get bread and soup for supper, an amazing array of soups that are hearty and delicious, based on past years. (And I don’t have to cook or pay, so really it’s a total win for me.) I feel humble just thinking about the commitment of these activists and challenged to think about participating—maybe for a day next week, when I’m on spring break. In the meanwhile, I can help to spread awareness, which is one of the fast’s objectives.