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A Busy Week

The events following my mother's burial ended yesterday and today is the first day of my life where my mother wasn't part of my day.  The last four days were filled with preparations, so it still felt like she was around. Now there is a life adjustment that will need to take place -- I have thought numerous times, "Hey, I didn't call Mom today.  I need to do that."  My sister called her twice a day and said that she almost called Mother to tell her that she died!  My sister would call to tell mother little things to keep her informed and that habit will be hard to break.  I know the feeling.

It actually snowed on Wednesday when we were at the funeral home but the day of her burial was cold but nice.  It was great seeing so many family and friends, just unfortunate that it takes an event like a death to bring families together.  The church service at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church was the best such service I had ever attended. The priest did a great job of explaining the rituals and the service was filled with Scripture readings.  I delivered my eulogy in about five minutes, because my mother often said, "If you can't say what you have to say in five minutes, then don't say it."  She didn't like long speeches or talks.

I now have to play catchup with some schoolwork and other projects that got put off when I had to spend so much time at my mother's side. I think it's all doable, however, so I am going to spend the weekend catching up and relaxing before the big event next Tuesday, the U.S. elections. I am ready to vote today but have to wait until November 4.  It should be interesting and I am prepared for whatever happens on Tuesday, I think.

So have a good weekend and thank you for the outpouring of prayer and wishes of sympathy that were passed our way this week.  It was all greatly appreciated.

The Living Years

I am sitting at my desk doing some work so I will be free during the latter part of this week for my mother's funeral-related events.  I was listening to some music and heard a song and thought I would share the lyrics with you.  If you want to see the song performed, you can go to this link.

I know, I may be a bit melancholy this week, so if I am, just ignore this and trust that I will be back to normal next week (or maybe later).  Yet there may just be a lesson of life in this song for each of us.  I'll let you decide.

The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got

You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defense

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It's the bitterness that lasts

So don't yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don't give up, and don't give in
You may just be o.k.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye

I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Currency Craziness

Below is an email I received from a friend in Zimbabwe.  I have attached all the files referenced in the email at the bottom of this post.  Read it and weep for the people of Zim.

Time for an update on the Zim dollar!!

I should have sent a couple of updates in between these last two, but things continue to change at an alarming rate and the task of capturing some of the details (or highlights?) becomes more and more daunting. I thought I'd have to change the title of the e-mail, since for a while we were not billionaires any more…but seems like we are there again!

To backtrack a bit: In July 2008 we went out of the country for about 3 weeks. During that time, a $100 000 000 000 (100 billion) note was released (see attached scan). These seem to be highly sought after, being the world's highest denomination notes currently used - and one of the highest ever. (Apparently Yugoslavia once had higher…). US$100, GBP100, etc. were being offered for mint notes on e-bay, etc.

The day we arrived back in Zimbabwe from our trip, 1 August 2008, the Zim government removed 10 zeros from our currency - so the 100 billion notes were short-lived. They still continue to be legal currency, even now, but even after a few weeks, were virtually worthless.

Removing 10 zeros meant that we had to print a whole new set of notes - and we continue to print higher and higher denominations as the need arises (i.e. every 2 weeks or so!). The highest released at the beginning of August was the new $100 note (which, add 10 zeros, equated to $1 Trillion)

1 Trillion = new $100 note
500 billion = new $50 note
200 billion = new $20 note
100 billion = new $10 note
50 billion = new $5 note
10 billion = new $1 note

2 'new' coins were released, $10 and $25, both minted in 2003 and not previously circulated. (Who knows why?… but it does explain why they removed 10 zeros, not 9, in August 2008, so they could use these pretty new coins for a few weeks!!)

…then they also allowed back into circulation all the OLD coins - pre-2003, or whenever it was we previously stopped using coins. The coins retained their face value - e.g. $5 coin remained new $5 value! Whoopee! People fished out their old collections of coins (we had a small bucketful, which Katelyn and friends used to dive for in the pool) and had the use of these for a few weeks. They are still legal but couldn't buy anything after a few weeks of re-release! We kept our nicer coins for our collection and got rid of all those that were pool-tarnished.

So the old coins now had the new value (…add 10 zeros).
New $25 coin = pre-August value of $250 billion
New $10 coin =   "    "              "       $100 billion
Old $5 coin = $50 billion
Old $2 = 20 billion
$1 = $10 billion
50c = $5 billion
20c = $2 billion
10c = $1 billion

I imagine the Reserve Bank had rooms and rooms full of these old coins and knew they could buy a few weeks' worth of value before madly printing notes again. The "free" amount that people had from before would have been negligible.

For a few short weeks we were back to single and double figures in the shops - then the triple figures arrived and the marathon started all over again.

See the attached cartoon that came out in early August, when the removal of the 10 zeros was announced by the Governor of the Reserve Bank. The 10 zeros are exiting the room, waving goodbye and promising to "be back for Christmas"!!! We all laughed but knew it would be true, sadly.

Now, 2 and a half months later, we are already back to hundreds of millions - and the billions are becoming common too now. So we already have 6 or 7 of the zeros back - and still 8 weeks to Christmas! Plenty of time for the other few to come back! Watch this space!

A major problem with such inflation as this (currently officially around 230 million%) is that money cannot be printed fast enough and there is continually a severe shortage of cash. With the normal principle of "supply and demand" this has given the Zimbabwe dollar cash a much higher value than the same amount in a bank account or a cheque. The banks limit the daily withdrawal to way below what is needed, so that what is available can go round. 

For example, today (21 October 2008) the Zim cash rate to the US dollars is about 30 000:1 and the cheque rate is $200 million:1. Because of this difference, most things can now be paid for in USD - some legally, to companies with a forex-trading licence - and some…not so legally! Very few people have the necessary millions (add 10 zeros - that's tens-of-quadrillions in old currency!!!) to pay for things and even if they do, they would be silly to keep it in their bank for more than a day or so as the value is plummeting by the minute.

This time last week, the rate (cheques) was Z$4 million:1USD - Today it is Z$200 million:1. We have been amazed as we watched it rise (or fall?) every day: 4mill - 7mill - 12mill - 15mill - 20mill - 40mill - 90mill - 110 mill - 200million… in one week. Sometimes it changed twice in one day.

Now put the 10 zeros back... And the three from 2003: Today's $200 million is  2 000 000 000 000 000 000  - $2 Quintillion? (July '08) and 2 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 original poor old Zim dollars (2006) = $2 Sextillion! I'm sure such numbers never even existed before! Maybe for astronomical distances and numbers!

Anyway, I'm sure by now most of you have lost track. I almost have. So some quick last points:

I was chuffed to obtain the Buddie cards (see attached scans) for $500 000 000 000 (500 billion) and $1 000 000 000 000 (1 trillion), in August. There were not many around - especially of the Trillion, as we had already dropped the zeros by then and the equivalent card of new $100 was mostly available. Buddie is our pay-as-you-go mobile recharge card. Still couldn't make many calls with the Trillion. In contrast, this week I have been buying cards for new $25 000 (= 250 trillion), which still only gives similar air time. All airtime has to be bought with cash…so the USD equivalent is /30 000.

Because of the vast difference between cash and cheque, shops/companies have a two-tier pricing system (in fact, 3-tier, as most will take USD). I saw a notice on one clothes shop window on Saturday offering a 99% discount for cash payments! They wouldn't let me take a picture!

Some utility bills are still in old currency so we have to work back 10 decimal places to find the new value for the cheque, e.g. our September City of Harare bill was: $930792965674470.09 (note the 9 cents!) (= $93 080 new value). They still take cheques - and do not have a 3-tier payment system… so the bill is the equivalent of less than 10 US cents! No wonder our rubbish has not been collected for the last 4 weeks, etc.

Just a few weeks ago we received a bill to top up our post box rental. It was $45… so I paid it with three coins - two x$10 and a $25. By then the coins were hardly in use any more so I was amazed. Can't remember the last time I paid for things in coins only!

At least with enough outlets charging in US dollars now, we can finally obtain most of the food, etc. that we need. However, retailers are really taking advantage of this and competition has not set in yet - and we are now one of the most expensive places to live. Compared to South African prices, we are 3 - 4 times as expensive, on most goods. I would be interested to hear from anyone in the US or UK on costs of some basic items…

New notes are being printed regularly - the latest, last week, was a $50,000 note. This is the daily withdrawal limit and can buy a loaf of bread or 2 Buddie re-charge cards - or 5 short taxi hops! The new $20,000 and $50,000 notes are printed on bond paper and have no security features! There are apparently already forgeries in circulation. We have been collecting a few of each new note as they come out, knowing that they won't stay around long and then will be unobtainable, especially in good condition.

There are many more amazing stories - we could write a book, I'm sure.

Download 100_billion_dollar_note_aug08.jpg

Download buddie_cards.jpg

Download zeros_cartoon_aug_2008.jpg

Latest on Zimbabwe

I have said over and over again that the situation would not resolve itself in Zimbabwe without some kind of intervention.  I have repeatedly referred to Martin Luther King, who basically stated that the oppressor will never give up power willingly.  Mugabe and his party will not wake up one morning and say, "Gee, we have made a mess of things.  It's time to give someone else a turn to rule." 

The most recent "agreement" was a farce to begin with and mirrored a disturbing trend in African politics, at least in Kenya and Zimbabwe.  The people vote, the candidates dispute the results, violence breaks out and then outsiders are called in to negotiate a settlement that in many ways avoids the will of the people.  The tactic is clear: if one party doesn't like the outcome of the election, they cause enough trouble until they get their way. 

My criticism of former President Thebo Mbeki of South Africa has been consistent as well.  Even his own party asked him to step down at home, but now somehow he is going to have the moral resolve and courage to negotiate any kind of settlement in Zim?  I don't think so.  The one encouraging sign is that more and more African leaders are saying enough is enough in Zim and some are calling for new elections, which is the only answer to the current problem if Zimbabwe and Africa are serious about democracy.

The first election was in March and still Zimbabwe doesn't have a resolution to the fiasco.  Meanwhile the economy is in the tank, there is no leadership, teachers and doctors strike to obtain some kind of living wage and Mugabe blames it all on outside forces.  And will someone please tell me why Dr. Gono is still the head of the Reserve Bank when the economy is in shambles?  If Gono comes up with one more recovery "plan" and is able to stay in power when it fails, I will declare him the most brilliant politician in the world.  I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime where serial failures are rewarded with another chance over and over again.  Experts now peg the percentage rate of inflation to be in the millions and maybe even billions!  Don't ask me to explain what that means; I can't even fathom it.

The world and especially Africa must stand up and say with one voice, "Enough!"  The Zimbabwean people must stand up and say, "Enough," even though some will undoubtedly lose their lives when they do.  If no one else will say it, then let this one simple voice in this blog say it.  Enough is truly enough where the leadership in Zimbabwe is concerned. 

    Feel free to write your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.

No Complaints

It's been a few weeks since I have written.  When I am at my mother's, there is no wireless signal in the building so I have not been online much.  Yesterday I had a chance to buy a laptop adapter so I can get my own signal while I am here.  I am spending eight plus hours a day in her apartment, so it was a good investment.

My mother is failing rapidly, with very little energy left to do much of anything.  We are scrambling for caregivers since she doesn't want a lot of strangers around, which I can understand. It just makes it a bit more difficult for my sister and me.  I am not complaining.

I keep thinking about when I was in Zimbabwe a few years ago.  I was facing a full week of training and had a lot of things to do in preparation. The Sunday night before it all began, I was uptight.  I had new powerpoint slides to design, outlines to finalize and a host of other things in the midst of power outages and other challenges.  At some point in the evening, the Lord spoke to me and asked me a question, "I thought this was what you wanted to do?" 

I immediately broke out laughing.  Why?

I laughed because it was what I wanted to do and there I was complaining and stressing out over a situation that I had created.  I wasn't enjoying it because I was allowing the details to affect my judgment.  I said to myself, "You are right.  This is what I wanted and I intend to enjoy every minute of it."  That was seven years ago and I have been true to my word ever since.

I wanted to be with my mother in her last hours so, while I am not relishing every minute that includes her suffering, I am thanking God for the chance to be here.  This only happens once in a lifetime, so I am not griping.  I suppose this is how families had to function before old age homes were around.  I think I will go back and see if she is able to get out of bed so I can bring her out for what could be her last time in her favorite chair.  Stay tuned.  I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Blessed Are The Flexible . . .

For they shall not be broken or at least not bent out of shape.  That is a little-known missing Beatitude that Jesus spoke.  Of course, I jest but that fun phrase does contain a nugget of truth that we all must keep in mind from time to time. Why am I writing about this?  Because I began Hebrew classes a few weeks ago, but now with my mother’s illness, I don’t have time to go to class.

Someone wrote and asked me today if I was stressed over my mother’s cancer and need for care.  I responded, “Not at all.”  I am controlling my self-talk and how I think (or the Lord is helping me do so) and that has kept me calm and focused.  My father died 12 years ago in my arms on his deathbed and I always hoped I would have a chance to do the same for my mother.  So how can I be stressed out? I don’t have to help care for my mother; I get to care for my mother.  And besides, my sister is the one who always carries a bigger load than I do and for that I am grateful. 

I am off to Dallas next week to conduct a Pacific Institute seminar and just finished a seminar in West Palm Beach.  We “had” to meet at someone’s home in West Palm and I was not looking forward to it, until I arrived and found it to be a $4 million estate!  What a fantastic surrounding in which to learn.  Next week I will be at a nice hotel in Dallas.

That makes me think of a retreat I was on in 1988 in Florida.  It was a beautiful compound and I was there as a participant and stayed up late one night to enjoy the surroundings.  That night the Lord “spoke” to me and said, “I will take you to many nice places where you will teach and train.”  It was so clear but at the time, I was going nowhere and doing very little training or speaking for that matter.  Today, I can say that the promise God made to me that night has come true.  I have been in some fabulous places, eaten some great food and met some wonderful people.  I have no complaints. 

This year has been such a different year, with less travel, school, tight finances and a lot of time to think, read and reflect.  What kind of year has it been for you?  What season are you in right now?  What lessons have you learned?  What else would you like to accomplish this year?  It’s not too late to end the year in a strong fashion and I hope you will learn and grow as you reflect on 2008 and look forward to 2009.

Mother Stanko

Yesterday was Mother Stanko's 92nd birthday.  It was not a festive occasion, however, for my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer last Friday. She has been sick for about six months and the doctors guessed it was this and that.  Now we know, however, and we are preparing for the end, which could come in six months or less.

This is how my father died 12 years ago as well, but he had pancreatic cancer and lived six months to the day from when he was told.  Those six months were a good time as we made our transitions and said our goodbyes.  I am grateful that God has given us the same chance with my mother.

My mother was asleep in her chair on Sunday when she raised her head and said, "Will you do the eulogy?"  It is something I had always wanted to do, but in my mother's church they usually don't make time for one.  I said I would be honored and then she said, "I will request it" and went back to sleep.

That is so indicative of my mother -- organized, thinking ahead, covering details and planning.  There is no question that I inherited all those traits from her, that in fact I am Sophia's boy.  At some point I will have a chance to share that truth with those closest to us.

My mother is home and my sister is scrambling to cover her care while I am in Florida on business.  My mother needs around-the-clock care and we are investigating the options and cost for such care.  My sister has taken good care of my mother since she (my sister) retired a few years ago.  I know I have been less helpful due to my travel schedule but I hope to be around more in the next six months to do what I can.

I am not devastated by this news, for often when I would leave on an extended trip, I would talk to my mother and we agreed that there were no regrets.  I visited her every Sunday while I was home and called almost every day.  I tried to support her as I was the man in her life after my father's death 12 years ago.  She has lived on her own and cared for herself with my sister's assistance and will do so almost to the end, and we want to honor her wish that she die at home. You can view a picture of my mother at her 90th birthday celebration here. People usually say I look like her.

I will keep you posted on her condition, but in the meantime, life goes on.  I urge you to make the most of every day that you have, for we just don't know how many more we have.