Thursday, May 25, 2017

Down at the Farm

Thursday 25th May

Today is a holiday – African Freedom Day. There was little evidence of great celebrations, but offices and schools were shut. Mrs. Sianga told us that since Thursday was a holiday, they would close at midday on Wednesday!

I spent most of the day at home and let my visitors visit me. Bright has built his house and just remains to complete the roofing. He moved in just before the rains came. This was just as well because the other house he built of mud bricks collapsed. Bright chatted for a while, we caught up on family, friends, the hospital etc. and we watched birds through my binoculars. Today a bird of prey perched on an electicity pole near the house. We didn't see it in flight so were uncertain of the species. I think it might have been a young Bateleur.

Hannah eventually found our place after getting rather lost – probably because of following my directions! She is Head Girl at Monze Boarding School and is in grade 12 – the final year of secondary school. She enjoys science subjects – chemistry, biology and physics, but really wants to become a lawyer. Her mother thinks she should be a doctor. I promised to pass on a John Grisham novel when I finish with it. (John Grisham was a lawyer in the US before becoming an author – many of his books are novels about lawyers. These are his best books in my opinion) Hannah joined us for some sandwiches. Despite my best intentions I have ended up with some Cross and Blackwell mayonnaise. I returned to the shop yesterday but the other jar of non C & B (Nestle) mayonnaise was also off. Rather than insist on a refund I took the C & B jar.

The cucumber and tomato sandwiches (with mayonnaise) were good!

Best was going to see me, but said he would contact me tomorrow instead because time was now short. Teddy had a meeting that left him exhausted, so he also said he would make other arrangements.

Fr. Clement came around as agreed and took us to the parish farm. It is a little way along the Livingstone Road, because of the railway is between the farm and the road, it is easier to wind along some small dirt tracks. The farm is split between the Sacred Heart (Cathedral) parish and Our Lady of the Wayside. This year some maize and cowpeas have been planted, but Our Lady's parish has concentrated on sunflower seeds to feed the oil press which was installed last year.

We walked into the fields and I took some photos. There is also a piggery under construction.

I enjoyed wandering in the fields for a while. We then called at Our Lady of the Wayside church where the sunflower seeds are being stored after harvesting. While there, the English choir was practising and the sun sunk in the sky. I find this time particularly special – in a real sense a holy time. The transition from day to night here comes with a glorious golden glow and a stillness that makes me want to stop in wonder. As I reflect it makes me think of the precious time at the end of a person's life when our God is preparing to welcome them home. Of course not all deaths are gentle or peaceful, but I have been privileged to have been with a number of people during their last days and it can be a profound experience.

We returned home and have just enjoyed a quick supper.

I am very fortunate to be able to spend part of my life in Zambia. There are times when I have to pinch myself as I enjoy the glorious sun, clear blue skies, amazing birds and lovely people. Maybe some of you reading this blog might like to experience it for yourself one day.

With my love and prayers,

Chris



Meeting Friends

Wednesday 24th May

The garden is great for birds! A couple of Black Herons took up residence in a tree yesterday morning, a Cattle Egret perched on top of another today. Flocks of birds – canaries and other species pass by, alighting on bushes as they go, and Black Breasted Snake Eagles are seen regularly in the sky above.

Yesterday afternoon while I sorted a few things out with Mrs. Sianga, Ben went out with Killian to see some of the families with children at PIZZ School.

If you stay on the main roads you can be forgiven for thinking that everyone in Monze has a proper brick built house with a corrigated iron roof, most with electricity and many with a satellite dish. In the compounds, where the children attending PIZZ school reside, the situation is very different. Most houses are built of mud bricks and use a variety of materials to act as a roof – often with concrete blocks holding down plastic sheeting. There is no electricity and water needs to be fetched. The poverty is clear to see.

It was something of an eye-opener for Ben who remarked that unless you see for yourself it is almost impossible to imagine the conditions of aily life for these people.

It was in 2003 when I first visited such areas. I have recalled this many times but it s worth repeating. Mrs. Sianga took me around one afternoon to meet some of her patients. At the time she was a nurse working in the community with people who had AIDS. No anti-retroviral drugs were available, just a couple of paracetemol tablets and some kind words. All of her patients died! I was privileged to be welcomed into this very precious world, where the people I met were weeks or some just days from death. I remember one lady was being cared for by her daughter – no more than 11 or 12 years old, probably younger. The daughter had gone out to beg for a little sugar to make the maize porridge a little bit tastier. That afternoon change my life!

When Ben returned we went to the new school to plan the installation of the solar lighting.

I have borrowed a dongle from Mrs. Sianga to connect to the Internet. When I put my flash drive into the computer at the school it was immediately infected with viruses. I have loaded the dongle with 3Gb of data capacity and will download anti-virus and try to establish a process to keep the computers virus free.

Here at the Curia we have been given access to the Internet through the office system.

Today I have been busy on my computer and made a few additional notes about what I need to do in the coming weeks. Jennipher came along after lunch and I escorted her back into town. We both met friends on the way. Ireen was around and gave me a friendly hug. I will get some material and she will make me some more shirts. Best was playing pool down the road and I took over and hit a few balls. We will meet up during the next day or two. At last I found some Frisco coffee – as advised Mandies Supermarket stocks it!

Back home Fr. Clement made a breif visit to see how we are settling in. He has spent a couple of days with his family who live just outside Siavonga – a town on Lake Kariba. We made tentative arrangments for a vist to the church farm and a session of pool!

I apologise for the lack of photos, but have no fear - they will soon follow.

With love and prayers,

Chris




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Our Prayers are with You

OUR LADY OF THE WAYSIDE

Tuesday 23rd May

I have just connected to the Internet and read the terrible news of the attack in Manchester. My thoughts and prayers are very much with all who are suffering as a result. I keep asking what is it that makes people take such action.

The contrast with the quiet here at the Curia bathed in warm bright sunshine is very stark.

Ben joined me on Sunday for mass. It was a good introduction to services here in Zambia – a little more low key than many – no dancing in the aisles or jumping around with spears and only a polite applause for the sermon! However there was plenty of singing, some drumming and dancing and plenty of joy.

After the service Fr. Raphael gave us a lift back back to our house in the Curia.

I had expected to meet with the Small Christian community of St. Veronica in the afternoon, but they had another meeting at church. The congregations in the Parishes are split into geographical areas – perhaps 11 or 12 per parish. The parishioners in each area form smaller communities and meet for prayers and provide some mutual support. I have been part of St. Veronica's Small Christian Communty for ten years or so. We meet and read the gospel for the following week – using a method known as lectio divina we reflect on a verse that seems to say something to us and if we feel inspired we share that with the other members. I find this very helpful when at the service the following Sunday the gospel is read. We also say a few prayers, ask for prayers for those in need, talk about what is happening in the parish and find out if any Community members are sick or in need. Since all of this takes part in Chitonga I only pick up the key facts!

Instead of the meeting I was able to have a gentle afternoon. I checked out the Internet access at the Curia and was pleased to establish that I could use the lounge even when all the offices were closed.


 OUR DINING ROOM


Before 18hrs Diven, Delia and Paul arrived. For some reason this year Paul, who is just about 2 years old, screams whenever he sees me! It reminds me of the time when my grandson Jack was about 9 months old and I was due to act as nanny for a couple of days a week. I had three days of “Jack training” before being let loose on my own. At the end of the three days he didn't scream!! - that was about the extent of my success. Of course two months later we had developed a great relationship and were great pals. Lets hope Paul will also come to enjoy my presence.

I had bought some soya pieces from the market which, with some paprika ginger and garlic, and a range of vegetables I made a pleasant meal. Even Paul enjoyed it!

Yesterday was time to start some serious work. We met Mrs. Sianga and started looking at some of the work to do. The solar lighting should arrive in Lusaka on Saturday. I have been in touch with Roger from Lights For Learning and he is in Zambia. He has offered to visit us next Monday/Tuesday to help us plan the installation – if we are very lucky, he might be able to bring the lights with him from Lusaka.

The good rains and subsequent harvest means that the price of maize and groundnuts is currently low. Mrs. Sianga is keen to capitalise on this by buying in bulk now and storing the food which will feed the children throughout the year. I will try to facilitate this. It will also help us if the costs can be minimised. Feeding the children at PIZZ School has made a huge difference. Mrs Sianga says that at least the children are sure of one meal a day – many will not know where there next meal will come from. The children are performing well and putting on weight. However it is hard for us to understand the lives of these children. Mrs. Sianga said that before she was providing food many of the children rarely smiled or interacted with one another. This situation has changed dramatically. I don't know what it must be like to be constantly hungry.

I was part way back from the school when I realised that I had agreed to see Diven. I returned and frightened Paul once again.

On the way back I searched for non Nestle products. In the past Nestle promoted dried milk, claiming that it was better than breast milk. The children drinking the dried milk didn't get the immunity from disease provided by the mother's milk. It was a wicked campaign and put the lives of many children at risk. Nestle continues to exploit the people of poorer countries and for that reason I do my best to avoid their products. This is particularly difficult in Monze. I bought some non-Nestle mayonnaise (Cross and Blackwell is also owned by Nestle). I was delighted until I got home and found that there was a solid crust and the smell wasn't right!!

Raymond was meant to visit in the evening but didn't arrive. Ben made a Zambian omelette containing local vegetables and sweet potato which we enjoyed.

As usual I spend time on the computer writing notes and e-mails. I am also slowly working my way through a John Grisham novel. I manage to turn in a little before midnight.

Since we arrived the days have been quite cloudy. Often the sky is clear first thing in the morning – today there is some cloud. So far the totally cloudless skies I am used to, have not lasted long.

Best wishes,

Chris


Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Introduction to Monze


            Our Home in Monze

 Saturday 20th May

It is already Saturday evening and I am aware that my posts are well behind.

I will therefore summarise the past few days and maybe fill in the gaps later.

I am doing my best to introduce Ben to Monze in a gentle but reasonably comprehensive way. This has been helped by spending two nights at the priest's house. Monze Cathedral, where it is sited is in the centre of town. Outside the gate are stalls that soon become the market. The other entrance is on what can be regarded as Monze High Street.

So everywhere you look there are stalls selling groceries, food – including very fresh chickens (the type that cluck and spread their wings!) and other goods. Items are moved around on a variety of wheelbarrows and peoples heads – much like Lusaka, but less frantic and possibly with a few more smiles.

I am in my element and friends greet me as I move along. So we meet Rasta Brian, a long time friend who sells a few socks, a comb and miscellaneous odds and ends. Like many, Brian is bright, but hadn't the money to complete his education. Along the High Street I bump into Captain who was in charge of the block making team when we started building the ICU at Monze Mission Hospital in 2003. It doesn't take long for Jennipher to appear and greet me emotionally. Many regular readers will know about Jennipher who I met in 2004 when she started taking Anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS. She has since been doing amazing work helping others with the disease and trying to remove the stigma. She has been very ill during the past couple of months and wasn't sure she would be around to see this day.


                                                    OUR VERANDA AND GARDEN

Ben had some fun and games getting a SIM card for his mobile phone. Well of course it was getting it to work that caused the problems. He came to know where the MTN shop was situated and this enabled him to venture out alone. During one such occasion when he was at MTN, I bumped into Sichone. I worked closely with Sichone for several years developing a stock control system for the hospital – he was the stores manager at the time. He is currently on leave – for about 4 months! Government workers accumulate a special type of leave at the rate of 1 day per month, if I remember rightly. After perhaps 5, 10 years or more they can decide to take it all in one go!!

It was good to get to know a few new priests at the priest's house as we shared meals - and to renew my acquaitance with some old friends. There was a lot of good natured banter and plenty of laughter as we shared stories. It seems that Fr. Vincent – the new parish priest – is a Liverpool supporter. He dreams of seeing Anfield stadium some day. I happened to have a few photos taken outside the ground and gave him copies.

We moved into our current accommodation yesterday afternoon. It is behind the Curia (Bishop's offices). David and Lynda stayed here for three months – I had imagined that it was quite a walk from town, but we popped into town to buy food and groceries and it was no distance – I can't imagine why David thought it was a problem walking from PIZZ School from here!! (Since he never reads my blog he won't see this comment!!)


                                                                 THE CURIA

It is very peaceful here, right on the edge of town. Ben took a stroll on his own down the road yesterday and met Robert who said he knew me. Robert was a general worker at Monze Hospital. He tells me he has seven children an his wife has health problems. I am sure I will meet Robert myself before long. - especially now that he is aware that I am about.

Having stocked up with fish, both fresh and dried, a chicken, soya, vegetables including impwa and lusala, fruit including guava, a full range of spices and other necessities, we went for a stroll this afternoon in the bush. We spotted a few birds on our trek including a small flock of blue waxwings, a black breasted snake eagle and open-billed stork. Everything is looking lush after the excellent rains. There is still some water about in pools along the roadside and the fields are a mass of meadow flowers.

Fr. Vincent popped around to say hallo and stayed for a coffee. We talked a bit about our lives and the difficulties faced by many – including his family.

I am familiar with the situation here in Zambia, but unless you meet the people and hear their stories first hand, it is difficult to take in the reality of the lives of so many.

I am happy to be back among the people again. It is easy for me to feel at home, everything is familiar, much is comforting, but there will be plenty of challenges ahead. I look forward to the next few weeks and you can follow me here on my African adventure – not so much a safari, more a pilgrimage!

Take Care,

Chris



Friday, May 19, 2017

Travelling back to Zambia

Tuesday 16th May

The day has arrived! Everything seems to be under control - bags are packed and I should scrape in under limit. I checked in yesterday co-ordinating with Ben over the phone. I decided to pop along to church for a final word before my trip.

At 12.30 pm as agreed Ben arrived. A cup of coffee, slight adjustment of bags and at about 1.30 pm we set off for Heathrow - allowing Ben's wife Cathy to return to Devon.

A trouble free journey got us to the airport well before 4pm and ten minutes later our bags were deposited and we were free to move forward.

We were taking four cases – one was probably still uner 20Kg, but the others were fully loaded! Somehow my backpack had gained weight – maybe the additional notebook (computer type), or extra replaceable batteries – anyway with my heavy laptop - my hand luggage must have been pushing the 12Kg.

So far so good – in fact remarkeable! Eventually Ben was allowed to approach the security area. You need a good printer for the machines to recognise the pattern on your boarding pass. After several attempts it let him pass! I was told that nothing should be on top of each other, so I used four trays – or was it five? - and still I set off the alarm! I was searched – a small key prove to be the culprit! For good measure they scanned my shoes for explosives!! Ben just had his bag searched!!`

Our stay in the departure lounge was uneventful and we even manage to get a seat where we could watch the planes.

We took off on time into a cloudy sky, heading more east than south, before making a more determined attempt to reach Africa - which we achieved after about 3½ hrs. Leaving the UK at about 6.30 pm resulted in a meal a little after 8pm. Allowing us to prepare for sleep from about 9.30/10 pm. At 1 am UK time we were awoken for breakfast!! We landed on time at 5 am (Kenya time) 3 am BST!

Wednesday 17th May

Another security challenge at Nairobi – This time it was my watch and belt that caught me out – at 3.30am having not slept, I was not not in my most mentally agile state!!

We had a good flight to Lusaka – though I seem to have misjudged the position of Kilimanjaro and Ben therefore missed a spectacular view.

Immigration was swift and trouble free. We were now truly in Zambia – me for the fifteenth year and Ben for his first visit to Africa. On Tuesday while still at home, I rang Voltamp – an electrical shop in Lusaka, where I have previously bought batteries for the mobile phone charger. I needed to check the address, since I was misled through the Internet last year. I made the mistake of asking the fare after the driver had left his companion! I therefore ended up paying over the odds for my trip to the bus station via Chachacha Road to pick up the battery.

We arrived at the Intercity bus station a little after 11 am. Ben had seen a little of Lusaka from the bus – now he was about to experience Zambia full on!! Intercity bus station is noisy and full of people and activity. All manner of goods are being hawked. Food, watches, data storage devices, belts – loads of belts!, even wollen hats for the winter (it was probably 25 C at the time and the sun made us a lot hotter!) Passengers perched wherever they could, luggage included mattresses, hardware, ironware, pipes – you name it – all piled up ready for the bus. The 11.30 bus was full – though there might be one seat for someone without luggage. The next bus was the 1.30 pm so I settled for a couple of seats on that one and prepared for a two hour wait. By 1pm the bus had not arrived – usually the bus is there at least ½ hour early for loading. At about 1.30 there was a bus waiting that clearly said it was going at 1 pm. I was told that the 1.30pm bus would be along soon. At a little after 2 pm the 1 pm bus left! I had prevously explained to Ben that Shalom buses leave on time! As usual when I think I understand what happens in Zambia, I get it wrong.

For the past few years there was another bus company “Mazandu Family Bus Service” which also ran to time and seemed to have a quality operation. Unfortunately there was a major accident resulting in a number of deaths and a Mazandu bus was involved. It seems that the bus might have had faulty brakes, but continued to run. The result is that all Mazandu buses have been taken off the road.

Eventually another Shalom bus arrived. I was advised that this was also not my bus, but another would arrive soon. I approached the bus and had the impression that some with 1.30 tickets were being accepted. I tried again and another Shalom official confirmed that it was our bus. Relieved we took the luggage around for loading and watched it being stored in the luggage compartment.

There was a bit of commotion and confusion where the passengers where boarding. When I showed our tickets I was told to wait. There was something about tickets for seats from 56 onwards – ours were 61 an 62. I made the point that our bags had already been loaded. We waite for a while before eventually we were handed back our tickets with new seat numbers. Eventually we boarded the 56 seater bus – I am not sure who lost their seats to make way!

At about 15hrs we set off from the bus station. A pastor jumped onboard an preached for the next twenty minutes before leaving us on the outskirts of town.

The day was warm and partially cloudy, which was very pleasant – giving us some breaks from the hot sun. The sunset left a warm orange golden glow typical here in Africa and later the African night sky was revealed – as Ben described - so different to that in England.

Fr. Clement met us at Tooters Roadhouse where the bus dropped us. There had been a slight change of plans and we would now spend the first couple of nights at the priest's house by the cathedral.

In practice this is no bad thing. The priest's house is very central, we don't need to sort out catering immediately and Ben will get the chance to meet and relate to some of the clergy.

We had a great supper with lots of good humour – and each had a bottle of Mosi!

After a warm shower, I felt more human and ready for a good night's sleep.

P.S. Plenty of photos to follow!!





Friday, May 12, 2017

Preparations are on Track

12th May 2017

Excitement is growing. I fly out to Zambia on Tuesday and my preparations are going rather well – at least by my standards.

Over the past week or two I have been accumulating bits and pieces for my friends in Monze. Shaving sticks, packs of soap and plenty of bottles of clove oil are a must. I have a few cameras – one of which might return with me!

I have a solar powered security light for another clinic where the expectant mothers forget to bring in candles when they arrive in labour during the night! I have a solar powered mobile phone charger to provide income for one of Jennipher's support groups. When your family income is below £10 a month, making up to £5 a day from charging mobile phones can make quite a difference!

I am still waiting for a few footballs which have been kicked into a friend's garden. These are always appreciated at PIZZ School.

The solar lighting will be flown out separately with help from Aviation Without Borders – a charity which helps other charities transport goods around the world at discounted rates. It should be in Lusaka within a week or so of our arrival.

I had thought I would need to carry some of the solar lighting and was wondering what I needed to leave behind. I don't need to worry too much now – though I won't have any empty cases!! I have a few woolly jumpers for the children among other items which will fill any gaps!!

On Wednesday I travelled to Monmouth to meet David. The forest was looking beautiful – bathed in wonderful sunlight and coming into life after the winter. I expect to find Zambia equally luscious after good rains and before the scorching sun dries the grass and the dust returns. In the Wye was a shoal of large fish which I can only imagine must have been salmon. I don't think I have seen a fish much bigger than a sardine at the lake in Monze! The sandmartins were busy flying around Monmouth Bridge, having returned from their migration. I won't see the european swallows in Zambia this year – they too will havereturned from their winter vacation! Local species such as mosque swallows are always present. Around Monze.

I can't wait to shop in the food market for Zambian produce! I have been watching Masterchef where the contestants have a wide variety of food to choose for their creations. My experience in Zambia is similar with a wonderful variety of interesting produce to choose from – and the taste is always much nicer than it is here.

So I look forward to chinese cabbage, impwa and musali – not mention the lovely local bananas!!

Cheers,

Chris





Thursday, March 23, 2017

Preparing for Monze 2017

21st March 2017

Preparing for my Next Visit

I have my tickets for my next adventure in Zambia. This year we have a new volunteer – Ben - who will be coming out with me for the first month.

David and Lynda have themselves spent the last couple of months in Monze to see just how things have changed in the 25 years or so since they last had a prolonged visit in the country.


The Oil Press installed

                         
People have struggled because of the poor harvests in recent years, however there is some light on the horizon because the rains this year have been good. For the next month or so however things will be very tough for many.

Jennipher's health has been up and down, but at the moment she seems to be OK. A student who Jennipher was supporting had been ill for a while - various treatments have been tried, but unfortunately last week she died. This was particular hard for Selina to whom she was a good friend at Pemba Secondary School. Bereavement is always hard and because deaths are many in Zambia it doesn't reduce the pain. I have come to know many people in Zambia who have died – when they die so young (and often from conditions that wouldn't be fatal in the UK) it is very difficult.

Diven's problems continue. Yesterday he was in court for a final hearing. Since August hearings have been adjourned for one reason or another. At one point he decided not to attend court and when they found him they decided to remand him in custody. He has been locked up now for about two months and, accordingh to various reports, has had a rather tough time. At last it looks possible that issues have been settled and I hope he will be allowed to continue with his business and his life.

Best had problems with one of his papers and needs to resit an exam. I hope all goes well and he finally gets his licence to practice law.

The oil press has been installed in the new building at Our Lady of the Wayside church. Fr. Clement gave out sunflower seeds to his parisioners who are expected to bring back a bag to be converted into oil. St. Gregory's Church in Cheltenham has raised some funds to enable some of the poorest at the church in Monze to be given food to help during this difficult period.

29 children passed their grade 9 exams at PIZZ School and I persuaded Hands Around the World to fund their school fees - making a total of 79 children being funded in secondary school this year. My daughter Helen is running an Ultramarathon (53 miles) to help this fund – you can find ourt more at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/HelenBarrell

We are planning to work with the school staff and children to install solar lighting this year. It will cost about £7.50 to light each desk - Ben has set up a site at Light up PIZZ School .

I am looking forward to returning to Zambia soon and catching up with my many friends. I hope that you will enjoy my journey with me.

With love and prayers,

Chris