Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Travelling around the north of Zambia I became aware of the missionary priests who had come to the Country over a hundred years ago. At Kasama there is a small graveyard for the early missionary priests – The White fathers. Missionaries, like explorers, seem to have varied greatly in the way they dealt with the people they met. The White Fathers seem to have been generally well received in Zambia. I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn't have been) by the fact that so many were in their early 30s when they died having only been in the country for a short time. I was also surprised that in the north of Zambia, close to the Tanzanian border, slave traders operated. The missionaries provided a place of refuge for some fleeing from those bent on taking them into captivity. The church at Kisama has a thick wall surrounding it, with strategically placed holes from which to fire at any attackers.

There is no doubt that to be a missionary in Africa 100 years ago was a very dangerous occupation and must have took tremendous courage.


Alternative Gifts

Alternative Presents

I have previously referred to my father's anniversary present. Well I think that it is time to show it in all it's glory! So here it is!!

I remember that when CAFOD introduced their alternative Christmas presents they were amazed by the number of people wanting to provide goats instead of buying unneeded gifts in the UK. For the past few years our parishioners have given donations and received cards to send to their friends and relatives. The donations have enabled gifts of food to be given at Christmas – last year over 100 people in Monze had extra food to help celebrate Christmas. Many people are now keen to celebrate Christmas and other occasions by supporting those who need gifts more than they themselves. My friends and family are now used to receiving some novel gifts.

As you can see the acknowledgement on the ox cart is not quite the discreet plaque I intended! I will be interested to know what impact is has as it travels the tracks near Monze.

Before leaving Monze I spent some time with Charles talking about my experiences visiting Chisamba and the north of the country. He has taken on board the issues with growing maize using fertiliser and recognises the significant loss made last year because of the crop failure. However, it isn't easy to persuade people to change a tradition that has developed over many years and he is finding it hard to convince others that they need to think again about setting large areas of land aside to grow maize.

Even in Zambia I am aware of the huge power of advertising. The large companies spend a lot of money persuading small scale farmers that only by using their hybrid seeds and chemical fertiliser will they get a decent crop. None of us like to believe that we are influenced by advertising – but billions of dollars are not spent by these companies for nothing! In a country like Zambia it is invariably the foreign 'investors' who have the resources to mount large advertising campaigns and it becomes ever more difficult for local companies to compete.

So for now progress for Charles and the PEASSA project is represented by an ox cart pulled by Captain and Saddham!

Best wishes


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wildlife Pictures


I should have a lot more photos from Lochinvar but unfortunately they were deleted from my camera before I could store them on my computer – my fault I suspect. However, here are a few photos to give some idea of the wonder of that place.

In the UK we have a rather different view of some of the wildlife to the local people. On several occasions during our visit the desire for a bit of 'game meat' was expressed – fotunately – or unfortunately that desire wasn't satisfied! When I talk about my ponds at home, many people can't understand why I would have fish in my garden but not eat them! For me to be walking across fields frequented by lechwe, zebra and other animals is a joy. We didn't see any Hippos though we could hear them calling in the distance and could see there footprints in the mud by the stream.

I hope that Zambia will find a way of providing access to their wildlife without destroying it, also that the local people benefit from the tourism. Unfortunately it seems to be rare that benefits are seen locally. Often people are displaced and profits go out of the country. Even at Lochinvar I suspect that there are few if any benefits for the local people. I have heard that those living in the park now have difficulties with access.

The past week there have been the Big Cat programmes on the BBC live from the Masai Mara. There are no big cats in Lochinvar – though I have seen suggestions that leopards hunt here (which might explain the leopard in the convent, next to Monze Mission Hospital, last year) – however the sights and sounds of the Masai Mara are very familiar. There is something very unique and awe inspiring about the African landscape and I feel very privileged to be able to experience it.

I have often said that I would love to enjoy being a tourist in Zambia, but I could only do that when my friends can also afford to enjoy the joy and wonder of their own country. A day in a safari camp costs the equivalent of a year's wages for the local Zambian which demonstrates the huge gap that exists. It also shows however the potential for providing income if it was properly managed.

Best wishes


An Anthill

Another photo that I promised was one of an anthill. Yes this really is an anthill! This is another example of how amazing nature is. Reading about conservation farming I came across the comment that termites are everywhere in Zambia. These creatures do a very valuable job of converting the dead vegetation into compost. Apparently if the maize stalks are cut and left on the surface the termites will eat these and leave the fresh growth to produce a new crop. On our trip up North David and I visited the Moto Moto museum in Mbala. This is a very interesting museum dedicated to a missionary who was much respected in these parts. One of the exhibits is a preserved queen termite. I had never realised the enormous difference in size between the queen and her subjects! (It looked more like a lobster than an ant!)

The anthill in the picture is being dug out gradually and used to fertilise the fields. This year Jennipher's support groups are each going to grow some maize and will use the anthills as the main source of fertiliser.
I am also incvluding a couple of photos of Jennipher and her family. One taken in 2005 and the other this year. Jennipher features a lot in my blogs and I feel no apology is needed for that. One of the questions I am asked when I return (after “when are you going back”!) is “was your trip successful”. When I consider my visits to Zambia, I think of my early contact with Jennipher (as you can see from the early picture). Jennipher now is a very different person. She has a purpose in her life and she has changed (and saved) the lives of many people in her neighbourhood. She has introduced me to many of her clients – some have since died, but some are now following her example and leading useful lives. There is always a need for support, though often a little can make a huge difference. Jennipher is a success story and if I have been able to play some part in that then, irrespective of anything else my time in Zambia has been well worthwhile.



I said that I would place a few photos on the blog, so the next few posts will attempt to fulfil that promise.

So this is the long awaited photo of a Jacaranda. This picture was taken just along the road from Monze Basic school on the other side of the railway from the town centre. As I left Zambia the Jacaranda were shedding their blossom leaving a beautiful blue carpet beneath them. It reminded me of the Well Dressing that takes place in Derbyshire where we lived for a couple of years. For those who have not come across well dressing, each year elaborate and very beautiful pictures are made from blossom and petals that are set in large frames covered with clay. The pictures are placed over ancient sources of water – wells and springs. The practice is done to celebrate the gift of water and certainly pre-dates Christianity. Often these days the wells are blessed – perhaps by the local priest or vicar.

It has struck me particularly this year how easy it is to dismiss the ancient traditions as nonsensical superstitions – and yet it is interesting to note just how similar current religious practices are to those of our ancient ancestors. When we visited a village to observe their way of life we were shown the way in which the the people called to their ancestors to provide good rains for the years harvest. In the Catholic church we are encouraged to pray to the saints to intercede for us for our needs. We celebrate with harvest festivals and have services full of symbolism.

Back in the UK the leaves are falling as Autumn takes over from Summer. In Zambia some leaves have also been falling – though this is because of the hot dry weather, not the cold! There is however a tree that grows in Zambia that conveniently sheds its leaves at the start of the rainy season. This allows crops to be grown underneath without being shaded. The leaves provide a mulch to prevent the ground drying and eventually provides compost for future crops. Isn't nature wonderful!

This year Jatropa seems to be the plant of choice for boundary hedges. Growing this crop is controversial because of its use to provide bio-fuels. It is however difficult to see why it shouldn't be used in this manner. My fear however is that once it becomes acceptable, the big multinationals will come in and grow it commercially on a large scale, reducing the amount of land available for food crops.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A tour of the North -Final Days

Monday 6th October

It is 21.20 here at Nairobi airport and I have a couple of hours yet to wait for my plane – and 56 minutes battery time on my laptop!

A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks. After Chisamba I headed North with David visiting some rural health centres. Having hardly veered off the Lusaka – Livingstone road during my previous 5 visits I found myself in the far north of the country 850 km the other side of Lusaka.

Distances here are vast and mains electricity hasn't yet reached the extremities. I was struck by the difficulty in reaching a hospital. Patients – some having already been brought 30 or 40 km by bike to a health centre (even when in labour) need to travel a further 170 / 180 km on rough roads if they have any complications. Such is the reality of life in rural parts of Zambia.

A priest from Mbala collected us on the Wednesday morning from Chisamba and we squeezed together inside his pick-up for the long journey up north. On one occasion I chose to ride on a bench seat in the back of the pick-up. Feeling like a cross between the Queen and the Pope I had a wonderful ride for 100 km or so. However, any illusions of grandeur were well and truly shattered because the wind and dust turned me into an object of much amusement for the local people along the route – my hair stood up in spikes and my face was a mottled brown!

I was surprised just how much of the vast area was inhabited. Almost everywhere along the road there were small settlements – much more so than in the South between Lusaka and Monze. Solar power is being used in some of the health centres, convents etc. but it is relatively expensive, costing perhaps £500 to provide some lighting.

Despite the problems, a lot of good work is being done by some very dedicated staff in these centres. Due to staff shortages some key staff are almost constantly on call and have forgone holidays for many years.

We finished our trip by travelling overnight (a 13 hr journey) on a bus from Nakonde on the Tanzanian border back to Lusaka where we reflected for a couple of days on what we have seen and heard on our journey.

We met Kevin (an HATW Trustee) last Tuesday morning at Lusaka airport and headed back to Chisamba. When we arrived they were preparing for the funeral of Joshua the former manager of the skills centre that has been established with support from HATW. Joshua had been ill for about a year and it seemed appropriate that Hands Around the World was represented at the funeral – though it is so sad that yet another young life has been lost.

We arrived back in Monze at around 20 hrs. I think I have mentioned that this year the road between Kafue and Mazabuka (a stretch of about 100 km) is badly potholed. The practice of excavating the holes some time (weeks!) before filling them doesn't make driving any easier. So I was pleased that the majority of this stretch was done in daylight. Yesterday's paper mentioned that a minibus had overturned on this section of road, killing two people and leaving many more badly injured. There have been a number of serious accidents on this bit of road this year.

I need to break here as my flight has been called! I will continue when I reach home!!

Wednesday 8th October

Home safely and slowly coming around after a good night's sleep, I will just briefly comment on the past week or so.

On Wednesday and Thursday last week I accompanied David and Kevin when visiting the HATW projects in Monze. To some extent the hard work is now just beginning. The dream is to help some of the most vulnerable children to obtain the skills needed to provide a reasonable life for themselves and their families. Constructing the buildings is relatively easy – and funds can be found – but ongoing support is not so simple.

Thursday afternoon and Friday was set aside to say goodbye! So I installed a hard drive and made minor modifications to the software on Sr. Juunza's computer and checked up on the other locations where I have been working. So in practice, as usual, I quickly ran out of time and didn't manage to say goodbye to many friends at the hospital.

I had arranged for Jennipher to visit on Friday lunchtime with her family. She duly turned up with Soloman, Sandra, Mike, Raquel and Selina. Having run out of juice I bought a few bottles of coke etc. I also bought a loaf of bread and plenty of bananas, apples and oranges for a simple meal. I was particularly pleased to see Sandra – who I hadn't seen this year and Mike who I had not previously had the pleasure of meeting. I introduced both of these children (who are young teenagers) to pinball on the computer. Like children everywhere, despite not having touched a computer before, they very soon worked out how to play the game. I also demonstrated the webcam much to everyone's amusement, and captured a few priceless moments on video. The atmosphere was very much one of a small party and a very fitting way to say goodbye.

On Friday evening Luke then Teddy came around for a chat – power returned just before Luke left. So it was after 21 hrs when I made myself my final meal at Homecraft.

On Saturday I went to mass at the chapel for my final time. In Zambia it isn't easy to slip in and out of church communities (like it is here in the UK). So my leaving was announced and I was asked to say a few words. The previous Sunday I attended mass at the Cathedral in Lusaka, again they asked if there were any visitors who had not previously attended mass there – so I had to stand up so that I could be properly welcomed. This last Sunday I was similarly singled out at the University chapel an Lusaka University. Although these occasions are a little embarrassing, it is good to know that people are interested in welcoming visitors or wishing those leaving blessings as they go on their way. At both the Cathedral and University chapel I was approached after mass to enforce the welcome.

So now I am back home. My antivirus software is repaired. It was infected by a virus soon after reaching Monze but because of the speed of the Internet it wasn't practical to repair it!

I put my jumper and jacket on before leaving the plane at Heathrow and then took them off again since the weather was much warmer than I expected. In fact I think it was cooler when I left Nairobi!

I passed through customs very quickly – being at the front of the plane. My bag arrived very quickly at the carousel and as I lifted it to my trolley the carousel stopped! But for me I had a clear run out of the restricted area – it looked as if the staff hadn't yet started work! So by just after 7 am I was heading for the bus and by 11.30 am I was home once again.

I am sure that there are many thoughts and reflections I will have on the past three months that I would like to share – but for now I will close. There are also a number of photos that I have that I will put on the blog for your interest.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.

Bye for now – with my love and prayers


Saturday, September 20, 2008

My last working day at the Hospital

Friday 19th September

Today was my last working day at the hospital. It is a bit unreal because I know that it will be another two weeks before I head back to England. As usual I was rushing up to the last minute trying to tidy some loose ends. There were some visitors - I believe they described themselves as a team of Health Consultants – they came for Zambia and abroad. Among other things I believe that they were discussing management information systems. It was a pity that I didn't get a chance to talk to them.

The management information systems that I have set up in the main stores, pharmacy, school, information office, human resources and even for the tuck shop! have been modified a little to provide a bit more functionality and to repair problems that have developed over the years. Most however have only been in action for the past week or two and the users haven't had time to get used to them and demand extra features. I am encouraging people to maintain contact over the internet so that I can continue to provide support.

This week the jacaranda trees have probably hit there peak. I will attempt to provide a picture for the blog. After a cool week the temperatures have risen again. Last week they dropped by at least 7 or 8 degrees centigrade – so it the maximums were right down in the mid to upper 20s! Today thanks to the new air conditioning units and fans, the temperature in the pharmacy was kept down to 26 C. Once again I find it hard to find the sun around midday – despite the fact that it was only one day last week when we saw any clouds. The sun is already very high, though not quite directly overhead. It sits above the equator on its way down south to visit Zambia in a couple of months time.

Jennipher visited yesterday and I was able to tell her that, thanks to the generosity of some friends back in England, she will get her new bike. She is very busy and has set up groups for the children and mothers with babies (or who are pregnant). It is very hard to comprehend the difficulties faced by some of her clients. One, a thirteen year old girl with her baby, couldn't afford any soap and kept away from others because she was aware that she was dirty. Others are taught that they need to take their children off the breast because the virus could be transmitted to child through breast feeding. (Jennipher tells me that it is actually thought to be because of cuts and sores that mother and child develop rather from the milk.) The choice then becomes between passing on the virus or having no food to feed the child. Once again poverty is spreading HIV/AIDS to the next generation.

However it is not all bad news because Jennipher is managing to educate many people about the disease, how to live with it and how to avoid it. She has found some children who want to follow her example and declare their status to children in the town to try to help break down the stigma among the young people. She is also encouraging mothers to check their status during pregnancy so that they can be treated and help avoid passing the virus onto their children. With her bike she will be able to reach a lot more people. Each of her new groups will plant some seed maize, using an anthill as fertiliser. Let's hope that this year the weather is much kinder.

The 8 – 5 working day routine (or even 7.30 - 5) is now at an end. The next couple of weeks are likely to be very different as I will be visiting a variety of different places throughot the country and meeting new faces. I am looking forward to the experience and maybe the Lord is signalling a slightly different role for me in the future. It is certainly true that I feel enlivened by the work I do with the many little projects I have outside the hospital. Sometimes the challenges and the enormity of the issues becomes overwhelming and then I see someone who, with a little support and encouragement, has been transformed and suddenly hope returns.

On Tuesday I attended a meeting at Monze Basic. What I had expected to require a bit of negotiation skills – I prided myself on doing some very keen deals when working at Eagle Star – turned out to be an occasion where listening was far more important. Like seeing, true listening is something that requires the use of many senses. It is very different to hearing and is in fact very difficult without also seeing the other person. Anyway I tried to listen and report on what I heard. I hope that this will prove useful.

Sunday's Post had an article entitled 10 things to look for in a leader. The leadership election triggered this piece written by a Leadership Consultant! I am very cynical about consultants – especially management consultants! However, much of what was said made sense to me. His emphasis was on how the leader relates to others, whether she values and respects everyone working for her – whether he delights in the abilities of others rather than feeling threatened etc. Unfortunately it seems to me that many of these attributes are undervalued these days. I can't remember who it was that claimed that if you can't measure it it is of no value, but whoever it was got it completely wrong. My God is love!

I hope to have a reasonably quiet weekend. I have some cleaning and tidying to do which I often find very therapeutic. I recall trips to Lourdes when on the last day I really enjoyed getting a mop out and washing the floors, while listening to some pleasant music. I would be able to gently ponder the joys and sorrows of the previous few days and prepare for the long journey back home. I hope to be able to do something similar this weekend.

Ireen is poised to make Dilys chitenge suit – all I need is her measurements! Last weekend I looked for some material and was having difficulty finding something that would be just right. A young stall holder showed me a couple of items that were far from what I had in mind but one particularly grabbed my attention. I said I would ponder and maybe return. I had not found anything else until, on the last stall before the vegetable market, I spotted something that really caught my imagination. So I meditated as I stocked up for the next few days. I was still undecided so I found one of my friendly marketeers – one who has met Dilys – and asked her advice. She gave her opinion and then said she would come back with me to check them out. When she saw the first chitenge she confirmed that it was the one to go for. Unfortunately I needed two pieces and one had been sold in the time I had taken to get my vegetables – so the other chitenge chose itself! Chtenges as I have previously mentioned are colourful pieces of material – usually 3 metres by 1½ metres. They are used over a woman's skirt to keep it clean. However, they are also made into very attractive clothes – I hope that I will get the details needed to produce a finished article for Dilys.

Saturday 20th September

I have just visited the Maluba school. The roof is now complete and the classrooms and office are all plastered. The window frames are in place for all the classrooms and just the doors need to be installed and a few finishing touches need to be done. I will try to include a photo.

I will now start preparing for my visit to Chisamba and elsewhere. I doubt that I will have much chance to post any blogs over the next week or so (though I am sure that there will be a lot to relate) and then it will be time to head back home. I am sure you will bear with me if there is a bit of a hiatus – you might even breathe a sigh of relief!!

So for now I send my love and prayers


Monday, September 15, 2008

Clouds, Butterflies and a Full Moon

Saturday 13th September

Today there were a few clouds in the sky – the first I have seen for perhaps three weeks. It is actually rather nice to see some white amid the deep blue sky. I think that it is unlikely that I will experience any rain before I leave, though last year there was a shower in September. I hear that in the UK you have been blessed with plenty of rain yet again! I hear that Ike has been doing damage in the US maybe it might also further disturb the weather in the UK eventually.

There are a few plants outside my flat that attract butterflies. Today a beautiful bright and colourful butterfly hovered around for some time. Many butterflies here are relatively large. This one was 10-13cm (4 – 5 ins) across. Sometimes flocks of small birds halt on the banana plants outside my window before continuing their journey.

In the bathroom I have a couple of handsome spiders that rest on the wire mosquito netting. I suppose these measure about 1½ - 2cm (just under an inch) – that's the body. With the legs they probably measure 8 – 10 cm (3 - 4 inches). I regard these as rather modest in size but I seem to recall that Dilys thought they were rather large. I suppose you get used to what is around you. Today I also noticed a small frog (only 2 -3cm in length). I have had resident bath frogs like this before. They are a very light orange in colour and make me think of albinos. There are also house lizards that have a similar look to them – as if they could do with a week on holiday in the sun!

My impression is that it is greener this year than previously at this time of year. There is still some fresh green grass about and many of the paths have some grass rather than being dust and sand. There is also some water around in the form of small pools and wet ditches, although a lot of the pools that were here in July have now dried up. I have been told that sometimes the water in the little dam I visit dries up. Looking at the current level it is inconceivable that it could dry up before the rains this year.

Today I attended a memorial mass for Rose who was killed two years ago in the same accident as my friend Bentoe. The anniversary is at this time.

I bumped into Luke in one of the grocery shops in the market and a little later was called across to another hospital employee – one of the important medical staff. He has just opened a grocer's shop in the main market. A number of hospital employees have set up other businesses to allow them to meet their daily expenses.

I had a few e-mails to send and I knew of at least one I needed to pick up. So I headed for the Internet cafe. It looked very hopeful as I opened Yahoo – however having logged in I had difficulty in opening my mailbox. I blame Internet Explorer – I can't remember having any problems with Firefox! Maybe I am just getting paranoid about Micro$oft! Anyway I eventually got into my mails and copied them all into Word documents just before the power went off! It was a pity that I didn't save them to my flash drive or even read them!! So that ½ hour will need to be repeated. It will be a delight to have high speed Internet again when I get home. When I asked the staff whether they thought the power might come back very quickly (It does sometime!) they said no it would probably come back at about 21 hrs. When power returned at 21.20 I thought that maybe they knew when it would go off! Pity I wasn't warned, I might not have wasted my time and money!!

Yesterday the hospital was launching their HIV/AIDS workplace policy and had a special VCT day to encourage staff and others to get tested. I was sending e-mails at the ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) and VCT centre. Some of the staff were queuing and they said I should join them. As a hospital we are trying to encourage everyone to get tested – including those who are sure they are negative. This is to help make the process become the norm and take away any stigma in visiting a centre. I therefore dropped off my laptop and returned for the test. The process involved giving a small sample of blood and a drop is put onto an indicator strip. After a few minutes the results are ready. Oh, and you receive a bottle of coke and a scone! I must admit even though confident of a negative result, wandering around here occasional you step on something and get a small cut and you regularly come across needles on the ground – last year I cleared quite a number from the garden. I wondered however about the many people here who are far from certain of their status and what those few minutes would be like. Fortunately there was only one line on the the indicator strip – meaning it was negative. I hope that I would have been able to say if there had been a second line.

Sunday 14th September

I made two trips to Our Lady of the Wayside church today. The first for mass at 10 hrs – which started at 10.25 (after the conclusion of the children's mass) and finished at 12.30.

Returning to Homecraft I met Lashford (the builder at Maluba School) he told me that his one year old child had died on Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lashford and his family at this terribly sad time.

The second trip was to attend a Parish Council meeting. I spent a couple of hours listening to the proceedings (in Chitonga) then introduced myself and said a few words. I thought that it was important to meet the church council, since I have been trying to develop a link and provide some support since 2004/5. I think I have been an official member of St. Veronica's Small Christian Community since 2005.

On the way home I called in to see Charles, as I was passing his house. The sun was low in the west as I approached his house and the moon was rising in the east. So as I walked north along the road it was very obvious why it was once again a full moon. With the moon and directly opposite each other at the same height above the horizon.

By the time I left Charles the sun had already set. Although reasonably bright I was expecting it to be dark before I reached home – forgetting of course that it doesn't get really dark here when thereis a full moon. It became obvious that once again power had gone and the only light was in fact from the moon. Though I kept expecting to see a light that was making the ground and buildings shine. I still find myself awestruck by the wonderful moon shadows. Now two hours later the power is still off so it will be the remains of the salad I prepared yesterday and some cold beans for supper.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Yet another Death at Home

Thursday 11th September

For the third time since arriving here this year I received the news that a friend of mine has suddenly died.

Sylvie worked with me at Eagle Star for many years and we were good friends. She moved across from O&M (where we both worked) to join me in the early stages of the telecommunications section. She also went to UEA (University of East Anglia) and although she was in the year behind me I am not aware that our paths ever crossed at that institution. Whilst still working for me Sylvie and her husband Roy were victims of a quite brutal redundancies after BAT (British American Tobacco) had taken over the company. They moved to France where they have lived ever since, making only very occasional trips back to the UK. Recently Sylvie has suffered from kidney disease and following a kidney transplant operation she got a blood clot. Sylvie subsequently died yesterday. In recent years Sylvie has read my blog and encouraged me to publish it. One day I hope that it will form the basis of book and I will dedicate it in her memory. My deep sympathy and prayers go out to Roy and Robert her son. Once again I mourn the loss of a good friend and, although recently our contact has been only the occasional e-mail, I will miss Sylvie. May she rest in peace.

Jennipher paid me a visit today. I have been able to provide food for six of her clients over the past three months thanks to someone who gave me some money to provide food for the hungry. She told me that one of these clients died a day or two back. He had been eventually brought to Monze for treatment but died before he could be attended to. She said that he had been waiting for transport from Pemba Clinic for 4 days and if he had been taken to Monze earlier he might have survived. Such are the realities of life here. I am hopeful that we will be able to fund a bicycle for Jennipher through a school in Cheltenham. At the moment there are places too far out for Jennipher to reach without transport – and she has no money for that.

I week or two back Jennipher went to follow up a client - a 15 year old girl. When she arrived she found that the girl had committed suicide and they were burying her. There is a big problem of stigma in relation to HIV/AIDS – and it isn't just here in Zambia, in fact in the UK the illness is hidden from almost everyone. Here sometimes a child known to be HIV+ is used as a servant and refused education – as seems to be the case in this instance. Jennipher's role is to maintain contact with her clients and help them, their family and the community to understand about AIDS and to recognise that a person, with the right treatment, can live a relatively normal and useful life. Jennipher gives her own testimony to this effect. It is very important that people like Jennipher can maintain contact with clients in the remoter villages – so when her bike arrives it will enable her to save more lives. It is really good to see Jennipher so obviously happy these days. She tells me that she loves her work. After a very difficult life she now believes that she has found the work that the Lord had reserved for her and I have no doubt at all that she is right.

Best came around this evening. I put a bit extra rice in the pan knowing he would call and invited him to join me for a bite to eat. My cooking repertoire comes from various sources! Tonight I was cooking 'House of Commons' which is my mother's recipe. (Boil some rice and in the meantime fry some onions, add some tomatoes to the onions, then finally add the rice, mix and fry a bit more.) Best admitted that he had never experienced such a method of cooking! I also braised some cabbage with pounded groundnuts which is probably a Zambian variation on a Delia Smith recipe! I was pleased that Best had the courage to try this strange concoction and delighted that he really enjoyed it. He is now planning add it to his recipe list and to serve it up at home.

Best is confident of receiving an acceptance letter to study Law before the end of October. He met another volunteer from the UK a while ago who has promised to help him fund his course – though there will still be a shortfall. Best will also raise some money himself. It is still going to be struggle but since our church was able to support him through his final year at school it would be a shame if he still fails to get a job.

Yesterday I saw a lovely jacaranda close to the railway – unfortunately I loaned my camera to Luke this morning or I might have taken a picture. Maybe I will get a chance at the weekend.

The past few days I have been attending meetings to sort out the plans and budgets for the hospital. There are a lot of good ideas here and I hope that I will be able help the team to focus on the key activities and streamline the process. Unlike most people, I am very much at home with planning and budgeting – sad really! Still it might prove useful here.

In between (and sometimes during) the above meetings I have been exercising my brain on my little expiry date dilemma. If anyone wants to know how to track expiry dates so that you can press a single button to list all the products in stock, with the quantity against each expiry date, or list any products expiring in a week, month or two months – or in fact any date you care to specify then get in touch! I seem to have cracked this conundrum – though (for those who understand a little of these things) I do run 10 consecutive queries and a few other supporting processes to achieve it.

The official mourning period for President Levy Mwanawasa was over on Tuesday and now the gloves are off! The 30th October has been announced as the day of the presidential elections. The ruling party – the MMD – have chosen their candidate. He is the Vice President and acting President. He was chosen despite it being made known that, although Levy Mwanawasa appointed him Vice president, he preferred the current Finance Minister to succeed him. Unfortunately Rupia Banda (Vice-President) seems to have gathered a group of very close supporters whose reputations are by all accounts rather suspect. The fact that while Levy Mwanawasa was out of action the present cabinet chose to award themselves huge salary increases also gives a worrying message. At the moment it looks like a 'three horse race' between Rupia Banda (MMD), Michael Sata (PF) and Hichelema Hakiande (UPND). There is however talk of a possible agreement between PF & UPND which might change the balance. Having been present during the 2006 elections I would not like to predict a winner, though to honest I worry that only HH is likely to move the country in a positive direction. (The unqualified support Sata gives to Robert Magabe and his eagerness to develop ties with Angola – “because they know how to fight” - is also very worrying.)

Anyway the next few weeks will be interesting, though I will have to follow the election from a distance.

I have been pressing to attend more of the management meetings – so I am invited to the morning briefing – at 7.30! So I better get to bed!!

Best wishes


Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Country in Mourning

Wednesday 3rd September

Today is a national holiday as this afternoon President Levy Mwanawasa's body will be laid to rest.

At lunchtime I decided to pick up a few items from the market. I have never seen the market so empty. Hardly any stalls outside the market had anything, or anyone present. The enclosed market hall was also quite empty – though there were more goods than Marketeers. It looked as if some had left their stock – perhaps to watch the funeral proceedings while others kept an eye on their stalls. The usual bustle of crowds looking for goods was absent. A few grocery shops were open but they were very much the exception. I decided that it wasn't necessary for me to buy anything today – I can find something from my stock!

Though the computer appeared to have resolved its fault yesterday, it recurred in a slightly less disastrous form later in the day. So today I am working on the computer to try to understand the problem and what are the triggers. So far after a morning's work I haven't found anything conclusive and neither have I resolved the problem!

I met up with Sr. Christeta again yesterday and we had a good chat. She mentioned that they had been doing more work with bereavement and Winston's Wish's idea of choosing what you want to remember according to three different sort of stones seems to have caught on. This was an idea Dilys explained in 2006. It is interesting to know how some of the ideas are just as applicable here in Zambia.

The other day I received a response to my letter to 'Aunty Gertrude'! Aunty Gertrude writes an interesting column in the Post (one of the main national newspapers here). She provides advice to the young people (mainly teenagers) and when I have glanced at it I have always been impressed by how sound the advice is – I think we could do with her in the UK. My eye was caught by her headline which related to how children were reacting to President Mwanawasa's death. In fact she was saying how children's feelings seem to have been forgotten at this time. She went on to talk about bereavement and how children need to able to talk etc. I wrote to congratulate her on the article and also to tell her about Winston's Wish. Her response was very warm and she says that having looked at the website she will use the information and recommend it to others working in this field.

Last night I attended a memorial service at the Cathedral for President Mwanawasa. Since I first came to Zambia in 2003 he has been the President and Head of State in the Country. I felt that it was appropriate for me to join the local people to show my respects to a good man and leader of the nation. The singing (with or without accompaniment) puts us in the UK to shame, often sung in parts with harmonies – all of which seems to happen naturally and often spontaneously, and the volume! You don't need to be inside a church to know a service is taking place – a hundred metres (or two) from a church and the air is filled with the singing. At the offertory a few people processed in turn with an object that symbolised an attribute of the President and read a short explanation. It was very dignified, appropriate and a fitting way to say farewell. My the soul of President Levy Mwanawasa rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Time is flying

Monday 1st September

Time is running away! All of July and August have gone and with them the cool weather. I am aware just how sensitive we humans are to the temperature. A degree here or there makes a huge difference. The breeze – or even wind as it was today – now only has a marginal cooling effect. Even a strong breeze doesn't make you feel anything like cool in the heat of the African sun. Temperatures are now easing into the low 30s. An extra degree or two in the water temperature also means that soon a cold shower will become a real treat!

The past week has been interesting and probably one of the most productive so far this year. I deliberately devoted time to catch up on the projects and people outside the hospital. I usually find little time for doing this. The people included a priest, three School Managers and the Diocesan project Co-ordinator. All gave me plenty of things to think about and challenged some of my pre-conceived ideas and beliefs. I have heard from many Zambian people that they shouldn't blame others for their plight and also that there are some here that have more wealth and live in greater luxury than most in the UK. These views were repeated this past week. Even my belief that bio-fuels are only for the benefit of the energy hungry West that is looking for some fancy accounting trick to allow it to continue to burn more carbon, was challenged.

As I constantly repeat, this world of ours is extremely complex and there are no simple solutions to the huge problems we face. However it is important for me to recognise that nothing is black and white, and just like humankind there are a multitude of shades in the middle.- and we should thank God for that.

I have spent a lot of time sitting in my flat at Homecraft with a coffee and my laptop. When I am playing with the databases I need to be able to concentrate and this is the environment I find best for this. One of the major outcomes was a solution to my problem with the expiry dates. I can't claim that the solution is very elegant or straightforward but it seems to work and produces the required result – which is to be able to press a button and find out which items of stock are due expire within any period stated. Well almost!! I had assumed a first in first out system – now I need to cope with the exceptions to this rule! Still don't worry I am sure that is only a minor modification!

I spotted a couple of Jacaranda trees close to full bloom at the weekend. A large Jacaranda is a ten metre high deep blue bush full of delicate blooms and a truly beautiful sight. My trip to the small dam yesterday found many enjoying the cool water, including a couple of cows that had found some new grass in the shallows so waded out for a hearty meal. I sat under a small bush which gave a little shade and settled down for a while to see what birds I could spot. Very soon I attracted the attention of some youngsters who enjoyed the next ¾ hour peering through my binoculars and scouring the pages of my bird book. Eventually I made my leave of Brian and his friends and returned to my laptop. Without my binoculars or book I realised that I could easily spot the African jacanas and cattle egrets (even at a distance) but which of the many types of swift were busy way above my head was a different matter.

The country is still in mourning for the loss of their President Levy Mwanawasa. The body was flown around the country so that as many people were able to pay their last respects and view the body. Pictures in the paper show that many thousands took that opportunity. Tributes continue to flood in. There is some unease at gap that has been left and fears that Mwanawasa's passion to fight corruption and support the poorest in the Country is not shared by all. It was revealed in the press this weekend that President Mwanawasa left a video to be shown after his death. With the burial on Wednesday, the tape planned to be televised on Thursday and the governing party (and Mwanawasa's) due to announce their presidential candidate on Friday, we seem to be set for an interesting week!
Today I tried to help one of the sisters at the hospital by preparing her computer to receive a copy of Windows and Microsoft office (despite the problems we have with Microsoft). Anyway I left her tonight without a working computer! My God knows how easily I get big-headed after a slight success and I am usually brought down to earth with a big bump. I am sure that when I have learnt my lesson everything will start to work again – but quite rightly relief rather than praise will be the order of the day.

Best wishes


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Other Projects

Wednesday 27th August

This week I have been deliberately catching up on projects outside of the hospital. Links with schools, church etc. all merit attention and usually I find very little time to devote to them. I am attempting to redefine my role at the hospital and am effectively taking a bit of a break from the institution. In fact I am finding it more productive to work at Homecraft on my computer – so in practice I am far from abandoning the hospital work – even though I am not seen around much.

I found that I had a lot to talk to Fr. Maambo about in respect of the link between Our lady of the Wayside and St. Gregory's church communities. A discussion with Best – one of the guys we were able to sponsor last year – showed that completion of school isn't necessarily a job completed. He is trying to get to college to study law, but a fee to apply and transport to Lusaka (about £15 in total) were going to prevent him applying this year. He said he could do 'piece work' to earn the money for his college fees (though I suspect he would still fall short without a little sponsorship). Fr. Maambo agreed that such cases also need to be considered for some sponsorship. The other guys that were sponsored are struggling to find jobs and some might need to resit their exams to improve their grades. We talked about developing the link and a number of other things and I hope to attend mass and the Parish council meeting on 14th September.

I also had a chance to catch up with Mr. Meheritona from St. Vincent's School and enjoyed nsima and later a couple of Mosis with Mr. Chaambwa from Monze Basic. Mr Chaambwa also told me a little of the history of three neighbouring schools – his own established for the 'White' Community, another for the 'Non;white / coloureds' and a third for local 'Black' Zambians. It made me realise that the British too imposed a form of apartheid in their colonies.

Last night I was joined by one of the security guards as I did a bit of star-gazing. Power was off from very early in the morning – I woke before 5 am to find it absent – until about 19 hrs, soon vanished again till about 21.30. The milky way here is very clear as a thin cloud stretching across the sky – it is no wonder that it is said that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on earth. And to think we have only fully explored (well almost!) one small planet revolving around one of those grains! Yet some still say there is no God!

Waiting for a meeting with the Hospital's senior managers today, I looked at the flower borders outside the administration block. Many of the flowers are wilting through lack of water – I wondered whether when they were planted their long term survival was seriously considered and planned for. As I continued to look I noticed additional plants – once spotted I noticed more of that type. I realised that every time I looked I learnt more. I believe that I can help at the hospital best by looking at strategic issues – long term planning. My experience has allowed me to discover a lot of things and perhaps I will notice much, that to those, glancing for the first time, will be missed. The introduction of new technology and computerisation of organisations in the UK is something that has taken place over perhaps 20 – 30 years and most of that time I have been involved with the emerging systems. Zambia is on a fast track! When I came in 2003 there were very few computers at the hospital (and no mobiles) – now I wouldn't be surprised if there are not close on 100 computers, if you include personal laptops sometimes used (and everyone seems to ave at least one mobile!).

I am hoping that I can be of use helping managers to cope with and exploit the rapid changes that are taking place, and will continue to happen at enormous speed ,over the next few years.

Best wishes


Other Projects

Wednesday 27th August

This week I have been deliberately catching up on projects outside of the hospital. Links with schools, church etc. all merit attention and usually I find very little time to devote to them. I am attempting to redefine my role at the hospital and am effectively taking a bit of a break from the institution. In fact I am finding it more productive to work at Homecraft on my computer – so in practice I am far from abandoning the hospital work – even though I am not seen around much.

I found that I had a lot to talk to Fr. Maambo about in respect of the link between Our lady of the Wayside and St. Gregory's church communities. A discussion with Best – one of the guys we were able to sponsor last year – showed that completion of school isn't necessarily a job completed. He is trying to get to college to study law, but a fee to apply and transport to Lusaka (about £15 in total) were going to prevent him applying this year. He said he could do 'piece work' to earn the money for his college fees (though I suspect he would still fall short without a little sponsorship). Fr. Maambo agreed that such cases also need to be considered for some sponsorship. The other guys that were sponsored are struggling to find jobs and some might need to resit their exams to improve their grades. We talked about developing the link and a number of other things and I hope to attend mass and the Parish council meeting on 14th September.

I also had a chance to catch up with Mr. Meheritona from St. Vincent's School and enjoyed nsima and later a couple of Mosis with Mr. Chaambwa from Monze Basic. Mr Chaambwa also told me a little of the history of three neighbouring schools – his own established for the 'White' Community, another for the 'Non;white / coloureds' and a third for local 'Black' Zambians. It made me realise that the British too imposed a form of apartheid in their colonies.

Last night I was joined by one of the security guards as I did a bit of star-gazing. Power was off from very early in the morning – I woke before 5 am to find it absent – until about 19 hrs, soon vanished again till about 21.30. The milky way here is very clear as a thin cloud stretching across the sky – it is no wonder that it is said that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on earth. And to think we have only fully explored (well almost!) one small planet revolving around one of those grains! Yet some still say there is no God!

Waiting for a meeting with the Hospital's senior managers today, I looked at the flower borders outside the administration block. Many of the flowers are wilting through lack of water – I wondered whether when they were planted their long term survival was seriously considered and planned for. As I continued to look I noticed additional plants – once spotted I noticed more of that type. I realised that every time I looked I learnt more. I believe that I can help at the hospital best by looking at strategic issues – long term planning. My experience has allowed me to discover a lot of things and perhaps I will notice much, that to those, glancing for the first time, will be missed. The introduction of new technology and computerisation of organisations in the UK is something that has taken place over perhaps 20 – 30 years and most of that time I have been involved with the emerging systems. Zambia is on a fast track! When I came in 2003 there were very few computers at the hospital (and no mobiles) – now I wouldn't be surprised if there are not close on 100 computers, if you include personal laptops sometimes used (and everyone seems to ave at least one mobile!).

I am hoping that I can be of use helping managers to cope with and exploit the rapid changes that are taking place, and will continue to happen at enormous speed ,over the next few years.

Best wishes


Another Death in the UK

Saturday 23rd August

This afternoon Dilys rang to tell me that my friend Danny died yesterday. Deaths here in Zambia are only too common but Danny's death serves as a reminder that even in the UK we are not guaranteed a long life. Danny was no more than in his early 40s. I met him in the early 1990s when I was organising a pilgrimage to Lourdes and we have been friends ever since. During the time I have known him he has lived at the Leonard Cheshire Home in Cheltenham. He was born with Spina Bifida and as a consequence was reliant on a wheelchair to move around. He was a man of good humour and we always enjoyed some friendly banter, which always produced plenty of laughter. He had a very caring nature and was always ready to provide support where he thought it was needed. He will be sadly missed by many and I have lost another good friend.

On Friday I thought I would say hallo to Constance and send an e-mail or two from the NFU (Farmer's Union) Internet cafe. Constance was not in (Now I realise why I met her at the hospital!) and after an hour I gave up trying to open my e-mail account.

The Jacaranda is beginning to come into bloom. The outgoing team remarked on the wonderful colour of the blossom – a beautiful deep blue. In fact it will be a few more weeks before it is at its peak – I might even post a picture to let you see. After a couple of years plus, I have seen an icon for inserting pictures in the blog – my claim is that it is a recent upgrade. Anyway I will see if I can brighten the blog with the occasional photo in future – maybe even on this blog.

This evening it felt warm in the house. That is I could do with an open window - if I find one with a decent mosi net over it I might give it a go. However, the weather continues to be cooler than I remember at this time of year. Many people still wear jumpers and jackets early in the morning, though I am comfortable in shirt sleeves.

I visited Pemba today to see Jennipher, her family and how her home is developing. She first gave me a tour of Pemba clinic. She is now based there in her new role. I was interested to know that she has been given the task of tracking 36 defaulters which she will do during the next week, though without a bike it might not be possible to reach the more distant clients. It struck me last year that this was work better given to local groups than attempted from Monze Hospital. She also told me that they were now doing reviews and giving out ARVs at Pemba Clinic which I believe is a real step forward – and I suspect that Jennipher has had an influence on this. She was described to me today by one of the doctors as 'a little warrior' and I think he is right. Jennipher has found her mission in life and is determined to improve the lives of those living with AIDS.

When I arrived at her house I was greeted by Selina running into my arms. More subdued was Rachel who is 11 years old. Rachel escaped from Zimbabwe with 3 other children after witnessing some horrific events in that country. One of the children died on the way and another girl, and her newborn baby died in Pemba during the past couple of weeks, as I reported in a previuos blog. The other child Mike - a boy of about 13 – was away playing football with his team when I visited today. Jennipher has arranged for Rachel & Mike to attend school along with Selina and Sandra. The house is looking good and the water is still flowing from the tap – though, as I expected, they are about to start charging for its use.

Soloman is doing a good job in the garden – the tomatoes are growing well though some pests are attacking them before they ripen, there is rape and a similar plant they call 'five years' which grows shoots that can be cut and used to provide more plants. He has also planted carrots, onions and okra though these have only recently been sown. At the moment the hose doesn't quite reach the garden so the final stage of watering is done with containers.

I saw the well where the tragic death of Chimunya occurred. I am very keen that it is mended and properly capped so that no similar disaster can happen in the future.

Jennipher has lots of good ideas for helping her group. She wants to set up a small shelter which can be used as a creche/nursery for the young children. The mothers will take turns at looking after the children, while the others try to earn a little money to support themselves. Jennipher is keen that this shelter is not on her land in order to make it clear that it isn't 'hers' but for the whole community. She was told that sorting out the defaulters would be a lot easier with a computer. (A simple database seems to be the answer!). She also likes the idea of a machine to make hydroform bricks both for the groups buildings but also to sell the bricks and generate some money. I am reminded just how much work there is here and how easily I can be fully occupied outside of the hospital. There are a lot of little projects that need relatively small injections of cash to produce significant effects for the people here.

On the way to the 'bus stop' I met a man I knew from last year and he told me he was hungry. I am told that no one in this area had any harvest this year. Jennipher took me to a house where some fruits she talked about were growing. There we met a group of children eating nshima and a little relish. She said that they would move around to find someone who would give them something to eat. The owner of this property was working and was able to buy some mealie meal (the maize flour used to make nshima). What is worrying is that this is August and the next crop will not be harvested till at least March. There will be a lot of hungry people around here until then and it will obviously become worse as the months go by. Jennipher said that some people will have to live of some of the wild fruits that grow on the trees in the bush.

On the way home in the bus, I chatted to a guy who farmed some land near Mazabuka. He is very interested in organic farming but said he didn't know the techniques. He has 17 hectares of land which he says he cannot fully farm. Last weekend I stayed on the land of a farmer who had decided to grow 30 hectares of wheat this year, out of his land which extends to 2,500 hectares – he was white!

I was in the market when Dilys called. As I returned to my house the sun – huge and bright red was setting transforming the previously uniformly blue sky. What an amazing and complicated world this is!

With my love and my prayers


Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Death of a much respected President

Wednesday 20th August

It is a Catholic tradition to celebrate good examples of people of faith who we believe are receiving their reward in heaven. Today is St. Bernard's feast day he was a thirteenth century saint. Since it is also a tradition to take a saint's name at baptism (or christening) we can often get an extra celebration on the saint's feast day. I think that it is my uncle's birthday today and since he is called Bernard he has a double reason to celebrate but misses out on a second occasion. St. Christopher unfortunately has been removed from the calendar of saints and therefore I don't get a second excuse!

Yesterday President Levy Mwanawasa died. I suspect that he has been kept alive on a life support machine for the past 7 weeks and it was time that nature was allowed to take its natural course. President Mwanawasa was generally considered to have done a good job here and was half way through his third term of office. He was well respected around the world and enabled Zambia to be one of those countries that qualified for Debt Relief. This has made a difference. For instance hospital workers owed pay and allowances over many years are now receiving these payments. One of the results is that some are now able to return to Monze to retire and many buildings are going up stimulating the economy here. The mood at the hospital has been a bit subdued as a result – many feel a great loss and had a great affection for him. May he rest in peace.

Last night the Team hosted a farewell party. It was never going to be a loud and fun filled event – which in the circumstances was just as well. In fact it turned out to be an extremely moving event. I felt a little out of place not quite belonging to either the team or to the resident population – though feeling a certain affinity with both groups. It made me think of my position now in this world were I live in between the UK and Zambia, not fully belonging to either place. It was very clear that the HATW team were held in great affection by the local people – the children singing a farewell song had tears in their eyes – (probably together with everyone else present). Many moving tributes were paid to both groups who had bonded and formed a unique community over the past three weeks. I must say that everything I have seen tells me that the Team have been true ambassadors for the Charity and the UK. It is never easy for a group of seven to live together for three weeks but this team seemed very comfortable together and fitted into this world very well. Today they left for a couple of well-earned days break in Livingstone before returning to the UK at the weekend. I hope they have a great time and the weather back in the UK perks up so that it isn't too much of a shock to the system.

My job now is to support Mrs. Sianga to see the building completed and eventually to ensure the long-term future of the school through adequate funding. Hopefully you will be hearing about the progress in subsequent years in this blog.

It was back to the hospital today to look at further modification of the stock control system for use in the School. Reymond came around and I was able to pass on a donation which should ensure that those who lost their houses in the flood have a roof over their head before the rainy season. He joined me for a meal which I afraid was not my best! I attempted to replicate some 'relish' served up to us on Monday and I need more practice!!

Best wishes


Bush Camp

Monday 18th August

I think that another blog posting is called for although my last has yet to be published.

At 17.30 I met the Maluba team and we headed for Tooters to pick up our transport for the next adventure. Before we got there the SAPEP vehicle stopped and Wilson the Director of the organisation introduced himself and we jumped aboard. We met Tom and his two volunteers who had just arrived on a bus from a weekend in Livingstone and (leaving them behind) made our way to the farm which was to be our destination for the night.

We were all treated to a sumptuous supper before moving down to the camp where a fire was already blazing. Straw had been laid for our mattress, but before turning in we got to know each other through a few 'ice-breakers' – with all parties taking an active part. It was well beyond midnight when some of us hit the hay (literally!). The moon was full and the whole night was bathed in bright light clearer enough to allow you to find your way about without the need of a torch. I find the moon shadow truly beautiful and with the moon high the trees painted a complex pattern on the ground below. Occasionally during the night I woke momentarily to see the bright glow above and a silhouetted landscape in front. The only sounds were from the cicadas and other occasional nocturnal creatures chatting to each other. A little before 6 hrs the moonlight was gradually joined by its daytime, even brighter, companion. Despite only a short night I had no inclination to lie in. So before breakfast I joined Nigel and Peter for a stroll down to the river. We spent some time there and I felt that I could have happily spent the whole day sitting on the bank. The sun rose gently bathing us in warm sunshine in this idyllic setting. A kingfisher flew past and perched on a branch a little way upstream. After checking whether breakfast was ready at 8hrs I returned to the river until it arrived at about 9hrs.

Breakfast comprised nshima porridge with homemade jam, omelette, toast and tea. We were truly being spoilt in a great variety of ways.

After breakfast we piled aboard the project vehicle and headed out to a village a few kilometres further down the dirt road. The final kilometre or two being covered on foot with our lunchtime picnic being carried with us. On arrival, as is the tradition, we were warmly greeted with sining and dancing. Our base was a school were everyone introduced themselves to each other. For the remainder of the day we were treated to various presentations to demonstrate the way of life in the village. This included information about herbs by the local herbalist and traditional healer, a demonstration of a dance they do to ask the spirits to give good rain, another showing us the techniques used in thatching – we even had a chance to enter a goat corral which was built with information provided by SAPEP. Many other exhibitions and demonstrations were put on to show us the local customs, cooking, handicrafts etc. A lot of work had been put in to help us understand the local culture and traditions and it was a real privilege to be among the many smiling faces. SAPEP put on a sketch with the help of their local volunteers and discussed the issues about HIV/AIDS that were raised.

After a very interesting day we left to return to the farmouse and collect our luggage. After a cup of tea and muffins we made our way back home to Monze.

I had a call from Jennipher while I was with SAPEP but didn't want to take it at that time. This evening I called her to find out that the mother of the baby who died a few days ago had also died. She was in fact one of Jennipher's relatives who had escaped the trauma of Zimbabwe and was living at her house as part of her extended family. It is heartbreaking to think of the suffering that this girl had gone through in the final months of her short life. For Jennipher two more funerals within a week.

Again my life here continues to be a roller coaster of emotions. So tired but grateful for an incredible few days I will say bye and get ready for an early night!


Zambia in the Wild

Sunday 17th August

Having just returned from an amazing adventure it is difficult to think back to last Thursday!

As I have stated before life here is full of contrasts taking you from one extreme to another. It is not a grey world – life here is full of colour and powerful images – sometimes both beautiful and tragic. Like the group of ladies walking so elegantly with large plastic water containers balanced on their heads.

On Thursday I decided to spend some time outside the hospital visiting Charles to discuss his project. I hope to get time to look through his accounts and see just where the money is spent and where income is being generated. I also want to work with him to look at the vulnerabilities of his project and see if he can see any way of mitigating against some of the tragedies to hit the project in recent years. It was valuable time spent developing our relationship and exploring how we can work together to bring his dream to fruition.

Friday lunchtime I went again into samosa production and delivered the promised snack to the 'Maluba Team' who were on site busy plastering a classroom wall. They seem to be working well with the local men and the building is taking shape – one gable end is nearly complete.

I have another candidate for the Stores Database. I was accosted by the Procurement Officer of the School of Nursing and Midwifery who had spotted the database at Stores and wanted a copy. There are a few things to do to ensure that my previous work is doing exactly what is required which will occupy a bit of my time (and my rusty brain!)

So what about yesterday's adventure. During the week Luke asked me if I wanted to join him and a couple of medical students on a trip to Lochinvar. At first I wondered whether I just needed a rest on Saturday – but eventually succumbed! In 2006 I went to Lochinvar with Dilys. It was just after the death of my friend Bentoe and Luke's uncle had been injured in the accident. We invited Luke and he was invaluable helping to get us out of the sand when the pick-up got stuck. In 2004 I also drove to Lochinvar – that time I was accompanied by Emily Physiotherapist working at the hospital. On that occasion I wasn't very well and slept for two hours in the back seat of the pick-up.

So we set out at about 7hrs (only an hour later than scheduled!) in the hospital Landcruiser with Jasper at the wheel. The two medical students are studying at Southampton University and we were also joined by Thresa - a medical licentiate spending a year at Monze Mission Hospital. Katy – one of the students – wasn't feeling too good so the bouncing over very rough roads, on the way to the park, wasn't exactly what she wanted. We eventually passed through the entrance to the park, eventually gave up on getting a guide and made our own way to the hot springs, drum rocks and the baobab. The hot springs are very hot! i.e. too hot to leave a finger in for more than a second or so – the surrounding area has very rich lush tropical vegetation – a real oasis at this time of year. The drum rocks are easy to miss and only because I had been there before did faint recognition take place. The name comes from the fact that if you hit one of the rocks it makes a sound a bit like a drum – these rocks are obviously more evidence of some local volcanic activity. Baobab trees are quite common in Zambia. They look as if they have grown upside down with the roots coming out of the top instead of the bottom of the trunk. This particular Baobab has a huge girth – I am sure that 10 people would get no where near hugging it! Another feature is that the trunk is hollow so our complete party of six could fit within it.

Having had an interesting and gentle introduction to Lochinvar we made our way to the Lagoon viewing troops of monkeys and getting fleeting glimpses of KafueLechwe (an indigenous antelope) en-route. A drive by the lagoon brought us close to a variety of water loving birds. The huge Maribou Stork and many Egrets walked at the waters edge and in the distance Lechwe grazed and paddled in the shallows. We passed a pair of beautiful African Fish Eagles who sat undisturbed on the branches of a tree close by as we passed. We then sat and picnicked admiring the view and wildlife while had a confrontation with a water monitor lizard on the shore – fortunately he got away with nothing but a fright!

Luke asked some rangers the best way to go to spot some wildlife and so we set off in pursuit, having failed to find the route we tried again and this time abandoned the vehicle a bit and walked back to the shore. I had an idea that you could see hippos a little further up the lagoon but Katy wasn't up to a long walk so we returned to the car to make another attempt at finding a suitable route. Once again we came across our rangers – this time at another location. They tried again to describe the route and asked whether we would mind going half way up our legs in mud! Eventually one decide to join us in the back of the car. It was as well we had a guide because for the next 15 – 20 minutes we drove mainly across a plain with the faintest suggestion of tyre tracks here and there. Our guide obviously new the plain in minute detail. He directed us around the boggiest bits and as we progressed we saw more troops of monkeys, a herd of zebra easily visible with the naked eye and large herds of Lechwe at a little distance, A Secrtary bird with it's haughty stance tiptoed by – as if in stilettos . Eventually we stopped and disembarked – after some of us took the opportunity for a better view from on top of the cab!

We soon found out about the mud! A muddy stream formed a small barrier about 3-4 metres across. Having been promised a siting of hippos the group was keen but when the ranger walked through the stinking black mud (now we realised why he wore wellingtons!) few were keen to follow. Being rather more daft than the others I saw no problem in following and was soon on the other side my lower legs now being the same colour as my African Friends and my sandals sliding under my feet. Still there was a lot of reluctance from the other bank until the ranger removed his wellingtons and waded back handing them to each member of our group in turn and helping them across in safety and relative cleanliness (unlike my state!). A few lapwing seemed to find the whole exercise most amusing and laughed at us loudly..

Now we were moving across the plain back towards the lagoon and closer to the animals. The next couple of hours were breathtaking! We were surrounded by herds of antelopes – mainly Lechwe but also possibly a few impala among them. Vultures adorned the trees, wattled cranes, storks, egrets etc. flew past and browsed the vegetation. Everywhere we looked we were greeted with a feast of wildlife within a hundred metres or so and more stretching to the horizon. Unfortunately fishermen had disturbed the hippos, though we heard one bellowing in the distance. The sun set as we sat near the stream flowing from the lagoon and the Lechwe made there way home for the night in procession silhouetted against the horizon and others left into the stream and waded to the far bank.

We made our way back to the car and the moon was already lighting the sky. Our ranger could direct better without the headlights – the moon giving enough light and the field of view being greater than with the headlights on. (remember the tracks were almost invisible in daylight!)

Safely back at his station our wonderful guide gave each of us a shell – sometimes used as spoons he told us – and left us with a string full of fish that he had been given by the fishermen. I felt that it was us that should be giving out the gifts. I had realised just how important it is to accept the help of a guide. So often I want to do things myself. It isn't the first time that I have been lead to untold wonders by accepting the help of a guide.

It was about 21hrs by the time we arrived back in Monze the night becoming ever brighter as the moon rose and shed it's enchanting shadows on the earth. I had a bit of cleaning up to do before settling for the night.
I am now waiting to be taking out to a farm 30 km from Monze for a Bush Camp! What a life!!

With love and prayers


Friday, August 15, 2008

So many risks!

Wednesday 13th August

Life continues to be hard for the people out here. I met the hospital worker, whose house had been burnt down, last week. (he is still hoping that someone will help him rebuild his home). He had been in a road accident. Apparently he hitched a lift and was in a crash on the way back to Monze. He had broken his arm and lost a chunk out of his ear. The driver of the vehicle was killed. Another reminder just how hazardous it is to travel in this Country.

Today I met with Jennipher again. Selina had come for a review – she was worried that the doctor would make her go back to the ward and put her arm in traction again. In the event she was discharged and won't need to return. A few weeks ago Jennipher brought in someone who was pregnant and not at all well. She tested positive for HIV. Yesterday she was suffering pains and in the evening delivered a little girl but unfortunately the baby lived for only a very short period. Some local guys will make a small coffin so that the body can be buried properly. I read yesterday that, here in Zambia, for more than 1 in every 6 births the child dies before their 5th birthday.

Last week Jennipher attended a workshop to help her as a care worker. She will continue to do the work voluntarily, but she is expected to cover an area which stretches 30km from her home - hence her plea for a good bike. I have not been able to respond to the person who suggested some school children raise the money. I think it is a great idea – so if it is still on please let me know! It seems that the bike would cost about £100. (Some imported items are expensive here and the kwacha is relatively strong in respect of the pound)

The Maluba school is going up at an incredible speed. Yesterday a couple of volunteers with SAPEP joined the team for the morning. On Monday I will join the team on an outing with SAPEP when we will learn more about their work in trying to combat AIDS and see how they go about it in the villages. On Sunday evening we will join then for a 'Bush Camp'. I am very keen to understand a little more about how an NGO tackles HIV/AIDS, especially since I did a little work last year looking at the issue from the hospital's perspective.

I am currently busying myself at the hospital trying to resurrect the Stock Control system for the main stores and introducing it to the Pharmacy. My brain has been hurting trying to work out a way of keeping track of drug expiry dates. Lots of people must have cracked the problem before me but at the moment I am struggling! So if anyone out there can tell me how to do it using a Stock Control system in Access I would be very grateful!! I keep telling people that this really isn't my field of expertise.

It is amazing how I don't miss the TV here despite the Olympics being on! In fact I am glad that I haven't got easy access to one. Yet I am sure that as soon as I am back in the UK I will again be glued to it!

Bye for Now,


Monday, August 11, 2008

A retreat at Namalundu

Wednesday 6th August

Today I acted as tour guide to show some of the Team HATW around the hospital. As usual I managed to find out new things and see things I hadn't previously seen. The Ultrasound scanner was very impressive – not what I remember – but apparently it has been in the hospital for 3 years.

Yesterday the hospital stores had a nearly new computer installed to enable them to revisit the database I developed in 2004 – 6. All I have to do now is recover the database!

I have also provided a copy of the database for the Pharmacy who apparently have also been given a new computer in order to make use of it.

This evening power was off most of the evening so I decided to make a coleslaw salad and anticipate a steak sandwich when power came back. The timing of the power returning was perfect and in 5 – 10 mins the steak was ready to join the coleslaw.

Sunday 10th August

I returned from Namalundu this afternoon. Namalundu is very close to the Kafue Gorge which is where a lot of the electricity for Zambia comes from and where because of 'improvement works' we are suffering excessive 'load shedding'! I was told the the kafue river is now dry for a few miles because all of the water is being directed into a tunnel that takes it to the turbines.

However, I wasn't on a sightseeing trip but on a retreat. For those not familiar with this activity, it is an opportunity to take some time out from the general routine (or strain) of daily life and reflect on our journey in life. I had felt a real need for such time, so was delighted to be invited to join the nurses in their retreat.

The place is almost 200 km from Monze and surrounded by hills – unlike Monze. We travelled with Fr. Rodgers in his pick-up and I found a spot in the open rear of the vehicle. As usual I failed to get the hang of the timing. We were due to arrive by 17 hrs so we planned to leave at 16hrs. We left at 16.40 and had to pick someone up 'en-route' (though I was surprised when we headed a good number of kilometres along the Lochinvar Road.) Having failed to find our passenger we returned to Monze and picked her up from home. We set off again at 17.40 – by this time I suspected we were unlikely to be there in time!! In fact it was approaching 21hrs when we reached our destination.

We were of course welcomed with a hot meal (It can get a little chilly in the back of a pick-up at night – especially with the unseasonably cold weather we are currently experiencing.) The weekend was just what I needed. It allowed me to recall so many times when I have felt the touch of my God. On the first evening the resident priest told us that they often had monkeys around the area. In fact they had a problem with the building that we used as a dining room. The roof was thatched with grass – which he said was in fact the best material because it kept the place warm in the cold weather and cool in the hot season. However, the monkeys invented a game where they used the roof as a slide and slid off the roof on their bottoms. This they enjoyed immensely – but unfortunately the roof couldn't cope and after many repairs the game was ended by replacing the roof with 'iron sheets'. Having heard this tale I was keen to get a glimpse of these guys! However, I kept getting the message 'If it's God's will you'll see them at the appropriate time'. So as I was about to reflect on what I would take away from the weekend and thinking about trusting in God they appeared!

It was a great privilege to be accepted into the small group that comprised 10 of us including our chaplain and a one-year old! Retreat such as these are often times when people share deep and personal issues. This is hard enough among people you know but with a relative stranger and someone from a very different culture I imagine it could be a major issue. Anyway I felt accepted by the group and I hope that others gained from my presence as I did from theirs.

Thursday and Friday passed very fast at the hospital. I did a fair bit of running around to try to arrange a few things in relation to the Maluba project and the Team – including another tour. Thursday's tour was in marked contrast to Wednesday's – it wasn't helped by the fact that there was a funeral for the mother of one of the nurses, so most of the staff were unavailable to guide us around the departments and wards. Here funerals are very important and it isn't just close family who will attend.

On Thursday morning I succeeded to extract the latest version of the Stock Control system from the old computer and load it onto the new Stores computer and also update the one in the Pharmacy. So with luck and some hard work the systems could be up and running before I leave this year.

Best Wishes


Friday, August 8, 2008

It's a wonderful world if you listen carefully

Saturday 2nd August

My reading material is helping me to listen more attentively to what is around me. I believe that it is important to 'listen' with all the senses, too often when we just look we see very little. I have been noticing the wheelbarrows. Some time ago I mentioned the trunks in which goods are delivered to the market stalls each morning and I 'assumed' that wheelbarrows would be the preferred form of transport. I wonder how often I have seen them carrying their cargo but not taken it in? Not only are wheelbarrows indeed the form of transport but not just any wheelbarrow but barrows made for the purpose. Trunks would slip off a traditional barrow so these have no 'sleeping compartment' but appropriately formed bars hold the load secure – and some trunks will hold quite a load. I have now seen a vast variety of wheelbarrows – some will hold buckets and others are geared for other loads.

I pass some cages which contain live birds but only recently have really noticed just how many cages and birds are just a few yards from my home. Most are chickens but cages full of guinea fowl and turkeys are also present. It might seem cruel and the birds are often roughly handled yet in the UK most of our chickens are held in the most appalling conditions. Here the reality of the meat we eat is not hidden. Just along the road from the Holy Family Centre is the Abbatoir and the butcher will tell you the day to come if you want very fresh meat. My friend Alick showed me the barn where the 'broilers' were being fattened – they were 3 or 4 weeks old. I asked him when they would be ready for the pot and he said they would start slaughtering them next week. There is a lot more honesty about these issues here.

As I returned from the market this evening darkness was falling and in front of me the moon was chasing Venus across the sky. I wondered whether the fine upturned crescent was a new moon or one just about to vanish – a hour or so later it had vanished! Again I took the opportunity to admire the array of stars visible during 'light's out'. The Southern Cross is clearly visible these days in the early evening sitting above my home clearly showing the points of the compass.

Today I spent much of the day producing samosas. Not that I have started a small income-generating scheme – though from what Dilys tells me about the increases to fuel bills, I probably need one. Today our Small Christian Community were celebrating St. Veronica's feast day with a Catholic mass followed by some food and drinks. We were all asked to contribute something so my contribution was a few samosas. Fr. Maambo – the priest in charge at Our Lady of the Wayside celebrated mass. (Our Lady of the Wayside has 9 Small Christian Communities within it and St. Veronica's is one) After the festivities some of the children asked me to 'copy' them with my camera. As I was showing them the resultant pictures my 'phone rang and Dilys was on the line. The scene was a little surreal with me surrounded my laughing excited children in one of the poorest area of urban Monze, while trying to hold a conversation with my wife 5,000 miles away!

This evening I finished using up the mixture for the samosas taking the final tally to about 70 for the day!

Monday 4th August

It is another holiday today. This time the Lwiindi ceremony is taking place – apparently the ceremony is called Lwiindi and the place is Gonde which is regarded as a sacred site. As on previous occasions I have been promised that I will be taken to see this traditional event. In previous years this promise has come to nothing – we shall see if this year is any different.

Yesterday I wanted a walk in the bush. In practice I walked to my 'dam', after getting a few photos of the Maluba site before it is completed! I thought that I should take heed of the messages coming from my reading and try to be aware of everything that was happening as I sat for a ½ hour by the lake. I was amazed just how much was going on, from wherligig beetles rushing around in circles next to a yellow trumpet shaped flower, to a pair of grey herons moving around the lakeside (including standing quite close to me so that I didn't feel any loss being without my binoculars), some ladies were washing their clothes and a pig 'nosed' in the shallows, and egrets and African Jacanas reminded me that I wasn't in England. There was not a second when the place was not filled with activity, in fact it was difficult to take it all in. Even the weather was playing the game, with clouds hiding the sun and then letting it peep out again before once again covering its face. Wind would come and go sending small waves to join the grass and trees in musical combination. How often we look and yet do not see!

I was on my way to meet Charles after my meditation, so I decide to take a short cut. Charles lives just off the Lusaka/Livingstone Road which runs North to South. I therefore reasoned that, as I was west of the road, if I walked to the east I would eventually hit the road and, since I was already to the south of Monze, I should hit it close to Charles home. Being now 15.30 the sun was beginning to drop to the west thus following my shadow I had everything sussed! Unfortunately I had forgotten that just outside the town the road bends and heads in a more easterly direction. So when I eventually hit the road I was a couple of kilometres closer to Livingstone than I had hoped.

For those not familiar with my antics in Monze, Charles runs a small organisation (PEASSA) that aims to support some of the most vulnerable elderly and disabled people in Monze. Over the past few years I have come to know Charles and his project well. Unfortunately a succession of problems beyond his control have made progress very difficult. These have included erratic water supply from SWASCO (the water company) causing the vegetables to fail, contaminated feed killing the chickens, and disease preventing the pigs going to market. This last year has seen the total maize crop destroyed by the excessive rainfall. In addition 12 of the 17 people currently being supported have had their houses destroyed by the floods. (Charles is hoping to raise 900,000 – 1,000,000 kwacha (£140 -£150) which he believes will build twelve very simple houses made mainly of mud bricks and grass thatch to replace those destroyed)

I have been trying to work with Charles to develop the project into a self-sustaining operation. However, in the short term, investment is needed to generate the income needed for expansion.With support from home we have managed to obtain a pair of oxen and a plough and built a well on one site. This year charles has obtained another piece of land but he cannot develop it yet through lack of funds. The manager would like to build a well but I wouldn't want them to start and have it collapse when the rains come. About £150 - £200 is likely to be needed to ensure that it can be dug and the sides reinforced with concrete rings. At this new site they also have a plough but no oxen to pull it.

The main issue at the moment is the lack of moey to buy maize seed and fertiliser. They have enough land to plant a 50kg bag of seed but at a cost of about 4.5 million kwacha (£700) but they have no way to finance it. As well as potentially providing both an income and food for those supported, growing maize is an essential way of life for the Tonga people, so not to attempt to grow maize is unthinkable.

I have been working with a small group of ex-colleagues from Eagle Star to see how we can provide support but I think that perhaps I need to extend the group in order to try to kick start this struggling project. So if anyone would like to be directly involved in this small project in Monze I would love to hear from you – and so would Charles. If anyone fancies a holiday with a difference you couldn't do better than come out to Monze and see the place for yourself. (In case you are wondering there are even lodges here that provide en-suite rooms!)

It is now 16.30 and no sign of my lift to Gonde for the Lwiindi celebrations! I think I will make my way to the Internet Cafe instead and maybe you will get this blog sooner than expected!

Best wishes