Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's warmer in the UK

Tuesday 22nd July

There is a notice in the hospital from Zesco which apparently explains the reason for the 'power shedding' that we are currently experiencing. It also explains why it will improve, or get worse (I can't quite make up my mind which) over the next few weeks.

Yes, once again my cooking is interrupted and I am taking the opportunity to do some typing by candlelight.

It is about time that I commented on the weather. I think that nearly two weeks ago I explained that I no longer needed a jumper. Well for some time now – probably in fact from about the time of that statement – there has been a distinct chill in the air. The local term is cold! In fact the daily temperatures have just about reached 20 C and nightime temperatures have been dipping down to 10 C or slightly below. Even the sun has hidden occasionally behind clouds and has been a little hazy weakening its power.

Yesterday I met with Dr. Mvula (Executive Director) to try to ensure that the hospital gets value for money out of me this year. We had a very constructive discussion and I think that I should be very busy.

At lunchtime I rushed out to the Maluba site to inspect progress. Thingds are progressing with toilets constructed, The storeroom well underway and a small shelter being built. I was also very glad to see that the brickmaking machine was on site and production was underway. It was good to see some finished bricks hardening ready for building next week.

I am planning to produce some form of initial report this week. As it is likely that I will be travelling to Lusaka on Friday that means by Thursday.

One of the Holy Spirit sisters came to me in the afternoon with a laptop she had been given – so I am giving a few informal lessons in the Open Office programs thay have been installed. I am glad to see that Open Office is becoming more common. Dr. Mvula is very keen on promoting Open Source software and is taken part in an exercise to increase local awareness. In the UK now some high street shops such as WH Smiths now sell Open Office software for about £5. Of course you can download it perfectly legally over the Internet free. If all you need is a good word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package then Open Office is excellent. Or you could pay £200 or more for Microsoft Office and you will get virtually the same product and Micro$oft will say thank you for wasting your money!

During my meeting at the Maluba Secondary School site Eli told me of an issue that he has been grappling with for sometime. I told him that I would try to help him by seeking advice from the World Wide Web! His question is “Who was it that first invented the wheel” - if you don't know the actual name of the inventor maybe a clue as to which part of the world first made use of the wheel would be helpful. Now I have great confidence that with the help of your networks of friends we will be able to provide a lot of help to Eli – so I look forward to the responses!

Well still very much in the dark, I will say goodnight!!

Thursday 24th July

Another couple of days have passed so quickly. Selina is counting the days before she is allowed out and can run around again – it will be strange not to have a couple of kilograms hanging from her arm. I seem to have gained control of the key to the gate leading from the children's ward to Homecraft. This means about 4 kilometres a day less walking! I might not lose so much weight this year after all.

Today I visited the site again to see how things are progressing – with the team coming out on Saturday, I just wanted to ensure that evrything is well under control. Lashford was resting in full sun against some sand and instead of the customary I'm fine told me he wasn't feeling well. He has caught malaria. He has some medication and says he will be OK by tomorrow. Yesterday I met Mrs. Sianga at the hospital – she has damaged her foot and had a POP (Plaster of Paris) bandage on her foot and a pair of crutches. So everything is very fine!

I spent some time chatting to Victor the owner of the brick making machine. He has another machine that is electric – but as there is no power on site the one in use is manual. (With the current electricity situation – no pun intended – I think manual is better anyway!). When I asked him where he got the machines from he told me that he made them. He went on to tell me that his dream is to have the equipment to produce the manual machines for use in the community. He says that for a rural community such a machine would enable them to build their own community schools etc. he pointed to a structure thatched with grass and probably only supported by a few branches like the 'chapel' I saw last week and told me that it was a school put up by people desperate to have somewhere where there children can learn.

I had similar thoughts when I saw the machine the other day. The bricks produced by the machine should provide a very good structure that is not only solid but is very attractive. The bricks fit together and therefore simple structures can largely be put together by unskilled people. Victor says that he would be willing to make these for the community without making any profit. So if anyone wants to provide a lathe and 'shaper' Victor is ready to set up his factory and go into production. (he says he already has the other tools needed.).

Don't worry there are endless opportunities for investors here if there are any Dragons out there! However don't expect a percentage of the profits!!

Since my load shedding recipes seem to have hit a nerve, I have a couple more for you to try! On Tuesday the power returned at about 9.45 pm. So I turned by one course meal into three and ate it over a couple of hours. The appetiser comprised boiled cabbage (lukewarm!) for my second course I had spring onion and tomato sandwiches (the onions were chopped but not cooked and the rice hadn't got as far as the pan before the power went) finally I finished the cooking of the bream at 10 pm.and had it as dessert! Tonight I was fortunate because my peanut risotto was just about cooked by the time the hotplate cooled!!

Well it is to Lusaka tomorrow – I think I organised accommodation for Friday night - we shall see. I will be picked up at 6 am Saturday to meet the Hands Around The World team at the airport. So this will probably be posted in Lusaka.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Typing by candlelight

Thursday 18th July

Power returned before 20 hrs yesterday, so that wasn't too bad. I wonder when we will have power back again tonight!

I decided to go to an “Urgent” meeting today for all staff. It was scheduled for 10hrs so I thought that I had found the wrong place at 10.03 when no one was about, there were a lot of people in another room but I was told that the meeting was in the location I had located – but not yet! What time was the meeting I asked - 10 hrs was the reply. At about 10.20 nearly a dozen staff had arrived and by 10.45 the room was almost full and we started.

I had come because I didn't want to be left out and I thought it might be interesting to see how things went – and so it proved. It turned out that the debate was about Housing Allowances. The government has introduced payment direct into the bank with the salary but has also banned the subsidy of housing costs out of the government grant. For Monze Mission Hospital this presents a problem, because a number of doctors and other staff are in accommodation rented by the hospital and the directive takes immediate effect. One of the options being considered is a subsidy from user fees! So I better get going and attempt to put a report together with great haste.

This evening I met an old friend in the market. I was rather surprised to see him because Osman had moved hundreds of kilometres from Monze. Apparently he is back in Monze and he will call around at the weekend and tell me his story. While talking to Osman another friend greeted me asking when I had returned. He has been after the address of one of the members of the group that came out in 2003 since that time and always asks me when I see him. A few minutes earlier I was accosted by a lady asking me if I remembered her – needless to say I didn't until she told me that she was Venus. She remembered that I had told her that I had never before met a planet! I remember buying some groundnuts from a fellow stallholder on that occasion. He asked what I intended to do with them and when I told him I would use some in a stir-fry he said he would try it out that evening as it was something he hadn't tried before. Over the years I have met and chatted to so many stallholders in the market that it is difficult to share my custom between them.

However many people I greet each day there seem to be another dozen or so who I am meeting again for the first time this year. Perhaps it is no wonder that I cannot remember all the faces let alone names.

Sunday 20th July

I eventually managed to dispatch the July birthday card number four over the Internet, finding a gap in the power outages! Birthday card number six was sent by post to my cousin as she hasn't an Internet connection.

My socket in the lounge here is one typically found in Monze. It is a little wobbly and to get it to work you have to adjust the plug to the one position where contact is made. Each time I plug in I spend a few minutes pulling it out and pushing it in until I find the spot where I can let go without the power going off again. Usually there is a small spider – only two or three centimetres across (about an inch) – that lives by the side of the switch watching me with interest as I go through this procedure – but so far deciding not to take matters any further.

After mass today I met Sr. Christeta for the first time this year. I thought I had missed her but I caught up with her while she was having a picture taken with Dr. Mvula. I am afraid he felt a little out of things as we hugged and talked animatedly. She was surprised that we hadn't met up before and apparently had a meeting last Thursday that drew on some of the work that Dilys did here in 2006. It is good that Dilys' work has born such fruit, I will be interested to hear more about how their work with bereaved childen is developing. This year I have some more resources from Winston's Wish (taken from their website). I will transfer it to a CD or two and pass it on to anyone interested. Anyone who has an interest in bereavement in children should log on to their site on the Internet – they can be found at

On Friday I spent some more time checking the computers in the School of Midwifery. There is a library there and they have just introduced networked computers and an Internet connection for the students to supplement the small library resources. The computers were provided by an Irish charity Camara and one or two seem to have problems. They have been loaded with Edubuntu software which is a version of Linux geared towards schools (largely primary & secondary). Anyway I think I have made progress in that I now have a better idea what the problems are. It is taking me a while to understand what I have to do, which is a benefit because by the time I have worked it out, Walasmabo (the Librarian) also knows what to do next time.

Friday lunchtime I was taken out by Patrick out to the West of Monze. Patrick works for the Diocese as a driver and I later found out has a family of 15 including 12 children (some of whom are orphaned children.). I was privileged to meet 9 of the children who were at his house. Patrick is very busy digging a well – the man doing the digging pointed out that the chain used to lower the bucket (and him) was at full stretch and water has not yet been found. He also keeps some animals, chickens, pigs and goats and is in the process of building a house in town to try and provide sufficient income to feed his family.

Patrick is also the Treasurer of the Parish Centre where we were heading. It is strange driving through the market. I can only remember doing this once before – the first evening I arrived in Monze in 2003. I suppose I am aware that roads go between the stalls and vehicles regularly pass through but somehow it seems very different when you are in the vehicle. We soon left the market and headed on a major road out to the West. Those not familiar with roads out here might be forgiven for thinking that our truck was now actually off-road! But with careful driving it is possible to manoeuvre even a large truckover the bumps and humps and around the holes that make up the road. After crossing a stream we were out in the bush and I was thinking that I must head out this way on foot again soon.

So this new Parish Centre is very rural perhap only 2 or 3 kilometres from the town but often more or less cut off by the streams that lie between it and the town (and church). For this reason it was decided to make this centre. There are two Small Christian Communities that will between them use the Parish Centre. Waiting to greet me was a group of parishioners including the chairman and secretary of both the centre and the choir. They now have mass at the Centre which is made of a few branches lightly covered with grass. During this the dry season it provides a little shade from the sun, but during the rainy season it will not provide any protection from the rain. Last year Patrick and the other parishioners purchased two tents in which to hold the services.

I was proudly shown the well which is being dug with support from our parishioner back in the UK. It is now probably 6 or 7 metres deep and already has water in the bottom. The aim is to try to dig it a further 6 or 7 metres – yes a further 20 feet or so – depending on what soil is found. ( It might turn out to be too dangerous with the sides in danger of collapsing if it is dug at this time.) In case you are wondering the game is to bail out the water first thing then dig further down, hopefully before too much water returns and it becomes necesssary to swim for it!

The women were busy breaking stones - here there is a lot of very hard stone that breaks showing lots of crystals – like quartz. These will be mixed with sand and cement and concrete rings will be made to line the well and prevent its collapse. The bucket by the way is not only for the removal of the water and soil but is also used by the 'digger' to get in and, most importantly, out of the well.

I greeted everyone at the well . I used the extremely limited Chitonga I have to say hallo knowing that not all will speak English – although probably all know more English than I know Citonga. I was greeted to songs of welcome and copious Twalumba Kapatis (Thank you very much). It was very good to meet more of Our Lady of the Wayside parishioners – maybe I will join them for mass sometime before I return to the UK.

Yesterday was an opportunity to do a bit of shopping, including replacing the iron which last year was donated to a friend to raise necessary funds.

When I saw Jennipher yesterday she was worried that Selina might get malaria because the net doesn't reach her cot. There was a boy in the next bed for a few days who had malaria and now had been moved with suspected meningitis. As I understand it malaria is spread by a mosquito biting someone with the malaria and then later biting another person (the full life cycle of the parties involved in disease is complicated and fascinating!). The issue of course is that in a hospital where many patients have malaria if you cannot sleep under a mosquito net you must be at increased risk of catching the disease. Anyway today Jennipher informed me that Selina was fine but she has contracted malaria herself.

With Love and Prayers


Thursday, July 17, 2008

An sudden and unexpected death at home

Sunday 13th July

I half expected to have difficulty retrieving the photos from the Compact Disks (as I failed on Friday evening) however eventually my man at the Internet cafe persuaded the disk to release its contents. However the other issue is removing the images from my camera. I am very keen on using 'green' technology (which is probably why I subconciously decided not to pack the mains battery charger.) As stated previously my batteries were now flat. So throwing my principles to the wind I bought a couple of “Extra High Power” batteries from the shop next to 'Tooters'. I confidently inserted them into my camera but could only manage a faint red light when I switched on! So plan B was to recharge the batteries by placing them where I had a chance of spotting anyone taking too much interest. Well I tried yesterday and succeeded in recovering the first few photos. Today with only 2 or 3 hours in the sun the batteries didn't quite make it! However, fear not, I will have the photos retrieved before long and they will be winging their way back to the UK in no time.

Last week I was surprised, and a little concerned, by the lack of people at the chapel for mass. This week it was packed very tight! The new nursing students have arrived and today a newly ordained priest was celebrating his first mass at the chapel. So we had a bit more singing, drumming and dancing than usual. It is good to see people having such fun in church. Even the sparrows joined in the singing and flitted from beam to beam during the service. The young woman next to me in the pews had a warm blanket over her lap which I assumed was because it is currently cold here. (I have to ask people whether it is cold or not because I have lost the ability to tell. I haven't felt the need for a jumper for a week or so and I drink tea in the hottest weather. Here however it is still sometimes too hot for coffee, but to cold not to wear a coat.) anyway half way through the service from the blanket emerged a small child as if bursting from a chysalis.

After mass I called into the children's ward to see how Selina was doing. I found her fast asleep and Jennipher and Soloman were nowhere to be seen, so after saying bye to a couple of other little friends I seem to have acquired, I returned home. I wasn't surprised when Jennipher turned up soon after – they don't need CCTV in Monze to know where I have been! We had a drink and looked through some of the photos that Jennipher had taken in previous years and I showed her the short video clip of Selina and Chimunya dancing. I will have to make sure that she has some photos of Chimunya so that they can help Salina with her memories. Winston's Wish (a UK charity working with bereaved children) has seen how important it is for children to keep things that remind them of the important person who has died. When Dilys came over in 2006 she found that these ideas are just as relevant here as they are in the UK.

John popped in briefly – even though midday, it was coffee today! His well is still apparently not properly sorted. Maybe one day I will visit his home near Water Affairs and assess the situation for myself.- last year I became very confused!!

I decided that it was time to meet up with my friends from St. Veronica's Small Christian Community. Last week they didn't meet because they were attending a funeral. I found out today that it was one of our community members. The lady in question used to sell sweet potatoes in the market very close to my current home. I had wondered why when I went to pick up my potatoes that my favourite seller didn't appear and insist that I bought from her. I am sad that she is no longer around and had I known I would have wanted to attend her funeral. Another member of the Community died at the beginning of the month, so this has been a bit of a blow.

It was good to see more of my friends. During the past couple of weeks I have met quite a number from the Community around the town and as usual I meet many who seem to know me very well but I am having difficulty placing them.

My cooking is not very imaginative at the moment. I have two large pans – so I generally use one for frying and the other boiling. The pans are also my kettle at the moment – so they are in constant demand. I bought a nice piece of steak which I am working my way through but tonight it was sausages with aubergine and rice (plus of course the obligatory onions and tomatoes!)

Wednesday 16th July

Another four days and another birthday. I have made four attempts to send the birthday card via the Internet today but have been thwarted at each attempt. I hope that George will forgive me.

It is interesting to pass through the market late or early in the morning before the stalls are set out – living next to the market this year I have ample opportunity for observing it at these times. The bare market stalls are mainly made from small branches of trees and sticks fixed together to form a platform for the goods and larger branches used to form a canopy. Either plastic sheets or empty maize bags, opened and sewn together are used both for the canopy and the display shelf (there is generally only one). Earlier this week I was fascinated to see a stall that I hadn't noticed before. The lady in charge of it was selling dried beans, some onions and some rice. But what fascinated me was the effort that she had put in to display all the different coloured beans in broad rows, using folds in the maize sacks to separate them. At the front are the large bags of beans and measuring tubs which she uses for selling the goods – the rest is just presentation. Of course by now all will be packed away again and tomorrow morning she will again set out her stall.

Each area of the market has its own character and generally sells its own type of product. There are a few stalls that I pass each day selling shoes or clothes. Each morning I meet the sellers with there metal trunks preparing to extract their wares once more and sittting hoping someone will buy. I suspect that each night they replace almost everything that they take out in the morning. I believe that there is a building somewhere in the market where all the trunks are stored overnight. I hav no doubt that wheelbarrows will be the preferred form of transport.

I met Selina outside the operating theatre on Monday waiting for her dislocated shoulder to be replaced. I met her again later in the day and she wasn't a happy girl! (This is unique in my experience of Selina) She had been told that in fact her arm was broken close to the shoulder and she would have to be in traction for 3 weeks! For a 5 year old that is indeed torture. Good to say her smile has returned but to be confined in a hospital bed with your arm above your head for two weeks (the estimate has reduced a little) is still not good news.

Power has become rather less stable of late! On Monday we lost power for abour 3 ½ hours between 18hrs and 21.30. In the end I abandoned the thought of cooked food and settled for a peanut and cucumber salad, with a good helping of raw onions and tomatoes to help the digestion!! Yesterday I avoided a repeat menu, as power returned at 20.20. I am now getting used to showering by candlelight but I am still grateful to have a shower – and, at the moment, hot water! On Monday I decided that I should take advatage of the power cut to observe the stars but had forgotten that the moon was just beyond a half and here that means that it is much lighter outside than in and therefore very few stars were visible. I am always fascinated by the strength of the moon shadow. Tonight the moon is close to full and will provide plenty of light to see by.Yes I am once again working by candlelight! I am also grateful that I have the laptop and the battery will keep me going for a couple of hours.

I am slowly getting into my little project at the hospital but the days are already flying. I need to try to get myself organised better and see in what other areas I might be able to assist.

On Monday evening I received an unexpected phone call from Dilys. She rang to say that her sister Elaine had been found dead in the house in the morning. This of course was a tremendous shock. Elaine suffered a heart attack a few years back and had major heart surgery. At one point it looked as if she wouldn't survive and they had to halt the operation in the middle (she spent a week or so with her chest open). Anyway she gained strength and the operation was concluded and she was brought out of the coma. She seemed to recover fully and has led a normal life for the past few years and now suddenly it seems that her time has come. None of us know just when our days on earth are ended but I am sure that this life is only a prelude to something far more wonderful. I pray that Elaine will join with the many others I have known and be enjoying that new world. Before I left England the dragonflies were busy emerging from their dark lives at the bottom of the pond – the only world they had previously known – to be given wings to enjoy the beauty of the sunshine above. I think we too will be in for a wonderful surprise when we discover what is in store for us.

I came to know and grow very fond of Elaine over the years, she has an amzing sense of design and her house was like something from a catalogue or one of the infamous makeover TV programmes, though she made it very much a home. Though our lives were very different we would often talk frankly about how we lived and what we thought and we shared a great interest in each others views and ideas. Elaine was a mother and grandmother and will be greatly missed by her family. Elaine was a good friend and I will also miss her.

Best wishes


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Fitting Celebration

Saturday 12th July

Days here seem to be very short.

I have made a start with my current hospital project looking at hospital charges. Hospital charges were largely abolished in April 2007. Patients are not meant to come direct to Monze hospital direct but should first visit their local Health Clinic. Charges are therefore levied for those who 'bypass' the system and some large companies will pay for their employees to come direct to the hospital. A hospital such as Monze Mission Hospital have very little money and even to provide essential drugs becomes very difficult. Therefore the loss of income from user fees has increased the difficulty for the hospital to maintain services.

On Thursday afternoon I met Jennipher again at the hospital. Selina had an accident at school resulting in her shoulder becoming dislocated. I met her in the outpatients department and was greeted with smiles despite her pain. I have known Selina now for 3 or 4 years. She is 5 or 6 years old, her mother died very soon after her birth and she has lived with Jennipher ever since.

After work I went to check out the accommodation that the Hands around the World team will be using at the basic school that Mrs Sianga started a few years ago. I also walked with Mrs. Sianga to the site of the new school. The concrete slab is progressing well under the guidance of Lashford and other buildings are rapidly going up – foundations for the storeroom, a latrine and washroom etc. Once again I missed my service at the chapel and it was dark before I arrived back home.

Friday as usual the sun brought be out of my slumber at about 6.30. I am renewing my acquaintance with Access which is the tool I use to construct databases. Even for small projects I find that throwing some figures into a database gives me flexibilty to analyse it and understand it. So I have put something together to make sense of the information I am gathering on user fees. This should also help me when I look again at the databases previously constructed and develop them a little as needed.

Viruses here are still a major problem. Despite considerable effort on my part to introduce a proper system of anti-virus provision there is no formal process for preventing viruses on the hospital computers. I have again heard of a number of problems as a result of this and of additional problems due to power cuts and fluctuations. A few days ago I went to an Internet cafe and returned with a virus on my flash drive. I was unable to read any of the documents that I had downloaded and 'McAfee' told me to do a complete scan of my laptop. After doing as instructed McAfee stopped functioning. Their repair tool on the Internet confirms that I have a problem which might require re-installing the software which I haven't got! I had almost forgotten the frustrations of viruses and anti-virus software! I am also reminded that the well known and trusted anti-virus software causes as many, if not more, problems than the unknown versions where at least you can obtain advice.

Mr Meheritona, the school manager of St. Vincent's Community school, visited me at the hospital. I was able to hand over some letters written by some of the younger students at Christchuch College a secondary school in Cheltenham. Christchurch College also held a concert to raise funds for some pencils, writing books etc. needed at St. Vincent's.

After a quick lunch I made my way to Monze Basic School were the music was already being played yo welcome guests. Mr. Chaamwa met me enthusiastically and led me into his office where we talked for a while. Many of the families of his children have been badly affected by the floods. It was worst to the West of the town where many lost their homes, crops and some of their animals. There was some support from the government and an NGO provided tents for those displaced. Now people are being told to leave the tents and to move to other areas and build themselves new houses, however without money this isn't possible. It appears that some cement was provided but this no longer seems to be available – it isn't clear what happened to it, though I heard some became damp and solidified.

As with all schools in Zambia the issue of HIV/AIDS has had a major impact. Currently there are 260 students at Monze Basic who have lost at least one parent. For many of these finding enough funds for uniforms, books, pencils etc. is very difficult if not impossible. The sad fact about AIDS is that is it usually passed from one spouse to the other so those children who have lost one parent may well have another who is sick and is also likely to die young. Sponsorship to enable children to gain an education is constantly needed. Our church in Cheltenham is providing some sponsorship for children in Monze but the figures speak for themselves of the immense need. I was also approached by a nun who teaches at a secretarial college and another further education establishment in the area in case I could help with sponsorship. Although we cannot help everyone it is possible to make a huge difference to a child here if someone is prepared to sponsor their education. Relatively small sums can give someone a chance to completely transform their life and in so doing help the essential transformation of this wonderful Country and it's beautiful people.

I felt a bit of an imposter as I sat on the top table with the senior education department representative, the chairman of the PTA, and Mr. Chaambwa. Also on the top table was Gerry who has been managing the various projects that have been undertaken with funds from England. Gerry was a student at Monze Basic in the 1950s, when he told us the school building was what is now the headmaster's house. In order to try to improve things at the school Mr. Chaambwa decided to attempt to raise funds and had the idea that some of the previous pupils might be willing to support him. He eventually tracked Tony Wood who now lives in England and after visiting Monze Tony set about establishing a charity in the UK to support the school. The first task was to mend the windows and refurbish some of the classrooms and toilets. This latest project – to drill a borehole and provide the school with it's own water supply was indeed worthy of the magnificent celebration yesterday afternoon. Another project is almost complete – this is the provision of a computer room for the school. I have been asked whether I could provide some basic training for the teachers in advance of the arrival of the computers.

What was good to see was the enthusiasm and pride of the staff and students. The DEPS (Department of Education representative) said that Monze Basic was now a model school in the area. There was plenty of entertainment and the teachers, incuding Mr. Chaambwa and the DEPS joined in some of the dancing. The students also took an active part reciting poems and responding to the speeches. Finally all present were given refreshments.

It was a great privilege to be invited to this occasion and I enjoyed it immensely. I hope that the pictures that were taken will give an impression of the occasion and encourage those who have been involved in supporting this school and help them realise what a huge difference they are making. My next task is to transfer them from cameras to a form in which they can be speedily transferred to England (I will be on my way to the Internet cafe soon!)

As I look out on the banana plants outside my window bathed in the glorious African sun, I only wish that some of that sun would come directly into the house. Not only is it nice to feel the warm rays but it would also make it easier to recharge my batteries now totally exhausted by the activity of yesterday. I have brought a solar charger – unfortunately the mains charger doesn't seem to have made its way into my luggage. I am afraid that, if left outside, it might become a object of curiousity and taken away as a trophy, as happened a couple of years ago. When the batteries are up to it I will take a picture of the view from my lounge!

Look after yourselves, best wishes

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A long Weekend

Sunday 6th July

Since arriving in Zambia last Monday I haven't seen a cloud – until today! Despite experiencing totally cloudless skies here regularly, it is still a surprise not to see the faintest cloud in the sky. Then after a week of cloudless skies to experience a cloudy overcast day at the beginning of July is perhaps even more strange. At one point I thought that it might even rain.

This weekend is a long one. We have two public holidays tomorrow and Tuesday. There should have been the Gonde ceremony this weekend but it has been cancelled due to the illness of the President Levy Mwanwasa. The latest news is that President Mbeke of South Africa who apparently announced his death has 'clarified' the position. It appears that the President is very ill in intensive care in France but still alive. This is the third time that I have been around for the Gonde ceremony – on each occasion I have been invited by a friend to attend and each time I have failed to get there!

I took a walk the afternoon to the local 'Dam' or lake. I noticed that areas on the way which I expected to be dry and dusty are now waterlogged. I was also surprised to see new grass appearing. It was therefore not a surprise to see the dam quite full and covering a larger area than I have previously experienced.

The scene at the dam was rather eerie. There were no cattle drinking and very few people about and instead of the usual brilliance of the day it was very dull and still. One solitary pig oinked its way along on the far bank. A small group of Crowned Lapwings were about all that gave a little excitement to the scene. I did however spot what I believe was an African Jacana as well as a couple of cattle Egrets, Grey Herons and the ubiquitous Pied Crows. As you can see my guidebook to birds of Southern Africa is paying dividends!! Of course our swallows and some of the swifts are enjoying summer in Europe at this time. By the time they return it will be time for me to take flight in the opposite direction.

I have now been here a week and my friends tell me of their difficulties. One of the workers at the hospital had his 3 bedroomed house and all his belongings totally destroyed by a fire. He now has to sleep in an enclosure he made out of grass with his wife and 11 children (some of these children of his younger sister who died). He told me that he had only two blankets between all of them and at this time even I am wearing a jumper in the evenings. I was able to help him with a little money to buy another blanket or two but cannot help him rebuild his house. Another friend from the hospital didn't mange to complete her schooling. She has one year to do and if successful would get a certificate to allow her to apply for nursing training. Again the cost ( about £150) is beyond her means. My blog is not about soliciting money but if anyone is interested in becoming invovled with any of the people or projects that need support I am always happy to hear from you and will try to keep you informed about progress. So if I receive pleas for support I tell people that all I can do is let other people know of their needs because I can do very little personally.

I am beginning to settle into this place – though I cannot get too settled in case I will soon need to move. Early in the week I noticed a bulbul (a local bird quite common in the gardens) enjoying a ripe banana growing outside. I was thinking that I didn't often see ripe bananas around. The next day they were gone! Whether it was the bulbul or someone else that enjoyed a good meal I don't know.

Wednesday 9th July

I need to catch up with events here and post this blog!

Monday I had decided should be kept free for a walk. For me it is important to go for reasonably long walks now and then. I find that it helps me to relax and to get my thoughts straight – it is a therapy and also a spiritual experience for me.

So, despite only a little time for my feet to bed in and very little time for my fitness to improve, I set off for Hichanga dam This dam and reservoir supplies Monze with its mains water. I estimated that it was about 8 – 10 km (5-6 miles) from town though a taxi driver told me that it is more like 14 km. Anyway it is a walk I have done before – though perhaps not so early on my visit. I took my time and arrived at about 11 hours – 3 hours after leaving Monze town. Not surprisingly the water level here too was higher than I have previously observed. En route I decided to take a closer look at some spiders webs. I have been reading a book (actually half a book that I found in my flat) by Gerald Durrell -”My family and other animals” which is about his childhood growing up in Corfu. He was fascinated by the creatures he saw and would spend hours sitting and observing them. It made me realise how difficult I find it to sit still and look carefully at what is surrounding me. So when I looked at the spider's web I was amazed to see that in fact in the middle was a cone that presumably led to the spider's lair. The webs are large and all seem to be of similar construction.

As I approached the dam a car drew up and Fr. Maambo said hallo. He had used the holiday to come with a couple of nuns – one of whom was having a driving lesson which included driving along the narrow path at the top of the dam. They also had brought a group of 'youths' for an outing – they had already escaped from the back of the pick-up when we met up.

I spent an hour or so sitting on my own in a favourite spot – now at the water's edge, before returning to Monze. I stopped of at Monze Basic school on the way back to greet Mr. Chambwa the headmaster and pass on a couple of gifts from the UK. He warmly returned my greeting and showed me the progress made at the school since my last visit. The project to provide water is now complete and a celebration is being held on Friday afternoon to which I was invited.

So a little weary and with some sore feet I collapsed for the evening. Unfortunately I have found the card game hearts on the computer and have become addicted – so it was very late when I found my bed!

Yesterday I had agreed to meet up with Charles to check out his projects. We took a taxi back past Hichanga Dam and then a few kilometers beyond to where Henry manages a project. On my walk I remembered that the road is primarily for vehicles – cars, bullock carts and bikes – in general, though the road to the dam is wide, the part that is suitable for cars is limited. On the dirt road usually it is the edges that are preferred – often one more than the other. So vehicles approach each other at pace on the same side of the road. Then at the last minute they obey the rules of the road and pass port to port (or is it starboard to starboard) in the same fashion as boats on a river. Pedestrians like me are generally best in the middle of the road, though if a horn or bell sounds you are expected to know which way to jump!

The taxi weaved its way along the road trying to avoid the largest potholes on the tarmac road – there isn't enough road to miss them all – and selecting the smoothest parts of the dirt road.

Henry is a teacher at the local school and lives on site. A new water tank has been installed with a wind pump sitting above the borehole. I understand this is a bit of an experiment to see the effectiveness of alternative energy.

At the project site I was introduced to Captain and Saddam the two oxen that were obtained thanks to supporters I found back in England. They are now looking very sturdy and seem to have grown considerably since they were obtained. Henry would like a biullock cart to be able to put them to work outside the ploughing season. They could then also take the vegetables grown on site to market in Monze.

The well has been partially re-dug after the walls collapsed last year. Apparently it was partially lined with bricks and the mortar hadn't enough time to fully set before the extremely heavy rain came and caused the damage. Charles is determined to have the well made 'perfect' this year and wants to have work started as soon as possible.

There is now a new building almost completed which will be used as a tuck shop to generate a little more income.

A hedge has been planted and will border the garden once the rain arrives and it grows. I was surprised to hear that they had people potholing in the garden! I later learnt that this is a technique for growing maize organically. The maize is planted in small holes (potholes) with some manure or compost and provides an early crop.

It was good to visit the site again and see how things are moving despite the dreadful effects of the flooding early in the year.

On return I had various visitors keeping me company till nearly 22hours.

Today I realised why life is very busy here in Monze. As well as starting to get a grip on my hospital project, I met with Mrs. Sianga and a volunteer from SAPEP a Zambian NGO (Non Govermental Organisation) and had a number of people wanting to make contact with me – several of whom have promised to see me tomorrow.

I think that I am now accepted here in Zambia. Friends tend to be expected to share things here! So the other day I was sold the shampoo I left with a friend last year – it was on the shelf of his shop! Today Jennipher 'lent' me the camera I have just brought out with me but I was told that I could only borrow it for a week!!

Well another day is over and the mosquitos are looking for food!

So bye for now


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Joining the Celebration in Cheltenham

Thursday 3rd July

The power is back on! It appears that between about 18.30 and 19.30 (Supper time) is a good time to cut power. In fact I don't think that there is enough power for everyone to cook at once so the easiest way to solve the problem is to cut the power to half of the population and then swap over!

Yesterday, at my parish back in Cheltenham, they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the building of the church. Here in Monze I am attempting to develop a link with the people of the church of “Our Lady of the Wayside”. It therefore seemed appropriate for us here to join in the celebrations. I therefore brought a webcam with me and John arranged things at the Cheltenham end. So at 19.30 (after last night's power cut) I headed to the priest's house with a less than 50-50 expectation of any sort of success.

In the end we had a very successful evening spending well over an hour seeing and talking to each other. It was a great chance for Fr. Maambo – the priest in charge at Our Lady of the Wayside – to meet some of the parishioners of St. Gregory's church and them to meet him. Unfortunately it was late here and we are some way from the church – so no other parishioners from here could take part. It is good to know the technology works and we will try to repeat the experience at a more convenient time. It makes a huge difference to be able to see as well as talk to people. This was highlighted by someone who commented about the amount Fr. Maambo smiled and I realised how much can be communicated with a smile. I hope some day to be able to set up similar sessions for school links – eventually these could become more sophisticated with a lot of computer interaction possible. I suspect that it was a surprise for some to find ordinary people here in Zambia chatting to them via the Internet.

There are strong rumours that Levy Mwanwasa (The President of Zambia) died today. The government here has denied them – we shall see. Mr. Mwanwasa had suffered a couple of strokes in the past and was taken ill before he could take part in the conference in Egypt. This is a critical time in this part of the world. Mr. Mwanwasa had spoken out in an attempt to delay the elections in Zimbabwe. He is also the current chairman of SADC which has an important role in trying to resolve the current crisis. Despite the current difficulties in Zambia large numbers of refugees have been received into the country making the situation here even more difficult.

I have been given a small project at the hospital but it will take a few more days to be able to get my teeth into it. Reymond finally managed to find me today. In the past I have been amazed at his radar – which usually locates me whever I am! I will probably meet up with Charles at the weekend to talk about how his project can be brought back to life after the disaster of the past year.

Another little task – the building of a secondary school for orphaned children (Maluba) – is moving well. I visited the site this afternoon and the foundations are in place and they expect to start laying the concrete slab and making the hydroform bricks. These are the bricks that are formed mainly of soil compressed at high pressure – they are moulded to fit together without the need for mortar and produce excellent buildings very quickly. The handpump is working well and there is now a hut for the security guard. My biggest surprise was that it is already in use! A group of children, who one day hope to be students at the school, were using the field for a football match.

As usual the days are too short – though when you are still talking to people from Cheltenham at gone 11pm they become a little longer!

With luck I'll have any earlier night tonight!!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Arrived Safely in Monze

Tuesday 1st July

This year's adventure is now underway.

I spent the weekend celebrating my dad's second silver wedding anniversary. (He was married to my mother for over 30 years and has now been married to his second wife for 25 years). It was also a wonderful opportunity to say goodbye to my family before I went direct from Hastings – where my dad lives - to Heathrow Airport.

As always there is relief when I manage to offload my case and get into the departure lounge without having to remove items or use a different bag. (There is never more than a few ounces or centimetres leeway and I haven't precision instuments at home to be sure!). Well, all was fine and I was at last on board. The plane left the gate on schedule and as we started taxi-ing I remembered landing on a previous occasion because we appeared to be approaching the runway where planes were landing. On that occasion we had to cross the runway where planes were taking off. This was a bit more exciting because we waited for a gap and then sped across the runway while I could still see 2 or 3 planes approaching the runway with their headlights shining at us. Anyway we were soon airborn and after enjoying the flight over the South of England and across the channel, which was very busy with boats, I settled down to watch a video. I don't remember the title but it was about a couple of guys who were dying of cancer and given a few months to live. One had a lot of money and the other had faith. They decided to spend time making the most of their last days. They created a wish list and set about crossing off the items. The final outcome was that they spent a very exciting and fulfilling last few months of their lives and both gained greatly from what the other could give and the great friendship that grew.

I have only been here in Monze for 24 hours and two people have already asked if they will ever get a chance to see England. I might not consider myself rich but the experiences that are open to me are just dreams to so many in the world – including some of my friends. However, as in the film, it is possible to have friendships between people whose lives are very different and invariably good friendships result in both parties gaining greatly – this is certainly my experience. The film also reminded me that even the man with faith can benefit from a bit of money!

I was collected at the Airport at about 11.30 by Mr Longu and by 16 hours was leaving Lusaka for Monze. The road has been badly damaged by the floods last January - so what was a good tarmac road now has a lot of potholes, in places stretching completely across the road. This is the main road between Lusaka and Livingstone and a major route to South Africa.

On arriving in Monze, I was shown to my accommodation by Mrs. Yamba (Manager Administration). It is a flat in a complex by the market where there is a project which teaches home crafts – particularly providing skills for orphaned children. It is very convenient and has all the facilities I need. I even had a hot shower last night – the water pours out of the pipe in a stream rather than a shower, but I consider it the height of luxury. I hope that I will be able to stay for my visit – though there appears to be some doubt at the moment.

Today was time to meet a few of my friends. There were some things I needed to sort out – the first being my phone. I was determined to stick with Zamtel and the CellZ network because it is the only one that is Zambian. It is also the only one that cannot afford to advertise throughout the airport – and almost everywhere else in Zambia for that matter. I couldn't manage to use my O2 service when I arrived and couldn't buy a CelZ Simcard. (Yes I could have bought one at the airport for either of the other networks). I therefore paid to use someone's mobile to contact the hospital. Unfortunately the simcard I eventually bought in Lusaka didn't get registered - so that was one of my jobs today. My mobile is now working and has the same number as my Cheltenham home phone – just substitute 0955 for the Cheltenham code!

Every time I attempted to move to do one of my little tasks I met another friend. Jennipher and Diven found me at the hospital and have brought me up to date with their lives so far. Jennipher has pursuaded the hospital to issue ARV drugs at Pemba clinic and her group has grown from just over 60 to more than 200 since last year. She tells me that 4 of her clients are very poorly but are worried about taking ARVs because they have no food. The problems with the floods at the beginning of the year has meant that many are surviving on almost nothing – the maize which is what many people live on here, is no longer available to many. Jennipher's bike is now broken so she has difficulty getting around to see her clients. She has managed to keep her children in school but needed to borrow money and sell all her pigs to do so. She has also gained two more children whoare relatives who escaped from Zimbabwe after witnessing their grandfather being forced to drink poison. Another child was too weak to make the journey and died on the way. Once again I am confronted by the reality of life here.

Ireen greeted me very warmly on my way to the Internet cafe and insisted on buying me some drinks. I met Lashford, who is in charge of building the Secondary school, and he tells me that everything should be fine for when the team arrive in 3 weeks time. I also had many updates from friends in and around the hospital.

It is always a delight to be back wandering around Monze. So many friendly cheerful faces greeting me with calls of “Mr. Chris welcome back” - and I really do feel welcome. From the Executive Director to the Cleaners, Security guards and street vendors I am greeted with broad smiles kind words and very often big hugs. In England we could learn a lot about welcoming from the friendly people of Zambia.

So warmest greetings from Monze.

With my love and prayers