Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Team Arrives

Sunday 27th July

I have just been reading a letter from Myanmar (Burma) concerning the devastation caused by the cyclone Nargis and the attempts people are making to rebuild their shattered lives. As always disasters seem to hit those who have very little anyway. I don't know the current death toll from the cyclone and its aftermath but it will be well over 100,000 and could be several times that figure. The people have lost their homes and possessions but much more they are suffering huge bereavement through losing family, friends and their whole way of life. Churches, pagodas etc. are no longer there.

Here in this other land people are also rebuidling their lives after the floods at the beginning of the year. Fortunately here very few lives were directly lost. However, a considerable number of people will lose their lives prematurely, at least partly as a consequence of the floods. On Thursday I was talking to a nurse in the Childrens Ward and she told me that here were probably about twice as many children in the malnutrition section of the ward this year compared with last year. The numbers are not large (I think about 12 at present) but she expects them to increase over the next few months due to the crop failure in most areas around Monze. The sad statistic is that about 25% of these children will not survive despite hospital treatment.

I wrote a poem entitled “when they become us”. (I think there is still a copy on the Hands Around theWorld website.) Despite thinking of my self as enlightened, I thought that I would meet the 'Poor' in Africa. The reality is that poverty isn't really like that. Poverty is all around me. The man who told me he had a problem “I am hungry” today wasn't saying that he was late for dinner! He didn't look to be starving, but he might not have eaten anything substantial for a day or two. He is likely to be more susceptable to the opportunistic infections and he is less likely to be able to fight them. Unfortunately everyday and usually several times a day someone has the courage to share with me the fact that they are hungry and even more unfortunately I feel that I can just listen, sympathize and move on.

On Friday I had to get myself to Lusaka. I thought that the arrangements for transport on the Saturday were made with Matteus who I understood was my driver. So when I received a number of calls on Friday morning asking me about sorting out a bus for the airport I became a little unsettled! I had run out of 'talktime' so I popped along to the grocers next to Tooters at 13.30 to top up. I noticed a bus for Lusaka almost full. When I returned 15 minutes later, having made my calls, the bus (in fact buses) had left and a rather empty looking minibus was all to be seen. At about 14.30 we moved off to scour the town for passengers and by about 15 hrs we set of in the direction of Lusaka. The little blue minibuses are not my favourite form of transport and rightly have a terrible reputation. I was however pleased and very surprised to find a working seatbelt in the front seat to where I was guided. I was further amazed to find that the driver didn't overtake when vehicles where flying towards us and generally drove impeccably. So by about 18 hrs I found myself in Lusaka.

I stayed at the Jesuit centre that I tend to use for overnight stops. The priests managed to find me a couple of little jobs to do on their computers – both of which I failed to resolve. (I keep telling people I am not a technician!). I spoke to Matteus who had lost the details I gave him about where to pick me up – just as well since they were wrong! I agreed to send him a text with the correct details and later phoned to check that he received them. He told me to be ready at 6 hrs sharp.

On Saturday morning on the dot of 6 hrs I was standing outside Luwisha House awaiting Matteus and the bus. I thought at 6.15 I should contact him. Well at least he was on his way. 6.30 “where exactly are you Chris? OK I'm coming!” At a few minutes past 7 am up pulled Matteus and a couple of friends including Chris who was driving the bus. “Sorry, sorry, soory”. At this point I just hoped that the plane wasn't on time or early, since I had promised to be at the airport by 7 hrs since the plane was due to land at 6.30. Still I was grateful that we had a bus and one that was definitely big enough.

The group leader of the HATW team appeared at about 7.45(the plane had been delayed) and by 8 hrs we were on our way. A half hour stop at 'Manda Hills' shopping centre that lasted an hour and a half, and we hit the road for Monze. The team were understandably tired after the journey so could only take in parts of the trip between dozes. Just after 13 hrs we hit Monze and I found that the driver and crew didn't know where Mrs Sianga or her school reside. Even if I am not a technician, I occasionally manage to sort out the odd computer. However, when it comes to finding my way I have an unbroken record! So it proved, so by 14 hrs and after getting a call to say that Mrs Sianga had seen us passing by her house, I delivered the weary contingent to their home for the next 3 or 4 weeks.

We were all treated to a welcome meal and before dark I demonstrated my navigational skills (after properly orientating myself) by giving a quick tour of Monze.

Today Sunday I took it easy with mass at the chapel. (I hope the team got back last night because no one made it this morning!) and a meeting this afternoon with my small christian community. I suspect that this next week is going to be very busy so a quiet day was probably needed.

Thursday 31st July

Days are flying by.

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 15th century man who, whilst recovering from a wound received in battle, became aware of a way of discerning the right way forward. He founded the Jesuits (The Society of Jesus) and they have had a great influence on my life in recent years. Recently I have felt a great need for discernment.

I spent some time on Monday and Tuesday working on some computers in the School of Nursing and Midwifery. Eventually I left them with machines that are working and will connect to the network – though a couple of sockets are not currently functioning.

On Monday evening I met up with Mrs Sianga and popped in to see the HATW team. An ambitious schedule has been set for the work on Maluba Secondary School. The plan seems to be to try and complete it before the team leave site! A bit different to our work on the ICU where we didn't get as far as the concrete slab! It was dark and the power was off so the display of stars was impressive. A couple of the team members joined me for a couple of minutes star-gazing. The Southern Cross however seemed to have dipped below the horizon.

There seems to be a slight change in the weather over the past couple of days, with it feeling warm inside at times.

The past two days I have spent at the Holy Family rehabilitation centre. This is because they provide conference facilities and the hospital has a two day workshop to discuss planning and budgetting. It is clear to me that there are many ways in which I can support the hospital – I am hoping that the hospital management recognises them as well.

I first got to know the Holy Family centre in 2004. A volunteer physiotherapist was in need of an urgent placement and the Holy Family was a possibility. Although it didn't quite work as planned, I got to know some of the priests and brothers and was made very welcome. The facilities are very good and it is particularly heartwarming to know that some children with physical disabilities get a chance to enjoy relatively luxurious facilities and excellent care. I suspect this is often very different from their previous experience of life. The Centre is run by The Brothers of St. John of God an International order of Catholic brothers.

Friday 1st August

I have brought one or two books with me. One of them is called the 'Song of the Bird' it is a collection of very short stories – many of them relating to eastern religions – written by a Catholic priest. 'Did you hear the bird sing' is the story from which the book gets it's name. In the story the disciple complains that the Master is keeping things from him. Then one day when out walking the Master says to the disciple “did you here the bird sing” and he answers “yes”. The master then realises that the disciple now understands – he has reached enlightenment. It is not often that we hear the 'bird sing'. I remember the time I first saw a poppy – it might surprise you to know that I was already in my late forties! You will probably say that you have seen many poppys and heard many birds sing, but when you have this experience and are filled with amazement at the wonder of God and in that moment you are connected with the universe and its maker then you really know what it is to hear a bird sing.

Tomorrow the 'Team' are going to Lochinvar a National Park about 35km from Monze. I lent them an extra set of binoculars and a book of Birds of South Africa. If you want to hear a bird sing you first need to look very carefully and then listen with all your senses.

Another little story goes as follows:

On the street I saw a naked child, hungry and shivering in the cold. I became angry and said to God, “Why do you permit this? Why don't you do something?”

For a while God said nothing. That night he replied, quite suddenly, “I certainly did something. I made you.”

This is the sort of prayer book that talks to me. I hope it also talks to you.

Today I decided to write some personal notes about the two day planning meeting I have just attended, then decided to make it more formal observations and comments on the process – including what I hope will be a few hopeful suggestions.

At lunchtime I headed for the site. Well! Maluba school is going up at an astonishing rate!! They have already reached window sill height throughout the site. That includes the the outer and inner walls for all three classroms and the office. (not bad in 4 days!). At lunchtime they had run out of usable bricks or could have progressed even further. Everyone seems to be happy and all are getting on well. Tomorrow the outing to Lochinvar will include Eli, Mrs Sianga and the two girls who are helping out at the Team's Monze home.

Before I forget I have a couple of requests. The first is that the Team want to provide some text books for the current school at which they are based. (A book per class seems less than adequate). The Team think they can obtain books from schools in the UK but need to find a cheap means of shipping them out here. Does anyone know of a container heading this way with some spare space where a few boxes of books could be squeezed in? Or any another means of shipping them out without exorbitant charges?

The second plea is from my friend at the hospital whose house was burnt down. He is wanting to rebuild and maintains that if he could buy enough bricks he would manage to buy cement and build the house. The bricks would cost about 650,000 kwacha or £100. So if anyone would like to help this man rebuild his home and his life please let me know.

Well this is more than enough for this blog!

With my love and prayers


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