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