Wednesday, October 15, 2008


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

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


Alternative Gifts

Alternative Presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wildlife Pictures


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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes


An Anthill

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A tour of the North -Final Days

Monday 6th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 8th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.

Bye for now – with my love and prayers