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


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