Monday, December 7, 2009


3rd December 2009

It is time to reflect on this year's visit to Zambia.

When I look back I have a general feeling of satisfaction. Every visit is different and I knew that this one would differ in several significant respects. Firstly I had no full time job at the hospital and secondly I was aware that some of my time would be spent about 150 miles from Monze in Chisamba.

Projects that previously I had tried to fit into my 'spare time' at weekends and in evenings could now be given time during the normal day. This took me some time to get used to – and I still felt a little guilty even by the end of my stay. I tried to give myself some spare time - particularly at weekends – despite not having a 'full-time' job, I rarely managed to find this time. However, I did manage to spend significant periods of time with people involved in the various projects and this enabled me to build on our relationships and get to know them better. In particular I was able to get to know a number of people in Chisamba and develop friendships there. I was surprised to find that Chisamba was more rural than Monze and was delighted to see troops of monkeys along the road.

Having spent so much time in recent years in Zambia, I am now very comfortable in the Country. I now find many things that are strange for people in the UK very normal and no longer notice them. I am sometimes surprised when I am noticed, though of course as the only 'white' person around it isn't surprising that I stand out! I often walk around areas rarely frequented by other 'white' people, travel on the local buses and attend services where everyone else is a 'Zambian of colour'. In some instances I have become a regular and it is the Zambian visitors who are introduced to me. However, I am still constantly surprised and my preconceptions are overturned.

Good examples this year were when I discovered that there was a Zambian ornithological society and that it had produced an excellent book on local birds. For some reason I hadn't considered that such an organisation might exist and lokked for books on Zambian birds in the UK. Another was the Monze rally where rally cars competed on tracks around Monze golf course and Moorings campsite. Sometimes it is easy to think that Zambia is not connected to the rest of the world. Though so much is different it is very difficult nowadays to be completely isolated from the rest of the world. In many ways this makes it more difficult for people who are now well aware that the way they are forced to live is very different from us. Even in Monze there are a couple of very comfortable hotels, you can see some very expensive cars driving down the main street and you can buy flat screen TVs in the high street. Yet for many a wheelbarrow is a major asset and enough nshima to stop the hunger is the main aim.

This year I experienced a couple of dull days in Zambia – on the other fifty days I awoke around 6 am to the glorious bright sunshine and clear blue skies! It is now 15.30 in England and the daylight is already fading and I can't remember seeing the sun at all today. It is certainly good for my soul to experience the sunlight so prevalent in Zambia.

If only it could be harnessed for the benefit of the local people. There is certainly more than enough power in the Zambian sun to satisfy their needs and have plenty over to supply others. Global warming is the biggest threat to humanity (In parts of the Third World it is already resulting in many lives being destroyed) I wonder whether we will wake up in time to recognise that there is plenty of power available from renewable sources before we destroy the world as we know it by continuing to use fossil fuels?

As I looked through some of the bits and pieces that I have brought back with me I came across a report entitled Kalundu poultry project proposal. This relates to the community school south of Monze town. The proposal is to use a building to grow chickens and thereby provide an income to support the costs of the school. Even now when I hear of these small projects I am usually surprised by the costs. This project is estimated to cost about £950 for 400 chickens. I think that maybe finding £250 for 100 chickens to start with might prove more realistic. This, like many other projects, is worthy of consideration. The community are doing their best to provide education for their children but they really have so little that the most basic items are difficult to provide. A poultry house could provide a much needed boost.

Charles gave me some notes written by Jamu Kalosola born in 1914. He says that he was born of 'intermarriage' – his father being a Shona from Zimbabwe and his mother a Tonga from Zambia. He recounts how it was the practice in Tongaland to establish a Gweebelo (Village Court) and here the men of the vilage would gather to exchange views and stories. I have also notes from Sophia Kamona and Sylvester Maluza both born in 1920. I am interested in hearing more about these people and their lives. I am also very interested in hearing the traditional stories that would have been recounted in the Gweebelo. I will continue to collect these histories and hopefully also receive some stories. One day I hope to be able to publish these as a booklet or even book that will help support the small project that Charles runs.

I will include with this blog a selection of photos from the past few weeks in Zambia. Since leaving Zambia I have kept in contact with a number of my friends back there. Jennipher planted her tree last week at the District health Offices in Monze, accompanied by about 20 of her support group members. Teddy has received his exam results and passed his diploma in IT with a credit – so he deserves our congratulations for this achievement which was done despite tremendous obstacles – including his family seeing very little of him over the past few years, while he has been studying after work. New chickens and feed have been ordered at Kaliyangile. It is hoped that teachers and students will be back in January. We are busy selling cards at St. Gregory's church in support of the people of Our Lady of the Wayside parish – this year we are allowing the local priest to have greater say in what the money is to be used for. I am told that the rains are still good in and around Monze. The heavy rains seem to have subsided a bit, but there is still enough rain to keep the crops well watered.

I am being asked to go back to Zambia earlier next year. This will depend on my family commitments, but it is clear that I will continue to work with my many Zambian projects wherever I happen to be residing in at time.

So for now I will sign off. I am toying with setting up a Facebook site. So you might soon be able to find me there.

As always this comes with my love and my prayers,


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The last weeks

Monday 16th November

Now back home in the UK I am again in a different world. It is surprising how easily I adapt the new environment. In a way because of the vast difference, it is easier. It is a little like waking from sleep, where you accept that the rules of the night no longer apply and it's best not to try to make too much sense of your dreams.

The fact that my laptop died more than a week ago and access to the Internet has been difficult - power and Internet problems made it tricky in Monze and there are no Internet cafés in Chisamba – has meant that I haven't been able to post any blogs recently. Now in a world of fast Internet access and reliable electricity supply, I have no excuse not to bring you up to date. I hope that my recollections of the past couple of weeks don't become too long and bore you – I will do my best to be brief – though, as you will have noted, this isn't one of my key talents!

When I last posted the blog David and Kevin where still in Zambia. On the Wednesday – their final day – we had breakfast again at Southern Comfort motel. I was a bit surprised to see Teddy also breakfasting there! He was there for a meeting, so I took the opportunity to introduce him to David. Kevin was very late joining us. It turned out that he had locked himself in his room and couldn't escape until he attracted the attention of one of the staff and handed him the key through the window!

We were subsequently a little late for our meeting at the hospital with Dr. Mvula. After some discussion we toured the hospital, concentrating on the areas where HATW had been involved. There were two people in ICU – one a man who had been involved in a traffic accident and the other a woman who had fallen into a well and was 6 months pregnant. Unfortunately she had just died.

After our tour of the hospital I said goodbye to David and Kevin as they left for Lusaka. Kevin to return on Thursday to Jersey and David to eventually travel to Chipata and then Lilongwe (Malawi) and onwards to the UK arriving home on 11th November.

In the afternoon I posted the previous blog and sent some e-mails from the Internet café before returning home to work on the project database for Monze Diocese.

In the evening, while reading some of the e-mails picked up at the café, my laptop started having problems and eventually refused to work at all. Fortunately I had time to back up this year's data and, if I have followed the process I tell everyone else to follow, I should have a copy of everything else from the past 10 – 12 years on my computer at home. I suspect a hard drive crash.

Thursday 5th November

I had arranged to see Sr Juunza and install the database updated with the data extracted from the spreadsheets. I spent a short time explaining the process and hoped that it was sufficient to re-establish the database in Human Resources. I will need to produce a user manual once back in the UK.

I apologised to Sr. Barbara and explained that time was tight anyway, but the loss of my laptop made it impossible to make any progress with her database – another little job for me from home.

The limited time left in Monze meant that I needed to make maximum use of the ATM if I was going to find sufficient kwachas to deal with all the little projects where I had an interest. So being a bit greedy I tried to extract my maximum daily allowance of 1,800,000 kwacha in one go. The machine gave up at the last minute leaving me penniless!

I had the laptop from Mrs. Chiiya and the loss of mine gave me the incentive to use it to connect to the Internet. My friend John was wanting me to set up a Skype session with him and his students in the UK. I didn't expect to achieve this and it was very soon clear that the speed of the laptop would make this impossible. However, an updated version of the anti-virus software was installed which made the exercise well worthwhile. Before I left the café the power went of and I finished the session using their limited UPS.

Reymond joined me for supper – I had a salad prepared, which with the power situation is always wise!

Friday 6th November

I had arranged to be picked up outside the Finance Bank at 8hrs. So I arrived at about 8.10. During the next hour I decided to take some pictures of the town while I waited. I also recorded a few of the activities taking place around me - such as the guys carrying goods around on their wheelbarrows, the ladies with their burdens carried on their heads and the coming and going of the local buses. I missed the bus pulling a trailer full of chickens and the guys bump-starting a truck – not unusual occurrences in this part of the world. I began to realise just how many things I was observing would be considered very strange in the UK but are everyday happenings here in Zambia.

Jennipher rang to say she was with a patient in Intensive Care and could I come and pray with her. I thought this a little unusual and was sorry I had to decline because a taxi was due to arrive with Charles and Reymond any minute.

Anderson Phiri – the barber from Sweet Sixteen – passed by and stopped for a while to chat. Anderson first cut my hair in 2004 – I pay him closer to UK than Zambian rates, though of late I have managed to avoid the need. (I think that if possible it is best not to risk getting a snick at the barbers.) The usual rate for a haircut is about 200 - 500 kwacha – 3p – 7p).

At about 9 hrs I decided to go to Barclays to get proof that they didn't give me any money yesterday.

We set off for the project site at 9.30 and I was delighted to meet Captain and Saddam. These animals were obtained several years ago – one being a present from my son Andy. However, until now, on each visit they had been off searching for food some distance from the project site.

This time however they were persuaded to accept the yoke and take me for a ride on my dad's ox cart. We also had another look at the garden which is doing fine - thanks to installation of a well a couple of years back.

On our return I spend some time talking to Charles and his mother as usual provided me with a meal.

Time was now running away. This was my last chance to say goodbye to my friends at the hospital, but I had a few jobs still to do. I popped into the priest's house to load a spreadsheet on Fr. Maambo's computer for his accounts and explained how to complete it, I updated the Human Resources database, with the modifications I had been able to make using Mrs. Chiiyas computer the previous night and secured my lift to Lusaka from Justina.

Before going to mass I popped along to the ICU and asked Patience about the patient from Pemba. The prognosis didn't sound good so I offered a few extra prayers for her at mass and felt during the mass that she was being welcomed into that other world.

After mass I popped along to the shop along the road where I was working on their stock control system. Of course, having visited the hospital, my flash-drive was now infected with viruses. The shop computer recognised this fact and moved the infected files and, it appeared, all other files on the flash-drive where I had so cleverly saved all my work this year in Monze. (including all my photos). So I was unable to complete my task at the shop.

On the way home I heard someone calling me. Judy (Dr. Mvula's secretary) was returning home from the South – she had obviously had to make a detour on her way home - and so our paths happened to cross. When I mentioned my loss of data she reminded me that this was not an unknown phenomenon and that a Ubuntu computer would often see the 'lost files' and they could be retrieved. Maybe this was just a chance meeting, but I like to think that the creator of our universe cares for us all individually and sometimes helps us out here and there! I was greatly cheered by this 'chance' meeting with Judy.

On returning home Eli called around and we shared another salad!

It was now well after dark and Edward was not sure that we should carry out our plan to go out. However, it was my only opportunity to meet with him before I left and it proved to be a pleasant evening at Nwango Gardens, where we relaxed and talked about a variety of things. Edward is much better than a couple of weeks ago but it still not back to full form. He tells me though he has now formally retired he is unlikely to receive any pension or benefits for months – if not years. There is an enormous amount of bureaucracy involved and he will need to make several visits to Lusaka and Livingstone at considerable expense, whilst receiving nothing! Unfortunately this story is repeated by most people who retire from government jobs.

Saturday 7th November

I woke and headed for the chapel for mass. I was surprised to find Jennipher in distress at the hospital. Her patient had died. I knew that we were due to meet in Pemba later, but worried that perhaps the death was someone closer than I had imagined.

I caught a bus quickly after returning from mass and met Jennipher along the main road in Pemba. Here she explained the events of the previous week. On Tuesday two older relatives of Jennipher's had arrived in Pemba from Zimbabwe. The younger lady – in her sixties – was an aunt of Jennipher's (her mother's sister) who she had not seen for over 30 years. She was the person who had died during the night. The other lady had been given a house where she could stay by the village headman. I visited with Jennipher and Soloman. The local community were looking after the lady who I was told was 86 years old. They were all shocked by the death. The older lady, the mother of the one who had just died, was not well and had stopped eating. Jennipher was fearing that she too might end up dying. I spent a while with the lady before we made our way to Jennipher's house.

Sandra and Mike had come from their respective schools to meet me, so with Selina, Soloman and Emmanuel they make up Jennipher's current family. It was good to see Sandra and Mike doing well and I expressed my sadness to Mike at the loss of his last sibling – Raquel, earlier in the year.

I looked around the garden which Soloman is managing very well with some help from the support groups. There are now banana plants as well as the vegetables – Soloman tells me that they will fruit next year. I spotted some spring onions and couldn't resist a few leaves. Soloman picked me a couple of plants to take back with me.

Also at Jennipher's were a couple of women from the support group - they complained of hunger. It is always difficult in Zambia when someone complains of hunger, because it is most likely that they really are hungry. Not that they just want money for food, but that at that precise moment they are feeling hunger - a hunger that we probably never experience. It isn't possible to feed all the hungry, but it is always a dilemma about how to deal with such an immediate need. This year I believe that Jennipher has made significant progress in finding support for her group, which we both hope will lead to supplementary food for her groups. She also expects to be provided with seed and fertiliser to allow group members to provide something for themselves next year. The garden also provides a source of extra food for her clients.

It was a visit dominated by the sudden loss of Jennipher's aunt and the likely loss of the mother. Two relatives that had made a long journey to find there relatives after such a long time. I can't help reflect on the many relatives of Jennipher's who have died in the few years that I have known Jennipher. As I left Pemba I asked Soloman how closely he was related to the ladies. He told me the lady who died during the night was his mother and the other lady his grandmother.

Soloman and Mike accompanied me to the road where I left them as I caught my bus back to Monze.

I had a quick lunch before catching up on my e-mails. I should have dropped off at the Southern Comfort Motel close to where Bridget lives because I now had a 2 km walk to retrace my journey. I was surprised to get a call from Dilys and spent 10 minutes chatting as I walked along the Livingstone Road – despite a strong wind rushing past the phone making conversion difficult at times. So my walk became a very pleasant experience. I needed to settle my bill with Bridget and pick up a few small items to bring home. She also gave me a gift or two for the family.

Teddy, Luke and Reymond came around sequentially to say a final farewell in the evening and it was late before I had my supper. I still had my house to clean and needed to start before the morning, if I was to get it done before departing on Monday morning.

Sunday 8th November

Jennipher rang at 6 hrs to tell me that the older lady had died. So there would be a double funeral within a day or two and the happy reunion of a few days previous was now replaced by a double tragedy. Some people in the UK that I meet seem to think that death in places like Zambia is not so devastating, but having been close to many here who have lost close relatives I know just how much they are affected. Bereavement is not easy to cope with anywhere and lots of deaths make it worse not better. In addition here the implications of a death are often worse. There is no welfare state, loss of parents can lead to instant poverty. Possessions are often taken by relatives and the children perhaps end up very many miles from where they have been brought up, living with distant and sometimes cruel and abusive relatives.

I reflected on the deaths as I washed the floors of the house.

I attended mass at Our Lady of the Wayside church and had the opportunity to offer some more prayers for those who had died and those left to mourn.

On my return I invited Mr Meheritona around to discuss the link between Christ College and St. Vincent's very briefly – having made contact in the previous couple of days with Terry from Christ College.

When I had finished washing the floor I was late for my next appointment! My final meeting with St. Veronica's Small Christian Community. Simon and his wife had left so I had no guide this week. I headed in the normal sort of direction – but since each meeting is at a different location I needed to come across someone who could tell me where we would meet. After failing to find guidance from another house of a Community member, I continued on my way and fortunately met Queen.

My first attempt to find the Community in 2005, lead me to Queen's son Brian who guided me on that occasion. I asked Queen about Brian and she told me he was in Lusaka but wanted to return to Monze and complete his education. Brian left in Grade 11 so has two years of secondary schooling left. As is so often the case, the parents cannot afford to pay the school fees.

Queen lead me to the meeting and, as always, I was warmly greeted. After the payer meeting I was treated to some songs and dances to wish me a safe journey back home. They also wanted to give me a present for me and my family. At the market they couldn't find a Christmas card so bought me a musical birthday card instead. Since I have a 'big one' coming up soon it seems appropriate.

Yet again I was struggling for time. I had also left at home a container that Angelina had given me the week before filled with chibantu and also my torch which I would need later in the evening. So I was able to give some custom to one of the taxi drivers outside Tooters who has been waiting for me to book him for the past few years! He took us to my house and then dropped us all at Mrs Sianga's house close to the homes of the community.

There were a few things to sort out with Mrs Sianga before I left. Most of Mrs. Sianga's concerns had been addressed over the past few weeks and she said that she was now a very happy lady. So we said farewell and I arrived back home at about 20 hrs and combined all the remaining food for my final meal this year in Monze.

It was now time to pack!!

Just before midnight I found my bed for a few hours sleep!

Monday 9th November

The hospital has had an ambulance for many years, but I have never seen it in use. So when this red vehicle arrived just after 6 hrs on Monday morning I was a little surprised. One of the accounts staff was already on board and we then picked up Justina who is now in accommodation in the Zambia compound area – the other side of the market.

We made our way to the hospital and there we found a patient who had been in a road traffic accident and needed to go to a hospital in Lusaka. The ambulance was a small slightly converted Japanese minibus. A stretcher bed was installed but was very narrow and had no straps. Our patient was carried to the ambulance on a plastic mattress and it was quickly agreed that the best thing was to remove the stretcher and lay the mattress with the patient directly onto the floor. Justina, being a trained nurse, was able to act in the role of accompanying nurse as no other nurse was available.

With the patient were a couple of relatives who shared the bench seat. I found a spot by my luggage on top of the engine and spent the next 3 hours and 200 km wriggling about trying to find a comfortable position. I had no problem keeping warm! Still I was grateful that I didn't have to make my way with taxis and public transport with all my bags. Not surprisingly we had no problem with the police check points.

We passed the Immigration offices on the way to the Italian Hospital. After an hour or more the patient was taken from the ambulance into the hospital and I was dropped back at Immigration.

I have been amazed this year that I have moved through the immigration process without any waiting. I was confident that today's process would be equally smooth. So at desk 5 the lady told me that my permit had been approved and wrote the file number on my receipt, she directed me to a register where I found my name and confirmation that my file had been received at the office. I was happy to join a queue – for the first time this year – to wait for my permit. Eventually I handed my receipt to the guy finding the files. A pile of files were found and put on the desk of the officer issuing the permits. So, in turn, the people in front of me went through the process of checking their permits, signing the register etc. When my turn came the file was for the person behind me. Not to worry I was happy to wait a little later. The guy finding files then asked who this receipt belonged to and I recognised it as mine! When I told him that I was working at Monze Mission Hospital and confirmed that it was run by Catholics, he told me I had to go to some other part of the Country where they would have my file! I explained that though it was a Catholic run hospital my application was dealt with in Lusaka by CHAZ and my file should be here. He went away and ignored me for the next half hour!

I decided that I shouldn't take my God for granted and assume that he would continue to organise immigration for me, however I had no doubt that things would eventually be sorted. I went over to the file finder and asked him what was happening with my file. He said that the officer would sort things out. Half an hour later he spoke to the officer about me still waiting and the officer moved my receipt on his desk and continued issuing permits to the others waiting. At about 13 hrs, when all the other permits had been issued, the officer picked up my receipt and had another search to confirm the file was missing. After finding that the file number on the receipt was wrong, but the file was still nowhere to be found, Mr Banda (the officer in question) arranged for the clerk at reception to issue me with an order to return to immigration within 30 days and stamped my passport with a corresponding extension to my permit to stay in Zambia. He gave me his mobile number and took mine and promised to search for my lost file.

My bags at this point were travelling around Lusaka. I contacted Jasper (the hospital driver) and told him to drop the bags at Lwisha House, since I couldn't see any point in meeting up with the ambulance again myself.

I had been in touch with Christopher from CHAZ while at immigration to confirm that he hadn't picked up my permit and he asked me to tell him the outcome. As I was meeting Diven at the CHAZ offices, I took the opportunity to see Christopher. Christopher was busy so I agreed to wait and while waiting received a call from Mr. Banda to say my file had been found – much to my relief. I spent a short while chatting to Christopher and recognised Stanford Zulu when he appeared in the office. (Stanford was the manager from CHAZ who helped with my previous application and who I didn't recognise in Monze last year.)

On my way out of the office I met Justina and Jasper who also had called around to CHAZ. So we had the opportunity of saying a proper farewell.

Diven had been waiting for a while and we set off in search of our regular café. After half an hour we gave up looking – why we couldn't find it I don't know. We eventually settled for a fast food café on the way to Diven's place but couldn't find anywhere selling nshima! We settled for chicken and chips as the next best thing.

Diven has set up a little single roomed shop to the East of the town centre. He has moved in, sleeping in the shop both the save the cost of renting somewhere else and because he believes that it is necessary for security reasons. The shop has a small range of items but either needs more variety or a fridge to sell drinks in order to prosper. Diven's dream is to develop this shop and perhaps next year move back to Monze, where eventually he would like to buy a small plot of land and build his own small house.

Time is still going very quickly in Zambia. Lwisha House is the Jesuit Centre for Theological reflection in Zambia (JCTR) and provides me with a link between the world I know back in the UK and life in Zambia. I have found this useful over the years as I prepare for my return to the UK. It is on the Great East Road that leads to the airport. I had hoped to get there by about 17hrs but it was about 17.30 by the time I reached the bus station in the centre of Lusaka. The positive side was that at this time the buses fill very quickly – so I left within a couple of minutes, the negative side is that at this time you don't go anywhere fast because Lusaka is a big traffic jam!

I was dropped at the University at about 18.10 from where I had a walk of a little under ten minutes. As I arrived at Lwisha house a few spots of rain started dropping. Within a few seconds the heavens opened and some powerful rain fell for a few minutes. I thought of Brother Joe and how when we were with him we always missed the rain – just! I smiled at the thought and felt the presence of my God.

It was good to have access to tea again and to enjoy my first shower for a couple of months!

Tuesday 10th November

I always enjoy the chapel services at Lwisha House. The Jesuits always try to adapt to the environment and the people in the congregation. So the simple mass included some singing in the local language with a little drumming and references to what was happening in the local community, wider events within Zambia and issues concerning the church in Africa.

After breakfast I headed for the nearest bus stop. On the way one of the priests passed by and offered me a lift to immigration – saving me a trip into town and then back out again.

I whiled away an hour in an Internet café until the immigration offices opened. At immigration I was surprised that there were no queues. I went up to Mr Banda who promptly produced my file and issued me with my permit. When another officer stamped my passport with 15th December 2010 I was disappointed. I had forgotten that my passport expires at the beginning of 2011 and they won't issue a work permit beyond that date. The officer pointed that out and said with a grin that I would have to apply again next year and pay again!

I took a bus to town and found an Internet café to sort out a few mails. I decided not to try to post a blog or check my bank account when I received warnings that it would be unsafe to proceed.

Next stop Chisamba cross roads. When I arrived I contacted Godfrey who advised me to wait for Justine (the new manager). After about 3 hours it seemed that Justine's bus had broken down so I took a taxi to the guest house. On arriving I took a stroll through the market hoping to find some mangoes (to no avail) and checked out the church. Having not eaten lunch, I decided not to miss supper and it was after I had eaten (at about 20 hrs) that Justine arrived.

He joined me at the bar after supper and we watched 'Just for Laughs' on the TV! The evening finished with a power cut. A violent storm earlier in the day had deposited 40cm of rain on Chisamba. In the evening the nearby storms gave a good light show, though the rain was quite light – at least in African terms.

So it was an early night.

Wednesday 11th November

I woke just after 5.30 and decided to go to mass at 6 hrs.

I am very used to being the only 'white man' as I move around in Zambia. If I think about it, it is very unusual to be in any bus, other than the big coaches, where my companions are not all people of colour. So this was the case at the church. At the end of the service the priest welcomed me and suggested that I might stay behind to meet him and other parishioners.

The Kaliyangile project was started by the Catholic parish. The priest – Fr. Timothy – became chairman of the project and the parish was very much involved. It seemed that after Fr. Timothy's departure, the new priest was less interested in the project and there was a concern that the project was being regarded as a Catholic project. The result was a separation of the project from the Catholic community.

I was invited to join the priests – Fr Dominic (parish priest) and Fr. Malitious (who celebrated the mass I had just attended) – for breakfast and was happy to accept. We talked about the project and it appeared that the Catholic community felt concern that they were no longer involved with Kaliyangile. Fr. Dominic told me he hadn't been invited to the project site and knew very little of what was going on.

It was a good opportunity to bring the priests up to date with the current position and the plans for the Centre. I promised to keep Fr. Dominic informed and to arrange for him to visit the Centre. He gave me his card so that I could keep in touch.

When I returned to the Guest House at 8.30 everyone was wondering what had happened to me. I joked that they must have been ready to break down my door and Justine told the staff he was about to contact the police – he then quickly told them he was only joking!

At the site we took another tour of the project with Davidson and I demonstrated my accounts system before Godfrey arrived. I had brought some cash with me to cover the removal costs for Justine. However, I had under-estimated the costs. It is easy to expect everything here to be a small fraction of costs in the UK and I often fall into that trap. Fuel here is a little lower than in the UK – about 70p -75p a litre. So transport costs – though lower – are still considerable. Justine lives perhaps 200 km from Chisamba and needs to find someone to transport all his furniture etc. If he was going in the opposite direction it would be easier because lorries would be travelling light to the Copperbelt. However, in the other direction they would be full of goods and therefore removing Justine means a special trip. The cheapest quote was over 2 million kwacha or £250.

So to avoid delaying his move, a trip to the ATM was required. Apparently there was a Zanaco ATM for Chisamba. So we set off to the main road. (21km away) This year I have had problems with Zenaco ATMs and wasn't too confident. As suspected the transaction could not be completed and the branch staff couldn't explain why. Rather than wait for staff at the head office to deal with the issue we decided to head for Lusaka, where I succeeded in getting the money from a Standard Chartered Bank. On the way back Godfrey picked up a bag of cement for some work he was doing and some meat pies for our lunch. It was 16.30 when we arrived back in Chisamba.

It is difficult for people in the UK to understand how the simplest task can take best part of a day in Zambia. In order to get some cash we had to do a round trip of about 140 km taking 3 – 4 hours and reducing the working day very considerably. I often loose several hours in Zambia due to loss of power, Internet or other services failing, people not being available etc. It isn't unusual to 'waste' complete days or longer. It can be frustrating but since there is little that can be done, it is best to accept it and relax!

We spent an hour or so checking on a few issues that needed to be discussed and as we left the project site we were treated to only the second rainbow I have ever seen in Zambia. (The sun is usually too high for rainbows – though at Victoria falls the spray can produce a complete circle of coloured light as you look directly downwards.)

Thursday 12th November

Today marks my last working day in Zambia this year.

There was a lot to do to make a few modifications to the accounts system and to access the needs of the centre in the short and longer terms. The Guest House provided a good breakfast that included sausages and eggs and the usual lunch and supper menu - beef or chicken and nshima! In the evening Justine went for an early night while I once again met with Sondash and watched Nigeria beat Spain in the under 17s World Cup Semi-final. As usual I was supporting Africa – even more so as my son in law Demi is from Nigeria.

Friday 13th November

I woke early and went to 6 am mass, after which I received a replacement business card from Fr. Dominic

When I returned to the guest house at about 6.50 am, Justine had already left for the Copperbelt. So I settled to a leisurely breakfast and waited for someone to arrive with the final bill and a receipt.

This year if there has been a consistent message it is that I should relax and enjoy the moment. Even now with nothing to hurry me I found it difficult to enjoy the warm sunshine, watch the lizards and birds and relish my last hours in Africa.

At 8hrs I went to the main road and caught a waiting taxi. On the way to the crossroads a troop of vervet monkeys ran across the road in front of the car. As I was dropped at the crossroads a bus pulled off the main road and since it was heading for Lusaka I jumped in and headed for the city centre without delay.

I decided to check e-mails at the Internet café. Fortunately I had my booking details so I also tried to check into my flight. After an hour or more I managed to check in my bags and select a window seat that wasn't over the wing. This was quite a relief because I was still a little unconvinced that I would be allowed two large bags and that they wouldn't charge me to change my seat.

I thought that the Zain offices would require a large detour but found a very helpful lady in the office in Cairo Road who explained all the details of the USB modem. I am very keen to keep in touch with the Kaliyangile project in Chisamba and e-mail is the best way. The information I have now received suggests that a USB modem (or dongle) is the best solution.

I went to the bus station and realised that I hadn't yet found my mangoes. I decided it was too much bother to go to the market, then noticed someone in front of me selling ripe mangoes – so I asked the seller to choose 4 good ripe ones for me and readily purchased them at 1,000 kwacha each!

Work completed – apart from a text message or two – I returned to UNZA and Lwisha House. Any thought of using the Internet for my blog was dashed when they told me their computer had stopped functioning and anyway Internet access was blocked because a computer at the centre seemed to have been infected by a virus that was disseminating spam. I was even more pleased that I had checked into my flight at the Internet café.

My next little task was to organise a taxi for the morning. I had been directed to the JCTR office and was putting the taxi driver's number into my phone, when he arrived at the door so we could make the arrangements directly.

Saturday 14th November

I was up at about 5 am and at 6hrs the taxi had arrived.

It is a lovely time of day in Zambia. Other than on about two days this year, the day has always started here with clear blue skies and gentle sunshine. (By 7hrs the sun is warm and by 8hrs it is high in the sky and hot!) Saturday night was warm (dropping no lower than low 20s), together with the excitement of returning home and the head-banging music from the university campus, I had difficulty sleeping.

After a pleasant drive to the airport before 7 hrs I was settled in the departure lounge. I was surprised to see a couple of decent sized jets on the airport tarmac – despite the fact that the BA plane had not yet arrived.

Our flight left about ½ hour late despite the plane leaving Heathrow an hour and a half behind schedule.

I enjoyed the flight and also caught up a little on my sleep. Once again I was amazed by the beauty of the desert that we crossed over a period of well over two hours. A huge area that is covered by almost continuous and very strong sunshine. The previous evening I had read an article in the National Geographic magazine that confirmed that there is more than enough solar energy to power the world, that even with today's technology we could resolve the climate change issue and the costs are less than we have used to bail out the banks. Yet in 10 years time I suspect we will have signed the death warrant for humankind – what a foolish people we are!

At Lusaka airport I bought a few bottles, having been assured that they would put them in a proper clear sealed bag. After paying the seller produced a black carrier bag and proceeded to put a few staples in it. I suggested this wasn't sufficient to satisfy the British authorities – though what terrorist act they thought they would be preventing at Heathrow airport is beyond me!! Anyway I didn't see anyone at customs at Heathrow and was therefore able to present my gifts to Dilys when she met me at the airport. Before meeting Dilys, Jennipher rang me to ask if I would get in touch on Sunday morning, reminding me that though home, I would continue to share my life with my friends back in Zambia.

My Zambian adventure is over for a little while, but before I close the blog I will try to reflect a little on what was a very satisfying visit this year and share a few more photos. Watch this space!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Monze Rally

Monday 2nd November

I am finding it a little difficult remembering what day it is!

It seems like a week since I was in Monze yet it was only yesterday that I left for Lusaka, to return this evening.

Friday seems a very long time ago! I spent the morning sorting out the Personnel database to produce a new report that the Province requires, having picked up as much information from spreadsheets to produce an up to date database. After lunch I needed to go to the Internet café, call into the hospital and then set off to see Charles. In fact this order was dictated by the fact that the hospital staff would be away at lunch and meant an extra kilometre or two as I would need to double back on myself. In the event the Internet café had no Internet, as opposed to the other day when it had no power! I was two early for the hospital so I walked with my backpack and laptop to the market to buy a few bits and pieces essential to life here – like mayonnaise (particularly for lunchtime visitors – now a favourite and a must!) and enough cornflakes for my last 11 days in Monze.

I called at the hospital but personnel in Human Resources there were none. Now being heavily ladened, I headed home and dropped my groceries. Charles was waiting for me just after 15 hrs when I arrived. I have always enjoyed talking to Charles and sharing thoughts about his project, Monze and the world. I started by showing him a selection of photos of my family taken back in the UK and a few places that we have visited. One of my aims with Charles is to look at the business side of his project and discuss ways to generate greater profit to support his elderly and disabled clients. Last year I was interested in seeing what his clients could do to help support themselves. I asked what they did to socialise or entertain themselves and was told that they tell stories. So I have asked Charles to collect some stories and memories from his clients so that I can read them. I am personally very interested in what stories they tell. I have heard a few African stories that are moral tales – a bit like fables. I am also interested about some of the memories from some of the elderly people who will have lived through some very different times in the history of what is now Zambia. It seems to me likely that others might also be interested – so if all goes well I would like to produce some leaflets – or a book! - and sell them, the profit going to PEASSA (The charity Charles runs) to support his clients.

I think that too often – especially in our so-called developed world we don't value our older people highly enough. There is often great knowledge and wisdom held by these people and sometimes when they die we allow some of what we are die with them. I worry here that the changes and the devastating effects of AIDS on a generation will lead to the loss of much of the rich culture here – and part of that is the storytelling. It would be good to at least record as many of these tales as possible – though it would be good to see the oral tradition continue.

I thought that it would be particularly quiet at my house this weekend as the Australian girls next door were heading for Livingstone and Victoria Falls. So I was surprised to see the gate open on Friday after returning from my wander in town. Someone was cleaning the building at the bottom of the garden. In the afternoon a family arrived in their 4x4 and started moving into the back garden. Some into the building and others erected a tent!

Saturday was a day of great excitement in Monze. Most of you will have heard about the Monte Carlo Rally – but not everyone will be aware of the annual Monze Rally. Fuel had been put aside for the rally cars that had been arriving in town over the past few days. I went to the 7 hrs mass at the chapel and then picked up my camera and followed the gathering crowd to Monze Golf Course. I realise that I haven't told you a lot about this other side of life in Monze. I am sometimes surprised myself to realise that there are a few that enjoy a good life here in the town. It is of course a life that I and most of you are used to back home.

As we got closer to the golf course and the clock got ever nearer to 8 hrs. the pace of us in the crowd quickened and a few ran the last metres.

The golf course was packed with an expectant crowd. The rally cars were parked and soon started rolling onto a ramp – presumably for scrutiny before going to the start line. Then one by one they roared into action leaving clouds of brown dust as they skidded their way around a short tight course carved out of the golf course. I found a vantage point that allowed me to see some of them skid spectacularly before I was covered by a thick cloud of dust. The lady next to me covered herself with her chitengi each time a car passed by. After about half an hour all the competitors had been around the course and they headed 10 km up the Lusaka road to Moorings campsite where they would spend the afternoon. Mr. Meheritona wanted to take me with him but he couldn't get fuel for his car. As an official at the event he was allowed to jump on a truck – but unfortunately I wasn't allowed to join him. In the event I found I had more work to do than I realised, so spent a few profitable hours on my computer. I had enjoyed watching the rally section at the golf course and was well satisfied.

I found the Internet café in operation in the afternoon and returned just after the rally cars had returned to Monze and were on their way home.

It is already late so it will be tomorrow before I can fill in the next couple of days and no doubt Wednesday before I will post this blog.

Tuesday 3rd November

On Sunday I decided to go to the 7.30 mass at the Cathedral. David was due to arrive at Lusaka airport just after 12hrs but I decided that it wasn't critical to be there at the airport when he arrived – since Fr. Tim would be picking him up.

It was good to attend an English Sunday mass again. The 1st November is a day when the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of All Saints. Saints are those people who are now able to experience the full presence of God. At one time there seemed to be a view in the church that this privilege was only for the few and certainly not for anyone who wasn't Catholic. I believe that we live in a rather more enlightened age where we recognise that god speaks to people in many different ways. He is a God of love and compassion who is far more forgiving than any of us can be. I suspect that we would have to work very hard to avoid this wonderful gift of joy that will come after we part from this life. So there are many saints that I have known and I hope that they will have a quiet word with my God to help me keep on the right track. I am very aware that only by having God work through me, here especially, will good come of my efforts.

After mass it is straight up to Tooters Roadhouse to catch a big bus. I didn't bother to book last night thinking that I would have a choice in the morning. (And being too lazy to go for a 3km walk!)

I was informed by the man at the wooden booth selling Shalom tickets that the 9.30 Mazhandu Family Bus was full and that he had only 3 seats left for the Shalom bus that left at 10.30. I realised that if I caught the 10.30 bus I would be too late to meet David at the airport, but a word with Mazhundu confirmed the position and I had little choice (unless I wanted to risk hoping a Rosa would pass). So I settled down with a Cabana (Zambian milkshake or smoothie) and waited. I was a bit surprised that they don't sell papers at Tooters – which is effectively the bus station for the big buses (coaches) in Monze. However, by now I should know better. There is a culture of allowing everyone to have a chance here and find a little niche. So after a while a guy came along with a bundle of papers that would help him put a bowl or two of nshima on the table. So I took the opportunity to catch up with Zambian politics.

One of my 'missing' friends Towera appeared and came over to greet me. Towera has been working as a receptionist/secretary at the hospital in previous years but is now training as a Physiotherapist. She had come down to Monze for a couple of days and was also heading back to Lusaka – but had a ticket for the 11.30 Mazhandu Bus. Towera's father is Soloman Phiri – the Diocesan Projects Manager.

The 10.30 coach arrived at about 11.15 and left just before 11.30. So it was 14 hrs before I arrived in Lusaka. A taxi to Regiment Parish (Charles Lwanga Catholic Church) in the suburbs of Lusaka cost almost as much as the fare from Monze to Lusaka. When I arrived, Fr. Timothy told me that David's plane had been delayed so we wouldn't be leaving for the airport for another hour or so. In the event we we left a couple of hours later and not surprisingly David was already waiting for us. David left the UK two weeks previously to look at projects in Uganda and Rwanda and had spent the night travelling and waiting for planes.

David and I had some time to discuss the Zambian projects in the evening before he turned in for his first opportunity for some decent sleep in a couple of days.

Monday I was up by 5.30 so that we could head off for the airport by 6.00. Tony arrived with the car promptly at 6 hrs and we weaved our way across Lusaka arriving at the airport by about 6.40am to find Kevin (whose plane touched down at 6.20) waiting, having already been to the bank.

Jennipher was quite ill last year and needed some treatment for stomach problems. A specialist from South Africa has been attending to her and he was in Lusaka. We needed to met briefly so we met at the Inter-City bus stop. (Inter City is the main terminus for coaches in Lusaka and coaches go all over the country from here and into the neighbouring countries.) Jennipher joined us for breakfast of tea, omelette and bread which arrived promptly – after about 45 minutes!

Our next stop was Chisamba. We met with Godfrey and Moses and had a fruitful discussion about the plans for the project. Kevin, as always, was very supportive and confirmed his commitment. We had arranged to meet the new Manager, Justine, for lunch. So we adjourned to Fringilla – a very nice hotel with plenty of tables outside under the shade of a variety of trees. Patrick joined the party for lunch and we continued to get to know each other better and enjoyed a good meal.

Justine had come down from the Copperbelt that morning to join us – a 3 ½ hour journey. With David I had agreed the importance of meeting him and getting him to start work immediately. This has led to a change in my plans. So instead of leaving Monze next Thursday I will leave on Monday morning so that I can spend a few days in Chisamba with Justine! This means the office work I needed to do in 5 days now will have to be completed in two! How I will fit in my other projects and make sure I say goodbye to everyone I don't know – I am sure that, as usual, much will be left incomplete.

After a good lunch we headed for Monze – arriving just before 19hrs with the Southern Comfort Motel in darkness. Fortunately a generator soon kicked into action and we were soon enjoying yet another cooked meal. I then returned to my place with Tony(our driver) who was going to use my spare room.

For Tuesday I had arranged a busy schedule – seeing Mrs. Sianga and the school in the morning, followed by Sr. Christeta and finally in the afternoon Mrs. Chiiya and the VIM project. As usual the children entertained us at the school where there are now a total of nearly two hundred – all orphaned or otherwise disadvantaged. It is great to see the building, erected with help from a Hands Around the World team last year, being well used. In January an additional class of children will start at this building. The project here is definitely making a difference to the children here, without it they would have very little chance of an education. One of the teachers who used to reach the older grade 12 students at another school told me that the grade 8 students here were, in some ways, more advanced than his former students. The children certainly seem keen and very happy here. However, coming from very difficult backgrounds, school attendance can be difficult, so the school has voluntary 'care givers' who will follow up on absentees, find out the issues and try to get them to return to school. This is a vital service that helps the school to function properly and the students to obtain the standards required.

Sr. Christeta is a very bubbly lady who enjoys a joke and light hearted banter with Kevin. Like many she has come to know Kevin and David over the years. She made the trip from beyond Choma (100 km) to meet up with them this year. She was able to tell us how the hospital's project for orphaned and vunerable children was working. The guardians have produced items for sale – and I picked up my bag containing all 82 baskets they had in stock plus a few bags and aprons. Some children are also sponsored through their education and we were given details of a couple of them. She also said how child counselling (introduced in 2006 by Dilys) is now an important part of their work.

Finally we met Mrs Chiiya and her husband who brought us up to date with their project. They have about 100 students in years 9, 10 & 11. Of these about 30 are unable to contribute towards their education but are still accepted for their study. In addition to they receive some training in carpentry and gardening. We saw a class that had made sieves that are used for maize and to remove unwanted bits and pieces from other foods. The idea is to give 'life skills' alongside academic studies. Most students pay to come to the VIM school – at least a little. This enables the school to function and for others who are unable to pay to also learn. HATW has provided much of the infrastructure, but in the main the school is now self – sustaining so our future role will be maintaining a general interest, rather than active involvement – unlike the Maluba/PIZZ and Kaliyangile projects.

Mr. & Mrs. Sianga joined us for a meal in the evening and it was close to 22 hrs when I arrived back home with Tony.

Best wishes


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swallows and Wells

Thursday 29th October

During the past week or so I have noticed the European swallows being more obvious. Perhaps this year they left home a little later than usual and have just arrived. Here they mark the start of the rainy season as they join the resident swallows and swifts enjoying the plentiful supply of insects that come with the rain.

I expected to do a lot of walking this morning, however after a couple of kilometres to Moonlite Guest House to meet with Mrs. Chiiya, I was treated to car rides for a site visit with Mrs. Sianga and then dropped back home.

I was asked today whether I considered my visit this year to be successful. I wasn't sure how to reply at the time, but having thought about it for a while, I think that I have learnt a lot this year. I have always believed that whatever happens here should be a two way process. Very often there is a tendency to think about what we have done to make changes here, however it is also very important to look at how we are changed by the experience ourselves. The fact that I have learnt a lot means that I am more likely to be able to guide changes here in a more appropriate way.

Today I arranged to meet up with Jennipher to explore what we could do to sort out her well. She had established a good contact at LADA – an NGO operating in and around Monze. Unfortunately the contact was not in, but another lady listened to the issues surrounding the well. She then rang Ainutu who spoke to both Jennipher and myself. Jennipher had obviously made an impression because Ainutu is very keen to help. She is going to be away until December but is keen to work with me to ensure that the well is renovated then – if it is possible at that time. She said she would mail me and I agreed to tell her what advice we get from DAPP who have specialists in well building.

Our next trip then was to DAPP (another NGO). The usual entry to the building was partially blocked and eventually we found out that DAPP had moved and this was now a private house that we were trying to enter! So we now had a bit further to walk. The new DAPP offices were by the maize silos to the North of the town. The maize silos still dominate the skyline in Monze though they haven't been used for more than 15 years now. I still remember being taken to top of the silos in 2004 by Reagan for a wonderful panoramic view of Monze. Unfortunately the DAPP guy who deals with wells is at the office at Water Affairs - probably 4 or 5 kilometres to the West of town! I agreed with Jennipher this was a bit far for today, so I will see if I can manage by phone.

I am hopeful that we will be able to come to a good solution with support from each of us. I am particularly pleased to see that Jennipher is beginning to receive support from local NGOs for her groups. She tells me she is now properly registered and expects her support groups to receive some food, seed, fertilizer etc. soon.

Jennipher also has had some income generating ideas from her group members. There is an idea to make school uniforms – one member has a sewing machine, another idea is to sell goods from a shop that has been left to another member after her father died. As usual the issue is getting some starting capital to begin the process.

Jennipher has recently been asked to plant a tree in the District grounds because she was one of the first people to be put on ARVs (and the only one of the initial group still surviving). I don't know whether they will put a plaque by it. Anyway Jennipher wants to plant it before I go and to have plenty of photos! - if I get the facility back on the blog I will certainly post a couple. (It was a mistake to boast how I had cracked the issue of placing photos within my blog!)

For the past hour or so the power has been off. Fortunately I got my cooking in early this evening. I have a few minutes of battery life left so I will probably see if I can beat the computer at Hearts.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still Busy

Tuesday 27th October

There are still a few friends that I haven't yet met this year. One I had realised I hadn't seen, John, sat next to me at mass on Sunday. I seem to have known John ever since I set foot in Monze. In the past I have come across him often in the hospital. For some reason he always insisted that he left the hospital by a different route and not with me. It was something to do with jealousy! John is a bit of a rogue and never has any food at home. One year he persuaded me to buy him a pick and shovel so he could dig his own well – eventually after a bit of food for the friend who helped him, a rope and bucket, few bags of cement etc. the well was dug. I don't think the rope pump was ever installed! Still I had missed John and was pleased to see him looking fit and well.

Others still greet me and are surprised that I have already been here more than a month – others had heard that I was about from other friends. Desmond greeted me this evening and walked for a while with me warning me not to walk about in that area after 20 hrs. (I must admit that Freedom compound and surrounding area is not a place I feel very comfortable after dark.) Desmond was one of the stallholders who call me over. Sometimes I go and chat to them and thereafter get a warm greeting every time I pass. The instinct is to ignore such calls, but I have learnt that people here are generally very friendly and appreciate you responding – even if you don't buy any goods.

Yesterday I was surprised to find out that it wasn't a public holiday. Usually Independence Day is a holiday. Being on a Saturday this year I expected the holiday to be moved to the Monday, but not this year at least. I had a few things to do in the morning including making a trip to the Internet café. In the afternoon I popped down to the hospital and checked on the Human Resources computer where I managed to persuade the database to come back into life. I also had a look at the Smartcare system produced for the Zambia Health Service. This is a very ambitious project that is designed to record all the patients medical history and analyse any treatment. The idea is to have the data stored on a smartcard that the patient will carry with them. All hospitals – and presumably Health Centres should be able to read the cards and update them. The system actually looks impressive and very comprehensive. The reality however is that I doubt if any hospital currently has the technology to maintain the database for that hospital. So the idea that there can be a system integrated throughout the whole of the health service in the Country is fantasy! There seems to be an attempt to use some elements of the system for ART (Anti-retroviral therapy) in some hospitals, however I suspect that the complexity of the system will result in it being abandoned eventually. No doubt another foreign organisation will come up with a similar idea in the future to waste a bit more money and a lot of time and energy of the people here. My system is not nearly as sophisticated but would capture the information already held in paper registers and then do all the analysis, that currently takes many man days, at the touch of a button. Anything more complicated at this time is unlikely to get off the ground.

Today I had a meeting with Sr. Barbara booked for 9 hrs, but when I arrived was told she had just left for breakfast! After squeezing in a profitable trip to the Internet café I headed to the hospital for my meeting with Dr. Mvula at 10 hrs. Unfortunately some guests had arrived that he would probably need to see after the meeting he was still in, so we will reschedule the meeting!

Jennipher came to the hospital to have her CD4 count checked. This is a measure of her immunity and helps determine her treatment. She told me that she is still on the first level of ARVs and her CD4 count has always been high. She puts this down to her change in behaviour and sticking strictly to the treatment regime. I am sure that having a reasonable diet is also important. Jennipher says that she is very happy with her life now, which I have no doubt makes a huge difference in combating the disease. She tells me that some of her clients don't listen to the messages that she gives them, but others have difficult choices to make. She mentioned one woman who is a single mother and the only 'breadwinner'. She sees no alternative to prostitution in order to feed her family. Jennipher persuaded her to be tested and, unsurprisingly, the test was positive. Jennipher is trying to help her find another way to support her family, but is worried she will continue her lifestyle and have a very short life. Re-infection can make the disease progress more rapidly. Poverty here is very real and it comes in many forms. One of them forces people to act in ways that, without poverty, they would never consider. It is easy to say that prostitution or stealing is wrong and condemn those involved, but maybe we need to look to ourselves and see how strongly we condemn the causes of poverty and the systems that cause it. We cannot possibly know how we would behave given the choices of the people here.

Mike (one of Jennipher's children) has malaria at the moment but is recovering. He is at boarding school and hasn't a mosquito net. So we bought him one in town for when he returns to school.

I met up with Sr. Barbara and picked up another job to convert her 42 spreadsheets into a database. She works as the Administrator for the Diocesan projects. CAFOD is one of the agencies that partner Monze Diocese and it was through them that I was first made aware of the connection. The spreadsheets hold data for each of the communities with which the Diocese works. Various meetings take place and sometimes the communities are supported with animals – cows, goats, chickens etc.; farming tools and seed etc. as well as provision of boreholes. The aim is usually to to provide a little that will enable the community to produce much more – so for instance a couple of animals that will reproduce and the offspring go to other families, and the process is repeated etc. Anyway I will have plenty of work to do to sort this out, in my spare time, before I return.

This afternoon I caught up with Mrs Sianga and this time I was a little behind schedule and she was waiting for me. I am hoping that my visits to other community schools in the past week will prove helpful for the Maluba/PIZZ project. I am hoping that we can all learn from each other to see how best to provide education in the area for children who otherwise would have no chance. There are many people trying to achieve the same thing in their various ways – and some seem to be more successful than others.

I had responses in connection with my virus problem both from my personal Technical Support Team back home and from the providers of F-Prot my anti-virus software. Both responses have proved helpful and since they are different, as someone at the hospital commented, a joint attack might solve my problems. I am now in the process of putting the solutions to the test.

Wednesday 28th October

Today was another day when power was absent. Unfortunately for me, I had intended to spend most of the day working on the computer. After a couple of hours my battery was exhausted so I headed to the hospital where they had power. With my newly cleaned flash drive I copied a spreadsheet from the Human Resources computer and caught a few more viruses in the process.

I called in on the Pharmacy and sorted a couple of things for Mrs. Mwaamba. Dr Mvula was around so we met and discussed my work at the hospital for this year and future years.

I had a call from Southern Comfort Motel asking me to come up because the rooms for David and Kevin that they showed me are no longer available. So after lunch I made my way a couple of kilometres up the Livingstone Road to the motel. I just hope the rooms are OK! It seems that there is a lot on next week and rooms in Monze are at a premium.

It seems that today there is generally power in Monze – just not where I am staying. I headed for Homecraft and was stopped first by Rasta Brian who is keen to give me a present from his stall and then a woman who seemed to know me who wanted to know how to become a Herbalife distributor. You might remember there was this organisation trying to get Jennipher to part with money to become a distributor. I told her to keep well away. I picked up the spreadsheets from the Sr. Barbara and now have the task of converting all this information into ACCESS databases. I suspect there will be a bit of midnight oil burnt in the coming days!

On the way back home, after attending mass at the chapel, I was accosted by a woman wearing a Herbalife tee-shirt and handing out small leaflets about Herbalife. I have had no response from the organisation so I feel it is due time to make it known just how Herbalife are exploiting the very poor people here in Monze. I warned the lady handing out leaflets that she too was likely to become a victim of Herbalife – in fact she almost certainly already is, and in trying to recover her costs is bringing more people in. Herbalife seems unreachable, so their 'charity' will get a follow up letter from me!

This evening I decided to use my brazier. Power came on before it was properly alight but it didn't seem sufficient to heat my rice, so I continued outside. Now I have a brazier burning merrily and my steak, rice and curried vegetables has long gone!

Best Wishes


Monday, October 26, 2009

Hichanga Village Community

Thursday 22nd October

I am in danger of picking up more projects every time I visit Monze. Today I went for a bike ride and also picked up a bit of colour from seven hours of almost continuous sunshine!

Yesterday I had arranged to visit Buntola to place an order for a few of the products the orphan support groups make. After watching the beautiful butterflies outside the locked gates for a few minutes, I spent nearly an hour chatting to George who was about to chair a meeting of care-givers in the shelter outside. If you go with the flow it can be quite pleasant waiting for the African clock to catch up with ours!

I told Bridget and Clara that I wanted a few aprons and bags but would take as many baskets as would fit in my bag. They were pleasantly surprised to see that I had another bag within my backpack that opened out into a rather larger bag. With a bit of decent packing it was agreed that I could take their complete stock of about 80 palm leaf and bush twig baskets. They only weigh about 20 kg so I should be OK as long as I can convince customs that I am not carrying out a bit of business! I will however be travelling with a couple of large bags back to the UK so I will have trouble on a small bus!!

I left Clara and Bridget re-packing the baskets and producing the bill and headed for the hospital where I had promised to spend some time as a data entry clerk.

Sichone had done a stock take and wanted to enter the data in the database and produce a report from it. So for the next six hours or so – no time for a lunch break today! I entered the data – including new prices which had almost all increased by at least 50% since 2006. I put together his report within the database and headed for home. (I will pop in tomorrow to make minor adjustments)

This exercise reminded me of one of the first tasks I did for Sichone when we met in 2004. They were in the process of a budgeting exercise and I threw together a spreadsheet so that he could easily produce the figures required – i.e. with the correct totals. I have a feeling that government budgeting is the same worldwide – or maybe only where the English have had a significant influence!!

So today Reymond arrived at 9 hrs with a bike. Unfortunately Kate had acquired another bike that had a flat tyre – so Reymond took it away. Having thought we had lost him he arrived back at 10 hrs with two bikes – Kate's with two hard tyres, and another. So the three of us set off (Lee not feeling a hundred percent decided to give it a miss.) In case I haven't introduced Kate and Lee properly they are Australian volunteers with the sports project and have moved in next door.

I haven't done much cycling of recent years but found it reasonably easy going. I can't help thinking that if this evolution thing was so good we would have grown wheels instead of legs! Of course it's the birds that really have it cracked!

Our destination was somewhere near the Hichanga Dam which is about 10 km East of Monze. To my surprise we covered the distance in about an hour. We then collapsed at the lake side for a breather. The water is a lot higher than I remember at this time in previous years. A guy just wearing shorts and carrying a shotgun told us that the water was almost at the top of the dam by the end of the rainy season this year. He also told us that he was going to shoot a bird and pointed to a duck on the lake.

We were heading for a small village but stopped on the way to see the pumping station that sends the water to Monze town. Here there are always a lot of swifts, with a conspicuous white rump, showing of their acrobatic flying around the bridge linking the pumping station to the shore. We watched them for a while. (After a little research back home these seem almost certain to be little swifts.)

Back on the bikes we rode and walked around the lake to a small village which is home to a small community including twenty adults and four children with disabilities. They have a church and a thriving primary school and are situated on the edge of the lake. There are a good number of banana plants, as well as other trees and a vegetable garden There is also a borehole with a solar pump – I recognised the work of Soloman Phiri and the name was obviously known. We were directed to a lady who was the wife of the chairman of the village community and she graciously told us some of the history of the village.

It appears that an Irish volunteer came across a number of people in this area who had disabilities and wanted to provide some support. She arranged for them to be trained at Homecraft in Monze. (this is where I stayed last year and where they do training in tailoring, carpentry and home economics.) The idea was that with skills the people could become self-sufficient. However, after training they didn't want to go back to living in separate places, so they asked the headman for some land near water so that they could also have a garden. They were given this land by the lake which really is a beautiful place to live. Over the years various sponsors have supported little projects - putting up buildings, including the church. The community build the houses with each family providing someone to mould the bricks for each one.

The feeling that I got was of a place of tremendous peace. The woman told us that they had peace because they all helped each other when someone had a problem.

We were treated to a large bowl of sump, that the three of us enjoyed between us together with some fresh water from the borehole. I am constantly amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of the people here in Zambia.

I was a little disappointed not to meet more of the community members, but it wouldn't be fair to intrude. I had understood that they produced some lovely craft goods but Reymond said they didn't have them available at the village.

Now at least I know where the village is and I will return sometime on my own – though maybe not this year. I am interested in people involved in providing appropriate wheelchairs for Africa. I understand that there is an organisation that teaches local people to maintain and repair the chairs. My sister Theresa is also involved with a group in Tanzania who make their own chairs. I will try to do some research before I return next year.

We took some photos and then found a good spot to rest awhile. It is lovely here to be in places where there is no traffic noise. The sounds are mainly bird song, cattle and the occasional human voice. Here we were also treated to the gentle sound of water lapping on the shore of the lake. A few cattle egrets flew from one bank to another, African Jacandas played hide and seek in the lush grass near the water, a couple of grebes swam up and down in front of us, while a pied kingfisher checked the area for lunch, bright yellow village weavers sang from nearby trees and a large bird of prey soared overhead. This is a beautiful Country with a lot to offer, I hope that one day the people here will be able to relax like we did this afternoon and enjoy it, without having to constantly worry where the next meal is coming from.

Reluctantly we left the lake side after a couple of hours and cycled back home where we arrived tired but fulfilled.

Sunday 25th October

I have just spent some time sorting out some photos. I seem to have been taken more than usual this year. I have worked out how to place photos throughout the blog – as you might have noticed - and other than the one day I was unable to upload any photos it seems to work OK. My magic software (GIMP) allows me to reduce the size of photos very easily without losing a lot of the quality which makes sending photos a possibility here. (1 Mb photos and the Internet here don't mix very well!)

As I set of to the dam on Thursday, I was hailed by the School Manager of St. Vincent's – so we arranged to meet Friday.

At about 10pm Thursday evening the power went and was off on Friday morning. Apparently Zambia Sugar was burning a field (they do this both to prepare the ground for planting and to burn the tops of the sugar cane and frighten the snakes before harvesting!). Anyway the fire got out of control and took done a couple of poles carrying the power. So my plans to use the computer first thing Friday were amended somewhat.

Mr. Meheritona had to help take the body of a teacher's parent to the mortuary, so my meeting was delayed. We met at about 11.30 and caught up a little on progress. For some years I have tried to link St. Vincent's with Christ College (formerly St. Benedict's) in Cheltenham. Letters have been exchanged between students and Christ College has held concerts with an African theme – sometimes showing photos from St. Vincent's. Changes in the school and personnel – and my slowness in following up – has resulted in a bit of a gap in communication that I hope to correct.

St. Vincent's is another Community School teaching grades 1 to 7. It has had support from the Catholic church and associated NGOs. It has 5 government teachers and 3 volunteers. The aim is to extend the school to cover grades 8 and 9. Mr. Meheritona is confident of getting more government teachers but would need support to erect the extra buildings. At the present he has difficulty placing children in other schools when they pass their grade 7 exams, because the children are from very poor families and can't afford the fees, uniforms etc.

In the afternoon I paid a visit to the hospital, where some departments had power from the hospital generator. Sichone gave me a copy of 'our' report, I went through the Pharmacy system with Mrs Mweemba and helped Teddy increase the memory in the Human Resources machine. I then had a chance to attend mass at the chapel before returning home. Power had returned by 18hrs when I got home, so I had a chance to get onto my laptop and sort a few mails.

I am trying to keep weekends free to rest! So at 9 hrs I headed to see Ken and his brother at Ken's shop. (I am playing with the stock control database for Ken so that he can use it to track his sales and profit.) Ken wasn't around so another brother rang him. Eventually the brother, Matthew, I was meant to see, turned up. Matthew told me that he lost his sight through disease about 20 years ago. He teaches students with similar disabilities to read and write brail and has also set up an organisation to support people with little or no sight. The story is similar for most people here who have disabilities. There is a lack of the necessary equipment and resources to enable them to compensate for their disability. Even white canes don't appear to be available to all who need them. Matthew had a frame that he used to write brail but, I believe he said, that even that is now broken. He would like to help his members grow vegetables but again hasn't the money for seed or fertiliser. One of their group said she would teach them to make baskets (similar I believe to those I am bringing back from Buntolo) but even the reeds needed to start the process are beyond their means. I promised to see whether the RNIB had anything useful or could provide any support and also talk to people in the UK who I know have been involved in similar organisations.

As you see, I have endless projects to offer anyone interested in trying to support people here trying to move forward a little. Though I was reminded earlier about the parable about sowing the wheat. For a whole host of reasons many of these projects, even when given funds to start, will fail. However, occasionally some will produce a very rich harvest. I am very much aware of this from my personal experience here and accept the situation because of the great changes that take place in those few instances. When lives are changed and sometimes saved, you can be philosophical about the apparent failures. Many things are beyond monetary value.

The next hour or so was spent at the Internet café.

I have not been very happy with the compost arrangements here because the pit is now a mound! So after a bite to eat I set to digging another compost pit and covering the old one with plastic bags to keep some moisture in and cook it! Early afternoon is a good time to exercise in full sunshine!! So after my exertion in the dust, I wallowed for a while in a cold bath – ecstasy!

Just as I prepared to get lost in the bush,Samuel, one of the hospital general workers, arrived. His son has an interview in Lusaka on Tuesday for a job in Community Development. Apparently, like other government workers they appoint people each year, if he doesn't get to Lusaka Tuesday he will have to wait till next year to get a job!

Samuel told me that he, himself, had been earning good money in another part of the country working at a hotel that was British owned. When it was taken over by an Indian business he decided to resign. Unfortunately this lead to a considerable period without work and eventually he came to Monze where he now earns 350,000 kwacha a month (about £45). Despite his loss of income he has managed to ensure all his children have been educated (he tells me he only has six children) – two to degree or equivalent level. The older children are paying the fees for the other children and the grandchildren (he has eight).

At about 15 hrs I moved swiftly from my house and took a circuitous route that eventually led me a little way North of my present house. I found a tree to shelter from the sun and sat down to watch the birds around me. There is a good book here in the house “Common Birds of Zambia”. It is produced by the the Ornithological Society of Zambia and is just what I have been looking for for some time. My daughter Barby gave me a book on Birds of Southern Africa which is quite good but has over 950 species described and doesn't officially cover Zambia. Another book here 'Birds of East Africa' describes 1,283 species and still seems to be rather selective – for instance the house sparrow and European swallow (two of the most common species found here) don't seem to be described. In “The common Birds of Zambia” just over a hundred species are described, but the 733 species that have been seen in Zambia are listed with information about how common they are. Hence this is a great starter to point to the most likely bird from the enormous lists. So I used this book together with descriptions from Barby's gift as I rested under my tree. It wasn't long before I knew that the black looking birds in the branches above were Azure Sunbirds, that on a high tree stump a Black Shouldered Kite was busy with a tasty meal, a Cape Turtle Dove was perched on a tree opposite, where a couple of Common Bulbils also took a break and a Black-bellied Korhaan was playing hide and seek in the grass. Reluctantly after a couple of hours enjoying the sights and sounds of nature that surrounded me – and identifying a few more birds - I found my way back to my home where I was expecting Best.

In fact Reymond visited for a while before Best arrived in time to join me for curried beans and sweet potatoes.

I attended mass at Our Lady of the Wayside this morning where Fr. Maambo gave a very animated sermon with much laughter, cheering, clapping and screaming! (most of this from the congregation!). A quick clean of the house followed and then an afternoon with St. Veronica's community. Unusually, I had a lift from one of the members part of the way. (My first journey in the back of a pick-up this year!) Also very unusually we watched bits of a Southern African football competition in which Zambia are playing while waiting for people to assemble.

You are now up to date and as usual I should be in bed!.



P.S. Problems again with photos - will post them another time.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Community School

Tuesday 20th October

Unusually I am writing this as the sun shines almost overhead. I have just returned from visiting a local community school and decided to take the opportunity to bring you up to date.

Yesterday I spent the morning at the hospital and met with the universal cry – 'my computer is not working properly'. In Human Resources the computer claims to have insufficient memory to run ACCESS though nothing else is running. Sr. Juunza's old computer gets stuck when trying to boot and Motty told me was having problems with his computer and when I popped around in the afternoon an attempt to reload Windows on the machine was failing.

Jennipher called around to try to sort out seed and fertilizer for her group. She did tell me that she hadn't in fact parted with any cash for the health product but just had a sample – I had wondered where she could have got the money and was surprised. I should have had more faith in Jennipher's common sense. I have still written to the company complaining about their tactics.

A few days ago a guy asked me if I would go to see a community school nearby. Although I am more than fully committed, I was interested to see what a 'real' community school looks like and how it operates. So I told him not to expect anything from me, but that I would see the school and be pleased to hear more about it.

There seem to be a number of community schools dotted about. Many communities are too poor to afford to send there children even to local government schools where the children need uniforms etc. So the communities find, or erect a basic building and find some teachers willing to help. The community tries as best it can to support the school, though with few resources the facilities are extremely basic. Although I have been aware of these schools for some time I have never seen one except from a distance.

As we approached a reasonable looking building I was surprised. However, this was someone's house – the school was the other building that I had mistaken for a toilet block. The owner of the house allows the local community to make use of the building as a school. The building is split into three/four classrooms and an office. The classrooms have basic blackboards and the students use bricks/concrete as chairs – there are no desks. The ground is just dirt, so I was told that children can come clean in the morning but go back home dirty at lunchtime. (I will include some photos with this blog.)

Children here are keen to learn and will attend classes despite the lack of facilities. The older children should be sitting their grade 7 exams but problems with the administration means they weren't registered and will now need to wait a further year.

Despite these problems the school has been running for almost two years teaching from grade 1 to grade 7 (roughly equivalent to primary school in England). The community does what it can to provide support but obviously any additional help that allows them to improve things a little would be welcomed.

There are two teachers who work voluntarily. In Zambia there are more teachers trained than have been given jobs – though if all children were to get an education I am sure there would be a shortage. Today only one was present. Nyambe told me he had a job that he does for part of the day to earn enough money to survive, the other teacher is a married woman and presumably her husband supports her.

I visited each class and met the children. While I was their one of my next door neighbours appeared with a couple of guys from the sports charity that they are with and started playing games with the children which seemed to be going down very well.

There are two long drop toilets that have no roofs at the moment. These will be difficult to use in the rainy season as they are – they might also be damaged being mainly mud construction. So the community will gather some grass and put on thatched roofs before the rains.

The committee chairman for the school (who we met at the Southern Comfort Motel – where I think he works) has a building that he has offered for use to raise chickens. The community members would look after this project, if it could be started. The idea is that once started they could raise chickens in about 6 weeks providing an income to help improve the school.

Siboma said that he will give me details of the set-up cost of this project. My guess is that it will cost about 1.5 million kwacha (£200) to raise 100 chickens and they should sell for between 2 and 2.5 million. If there is the market they could raise perhaps 500,000 kwacha every 6-8 weeks (£65), which would make a lot of difference to this little school. I will see how their figures compare with my quick estimate. If anyone would like to help set up this little project please get in touch. From what I have seen it appears that this is very much a community project, where the community is the owner and is just looking for minimal support to give them a boost that might enable them to develop their school.

This afternoon I secured my accommodation for a further 12 days to save me moving. The owners run a business in town providing mainly building materials. Peter was managing much of the project at Monze Basic last year where I also became involved.

I visited the hospital later and seem to have picked up a job tomorrow as data entry clerk. Reymond popped along in the evening and shared supper. I showed him my house and some of the places around Cheltenham using Google Earth. (Without Internet connection the amount clearly visible is limited.)

Best wishes