Monday, September 28, 2009

My first weekend back in Monze

Sunday 27th September

It is now nearly 5pm on Sunday evening. The temperature is beginning to drop a little so is now probably below 30 C. The Jacaranda in the front is dropping its petals reminding me of the Derbyshire well dressings which comprise pictures made from the local flowers – here I have a rich blue carpet. There is more birdsong than most sounds, though the sound of children's voices is present most of the time in varying volumes.

Yesterday I set off for the parish just after nine with Natasha and found some lads busily cleaning and polishing Fr. Kenan's car – it seemed a shame to dirty it again. After putting in some petrol and finding an ATM that would give me some cash, we headed for Pemba – about 35km along the Livingstone Road. (calling in on Charles very briefly on the way.).This section is a good tarmac road remarkably free of potholes. Jennipher was waiting in town and took us first to look around the clinic before returning to her house. The clinic seems much more active than on my last visit. There are several rooms for files, testing (they also have equipment at the clinic to test for malaria). There are also counselling rooms etc. Jennipher was called away to deal with some matter (perhaps a client) while we waited in one of the counselling rooms.

Soloman and Selina were there to greet us when we arrived at the house. Selina was unusually quiet and not like the girl I left last year, I hope that she just felt a little shy with Natasha around. Soloman was also a little distracted – in his case he was concerned that they had had no water for 2 days and all the work he had done to grow his vegetables could be in vain. They have a good sized garden area that is used my Jennipher's family and her support group to supplement their diet.

Jennipher has two additions to her family since last year. Grace is an orphaned girl who told me that she is 15 years old. She was treated very badly by her relatives and Jennipher agreed to take her in about a month ago. Emmanuel (God with us) was named by Soloman. His mother died in Monze hospital and no one could locate any relatives so Jennipher also adopted this child of no more than 3 weeks. He is now two months old and looking very healthy. Initially he was provided with some powdered milk but this has run out and so has Jennipher's credit at the grocers! It's an expensive business having friends in Zambia – especially good natured friends like Jennipher!

Natasha immediately took charge of Emmanuel – since he slept till almost the moment we left, that was very far from a hardship.

Jennipher wants to register with an organisation that receives money from the Global Fund for food. She believes that she will then be eligible for support. She showed me the bricks that her support group have made for a shelter (just cement and roofing needed!). She also showed me the well that needs rehabilitation. Unfortunately projects rarely go smoothly here in Zambia. Although when I left a couple of years ago I understood we were within days of finishing the well, capping it and having a safe – fully enclosed - pump connected, it wasn't done. The result was damage during the floods and much more tragically one of Jennipher's children Chimunya fell into the well and drowned. The well is still open and I will do my best this year to ensure that it is rehabilitated and made safe. Unfortunately open wells are only one of many hazards for the people who live here.

Soloman offered us a chicken but Natasha couldn't bear to have the bird killed for our dinner and told him that she should be the one providing a chicken. I explained to Soloman that in England most people think that chickens only exist in plastic bags in supermarkets – we don't like to know that someone has to kill them for us to eat and we don't usually see them running around before they come to our plate!

Jennipher provided me with my second meal of sump since I arrived in Monze and Nataha's first for some time. Sump is a sort of pudding made out of partially pounded maize – it's amazing how many ways you consume maize here.

Eventually I prized Natasha away from Emmanuel and we headed back to Monze.

After depositing the vehicle and having a quick bite to eat I headed down the road to meet Edward, who is the head of Monze Basic. Monze Basic school is where I meet my first bit of tarmac from here and only a couple of hundred metres from my house.

I was surprised when Edward entered the room walking very slowly and looking a fraction of the man I left last year. He told me that he had a very serious attack of malaria three weeks ago. From the comments I heard it seems that there were even doubts that he would pull through. He spent some time at the hospital where I gather they gave him blood transfusions as well as other treatment for the disease.

He told me also that he is retiring on Thursday and so will not be working at the school any more. At least for the time being he will continue to live next to the school in what was the original school building.

While I was at Edward's Sr. Christeta rang. She is now at a village on the other side of Choma (about 100 km south of Monze.) She was returning from Mazabuka (60 km or so to the north) and wanting to stop off and say hallo. Sr. Christeta is a big bouncy woman who I thought of immediately when I read the description of a key character in a book I am currently reading.

She presented me with a bag of groundnuts (peanuts) and came in with a novice who was accompanying her. She told me that she has passed on the guidance that Dilys gave her in respect of child bereavement. Apparently they have regular sessions with orphaned children who are helped to tell their stories and they use the three stones as an aid as Dilys taught. They could do with some more material from Winston's Wish – perhaps we can sort something.

Time was pressing! I have known my friend Jeff since primary school and more than fifty years later he was celebrating his 60th birthday. (At this time he didn't know it – at least that was the plan). My plan was to go to the Internet café and try to set up a call with a web-cam. Well I managed to install the camera on the boss's computer but there was no working microphone and I didn't bring anything. Unphased, I attempted the call and seemed to connect but heard nothing. I cleared the call and Jeff called back! Still without sound in either direction. So I sent a message! Since everything else seemed to have failed, I decided to ring using my mobile. Eventually I was able to wish my friend a happy birthday. He couldn't work out how to send messages but eventually all was sorted and we went back to our respective computers. (He had no web-cam installed). We exchanged a few messages and I was also able to 'talk' to my friends Pete and Bob after correctly guessing who might be at the computer that end each time - I claimed access to the ubiquitous CCTV network in the UK. So the objective was achieved - I had at least made contact during the party - though perhaps not in quite the manner intended.

It was after 20.30 before I started preparing supper.

I arose this morning a little after 7 hrs and had my cornflakes. (It surprising how comforting a bowl of cornflakes is here!). Not working at the hospital has disturbed my usual pattern so this morning I made my first visit to the chapel this year. I was delighted to see Bright on duty at the hospital entrance. He has a son Brian who I know has been doing well at school over the years and his Dad is very proud. Keeping a child at Secondary school on a security guard's pay is very difficult.

My next encounter was with Mr. Lungu – one of the hospital drivers. He told me that his wife lost her father last week. A little further I was greeted by Ennias who is an uncle to Fr. Kenan and also to Lillian. Last year one of the volunteers was keen to meet Ennias because she had a gift from a friend who knew him when she (the friend) worked in the Pharmacy at the hospital. (Don't worry I think I am lost as well!) Suffice it to say that it is a small world. Ennias has a new car this year. I understand that he had an accident at work, some years back, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. He is able to drive his adapted vehicle and therefore have considerable independence. I am sure this is very rare in Zambia.

At last I covered the 150 metres from the gate to the chapel and took my seat. On each of the benches I was surprised to see the prayer stations that I brought out several years ago. (Fr. Rodgers says another set wouldn't go amiss if they're available!)

It was good once again to hear the joyous singing and drumming and watch the dancing that characterises services here in Zambia. It was also good to shake hands with all around me - sharing the peace of the Lord. One year when I was hear in Monze I shared a house for some time with a foreign doctor who told me I shouldn't shake hands because everyone was carrying diseases. At home in England at our church the fear of spreading swine flu has taken precedence over the sign of peace. Personally I think that friendship and God's peace are worth a slight risk.

I realise that I haven't had a break since I arrived in Zambia so I decided to take it easy and other than briefly popping around to Edward with a card reader (which seems to be faulty) and doing a little washing and tidying, I took it easy for the rest of the day.

Having no TV or radio gives me more time and allows me to read a little. I have often found that books given to me to read generally prove to be better than those I choose myself. This year my friend Mary lent me a book called “The Shack”. (I don't think she'll get it back, it's too good not to leave here!) It is about a man who spends a weekend with God. If you wonder what God is really like I would recommend you read this book. It won't appeal to everyone, but it is clear to me that the author has met God and those who have also spent a day or two is his/her presence will surely recognise their God here.

With my love and prayers


Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's getting busy

Wednesday 23rd September

It is 19hrs and power has been off for about ½ hour. I understand that the situation is the same as last year with power going off most evenings for an hour or two, This year I will get myself a brazier so that I can cook outside – it will be reliable, unlike the electricity.

I have brought my garden light inside. It provides a better light than previous solar lights but it till isn't bright enough to light my room so that I can read - still it is better than a candle.

I took it leisurely today. I rose at a little after 7 hrs and didn't leave the house till after 9. I made my way to the hospital and met up with Justina the Admin Manager who had organised my accommodation. We caught up a little and talked about my work this year – outside the hospital – including her desire to set up a pro-life group in Zambia (the first of it's kind. I was also interested to know that she had been out to Pemba to see Jennipher's work and was impressed with what she has achieved. She is also keen to see how Jennipher's groups can be supported.

This morning was time to catch up with friends at the hospital. Teddy has been working very – probably too hard – studying at the same time as running the hospital's Information Department that examines the figures for hospital admissions, diseases and outcomes. He told me that as soon as he finished his exam he had to get to Choma (about 100kms from Monze) where they were waiting for him to attend a meeting in the evening. The Health Service is introducing new rules setting minimum educational qualifications for each management post. Like many others, without obtaining a degree, (which would take at least a further 2½ years if he is successful with his recent exams) Teddy is unlikely to be appointed to the job he has now been doing full time for 3 years. There is still talk about introducing the 'smartcare' system which involves all patients in zambia having a card with a chip containing their medical history which can be read and updated at any hospital in the country. I don't see the NHS having this sort of technology soon. Is Zambia going to beat us to it? – maybe I am too cynical!

The next major stop was the stores but en route I was greeted by many of the hospital staff including Mr. Monze who has been trying in vain to teach me Chitonga for many years. . It was good to meet up with Sichone and Ian once again. It was in 2004 that it was suggested that the stores could do with a hand and I developed the stock control database – maybe one day the the resources will be provided to use it properly.I have spent many hours over the years discussing all manner of things with the staff from the stores, including following two presidential elections on their radio.

Lunchtime was the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Monze market. Cris still has his store and is as laid back as ever. Mike (Cris's brother) worked at the guest house where our Hands Around the World group stayed in 2003. Cris told me that Mike who has been in Lusaka for several years is now back in Monze – no doubt we will meet up again and I look forward to it. In the market hall one of the ladies from St.Veronica's Small Christian Community greeted me with a hug and I made my way to the far end of the hall where I found the marketeer who introduces me as her other husband (she helped me choose some Chitenge material for Dilys last year).I am not sure that I have ever been told her name. Outside the market, on the way back to the main road, there are a number of street vendors. One of these 'Rasta Brian' greeted with me clenched fist in rasta style. Brian is well educated but can't find any other work, so he has a few items which he tries to sell – I don't imagine that he can earn more than a few pence a day.

Next to the banana seller was my friend who sits with his scales hoping that someone will get weighed (I am 71 kg at the moment!). I often find him pushing himself in his wheelchair along the dirt track roads – no mean feat.
On the way back home a car pulled up and Fr. Milimo greeted me and gave me a lift towards my destination. He used to be parish priest at the cathedral church of the Sacred Heart he is also vicar general (sort of deputy bishop!) of Monze Diocese. He told me that he is now in Pemba – so Jennipher will have another useful contact.

Lunch was a few cups of tea and banana sandwiches. Afterwards I called Jennipher who told me yesterday that she would be back today to see me. She was given lunch by Sarita and a lift by Tony – two VSO volunteers. It was good to hear how Jennipher is progressing. She was ill earlier in the year but managed to have some treatment and is doing much better now. She tells me her services are much in demand including being invited by local chiefs to talk to them and set up AIDS support groups. She is also in the process of setting up a group in monze prison. She tells me that there are more than 80 people in Pemba on ARVs after she fought to have the drugs made available there. She is now involved in the testing and counselling and wants to take another course that would qualify her to counsel children. Her family is still expanding. A patient with no known relatives died a few months ago leaving a baby (apparently the women had previously given birth to several all of whom died). So Jennipher has taken the child to live with her. Jennipher said she had to wait till Selina returned from school to look after the baby. (Selina is about six.)

As we were leaving I introduced Jennipher to Natasha – one of the VSO volunteers next door. Natasha told me last night that she had heard of jennipher and would like to meet her and find out more about her. Natasha is involved in a youth project here in Monze.

It is good to see that Jennipher is now being given due credit from her work and getting some support from the hospital and other areas. Hopefully it will lead to some much needed support for the work she is doing.

As usual Jennipher could show me a short cut to Zamtel where I wanted to re-activate my Celz phone number. Although it seemed to have shut for the day I was escorted into the building (along with another priest I know who I met outside) and a helpful clerk made the necessary arrangements. So if you want to get in touch replace the Cheltenham code with 0955 and add my UK home phone number.

I now headed to the Internet cafe to post my first proper blog. On the way I was called over by a guy who was eating nschema with two friends at the side of the road. He invited me to join them and I decided it would be rude to refuse. So I helped myself to a few lumps of the nshima and some vegetables – the first of the year. I thanked them and headed off while he told everyone that this white man joined them for nshima!

I couldn't pass the Pick-a-Lot grocery without greeting the storekeeper and asking after my tailor Ireen. She wasn't sure whether Ireen was around but went to check. Moments later I was greeted with more hugs and dragged from the store by Ireen who wanted to show me the room where she now worked. She still has her old sewing machine but says one day she will buy a new one, in the meantime she has been investing the money in projects that are paying for shoes and fees for her children to go to school. Ireen's husband died a few years ago leaving her with three children – a girl and two boys. She works as a tailor at least 6 long days each week in order to support her children and is particularly keen to ensure that they get an education. She said she will make a couple of shirts for me to bring back for friends (place your orders now if you want one made to measure!) she will also make me another one. After getting to greet her friends at Truckers bar, next to where she works, she escorted me hand in hand – it is common for people (even of the same sex) to hold hands here to the Internet cafe and told me that one of her children had passed his exams to reach grade 8. Yes I did understand that she was warning me that secondary school fees are beyond her means!
It seems that the guy who said he was getting a satellite connection has been true to his word, so I was able to collect my mails and post my blog in about 30 minutes. It took more than 10 minutes to get the Yahoo mail homepage up in the hospital this morning using the same radio link that usually support half a dozen computers at the other Internet cafes.

So that brings me back to the start of this blog. My laptop battery gave up before 8 pm so I started preparing the vegetables for dinner. In the middle of this Sarita and Tony arrived and invited me for a drink which I readily accepted. So my first trip to Tooters this year. Outside Tooters by the market the medium sized buses going between Lusaka and Livingstone pick up passengers – and leave when they are full. Unfortunately there was no Mosi (Zambian beer) so I had to make do with Castle form South Africa. I caught up on the latest from the hospital and returned to make my meal – the electricity having returned. Once again 10 pm (mosi biting time) is long gone and bed is beckoning.

Thursday 24th September

After yesterday's late night I had another lie in – till just after 7 am. At about 8 am I had a call from Fr. Kenan on my old (new!) number, knowing that I should be back in Zambia. I first met Fr. Kenan in London thanks to a Zambian nurse Diliwe who used to work in Cheltenham. He is now parish priest of the cathedral church and oversees Our Lady of the Wayside church, .

We arranged to meet at the parish office at 9 am. And I was met by Bibian who runs the Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre (VCT) at the church. I spent the next couple of hours with Fr. Kenan catching up on life and talking about Our Lady of the Wayside, the church with which St. Gregory's in Cheltenham is building a relationship. I explained that this year, as I wasn't working full time at the hospital, I would have time to get to find out more about the church and its involvement in the local community. I am particularly interested in the work it does with home based care and VCT to support those who are HIV+. There is also a pre-school facility and probably much more. We spoke a little with Bibian who talked briefly about how things are changing with many people coming for VCT. They provide formula milk where they can to HIV+ mothers because it has been shown that this greatly reduces the chance of mother to child transmission of the virus. Unfortunately they have limited supplies so not all those wanting the formula can receive it. She suggested that I go out with them into the villages to see how they work and also to come along when they are providing the formula milk for the children. I have always found such opportunities result in very powerful experiences and are a great privilege. So I look forward to taking her and Fr. Kenan up on the invitation. Maybe if a group comes out next year they might also get this chance.

At about 11hrs we were joined by Fr. Maambo – priest in charge at Our Lady of the Wayside - to talk in a bit more detail about what I would like to do while I am here – including sorting out a system for the accounts. Fr. Maambo tells me he has produced details of expenses and just has a few more receipts to add – so I am sure that I will have the finances sorted very quickly and can devote my time to the much more important pastoral issues.

I was invited to stay for lunch with the five priests, two seminarians and a deacon (two of the priests Fr. Milimo and Fr. Sylvester I had met in different places yesterday). I am not quite sure how you stop burning your fingers when eating the piping hot nshema, but I enjoyed the meal which included a pumpkin leaf and groundnut paste as well as rape (a cross between cabbage and spinach).

After lunch I popped along to the hospital. I had promised yesterday to look at Lillian's computer where the power switch was sticking. Lillian works with the HIV/AIDS project and helps with counselling and support, like many working in this capacity she has AIDS herself. She asked me if I would try to help her tell her story through the HATW magazine.

When I arrived, her computer, that yesterday had lost Internet Explorer, had now settled on opening with the wallpaper (i.e. just a picture and no means of doing anything else). After a while I managed to gain access and confirm that the system had a major virus problem. Unfortunately this is a scenario that I have experienced every year that I have been to the hospital since 2004! The best I could do at this stage was to back up all her data (and infect my new memory stick) and talk to Teddy about the next step.

Time to rush back to meet up with Best. He had spent the morning at the magistrate's court where he was giving information about legal precedent's. He tells me that the students act a bit like a jury giving their views and referring to points of law. The magistrates will correct them if he thinks they have got things wrong. He is on a short break from his college in Lusaka where he is doing a diploma in Law and hopes to follow this with a degree.
On the way I met Mrs Sianga and arranged to see her tomorrow.

Best is very enthusiastic about his chosen profession and determined to succeed in completing his course. He has managed to fund his first two years of study, with some help from a sponsor or two in England. He is concerned about having to rely on donors for the next five years and has an idea of buying a car to be used as a taxi. His calculations suggest that this would generate sufficient income for him to complete his studies. He would then get a good job and be able to look forward to a good future. If he fails, the alternative is possibly to join the others selling small items on the streets.

Teddy came around when Best left and we caught up a bit more on the latest at the hospital. Unfortunately the book I had brought for him would have been more useful a month or two back – before his exams, but I wasn't sure it would arrive safely by post. Still I am sure he will find it some help.

I am gradually filling my calendar, I have meetings arranged for all three HATW projects. I will go to Chisamba next Tuesday and stay for a couple of days and in the meantime have a few more friends to catch up with.

Friday 25th September

I am aware that if I continue at this rate my blog will fill a bookshop this year – but don't worry I am sure that it will be briefer in time.

Today I didn't get up till 7.45 – I am sure that this is the latest ever for a weekday in Monze. I still feel that I should report to the hospital by 8hrs – it has been my habit for so long. However if was after 23hrs when I was writing a note of my various meetings for friends back in the UK – very much part of my work here. In fact my working day here is very long.

I passed by the hospital on the way to the Internet cafe and dropped off a few items for Teddy (a dvd drive, sound cards and a few other components that might come in handy. I then hastened to send a few e-mails meeting Clara and Bridget two more people to whom I had to confess I had forgotten their names. The problem I have in recognising people can be very embarrassing, but is one I have always lived with. Clara is one of the key workers at Buntolo. She had heard that I was interested in buying some of the craft goods made by orphan support groups. In fact someone back in the UK (also associated with Hands Around the World – HATW) is keen to have goods to sell back in England. She saw some of the baskets made out of reeds and is keen to have whatever is available. (she gave me an extra case to cope with the goods!)

I realised that I had only the blog for yesterday on my memory stick so when you get this it will be a mammoth edition. Again the Internet worked OK and so I decided to ask about possible webcam connection over the Net. The café manager said it would work so I am hoping to test it out soon – more of that at another time!

I hadn't succeeded in seeing the necessary people at the hospital so passed by on my return journey. Calling at Human resources I met up with Sr. Juunza and Luke. I created a little database for Sr. Juunza last year who was looking after the tuckshop finances and trying to increase it's income – I think the money is used to help with orphan support. Luke I have known since 2004 when he worked in the stores. He very quickly picked up the use of the computer and understood what I was doing with the stock control system. We have become good friends and often get together for a chat.

Dr. Mvula (the Executive Director) came in briefly which gave me the opportunity to plea for a letter to support an extension of my Employment permit). Then I had a quick look at the computer which had recently been repaired after catching a virus! All the data seems to have been wiped from the hard drive – including the personnel database (lucky I have a spare copy – though the data will be a year out of date.)

I had to call around to the Registry to see who was around – I still haven't met Precious this year and will be in big trouble for not finding her earlier, though she is probably on nights! After greeting all present – for some reason they all know my name even if I can't remember theirs – I bought a Yess drink from Sebia at the hospital shop/cafe. I remember first meeting Sebia when I was waiting for a bus to Pemba. She was working at the hospital then as a cleaner. I have always admired her cheerfulness and hard work, though her life like many is not an easy one. The cleaners at the hospital are very important – though perhaps not always recognised. They constantly wash and disinfect the wards and as a result probably save more lives than most.

Well I am behind schedule and head back home for a quick bite. I suppose it must a kilometre or more from the hospital. At 15hrs I should have been with Mrs. Sianga but I am just leaving home with probably 3km to walk.

My problem with face recognition is. I believe, related to another of my disabilities that of a complete lack of sense of direction. So I managed to get lost on this very well known route to Mrs. Sianga's house – if anyone from the last HATW group is reading this they will understand this problem!! However, for many years now I have learnt to embrace this disability and enjoy the unexpected bonuses it brings. On this occasion I was greeted by Shatis and his wife. Suffice it to say that Shatis has built one of the best schools in Zambia on the outskirts of Monze – I am sure I will say more at a later date.

After this minor detour I caught up with the past year in Mrs Sianga's life - unfortunately a particularly difficult one for her personally and only last week she buried her father.

The new school build last year with the help of HATW volunteers is running with 25 students. Some of these were students at her primary school who passed their grade 7 exams and moved on to the new school, the others are from the local community. At first attendance was low and it was realised that for these young people food was a problem. So they found a way of supplying a drink and a bun during the morning, which both encouraged the students to attend and helped them concentrate on their lessons rather than on their stomachs. This is hard for me and probably most of you reading to really understand.

There are five teachers employed at the new school – some part-time – teaching different subjects. The salaries account for the largest budget item but there are other costs including uniforms etc. because the children cannot afford to contribute. If possible Mrs. Sianga would also like to organise some school educational trips etc. HATW has recently established a sponsorship scheme to help with the ongoing costs, so if you are interested in supporting one of Mrs. Sianga's students go to and download a sponsorship form. Mrs Sianga will provide regular reports about the student sponsored so that you can follow their progress.

There are currently more than 170 students at her primary school and these receive extra food to bring back to their families each month. In addition Mrs Sianga has found sponsors for 70 or so students studying at other schools around Monze and in total provides supplementary food for about 350 children and 'youths'.

Mrs. Sianga established the support services for people with HIV/AIDS in the mid nineties when there were no drugs available in Zambia to fight the disease. Most of those she supports are the children of her clients who in those early days all died of the virus. There is probably no one in Monze who has done as much to support and develop the services for those with HIV/AIDS over the last 15 years or so. I am glad to have some time this year to help her with her future plans.

Expecting a power cut and possibly a trip out this evening I picked up some fish and chips from Tooters on the way home.

Another busy day ahead tomorrow.

With love and prayers


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arrived Safely

Tuesday 22nd September

Once again I am back in Monze. This year I am staying on the East of the town behind the police station. The accommodation is bigger and more luxurious than I need! This is the first time I have arrived to find hangers for my clothes – though I can't open the wardrobe and there aren't any cupboards. Still I have a large lounge and kitchen, and two bedrooms. Apparently the previous occupants left earlier than expected so the place would otherwise be paid for and left unoccupied until the end of October. Anyway it suits me fine. It is semi-detached so I better keep the noise down or I'll disturb the neighbours! They are a couple of VSO volunteers who must have arrived in Monze just after I left last year. The main thing is that I am within easy walking distance of the town centre, so I can get out and about and others will have no difficulty in finding me.

When preparing for this trip, I managed to have my bags more or less packed a couple of days in advance but wasn't sure how many bags to take. I checked in online and printed my boarding card – I do enjoy being able to look at the plan of the plane and choose my seat. When I was asked how many bags I wanted to check in I ticked one and immediately wondered if I had made a mistake (I was entitled to two 23kg bags but don't think I believed it until the last moment).

At the last moment my daughter Barby had doubts about the wisdom of taking me to the airport because she thought she might infect me with whatever disease she was suffering from. So yesterday I arrived at the bus stop to catch the 12.30 to Heathrow with my slightly less than 23kg bag, heavy hand luggage and laptop. Looking at the timetable I saw that the bus went to terminal 5. So I met the friendly bus driver and asked for confirmation that he was going to terminal 5 – he kindly responded “if you wanted to go to terminal 5 why didn't you book it to there!” he then picked up my case and told me it was lots over 20kg which was his limit and he could hurt his back – then what would happen! So feeling full of joy I set of on my expedition.

I arrived at terminal 5 four hours before the plane was due to depart and an hour before I could leave my bag. (I could have used that hour walking from Heathrow Central bus station.)

The bag drop went smoothly without any questions about why I had no visa. But I had all my suntan lotion, shampoo etc. confiscated at security! (I knew that I should have checked that bag in too!) Still not to worry - a quick trip to Boots on the other side of security and I was re-equipped.

The plane left the gate just a little after the due time. I can't help compare the experience of Heathrow and Lusaka airports! We made our way towards the runway and joined a queue of at least six planes waiting to take off. As the Japanese Airlines plane in front of us left the ground, we immediately chased it down the runway and took off into the evening sunset, then turned left to go south and followed this direction until we arrived in Lusaka.

I never find sleeping easy on planes, but despite have two seats to myself, I didn't get anything but a few doses until we were woken just before 4 am BST for breakfast.

We landed on time in Lusaka as the sun was rising. The temperature we were told was 19 C – it was 6 am local time. We walked down the steps onto the concrete apron. (In Lusaka the planes 'park' in an area in front of the airport buildings making sure to turn so that they can make an easy exit back to the runway without any need to reverse.) The passengers wandered in the general direction of the airport buildings – the person in front seemed to know where to go! - and we found our way to arrivals and immigration control. I was immediately picked out by someone, who appeared to be in a nun's habit, who sent me from the 'with permits' to 'Zambian nationals' queue. So for the second year running I was welcomed as a Zambian and no question of needing a visa! I knew that all would be well!
I had told the hospital not to bother to come early, so when there was no one to meet me, I was not perturbed. I settled myself in the airport cafe and watched the occasional plane land or take off. For the first time in days I felt really relaxed. I watched the British Airways plane that I arrived on take off at 9 am – as it made it's short journey from its parking spot, a car preceded it down the whole length of the runway, perhaps driver was just interested to see what speed he could reach on a good staight road! Fortunately the plane didn't manage to catch it – quite!

I decided to check on my lift, but before I could use the new Sim card in my mobile, I was spotted by friends from Monze, who said that they arrived about twenty minutes earlier but didn't check the cafe upstairs. Lwindi (the driver) took us on a wonderful trip to Lochinvar National Park last year and Bimbi, a secretary from the hospital who has recently been involved at Buntolo where the hospital has various HIV/AIDS projects, was getting a lift back to college in Lusaka.

Needless to say there were a few jobs for the hospital staff to do before returning to Monze so I chose to meet up with Diven, a friend I met in 2003 when he was a patient at the hospital. He was to meet me at 11 hours and I was to be picked up at 12 hours for the return trip to Monze. Diven arrived at 11.30 and I was picked up at 14 hrs - so all was well! I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at Monze Hospital before 5pm (17 hrs).

On the journey back I saw familiar scenes. In Zambia pied crows replace our carrion crows, even around Lusaka birds of prey circle and on the power cables the occasional roller sits in all its glory. The Jacaranda trees are a picture at this time of year with their deep blue flowers and Lusaka has a godd display.

The road to Monze has largely been resurfaced since last year (200 kms of it!) so the journey back was much swifter and less hazardous than last year. The bits that haven't been resurfaced still bear the faded white lines – I suppose the new surface will also get lines one day. The standard speed limit on the single carriageway roads in Zambia is 120km per hour or 75 mph slightly higher than on UK motorways! The roads even when resurfaced are not quite as good and there are always issues of animals on the road and vehicles that have the odd defect ( it is usual for vehicles to have many cracks across the windscreen. I noticed one car today where the whole windscreen was shattered – though somehow the glass held in place – it didn't seem to significantly slow him down.)

As I got out of the car at the hospital I heard a familiar voice and Jennipher came and threw her arms around me. After a while, and a few more hugs, I was shown to my new lodgings.

A few cups of tea, a short power cut and I feel at home. For probably the first time in Monze I have unpacked my cases and am ready for a bath and bed (I'll let you know next time whether hot water comes out of the taps!)

Good night and God bless you


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Returning to Monze

As I write this there are less than 3 weeks left before I depart for Monze - a small town in the south of Zambia.

I know the routine – this being my 7th visit. I will arrive at the airport hoping that my bags don't exceed the weight limit, that I am not carrying anything that infringes the current rules for air travel and that I have sufficient papers to satisfy the check-in staff.

For most of my trips I have travelled with Kenya Airways – a very good airline, very comfortable with excellent service. However, the main drawback is that, in both directions, I have night flights and a stop at Nairobi Airport. 7 hours waiting in Nairobi Airport for a midnight flight on the return trip is not my favourite occupation. This year I will be travelling with British Airways who fly direct to Lusaka and on the return trip I will be able to enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of miles of the Sahara Desert. For me the view from the plane is a delight which combines the beauty of God's world with the ingenuity of the people he created. I have never quite understood why most people seem to find a video more interesting than the sight of snow on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

My flight leaves at 7pm, just after sunset on the Equinox. As I go through the 12 hour night (here and at all points on my journey), I move into a very different world and immediately my days start getting longer once more. I will be greeted by the sun as I arrive just after 6 am (6 hours) local time. Temperatures at the moment in Zambia reach 30 centigrade most days and there is rarely any cloud cover.

No trip is quite the same. This year, for the first time since 2004, I will not be working full-time at Monze Mission Hospital. In fact I intend spending most of my time on projects away from the hospital. Usually accommodation and transport are arranged by the hospital. This might happen this year, but as yet nothing has been arranged. (Monze is more than 100 miles from Lusaka!)

There is something comforting about knowing where you are working, what you will be doing, and where you are staying. I am reminded about a spiritual book I once read that described the difference between swimming and floating. Most of us are happier swimming! However, if you relax and allow yourself to float you become one with the sea in a way you will never know if you keep swimming! It is the difference between doing and being or talking and listening. This year I am going to be doing a lot of floating!

I am reminded that my visits to Monze are about relationship. I am sure that we all know that relationships can be the most difficult things to deal with. They bring the most pain but are also most life giving. Last Sunday a visiting priest who lives in Tanzania gave some 'homework' that included reading John's gospel on the vine and the branches where Jesus talks about our relationship with him as that of the vine and the branches. He also talks of us as his friends and implores us to love one another. I feel very blessed that at this stage of my life God has lead me to this place. In Zambia I experience a closer connection with Christ than anywhere else. I feel that I am approaching that branch that God wants me to be.

Life seems much simpler when we are busy, whether it be following set prayers and devotions or working from nine till five. It becomes more complicated when we sit in silence to hear what our loving Lord is asking of us or when we have no set routine but are available to respond to the needs of those around us.

Developing relationships is dangerous and sometimes painful. This is particularly true where there are huge gaps in the way of life. When I return this year I know that at least three of my friends will no longer be there to greet me. Henry managed a project for Charles about 10 miles East of Monze. He was studying conservation farming and had made lots of progress with the vegetable garden and maize production. Unfortunately he died just before Christmas last year. Mrs. Tembo lent me her key last year so that I could take a short cut from my flat to the hospital. She was in charge of domestic science at the Homecraft Young People's project. She also died in the past few months. Raquel escaped from Zimbabwe with her brothers and sisters last year after suffering terrible ordeals. One of the children died on the journey and her sister died in Monze hospital a couple of months later while I was working there. Unfortunately Raquel died of malaria a couple of months ago at the age of 14 or 15. Mike is the only surviving member of that family and he lives with Jennipher his aunt.

When I have shown pictures of people from Monze some have commented that they look healthy and well nourished. I doubt whether any of the three people mentioned above, who might well be some of those seen, would have died if they had the food and facilities we enjoy. Poverty is not easy to see but because of it life expectancy in Zambia is less than 40 years. Please pray for the souls of these, my friends, and pray for changes that will prevent so many lives being prematurely cut short in the poorest parts of the world like Zambia.

So how will I spend my time in Africa this year? I have no doubt that I will eventually find myself in Monze - quite possibly I will be met by friends in Lusaka. Someone will help me find accommodation and by the time I settle for the night I will have been greeted by many good friends.

I hope that I will be close to the town centre. This allows my friends to visit and share a coffee and a chat. In fact I spend very little time alone in Monze. If I am not working formally each day I expect the visits to be even more frequent. Believe it or not, this has always been my main business in Monze – to make friends and develop relationships. This year I should have less distractions!

My visitors come from various areas of my life. I have hospital colleagues, there are many who have become friends through the church, I have now been involved in several Hands Around the World projects and maintain contact with these people, who I have met over the past six years. Then there are people I meet around the hospital or in town and some have become close friends. Zambians are very friendly people and it is not unusual to greet people you don't know and to get into conversation. A short walk down the 'High Street' is usually punctuated by many “hallo Mr. Chris s” and even more “How are you s”.

Well, I do have some ideas about what I might spend some of my time doing this year.

I go to Monze under the auspices of Hands Around the World (HATW) – a small charity based in the Forest and of which I am now also a trustee - so, not surprisingly, I will spend some time helping with the management of these projects. Last year a team from HATW helped with the building of a small school for orphaned children (there are reputed to be about 1 million orphaned children in Zambia out of a total population of about 12 million.) One of my tasks is to ensure that the school continues to find funds to pay teachers and maintain the buildings. A few years ago a vocational skills centre was established – again with help from HATW volunteers. My job here is to help with its development and to monitor recent work to put in electricity and collect water. There is also a project just north of Lusaka designed to teach farming and other skills. The death of the manager last year and other changes mean that the project needs some support and help in moving it forward. So I will probably spend a few days there (perhaps linked with renewing my work permit).

I have my own personal projects with friends of mine. Charles, who runs a project to support some elderly and disabled people, tells me that this year he has had a good crop of maize (almost the first since I met him in 2004). I have been supporting him with his accounts – and finding a few donors to build wells, buy oxen etc. I am also encouraging him to experiment with conservation farming.

Most of you will have heard much about my friend Jennipher. Jennipher is very busy with an ever expanding set of HIV/AIDS support groups. Despite having had AIDS for many years now, Jennipher is tireless in supporting others. She was appointed as a care giver last year (a voluntary position!) and was asked to monitor all the AIDS patients within a 30 kilometre radius of her house in Pemba (a small town about 30 km south of Monze). She tells me that her 'patch' has now been extended and she can't manage over 100 km on her bike! The distances in Zambia are vast. Last year I went to the north of the country and heard of a woman in the final stages of pregnancy who had been brought the 30 km to the Health Centre on a bike. She then have another 180 km to travel by car across dirt roads to the nearest hospital. (unfortunately, but not surprisingly, she didn't survive.) Jennipher will have many jobs for me to do!

Last year I met Soloman Phiri who works for Monze Diocese which is also a CAFOD partner. He runs various projects for the Diocese including providing solar powered pumps and boreholes to supply water to remote villages. No doubt we will meet up again and I might have time to produce the small office system that he wanted last year.

I will also meet up with Shatis Vlahakis the manager of Lwengu School and Edward Chaambwa the head of Monze Basic who I have come to know over the years. The schools are very different but both men have great vision and provide excellent education according to their resources.

Then of course I will spend some time with those who I have come to know through the church. I have been a member of St. Veronica's Small Christian Community for at least three years – which is quite a privilege. We meet on Sundays to pray and reflect on the gospel for the next week, Simon chairs the meetings. He is a builder and lives to the west of the town, on the far side of Monze market. The Community also talk about projects at the church and try to support each other.

I will meet with Fr. Maambo, Fr. Kenan (who visited Cheltenham in 2007 and is now Parish Priest at the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart) and Fr. Sebastian (Vicar General) to talk about the Education fund, the Christmas cards and any other projects being supported by St. Gregory's parishioners. I will try to go out with Patrick to see the well that we helped build last year and meet with Sr. Catherine to find out more about the pre-school and AIDS support work done at Our Lady of the Wayside church. I also hope to meet some (or all) of the children whose education we are supporting – their photos can be seen on the Monze noticeboard as you go into the Old Priory.

There is also the Community School of St. Vincent that has a link with Christchurch School in Cheltenham. Tabo Meheritona is the School Manager and I hope to be able to spend some time helping him and his staff to make good use of a laptop donated a year or two back.

Another friend of mine Justina Yamba will retiring as Manager Administration soon. Last year she was telling me that there is a growing problem with women presenting themselves to the hospital with the results of attempted abortions. We discussed this last year and I was able to arrange for some booklets from the LIFE organisation to be sent to her. She is now hoping to set up the first pro- life organisation in Zambia dedicated to provide positive support for those tempted to seek abortion.

Oh! and I suspect that Monze Mission Hospital will also find me a job or two! Especially since I am relying on them to say why I need to extend my work permit!

So although I might start by floating, I will not be idle and I am in danger of driving the speedboat before I leave!

I hope that these ramblings give you a glimpse of the richness of my life because of the relationships I have developed in Monze. It was intended that I played host to a small group of people this year. The idea being to introduce them to the projects (particularly HATW) and the people of Monze and their lives. It won't happen this year, but I hope that the opportunity will be present again next year. Please let me know if you might be interested.

With my love and prayers