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


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