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


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