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.


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