Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A quick visit to Lusaka

Friday 9th October

Sometimes God decides to give us a gift as a pure gesture of his love.

In 2004 I had a lot of problems trying to extend my visit to Zambia. At one point I was declared a “prohibited immigrant” and told to leave the country by midnight or I would be arrested. This was subsequently (and fortunately very rapidly) sorted out. However, any trip to immigration now makes me anxious.

On this visit it appears that the Lord has taken control of the immigration system for me. In the past when things have gone smoothly I have sat for hours waiting for people to arrive and sometimes have to return on another day – requiring another 280 mile round trip. (I don't want to think about the times when they didn't go smoothly.) So far this year every time I arrive unannounced the guy I need to see seems to be waiting, forms appear immediately and queues are for everyone else but not for me.

So despite the obvious signs that everything is in good hands, I awake just after 5 hrs and leave just before 6 hrs anxious about the day ahead at immigration. As I get to the main road there is a Rosa bus pulling out of the petrol station. I wave and the conductor confirms that he is leaving for Lusaka. OK Lord so you have also provided transport.

I jumped aboard and we took off immediately – like a rocket – for Lusaka. I suspect that the driver was really heading for Livingstone, but to get good value he needed to reach Lusaka at a good time to make the return trip. Most buses rattle a bit. I thought that they had sorted the road to Lusaka – but this vehicle didn't know it. A few times I clashed with the window when our respective motions brought us to the same point! We stopped anywhere if it looked like a possible fare might board. It seemed that there were also a few regulars for this morning express - at one point the driver backed up a dirt road to meet passengers heading his way. Despite the stops and detours we reached Lusaka by 8.45 and I was at the CHAZ offices at 9hrs.

Chris was at his desk apparently waiting for me and before 10 hrs we were at the central immigration offices. He was directed to a room were two men were sitting opposite a man at his desk. Despite appearances they said they weren't waiting. So my file was presented, the guy at the desk seemed quite uninterested, I didn't see him look beyond the application form at the front of the file. He scribbled something on top of the form and told Chris to go to the cashier. Here we probably waited two minutes before the cashier issued the all important receipt. On returning to the 'room' Chris was told he would have to wait 14 days for the application to be processed – I am not sure he noticed I was there at all! So by just after 10.30 I was leaving the CHAZ office (which is on the other side of town to the Immigration Office) with my receipt and all I need to do is to call at the immigration office after a couple of weeks to pick up my extended work permit.

Diven is still having problems with his phone despite a new battery so I failed to meet up with him and for once I had time to spare. I visited an Internet café and had a bite to eat, then decided to find a bus to return to Monze. I have been dropped off this year along the Kafue Road just before the town centre. Since this is the road to Monze I decided not to go to the bus station I have previously used, but to try my luck here.

Today I will use the opportunity to describe the journey from Lusaka to Monze. So please bear with me as I leave you with this brief travelblog.

I approached the conductor of a likely looking Rosa bus. “Are you going to Monze?” I asked. “Mongu?” he said. “No Monze” I repeated. “Where” he answered. “Monze” I said. “Write it down here” he said handing me the back of the ticket book. “Yes” he said, writing Monze on the ticket (in the same way I had “Monze” - “40,000”. So I boarded the bus not completely convinced that we really were heading for Monze.

The bus was already three quarters full of people but we made up the difference in luggage. Already the front of the bus had the usual few cases and bags, the aisles were also filled with luggage – though here were the remaining fold down seats. The conductor patted one oversized bag with his fist till it fitted under the seat – admittedly even with a passenger seated the chair was 30 degrees off the horizontal. After saying that there were just two more seats to fill he found another six passengers to board. There was know no room for the conductor, but another hefty guy forced his way on and tried to close the passenger door. Despite his efforts it wouldn't close – then the driver used the button that powers the door and with an extra push it closed. By this time the bus was full both of people and even more so of luggage. However, now more cases started coming in through the window. Then extra bags, a laundry basket – I was expecting a few chickens, goats and pigs to appear at any moment. The bags were now stacked high at the front and also a couple of cases, two or three heavy bags and the laundry basket were stacked against the passenger door making it impossible to exit from there. All this amused both me and an elderly guy next to me.

The tickets were handed to the last guy to get aboard and we left for Monze. (Well at least that is what I hoped.) A dual carriageway leads out of Lusaka. It appears here that overtaking can be done in either lane – and sometimes on the verge. The traffic today seemed particularly heavy all day with long queues on the main roads into the city. (earlier a police car with sirens blasting seemed to be stuck in traffic. I always thought the sirens were to avoid this!)

A few kilometres up the road there is still an extra lane – though no dual carriageway – as we enter Chilanga. Here is the main cement factory in Zambia. Last year it had a huge contract to produce cement for the stadiums in South Africa which host the World Cup next year. This sent cement prices in Zambia soaring – this year I am told they have dropped back to normal levels. On the right I spotted a couple of zebras, as we passed Chilanga Zoo!

Unlike this morning the ride was very smooth – maybe the suspension was much better, or maybe struggling to reach 50 mph instead of 70 mph had an impact! I suspect a bit of both. Roads in Zambia tend to be much straighter than in the UK. On the way to Kafue there is a lot of ground with very few significant trees so you can see a long distance. There are hills in most directions - though at quite a distance.

Kafue itself is an industrial town with a number of large factories and sprawling housing estates. The road bypasses the industrial heart of the town. We passed over the railway line. The crossing has road humps to warn of the hazard but no gates, barriers or lights. (This is typical in Zambia now)

After the railway crossing we go up an incline and here the police had set up a check point. I had once been in a bus where the driver was fined for being overloaded, so I wasn't surprised when our bus was pulled over – nor was the guy beside me who was obviously further amused. The driver got out and asked for some kwachas from the new conductor and after a few minutes we were allowed to proceed. We did so slowly – this bus doesn't do uphill very well, especially with a full load!

On the other side of the hill is the bridge crossing the Kafue river where pleasure cruisers are moored – I expect to see crocodiles but haven't spotted any yet. I know that a kilometre or so further on is a customs and police check point. So once again the bus is pulled over and the driver gets out. A few minutes pass and a policeman / customs official comes to the front of the bus and climbs in at the driver's door with a smile on his face as he saw the luggage piled high everywhere. He seems to be suggesting that some of the luggage needs to be off loaded and I think that we are in trouble this time – at least I was travelling light and had nothing but today's copy of the Post. To my surprise the policeman made himself some space, plugged in his earphones and settled down for the journey.

So we continued with our additional passenger. After the checkpoint we leave the road that is heading for Harare in Zimbabwe and then on to Mozambique and turn right towards Livingstone (to my relief). At the junction we pull over and are immediately surrounded by women selling bunches of bananas and, fortunately, bottles of, mainly frozen, water. By this time the air blowing around in the bus warmed rather than cooled – so very cold water was ideal and I hugged the the cold water bottle as one might do with a hot water one at home! The next landmark is the Munali Hills. It is unusual for trucks and lorries to overtake Rosa buses – especially on the Munali Hills! I suggested to my neighbour that we might need to get out and push, however we reached the summit eventually. On the other side of the hills they have opened a new mine – nickel I believe. Zambia is rich in minerals, unfortunately the country has always been persuaded to give the ore away – so the large mining companies, and the countries where they are based, are the ones that have become wealthy at Zambia's expense.

A few more kilometres and we stop. One of the women passengers has reached her destination. Fortunately she must have had mountaineering experience because she succeeded in climbing over the towers of bags and was let out of the driver's door – this still being the only means of escape. During the next fifty or so kilometres to Mazabuka we had repeat performances of this exercise and we also collected more passengers and luggage using the drivers door for human cargo and the windows for everything else.

Mazabuka is the nearest town to Monze (about 85 km distant) that has a proper supermarket. It was also the nearest town with an ATM for my first couple of visits. My elderly friend eventually disembarked in Mazabuka. I got the feeling that he stayed longer than he wanted in the hope that he wouldn't have to clamber over the luggage and drop from the drivers door. He wasn't so lucky!

As you leave Mazabuka there are fields of sugar cane as far as the eye can see. A huge area must have been cleared of trees so that Tate & Lyle (I believe it is their sugar, apologies if I have it wrong) can grow their crop. I have been told that after a few years the land stops producing, so they abandon it and move on. (You can always buy Fairtrade sugar – I do).

When we arrived at Monze about 4 hours after setting off from Lusaka the policeman or customs official was still with us, but at last the passenger door was unblocked and I was spared the challenge that met other passengers.

I was waylaid by my friend in the shop and I loaded a copy of the stores database onto his computer. Another familiar face was with him. He works in the Hospital School admin and I produced a modified stock control system for him last year.

So it was 19.30 and dark, before I got back to my home. Fortunately I had some boiled eggs and salad ready prepared so there was no need to cook.

Sunday 11th October

Yesterday I had a quiet day spent reading and relaxing. I went for a stroll to see how my local dam (lake) was doing. There was plenty of water still – no problem with drying out this year. It was busy with lads swimming, ladies doing washing and trying to net a few fish, with what looked similar to mosquito nets, and a lot of cattle enjoying the grass growing on recently exposed land. There were a few swallows and small flocks of pigeons but it was too busy for the other frequent avian visitors.

On the way back I picked up a couple of Chitenges for Ireen to make into shirts, a brazier, a small bag of charcoal and a mop (or mopper as it is referred to locally). For a change I got an early night.

This morning I woke refreshed after a good night's sleep. I had intended to go to the chapel as usual for Sunday mass but decided that I should make a habit of attending Our Lady of The Wayside church since I am trying to build a relationship between the communities there and in Cheltenham. Perhaps if I listened to the Chitonga enough some might stick! Mass at Our Lady's starts at 10 hours and lasts upwards of 1½ hours. This means that, until the clocks change, in the UK the service here surrounds the one at St. Gregory's church in Cheltenham. By my reckoning by the time of communion we were at the same point, which for me was a pleasant thought. I have always said that in connecting the two churches we need to focus on relationship. True communion is what I believe should be the ultimate goal – a full sharing of our joint humanity and our gifts, and mutual respect for our diversity in culture, history and way of life.

Our Lady of the Wayside has a good set of musicians and singers, so the drumming and harmonies are very impressive. The offertory procession today was led by Reymond's Small Christian Community (St. Kisito's). He tells me that the communities take it in turn and everyone in the community is expected to provide a gift. These vary from a candle to vegetables, bottles of water and gifts of money. These are taken up with dancing and singing and are presented one by one to the priest.

Someone had spotted me (not that it was difficult since I was the only white male in the congregation of perhaps 700 – there was also an Italian nun who works at the church), so I was asked to stand up at the end of mass – just in case some couldn't guess who ”Chris from England” might be!

I was greeted by many – some old friends and others who were just being friendly. I left for town with Patrick who told me that he had been the Secretary for the Parish Council at the main church (the Cathedral) before they decided to build Our Lady of the Wayside. Apparently they couldn't cope with the size of the congregation at the cathedral so they thought about extending it. Then decided to build another church in Monze. Our Lady of the Wayside is growing and seems to be a vibrant community. Before the main service there is a children's mass which is also quite full. There seem to be a few more shelters put up in the grounds since last year. These are used for meetings as well as being places to gather, out of the sun, before and after services.

As we approached the town centre (I must take a few more pictures to show you the sights!), there was a man in the centre of the road. Patrick told me this was because of a cycle race taking part along the Lusaka/Livingstone road. Earlier I had seen a couple of cyclists pass from the Livingstone direction. Apparently they cycle a few kilometres towards Livingstone, return through Monze and then go a few kilometres towards Lusaka before finishing back in Monze. The finish was marked with a line of sand. Apparently there were 15 cyclists, all from Monze, and they did it for fun – though if lucky the crowd might show their appreciation by rewarding the winners.

I attended St. Veronica's section meeting this afternoon – but forgot my bible, so will have to find out the subject of the reflections later! Perhaps there is a message here about my need to learn the local language. It rained a little during the meeting – fortunately where we met today there was a good sized room to move into – this is not always the case.

This evening Reymond popped around – so again he shared my steak. There always seems enough for two when I cook.

Monday 12th October

This morning I woke in time for morning mass at the cathedral at 6.30 am. After a quick breakfast I was back at the church to meet Fr. Maambo. We spent the morning talking about the development of the link between St. Gregory's parish in Cheltenham and Our Lady of the Wayside here in Monze. It was a very useful discussion and gave us a further chance to get to know each other better. He showed me the details of how funds from St. Gregory's church had been spent. In many ways I felt that to see receipts for the children's shoes and shirts that they needed in order to attend school was an invasion of privacy. Anyway I am more than happy that the funds are being well used.

At lunchtime Jennifer joined me for mayonnaise sandwiches. She told me that they are busy with the shelter for her support groups and are collecting the grass for thatching. They will have three poles to support the roof. A farmer was selling his cattle and had offered her a couple. I am not sure whether the benefits of having cows out-ways the difficulties in keeping them. However, I suspect that it would mean a lot to Jennipher and her groups to own their own cows. I have a couple of birthday gifts to give to folks back home - I think they will get a cow each!

Tomorrow morning some guys are going to spray the house against mosquitos. Jennipher said they don't bother about people in the villages. She said that they weren't provided with mosquito nets either, though she said she would use a net if she had one, she was concerned about have lots of nets when her clients couldn't afford any.

The afternoon was time to catch up with Mrs. Sianga and discuss the plans and problems with Maluba and PIZZ. I have things much clearer in my mind now – all I need is to put some thoughts on paper – or more likely in digital form. (Its amazing what you can now do with a few 0s &1s).

Once again it was dark as I approached my house. Having a torch I decided to use my usual route by small tracks across the railway line. Everything looks very different in the dark, yet, despite my famous lack of any sense of direction, I made it home safely – and without getting lost!


No comments: