Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still Busy

Tuesday 27th October

There are still a few friends that I haven't yet met this year. One I had realised I hadn't seen, John, sat next to me at mass on Sunday. I seem to have known John ever since I set foot in Monze. In the past I have come across him often in the hospital. For some reason he always insisted that he left the hospital by a different route and not with me. It was something to do with jealousy! John is a bit of a rogue and never has any food at home. One year he persuaded me to buy him a pick and shovel so he could dig his own well – eventually after a bit of food for the friend who helped him, a rope and bucket, few bags of cement etc. the well was dug. I don't think the rope pump was ever installed! Still I had missed John and was pleased to see him looking fit and well.

Others still greet me and are surprised that I have already been here more than a month – others had heard that I was about from other friends. Desmond greeted me this evening and walked for a while with me warning me not to walk about in that area after 20 hrs. (I must admit that Freedom compound and surrounding area is not a place I feel very comfortable after dark.) Desmond was one of the stallholders who call me over. Sometimes I go and chat to them and thereafter get a warm greeting every time I pass. The instinct is to ignore such calls, but I have learnt that people here are generally very friendly and appreciate you responding – even if you don't buy any goods.

Yesterday I was surprised to find out that it wasn't a public holiday. Usually Independence Day is a holiday. Being on a Saturday this year I expected the holiday to be moved to the Monday, but not this year at least. I had a few things to do in the morning including making a trip to the Internet café. In the afternoon I popped down to the hospital and checked on the Human Resources computer where I managed to persuade the database to come back into life. I also had a look at the Smartcare system produced for the Zambia Health Service. This is a very ambitious project that is designed to record all the patients medical history and analyse any treatment. The idea is to have the data stored on a smartcard that the patient will carry with them. All hospitals – and presumably Health Centres should be able to read the cards and update them. The system actually looks impressive and very comprehensive. The reality however is that I doubt if any hospital currently has the technology to maintain the database for that hospital. So the idea that there can be a system integrated throughout the whole of the health service in the Country is fantasy! There seems to be an attempt to use some elements of the system for ART (Anti-retroviral therapy) in some hospitals, however I suspect that the complexity of the system will result in it being abandoned eventually. No doubt another foreign organisation will come up with a similar idea in the future to waste a bit more money and a lot of time and energy of the people here. My system is not nearly as sophisticated but would capture the information already held in paper registers and then do all the analysis, that currently takes many man days, at the touch of a button. Anything more complicated at this time is unlikely to get off the ground.

Today I had a meeting with Sr. Barbara booked for 9 hrs, but when I arrived was told she had just left for breakfast! After squeezing in a profitable trip to the Internet café I headed to the hospital for my meeting with Dr. Mvula at 10 hrs. Unfortunately some guests had arrived that he would probably need to see after the meeting he was still in, so we will reschedule the meeting!

Jennipher came to the hospital to have her CD4 count checked. This is a measure of her immunity and helps determine her treatment. She told me that she is still on the first level of ARVs and her CD4 count has always been high. She puts this down to her change in behaviour and sticking strictly to the treatment regime. I am sure that having a reasonable diet is also important. Jennipher says that she is very happy with her life now, which I have no doubt makes a huge difference in combating the disease. She tells me that some of her clients don't listen to the messages that she gives them, but others have difficult choices to make. She mentioned one woman who is a single mother and the only 'breadwinner'. She sees no alternative to prostitution in order to feed her family. Jennipher persuaded her to be tested and, unsurprisingly, the test was positive. Jennipher is trying to help her find another way to support her family, but is worried she will continue her lifestyle and have a very short life. Re-infection can make the disease progress more rapidly. Poverty here is very real and it comes in many forms. One of them forces people to act in ways that, without poverty, they would never consider. It is easy to say that prostitution or stealing is wrong and condemn those involved, but maybe we need to look to ourselves and see how strongly we condemn the causes of poverty and the systems that cause it. We cannot possibly know how we would behave given the choices of the people here.

Mike (one of Jennipher's children) has malaria at the moment but is recovering. He is at boarding school and hasn't a mosquito net. So we bought him one in town for when he returns to school.

I met up with Sr. Barbara and picked up another job to convert her 42 spreadsheets into a database. She works as the Administrator for the Diocesan projects. CAFOD is one of the agencies that partner Monze Diocese and it was through them that I was first made aware of the connection. The spreadsheets hold data for each of the communities with which the Diocese works. Various meetings take place and sometimes the communities are supported with animals – cows, goats, chickens etc.; farming tools and seed etc. as well as provision of boreholes. The aim is usually to to provide a little that will enable the community to produce much more – so for instance a couple of animals that will reproduce and the offspring go to other families, and the process is repeated etc. Anyway I will have plenty of work to do to sort this out, in my spare time, before I return.

This afternoon I caught up with Mrs Sianga and this time I was a little behind schedule and she was waiting for me. I am hoping that my visits to other community schools in the past week will prove helpful for the Maluba/PIZZ project. I am hoping that we can all learn from each other to see how best to provide education in the area for children who otherwise would have no chance. There are many people trying to achieve the same thing in their various ways – and some seem to be more successful than others.

I had responses in connection with my virus problem both from my personal Technical Support Team back home and from the providers of F-Prot my anti-virus software. Both responses have proved helpful and since they are different, as someone at the hospital commented, a joint attack might solve my problems. I am now in the process of putting the solutions to the test.

Wednesday 28th October

Today was another day when power was absent. Unfortunately for me, I had intended to spend most of the day working on the computer. After a couple of hours my battery was exhausted so I headed to the hospital where they had power. With my newly cleaned flash drive I copied a spreadsheet from the Human Resources computer and caught a few more viruses in the process.

I called in on the Pharmacy and sorted a couple of things for Mrs. Mwaamba. Dr Mvula was around so we met and discussed my work at the hospital for this year and future years.

I had a call from Southern Comfort Motel asking me to come up because the rooms for David and Kevin that they showed me are no longer available. So after lunch I made my way a couple of kilometres up the Livingstone Road to the motel. I just hope the rooms are OK! It seems that there is a lot on next week and rooms in Monze are at a premium.

It seems that today there is generally power in Monze – just not where I am staying. I headed for Homecraft and was stopped first by Rasta Brian who is keen to give me a present from his stall and then a woman who seemed to know me who wanted to know how to become a Herbalife distributor. You might remember there was this organisation trying to get Jennipher to part with money to become a distributor. I told her to keep well away. I picked up the spreadsheets from the Sr. Barbara and now have the task of converting all this information into ACCESS databases. I suspect there will be a bit of midnight oil burnt in the coming days!

On the way back home, after attending mass at the chapel, I was accosted by a woman wearing a Herbalife tee-shirt and handing out small leaflets about Herbalife. I have had no response from the organisation so I feel it is due time to make it known just how Herbalife are exploiting the very poor people here in Monze. I warned the lady handing out leaflets that she too was likely to become a victim of Herbalife – in fact she almost certainly already is, and in trying to recover her costs is bringing more people in. Herbalife seems unreachable, so their 'charity' will get a follow up letter from me!

This evening I decided to use my brazier. Power came on before it was properly alight but it didn't seem sufficient to heat my rice, so I continued outside. Now I have a brazier burning merrily and my steak, rice and curried vegetables has long gone!

Best Wishes


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