Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back to the sandals

Wednesday 24th March

It has been dry since Saturday and conditions around Kaliyangile are much improved. I can now venture out without my wellingtons.

On Monday I woke to find that we had no power. So Justine suggested that the trip to Lusaka I had scheduled for Tuesday should be brought forward. I checked that Diven was well again and Justine took me to Chisamba crossroads where there was a bus waiting. The bus moved off picking up passengers as we went and was soon full (but in my experience not excessively so). There was the usual assortment of luggage, including a couple of live chickens. As we approached the first police check point we stopped and a few passengers were encourage to leave! They joined us the other side of the check point having passed by on the other side of the road, where there was a path behind some tall grass. At the next check point everyone stayed on board and we were ushered through without any problem.

In Lusaka I found an Internet cafe and sent an e-mail. The network seemed quite good but I probably spent an hour, sent one e-mail (without attachments – they failed) and got as far as my blog but couldn't log in! This is very much the reality here and I am not aware of another Internet cafe closer to Chisamba. (Lusaka is at least 50 – 60 miles away). While in Lusaka I received the very sad news that the mother of my best friend Jeff, from my school days, had died. I am very sorry that I won't be able to attend the funeral. Throughout much of our schooldays we spent the holidays at my house or, more often, his. I got to know his mother over this period and she was always ready to welcome me and make me at home. She will be sadly missed.

I met Diven at CHAZ which has become our regular meeting place – one that both of us know well. We headed to the shops where Spar is sited, where we can eat and were the MTN offices are. MTN is one of three telecoms network providers in Zambia. The Zambian state-owned provider doesn't provide a signal in Chisamba or I would be inclined to use them. My objective was to obtain a modem that would connect Kaliyangile to the Internet. A similar device from the other provider had stopped working and the current view is that MTN is a better bet. The girl behind the counter assured me that it would work fine and that it only cost 2,000 kwacha (30p) an hour after the initial cost of 800,000 kwacha for the modem and SIM card. Unfortunately I was in a queue with only one assistant so I didn't feel able to quiz her extensively and hoped I could check it out before I left Lusaka.

After some chicken and chips Diven led me to his shop/house. (He sleeps behind the counter because he doesn't want to leave the premises unguarded – he couldn't afford rent on a house anyway!) It is quite a trek to his place in one of the compounds in Downtown Lusaka. I have never seen another 'white' face in this area in normal times – but Lusaka has been suffering from a lot of flooding and these are not normal times. We soon come across a small stretch of water and I have to revive my skills at jumping between stepping stones. Some of the surrounding homes are submerged in water – in places a metre or so high – window level. The water is far from clean so there is a constant stench in this area. We have to negotiate several more shallow lakes before arriving at his shop. The real art is jumping onto a stepping stone where there is already a sitting (though hopefully standing!) tenant, without both of you ending in the drink! I arrived with relatively dry feet but didn't relish the return journey. Of course those who live here have this and often much worse trials to overcome every day during this period.

Diven's shop is not making any money – barely covering the rent, if that. So he plans to move back to Monze where things were a lot better. He has power so I connect and install my modem. I seem to have a network connection but failed to get on the Internet before deciding it was time once again to brave the waters.
The foot traffic (not that there is much else around here) was all in the other direction on the way back and at the largest crossing there was a jam. Diven did his best to quell the tide but it was only with careful negotiating and much sharing of stones that we made it across.

At about 18 hrs I hopped onto a bus – having refused to get on the empty bus that was apparently going to Chisamba sometime! We moved off without being full – but very slowly. On the outskirts of town we pulled into a lay by. My fellow passenger in the front seat told me we had to get off and on to the bus conveniently empty in the same lay by. We had broken down! After five minutes we all got back onto the original bus because there was a dispute between drivers over the fares. Fortunately our bus now seemed to work fine!! The driver obviously didn't want to take the bus to Kabwe and I wasn't sure how far we would get – especially when we stopped at the next garage to check the tyre pressures. However, after matching the front tyre pressures (there was a difference of 10psi) there was no further incident – just a bit of banter between driver and passengers.

Justine was waiting at the crossroads and I was soon back home, having replaced the talktime I had left with Diven by mistake!

It would be Tuesday afternoon before my modem jumped into operation and I was able to connect to the Internet.

It was good to wake up to sunshine on Tuesday morning – more like the Zambia I have come to know and love. I hope that the dry weather has also impacted on those in town flooded out – at least it won't be getting worse since water is no longer flowing. At last I am able to make a bit of progress with updating the accounting system I installed in November.

Although all the sockets here seem to have 3 'square' pin outlets, many of the appliances have 2 round pin plugs. I learnt very early on how to reconcile the two (suffice it to say that it is better to facilitate the connection using plastic rather than metal!) It is also a strange fact that most 3 pin plugs need skilful adjustment for them to make an electrical connection. It was only on Tuesday morning that I linked the two facts and realised that the connectors in the socket were being forced apart by the oversized round two pin plugs! A little later I experienced a common consequence of this situation, when I couldn't extract my plug from the socket however hard I tried. In adjusting the plug it is common to hear a crackling sound as sparks fly, sometimes if the connection is not good this can continue. Many plugs here have a plastic insulation on the pins and, subjected to very high temperatures, this melts and welds plug and socket together – the exact phenomenon that I had just experienced!! Unfortunately I will not be using the kettle tonight!

Tuesday was also my grandson Jack's birthday (apparently he likes the blog – at least some of the photos!). I just had enough battery life to make an elementary card and e-mail it - now that my modem is working.

Again sunshine greeted me this morning. I had a new shirt to wear – presented yesterday by the tailor who made it during the past couple of days and I was also given back my sandals that had been repaired by one of the students after the strain they suffered in Lusaka on Monday. I have been suffering through lack of caffeine and so I am relieved when Moses came to replace my plug and socket. Moses told me he was a Jehovah's witness and the repair probably lasted twice as long as as usual as we shared our views of Christianity. At lunchtime I was treated to a very large portion of nshima and beans, with an additional cassava leaf relish. With an effort I consumed it all but declined further nshima for supper. I think we have agreed that I will have food prepared by the cook at lunchtime during the week and look after myself otherwise. If not I will gain a couple of stone instead of losing it on this trip!

I am getting to know some of the students now – though I can't remember their names. I walked into town yesterday with the girl students who were very interested to know more about England. This afternoon I popped into one of the classrooms and chatted to some of the lads. They are a lively bunch and are a delight to be around.

With any luck I will connect to the Internet and be able to send a mail and post this blog. Then I can read a little more of my John Grisham novel, have a brief look at the stars – the Southern Cross is very prominent at the moment – and hide once more under the mosquito net.

Bets wishes


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