Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming to the end of my trip

Tuesday 27th April

This will probably be my last blog posting before returning home. The information I am currently getting suggests that British Airways should be flying to Heathrow on Thursday. This will allow me to follow my schedule and travel to Ripon on Friday for grandchildren duties!

Yesterday I discussed a few outstanding issues with Justine – the Centre Manager. Minor modifications were needed to the database, but most things are in hand.

The weather continues to be cloudy and cool – almost no sun yesterday! Even in June/July – the coldest months – the sun shines bringing the daytime temperatures up and cooking you if you go out! The sky is a bit lighter this morning, so I am hoping for a change later in the day.

Being here for less than a week, and without a fridge, my menu has been a bit limited this time. Protein is mainly provided by dried kapenta, (small fish about 2 cm in length). I eat about 100 at a sitting and feel guilty about the number of lives required to provide my meal. With this size of fish you eat it all - including head and tail! A few groundnuts are added to most meals. With onion, tomato and cabbage (this in varying proportions), a few different herbs & spices (pepper, chillies, garlic, curry powder and paprika) together with rice, this has been my main meal for the past week. Honey sandwiches and bananas have completed my diet. In fact I have quite enjoyed these meals.

This time on my couple of visits to town I have taken the short cut across the football field – it was too wet to attempt that on my first visit. A narrow path takes me through grass about 3 metres tall which I brush past as I go. Flowers here and there brighten the landscape together with a variety of trees.

We are re-convening Saturday's meeting this morning – hoping for a larger attendance. I am gradually thinking about packing and preparing for the change of environment once more. Returning to the UK is as much as a culture shock as coming here and needs some adjustment. I will stay at Luwisha House – a Jesuit Centre in Lusaka tomorrow night. I have found I can reflect a little there and the priests also have experience of the two different worlds, so can help me bridge the gap. Before that I will pick up my bags from Justina and pass on this laptop.

The meeting was in fact well attended and this afternoon I spent sorting out a few final things with the accounting system and writing a note or two.

There was mass this evening at 17 hrs and it was an appropriate way to mark the end of my work here in Zambia.

On the way I met Patrick and we spoke a little about the fact that I tend to stand out here – particularly at mass. He made a comment about me not to bother about people looking at me. In fact I am generally treated very well hear in Zambia. A few will make comments to friends in their local language, but these are a small minority. I am very happy to engage with the local people and just after leaving Patrick a lady tried to sell me a large cabbage (at least 3-4 kg). I said there was no way I could eat it tonight on my own – it would probably last me a month. There followed a bit of friendly banter with other marketeers trying to sell me tomatoes and other vegetables. It is all good fun and we laugh and smile all the time. I suppose that some might be intimidated, but I am so used to the process that it is yet another opportunity to make friends. After encounters such as this I find I am warmly greeted and a stroll through town becomes more interesting and great fun.

There were about 70 or 80 people attending tonight's service – most no older than 20s & 30s and many still children or teenagers. Something we see too little of in England.

I was greeted by a few parishioners after mass and eventually Fr. Mauritius appeared. He was about to go for a jog and I mentioned Andy's marathon – he sends his greetings Andy from one runner to another!

It has been a short trip here in Zambia this year, but one that I believe has been important and worthwhile. I am now ready to return to the UK – my other home.

With my love and prayers


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back in Chisamba

Friday 23rd April

It feels like I have been here in Chisamba for a long time – yet I only arrived yesterday evening. In many ways it is very good to be back. Life is more relaxed for me here. I have one project and not the numerous links I have in Monze. I am little way from the town centre and I am surrounded by fields. There are 300 chickens next door and the cicadas fill the night air with their calls and a few owls join in. During the day there is a rich variety of birds visiting and flying over the site. It is very peaceful.

I seem to have overwritten my last blog on the computer with the latest about the volcanic ash, so I am not sure where I left you! So I will assume that you already know about Tuesday – I'm not sure I can remember what happened then anyway.

Wednesday was my last day in Monze so I was rushing even more than usual. I was hoping for hospital transport so I paid it a visit, having discovered that Sr. Juunza was in Livingstone and couldn't organise it. Unfortunately there was nothing going on Thursday – so it would have to be the coach. I was expecting visitors throughout the day and had a number of tasks to achieve. In the end I managed to see Mrs. Sianga, collect her reports, leave her the copy of “The Shack” I left with Judy last year and take a picture of one of the students about to be sponsored through the HATW sponsorship scheme. Sr. Barbara caught me and told me I needed to see a guy called Cashias to talk about the database. So I squeezed in this extra appointment. Jennipher joined me at lunch. I was expecting a fax about solar lighting because she is being pressured to have power installed and can't afford Zesco electricity. Unfortunately the fax hadn't arrived. I went to pick up the photos with Jennipher in tow – since some are for her. Unfortunately they were not there – despite stressing that I needed them on Wednesday since I was off on Thursday morning. I don't think anyone has yet gone to Lusaka to have them printed. I decided to ask Jennipher to collect them sometime and pass those that don't relate to her to Fr. Maambo. I paid the guy – which was probably foolish!

Next stop Irene to collect my 2010 shirt and Dilys's blouse. Although I was already running late, so was Irene and I agreed to return at 18 hrs.

Teddy came around when I got back for a long overdue chat. He was quickly followed by Luke and, while we were sorting out a few things on the computer, Reymond arrived at his appointed time. By the time the three of us got to Irene it was 18.45. She was still outside Pick-a-Lot and had nearly finished the articles! We waited and, as usual, she had done a remarkable job. One more trip to the bank was needed before I left Monze. So by the time I arrived home – where I had left my now one and only phone – I was almost an hour late for my final appointment with Diven. We went to Tooters for a meal and couple of drinks. I was more or less packed and just did a last minute tidy and pack before bed.

On Thursday I woke before 6 hrs and went to mass. Fr. Maambo thought that I had gone on Wednesday, but seeing me asked if I wanted to take a few pictures off his computer. I always seem to have a flash drive with me, so I copied pictures of last year's parties and food distribution.

At 7.30 I rang the coach company using the number Judy had given me and tried to book a coach. I was told it was possible but wasn't sure that I succeeded in booking it! Back home after a quick breakfast I picked up half of the fax about solar. (Unfortunately I think the information I wanted was on the other half!) At 8.30 I set off for the coach – courtesy of a driver from Monze Diocese.

The 9.30 coach set off not long after 10 hrs and made good progress to Lusaka. We would have been at the coach station before 12.30 if we hadn't stopped to fill up! (These large coaches have big tanks!).

Justina met me at the coach station and negotiated for a taxi – apparently the price doubled when they saw me. Justin has recently retired. She has become concerned about the increasing number of abortions here in Zambia and wants to try to do something to tackle the problem. For many years Dilys and myself were involved in an organisation in the UK called LIFE that supports women throughout their pregnancy and beyond. Increasingly much of their work is now in post abortion counselling. I have put her in touch with this organisation and spent a while discussing her plans and my experience.

I left Justina with two suitcases and caught a bus to the next bus terminus – for the Chisamba bus. Usually I catch a small bus from a different bus station and was surprised when I was asked for twice the usual fare. I thought he too decided he could up the price when he saw me. He explained that the 'Rosa' buses charged the same price for anywhere on the way to Kabwe. (I am probably going less than half the distance.) Anyway – even with only one bag, plus backpack, plus laptop – I wasn't walking to the other station. The bus was almost full, so within 45 minutes or so we would be ready to set off. I sent a text to Dilys to see how she was and found out that she had been taken out to lunch. This led to a series of texts to Mary. I thanked her and described the scene at the bus station where I was being offered everything from cold drinks to watches and wigs. She found out that Zambia isn't quite so cut off and responded!

A short wait of 30 – 45 minutes at the crossroads for Justine and I was on my way back to the project and my other Zambian home here in Chisamba. It was probably a little after 7 pm when I found my rooms.

Today I pottered around sorting out a few things, catching up with my incoming mail and preparing a little for tomorrow's meeting with the management committee. The students are currently having a short break from lessons – though some were busy bringing in the harvest, much of which will be used to provide their lunchtime meal. I think I have enough provisions for the next few days.

It now seems that it is perfectly safe to fly through volcanic ash and really the recent saga has been quite unnecessary – so the chances of getting home on time are improving.

Saturday 24th April

We met with the Kaliyangile management committee this morning. Things are looking positive here and I am looking forward to the development of an excellent project.

I went for a short stroll this afternoon, but I haven't yet found any pathways into the bush. The grass is so thick and high that it would be difficult and foolish to try to make a pathway through it. I can see how animals can stalk their prey in this environment – if they can find it. Though I don't expect a lion to appear at any time – but it would be an interesting tale to tell. The site takes some beating for birds and general peace and quiet. One day I will borrow a bike and see where I can get to – the forest sounds good to me. In the meantime I will probably enjoy relaxing on the site.

I found a chicken escaping from the barn this morning and managed to persuade him to return (sorry 'her to return' - I don't think males are very good layers!). Yesterday it was a couple of young cows who were wandering in the garden. I wasn't exactly sure where they should be, so I recruited help and Davison guided them home. I have a good quantity of small (20 cm) lizards that scamper around my 'front door'. The larger variety – perhaps 1 – 2 metres I haven't yet stumbled across - though one is meant to be around.

The early mornings and evenings as the sun sets are magical times here. The light is wonderful and has a characteristic that I doubt you can find outside of Africa. The cool air adds to the glory of these times.

I am reminded of camping holidays because of the walk across the field to the toilet block. The stars are wonderful in the early morning and at the moment the moon is out of sight at this time, making many thousands more visible.

I think the European Swallows have left now, but there are still many other varieties around – the most common seems to be the Mosque Swallow which is bigger, but equally handsome. I am still having difficulty with the identification of many of the birds around here.

Sunday 25th April

Mass starts here at 8 hrs. Today we had a couple of young men with electric guitars and another with a smart small steel drum set to accompan the choir. By 10 30am I was free to enjoy the day. Uncharacteristically today has been cloudy throughout and I suspect that temperatures have barely reached 20 C. I finished my final novel today, unfortunately power was off all afternoon so I had only a short time on the computer.

Andy ran in the London Marathon today. By the end he was feeling rough but was determined to finish. He crossed the line after 4hrs.48 minutes and 3 seconds. Not his fastest marathon but he completed the course. If you would still like to support Andy's efforts and the work of Hands Around the World you can still log on to www.bmycharity.com/andybarrellmarathon and give a donation.

Best wishes


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And Still it Rains!

Tuesday 20th April

So much for cloudless skies! We are currently having some moderate rain here. This is not good news. The maize should be drying ready for harvesting – if the rain continues it could rot. Other crops such as groundnuts could start to germinate and also be lost.

On Saturday I went with Charles and Reymond to check out the PEASSA project site East of Chichanga dam. There are now a few goats, chickens and a pig in addition to the garden and fields. A couple of banana plants are now growing and Reymond brought some mangos to plant o the site. We didn’t stay long because Charles was due to attend a meeting with World Vision on his return.

I decided that I needed to have a break, so I refused to meet anyone after lunch. Instead I made my way to the little dam to the West of the town, walked around it and settled down eventually to rest on some grass in the shade. It was good to relax for a while and enjoy the nature that surrounded me. I am missing the book of Zambian birds! I have noticed a number of birds of prey around the town this year, but I am not too sure of the variety. Around the lake a few African Jacandas hopped out of the grass briefly and then disappeared in the thick vegetation, a snake eagle floated effortlessly on the thermals trying to spot its lunch and a small flock of ducks dropped into the lake and vanished behind the tall grasses. The activity was less than I usually observe. A few cattle wandered by, along with a few goats, but pasture and water are not a problem at this time, so the dam is not as important as it is later in the year.

I wondered back past the minibuses being washed at the waters edge and, at home, finished another of the novels I brought to Zambia.

During the day Dilys rang me. She is not very well but improving a little. We discussed the situation caused by the volcanic ash. I hadn’t taken in the full implications from the little snips of news I had caught during the past few days. It seemed clear from Dilys that the problem could be around for some time – maybe months, if not years. My return trip to England is likely to be affected. It seems clear to me that attempts will be made to prove that it is safe to fly and no doubt one country will take the risk – I doubt that England will be the first. It there is a crash or even near catastrophe the effect will be enormous.

I have subsequently read some information from the BBC website that confirm my views. There is also a lot of confusion about what people stranded – as I might well be – can do about the situation. It is somewhat un-precedented. Still I am in a far better position than most. I desperately want to get home to Dilys and the famiy – I have childminding commitments on the Saturday, two days after I am due to return. However, I could stay on here for a while, without tremendous problems. I have plenty to do and can find cheap (or free!) accommodation. I haven’t any formal work to get back to or any urgent commitments beyond the family. Most people can’t say that and will have all sorts of problems as a result of the disruption.

It does make me realise just how fragile is the infrastructure we humans have made. It is made even more fragile by using economics (money) as the controlling element. If most European flights are grounded for the next two years I wonder how the systems will cope? We are aware of the immense forces of nature – events over the past few months have demonstrated their power and we seem to be in a time of increased seismic activity (or maybe they are occurring in particularly vulnerable areas.) It is unusual for Europe to be badly affected – and for once it is our prosperity that has made us vulnerable – it is usually poverty that creates vulnerability. Even in this case farmers in Kenya and other places will be suffering, since they can’t get their products to the European markets.

We know that there are a number of significant natural events that will have devastating results when they occur – the splitting of the island of La Palma in the Canaries will cause a huge tsunami to hit the US and the eruption of the super volcano in Yellowstone will affect the whole world. One day these events will happen and we are likely to be powerless to prevent them. Perhaps we are being reminded that there is one with far greater power than ourselves and in the meantime we should learn to respect the creation he has made.

Sunday was spent at church and with St. Veronica’s Community. I was back to work afterwards to catch up on notes for people back home.

Yesterday I spent the morning with Mrs. Sianga. We have started a student sponsorship scheme through Hands Around the World to cover some of the education costs at the school. We sorted of details for the children sponsored and I met one girl who we hope a class back in the UK will support. The children are either orphaned or otherwise disadvantaged. For example one child has parents who are both unwell and they are trying to support 13 children. Without schools such as the PIZZ school run by Mrs. Sianga these children would have no hope of an education. The sponsorship scheme is one way of trying to ensure the long term sustainability of such projects. (Details are available on the HATW website www.hatw.org.uk for anyone interested.)

In the afternoon I collected some baskets from Buntolo. I will need to buy another bag to bring them back to the UK – I should have acquired something like the enormous foldaway bag I was lent last year!

As I mentioned the rain has not gone away. It has just stopped now after a couple of hours.

I better make use of the opportunity to get to the Internet café and post this blog.

Best wishes


Friday, April 16, 2010

Get Well Soon

Wednesday 14th April

As always, as I move towards the end of my trip – only just over two weeks before I leave for the UK - life becomes progressively more hectic.

I will leave a lot of unfinished business, but that is the nature of my visits.

I spent much of Saturday afternoon and evening on the computer recording the details of the past few days for those back home. On Sunday I went to Our Lady of the Wayside for mass and then joined St. Veronica’s Small Christian Community for prayers and reflection in the afternoon. I had brought some pictures taken of the outside and the interior of our church in Cheltenham. It is a building that is 150 years old and full of statues and stained glass – very different from the plain churches here in Monze. Most of the people here were keen to have copies of the photos that were close–ups of the statues of Mary, Jesus and Joseph. I must try to obtain copies. After prayers I was invited back for tea by Angela and we were joined by Simon and Kennedy. As seems to be the tradition here, the milk is already with the tea in the pot. We had some dry bread to accompany it. When I first introduced Jennipher to sandwiches she was amused – the idea of putting something between slices of bread was new to her. (She now enjoys my sandwiches – especially egg mayonnaise.)

Monday I left the house before 10 hrs and didn’t return until after 18.30. I met with Charles at his house and we talked about many things including politics and the future of the world! Like me, Charles is keen to make use of the abundant power of the sun. I think I should send out a challenge for someone to make the first solar-powered wheelchair!

After leaving Charles at about 16 hrs I returned with Reymond who introduced me to some of their project’s clients on the way home. They are mainly elderly and disabled people who receive a little food and second-hand clothes from the PEASSA project. It is always humbling to meet people who really have next to nothing and often are surviving with enormous difficulty. They were all very pleased to meet me and responded with a lot of character and sense of humour. Erica has recently had a stroke but cannot afford a wheelchair so drags herself around he home. Another client could see very little, yet was busy finding bits of grass on the ground around his house, which he removed to keep it looking tidy. Another client who has a wheelchair I was told had lost part of his leg and parts of fingers and toes due to leprosy. Leprosy still exists here in Zambia – though I think it is becoming rarer. I regularly come across people who have disfigurements that I assume to be the result of leprosy. The disease can now be easily treated and so is not the terrible scourge that it once was. Sylvester was one of the people who wrote details of his life which Charles gave to me on my previous visit. One day I hope to publish some of the stories. It was good to see the person and to tell him how much his story was appreciated.

Yesterday I spent a while in the Internet Café and sent Dilys a plant as a get well gesture. She has been ill over the past couple of weeks and her trip to Wales for a holiday was brought to an abrupt halt. My son Paul had to travel to Wales and drive her back because she wasn’t fit to drive. At last she has been given antibiotics – I think that if she had them two weeks ago she might have had a good break and almost certainly wouldn’t have suffered a burst ear-drum.

I spent some time in the afternoon looking at the projects database and realising just how much work I have let myself into.

In the evening I met up with Edward who I have come to know over the years. He was the headmaster of Monze Basic where I had involvement with some projects. He is now retired but has been waiting nearly a year for the bureaucracy to be sorted out before he receives a pension or gratuity. In the meantime he has no income. This seems to be the usual way government pensions are dealt with – before the debt cancellation it could be many years and some died before receiving any benefits.

We went to the local bar which is frequented by the wealthier people in the community and a few white Zambians – it is not my usual choice but it is Edward’s local.

Today I did a bit of work in respect of the Kaliyangile project in Chisamba. This is the main reason for my early trip this year and there are certain things that I want to achieve there before my return to the UK.

This afternoon I went to see Sr. Juunza who is currently trying to run both the Human Resources and Administration Departments at the hospital. It seems that the former Human Resources Manager has returned from study and will resume that role and she will concentrate on the Administration Department. Although not doing much work at the hospital this year, I am keen to make sure people there are aware that I am still willing to become involved and I believe there is a lot I can offer to support the hospital management.

I then spent some time in the Stores with Teddy and we managed to increase the internal memory of their computer. It now opens a little quicker but the memory is still low for a system using Windows XP.

I had some discussions with Ian about the history of Africa and the current wars that are being waged. His contention is that ‘white’ people are not fighting wars with other ‘white’ people but with people of colour – black or Arabic.

I popped to the chapel for an evening mass and returned to supper at which I invited Diven to join me. Teddy was planning to come around or a chat but got caught by a visitor before he left home.

I have a small window now to do a little more on the database before I call it a day and prepare for bed.

So goodnight,


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Visiting Friends in Pemba

Saturday 10th April

I have recently returned from Pemba where I met up with Jennipher and her growing family.

On Thursday, I at last managed to see Mrs Chiiya and Mrs. Sianga who are managing projects where Hands Around the World have been involved. I first met both ladies in 2003.

Mrs. Chiiya owned the guesthouse where our group stayed and was the head teacher at Tagore (a local government school). With support from HATW she has built a small school teaching the final years of secondary education, with the addition of some additional life skills. Although most of the children pay a fee there are some who are unable to meet the full costs and are subsidized.

Mrs. Sianga was for many years a nurse at the hospital supporting patients with AIDS. This led her to try to find some support for the orphaned children left by her clients when they died. HATW has supported her in trying to provide a basic education for some of these children. The new school erected with the help of an HATW team in 2008 has two classes and 60 students

Over lunch with Mrs. Chiiya and her brother-in-law (who works for the Education Department) I heard about the demands that the government is now placing on the Schools. Those schools teaching the final years, and including science subjects, must built a laboratory to the specifications set out by the Ministry – the quoted price is 450 million kwacha (or ₤60,000). In addition Secondary teachers are now required to have degrees. This means that many existing teachers will be replaced and probably move to Primary schools where they have neither experience nor training. The cost of Secondary teachers will no doubt increase – or they won’t attract graduates. This will make life difficult for people like Mrs. Chiiya running a private school and is bound to further demoralize existing teachers.

Diven joined me for a meal in the evening. I pressed the wrong button on my mobile and as a result spent sometime teaching Diven the game of Sudoku.

On Friday morning I expected to have a meeting but it didn’t materialise. This gave me the chance to catch up on some notes I needed to write for people back home. I see my main role here as a bridge between the two worlds. While I am here I can record what I see and my understanding of life in Zambia. It isn’t easy to understand the reality of life from 5,000 miles away. A bit of paperwork in the UK might mean a quick fax or an exchange of letters. Here it often means a trip to Lusaka or Livingstone – maybe a need to stay away overnight and very often a return visit. This can be very costly in financial terms and in time. It seems that the British, while they were here, taught bureaucracy with a vengeance – and it stuck! Back home we just don’t understand the delay and wonder how all the money has been spent.

I then went to the Internet to send a few mails, check my bank account and order some extra memory for the laptop here. Strange though it is, it seemed to me to be both easier and cheaper to buy the memory over the Internet, have it delivered to the UK and then sent here by post than to try to find it in Lusaka! After a bit over two hours at the café I was through!

I caught up with Mrs Sianga after lunch. She had spent the money raised through a quiz night in the Forest of Dean, which I brought with me and gave to her yesterday. She has been struggling to provide sufficient text books for the students. As it is they will still need to share, but she was able to buy 10 books in both Science and Civics for each of the two classes. Text books here are expensive and the government likes to change the syllabus regularly (sounds familiar!). It is important to have course books that follow the proper syllabus and are designed with this culture in mind. I am told that books from the UK can be useful, but only for supplementary reading.

Diven and Reymond both called in during the evening – however I was rather unsociable and explained that if I didn’t get down to some work I would never get near completing it.

I did manage to spend 2 -3 hours in the evening redesigning the database for Monze Diocese Projects in the light of new information provided since I arrived – there is a very long way to go though. (And this should be very much a peripheral activity!)

I headed to catch a bus at about 9.45 this morning. The Pemba bus was leaving “now now” – we know what that means! The bus was half empty, so I was right to be suspicious. However, I was amazed when it set off almost immediately. I was given the front seat – which to my surprise and delight had a working seat belt! Jennipher was at the bus stop to meet me. I don’t know how many times I have walked to her house from town but I would still never find the place on my own. We detoured slightly to meet one of her clients who had apparently expressed a desire to greet me. As we approached the house Sandra, who is now a young woman, ran out to me and gave me a big hug. Sandra and Selina are the only two children still surviving from my first meetings with Jennipher in 2004.

Soloman has recently returned from a long trip to Zimbabwe where he claimed some goods belonging to his mother and grandmother who both tragically died very shortly after reaching Pemba last year. He also returned with Choolwe and her two young children Anna and Margaret. These are the last of Jennipher’s relatives from Zimbabwe. Choolwe has been ill for a while and I believe this delayed Soloman’s return. Jennipher has now arranged for her to receive the medicine she needs and she is improving.

The family was all at home – Mike and Sandra having returned from school for the holidays. Selina and Emmanuel are also doing well. With nine in the family now (if I have counted correctly) it is a bit cramped in their small house. Jennipher would ideally like to build an additional structure with a couple of rooms to house everyone. Soloman is hoping to start making bricks with Mike. However, I know from experience that there will be a lot of extra expensive items that need to be funded, if the dream is to be realised. Around the house orange trees, a mango, bananas and some decorative plants have been planted and at this time of year it looks particularly pretty. Jennipher has a nice home now, but works exceptionally hard and deserves a few breaks after the difficult life she has experienced.

Again bureaucracy is rearing its ugly head! The powers that be believe that all hoses in Pemba should adhere to certain standards and one of these is the provision of electricity. The cost is prohibitive because here you have to pay for all the poles and cable needed to bring power to your home and Jennipher is some way off the beaten track. In addition she doesn’t want the worry of regular bills that she cannot finance. The other solution is to provide lighting – particularly security lighting – using solar panels. So yet another project is being contemplated!

Jennipher says she has now established more than 60 AIDS support groups in Monze District. Her bike has done well – though it grumbles at times. She would really like a ‘Honda’. Last year she talked about a vehicle – thinking about a car – but I couldn’t see how the cost of running could be found. I thought at the time that a small motorbike might be more appropriate – though I didn’t mention it and raise hopes. I think therefore that a Honda motorbike would probably help – Jennipher thinks she could even strap patients to herself to bring them for treatment – I am aware that several have died because she couldn’t bring them to the clinic.

It was good to meet the family again. Emmanuel sat happily on my lap for half an hour before falling asleep in my arms. I couldn’t help think about the grandchildren I have left back home.

On the way to the main road we met the elderly man who built Jennipher’s current house a few years back. He seemed delighted to see me again and dropped his firewood and axe to greet me. We visited the graves of the relatives who died last year. There is nothing marking them and it was a bit overgrown today. They are buried close to where they spent their last days when the local community supported them in an empty house not far from Jennipher. Soloman and Jennipher would like to make a gravestone of some sort for them.

After a few minutes a full minibus arrived and they made room for me! It takes about 30 minutes to Monze from Pemba and I arrived back soon after 14 hrs.

I'll pick from here next time

Best Wishes


Friday, April 9, 2010

Back To Work

Thursday 8th April

We had a storm last night so this morning we have no power.

On Tuesday I started to do the rounds to start to see a few people and made some appointments, but first I called into the Internet Café to send a few mails and try to update my antivirus software.

I went to the hospital and arranged to meet with Dr. Mvula. He said that last year was very difficult because some grants needed to pay everything in the hospital didn’t come in at all. Now the grants they are receiving are less than last year and they have debts as a result of the problems last year. This has inevitably led to shortages – for instance if someone has a break or fracture they have to buy the plaster themselves.

I visited the Pharmacy and Teddy in the Information Office. His computer – running Windows 98 is still working and he told me the patients register now has about 30,000 names. Otherwise the computers seem to be in much the same state as I usually find them – suffering from viruses and lost data.

I met with Sr. Barbara in the afternoon to discuss the projects database. It is clear that a database is needed if the large quantity of data is to be properly analysed. The project is larger and complicated, but I hope to be able to sort something in the time available.

In the evening Chris – who used to be an accountant at the hospital – came around with a friend.

Yesterday I started by having another trip to the Internet Café because my antivirus software failed to update on Tuesday. I decided to try to reinstall – the initial installation download only took a few minutes, but when the subsequent download was predicted to take a further 3 or 4 hours I decided to abandon the idea. Fortunately on another attempt to update the original software I succeeded.

I arranged to meet with Sr. Rachael and Bridget who are looking after the hospital project for Orphaned and otherwise vulnerable children. I had brought some material from Winston’s Wish – the UK charity supporting bereaved children. I brought a few samples with me and agreed to bring the remainder around soon. A girl who came in 2008 on VSO was also with them and five of us piled into a taxi and went to Buntolo to check out the baskets that I think I am bringing back to the UK.

After lunch it was time to meet Sr. Lontia at St. Vincent’s School and talk about the slowly developing link with Christ College in Cheltenham. Both here and in Cheltenham people are keen to develop the link. Communication had been lost for a while with the Cheltenham end – my fault! – but hopefully we can now move forward again.

I was having difficulty contacting some people so I took the opportunity in the afternoon to go to the market and buy some chitenge material. There was a nice piece of material with traditional African scenes on it that I was attracted to. I asked where it was made and was told India! Apparently many of the chitenges are now made in India. Some are made in Tanzania but it is very difficult to find any manufactured in Zambia. I chose a few throughout the market and asked Ireen to choose one for a blouse for Dilys and another for a shirt for me. Ireen first made a shirt for me in 2004 and has made me one every year since. She lost her husband some years ago and works hard at her sewing machine to provide for her children and send them to school. She tells me that this year she is struggling. One of her sons has damaged his arm and she can only work in the afternoons since she is looking after him.

After making a meal in the evening I settled down for a couple of hours to revise the projects database.

Best wishes


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter In Monze

Easter in Monze

Holy Thursday 1st April

I managed to pack everything into one suitcase and my backpack – though both were full to busting!

Justine had arranged a taxi for me which arrived on time at 9 hrs.

When I first arrived in Chisamba Davison had his sister staying with him. She wasn’t well and a week or so back she was taken to hospital. Unfortunately she died a couple of days back. So today Davison was making the journey to Lusaka to the funeral and was going to make use of my taxi. His sister left two small children – the youngest about two years old. They are now double orphans having lost both parents. At the funeral the relatives would decide who would take care of the children - yet another tragic case where children are left bereaved and with an uncertain future.

We dropped Davison on the outskirts of Lusaka and headed for the Inter-City bus station after finding an ATM. One of the disadvantages, or perhaps advantages, of Chisamba is that there are no ATMs for me to use – even near the Chisamba turn-off the ATM refuses to give me money. Hence I am reliant on visits to Lusaka – this probably saves me a fortune!

It was a bit after 10 hrs and the taxi driver told me there should be a coach leaving around 12 hrs. As we arrived a guy hurried us into the bus station telling us that the Livingstone bus was leaving “now now”. (a rough translation is that there will probably be a bus leaving sometime today!) So I booked myself on to the next bus – the 14.30 Shalom service.

I was able to leave my suitcase in the Shalom office (a wooden hut next to the bus stop) and headed into town to kill a few hours. I decided to take the route most used over the railway tracks – there are market stalls across the tracks so I don’t think the trains currently use these tracks. Lusaka is the one place in Zambia where I don’t feel very comfortable. When walking along the paths towards the main road a couple of guys tried to block my way. I suspect that they were working in pairs and while I bumped to one the other was trying to lift money from my pockets. I always take the precaution in Lusaka to have anything of any significance in pockets that are difficult to access. On several occasions I believe attempts have been made to steal money from me. Such experiences don’t encourage you to spend much time in the town.

I found myself a café where I treated myself to a pizza and then spent a while in an Internet café before returning to the bus station. The coach left at about 15 hrs and then called into a garage to fill with fuel. So at 15.30 we made our way out of Lusaka. – about 5 hours after I arrived.

We reached Monze a little after 6 pm and I caught a taxi to Homecraft – my home this year in Monze. I have stayed here in a previous year and it suits me well. It has a bedroom, lounge, kitchen and bathroom – which is all I need. I now have the luxury of armchairs and even a shower with hot water! (and I don’t have to walk over fields to get to it!) For the first time in two weeks I saw myself in a mirror which was a bit of a shock!!

Easter is the most important time for Christians. Although most people enjoy the Easter holidays, in the secular world in which we live in the UK, many people probably don’t understand why this is a holiday – or Holy Day.

The church has a period of preparation for Easter – Lent and the final week – Holy Week – is the climax of the church’s year. On Thursday evening we start three days of special services for Easter (the Triduum).

I arrived in Monze just in time to attend the Holy Thursday Mass. On this evening we remember Jesus’s Last Supper. Jesus was celebrating the Jewish Passover – being a Jew himself – however this meal became a Eucharistic celebration and is the basis of the Christian Eucharistic services. The Catholic mass is our Eucharistic service. Being a very special service and following the reflective period of Lent, the church was filled with song and drumming. After the mass on Holy Thursday it is traditional to spend some time in prayer with Our Lord and we remember before he was arrested he spent time in prayer. In many churches people stay in silent prayer until at least midnight – here the whole congregation stayed for half an hour after the mass. At the end of the service Fr. Kenan welcomed me back to Monze in front of the congregation.

It was during the night of Holy Thursday a few years ago that Jerry Adams & Martin McGuinness sat down with Ian Paisley and representatives from the British Government and signed what is now known as the Good Friday agreement. I remember thinking at the time that it was an appropriate time to discuss the issue of peace in Northern Ireland while Christians worldwide where keeping a vigil of prayer.

Good Friday

I intended taking life easy, but at 8.45 am I heard singing. There was a procession coming from the cathedral. Fr. Kenan carried a cross and the congregation followed. I decided to join them. As Christians in the UK it takes ever more courage to profess your faith. There is increasing mockery of the Christian religion and attempts to suppress the outward signs of our faith. So I have often taken advantage of the Good Friday march of witness as perhaps the only occasion in the year when I openly express my faith to the people I pass in the street. Here we walked through the market stopping regularly to pray and meditate on the last journey taken by Jesus before he was crucified on the cross he was made to carry.

In the afternoon I attended a service at or Lady of the Wayside. I try to worship here whenever possible because we are developing a link between this church and my own church in Cheltenham. The services are only in Chitonga and the church is about 3 – 4 kilometres from the town centre where I stay, but the singing and drumming is very impressive. The service was very dignified and at the end it was Fr. Maambo’s turn to welcome me back.

Holy Saturday

This was my first chance to do some shopping. I had intended to also pay a visit to the nearby dam to see how things looked at this time of year. However, time passed quickly and I decided not to make the journey.

I thought I was told that the Easter Vigil service started at 18 hrs, however only one person was around at that time. When a car pulled up with some priests and nun I checked the scheduled time with them and was told 20 hrs. Passing the church door I checked in the porch and the official time was 19.30.

I returned at 19.15 and a few people were in the pews. The cathedral is too small for the largest celebrations, so it is usual to hold them outside. So everything was set up in the church grounds. There is an ironwork structure which is sometimes covered with canvas – more to shade from the sun than to protect from the rain. From here lights are hung.

At around 21 hrs the lights were switched off, leaving the congregation beneath a wonderful star-filled sky, and the service began. The bishop – originally from Italy -presided over the service. The first part of the service is about light. So a fire was lit and the Easter candle lit from the fire, the flame from the candle was then used to light the candles of the congregation and the ‘church’ was filled with candle light. Being the first mass of Easter the celebration was at its peak with singing, drumming and lots of dancing – both in the pews and the aisles. The bishop also moved in time to the music. At the cathedral there is an English mass a well as a Chitonga mass on Sundays – so readings during this service alternated between the languages. The sermon is given in both languages – a section in Chitonga – then the English translation. (The priest’s and bishop are adept at this presentation, switching backwards and forwards with ease.) During the sermon the bishop related the time when one Holy Saturday he was confronted by an armed ‘Freedom Fighter’ at a time when he was in Rhodesia. The freedom fighter couldn’t understand how a man who died on a cross could be of any help – a mystery that still many find impossible to believe – he waved his gun declaring that to be the answer.

About ten young people were baptised and three were also confirmed during the mass. It concluded at about 11.15 pm and the congregation – male & female – carried the benches back into the church. People then left for home, many using their lighted candles to light their way and as an act of witness.

Easter Sunday

To finish my Easter celebrations I attended Our Lady of the Wayside church in the morning. You will have noticed that the times of services are a little difficult to ascertain. On Sunday it was no different. The usual service is at 10 hrs on Sundays but, because there was no separate children’s mass, I was told it should be at 9 hrs. Despite having plenty of time I found myself rushing to make it (not that I expected mass to start promptly – though sometimes I have been surprised). Though people were around, the church was almost empty when I arrived. On asking I was told that 9.30 am was the starting time. At 9.15 we gathered in the pews and the children gathered around the altar. By 9.30 am the choir was in full song, and at 10 hrs the service commenced!

The bishop had come out to this outlying church to celebrate the mass. He obviously enjoyed the experience involving the congregation during the sermon and getting them to laugh at certain points. There were about 20 children and young adults baptised during this mass.

At the end of mass at this church, the choir goes out first and plays outside while the rest of the congregation process out and are greeted by the priest (bishop) and the altar servers.

Walking back home I was approached by a boy who told me his name was Obert. He said he had seen me in the past at the hospital chapel and seeing me today wanted to talk to me. Osbert has an artificial leg but unfortunately it is now becoming too small for him. His parents cannot afford to pay for a new leg which he believes will cost about 1 million kwacha (approx. £150). Without this leg he will have to rely on crutches.

Before reaching home I was approached a young man who saw me taking photos. He told me he had a studio for music and wanted to make videos but had no camera. He failed his grade 12 exams but hoped to make a living from this work. He had already managed to acquire a computer.

There are very many people in Monze and around who are struggling because of the general poverty in the country. Many need just a little help to move them forward and make life a little better. Every day people approach me. I try to listen to their story but usually just wish them luck and leave them without the extra funds they desire.

I had run out of money so I called in at the Barclays ATM on the way home – only to be told it was only giving balances. The Zanaco ATM welcomed me asked which account I wanted to access and how much I required – then told me they couldn’t complete the transaction.

I arranged to meet Diven for lunch, but, when he didn’t appear after some 15 minutes of waiting, I attempted to locate another Barclays ATM reputed to be in town – this time I was lucky and so I could now finance lunch.

We celebrated Easter with our usual fare nshima chicken for Diven, chicken and chips for me. I enjoyed a couple of Mosis (Zambian beer), while he stuck to Coca Cola

It was time to record some details of the Easter celebrations for our church back in the UK and another day had gone.

Monday 5th April

It is a holiday for many people here in Zambia – as it is back in the UK. I slept in till 7.30 am and took it easy until Best arrived on time at 9 hrs. He had asked me if I would go to his house. It is always a great privilege for me to be invited into a friend’s house here in Monze, so I was delighted to accept. Best lives out to the West of Monze, beyond the little dam. It was a delight to see the fields like a beautiful meadow with numerous flowers in full bloom. At his house one of his cousins had prepared me some traditional food. Pumpkin leaves with pounded groundnuts & some ochra with nshima – all prepared in the traditional Zambian way. This was followed by Sump which comprises maize – some ground and some fresh - and some groundnuts. Everything was very tasty and I enjoyed it all.

After returning home Diven came around and we went to look at a shop he was considering renting. Later in the day he decided to take a cheaper shop without electricity that he felt would suit him better at the moment.

The past couple of hours I have been talking to Luke – catching up on his attempts to fund his personnel studies and picking up on the latest situation in the hospital. It seems that the past year has been particularly difficult at the hospital because the sponsors, who have provide much of the funding for the Zambian Health Service have pulled out, leaving a huge funding gap.

With my love and prayers or this Easter season.