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.


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