Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My final day in Zambia

Tuesday18th May

Is it really almost 3 weeks since I arrived back in England?

It is always a strange experience jumping between the two worlds. In many ways it is like waking from a dream, I am aware of what I have experienced for 6 weeks but somehow it is difficult to make sense of the experience and difficult to really believe it.

After 6 weeks without a television or radio, being thrown into the madness of the last week of election fever, followed by the strange political solution highlighted the contrast. It also made me realise how little news is reported here in the UK – surely in our vast world there is enough happening to provide new news with each bulletin!

I will try to take myself back to Zambia and my final day. I had decided to try to check in before I left Chisamba. This was for two reasons – the first that I didn't want to have to roam Lusaka looking for an Internet cafĂ© and second, the sooner I had a boarding card in my hand and 3 bags checked in, the happier I would be!

So at 8.50 I was already logged into the BA website poised to check in. In fact everything went very smoothly until I tried to print my boarding pass. My 3 bags were accepted without problem and I moved myself to a window seat towards the rear of the plane. I was about to accept that the printer wasn't going to work when there was a familiar banging and clanking and the printer (a new and relatively modern one!) came noisily to life and produced a very acceptable boarding pass. Once again my anxiety was ill-founded.

On Tuesday night I was unwell! Something very unusual for me in Zambia. I suspect that a combination of the concerns about not getting back because of the ash cloud ( particularly knowing how ill Dilys has been over the past few weeks) and worries about the logistics of doing the final few jobs, picking up my bags and getting around Lusaka just send my stomach in a spin. If you add to this not eating or drinking for too many hours, I suppose it wasn't surprising. So when I awoke on Wednesday I was feeling a bit delicate!

A friend of Justine's had agreed to take me to the crossroads, so we set off with Justine and the children after saying farewell to all at Kaliyangile. We have got to know each other quite well during my three weeks this year. It has been particularly good to stay on site where most of the staff are based.

Before very long I was on a small bus heading for Lusaka. I am not sure how many bus stations there are in Lusaka or quite how you know which one you will end up in! Still I am gradually getting to know my way around. (Here in the UK I have the luxury of being able to check things immediately on the Internet. I am told that Lusaka has three bus stations in the centre – which are named – the one I alighted from is a fourth!) So I found myself at Lumumba bus station. I rang Justina who gave me instructions for my next bus. However I was informed that I needed to go to the City Market bus station to catch my intended bus – fortunately not as great distance away! Justine then rang back to tell me to meet her at CHAZ! I had one heavy bag, a backpack and a laptop so I didn't relish a long walk, but still resisted the offers of assistance from the numerous taxi drivers.

I needed to meet up with Best and put him on 'hold' a couple of times as I wasn't sure where I would be when! When I mentioned I was heading for CHAZ he said he had never heard of the place and I agreed to make contact later. One of my little tasks was to pick up yet more kwacha. I frightened myself by adding my ATM receipts a day or too back and wondered where I could have found so much money – let alone where had it gone! My trip to the CHAZ offices at least took me past an ATM or two which sorted one dilemma. After about ½ hour sitting on my bags outside the office I began to wonder whether I had heard “CHAZ” correctly! Then Best sent a text saying he would see me at CHAZ! The chances of the three of us being at the same place at the same time did seem somewhat unlikely, but again I should have had more faith. Justina appeared on the other side of the road and almost immediately spotted a friend (an Irish nun) passing through the town. While they were deep in conversation Best appeared and I was able to introduce him and exchange the laptop. After the happy reunions I was able to go back on another bus (from Kulima Tower bus station) with Justina and pick up my cases from her house.

So by about 4 pm I was settled at Luwisha House, re-acquainting myself with the Jesuit priests I have come to know over the years.

This last night at Luwisha House has become something of a ritual. I can take myself away from my work in Zambia and begin to prepare for the transition to the UK. The surroundings and people are familiar and they also act as a bridge between North and South. Many of the priests have spent most of their lives in Africa, though they have roots in Europe or America. This time I was fortunate in being present for a community mass. We sat in the lounge for the service and it was a privilege to be included in the Community. I had shared at supper the difficulties Dilys had been having back home, so special prayers were offered for her during the service. After a short meeting, at which I was asked to stay, drinks and snacks were offered to finish a very pleasant evening.

Once again a hot shower was a luxury and I could indulge myself with the remainder of my shampoo and shower gel.

5.20 am was time to arise on the Thursday morning. My taxi was there on the dot of 6 am and whisked me off to the airport before I had any chance to say a final goodbye! Before 7 hrs I was in the departure lounge without any problems. I did have to open one of the bags containing the baskets, but the official was happy with the contents. The immigration officer queried how I needed a work permit if I was retired. Neither incident concerned me somehow and as to whether I am retired or self-employed but not being paid, working or visiting friends I decided not to go there!

I had intended using a few kwacha to buy a bottle or two, but my flight was called early and I was too late. Remembering last year when I had a black carrier bag with a few litres of liquid on the plane, I decided it probably saved me some more worry.

As we waited at the gate a couple of young lads did there best to murder each other and had to be stopped by the staff . On being asked who one boy was to the other, it was established that they were brothers. I was amazed that these teenagers could think it acceptable behaviour and was ashamed of my re-introduction to 'western' world. I am reminded of a discussion with a Zambian about teaching in Europe and his reaction that he couldn't possibly cope with the behaviour of European schoolchildren that he had witnessed.

On boarding the plane I found that my window seat had been taken by a very attractive young Zambian woman. I delayed insisting on my rights and once we were airborne noticed that at least she did seem to enjoy the view. She was heading for Norway where a cousin had settled. She was taking 3 months leave – something not unusual in Zambia (you can accumulate leave over a number of years and take it in one go). She had flown once before to Scandinavia in 2003 but couldn't recall much of that journey. As it happened she decided a swap mid-flight was appropriate, so I got plenty of time to enjoy the Sahara.

As usual the timing of meals on the flights was far from ideal. Lunch was at 10.30am and supper at about 6pm (Zambia time). This leaves the stomach a bit confused (a full English breakfast at 7 am didn't help!). It was cloudy over Europe which was a shame – particularly for Sheila – my new Zambian friend.

Sheila was concerned about the transit arrangements since she had less than an hour between landing at Heathrow and taking off for Oslo. Heathrow Terminal 5 can be a bit daunting! If you have travelled little, are not familiar with the UK, English is your second language (or worse!) then it can be a nightmare! Fortunately our routes followed the same path for the trickiest part. We descended the three flights of escalators from the disembarkation gate (the first time Sheila had used an escalator). We then boarded the driverless underground train that took us to the main terminal building. Sheila spotted a lift which she favoured to take us back to ground level – she didn't fancy more rides on the escalators and had already refused the moving walkway (and this from someone who had done white water rafting and bungy jumping!). I accompanied her along the corridors to the gates for her flight and left her in the capable hands of the staff. It wasn't far for me to go back to find immigration and swiftly pick up my three cases.

Once again I saw no one in the customs hall, though I spotted a few cameras and wondered whether people might suddenly appear or whether mechanical hooks would scoop suspicious characters into nearby interrogation rooms! Fortunately no such happening occurred to me and I was soon in the arrivals lounge.

Barby was busy getting herself a coffee when I arrived so I asked her to order one for me and we sat and relaxed for a few minutes before the journey home. It was good to get behind the wheel of a car again and drive back. It was also very good to get back home and be with Dilys again – especially after all she has been through during my absence.

The past three weeks seem to have been busy. I went straight up to Yorkshire the day after getting home, to play with the grandchildren, while Helen and Demi went to a friend's wedding. I have also been busy working on the Monze Diocese database, reporting back to HATW and trying to finalise arrangements for the visit of our Burmese friend. I have been in touch with Jennipher, Diven and Justine since returning and expect to maintain regular contact.

So what are my thoughts after this recent trip?

Once again I am a little surprised to be able to say that I felt the visit was very productive. It was important to visit the Kaliyangile project at this time. It gave me a chance to develop a close working relationship particularly with Justine. I also got to know Davison better. As always there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed and these are not easy to deal with at a distance.

It was good to see Zambia as the rains were finishing. The dry arid world I am used to had been transformed with tall green grass interspersed with pretty wildflowers. I did find it strange to leave the maize to dry on the plants. It seemed to me that the crops had been abandoned – of course in the UK anything left would soon rot.

Easter was very special. Having returned I miss the joy of the services in Zambia. We can learn a huge amount from the way in which the people in Zambia take a full part in the liturgical services. Their singing, drumming and dancing put our celebrations to shame.

Six weeks is not a long time! When split between two locations it felt very brief – especially in respect of Monze where my personal commitment is. I intend to go back in November for a visit of a similar length, but how my trips will be programmed in future years is very unclear. What I am committed to is a continuing relationship with Zambia and particularly the people of Monze.

It was very good to meet up again with many friends and to see them developing. The decent weather has given people a lot of hope this year. As always poverty is a huge problem in Zambia. The health service in the past year has deteriorated and essential medicines are materials are no longer available. The world financial problems mean that some are cutting down on their support for the poorest and Zambia is one of the poorest countries.

The problems of Zambia are too huge for me to resolve but if I can bring a little hope to just a few people then it has to be worthwhile and for me being with the people of Zambia brings a huge smile to my face which is something you cannot buy.

I expect this blog to have a rest for a while but no doubt by November it will once again be brought out of its slumber. Until then take care,

with my love and prayers