Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back in the Bush

Tuesday 30th November

Back in Monze the rains arrived last night, falling for much of the night and up to about 10 hrs. There will no longer be any delay before people start planting their crops. I heard Lusaka (and probably Chisamba) also had some decent rain.

On Saturday morning I met with the management committee at Kaliyangile. It is always good to have a chance to listen to the local views and ideas in relation to the project and it is an opportunity for me to discuss the role of HATW and our supporters.

I decided to repeat my walk of the previous visit. The clouds were amassing and it looked as if rains were bound to fall, but although rain could be seen in the distance I was spared a soaking. I recalled the year in England when, wherever I walked, I remained dry. Sometimes I believe the Lord smiles upon us in these little ways.

Sunday was the first day of Advent – the time when, as Christians, we start our preparations for Christmas – the Birthday of Jesus. The secular world in the UK starts preparing in September – or earlier with the usual glitter and tinsel, though often the relevance of this Christian celebration is forgotten. At mass the children presented a play and read from the scriptures. It was well done and appreciated by the congregation and the priest. The altar was adorned with symbols of this time – an Advent wreath with four candles – one for each week in Advent, a Jesse tree containing names from the ancestry of Jesus and on the back wall were painted words reflecting the meaning of Advent, such as preparation and anticipation.

I decided once again to go for a walk. I wanted to go for a long walk but was aware that today there were few clouds to shade the sun. I had thought the suntan lotion I brought from the UK was not one that I was allergic to. Dilys, however was right and so, when I used it earlier on the trip, I came out in a rash. I have avoided it since, but haven't done any significant walks. In the event I decided not to stop as intended but to keep walking until the path took me to a more wooded area. Probably 1 hour when the sun was at it hottest. However I had my cap on and with my arms by my sides the sun was shaded by the short sleeves.

It is the time of year here when the sun is directly overhead at midday. So in fact, when walking, the
suns rays only glance most of the body. When I raised my binoculars, however, the intense heat of the sun suddenly became apparent. Lying in the sun here without very strong sun block would not be a good idea for us with pale skins!

I enjoyed my walks in the bush this weekend. The sounds of the birds are interesting and different from the UK. It is a joy when I manage to identify one of the birds. Little features now sometimes lead me to recalling the species – a small bee-eater, a fork tailed drongo and a couple of rollers were birds I recognised. Butterflies of a variety of colours add to the scene and one of the many beautiful locusts – often initially confused for small birds because of their size – caught my eye and completed a very African scene.

Over the years so much has become familiar. The fact that to see another 'white' face is a rarity, mothers with babies strapped to their backs with Chitenges and carrying all manner of items balanced on their heads, is part of everyday life as are so many small scenes. After mass a large group of children climbed into the back of a truck and at the other end of the High Street dismounted and ran back towards the church having enjoyed their little adventure.

Back at the Guest House I had chicken and nshima for supper while a heated debate was raging in the bar. The question under discussion was whether Jesus was God or “just” the Son of God. I reflected that I couldn't imagine such a debate taking part in a bar in the UK. Football or politics might be discussed, but people quoting from the bible to justify their theological beliefs is not something I would expect!

After supper I wondered whether to risk joining the debate which was still being pursued with great vigour. I was invited to join the group – many of whom I had met before. One lad, who had obtained his biblical knowledge from the Jehovah's Witnesses, seemed to be outnumbered by Christians of other persuasions. Eventually I was asked for my views. My personal views are heavily influenced by my Roman Catholic beliefs, but I remember a BBC programme presented by a guy who claimed to be agnostic. He looked at the historical information about Jesus and concluded that the evidence confirms that Jesus did exist and that he was known as a teacher and a healer, also that Jesus believed that he was God. I also said that different Christian groups had their own interpretation of the bible – I happen to believe mine is correct – however I might be wrong! I believe that whatever religion we believe in, as long as we try to be open to God and do what we sincerely believe is right, the theological differences are not important. It is interesting that at the heart of so many religions is the belief that we are meant to respect each other and God's creation, to live in peace and to look after the weakest. It is a shame that many, who claim to be driven by religion, forget these basic principles.

Even in the drink fuelled bar at Chisamba it was something of a privilege to be included in their debate.

After a quick meeting with Justine yesterday morning I set off for Monze. I checked on the availability of the “Birds of Zambia” through contacts I was given but wasn't sure enough that the book I was talking about was the same as that on offer – so I decided not to make a long detour to the other side of town to check. One day I will obtain a copy!

From Chisamba to Monze seems to take a day! I left at about 10 hrs and Justine dropped me at the crossroads were I soon caught a minibus to Lusaka. I walked through town, had a quick bite and jumped onto a medium sized 'Rosa' bus. It left within half an hour. I wasn't sure why, when we filled up with fuel, the bus was rocked from side to side by the driver! We made good progress, except when going uphill – but fortunately didn't need to get out to push! At Mazabuka we called at two more garages. It is always a little disconcerting when repeated visits are made to garages. At the second, a watering can was passed through the drivers window and the guys at the front stood up while hissing noises came that area – much to their amusement. Eventually water must have been poured into the radiator and we were on our way again. (Livingstone is less than 300 km so it should have made it!!)

I arrived back home at 17 hrs and staff were still working in the Diocesan Offices, so retrieving my keys wasn't a problem. There was no electricity, so I made a salad, read for a while and turned in early.

This morning the electricity had still not returned and by mid morning the water also stopped flowing. I visited the hospital and met Sichone. In 2004 one of the first areas I looked at was the stores and there I met Sichone. He lost his mother recently and has been away from the hospital for a while as a result. It was good to once again touch base with him.

Diven came around at lunchtime and Jennipher also joined us. Jennipher is getting prepared for World AIDS day tomorrow - December 1st. She usually takes a very active part in the events here in Monze and subsequently has activities back at Pemba with her own support groups.

This evening I joined Diven for a meal and a couple of Mosis at Tooters. By about lunchtime the power and water returned – though initially the water was very brown. Soloman had picked some wild mushrooms for me this morning, which Jennipher delivered – so I treated myself to a plateful before heading out.

Its now past the time to get on the Internet but I will give it a go anyway.

Best wishes


Friday, November 26, 2010

Windows working sort off

Friday 26th November

The rains keep promising but don't quite arrive – at least not here. The farmer with fields next to Kaliyangile took a chance and planted a few days ago. He could be in trouble!

Last night I found that I could get into most of the Windows applications – including Firefox and the MTN Modem – hence the blog posting last night. I also can access my photo manipulation program 'Gimp' which is excellent at reducing the size of photos – essential here if you want to put them on the net. However, the system is still not really usable with Windows for a computer novice.

I tidied the accounts system for Kaliyangile and did a bit of analysis which, of course, showed that more funds need to be found to make ends meet.

I can't cope with three cooked meals here, so at lunchtime I have taken to eating an egg with some bananas and of course a mango or two. I added a few roasted and salted peanuts to today's lunch.

Life here is less frantic than in Monze – which is probably just as well. I have had a few calls asking when I will be back, because there are things for me to do!

At supper one of the guys said he lives about 60 km away. A place where most people have never seen a 'white man'. He said they would be delighted if I visited. One day I must take up such an offer and go deep into the bush. I am sure that it would be a wonderful experience. Although I have been off the beaten track a little, I haven't been to any of the really remote areas.

Well I will surprise you by finishing here! A short blog at last!


P.S. I will try to add a picture of a proper mango!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Back in Chisamba

Thursday 25th November

The weather has turned cooler and the cloud cover has increased. Though it is unlikely to compare with what I hear is happening in the UK. Temperatures today only reached about 28 °C and I still turned red waiting and travelling in the minibus yesterday.

I attended mass at 6.30 am yesterday and set off for Lusaka at a little after 8 am. The bus moved off quickly, but stopped along the main road until it was full. I still forget what full means! When we set off we had five adults wedged into the four seats in our row. Behind us there were 5 seats but children don't count, so an additional 3 or 4 joined the adults. The bus was the all stopping variety. Which means that if anyone is at the side of the road the driver stops and the conductor tries to persuade them to come for the ride – irrespective of the number of passengers already aboard.

As a result it was about 12 hrs before we reached the drop off point in Lusaka. The buses used to go into the bus station in town, but, probably because of the traffic jams, they now stop as we enter the city and it is a short walk into town.

I had arranged to meet up with Justina at the CHAZ offices and she was waiting for me when I arrived. We talked a little about her project to set up “LIFE Zambia” and then caught up on other topics. We were joined by a lady from CHAZ and a guy who originated from Rotterdam and was acting as a consultant for organisations involved with NGOs. They were enjoying nshima and fish which looked rather appetising – maybe the menu at CHAZ isn't as fictitious as I had imagined – one day I might even get my crocodile steak!

Justina led me to a bus station to catch a little bus to Chisamba. I was told to take the front seat and, when the girl who had been sitting there protested, she was told that girls aren't allowed in the front, (and the driver wasn't going to let me sit in the back). I told her that he wouldn't get away with that in England. Apparently she was the first on the bus at 9hrs and was told it would be going by 12. It was 14hrs and we didn't set off till 14.40 – and then we only moved a few metres before stopping for another 20 minutes!

I decided to get a taxi from the crossroads rather than get Justine to pick me up. I wasn't sure how many passengers we had since people got in and out over a period of a few minutes. I expected to wait an hour or so until we had sufficient passengers, but suddenly someone said “let's go” and the taxi filled immediately and off we went!

I was greeted warmly by the staff at the guest house and given my usual room – this time they have installed the mosquito net much to my relief. While waiting for Justine, Patrick, who is very much involved with the project, appeared and was surprised to see me. I also got chatting to a guy who said that his father was involved in the fight for independence along with Sata who is now one of the current opposition leaders. Unfortunately Zambia is a country that has been getting worse economically over recent years. Many blame the politicians. The current ruling party has now been in power for 20 years and it isn't easy to displace them.

I enjoyed my nshima beef yesterday, today I am told chicken is on the menu – so I will have that for a change.

I decided to give the bar a miss, instead I read and had an early night.

It rained a little last night. I enjoyed a breakfast of eggs and chips, with a few cups of tea before heading for Kaliyangile – our Chisamba project. One day the windpump will be working again and that will be a great joy for me – until then I will just hope!

It was time to catch up with Justine, the Centre Manager. As always there are plenty of challenges. HATW have recently started using Global Giving and The Big Idea to help raise funds for projects in which we are involved. We hope to add PIZZ in Monze and Kaliyangile here in Chisamba to the list. One of the major issues here is transport costs. Almost everything needs to be brought from Lusaka which adds to the cost. Justine suggested that a small van might be a cost effective investment. There is a lot to be done here and as usual funds are hard to come by. However, if a few young people can be given a chance to make a reasonable living then it will be well worthwhile.

I tried the latest fix for the computer and progress is being made! I can now open in Windows as far as the Desktop Background. However icons and toolbars there are none! However I am actually composing this in Open Office using Windows! I suspect that I will be able to open any Windows application using a rather convoluted method. If it works I will attempt to send this blog later using the modem – and might even add some photos!

I will run out before supper and buy some airtime.

Best wishes


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Trip to Pemba and Remembering Friends

Saturday 20th November

I decided to go to mass at the chapel this morning.

November is a month when, in the Catholic Church, we remember those who have died. At the chapel we are invited to write the names of anyone that we would like to be specially remembered – particularly those who have died during the previous year.

Names are read out during mass and today Cathy Andrews was among them. Cathy was a good friend who supported myself and Dilys in a variety of ventures over many years. She was very interested in life in Monze and the people here. Unfortunately she died earlier this year before I had a chance to relate the details of my Easter visit. It seemed very fitting to remember her today, here among the people of Monze.

Just after 9hrs I set off for Pemba. Consultants were meant to call around to the flat to look at the crack in a wall so I left the keys with a neighbour.

I boarded a small minibus and there wasn't much delay before we got underway – though I think I was caught on the price! As we approached Pemba Police Checkpoint, the driver put on his blue shirt and buckled his seat belt. I have no doubt he was back to normal after he dropped us off. Jennipher met me close to the Post Office where the bus stopped. As we walked to her house several people greeted us. Just before we reached our destination Jennipher told me that one of the women who answered my greeting with kabotu (I'm fine) had recently had her house burnt down and lost all her possessions. Even the clothes she was wearing had to be provided by the support group – her food was also burnt in the fire. People often burn the land to prepare for planting the new crop, and sometimes the flames get out of hand resulting in devastating consequences. Very few people in Zambia will have any insurance against such incidents and therefore can be literally left with nothing. At least her small child was rescued before it could come to any harm - though it was left naked.

A group was waiting to greet me. They have been provided with some land on which to grow some maize – their need was some seed and fertilizer. Like most places in Zambia the quality of the soil is very poor – this is blamed on the constant use of fertilizer. I am not sure of the processes, but it does seem to me that there is a vested interest in ensuring that, every year, farmers need to go back to buy more fertilizer. Some people are using the anthills which apparently provide much better and longer lasting nourishment to the soil. There are plenty about but I am told it takes a lot of labour to dig out the hills. (Those who have read my blogs before might remember that anthills here are often
5x5x5 – and that's metres!)

At the house I met Selina, Soloman, Mike, Anna and Margaret. Selina I have known since she was a very small child. Soloman too has been part of the family for some years and provides a lot of manpower to keep the family going. Mike is at home because he was ill a week or so back but he told me he was returning to school tomorrow. Mike is embarrassed sometimes at school because he hasn't any decent cothes to wear other than his uniform. Anna and Margaret's mother, Choolwe, died a couple of months ago. Margaret is 14 months old and was a bit uncertain about me when I arrived today, but we invented a game which amused her, and before I left she was happy to come to me and sit on my knee.

The major absentee was Sandra who is away at school. I understand that she will start grade 12 next year – the final year of Secondary school. Along with Selina, I have known Sandra for almost as long as I have known Jennipher. They are as close to family as I have in Zambia, and it is a joy to see them grow and develop. Sandra is quiet, but has taken on a lot of responsibility over the years – looking after Selina and doing much of the housework. I was delighted that Jennipher encouraged her to go to school and she is doing very well. Selina is now taken on many of the roles that Sandra used to have – looking after Margaret and doing household chores – though she cannot be more than 8 years old.

Emmanuel the other little one – not much more than one year old - is now staying with a relative in Lusaka. Emmanuel's mother died in the hospital soon after his birth, with no known relatives. So Jennipher took him in. However, after Choolwe died, Jennipher felt she couldn't look after two children so young and the relative offered to care for him.

On the way to her home Jennipher was telling me how many of her clients were dying too young. I remembered the children she has cared for over the years that are no longer with us. Osbert, Twambo, Chimunya and Raquel all died as children. As Jennipher says, even better transport enabling patients to get to hospital sooner, would save many lives. Jennipher would love to have a vehicle. In the past I have felt that a motorbike might be a practical solution, making it easier for her to visit clients in the more distant areas. I felt that a car or truck would cost too much to run. However, Jennipher pointed out today, that Soloman can drive and would use the vehicle to take passengers, when it was not needed for clients. This would provide an income to cover the maintenance and fuel costs – plus a bit to spare. I was told a good secondhand vehicle can be bought for 15 million kwacha (£2,000). There is no doubt that Jennipher would have been able to save some lives if she had a car, rather than a bike, when she met very ill patients.

Jennipher's bike is suffering from travelling very many miles over rough tracks. A number of repairs are needed before it can be used again – at the moment she is back to her old bike.

The major problem faced by Jennipher and her family is the difficulty in accessing clean water. For the past couple of years, Jennipher has enjoyed the luxury of mains water at (or just outside) her house for the first time in her life. About 5 months ago, the pump at the local water plant burnt out and they haven't yet found the resources to replace it. This means a 2 km trek to find water and then it isn't clean. A well that was built for Jennipher, in her garden, a few years ago was damaged and, after a recent inspection, it was decided that it would be too dangerous to repair.

I think we could do with a Secret Millionaire out here – there is no doubt we could find plenty of areas where she could make a huge difference to the lives of so many here. I find it very difficult, because however poor I think I am, in comparison to people here, I am hugely wealthy. (Though not for long, with my large list of friends.)

Jennipher is doing a wonderful job and I try to support her as best I can – but with 65 support groups that she has set up (and more, like Poliqueen, on the way!), plus the needs of her family, I must find additional support for her work back in the UK.

When I got back home the consultants had been and gone to get their tools. I logged on at the Internet café and found a message from F-prot about my computer problem – possibly a solution. As usual, I copied the message to read later. I picked up some dried kapenta and some beans for meals in the next few days and went to the market to stock up on chitenges. I was asked to bring some back for a friend at church and I need a couple for Ireen, so she can make some shirts. I now have plenty!!

The consultants were busy measuring everything when I returned. I thought that they were just investigating a crack in my bedroom wall but it appears the whole building is being checked out – including all my rooms. I am just praying that it will take 4 weeks or more before they can agree what is needed and start work.

I am realising that my new book is rather familiar. I just hope that my computer can be soon repaired because my reading material is becoming limited. The fixed computer would have a few games to keep me amused and allow me to relax a bit!

Bye for now


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mangoes, Stick Insects and a Return to the Police Station

Friday 19th November

The rains have not yet come! By now this part of Zambia should be receiving regular rain and work should be well underway planting crops in the fields. Erratic weather has made maize production very precarious in recent years. The fear now is that when it rains it will be very heavy and cause flooding.

On Wednesday morning I spent a while with Vincent going through the basics of ACCESS – he was very quick to pick up the system. I am hopeful that he will be able to develop the system himself in future.

Wednesday afternoon I had an appointment with Fr Kenan at the Sacred Heart's church. I first met Fr. Kenan in 2007 in London, since when our paths have kept crossing here in Monze. We had a chance to talk a little about the growing partnership between the two church communities in Monze and Cheltenham. When asked about the areas where support was most needed, he told me that education was extremely important at all levels. At Primary (Basic) school some children's parents (or guardians) cannot afford to buy uniforms, shoes or even pens and pencils, so without a little support some children will not receive any education. At Secondary level there are fees to pay for lessons and additional fees for exams. In Monze there is little work available, so finishing school and passing grade 12 exams leaves someone far from securing a career. Some students benefit from vocational training such as that provided at Homecraft where I am staying. Here they learn something that can enabl them to develop a trade. College and University, for academically gifted students, will also give much better chance of a positive future, but, as I have found out, the costs are high. (Though not compared with UK costs – especially under the new government.)

There are no benefits available here for most of the elderly people. The church tries to provide a little food etc. when funds allow, but with church collections of about £10 a week there is not a lot to spare! So addition support here is also very valuable.

On Thursday Jennipher returned to take me back to the police station. She was a little late because the bus had been stopped by the police on the way. It appeared that the driver was not wearing the official blue shirt that all bus drivers here are required to wear. Anyway she arrived in time for us to meet the embryo Monze police support group, or Polqueen as it will probably be called.

It is very humbling to be invited to meet with a group of local people who are discussing some very personal issues. I always regard it as an honour and one that I must be careful to treat with the utmost respect.

The group consisted mainly of police officers and their wives. I was told that the police station has only one tap and that is outside in the grounds – this is used to supply the police officers and the prisoners. There are no HIV/AIDS testing and counselling facilities at the police station so officers and prisoners need to attend the hospital for testing, monitoring and obtaining their drugs. This is difficult because officers stand out and are noticed at the hospital clinic. Word of their status then gets around. This discourages them from attending. They also have to wait - perhaps the whole day – to be seen. They cannot do their work during this period. Some also felt they were treated very badly at the hospital (perhaps because of their profession). The prisoners need to be escorted, thus causing them embarrassment. It would therefore be very much better if a unit could be set up at the police station.

Many of the police officers have no knowledge about HIV/AIDS and the needs of those with the disease. This results in medicines not being made available on time, a lack of understanding of the need for food etc. (some prisoners are left days without receiving their drugs). I was told of one prisoner who kept collapsing after taking the drugs because he had insufficient food. One of the group's aims is to educate the officers to ensure that adequate care is provided to those on drugs.

Other issues raised were the problems of infected mothers being unable to afford the dried milk to feed their children. (Even officers can find the cost too much – especially if they have many other mouths to feed and school fees etc. to meet.) They also mentioned a desire to be in contact with an AIDS networking group where single people who are HIV+ can meet with others and perhaps marry.

The group would like to have the opportunity to generate a little income through chicken rearing, a piggery or some land. The group have ideas about a resource centre and other possibilities. It is clear that the group is very keen to be active and make a difference. No doubt they will be looking for sponsorship to get things moving. Some money they will raise themselves through sponsored walks etc.

Jennipher told the group a bit about her experience as a person with AIDS and explained the process for becoming registered as a support group and the benefits that resulted.

We returned with one of the police officers. She told us that when her first child was born she was unaware that she was infected. She breast fed the baby who contracted AIDS and died. With her next child she had to fight to be provided with dried milk – as a result she has a healthy child. She has also been bringing up a boy since he was about a year old. He is unaware that he has AIDS though he is on ARVS (Anti-retroviral drugs). When he is a little older she will have to explain that he contracted the disease from his mother. Such stories are far too common in Zambia.

I called at the hospital in the afternoon and spent a little time with Dr. Mvula who suggested I returned in the morning. He would speak to the managers about what I could usefully do at the hospital during this visit.

I called around at the chapel and stayed for mass at 17 hrs. On Wednesday there was a mass for deceased hospital workers. In previous years I have attended such masses, but somehow I felt that it was better to give it a miss this time. Perhaps it is because I don't feel part of the hospital in the same way as I did in previous years.

I went out to get some shopping and look at a possible shop with Diven. By the time I had prepared a salad for myself and had a shower I was too tired to tackle the computer, so I read for a while before turning in.

I apologise for the lack of photos. At the moment, I have no way of reducing the size of the photos and the Internet here would have difficulty uploading the full size files. I hope soon to sort this out and make up for lost time – in the meantime please bear with me. I have had what I suspect is a type of stick insect in my kitchen for the past few days. He (or maybe she) hardly seemed to move for days – but I think she is nocturnal because the other day she moved from the spot by the tea towel. Unfortunately I didn't notice her and she ended up being washed with my mug. This seems to have upset her and she is no longer to be seen – but I have a photo!

I have not kept you abreast of the mango situation! Since arriving in Zambia this year, mangoes have been available wherever I have been - this is unprecedented. Although it is sometimes possible to obtain mangoes in Lusaka at this time of year, it is usually not much before December that they appear in Monze. However, I can just walk a few metres into the edge of the market and mangoes are plentiful. So I am feasting! I will take a picture of a mango for those who have never seen a fresh mango. I slit the skin (at which point juice pours from the fruit) and it peels back easily, exposing the juicy flesh that surrounds the large stone. You always need a wash after proper mango eating! I will send the photo and try to stop drooling – I will attack another mango after writing this blog!

Today I had a useful meeting with Dr. Mvula and agreed to give a presentation to the management team, with perhaps a follow up meeting or two. On the way I bumped into Lashford – the builder who was involved with the ICU, extension of male and children's wards and PIZZ school – all of which were HATW projects in Monze ,where I have had some involvement. He told me that there hasn't been much work about this year, but he hopes it will pick up in the next month or two.

I called into a few hospital departments. I handed some donated glasses in at the eye clinic. Sometimes people send their 'cast-offs' and they are no more use here than in the UK – old computers often fall into this category. However, I was assured that the glasses were very welcome. Elderly people sometimes have cataract operations performed, but cannot afford to buy any glasses. I was told that the donated glasses would prevent them from falling down holes! I think perhaps it is another illustration of donors not understanding the world in which they are working. They will fund the 'glamorous' surgery, yet won't finish the job - ensuring the patient can see properly by supplying some decent glasses.

I called into the ART clinic and chatted to Mrs. Phiri. Last time we met she was due to go on maternity leave. She told me that the baby died at about 5 months old. I seem to recall that she has suffered several miscarriages, so this must have been a particularly terrible blow.

Ennis was in the hospital and said hallo. He has a new car and I met his wife for the first time. Ennis suffered an accident which left him paralysed. He is the only person I have met so far, whose firm has provided a modified vehicle for the former employee to drive.

A trip to Buntola gave me time to gather, and record, my thoughts as I sat in the shade waiting. Unfortunately the lad with the key to the gate wasn't about, so we walked back to the hospital and I returned home for lunch.

I am still awaiting the answers to my laptop problems and today, the Internet didn't provide them. On the way back from the café Marvel said hallo. He told me that he still remembered Karen and Arthur from the HATW group in 2003.

This evening I had problems loading Ubuntu – though I eventually succeeded.

I will sign off – and take a back-up before closing the computer.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And it was all Going so Well!

Tuesday 16th November

I returned from Lusaka this evening and am writing this blog on a notebook given to me to pass on to someone here in Zambia.

I was feeling very proud of myself yesterday morning. I was very much in charge. The projects data had all been converted into thousands of records in my database Mrs. Sianga was very happy with her new laptop. Then it happened! I had just posted my blog when my ant-virus detected a virus and deleted some files. I then received a few error messages that I ignored, but found irritating. I decided to restart the computer and it went into a loop of starting and closing down before becoming in any way useful. I am told it is no longer necessary to have the installation or recovery disks to recover from a Windows system failure. If anyone out there knows how please could you tell me the secret!

So Monday didn't start well. With hehelp of Ubuntu I did what I should have done and produced a back-up copy of all the changes made since I left the UK and wrote a few letters to be sent by e-mail. Of course the modem does not support Ubuntu so my e-mail facility has also gone.

I remembered that I had an appointment with Charles at 10 hrs. He arrived by 10.30 and we headed for the project site about 15 km East of the town. A little maize has been started in the garden and some vegetables harvested. There have been some problems with insect attacks and insecticides have been used. Charles is learning about Conservation gardening and is gradually trying to introduce it in his projects. Natural remedies for insect problems are part of the plan but not yet being implemented.

We talked a little about Jatropha which Charles ad been encouraged to grow as a hedge, though animals stoped it from developing this year. Apparently he has been told that Jatropha destroys the soil and asked me what I thought. I said I would tend to trust the view of those teaching conservation farming - what did they think? They say it destroys the soil! Jatropha is grown for bio-fuel. I believe that bio-fuels are a means of allowing the 'developed countries' to do some creative accounting with carbon credits instead of reducing the amont of CO2 we throw into the atmosphere. Charles admitted that here in Zambia people are being thrown out of their homes so that Jatropha can be grown. Bio-fuels are no answer to Climate Change and if allowed to continue to develop will cause a lot more hunger in places like Zambia.

The ox-cart I bought for my father's second silver wedding anniversary is still going strong, though it will need new tyres soon and a bolt or too for the gate at the back.

We had a quick trip to the west before the taxi driver dropped me at Homecraft.

I decided to postpone an afternoon meeting till another day and instead did a little shopping, offloaded my last bottle ofoil of cloves and prepared for Lusaka.

I awoke at about 5.30 am and sorted myself out. I was surprised to find that by 6.20 am there were no buses outside Tooters. I don't think I have experienced this phenomenon before - except perhaps late at night. Occasionally things happen here on time - it appears that the 6 am buses leave at 6 am. When I enquired about the buses I gained another friend. Rasta said he worked at Tooters and had seen me sometimes having a meal with Diven and wasn't sure whether I was a doctor or a priest (or as it turns out neither of the above). He advised me against getting on a bus that had just come in because it would be rounding for a long time. (It isn't unusual to spend an hour or two waiting until the conductor had filled the bus - they don't leave until they are full. Under Rasta's guidance I caught a bus that left at about 6.50 am. I was at the CHAZ offices by 10 hrs and had left with all the documentation complete by 11.30 am. Immigration insist on a 'bank certified' cheque. As I haven't a account at a Zambian bank I leave it to CHAZ to sort it. However this process can take up to a week! I am hoping when the cheque arrives the man from CHAZ will beable to present the documents and get my receipt! A receipt here seems to be nearly as good as a permit.

I tried to send my mails but found the files had been corrupted. This did nothing to my general disquiet and anything to do with immigration doesn't help my stress levels.

Only on Saturday I was saying that when things start going wrong I often recognise the Lord at work. I suspect that i6.ts time for me to accept a little lesson in humility.

I met Best at lunchtime and we had a bite together. He has almost completed his course at college for a Diploma in Law. Best was sponsored in the last years at school by our parishioners in Cheltenham and has proved a very able and conscientious student. He has also done his best to contribute to his own costs by working during the holidays. He expects to have the opportunity to go on to University to study for a degree, however I can't see where the sponsorship will come from. He will need at least £2,000 a year for 3 or 4 years. (Although he has said that for £2,000 he could buy a car that afriend would use as a taxi. This would produce enough income to cover the costs of future years. This would only mean additional funding for one year and would save him the embarrassment of begging for funds. I have been struck by recent tales of two people faced with apparently impossible funding problems who have had the faith to say they would leave it to the Lord. I think perhaps I need to be the third! I am already frightened by how easily money is vanishing here!

I was expecting to meet with Justina but it wasn't to be, so Best directed me to the Inter City bus station and I caught Booker's Express which dropped me at The Golden Pillow at 18hrs.

I will try to send this tomorrow somehow.


Monday, November 15, 2010

An Epidemic of Toothache

Sunday 14th December

I suspect that there is a strange law of Physics that makes time go faster in Zambia! I seem to get up, do one or two small things and find it is already after midnight!

The toothache epidemic has continued! I gave away the third bottle of oil of cloves today and have promised my last to another friend with the affliction. I was told today that the price for extracting a tooth has risen from 13,000 to 50,000 kwacha (about £7). My friend said she couldn't find that sort of money. Funding issues at the hospital have led them to increase prices. As always, the poorest suffer most – though, in Monze, the majority would find it difficult to afford a tooth extraction. I suspect this has a lot to do with the huge demand for my magic bottles.

So what was I up to on Friday? - The background work at the moment is the projects database for Monze Diocese. This allows me to be usefully occupied when I am not meeting someone in relation to one of my many other projects. Mrs. Sianga came around in the morning and we talked a little about how the school and her other activities were progressing. She has been receiving some funding over the years to provide supplementary feeding for 240 children – some of whom attend government schools. Unfortunately the main donor has not provided any funds since July – though she is hopeful that they will resume. The result is the many of the children are no longer at school, instead they are moving around the streets trying to sell small items to provide a little income for food.

I showed Mrs. Sianga her laptop, with Internet connection and webcam. She seemed very pleased. She should no longer need to pay someone to type examination papers etc. in itself this will be will be useful. We agreed to get together to go into more detail about the accounts system (when I have devised it!) and other uses for the computer.

I then rushed around to the hospital to try a couple of things to fix the computer in the Cervical Cancer Unit. Fortunately by using Micro$oft's system restore feature I was able to fix the fault. I have to admit that XP has one or two useful features, much as I hate to praise Micro$oft for anything!

Judy had my letter ready. This states that I am still required by the hospital and endorses my application to renew my Work Permit. I therefore rang my friend at CHAZ to arrange an appointment in Lusaka to get things moving at Immigration.

After lunch I had a little while to make progress with my background task. I have promised to have all the data converted and imported for use in the new database by Monday morning so I need to get moving.

After lunch Luke came around to bring me up to date with the past 6 months from his perspective. He told me that it had been a tough year for him. He had struggled to cover fees for his course. Luke was to be sponsored for a course in Personnel Management by the hospital, but they failed to get enough funding and pulled out at the last minute. He decided to take unpaid leave and study at home – just entering the examinations. He has managed for about 1 ½ years and will sit the final exams in June. His biggest issue however was that his sister died a couple of month's back. Her husband died in 2007, so she has left 3 orphaned children to be looked after by the family. The sister had not been looking after the children for some time and the family had lost touch for a while. When she was found there was nothing that could be done to restore her to health. There are so many heart-rending stories I hear from friends in Monze. So much relates to poverty, but in ways that I would not have previously imagined. There is virtually no welfare state here. If you lose a husband, who has provided the household income, you can be suddenly left with nothing and an immediate need to earn money – just to stay alive. This is at a time of great distress following a bereavement. Some fare better than others. No job = no food!

Teddy arrived while Luke was still around. Since both work at the hospital they know each other well. Teddy had brought me some software for one of the projects.

Having good friends here in Monze is very useful. I am able to get a good picture of how things really are in town and around, what the main issues are, and what the general view is of local happenings. Being involved in a wide variety of projects myself , I find it useful to pick up the local gossip! Though here is not the place to divulge it!

I think it was about 8 pm when Teddy left, so after cooking a quick meal and doing a bit more work another day had well passed!

Saturday morning was the start of another working day. Diven came around at about lunchtime and helped me attack a large loaf I had bought. On the way to see Charles I passed by a shop Diven has his eye on, and his small house where his stock from his previous shop – now converted into bags of sugar – is stored.

As usual I spent a long time talking to Charles about a very wide variety of things. He told me about his experiences with other Europeans and NGOs (Non-government organisations – charities and the like). His experience was that they tended to want to run the projects and set detailed instructions. One example he cited was a large (and very well known) organisation that wanted to increase the cattle stock in the Southern Province of Zambia. Unfortunately, following their instructions for managing the cattle, the mortality rate became extremely high. Here in Southern Province the Tonga people have reared cattle for very many generations. The people know the land, the conditions and the best way to look after their animals. It was only after respecting the knowledge and skills of the local people and trusting them to look after the cattle without interference that the project started to bear fruit.

I suggested that the problem is that the Europeans and Zambians speak a different language. Unfortunately most people don't realise it, because often the words used are the same! Communication requires so much more than words. Perfect communication requires a full understanding of the other person, and the reality is that however hard we listen there will always be a gap. In the end the gap can only be bridged with respect and trust.

It was dark before I left Charles.

Today has also had to include some work. Mass wasn't until 10 hrs so I could fit an hour in beforehand. I left home at about 9.30 for the 2 km walk. Another friend from the hospital greeted me en-route but instead of the customary response “I'm fine” said he too was in great pain from his tooth. I promised him a bottle on Monday!

I arrived at the church at 9.55 and met up with some of the members of St. Veronica's Small Christian Community under a small tree, which gave little shelter from the sun.

Sorry I have just been diverted by a clicking or clucking sound and decided to investigate. Of course when I followed the sound and put on lights, it stopped! However, I think I have found the source. There are always a few friendly creatures that keep me company at home. These seem to be well adapted to live indoors. A few spiders, a couple of small lizards and small frogs. This sound was coming from the bathroom and there on the windowsill was one of my small frogs with it little lungs blown up ready to explode. The rainy season is overdue and the frogs are preparing for a very busy few weeks! Anyway now I can recognise the croak of the local house frog!

Returning to Our Lady of the Wayside church. The children's mass was still in progress when I arrived, so our service started at about 10.30. The singing at 'Our Lady's' really is wonderful. The choir led the congregation in unaccompanied harmonies that echoed throughout the church, before the drums took up the rhythm. I was relieved that the priest didn't introduce me to the congregation at the start of mass. Despite the mass here officially starting an hour and a half earlier than that at St. Gregory's - my church in Cheltenham, I suspect that, finishing at 1 pm, the service here was still underway after that back home had finished! I like to think that our service here enfolds that in Cheltenham.

The notices were given at the end of mass and I was breathing another sigh of relief, when the priest mentioned something about a Chris Barrell! He then asked me to come up the long aisle up to the front of the church. He greeted me and told the congregation that I was here as a representative from St. Gregory's parish in Cheltenham and when they greeted me they were greeting all the parishioners from St. Gregory's. I was then asked to greet the people and did so bringing special greetings from my parish in Cheltenham which has adopted Our Lady of the Wayside as a project. I am hoping to build a greater awareness of each others customs and ways of life over the coming year. I hope that we will be able to arrange for a greater interaction between the parishioners and thereby develop greater understanding. Despite being put on the spot – once again! - it was good to be welcomed in this way, and it was useful to ensure that all in the congregation understood the developing partnership. (A word introduced by the priest) Fortunately my words were translated because, apart from mwalevia buti (good afternoon), my words were in English.

I had 10 minutes to freshen up and have lunch before setting out for the meeting with St. Veronica's Small Christian Community. I was late and missed my guide, but met his wife – who had toothache!

Our 2pm meeting started at 3.30pm. We were reflecting on next weeks feast of Christ the King. The reading is about the crucifixion of Jesus. Not perhaps the obvious reading for a king! However it was the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate who insisted on the inscription over the cross reading “The King Of the Jews”. However what struck me was the act of faith of one of the 'criminals' crucified with Jesus. Many of Jesus's disciples had deserted him, yet this man, who was in the process of dying, recognised him as God when he said “remember me when you get to your kingdom” (obviously not an earthly kingdom since both would soon be dead.) However great the language gap between Europeans and Zambians, it is nothing compared between that of humankind and God. Occasionally, when we meet, we see a little deeper into the real person, trust bridges the gap and the results can be wonderful! (Luke chapter 23 verse 43 gives the punchline!)

After our meeting I rushed back to pick up a bottle for Simon's wife adding another couple of miles to today's travels!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Short Spell in Prison

Thursday 11th November

Most of today has been spent converting a few spreadsheets into ACCESS tables – I think I counted 62! That is a start – however I have a long way to go before the data is ready for me to use – perhaps 20 – 30 hours was correct! Sorry about the computer speak!

Another lie in today – even though I had an early night (about 23hrs). So after arising a bit before 7 a.m and enjoying a bowl of cornflakes, I set about rinsing my clothes and hanging them on the line I bought yesterday. Washing machines are uncommon here, so like most other people I use a bowl and some Boom – which is a detergent paste.

At about 11 am I was taken to the police station for an hour or so.

Perhaps I should explain that Jennipher recognised the need of prisoners who were HIV+ to be supported. She is therefore in the process of setting up an HIV/AIDS support group at the prison and she thought it would be good for me to become involved.

Prison in Zambia is not a place where you would want to be! Cells are quite large – at least this is the case at Monze – but each can hold perhaps 20 or more prisoners. At Monze prison there is just a concrete floor for the men to sleep on. They rely on relatives to provide them with food and if they have no relatives they rely on persuading others to share there food – and naturally it isn't without a cost.

For prisoners with AIDS the issues are many. The drugs can be harmful without food. The people need to take the drugs regularly – so drugs must be accessible etc. There is also the need for the men and women to understand the way that AIDS is spread. People who have spent time in prison often spread AIDS both inside prison and when they return to their communities.

Jennipher wants to try to educate both the police officers and the prisoners, and hopes to be able to provide food for those without relatives. They also hope to provide testing and counselling services. In this project Jennipher is working closely with the Victim Support Office within the prison. This team deals with all the abuse cases in addition to other issues.

Unfortunately, because Jennipher needed to look after Mike last night and this morning, we were late for our appointment – Mike is much better today and is able to stay at home in Pemba. The ladies who are intending to prepare meals had left to feed their husbands!

I did meet the Victim Support Tam and one of the police officers involved in the project. I was careful to stress that they mustn't expect me to be able to provide funds, however I was willing to tell people about the problems faced by the prisoners. I hope that eventually I will find a few people in the UK willing to become involved in Jenniphers work. As long as I continue to come out to Zambia I can provide a direct link, providing feedback to all concerned.

Today I was able to provide some funds for 15 of Jennipher's most vulnerable clients. This will provide some extra food and some seed, for those fit enough to plant it (with extra energy from the food). Fortunately when I am in England I am often given money to use here. So this particular donation will be well spent and I can provide feedback for the donor. Last year I was able to do the same for a small number of clients. Most of them are now doing OK – without that little extra, at a critical point, the outcome could have been different. I can't emphasise too much what a difference can be made by what seems to us to be so little.

I met briefly with Mrs. Sianga who, after several hours waiting, told me she was no 6 in the queue at the bank. (someone was guarding her spot) Fortunately there wasn't a queue at the ATM so, between us, the teachers will be paid and the equipment needed for the exams can be purchased.

At about 4 pm I headed for the Hospital. Outside I met Chriscola who was the first at the hospital to give me a big hug on Tuesday. Yesterday she told me she was suffering with her tooth – so I brought some oil of cloves in today, together with a few cotton buds. A few years ago I needed some work done on my tooth, but didn't have time before I left the UK. The dentist told me to take oil of cloves with me and, if it caused problems, the treatment would sort it out until I returned – in three months! Fortunately I didn't need to use it, but I came across a friend who did! I am told it works very well. Chriscola was the second person to get a magic bottle since I arrived in Monze on Monday evening! I was met on Tuesday by Robert who was in a lot of pain and had been told to see me by Jennipher who knows that I usually have a bottle or three – though rarely enough!

Dental treatment here usually means an extraction – if you can afford it!

I went to mass at 17 hrs to find that mass at the chapel was at 7hrs today. Fr Rogers apologised and gave communion to myself and the two nuns who also turned up for mass.

I made appointments with three people for 18hrs this evening. I didn't really expect everyone to turn up – and if they did it would be chance if they arrived at the same time. In the event only Reymond came around – at about 19.30. We caught up a little and I showed him photos of Dilys' birthday celebration in July when all our children and grandchildren were present – including our 'Burmese son', Fr. Tino.

I expect another relaxing day tomorrow when no doubt I will again put my feet up and soak up the sun by the pool – perhaps in my dreams!

With love and prayers


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The real work begins

Wednesday 10th November

I wasn't wrong about a bit of work coming my way!!

I met with Mrs. Sianga at PIZZ school at 9hrs – after another very late night, I slept in until after 7 hrs this morning! The grade 9 students are sitting their examinations next week. I was invited to meet them and say a few words. I greeted them, talked about the English weather and wished them good luck with their exams. Afterwards 6 students were chosen to talk to me a little about how being at the school had helped them. I also asked them what they would like to do given the opportunity. It was difficult for them being put on the spot, but I tried to put them at their ease and listened to what they had to say – Cleemore, a boy of 15, told me that without the school some of them would be out on the streets. He was pleased that they had uniforms and even got breakfast. It is very humbling to be thanked for such simple things. I hope that we are able to help more children like Cleemore and somehow ensure that he and his friends never have to go back to the streets. One of the teachers told me that the growing number of street children in Monze is becoming a major problem.

After having an enjoyable chat with the students, I next had a meeting with four of the teachers – the Headteacher and School Director (Mrs. Sianga) were also present. It proved a very useful discussion that enabled us to get to know each other better. As I repeat endlessly, building relationships is everything. The teachers here have a difficult time. Many have been waiting for a government job for years, after completing their training. PIZZ school takes the most disadvantaged children – so they cannot afford fees. The teachers inevitably are paid a lot less than they would get from the government, so they at least need to know that they are valued and that they are making a positive contribution to the lives of the students and their families. Hands Around the World, who I represent here, have recently introduced a sponsorship scheme that helps with some of that funding and allows the sponsor from the UK to receive feedback on one of the students. (You can find more on the website www.hatw.org.uk )

Jennipher was in town again today. She had received a message that one of her children – Mike – had collapsed at school. She was on her way to Namala, where he boards, to collect him and take him back to Pemba – a round trip of a hundred miles or so. She was meant to meet me tomorrow for another small project, but we will need to see how Mike is.

After lunch I met with Vincent to talk about the Diocesan projects. He has done a lot of work analysing details of a questionnaire using spreadsheets. It is clear he has a very good understanding of the capabilities of Excel and has done a good job. I think that the most useful thing for me to do is to give him some training on designing ACCESS databases. I think he will pick it up quickly and all being well he won't need me after I leave! It is always much better if you can pass on skills rather than provide services. When problems arise it is very difficult to sort them from the UK, if local people have the skills they can resolve problems and develop solutions themselves. I will import all the base data from the spreadsheets which is only 20 – 30 hours work!! (Let's hope I can reduce that!), do a few days training, work with Vincent to develop a few reports and put my feet up on Friday afternoon!!

Next stop Dr. Mvula! Fortunately he was still in his meeting and not likely to emerge any time soon, so those bits of shopping I hadn't got around to – including the umbrella – were fitted in. Of course I greeted a great number of friends around town, including, Patrick, Mr. Chiiya, Bimbi, Fr. Kenan and Marvel. Marvel was one of the many I didn't recognise. He reminded me that we moulded bricks together in 2003 on my first visit to Monze. He was driving past and had a young lad in the front seat with him. He told me it wasn't his son but he now had a daughter the same age. In Zambia, having a driving licence means you are doing better than most – if you can afford fuel for the car you really are doing well! (By the way, a litre of petrol is just under £1 at the moment and the most Zambians earn less than £1 in a day.)

I am easing myself back into cooking – Dilys has been looking after me recently at home. Supper this evening was a sausage stir-fry with onions, spring onions, carrot, sweet pepper, green beans and aubergine, together with a helping of rice. (I have no problem with my five a day – in fact I am probably overdosing on fruit and vegetables – just wait till the mangoes on the tree outside become ripe!!)

Tonight I need an early night and I have said more than enough for today!!



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Day in Lusaka

Tuesday 9th November

I am now settled in Monze in very familiar surroundings.

Yesterday I had intended getting a bus from Lusaka, where Justine had agreed to take me. However, Justine's brother-in-law, Monti, was travelling to Choma and subsequently to Livingstone, therefore travelling through Monze. He offered to take me from Lusaka if I could wait in the city until 12 hrs. Being no more than a couple hours after I could leave anyway – and knowing that the journey would be quicker by car, I readily agreed. At 12 hrs Monti was held up waiting for money from the bank. We met at 14hrs but he was still at the bank. We put my bags into his vehicle and Justine dropped me at Downtown where I agreed to wait. At 15 hrs Monti rang to say he was in a meeting but would see me soon. At 16 hrs he arrived, having spent a long time in the Lusaka traffic jams. We set off to pick up his colleague who was staying close by. Earlier this year there was terrible flooding in Lusaka – so a major drainage system is being installed. As a result the former route to the colleagues house was completely cut off by a long and very large ditch and some big pipes. Having spent ¾ hour - along with a hundred other vehicles – finding no way through, we joined the traffic jam back into town – the only possible route left. It was therefore some time after 18hrs that we finally headed out of Lusaka and headed for Monze.

Our time in Lusaka wasn't entirely wasted. Justine bought a wheel bearing for his car, picked up forms for registering Kaliyangile and found out more about the process involved. I bought a USB modem to go with this laptop, which will allow me to post this blog from my flat here in Monze. While waiting at the Downtown shopping centre I happened to meet Fr. Maambo, who now has a parish outside of Monze and separately came across Sr. Gertrude, now at a convent in Mazabuka.

We travelled well, though we met several broken down trucks en-route. Travelling on Zambian roads at night is especially treacherous. There are many people walking at the side of the road and people riding bikes without any lights – and this along totally unlit roads. Is was a broken down truck that caused my friend Bentoe to lose his life in 2006, along with Rose - both of them were managers at Monze Mission Hospital. Their vehicle didn't have time to stop and hit the truck while still travelling at speed.

At about 21 hrs I arrived at my flat! The flat is part of a complex of buildings owned by the Catholic Diocese of Monze used for a youth training project and also housing offices for the Diocesan Projects Management Team. I will be doing a little work for the team as one of my little sidelines!

It was good to walk into familiar and comforting surroundings. The flat has all I need – a bedroom, lounge, kitchen and bathroom, with electricity and even a warm shower!

I went straight over to Tooters where I met Diven and had a meal and a drink. Mr. Longu – a driver from the hospital, currently working nights, greeted me and welcomed me back to Monze. I attacked the Internet when I got back to the flat. It was well after midnight when I turned in.

Last night there was a decent amount of rain. It was overcast first thing this morning – though the sun soon burnt it's way through. I popped down the corridor outside my flat to the offices and said a quick hallo to Sr. Barbara, the Admin Manager, and Soloman Phiri, the Projects Manager and CAFOD partner. I also arranged to meet later with the Accountant to discuss the database I was developing. (I have to admit that I was disappointed that he hadn't seen the CD I sent from the UK with the new database – though I knew it had arrived.)

Jennipher came around some time after 10hrs and we caught up on a few things. I had brought over a solar powered (and wind-up) radio donated by a friend. Jennipher had asked for radios for her groups. She explained that the radios would bring a variety of benefits. Firstly they allowed people to keep in touch with world events, she also explained that clients need to take medicines at regular times and that many have no wristwatch – so the radio would help them to know the time. Some of her clients apparently walk quite a long way at night to check the time with a friend. (I showed her that the radio provided also had a clock which went on when the radio was turned off.), thirdly there are educational programmes available on the radio – in particular a local radio station (Radio Chikuni) provides a series of primary school lessons. Children who do not attend school will gather around the radio to learn. There are no doubt other valuable ways the radios will be used - I only wished I could have brought more. If you would like to help to Jennipher's AIDS support groups by providing solar radios or provide other support please let me know.

I had banana sandwiches with Jennipher for lunch. After lunch I was on my way down the corridor to meet with the Accountant when I noticed another office where a familiar face greeted me. Vincent was very keen to work with me on the database and was aware of my CD etc. Not for the first time I had failed to recognise a face – the Accountant is not involved in what I am doing and was therefore understandably vague! I sorted out a new appointment and apologised to the Accountant for my mistake!

Having a free afternoon I headed for the hospital. As usual I was greeted by many even before reaching the gates. My memory for names is getting very bad – I keep going blank, even with people I know well. Some of those I did remember include Motty, Judy, Dr. Mvula, Robert, Ian and Fr. Rogers. I received very warm greetings from all and hugs from many – including some of the men!

Eventually I found Teddy and spent some time catching up. I have known Teddy since 2004 and we have worked closely since the death of Bentoe, who was also a very close friend of Teddy.

I attended mass at the Hospital Chapel before heading back. At the exit to the hospital Ireen spotted me and threw her arms around me. Ireen is my tailor – some of you might have admired some of the lovely shirts she has made me over the years. She walked back towards my flat with me and asked what I had brought her. This is a common greeting from friends here. I usually tell them I bring greetings from the UK and they accept it with a smile! Ireen said that I could buy her a chicken as “relish”! (relish is any food eaten with nshima) I don't usually cave in, but Ireen is a good friend and gives me the warmest greeting of anyone, so she chose a chicken from the seller who operates just outside the gates of the diocesan compound.

The market starts outside the gates so it isn't difficult for me to pick up some provisions. So I stocked up for my evening meal and grabbed a few more vegetables. I had a number of admiring comments from people surprised that I eat mussela – a local root vegetable.

On my return to my flat I noticed more than usual flies, these seemed familiar to me. Of course – flying ants! - or inswa. These fly in huge numbers at the start of the rains. I will expect to be treated to a bowlful of these creatures soon – fried and salted of course! Just don't think too much as you eat them!!

Diven joined me again this evening and shared my quick meal of scrambled eggs with fried rice, onion and tomato. Reymond called around but didn't come in as I already had a guest. He will call again tomorrow.

I have three appointments made for tomorrow, so I will be busy tomorrow and they might confirm that I will be exceptionally busy over the next few weeks.

Bye for now


Monday, November 8, 2010

A Wonderful Day

Sunday 7th November

Today has been a very good day. I am now really in Zambia!

On Thursday Justine took the beef – so I enjoyed the chicken. The menu since has, as expected, been the same – except that the beef has been taken off the menu!

I didn't have the best sleep on Thursday night, but on the Friday I was a bit less tired. In reality it takes a little while to fully adapt to all the changes – how people whizz around the world hitting the ground running, wherever they land I am not sure. Though no doubt first class travel and a good rest on the flight must help.

I spent most of the day on Friday at the Centre re-acquainting myself with the accounts database that needed to be restored, talking to Justine about progress during the past six months and the plans for the future. I also inspected some of the damage caused by a fire a month or so back. A neighbouring farmer was burning the stubble on his farm on a windy day and the fire jumped the windbreak into Kaliyangile. It went through the gardens burning the crops and burnt a structure next to the 'flat' I occupied last year. The wooden poles are standing but have been too badly burnt to be re-used. The building contained feed for the cattle, which was also destroyed. The following day Davidson went to have a bath only to remember that his bathroom was another casualty of the fire.

In the evening, after my meal, I avoided the bar and returned to my room. I had borrowed the Centre USB modem (or dongle), so, since this time I have a power socket in my room, I was able to post my previous blogs and check my e-mails without having to move.

I awoke as the sun burnt it's way through the curtains just after 6 hrs. A breakfast of 3 fried eggs, salad, chips and bread is really enough to keep me going all day! I went to the Centre in the morning.

I have decided to make my way to Monze on Monday, so we needed to go through a few things over the weekend. In general I like to keep weekends free – particularly Sundays - but I don't want to delay getting things moving in Monze. Once I have started all the plates spinning, I will have no difficulty keeping busy ensuring none smash! But, if you are aware of the analogy, it often takes a while before the plates all get going – and I have a lot of plates to spin!!

I had seen a notice announcing a Brai (i.e. barbecue) at Fringilla run by the Holy Cross Catholic Church here in Chisamba. Justine had been asked by Fr. Dominic if he would be supporting the event. He was inclined to go but hadn't enough fuel for the journey. I said that I would be happy to attend and could contribute towards the petrol. So a little before 13 hrs we set off for Fringilla - for the first time since I arrived in Chisamba I saw some pale faces as we arrived at Fringilla Guest House.

The first time I came to Chisamba without a 'chauffeur', Mrs. Sianga and myself overshot the Chisamba cross-roads and when we asked to be shown to the guest house were taken to Fringilla. We were a little surprised and thought our luck was in! Fringilla is a very pleasant lodge with 4 star amenities (but with prices to match - though perhaps not UK prices). Needless to say Chisamba Guest House is a little more basic but it is 25 km closer to the Centre – and also closer to the budget!

Once again Fringilla Guest House was not our intended destination – as we realised when handed the menus for the Brai, with the accompanying prices. Eventually we found Fringilla camp site were the entertainment was getting underway – and yes, other than myself, everyone was a person of deep colour!

The MC announced that since it was a Catholic event, as well as the soft drinks, Mosi, Castle, wine and even whisky would be available!

For the first couple of hours the MC / DJ had the children entertaining us with a dancing competition. I remember how scandalised some people were by Elvis Presley's hip movements in the 60's, well some of the three year old children performing on Saturday could have taught him a thing or two. Those who have experienced the dancing in Africa will know what I mean!

We then had a group called Fanwell who classified themselves as Gospel singers. They were OK but I must confess to finding it difficult to understand how waving my hands, or shouting Alleluia, proved that God was the most important thing in my life (even though it is.).

After more dancing another group hit the stage. In fact they jumped on to the lorry trailer that formed the stage and did there best to get it moving out of the field. At one point some speakers on the 'stage' were moved to the floor because that's were they were heading as Mazeteti dancing and jumped with gusto. Soon members of the audience joined them on stage which didn't phase them in the least – in fact they were warmly welcomed. A couple of the guys jumped off the stage and soon were surrounded by children wanting to get in on the act. So the performer arranged the children in a circle and led them in an array of different dances. He obviously enjoyed the experience as much as the children who followed his moves circling with tremendous enthusiasm, joy and skill.

It was clear to me that God and Mazeteti were friends by the way they related to all around them – somehow they didn't have to wave there hands or sing alleluia to prove it.

At about 18.30, when it is dark here – despite being the equivalent of the height of summer – we headed back to the car. We called at the petrol station for a bit more fuel and then returned to the campsite to pick up the young lad we forget when we left earlier!

I didn't need an evening meal, but I had a refreshing 'bath' and popped in to the bar to pick up some water. While there a guy switched from the state controlled channel, which shows what Rupiah Banda, the President, has been doing during the day to Strictly Come Dancing! I quickly left, having explained that I had travelled 5,000 miles to get away from Strictly Come Dancing! I also did a little work sorting out a few issues with the accounts system before picking up on John Grisham and turning in before 23hrs.

So to today! I slept well and again awoke to the bright African sun. Mass was at 8hrs so there was no time for breakfast. At the beginning of mass Fr. Dominic spotted me – he must have keen eyesight to pick me out of all the other parishioners! So I was introduced once again to the people of the Holy Cross church. I was grateful that yesterday I wasn't selected to speak to the crowd from the mike! It reminds me of similar issues we had when my wife and I visited Burma a few years back – it is sometimes very difficult to fade into the background.

I again enjoyed the singing and dancing that is so much a part of Christian celebration (as well as life in general) here in Zambia. Fr. Dominic explained for his 'friend from Kaliyangile' that the choir were going to sing a song which said “we believe in heaven”, which was the theme of the gospel. When I think sometimes what we as Christians profess to believe it is staggering! Our belief in a life after death is one of these mind blowing concepts. Still some scientists apparently believe that the universe came into being out of nothing, without any force present to facilitate the change – personally I am more inclined to believe in Heaven! I was interested that Fr. Dominic talked about metamorphosis in relation to the idea of heaven (I am not sure whether it is the same word in Nyanja, he spoke in at least two languages during the sermon). He talked of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly – one apparently dying in order for the other to live a more wonderful existence.

In the Gospel Jesus tries to explain that after death we will be different beings – as the angels. I think so often we make the mistake of thinking of God as a human being and life after death as a continuation of life here on earth. We can be sure that the difference between the caterpillar and the butterfly is nothing compared with what we can expect and that nothing can prepare us to understand the mind of God.

At the end of mass I thought I was in the clear, but, when the notices began, the man from Kaliyangile was asked to stand up to receive the applause of the assembled congregation – which he did as graciously as he could!

Outside the church I was greeted by a number of the parishioners including Fr. Dominic. The children came to shake my hand and give me high fives. As I left the church I felt like the Pied Piper, as a group of children trailed behind me. They accompanied me back to the guest house before waving a cheery goodbye before going on their way.

I intended to have a rest so I lay on the bed and read a little. I then decided that I really needed a walk. I was getting a little hungry, having still not eaten since supper, so, as I passed along the road, I picked up a few bits for lunch.

I have been disappointed that Chisamba seems to provide little scope for walks in the bush. I had seen a track the other day but on reflection thought that I had tested it on another occasion and found it just led to a local house. I headed towards the track but before the railway line came across another. As tracks go here, it was quite substantial. I headed along and was pleased to see a few houses to my right and very little fencing - suggesting that I was unlikely to be on private land. I passed a large tree full of birdsong and headed for another which was probably ¾ kilometre from the main road. The track continued but I settled under the tree. The other waitress at the guest house (not Citride) was excited when she saw my John Grisham novel – apparently she loves to read them. So I need to finish it before I leave tomorrow morning. I decided that under a tree away from anyone was the place to do some serious reading! Here in Zambia I am glad of a bit of shade when I can find it – in the UK the sun is so scarce, and rarely too hot, that I don't like to waste the opportunity to greet it wholeheartedly.

So I began with my feast. Two boiled eggs, four bananas, a packet of freshly roasted and salted peanuts and the crowning glory - my first mango of the year! Everything here seems to taste a bit better than in England. The eggs are different sizes and colours – one of those I bought was pleasantly spotted, each comes with a small packet of salt wrapped in plastic – reminding me of Smiths Crisps in the 50s! The bananas have probably been picked in the past few days and are full of flavour, the peanuts are again grown locally and come in light plastic bags – thinner than cling film and sealed at each end. Then there are the mangos!!!! Anyone who knows me well or has followed my blog before knows how I feel about fresh mangos. I had a text from Fr. Kenan in Monze a couple of days ago asking me to ring as soon as I touched down because he has mangoes ready for me! It is early in the season and mangos seem only to be available in Lusaka at this time. The seller told me that she paid 500 kwacha for the big ones in Lusaka and was selling them for 1,000 kwacha here! (about 13p). I did some friendly haggling over the price – since the child next to her had offered the same mango at 500 kwacha, but was more than happy to pay 1,000 kwacha for my first mango.

I am fortunate that the laptop runs off a battery – unfortunately all the flies are now attracted to the screen – since the power has just gone off and my screen is the only source of light in the room.

Sorry where was I? Oh yes waxing lyrical over my mango. Yes it was a good introduction to 2010 mango eating – it wasn't the juiciest fruit I have eaten, but still beyond comparison with what claim to be mangoes in the UK.

A walk in the bush, a mango feast and a few chapters under the shade of a beautiful tree, filled with glorious birdsong – there definitely is a heaven, and I suspect it might be here in Zambia. I have now arrived!

Each visit to Zambia seems to highlight a different part of nature. I am struck this year by the vast assortment of jumping creatures. No kangaroos, but grasshoppers that start at the size of those found in the UK and extend to some perhaps 10 cm (4 inches) long. They are of various colours. Most look drab on the ground but some look like butterflies when they jump and fly over distances of 30 metres or more.

The weather here is getting warmer – sitting under my tree, I sometimes thought that I was no longer in the shade – only to realise that the heat came purely from the air. When I arrived back I decided to throw some cold water over me – only to find that the tap was only providing hot water today!

Today I was re-acquainted with the mini-tornados that occur regularly here. They rarely come to anything and usually are much less than a metre in diameter and no more than a couple high. We did have some wind this evening at the guest house – on one occasion I suspect it was a slightly larger tornado, these pick up the local rubbish and spin it 20 or 30 metres into the sky. These, though more powerful, seem also to pass without any substantial damage being done.

This afternoon I had another session with Justine for a couple of hours before returning to write this blog. My regular readers know I can go on a bit – for any newcomers I hope you will bear with me!


Friday, November 5, 2010

A Warm Welcome

Thursday 4th November

It is always rather unreal when I find myself once again in Africa. The swifts and swallows have beaten me down here, crickets, grasshoppers or locusts jump or fly out of my way as I wander along the paths. Yesterday I watched as numerous Red Kites flew above the M40 – today other varieties of birds of prey fill the skies.

The welcome in Zambia is always warm. I am surprised after landing when airport staff greet me as they pass by – still I have hardly slept during the night and anyway breakfast was at 3.30 GMT so I am even more dopey than usual .

We land at 6.30 local time as scheduled. The sun has recently risen and the temperature is a pleasant 22ºC in the shade.

I had told Justine not to bother about getting to the airport for when I land, so I took out some money and sorted out my mobile phone. I am pleased to find out that I can use the SIM cards from last time – therefore not having to give my friends a new number. I wonder how long it will be before I am tracked down! From my experience, I am sure that it won't be long.

Justine arrived at about 7.45 not long after I settled down for a cup of tea in the airport 'lounge and cocktail bar'.

He brought me straight to Kaliyangile to say hallo and then I returned to Chisamba Guest House for a rest.

I felt a little more human after a couple of hours and a cold water bath. A quick wander through town to settle in a little and I walked to Kaliyangile to find out the state of play with the project and plan my involvement over the next few days and weeks.

On returning to the guest house this afternoon, I decided I shouldn't put off my first Mosi any longer. I settled down to read my John Grisham novel and was soon joined by one of the local guys. We talked about the project, Zambia, politics, bereavement and a range of other subjects in the course of an hour or two. It is always interesting to hear the views of the local people who usually have interesting insights in a variety of fields. Staying at the Guest House makes me aware how important it is that the Kaliyangile project is seen as a community project and not one that is seen as run by others. The people I meet are very supportive and I think people will become more involved as the Centre develops.

It is now dark! There is very little twilight here, day becomes night very quickly. This is accentuated by the relatively low level of lighting in the streets after dark.

Supper will be nshima chicken or nshima beef tonight ( and every other night!) - I have ordered one of each and will let Justine choose!

As you might have noticed my last blog didn't get posted at Heathrow because they didn't provide access for my flash drive. I hope to post this one tomorrow.


A New Adventure Begins

Wednesday 3rd November

I have just passed through security at Heathrow. I couldn't understand how I had set off the alarm! So I had to undergo a body search. You would think by now that I would know what I am doing – but security is always intimidating and having taken my laptop out of it's bag, taken off my belt and coat, and emptied my pockets of coins etc. I thought I had done enough. Having removed my sandals and put my essential flight documents in another tray, I realised I still had my mobile in another pocket – so after as few more checks I was allowed to gather my bits and put myself back together again!

We had an uneventful trip from Cheltenham and stopped for a few minutes at a service station to kill a little time. We bumped into Lucy – a friend from church - having a coffee and greeted her before continuing to Heathrow.

In the UK we all know about post office queues! The bag drop here at Heathrow is very efficient – USUALLY! There was only one couple in front of us but for some reason they were stuck. After a few minutes we changed queues for the one where 4 people had already passed since we arrived. Unfortunately this was a bad move, because the couple in front again got stuck. I moved back to my original spot where there was no longer a queue, but the couple returned! After 15 minutes I was dealt with and I spent 30 seconds dropping off my bags! I think they knew that, without a delay, Dilys would have saved £3 in parking charges and the authorities at Heathrow were determined to get their money! I said goodbye to Dilys and she rushed to take the car off to my daughter Helen, in Hampstead, where Dilys is doing a little child-minding tomorrow.

For this trip I started packing early – this allowed me to nip down to London on Monday to play with the grandchildren. However, having done most of the packing by the weekend I spent yesterday a bit confused as to what I should be doing and today I couldn't think whether I had packed everything – or even what I should have packed. In the end I decided that since I had two bags weighing 20 kg each I probably had enough!

Yesterday evening I was on the Internet at 6.30 pm waiting to check in. I had considered waiting till my son Andy and his two children Charlie and George arrived, but decided to go ahead. When I thought about it, having a 4 year old and a 7 year old trying to decide where I sat in the plane and how much luggage I should take, might not have been the best idea! So I enjoyed the game myself, checked in a couple of bags and moved myself to a seat towards the back, that isn't over the wing so that I can get a good view during my night flight .

So the adventure is about to begin. I spoke to Justine today and he will meet me at the airport. He has booked me a room at Chisamba Guest House so I will have a chance to meet up with some old friends such as Citride, the waitress who earlier in the year had to wade through deep water to get to work, and no doubt Sondash will be around to introduce meet to the visitors – by now of course I am regarded as a regular!

Best sent me a message via facebook yesterday to ask if I would call around to his college in Lusaka tomorrow when I arrive. I haven't heard from Jennipher recently, but she was planning to come to Lusaka to meet me. I hope Justine hasn't any work to do tomorrow!

I will finish my pint of Polish beer before trying to post this blog here in the departure lounge.

I am sure that as usual it will be an interesting visit – your prayers are much needed and always welcome.

Best wishes