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!


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