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.



No comments: