Saturday, December 4, 2010

More welcome rain

Friday 3rd December

It rained again last night and, before I turned in, the accompanying storm once again put out the lights!

With the computer working I have plenty to keep me occupied. Unfortunately this morning after about 1½ hours my battery gave out. I headed to the hospital and met one or two friends before returning via Ireen. She has started on this years garments and told me to return next week when all will be ready.

Fortunately power returned at midday and, after a spot of lunch, I was able to return to the task of tailoring the accounts database for PIZZ school. I don't like repeating any task, so when there are standard items of expenditure each month – in this case teachers salaries – I don't see why the data should be retyped. So I spent an hour or two creating a button or two that will automatically fill in the relevant details. Being the sad individual I am, I revel in such exercises.

Sr Racheal rang yesterday to ask if I could call around this morning to help her with some anti-virus software. This we postponed until power returned. At the convent it was 15 hrs before the electricity was once again flowing. We met soon after. In Zambia, power outages are part of life. In previous years power was generally rationed. Often at peak times – e.g. supper time the power would be turned off for a couple of hours. Being without power for best part of a day is very common. I doubt if it occurred in the UK people would take is as calmly!

Sr. Rachael's computer had Kapersky installed as the anti-virus but the subscription had expired. She bought AVG from a computer firm in Lusaka to replace it. Initially she had problems when she started to install because she couldn't see the subscription code. This she later realised that was because it was printed on the CD itself – which of course was by this time inside the PC. Unfortunately in Zambia it is difficult to ensure that you are getting the genuine article – this is true with most goods, but especially true with any software product. If you have no technical knowledge you can be walking into a minefield. The firm in Lusaka is reputable, yet having a disk printed with the organisations details made me a little suspicious – I am also doubtful that AVG provide their software to the retail market – and to be resold using a local firm's disks. A warning came up to say the installation was out of date and might not work properly. However it seemed to install OK, but the anti-virus files were nearly a year out of date. Sr Racheal was told that the software would last for 2 years but in fact the subscription runs out in 15 months. The price was about what I would expect to pay in the UK for Norton or Kapersky for a year – so it wasn't cheap.

In Monze the problem of computer viruses is a major one. The lack of technical knowledge means that many people pay a lot of money and receive products that are of little value. I decided to fetch my modem so that at least the software could be updated – Sr. Racheal has no Internet connection so can't do update the software herself. I left the updates being downloaded – after 1½ hours it only had just over an hour to go. Unfortunately MTN charges per MByte and there was about 100MBytes to download - therefore another significant bill.

Our world is run by the rich powerful nations and is seen from their perspective. The Internet is regarded as ubiquitous and fast; constant electricity and clean water supplies are taken for granted, as are tarred roads. So the products on offer rely on huge assumptions that don't apply here – hence often they don't work – or don't work for long. I was told today of an NGO that provided a Ford vehicle for one of their project. This is great, as long as it doesn't go wrong! You won't find Ford parts in Zambia and I don't know the nearest country to supply them – it could be an expensive spark plug or distributor cap! Or yet another abandoned piece of expensive equipment!

Reymond called around this evening and we talked about various issues. In particular we discussed the way in which Zambian resources seem to be destined for other countries. I try my best to use Zambian products. I use Zamtel as my mobile network provider. Zamtel until recently was government owned and therefore profits stayed within the country. However recently a Middle Eastern firm has bought 75% of the company – 25% being retained by the government. The massive advertising by multinationals has a huge influence (they wouldn't spend so much otherwise). The effect is for most Zambians to believe that Zambian products are inferior and therefore the little money they have goes to help the companies from the richer nations to make even more money. Even most of the brightest graduates from Zambia leave the country after having received their training here.

Unfortunately the politicians haven't the courage, the will or the power to ensure that firms operating in the this country at least give a fair share of the profits to help the people out of poverty. Of course the multinationals have no conscience and those running them only have an interest in profit.

Sometimes it is difficult to see how the cycle of poverty can be broken. Today Ian said that God was taking special care of Africa. There is no doubt that he is ever present in the suffering of the people here. The chapter I have just read in a book (entitled “chasing joy”) that I brought with me, talks about smiling and laughing. The author points out that we don't see smiling Madonnas or statues of Jesus – like him, I believe the world would be much better off if we did! He also refers to an Apache story of creation where the Creator made humans come fully alive by giving them the ability to laugh. The people here are certainly fully alive and have a close relationship with their Creator. I read that David Cameron is trying to make the UK the second country in the world to measure well being. (I think it's Bhutan that is other one!) I wonder whether the amount of laughter will be measured? On such a measurement Zambia is indeed wealthy!

I think I mentioned, in a previous blog posting, the campaign to, at least, ensure that companies declare there tax contributions in all the countries were they operate. When I get home I intend to seek those working in Zambia and do a little hassling of my own!!

Tomorrow I need to take a bit of a break, for the temptation is to keep running at sprint speed – though I am running a marathon!

Saturday 4th December

I lay in this morning until about 7.30. I had to buy some more cornflakes as I had run out – and I need them to start my day!! I decided to do a bit of washing this morning. The day started cloudy but the sky was brightening and I guessed that the washing would soon dry.

I had decided, as I said above, to have a bit of a rest, so I read for a while and enjoyed a cup or two of tea. Even in the hottest weather I find a cup of tea refreshing – drinking a cup of tea is also a comfortingly familiar activity – like the bowl of cornflakes.

I hung out my washing and, at a little after 11 hrs, headed out towards my regular haunt – the little lake (dam) to the south of the town. I used to think it was to the west, but my sense of direction has always been poor! Along the way I was accompanied by a flock of swallows. There are a variety of different swallow species in Zambia but these were the European variety. It is unusual to see swallows grouped together on electricity cables – as they do in the UK before leaving for the winter. - but today as well as their usual playful swooping and turning, they made use of these perches. At the dam, I sat under a tree for a while and watched while a few waders pecked at the waters edge - one a particularly pretty slender bird, with a thin pointed black bill and long legs, I identified as a Black Winged Stint, there was also a Little Egret and a couple of African Jacanas – all rather attractive birds.

After a while I decided to head a bit further along the road to St. Marys and Kisito. St. Mary's is a village about 15 km from Monze. Kisito Pastoral Centre is found just before the village. In 2004 I was invited to attend a weekend retreat at Kisito and enjoyed it. I have always felt particularly privileged when offered the opportunity to experience a part of life not generally available to visitors to this country. To spend a couple of days in prayer with a small group can be an intimate experience. So to be welcomed into such a group where people often share personal and private experiences, requires a lot of trust and I am grateful.

Some years afterwards I chose to walk to Kisito (and back again!). Today I contented myself by travelling just a kilometre or so beyond the lake. I took a turning from the main road and eventually found another tree that offered some shade. It always does me good to get into the countryside. The Kisito road is wide and relatively good, but only two or three vehicles passed me during my stroll. I was surprised to see a couple of tractors – ox carts are more common around Monze. A calf was joined on the road by a couple of adults and a group of goats rummaged around the bushes at the roadside. Dragonflies abound at the moment – particularly, though not exclusively, near the dam. I sometimes wonder how many ants there are in the world! Zambia certainly has it's share. Finding a suitable place to sit is always a bit tricky. If I drop any of my lunch, a great herd of the creatures appear from the ground to eat or carry away the scraps. There are also a large variety of beetles busily walking here and there. Every so often the air is filled with sound, a bit like a school of children rattling their shakers. I am not sure whether the sound is from beetles or grasshoppers, but it starts suddenly and is very loud. There are other, now familiar sounds, but they continue to be equally mysterious. There is a whistle – just a long single tone, that occurs often and another sound, like the noise that sometimes emanates from an electrical installation on a damp day. This is very loud and when I approach it stops – only to restart as I move on.

Approaching me down the road was a family in their best attire – perhaps heading for church. I thought that I would love a picture and, as I passed, they asked me if “I would copy them” - which of course I did with great pleasure. They asked if I could give them a print. I will see if I can organise something, but the logistics are not simple! I told them I couldn't promise anything – I will add the picture to this blog.

This is the end of Zambia's spring. Some trees are in flower. A pretty catkin on a thorn bush caught my attention. These bushes have lovely delicate soft leaves hiding very vicious needles and then these beautiful catkins.

On my return journey a pick-up van stopped and the driver ( Mr. Meheritona) offered me a lift. Tabo Meheritona used to be the School Manager at St. Vincent's Community School and we have known each other for several years. I thanked him for his offer but explained that I wanted the exercise – so he left after greeting me.

I returned to the dam and once again sat for a while. Some gentle rain started to fall. I was interested that no one took any notice. People, like me, sitting and relaxing, continued, as did those fishing and of course those swimming in the lake. The rain was very gentle and quite refreshing, hardly managing to wet the skin before evaporating again.

It was time anyway to head towards home. I had arranged to call by Diven's shop and hopefully pick up some Finta (UHT milk) that I asked him to buy for me. He rang when I was a few minutes away to check that I was on my way. I stepped into the shop and the rain re-commenced. This time it was a heavy shower lasting for 5 – 10 minutes. I was a bit concerned about my washing on the line back home but glad of the shelter. In previous blogs I have referred to my friend Bro Joe (now Saint Joe) and his ability to keep dry whatever the weather! When you were with Joe, the rain was always somewhere else. So, often, we would enter a building or vehicle and the heavens would open; or would walk outside and the rain would immediately stop! This incident made me remember Joe.

On the way home a river had started flowing where on the outward journey there was a small road. When I arrived home I found that washing was again wet but only one shirt had hit the ground – I expected to find the line collapsed and everything in the mud. I rinsed the shirt and decide to leave the washing out. It was only 15.30 and it would be almost dry again by nightfall.

I retrieved my modem from Sr. Racheal. There is a short cut through the church grounds to the convent and hospital using a small gate that is usually open. The other day I passed the seminarian, working at the church, who told me I should use it. I don't feel I should take advantage by using this route generally, but since it links the church and convent directly, it seemed appropriate in this case. (It saves at least ½ km and 10 minutes!). Yesterday evening the anti-virus update worked, though it halted for a while. It also appears that some Windows updates were downloaded, which was an added bonus. Sr. Racheal informed me that there are a couple of other computers at the convent needing attention, so I agreed to look at them before I leave the country!

Luke came around a little later. Luke is starting his exams on Monday and is confident of success. He hopes to go onto the final stage in June. This would give him a good opportunity to progress with his career and would give him a number of course exemptions if he decided to pursue a degree course. We talked a bit about local issues. It is useful to get direct feedback from friends. Much of the 'gossip' I hear repeats similar stories and helps me build up a picture of life here in Monze – particularly in relation to the many projects in which I have some involvement.

I am getting lazy in respect to my meals. I had some beans boiled a couple of days ago, so added a little rice and some salad – also prepared earlier in the week. The fridge keeps reasonably cool even when the power is off, though frozen food will naturally de-frost, so the food was still edible.

I didn't access the Net yesterday, so I will check it out now.



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