Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Livingstone & Victoria Falls

13th September 2011

At last I think that I am on the mend! Yesterday we had a trustees meeting for Hands Around the World and I am beginning to realise how much work I need to do! My involvement in Zambia and wider issues in connection with HATW do not finish when I leave Zambia. In fact I am almost as busy back here in the UK. I am aware that I need to get back in touch with a number of people - I missed some calls from Jennipher yesterday and need to follow that up.

So lets complete my 2011 Zambia blog by filling in the final few days.

The days during the final week or so were characterised by the customary bright sun and clear skies welcoming the day. The early mornings being pleasantly cool (perhaps 14°C or 15°C) and the temperatures then quickly rising to the upper twenties and low thirties. In fact very pleasant and uplifting weather.

We decided to go to mass at the chapel on the Sunday, despite Fr. Kenan having to say a later mass at the Cathedral. We had already told the parishioners at Our Lady of the Wayside that we wouldn't be around. We didn't want to be rushing and, to be honest, a service of an hour in English was a more comfortable prospect than a two hour Chitonga mass.

The original intention was to leave at about 10 hours and get to Livingstone at lunchtime – in the event we left after lunch and it was nearly 14hrs before we got underway.

Fr. Kenan's car had a few few problems and he therefore arranged that we swapped his car with his sister's 4x4 when we got to Choma. At Pemba we picked up Jennipher, who was waiting on the main road.

Somehow I had forgotten to bring my driving licence, but I did share some of the driving. We had arranged to stay at a lodge suggested by Judy's brother. On arrival we sorted out rooms and had a chance to freshen up. It was a change to have rooms with en-suite facilities (and televisions – even if the channel choice was a bit limited!!)

I thought we should enjoy something of Livingstone in the evening, so Fr. Kenan suggested we had a take-away, before heading to the “Waterfront”. It immediately struck me that we had entered a different world where most of the people had light skins and were tourists. One guy, who probably had too much to drink, made monkey noises as we arrived. It was only afterwards that I realised that this was a racist gesture – presumably directed at my friends. It is sad that such ignorant behaviour is still present, especially when it is directed at the local people.

Ignoring this, we settled on some stools at the edge of the Zambezi and enjoyed a drink looking out at the boats and very different scenery to that which we had been accustomed. It was a pleasure to have Fr. Kenan and Jennipher with us – people who we have come to know over the years and who have become a very important part of our life and our worldwide family.

We relaxed for an hour or more before returning to the lodge. Fr. Kenan and myself chatted for some time while Dilys, Jennipher and Amy settled into their new surroundings. Fr. Kenan was not feeling on top form but felt he had things under control.

We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8 hrs. We had planned a very full day and wanted an early start. In the event it was nearly 10 hrs when we arrived at the 'Game Park'. Somehow I knew that it would be a special day – the later than intended start didn't worry me. While I sorted out the entrance processes with Fr. Kenan, Jennipher joined Amy and Dilys watching hippos in the Zambezi! The vehicle we had proved ideal for the conditions we found. The roads were not too bad, but a four wheel drive with a high wheel base was a distinct advantage. The open roof was also a great benefit – allowing Amy and me to get a very good view from the top of the vehicle. Amy and Jennipher seemed to have exceptional eyesight spotting animals that took us a long time to see. Very quickly we saw herds of impala and had some good views, Fr. Kenan spotted a herd of buffalo not far away. On several trips to Lochinvar and previous visits to Livingstone I have failed to spot buffalo, so for me this was a particular delight. Jennipher was an expert at spotting Giraffes, which blended so well with the trees that it was only with patience that she enabled us to observe what she saw so clearly. At one time she told us that there were two giraffes – one a baby lying down. I couldn't see either, but eventually Fr. Kenan managed to manoeuvre the car to enable us to get a clear view. It's the first time I have seen a giraffe seated! The delights continued. I spotted some elephants, we passed some warthogs and came across a small herd of wilderbeest. We expected to meet some zebra but so far they had proved elusive. Fr. Kenan was debating which way to go and then decided to take a particular route, which felt right to him. I also felt we were going the right way and, sure enough, before long a small group of zebra were spotted not far from us. We continued for a while and then Fr. Kenan decided to turn around and try to find the wardens who would know where the white rhino would be. It had been a remarkable visit and I couldn't help recall the walks I used to do on the Cotswold Way. I had been used to doing circular walks – but this was not practical when following this long trail. I therefore got used to walking for 5- 10 miles, then turning around and returning along the same path. I grew to like this type of walk. In many ways the return walk was where the real benefit was. Though a bit weary, I would start back having left a lot of the cares and tensions with which I started. The journey became a bit familiar and comforting, but the perspective very different and it seemed that in many ways the walk mirrored my inner journey at that time. Turning around at the park again gave me hope – though I hardly thought that we could improve on our experience so far.

We were immediately rewarded with a herd of zebra very close to the car – we stopped for a while as they moved around us, crossing the road a few metres from the car. Eventually we found the park officers close to the Zambezi at one end of the park. One guy jumped aboard our vehicle with his gun and he directed Fr. Kenan. He told us to stop the car and asked if we could see the rhino. We saw nothing! He invited us to get out of the car and gave us some instructions about how to follow him towards the animals. Soon we spotted the rhinos in the distance. I had this experience in 2003 on my first visit and was not surprised when we gradually made our way to a place within about 20 metres of this huge animals. The warden called to them as we arrived and they raised there heads in acknowledgement.
It was a little difficult to realise that these were very powerful wild animals so close to us. Obviously the wardens know them very well and have even built up some sort of relationship with them. One of the rhinos was pregnant and the warden said they were increasing in numbers. He told me that they didn't attack cars. Though he then added that Gumboot – one of the animals I met last time – had died. Gumboot had taken to attacking cars and I think he had written off 49 when I met him!!

When returning with the warden we came across a herd of buffalo – some of us got out of the car to get a better look, but unfortunately they ran off before we could get close.

We said goodbye and headed out of the park, but not before we saw many more hippos – some on the island in the middle of the Zambezi and a small herd of elephants that were heading our way!

It was an unexpected delight for Amy to go 'on safari' – she was keen to let them know back home that she was experiencing something that friends had longed to have the opportunity to do.

On our way to Victoria Falls we met more elephants on side of the road. Fr. Kenan dropped us off and headed back to the lodge for an hour's rest. It was the first time for Amy to see the falls and Jennipher's first time to see them close – neither were disappointed by the spectacle. At this time of the year the amount of water can be disappointing, but perhaps because of the cooler weather and heavier late rains the falls were looking good. As Amy reminded her mother, these are the 'big' falls - beating Niagara in all aspects! There was enough water to produce the impressive rainbows for which Victoria falls are famous. There was also a pleasant spray which blessed us with precious water, which was refreshing and cooling in the hot sun. I couldn't help but look at very small sections of the waterfall and think how we would wax lyrical if we had something like that in our garden – here there were many thousands of such beautiful sections. In case we doubted that God was there offering his covenant, there was even a double rainbow at the end of our walk.

I was delighted to be able to share the experience with Jennipher, Amy and Dilys – it was a pity that Fr. Kenan wasn't up to joining us on this occasion.

The experience for Dilys was very different to that in 2006, when there was little water at the falls and we saw very few animals. The one animal that was absent from the Falls this time was the baboon. These had become a bit of a menace and I wonder whether steps had been taken to remove them.

We knew that we were cutting it fine when Fr. Kenan picked us up a little after 16hrs. He told us that he met a herd of elephants crossing the road on his way to the lodge – after waiting a while he followed the car in front which drove between them! We headed to the river to pick up a sunset cruise. There was not a lot of activity by the boat we had chosen. The site was pleasant with a small pool – which Amy looked at wishing she had come prepared for a swim – and tables overlooking the Zambezi. We were told that they did not intend to have a cruise that evening and we should have been in touch earlier. The staff rang a nearby cruise which was full and had left anyway. It appeared that we had missed out by ½ hour or so. I was a bit surprised that it appeared that the day would end in disappointment. Then we were told that it we waited a few minutes they would prepare the boat just for our small party! In the event a lady from Barcelona joined us to make a party of six people and three crew!

We were treated to views of hippos, elephants, giraffes, baboons and crocodiles as well as a variety of birds. The crew were very knowledgeable about the wildlife and we had their personal attention and traversed the river to get a better look at anything of interest. We had a brie (barbecue) of chicken and sausages and were supplied with any drinks we required. Altogether another wonderful and magical experience to complete a very special day.

We returned to the lodge very content. Fr. Kenan turned in early, while the rest of us enjoyed a game of cards.

We had intended visiting the museum and craft park on Tuesday morning, but unfortunately Dilys slipped on a mat and chipped a couple of teeth and Fr. Kenan was still suffering. I also had some things to do back in Monze, so we decided to go briefly into town and then make tracks back home. I was happy to do my fair share of driving and we tried to arrange to see Sr Christeta in Choma.

Sr. Christeta used to be in charge of the project for orphaned children at Monze Mission Hospital – Buntolo. Dilys met her in 2006 and they got on very well. She has since moved not far from Choma. Attempts to call her en-route to say we would be early failed. However, the Lord had everything in hand and, as we entered Choma, we noticed her walking along the road. She was with her sister and we all joined forces and went to a local café for a small meal.

It gave Dilys and Sr. Christeta a chance to catch up and for Amy to meet another amazing Zambian character. Sr. Christeta is the bubbliest Zambian I have ever met – probably the bubbliest person worldwide come to think of it! She seemed to be empowered by Dilys and her encouragement in the area of child bereavement. As a result of this Sr. Christeta has introduced some of the concepts into the work she does and has passed them on to the people now working at Buntola. Dilys started to realise just how much she was able to offer and with more time what she might be able to do. Maybe another year she will be able to follow up on some of these ideas.

We arrived back in Monze at about 16 hours and I immediately got to work. It was after 19.30 when we headed for the priests' house for supper. By this time I had covered a considerable distance visiting the hospital, District Office, convent and Mrs. Sianga's house (where I delivered a couple of laptops) among other places.

It was good not to have to cook in the evening, because there was still some packing and cleaning still to do.

I was up by 6 hrs on the Wednesday and, after mass, paid a visit to the bank, called around at the priests' house to say goodbye to Prudence and Gertrude who had looked after me so much during my stay, and tried to find Ireen who should have a couple of items ready for me. My activities continued non-stop until we left for the bus stop with Fr. Spencer at just after 9hrs. I found Ireen at the last minute but hadn't time to wait for her to sew on the buttons – I am sure we can cope with that little job!

Despite apparently booking seats on one of the buses we were told they were full and we were directed to another bus company recently established. In the event this turned out fine and before 10 hours we were on our way to Lusaka. A taxi took us to Longacres Lodge. I have a reasonable idea of taxi prices these days and negotiated the price at the top of my limit. The driver tried to get a tip but already had one as far as I was concerned. On the other hand the taxi driver who agreed to take us to the airport gave a very reasonable quote which I was happy to accept. Sometimes people will attempt to extract as much as possible from tourists – and this is understandable, but often they are very reasonable being happy to take a modest profit.

I was happy to help carry bags etc. all the way to our rooms, but having settled I felt only able to collapse and sleep. I suddenly realised that I had developed a nasty cough and cold and all my energy was sapped.

I had arranged to meet with Justina and she joined us for a drink in the afternoon when we discussed the emergence of LIFE Zambia. It was an opportunity for Dilys to meet Justina for the first time. Having eaten at lunchtime we popped across the road for a snack in the evening and I headed for my bed by 8 pm – something virtually unheard of.

We had no great rush in the morning but decided to order the taxi for 9.30 am after our breakfast. When we arrived at the airport we had to wait for an hour before checking in. The lift was out of order so I minded the bags while Dilys and Amy had a drink in the cocktail lounge. I swapped with Dilys for a short while and played a game of pool with Amy.

Unlike my experience last year, we checked in very quickly and passed our time in the departure lounge before getting ready to board. We had not been able to check in on line from Lusaka – though it was now possible to check in for the onward flight from Johannesburg. We took advantage of the Internet Café in the departure lounge. This was fine except they had run out of paper! So often the experience in Zambia is that there is something missing! Like lack of lights in the hotel bathrooms! Fortunately a friend of Amy's had given her some paper. This we straightened and used to print our boarding cards!

I suspect that they have been influence by the British obsession with targets, so at the appointed time we passed the gate ready to board. For the next 40 minutes we waited – many of us sat on the floor - before progressing to another security check, another waiting area and finally being allowed to board the plane.

We had a good flight to Johannesburg, but the hour's queue at the transit desk was not what I wanted and I needed a long sit down to recover. Fortunately there was a small band with African xylophones and drums that entertained us during our wait. We finally moved to some very comfortable seats looking out at the planes, where we enjoyed a final drink in Africa before our flight home.

The flight home overnight was long but uneventful and we arrived to find Baby already at the airport.

It was good to be back, but I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and the tiredness didn't help.

It is only now that I am ready to start accessing the trip. I think in many ways it will mark a new phase – you will have to wait a little for more thoughts.

Best wishes


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Final Days in Monze

Sunday 11th September

Since retuning to the UK both Dilys and myself have been suffering from a very heavy cold and lack of energy. However, I think that it is time to try and describe the final week in Zambia.

On the Tuesday I had agreed to meet up with some of the students we are supporting through St. Gregory's church – Education Fund. Dilys wasn't well enough to join us, but Amy and myself made our way to the church at Manungu. We were late setting off and I was aware of the amount of walking etc. over the past few days – so we picked up a taxi for the couple of kilometres. In the event we still waited an hour before anyone arrived. Eventually three lads arrived – two were twins. It was a shame more hadn't made it, but it was good to talk to the guys who did arrive. Amy was able to describe some of the differences between schooling in the different countries – but perhaps what struck her most was the fact that students in Zambia seem to have high aspirations and a determination to do well at school which no longer seems present in the UK. It is so important that people have the chance of education in Zambia. The children we are supporting are unlikely to finish their education without our help. For some this could be the one opportunity they get to escape from a life defined by the poverty in which they find themselves. I am hoping that this is an area that we can expand when I return to the UK. Getting to know the students individually is important – it was as a result of such a meeting that we got to know Best, who is now working in Lusaka as a Legal Clerk.

Before we left the church Obert came up to us to say thanks for helping him get a new leg – which he proudly showed us. He was obviously coping with it very well. During the next few days both of his parents visited us to show their gratitude. Obert is obviously a very determined young man and I hope that he is very successful. With his new legs he is hardly disabled at all. However, there will be many who are not so lucky and without support they will not receive the artificial limbs they require. We walked back home after our meeting.

On Wednesday Amy wasn't feeling too good and decided not to join me for the trip to Lukamantano. This is the village on the banks of the lake formed by the Hichanga Dam. About twenty years ago a nun was supporting some people with physical disabilities and suggested that they set up this village to provide mutual support and to enable others to concentrate their efforts. Although I have visited before, I haven't properly met the community. I was therefore looking forward to the meeting and the opportunity to find out more about the place and the people.

Over the years many of the residents had established families and decided to start a community school, with the help of the Catholic Church. This has now become a focus for the community and also takes children from nearby villages. Some progress has been made to obtain government support – though they rely on the church to pay some of the staff costs. They are currently building a staff house, which they hope will enable them to obtain another government teacher – as always, funds are very difficult to obtain.

A number of the people in the village are starting gardens to provide vegetables – boreholes have been provided through the church and, with a solar pump, water is available throughout the village.

The people also make baskets and hats to produce a little income from the occasional visitors. There are of course many needs – including wheelchairs and other mobility aids. I am very glad to have had a chance to meet this community and hope to maintain the connection on future trips. It would be good to try to link the community, and perhaps the school, with groups in the UK.

Neither Amy and Dilys were on top form so I used the opportunity to catch up on the many little projects where I had more work to complete.

By Friday Dilys and Amy had to be better, because we had an appointment at Pemba. Jennipher was also just getting over a bout of malaria. In the morning we went to the children's ward where they had a group of children with HIV/AIDS coming for support and social activities. I left Dilys and Amy, and called to a few places in the hospital and convent where I had a few things to tidy up.

We were a little late setting out and, for the first time I can remember, there were no buses waiting to go Pemba. We waited ½ hour or so and still no progress. There are always buses outside Tooters going in the direction of Lusaka or Livingstone. On this Friday all the buses were heading towards Lusaka. I discovered that there had been riots in Lusaka that had held up all the buses , so I enquired about the cost of a taxi and agreed a realistic price. I think we might have waited another couple of hours, but for the taxi.

We were dropped at the 'lion' and contacted Jennipher. A couple of minutes later the taxi driver returned to say he had met Jennipher and would take us to her. We were met with singing, dancing and obvious joy! It was good for Amy to experience a proper Zambian welcome. I have already described our meeting with Jennipher and her groups. We returned to Monze on a Rosa bus. It seemed appropriate for Amy to experience the usual mode of transport. Though full the bus was not overfull for once!

Fr. Kenan decided to take us up on the pool session tentatively agreed earlier. So Amy and myself joined him for a couple of hours in the evening. Amy has hardly played before and turned in a very creditable performance. It is clear she is a girl of many talents – given the opportunity she will go far.

On Saturday afternoon I took Amy for a walk to the local dam and we sat down for a while in the quiet and peace of this little oasis. Unfortunately the elections meant that a car with loudspeakers brought us abruptly from our meditations! It was however good to introduce Amy to another aspect of my life in Monze. We saw a snake eagle overhead and for once the local children left us in peace – I think they were a bit intimidated by Amy and weren't sure how to react.

Saturday marked my last full day in Monze so for the rest of Saturday I tried to tidy up the very many bits and pieces still unfinished – with some success.

Our visit to Zambia was almost over, but a trip to Livingstone and Victoria Falls was important to conclude Amy's visit – so we made preparations for the trip as well as preparing to leave our accommodation in Monze.

The final episode of the trip will follow soon!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Wednesday 7th September

Jumping between different worlds can be difficult. Thinking back a couple of weeks to Monday 22nd August seems a little unreal. We had been very busy for a couple of days and took a chance to have an easy morning. In view of the likely schedule ahead, Amy asked Saki to call around for a while in the morning. It seemed that Saki had come to Monze specially to spend time with Amy. Her mother lives in Lusaka and we understand that she would usually have spent her holiday there. I was able to catch up on a few jobs for which I was very grateful.

Fr. Raphael had offered to take us to Chikuni – a town abut 30 km from Monze, where the first Christian missionary priests settled just over 100 years ago. The Jesuit priests are still very prominent in Chikuni. They have become very active in the fight against HIV/AIDS and have an impressive centre from where their activities are planned. As well as testing and counselling they have a large number of volunteers spread throughout their parish – their area extends 30 – 40 km from the centre. In general the Catholic Church in Zambia is very active in respect of voluntary services – in respect of HIV/AIDS support it provides a lot of very useful services. However, the set-up in Chikuni seems quite exceptional. I remember visiting some years previous and being similarly impressed.

One of the activities being undertaken is the drying of fruit and vegetables using solar driers. There are several at the centre and others being taken to the communities to provide a way of preserving food and generating some income. They are also providing boreholes and solar pumps and teaching conservation farming methods.

Our main reason for visiting Chikuni, however, was to visit the museum and cultural centre. The centre shows some of the cultural history of the Tonga people. I think it is a shame that so often the wisdom of our forefathers is lost. In the UK most of us have lost our connection with the natural world, it's moods and rhythms. At Chikuni they are trying to ensure that at least some of the history and way of life is recorded and preserved. They are trying also to collect and preserve some of the folk tales. It is interesting that in history so many people around the world came to similar conclusions – that we are custodians of a world where we should live in harmony with it's other inhabitants; there are forces much more powerful than ourselves which provide us with sun and rain, and ultimately on which our existence depends; there is also a belief that our life on earth is only a part of our existence and that in some way our ancestors can influence a greater power in our support. I believe in a God who was revealed through Jesus Christ, but also a God who has been revealed through many people and their religions throughout the ages. I think it is important to respect the many beliefs of the peoples throughout the world – we have a lot to learn. The ancient Tonga people and the Jesuit priests have a lot in common and both have something to teach us about how we should live today.

I enjoyed the opportunity to get out of town and travel for a while in the bush – the longer trip in the back of the pick-up was another highlight for Amy. On the way back we visited Fr. Raphael's parents at their farm. Apparently wild animals were common when he grew up, but, as it is not in a protected area, you are less likely to see anything these days. We were unlucky and had to make do with a few birds.

By the end of our trip Dilys was feeling weary – she thought she might be a bit dehydrated. In fact it was to become clear that she was suffering from dysentery or something very similar. For the next couple of days she was virtually confined to the house, thus making considerable inroads into her visit.


Monday, September 5, 2011


Monday 5th SeptemberI suppose that I should take up the story two weeks ago and fill in the final 10 days or so in Zambia. However, now that I am once more in the UK, I think it likely that I will follow themes rather than present a strict chronological diary.I returned home feeling weary and suffering from a heavy cold – very much accentuated my my habitual cough. As usual life became very hectic at the end of my visit and I think the frantic activity at the end took its toll.

I am coming around now, but only slowly am I able to assess my visit. Of course the first question I am asked is “was it a successful visit?” This is always difficult to answer – and, feeling ill and worn out, my responses are bound to be biased to the negative.Today I will concentrate on Jennipher. In 2006 I wrote Jennipher's story – which you can read on the HATW website www.hatw.org.uk. A lot has happened since then and an update is well overdue – something I will rectify soon.

Since Jennipher's family has, in many ways, become my family in Zambia, it seemed appropriate for Jennipher to spend some time with my Dilys and Amy when they arrived. It was not initially intended that Jennipher would meet them at the Airport. It seemed sensible to give her a lift to Lusaka to get the bicycle ambulance and, having made that decision, I knew that she should accompany us to the airport. The fact that the equipment fitted in the vehicle was a bonus, which gave her time to re-establish the friendship with Dilys and to get to know Amy.Over recent years Jennipher has developed an expertise in setting up AIDS support groups. She seems to understand the way to encourage people to become interested. She is good at getting the headmen involved and is becoming better at finding addition support locally and from NGOs.

This year HATW paid a formal visit to see what she is doing. An early result of which has been the provision of the bicycle ambulance. The bicycle ambulance has created a lot of interest. I have been keen to inform people in the Catholic Church as well local government, and people are eager to monitor how it works. A week last Friday, Dilys, Amy and myself were invited to Pemba. There we were guests of honour at a meeting where Jennipher had several support groups represented. (One group claimed to be based more than 100 kilometres away and yet was set up by Jennipher!) The bicycle ambulance took pride of place and was demonstrated by Soloman. The headman representing the chief headman said proudly that the bicycle ambulance was not Jennipher's nor was it for Lyaabe Support group, in fact it was not even for all the AIDS support groups, but it was for the whole community. Anyone who needed transport to a clinic or hospital could use it. He also thought it should be used to help transport coffins to the graveyard for burial, because this was also a problem they had. He believed that it would prove to be a valuable asset.In recent years when I have visited Jennipher, she has often brought together people from her support groups so that they can talk directly to me and I can can respond. I believe that this has helped to prevent misunderstandings and to reduce suspicions that Jennipher is involving me purely for her own personal benefit.

At the meeting on Friday there were many requests for support. The group from Hatontila said they had resources but they hadn't the manpower. They had water and the headman was willing to provide land for a garden, but they needed a treadle pump to pump the water from the lake. Other groups said they needed a few goats in order to start income generating schemes. Jennipher responded by saying that if they registered the groups, they would be able to gain access to funds to finance the sort of income generating projects they needed. For me this too showed great progress because Jennipher was seeing ways of spreading the burden of support.The meeting was at least a very different experience for Amy! When we arrived we were greeted by a group who welcomed us in song and led us in a musical procession to Jennipher's house where others took up the welcome with more songs and hymns that spoke of their delight that we had joined them. Amy was too shy to say too much, but reacted with courtesy and respect. She sat next to Dilys and myself on the three piece suite under the shade of a tall tree! Dilys and myself said a few words of introduction and I was asked for comments about what was discussed. I stressed the importance of registration and the value of working together in partnership. I said that if the groups could raise part of the registration fee, that I would agree to find the rest. Dilys finished by saying a little about child bereavement – the topic she had covered in more depth in 2006.

In the final week or so I had a chance to speak again with the manager from DATF. I was able to say a little more about the bicycle ambulance and Jennipher's plans. She agreed to help Jennipher with the process of registration – together with her colleague.Since arriving back home Jennipher has told me that her groups have already raised their portion of the registration fee, so I was able to forward the balance today via Western Union. Hopefully this should move the groups forward another step.It was important that Amy had a chance to visit Livingstone – and Victoria Falls – before she left Zambia. It was also right for her to have a little relaxation, to see the beauty and potential of this country and to have a little time to reflect on what she had seen in Monze. I was offered transport by Fr. Kenan and decided to use the opportunity to give Jennipher a 'different' experience. So on the last Sunday we picked Jennipher from Pemba on our way to Livingstone. I think that it proved to be a wonderful experience for all of us, but perhaps because it was new to both Amy and Jennipher I suspect they had a particularly memorable time.

You will have to wait for the details of the Livingstone trip – and some more photos!I feel that certainly with Jennipher's projects we have made good progress. I was delighted this year that Dilys and particularly Amy was able to join me.

Somehow Amy's presence made a lot of difference. Perhaps it is because she is of a different generation, perhaps the family made everything more friendly an less formal, in any case I was very proud to have my granddaughter share a very special part of my life. It has also strengthened the ties between our families.

Best wishes


Friday, September 2, 2011

Watch this Space

Friday 2nd September I have just returned to Cheltenham. So much happened during the past couple of weeks that I couldn't start to do justice to it now. So please be a little patient and over the next few days and weeks I will bring you up to date with the adventures of the Barrell family in Zambia. Take Care Chris

Monday, August 22, 2011

Arrival of the family

Sunday 21st August

It is hard to think back to last Saturday – I have moved and now have Dilys and Amy staying with me. I am now cooking again and my time is being fully occupied showing the family around and introducing them to some of my friends.

Last Saturday Best visited in the morning. He has been offered a position as a law clerk in Lusaka and has found some accommodation. I suggested that he accepted the offer and tried to raise a little money to help support his family and if possible to save some towards his degree course.

After lunch I set off to find where St. Veronica's would have their celebration. I set off in good time and eventually found a guide to take me to the venue. The service was confirmed for 14 hrs. We settled under an awning designed to shade us from the sun and gradually the numbers grew. It was good to see so many children ready to join our celebration. At 16.30 Fr. Raphael arrived! He had been held up at a church meeting along with Mr. Moonga. There is always something special about having a small mass for a group of friends. Last year we were privileged to have Fr. Celestino staying with us in Cheltenham. Often he would say mass for just Dilys and myself, using our dining table as the altar. This was not such an intimate mass – it was held outside and therefore neighbours were able to observe our celebration.

After mass I called around to Diven's shop for a quick chat before returning home.

On Sunday I was able to enjoy another mass without the distraction of setting up the computer. I decided that I needed a short walk and bit of relaxation, so I headed for the dam. I stopped at the near bank for a change. There were a couple of girls with a 'fishing net' who started throwing a ball close to me. After a while I decided to move on – and so did they! It seemed that, once again, I was to be deprived of my solitude – by this time the girls had been joined by others , including a few young lads. As usual the binoculars and the bird book where of interest. When David came over he had with him some gifts given on his birthday by his children, these he left with me. So I put my hand in my pocket and when I took it out, I had a bandage on my finger with a nail sticking through it. It received the expected gasps from the children, but I quickly took it off - to roars of laughter. The next game was to get one of the young ones to sit on the whoopee cushion – again with the desired reactions! It is clear that children all over find the same things amusing, so I spent the next few minutes trying out the jokes and made sure that I will never get peace again by my dam!!

On the way home I called at Diven's shop. In fact I had carried the jokes with me because I knew that a group of children loiter around the shop when I come to visit. They too were delighted by the jokes – as was Diven!

Monday was my last realistic full working day, so I tried to ensure that at least the database for the projects team was sorted. In fact I found that there were a few discrepancies still in the records – so even at the end of the day there was work still to do. Access to the network via Airtel is still almost impossible. Whether it is the Airtel network, the dongle, the laptop or a combination I really can't tell. What I do know is that it is very frustrating and has wasted a huge amount of my time.

On Monday evening Jennipher arrived. I had not yet had supper so decided to take her to Tooters for a bite. While there, a guy sat himself beside me without any explanation. I asked him eventually why he had joined us. He said he wanted some food. I said something to the effect that I couldn't feed everyone who asked. Jennipher on the other hand offered to share her meal with him. Afterwards I asked if she knew him and she said no, but he was hungry! Being from this area, I think that it is easier for her to be generous in that way. I suspect that if I did give food and money to everyone who asked, I would have bigger queues than I have now and it would encourage people to beg from other musungus (white people). Still I felt somewhat humbled. Jennipher also managed to save some chicken for her friend Lilian who was providing a 'bed' for the night.

Fr. Kenan confirmed that all was set for the trip to Lusaka the following morning.

Jennipher joined us for breakfast a little after 7 hrs on the Tuesday. I had attended the 6.30 am mass. I had a lot to be thankful for and there was still a bit of travelling where a blessing or two wouldn't go amiss.

Our trip to Lusaka went well and we arrived soon after 10.30. On the way to Disacare I received a text from Dilys suggesting that the plane would be delayed. So we took our time to examine the bicycle ambulance and the wheelchair that I was to purchase. Fr. Kenan decided that he could fit all the equipment in the back of the pick-up, so, after a quick test drive, it was loaded and securely fastened in the back of the pick-up and we headed for the airport.

In the event the plane was only 10 – 15 minutes later than scheduled and we were still having a drink when we saw it land. A few years ago it was possible to sit out on a terrace close to the runway, but unfortunately – no doubt due to fears that we might bring down an aircraft with a few bottles of coke! - this is no longer allowed. Still from our vantage point in the “cocktail lounge” we were able to see Dilys and Amy come off the plane and walk across the tarmac to the arrivals hall.

It was wonderful to give Dilys a hug again after 8 ½ weeks apart. It was a particular joy to see Amy and to be able to welcome her to Zambia – the first of my grandchildren to step onto African soil. A privilege my children have yet to experience.

We broke our trip home at a café where we enjoyed some burgers! It is best that Amy takes a little time to acclimatise. Dilys and Amy already had a shock when they arrived at Johannesburg to find that it was only 3°C! Not the sort of temperature they expected in Africa!

At Kafue Fr. Kenan asked if I wanted to drive – when he said that he preferred if I did, I was happy to take the wheel. I knew that it was tricky to drive through Mazabuka in the dark because of the number of people and bikes (without any lights) that moved along the main road for some kilometres. In the event the light had not completely gone by the time we were clear of the town. We reached Monze a little before 19hrs. Although Dilys and Amy were very tired, having hardly slept for 48hrs, it was late before we turned in.

Needless to say, we didn't arise early on the Wednesday – in fact I can't remember being still in bed quite so late in all my years in Zambia! There was no intention to do a lot, but I introduced Amy to the market and we visited the hospital briefly in the afternoon and stayed for mass at the chapel.

On Thursday we went along to PIZZ school. It seemed that they had hoped to have a session on Skype – though I wasn't aware of this and hadn't tried to organise anything. Some children were having a bit of extra tuition in preparation for next term's grade 7 examinations so we took the opportunity to introduce them to Amy and they had a chance to discuss the differences between their experiences and that of Amy and her friends.

In the afternoon we were invited to visit Best's family. They live on the western edge of Monze, so we had a fair walk through the market and out past the graveyard. I am always struck by the fact that very few graves show details of anyone as old as I am. We were welcomed by Best's aunt and some of the cousins who live with him. They had prepared some nshima and various accompaning vegetable dishes. They also gave us some sump – another maize dish, which Dilys likened to rice pudding – which I suppose would be our nearest equivalent. Amy did well eating some of each dish. Many teenagers would have refused to even try the dishes. Suitably filled we returned to town and Homecraft where we now reside.

Later Saki came around with Mrs. Chiiya – her grandmother – and they took the opportunity to get to know each other a little.

I got together a meal and we settled down to some reading at the end of a busy day.

On Friday Saki had arranged to come around for about 10 hrs. She took Amy back to her house where Amy stayed till about 4 pm. - experiencing yet another nshima meal.

Dilys and I called around at the hospital and dropped off some glasses. Later I picked up a few items from town. I also got the chance to do some more work on the database.

In the evening Reymond called around and I invited Diven to join us for supper and a chat. It was 22 hrs by the time he left and we relaxed before turning in for another late night.

Our schedule is beginning to fill! On Friday morning Fr. Rodgers came around at about 10 hrs. Dilys was particularly pleased to have a chance to talk to him again. In 2006 she discussed the issue of child bereavement. As chaplain to the hospital and in his work with the student nurses and midwives, Fr. Rodgers is involved with a lot of counselling. Dilys in her work as a Social Worker and a pastoral assistant at the church has had a lot of involvement in very similar fields. There is a good understanding between them of the difficult situations people face. People are very complex and, although there are huge differences across the world, many of the issues that trouble us are very similar.

We called around at the Cathedral, where we understood some young people were meeting. There is a Youth Congress for the diocese taking place at the end of this month at Pemba. The young people have songs and sketches to practice. It was clear that the young people were organising themselves and not relying on adult control, as often happens back in the UK. As we arrived they were busy practising one of the songs. We were welcomed into their group and listened for a while to the proceedings of their meeting.

After lunch we headed for Our Lady's church in Manungu. It was a 2 km walk along the Livingstone Road to the south of Monze. Already Amy and Dilys had walked a few kilometres since arriving on Tuesday. I pushed the wheelchair as far as Charles house and we spent a short time in conversation with him. He was delighted to see Amy for the first time and re-acquaint himself with Dilys. He was also pleased to have a wheelchair that could go in the boot of a car and allow him to inspect his projects properly for the first time.

At Our Lady's church we found the choir already practising. They had been told that I wanted to record some of the music so that we would be able to introduce some into the mass back in the UK, so they were ready to oblige. I recorded a number of songs and was promised that the words would be provided. Afterwards we took the opportunity to talk to some of the other groups who were meeting and to listen to the children practising for their Sunday mass. The place was a hive of activity, with most of the beautiful thatched shelters in use.

We had been out for some time and I thought a little relaxation was called for. I directed our small band to Southern Comfort Motel were we had some soft drinks and sat ourselves in front of their large TV screen. This hotel provided my first accommodation in Monze, when I arrived in 2003. Because our guest house wasn't quite ready, the 'boys' were put up here, while the 'girls' stayed at Truckers – an altogether different quality of lodging! The girls certainly didn't have a full English breakfast – not to mention en-suite bedrooms, neither did we after that first night!!

Suitably refreshed we coped with the return journey without any problems! Before picking up the laptop Mrs. Sianga had left at the priests' house I was invited to meet some relatives of a friend I can't place, who had just been to a memorial mass. After entering the bus and greeting those inside, I was asked to give them a blessing. Despite explaining that I wasn't a priest, a blessing was duly given! I bumped into Fr. Joseph and chatted for a while before joining Dilys and Amy back home.

This morning I arrived at church with the laptop. At mass a group of children were making a commitment as part of an organisation called “Action” who help out with the general running of the church. They were invested with their uniforms and welcomed in traditional fashion. At the end of mass Dilys, Amy and myself were asked to come to the front of the church and I said a few words, as did Dilys. This was another important step in the development of the partnership between the communities in Monze and Cheltenham. After mass we eventually made contact with St. Gregory's church and had the opportunity to exchange a few words. We finished the video link with some songs from Our Lady of the Wayside including Bind us Together Lord, in which we were joined by parishioners from St. Gregory's church.

We were then treated to a meal with representatives from the parish – the Small Christian Communities and the parish council. This small celebration was laid on in our honour – again to help grow our burgeoning friendship.

After the meal and a few words from both groups Fr. Raphael gave us a lift to St. Veronica's Small Christian Community. Amy had a chance to join me on the back of the pick-up – a treat that wouldn't be permitted in the UK!. We stayed for an hour or so with the community. I had intended to make it a speedy visit – Amy have been very patient, but it wasn't fair to expect her to sit through lengthy discussions in Chitonga. Unfortunately I found it difficult to find a suitable place at which to excuse ourselves. It was important that the group had a chance to meet Dilys and Amy since they are very much part of my life here in Monze.

It was about 17 hrs when we arrived back home and it had been yet another full day. At least I had no need to cook another meal this evening.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sun & Moon

Friday 12th August

As the sun set in the West the moon was rising in the East. This configuration produces the wonderful full moon here in Zambia. After a few hours the moon will be overhead producing a wonderful and mysterious light – easily bright enough to see your way by, with no clouds to dim its beams.

Another week has gone. It was good on Sunday to leave the laptop behind and to be able to enjoy the mass without distraction. A change in the weather meant that this week people sought the shade rather than looking for warmth from the sun. Could I at last abandon my jumper!!

I received no word from Airtel on Monday and my laptop keeps crashing when I try to use the modem! Reconciliation of the records on the Monze projects database has proved more time- consuming than I would have wished and no one was about to sort out a programme or to work on a variety of my tasks.

I had arranged to visit Charles on Monday afternoon – usually we get together soon after I arrive in Monze, but this year Charles has been busy with meetings and workshops and this is our first opportunity to get together. As usual we discussed politics at first and I put forward some of my prejudices! The maize crop failed this year through a combination of a dry spell in the middle of the rainy season, followed by torrential rain and flooding. Very little was left to harvest. The general view is that, across the country, the harvest overall will be good. What seems to be happening is that conditions vary in relatively small areas, so within a few kilometres the outcomes can be very different. As usual I enjoyed our discussions.

I had to leave a little abruptly because I had agreed to meet Justina at 5pm. Justina has produced a couple of training manuals for the prospective pro-life group “LIFE Zambia”. The steering committee is ready to register the group and establish a bank account. The plan is to launch the organisation next year in about April.

The bishop has returned from Italy, after having heart bypass surgery. The priests from around the diocese were meeting him on the Tuesday and some had come on Monday to stay over. Fr. Kenan mentioned the pool table and claimed that I was the guy to beat – so after supper a few priests, a cousin of Fr. Kenan's and myself adjourned to the pool room. By 2 am, after we had enjoyed a few Mosis and had many enjoyable games, we ran out of tokens and had to call it a day (or perhaps a night!)

On Tuesday I rang Airtel and the manager got back to me to say that my data had been loaded on the Friday evening. The problems I have been having since have prevented me taking.
advantage of the system, but I was happy to accept that they had done their part.

Jennipher called around and I told her the good news about getting money for her to buy a cycle ambulance.

Tuesday afternoon I planned to go out with Edward but in the event he was feeling too tired. Trying to access the Internet meant another late and frustrating night.

I spent Wednesday fighting technology again. I was planning to return to Chisamba on Friday, but was informed that the Saturday meeting had been postponed. In many ways this is a relief. I have very little time left and the trip to Chisamba would take up three days – two of them travelling! However, I won't get another opportunity to visit before I leave and it was important to attend the next committee meeting.
Yesterday I thought I had spent more than enough time on the computer and gave Shatis a ring. He said I was welcome to visit, so after lunch I headed up the 'High Street' to Lwengu school. It is an oasis on the edge of the town. I was interested for a few tips in case I manage to visit Lochinvar with Dilys and Amy. Shatis is very interested in nature and enjoys visiting the local Parks. He showed me the best area to head for in Lochinvar and was hoping to find a better map. He was suffering from a slipped disc or would have escorted us to Lochinvar.

After quite a wide ranging discussion Shatis took me to see the developments at the school. First I remarked on how beautiful it looked and he pointed out the trees that were planted by the students. He has a map showing each tree and the name of the student who planted it alongside. I have often thought how wonderful it would be to plant a tree and watch it grow over many years. In Cheltenham my garden is already over populated with trees and has no room for another – though Dilys tells me one has died – so maybe a replacement is called for.

The talk in town has been about the new swimming pool at the school. As with everything else at the school, the swimming pool is well made, of ample proportions and I am sure will become a star attraction. It is sighted in an area that isn't too far from 'The Holy Family' - which is a centre that provides therapy and aids for those with physical disabilities. Shatis is trying to incorporate features into the school buildings to make it accessible for people with disabilities. So the new buildings incorporate ramps etc. and the pool will also have facilities to enable all people to make full use of it.

I might at last have identified the problem and possibly a solution to my modem problems. So feeling a lot better at lunch time I returned home to find the modem was missing! Sometimes I believe the Lord is trying to send me a message. For my entire time in Zambia the modem has been a major headache and cause me endless distress and wasted huge amounts of my time and energy. It has been stolen and now was lost!! I decided I needed to be prepared to let it go – other things are far more important. Once more I needed to have more faith and leave everything in God's hands.

I hadn't been far, since I knew that I had the modem, so I quickly traced my steps. As I entered the office of the Human Resources Manager, he said he was trying to find my phone number because he had found something he was sure was mine! Sometimes you are just meant to be willing to give something up, often the Lord doesn't impose the agreed sacrifice, but in fact provides wonderful gifts instead. In 1995 I had the courage to decide to leave work, with the idea of working with people with disabilities. I had expected to go without any remuneration,but, having take the decision, I eventually left with an excellent package, which has made possible my new life working here in Africa.

This afternoon I finally reconciled my 30,000 records with the hundred or so spreadsheets that form the basis of my database!

Sometimes interesting topics come up at meal times. Fr. Spencer has recently returned from Preston in the UK and, while there, visited a community in the Lake District where they support those suffering from the addictions of alcohol and drugs. He is wondering about setting up some sort of centre in Monze and asked for my thoughts. I don't feel qualified to advise on what might be appropriate in Zambia, but my experience is that the people who give the best advice are generally those who have been there themselves. To some extent it is only by going through an illness or suffering from a disability, that you can really understand what it is like. My own experience of depression has enabled me to be able to strike a rapport with others suffering from the illness. I know a little of what they are going through and it is clear from the discussions, that we have a good level of understanding. Very often one will say something and it strikes a chord because the other knows exactly what she is saying. I am sure that this is also true for those who have an illness of addiction. These are illnesses and have no easy cure – if in fact they can ever be fully cured.

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my family, but for now will once again say goodnight.


P.S. I realise that another week has passed. I hope to post an update tomorrow explaining the delay!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Life Giving Encounters

Saturday 6th August

In Ignatian spirituality discernment is key. Recognising what leads us to God (or to do good) and what leads us away from good (or God) is very important, if we are to lead a fulfilling life. It is suggested that before going to sleep a useful exercise is to examine our day and consider the 'life-giving' experiences that we had. Yesterday, as I prepared for rest after a long day, I was struck by just how contented I was and began to recall numerous encounters throughout the day which were truly life-giving. I also realise that most of them were from interactions with the people around me.

I woke early. At 5 am the bells at the Catholic church rang out to remind the people that there would be mass at 6 am. This was repeated at 5.30 for those, like me, who turned over to sleep a little longer! So just after the second set of bells I woke myself up with a quick wash and shave and headed for mass.

It was last year when I last joined the community here for mass. After mass a few parishioners greeted me “good morning”, “mwauka bwanji” or “mwabuka buti” - there was particular delight when I responded to the Tonga greeting with “kabotu, mwabuka buti”. It makes a huge difference just to be able to respond to a simple greeting – I wish I could do much more - the smiles I received marked the start of a life-giving day. I had a chance to talk to Fr. Dominic after mass. I would very much like him to be involved in the project, but for some reason his support has not been summoned. The original project was started by Fr. Tim under the auspices of the Catholic Church and, in some quarters, the project was thought to have become too closely associated with that body – perhaps some are still concerned about getting the balance right. There is obviously a lot that the church has to offer, so I hope that in time a productive relationship will be developed.

A few minutes after 6hrs, the sun rises above the horizon and by the end of mass its beams beckoned from the open church doors. The air was still crisp and cold after the night and before 7 hrs the sun has little strength.

I returned to the Guest House and packed my backpack. I feel obliged to carry a selection of books, which make my bag particularly heavy. When I am moving around Lusaka, as I was this Friday, it can be a bit of an encumbrance. Walking through town isn't too bad, though after a while I feel the weight, but trying to move in the small buses with the backpack and laptop on my knee can be cumbersome – especially when invariably the person wanting to get off the bus is behind me! Here there are not usually gangways on the buses. People are packed right across the width. So to get out other passengers first have to disembark, or you climb over them trying not to step on too many toes, or fall on top of them. This is tricky in normal circumstances, but with my luggage it is made many times worse!

Some guys from the Guest House, who I think where involved in a government department, offered me a lift. Once I had settle my account, we set off across some fields! To be honest most of the time we were on small dirt roads, but when we got lost a guy escorted us across his field to get back on track! It turned out that a colleague owned a farm in Chisamba and they wanted to view it before moving on. They took a few pictures and we headed back to the tarmac and set off towards Lusaka. I have often been offered lifts by complete strangers. The people of Zambia pride themselves on their friendliness and hospitality - in my experience they live up to that claim.

As we headed for Chisamba turn-off (the junction with the Great North Road) a solitary monkey ran swiftly across the road in front of us. It is a while since I have seen monkeys along this road, but it is always a delight when I do. Its one of those experiences you never get driving around Cheltenham!

I was dropped off at Ten Miles - called because of the distance from Lusaka. Once on the main roads heading for Lusaka, getting buses is never a problem and you rarely wait more than a couple of minutes – as was true in this instance.

I have always found the conductors on the small buses very honest with the fares. They could be tempted to increase the price for a 'white man' but that is rarely the case. The conductor hadn't enough change so charged me 5,000 instead of the official 6 pin! I think he was somewhat surprised when I handed him an extra 1,000 in order to pay the correct fare.

There are numerous bus stations in Lusaka. On the past few occasions I have left at one bus station only to be returned to another across the town. I knew of yet another bus station where I catch the Chelston bus that takes the great East Road, heading towards the airport and passing Lwisha House ( the Jesuit Centre) and Manda Hills which was my next destination. I headed across town and eventually found my bus. The Chelston bus is one of the few that you can happily jump aboard as the first passenger. In this instance the bus was empty, but, by the time I confirmed that I was on the right bus, there were 3 or 4 passengers already on-board and within a couple of minutes it was full and ready to depart. A young man next to me started chatting and we shared a little about what we were doing. Owen is a musician and he told me that he had been involved with some volunteers from Germany who thought Zambians should be proud of their culture. They had helped his group made a CD and hoped to promote it for them. I agreed that often Zambians seem to regard anything from abroad as automatically being better than goods produced within the Country. It is important that the people of Zambia take pride in their culture and recognise the many talents they have.

The traffic in Lusaka has increased in recent years and congestion is a major problem. No ring roads or bypasses have been built to allow through traffic to avoid the city, so the problems are inevitable.
Eventually we escaped the clutches of the city traffic and I reached my destination. After Monday's experience, I was more alert – and, importantly, knew exactly where I was heading. The fact that I stopped to get my bearings earlier in the week made me vulnerable. I therefore strided purposefully to the Airtel Centre, where I asked the girl at the customer services desk for a refund. After a little while she escorted me to the managers office. The time was about 11.30 and I was pleased to arrive before any possible lunch closure.

The manager welcomed me in and assured me that she would sort the problem. I pointed out that I had heard this from many people in Airtel and yet, after more than a month, had made no progress – why should I believe that she would resolve the problem. She assured me that she was different and that it would be sorted. A refund didn't seem to be within her purview. I suggested that I would wait while she demonstrated her ability and she said that was fine by her!

And so I parked myself in her office. After half an hour to three- quarters, with no visible progress, I commented on my poor experience with the Airtel internet product when I was connected. She assured me that progress was being made to upgrade the network and 3G operation was being spread throughout the country. She offered to let me test the new system, which is already present in Lusaka, by lending me a laptop in her office. For the next hour or two – in fact it was two! I was able to catch up on my e-mails and check all the reasonably priced hotels and lodges in Livingstone that were listed on the Internet. Those with prices of $200, $300 and above (per person per night) I ignored! At least I now have a list of possible places to stay at the end of the visit, when Dilys and Amy will be with me. There were comprehensive details of many places together with photos and prices. So my time wasn't wasted and both myself and Yanker (the manager) were more comfortable than we would have been if I just sat glaring at her!!

At lunchtime she offered me a slice of pizza and a drink of squash, which I gratefully accepted. She showed me the e-mails she had sent pointing out that she had now had this customer parked in her office for several hours and I heard her end of a number of conversations trying to escalate the issue. A little after 2 pm she rang her boss and told him the problems she was having – and those I had experienced. She eventually asked him if he would speak to me. He again tried to assure me and said if I gave him an hour or so he expected to have everything fully resolved. He suggested there was no need to stay in Yanker's office! I was wanting to move on (in fact I hoped to be away before noon) and was sure that at 5pm everyone would go and I wouldn't have achieved any more – they weren't going to give me a refund! So having been given Yanker's number and that of her boss, who told me not to go to customer services, but straight to him, if things weren't resolved quickly, I called my sit-in to a halt and left Yanker on good terms. Strange as it may seem, the experience in Yanker's office was one I count among the life-giving moments of the day.

I didn't delay but headed straight for the bus and a return to Lusaka. Time was moving on and I had arranged to meet Justina to discuss Zambia LIFE. I rang and we decided to postpone the meeting until she was next in Monze – this coming Monday. It can be difficult to get back to Monze if it is left too late. However, I was fairly certain that there was a 'big bus' at 19hrs which would act as a long stop (hopefully there would be a seat.) Anyway I decided that if I got back to the city centre reasonably quickly and could find another bus which didn't take two hours to fill, I would chance a trip to Disacare.

In the event I was again brought back to the bus stop I first alighted from when I came from Chisamba earlier in the day. It struck me that perhaps this was a useful alternative for local buses and before traipsing across town, I should see whether there was a bus heading out towards Chilenge, which Harrison had told me was what I should look for. Indeed not only was there, clearly marked, a line of buses heading out to Chilenge but also one to Chelston – so I could have saved myself a walk earlier. Again there was little delay, before I was on my way out of town once more. I asked the guy next to me if he could tell me when I had arrived at my destination. He said that he was alighting before me, but he had a word with the conductor on my behalf. In the event he decided to stay an extra stop so that he could make sure I found Disacare.

After trying to find someone at the office a man came up to me to see if he could help. I explained that a friend had found details of the company on the Internet and that I was very interested in what they were doing. Charles took me to a workshop and showed me the wheelchairs and bicycle ambulance that they made. I was impressed particularly by how substantial the ambulance trailer was. The picture on the Internet doesn't do it justice. Having seen it, I could imagine that it would work well, even on some of the roads in the rural areas of Zambia. The standard wheelchair that is provided is similar in style to those produced in the UK, in that it has two small wheels at the front. The back tyres however are typical bike tyres with plenty of grip and the front wheels are wider, made from solid rubber. I was also told that the bearings were stronger – being the same as used for caterpillar tracks. The frames are welded iron and certainly look very substantial. The chairs fold to enable them to be easily transported in the boot of a car.

Charles told me a little more about some of their products and also about other activities in which they are involved. They have a basketball pitch outside and train people in wheelchair basketball. They are connected with an organisation in the Netherlands and on being given a small donation they invited some local people with disabilities to come and try out wheelchair basketball. As a direct result this group formed themselves into a team and regularly play against the 'Disacare' team. The organisation is committed to help people will disabilities to become self-sufficient and to empower them socially as well as economically.

When I left formal employment I had intended setting up a consultancy where people with disabilities would advise companies on how best to provide facilities for people with the same challenges – particularly wheelchair users. So often these experts are not fully involved in the provision of such facilities and many mistakes are made. I shared this with Charles who told me that I should revive this project when I return to the UK. I often think that I should pursue this task, but seem to be constantly distracted by the work related to my life here in Africa.

Charles showed me a scrap heap of foreign made wheelchairs for which they had no spare parts to repair. They repair what wheelchairs they can and their own are designed to be strong in the first place and to use easily available parts so that repairs are simple.

Charles introduced me to the company director, who showed me the latest invention – a motorbike ambulance which can also be used to carry produce.

I left delighted that I had the opportunity to see the place and the products and particularly pleased to have met Charles.

Once I had been shown where to catch a bus back to town, I jumped aboard and soon was once more in the city centre.

Since it was only a little past 17hrs I decided to try to find a Monze Rosa bus down the Kafue Road. I was fortunate to find one reasonably full. It was also heavily laden with a variety of goods. Bags of maize flour and other commodities are placed along the gangway and then folding chairs come down on top of them. Then every other available space is used to stack luggage of various sorts. Many small scale traders go to Lusaka to pick up goods at cheap wholesale prices. It appears that it is worth the fare to stock up there, rather than buy from a local wholesaler. Often cardboard boxes with a few chickens – their heads sticking out of small holes – are taken on board. I wasn't aware of any livestock on this particular bus.

We soon set off and made good progress to Mazabuka. I decided to close my eyes for a bit and try to meditate. As we came to Mazabuka the conductor joked about me sleeping and said we would soon be in Monze – I retorted something to the effect that he was a fine job and it wouldn't take long. The coductors of these buses are often great characters. Their job is to fill the bus and keep it full throughout the journey. This one had a great sense of humour and had the passengers in hoots of laughter at his banter with the policeman at a check point in Kafue. We dropped someone just after Mazabuka and in doing so it was noticed that we had a flat tyre. So we were going to be in Monze a little later than planned! The tyre changed, we turned around and headed back to Mazabuka to a garage, because the spare had a slow puncture and needed to be fully inflated.

It was about 21.40 when we pulled into Tooters (which fortunately is opposite my house). I picked up a carton of milk on my way in, but was surprised to be locked out! I decided to phone Fr. Kenan who was obviously surprised. It turned out that a visiting priest was using a room in my block and had put down the catch on the yale lock. I had seen a light on but assumed that it was for security.

I made myself a couple of cups of coffee and settled down with John Simpson's Wars of Saddham Hussain, content with the day.

Today by contrast has been uneventful. I did some reading, wrote a few e-mails and sent them over the Internet, together with the blog posting that failed to go on Thursday night.

I strolled down to the dam and was met by my young friends – one of whom took my binoculars and later the bird book. It was clear that I would get no peace at the lake today! They wanted to know why I hadn't come with the ball that they asked for last time. It you want to make some local children happy then a ball would be much appreciated!!

I was surprised to see a man catch a small fish – the first I have ever seen caught at the lake – though they wouldn't just be fishing here for fun! My friend – the gang leader – pointed out the boy whose father had made the catch.

This time I wasn't escorted back home. The sun was beginning to set giving the grass and trees the rich golden brown hue that seems to be a special feature of African sunsets. The sky, that had been unbroken blue all day, glowed gold and orange as day quickly gave way to night.

I was approaching Diven's shop when a young woman asked me why I hadn't been around to see Mr Chaambwa. She said I should visit and then explained that he had moved to a house opposite Diven's shop. I was invited in and spent a few minutes chatting to my old friend Edward – the ex headteacher of Monze Basic School. Last time I saw him he was not at all well in hospital. He says he is recovering and is certainly seemed a lot better than when we last met. I said I would see him in the week - we would get together for a couple of drinks and chat properly.

I made a delayed visit to Diven and arranged for him to get some Finta (milk) in stock, most of which I will buy over the remaining weeks.

It was already dark when I returned home, but the half moon was more than adequate to light my way.

I was alone at supper tonight, though there was enough food for three or four. After my meal – again alone in the lounge - I attempted to change from ZNBC to BBC World but had no luck. I think I was meant to watch the programme which was similar to the very early candid camera. The situations were just very silly and everyone was able to see the funny side – unlike some of the recent programmes which seem to deliberately set out to upset and humiliate people. When I did change to BBC the news wasn't on anyway, so I returned to my home and my blog!

Well that's your lot for now!



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Life at Chisamba

Thursday 4th August

Yesterday was again cool, with lots of wind and clouds that at times obscured the sun. The wind makes the wind pump blades spin and, though much water is leaking, the tanks are full and even the water in the large reservoir is near the top. The wind-pump pumps the water from a borehole and currently provides all the water for the site. Water comes from high level tanks to the houses, toilets and a number of taps around the site. Water overflows from the tanks into a reservoir which can provide additional water to the gardens and eventually it will be used to top up the ponds during the dry season.

I had a bit of work to do in respect of the diocesan projects database, so I settled myself down to that task in the classroom, while Harrison got on with other work. Trying to make sure my 13,000 records match the spreadsheets from which they were derived can be tricky – when initially they don't! I still have some minor discrepancies.

Some of the students who completed their course last year are busy making garments when the new students are not around. They seem to be specialising in different products. One makes shirts and skirts, another a suit, and another bedsheets and pillow cases. They are all hoping to be able to set up little businesses of their own, in time. For now they are able to use the machines at the centre and earn a little money to help the family finances.

In the afternoon I went through the accounts system again with Harrison. He has now had a bit of experience entering all the details from the receipts. The system enables the manager to control and understand the finances better. It also allows me to comprehend the reality of running the centre from an accounting perspective. This has helped me to see that the centre has an ongoing problem where expenses exceed the regular income. It is as a result of the system that I understand some of the difficulties and can make a strong case for additional short term funding, until some good income generating activities can fill the gap.

I attempted in vain to connect to the Internet with Airtel and 10,000 kwacha in airtime. In fact that is not quite true - I connected, but didn't manage to send or open any mails. I decided that when I go to Lusaka on Friday it is a refund that I want, not Gigabytes of unusable data bundles!

It was a full breakfast this morning with eggs, chips, bread onions and tomato. I missed my chips yesterday and almost asked whether there was a chance of some before I returned to Monze. Seeing that breakfast was almost complete I didn't say anything – but got my wish anyway! At home I am content with some cornflakes – as at the priest's house. But once you are spoilt with something different there is a sudden craving when you return to the 'scene of the crime'! I remember my days working for Eagle Star . If I was working away I would stay in a hotel and take great delight in a full English breakfast or scrambled eggs with bacon and sausages!

I worked with Harrison on the accounts system in the morning – tidying it up and making a few minor changes.

In many ways Chisamba is a rest. I don't have the very numerous little projects going on, or the frequent visits by friends that I have in Monze. I get a chance to relax a little and I am about to finish my P.G. James crime thriller. I might pop into the bar after supper to catch up on the local gossip if I have the stamina!

At lunch time I returned to the Guest House, but was satisfied with some more eggs and some bananas bought at a stall on the roadside. I decided to give the Internet another attempt and to my astonishment had some success, sending a few e-mails, posting my blog and picking up a Facebook message from Amy. I asked whether she would be willing to take part in a web-link with some students if I could set it up. “Yeah sounds good” was the reply, so I better see what I can arrange next week.

The afternoon was again mainly spent with the centre manager thinking about an agenda for the coming committee meeting. The important thing for me is to gradually build up the relationship with Harrison, so that we are comfortable working together on the project. These few days have been useful in starting to build an understanding and trust between us. For the next year we will rely mainly on e-mail contact to develop the partnership – never as easy as with face to face contact.

Harrison lent me a guide book with a number of guest houses and lodges around Livingstone listed. I want to find somewhere nice for Dilys and Amy – I suspect the costs will be high. Ideally I would like something close to the river and the wildlife, but I suspect these will be enormously expensive and run by people from outside the country – so profits will not help the people here in Zambia. We shall see what we find. I need to start planning in detail for their visit, since their time here will be very short.

You never know this might be posted before to long!

Best Wishes


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back to Chisamba

Tuesday 2nd August

My jumper has stayed on all of today apart from when I had lunch! I am sure that this is not how it should be in August!!

I am now once again in Chisamba. I have put off the return to Kalyingile in the hope that some additional funds would arrive. The project here, as everywhere, struggles because long term sustainability can only be achieved with outside help and sufficient initial funds to kick start income generating activities. This project is still at the stage where an additional kick start is badly needed. Nevertheless there is some training taking place and the possibility of helping some young people to gain skills that should provide a living for them in future.

The past week or so it has been windy – a feature of July. The windpump is whirring at a magnificent pace and, but for a leak, caused apparently by the lack of a non-return valve, the impressive sysem of tanks and reservoirs would be overflowing and even the ponds wouldn't be able to leak fast enough to use all the water. I delight in the energy that comes so freely from the Lord. I can never quite get over the way a cross wind is capable of happily blowing yachts on their way, though they are travelling in opposite directions. My torch works very well and all I do to kep it charged is to place it on the windowsill during the day. Most of the power in Zambia comes from hydroelectric power obtained by just getting the water to turn a few turbines on it's way downhill. Victoria Falls and the Kariber dam provide huge amounts of electricity – both of course are huge features. The falls one of God's finest and the Dam one of man's biggest – if not greatest – creating one of the largest man made lakes in the world.

On Saturday I eventually met up with Vincent. He is spending some of this week on an ACCESS course so that when we meet again we should move fast! He gave me a bit of homework to do while in Chisamba. I paid a visit to the local dam in the afternoon and this time was left to reflect on my own. The usual birds were about and also a small heron – a Squacco Heron – that I haven't noticed before. In flight its white wings make it look like an egret, however on landing it becomes a brown flecked bird like a small bittern or partridge. Unless you've followed it, you wouldn't believe it was the same bird. I am becoming rather blasé about the pied kingfishers as they circle the lake diving for the small fish – as yet I haven't seen a catch.

On Saturday evening I met Diven and we visited Tooters for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks – Mosi for me and cokes for him! This has become a tradition over the years and I enjoy the company and discussions. We often talk about areas of difference between the very different worlds we inhabit. Diven knows what it is like to have to struggle to survive – quite literally. I am fortunate to have always had food in the house. From first hand experience, Diven enlightens me about some aspects of life in Zambia that I find difficult to comprehend and I am grateful to have someone who is happy to share this with me. In return I can tell him about my world, which again he finds quite difficult to understand.

I was not expecting great things from the attempted video-link on Sunday. I was beginning to think that maybe it was a waste of time and not really wanted by anyone else anyway. I just missed Fr. Joseph who was saying the masses at Our Lady of the Wayside – I hadn't mentioned my plans! I kept telling myself to relax and leave everything in God's hands, but like Peter in last week's gospel after taking a couple of steps forward I quickly sink into the waves. I arrived at the church not long after 9 hrs. On checking the buildings they were are securely locked. Last year, when I was nearing the end of my visit, I noticed a flock of swallows playing around the church building – the only time I have seen them in such abundance. On Sunday a couple of swallows were showing off their acrobatic skills darting around the building where I had hoped to set up the laptop, seeing just how close they could come at great speed, yet always missing me by what seemed like only inches. So I was in trouble with this week's plan to use the web-cam inside the building . I had a quick glance in church but realised that to set it up in church would be too disruptive. However, Sr. Gabriela came out when she saw me. I mentioned my plans and she said she had a key and would open the very room I had in mind. There appeared to be no power, but since Rupiah Banda, the President of Zambia, was due in Monze later I was confident it would not pose a problem!

I set up the kit and left it in the room, Sr. Gabriela even sent George Moonga to see if I was OK with everything and he demonstrated that the round two pin plug could really be made to fit in the square three pin socket.(I had decided that this particular plug had the pins too close together.)

Everyone told me that the weather was bad. This was apparently why everyone was late – even Fr. Joseph arrived at 9hrs to say the children's 8.30 mass. We started late and the 10 am mass didn't finish until 12.30. I left a little early to set up, but needn't have bothered because the internet transmission speed varied between 0.0 kb/s and 0.50 kb/s - viable speeds start at about 10 kb/s UK speeds are 1,000 – 2,000+ kb/s. So for the next 15 minutes we had no connection and I was about to give up. In Cheltenham mass finishes at about 10.45 (11.45 Zambian time) so even with coffee I didn't expect many to be still at St. Gregory's by 12.45!

Then I saw a couple of faces and could here friends from the UK greeting me. I switched my video on and they too could see and speak to us. We had a small group of parishioners who were delighted to talk to people from England. Over a period of nearly two hours the transmission – sometimes only with voice – continued, eventually the parishioners from the 9.30 mass at St. Gregory's left and were eventually replaced by some from the 11.15. Canon Bosco and Fr. Tom came to say hallo after the baptismal party. Eventually the parishioners from Our Lady of the Wayside left for their lunch, but three of the committee members appeared before the end of the session to round it off beautifully.

Ye of little faith! Somehow – despite all the odds we had achieved so much. I couldn't see how we could include parishioners from the 11.15 mass and yet it happened. Because of the busy schedule the priests from Cheltenham were unlikely to be able to join in and yet both took part. In a relationship the difficult bit is breaking the ice on those first meetings – I think the ice melted on Sunday! We can now afford a short break before repeating the exercise.

It was 3pm by the time I arrived home and I was followed in by Jennipher. I had missed lunch so we popped out and bought some bananas, popcorn and roasted peanuts for a snack.

Jennipher had phoned on Friday evening when she was on a bus ready to return to Pemba – there was something she wanted to discuss with me. I was rushing to the chapel so the meeting was delayed to Sunday. A few days before Jennipher had brought a client to the hospital. She was about to give birth. She delivered a baby boy safely and I think she was the one who popped around with Jennipher to see me. There is a short cut to the hospital through the convent making it 2 mins away. Anyway on Friday Jennipher got a message to say the lady had died. On Saturday she was collecting the baby from the hospital. The woman had two older children and the grandmother couldn't manage the baby – she suggested sending it to an orphanage, though there seemed to be some doubt whether one would take the child. Jennipher was not sure what to do. She would bring the child up herself – as she has for Emmanuel and Maggie recently, and Selina and Sandra in years past, but feeding for the first 3 months would be a problem. The choice seems to be cows milk or dried milk – both of which are expensive. I suspect that Jennipher will find a way to increase her family once more.

I dropped the laptop of with a relative of Mrs. Sianga, said hallo to Diven, had a cold shower and Luke arrived for a chat. Another day was coming to a close, but after supper Fr. Kenan said we needed to play the long overdue return pool match.

Armed with a few bottles of Castle (no Mosi available!) we found the pool table – me obviously being disadvantaged from the start. At 22 hrs and three games (and Castles) a piece we played the deciding game. I had the upper hand until Fr. Kenan snookered me on the black with the cushion. A beautiful swerve shot prevented the obvious foul, but resulted in the inevitable in-off and forfeit of the game. So we stand one-all in matches and we await the final showdown!

Monday morning I arose early for the 6.30 mass only to find the church locked! Oh that was what Fr. Kenan meant when he said he could lie in – of course it is a hoiday!! Having got to bed after 1am after spending a long time checking that indeed Airtel have not come up with the goods, I could have done with a little more time in bed myself.

It is never a good idea to be first in a bus in Zambia! It is a worse idea to pay the fare before any other passengers join you!! so at 8am (and 8.30am) thats the position I found myself in. I was not surprised when my bus left the stop at Tooters after 5 minutes and headed towards Lusaka. Even less surprised when it turned around and headed back to Tooters. It repeated this exercise several times, once or twice someone got on – then thought better of it and got off again – they had the sense not to depart with any cash! I was surprised that by 9.30 we were full and on our way having covered a lot of miles up and down Monze High Street scouting for passengers. I was relatively pleased to get to Lusaka by 12.30. Justina couldn't get away so we agreed to meet on Friday and I decided to see if I could find a bus to take me to Manda Hills shooping centre to sort out my modem. I found a nearly full bus so had no delay in heading out onto the Great East Road. This seems to be a very busy route and one of the few were buses fill very quickly at most times of the day. As I disembarked I was surrounded by a few guys apparently trying to get me to get on a bus. I was off my guard and hands started trying to get into my pockets. I pushed them away and sped off when a man told me I had been robbed. They had managed to lift the usb modem from the side pocket in my backpack. Fortunately for me this man had spotted them and retrieved it for me. He told me to be more careful and went on his way. Unfortunately Lusaka seems to have a good number of pickpockets – and of course 'white' people are obvious targets. They weren't to know how much the modem cost me, but in fact it is valuable because of the data bundles that I haven't got!

As I arrived at the Airtel centre where I bought the device the doors were shut. I was told to return tomorrow as they had just closed for the day. There was little to do but to have a subway sub and return to town to pick up my next bus. This too was nearly full – something very rare for Chisamba buses! - and I was soon on the way to Chisamba. A relatively short wait for the taxi to fill and I arrived in Chisamba before 4pm.

My room was waiting for me. They always try to put me in room 1 because it was the first room I stayed in and expressed my satisfaction. Once when it was not available they apologised that it was booked. It was only after a little time that I realised that they were only talking about that room – I had thought the Guest House was fully booked.

Today I met up with Harrison – the new manager at the Centre and we spent most of the day talking about plans and updating the accounts details. Moses the new Centre Chairman popped along after lunch and we talked a little. It was agreed that I should attend the next committee meeting which is planned for August 13th. This is not highly convenient, but I need to make myself available. Tomorrow I must cut out a cooked meal! Three in a day is too much for me! (especialy when two are nshima & ?)