Saturday, July 30, 2011

Listening to stories

Friday 29th July

Yesterday afternoon I went to PIZZ school. I wanted to try to get some stories from the children. I was particularly interested in finding out how their lives were changed by attending the school. In the event it was difficult to get unrehearsed stories.

We did manage to have a long session with Barby – my daughter – over Skype. I had hoped that Amy would be able to take part, but in the event she was spending the day with her dad and so was not available. The video was OK but unfortunately we had some problems with the sound at the Cheltenham end. It is interesting how we seem to be hitting as many problems with the technology in the UK as here. With voice in one direction and typing in the other we managed some form of conversation.

Some of the children told their stories to Barby. Many of the children said they had lost both parents when they were relatively young. Most had then been looked after by grandparents. When one boy was asked how many children his grandmother was looking after, he told us she looked after 15 children. Joseph told us that he wanted to be a doctor. I asked whether he would be one of the doctors who left the country once qualified and he said he would be a Zambian doctor, he would look after Zambian people. One of the girls was 15 years old and she was in grade 7. If she continued she would complete school at the age of 20. I was struck by how many of the children told us the date on which their parents died. In 2006 Dilys did some work on child bereavement with Mrs. Sianga and others which was very powerful and I understand has been used to develop new ways of supporting thQ orphaned children. Some of the children became quite emotional when they mentioned the loss of their parents. Sometimes it seems too intrusive to ask them to say a little about themselves.

I think everyone appreciated talking to and seeing Barby and my granddaughter Cheyenne. I was glad after all the raised hopes we were at last able to satisfy a few of them. The children are hoping to meet Amy when she comes along and show her some of the local culture.

Jennipher popped around to my home with a client and I took the opportunity to ring the DATF manager to confirm the arrangements for Friday – which fortunately were still on track. Mrs. Chiiya was my next visitor with her daughter – Saki's mum – who also had with her Saki's baby sister, who has just had her first birthday. Apparently Saki, who is about the same age as Amy, is excited at the prospect of introducing Amy to her friends and showing her around Monze.

The Internet is still poor much of the time and I have not yet succeeded in sending Charlie his birthday card for 24th July – sorry Charlie I will keep trying!

Today I met the DATF (District AIDS Task Force) manager and set of for Hatontola together with the manager of the hospital Laboratory who is on the local DATF board. I understood we would take direct route, but in the event we passed through Pemba and could have picked Jennipher and some of her group. We consequently arrived before her. We did get some idea of the distance that she has to travel and thq condition of the roads.

The meeting was well organised by Jennipher. The numbers were down because two funerals were taking place. There was just one headman representing the others – he is a lovely man and invited me to join him for chibantu after the meeting. The DATF manager – I still failed to pick up her name – wanted the community members to talk, as well as Jennipher and the commitee members. Again it seems both a privilege and an intrusion to listen to people who admit that they are HIV+ and they tell of some of their difficulties. The main theme was that they had to go to Monze for drugs which was too costly. As a result many stopped taking the drugs or never got tested, knowing they couldn't afford the transport costs. There were many deaths in the area as a result. There was also a problem with education and stigma which they hoped the new support group would help to address. The laboratory manager said a few words and asked how many present had been tested – not surprisingly the proportion of the group who raised their hands was high – I was glad that I too could raise my hand. It is very important to reduce the stigma attached to testing. When the hospital had a special day for testing, a couple of years ago, it seemed appropriate that I joined the queue. He stresssed how important it was that all the headmen were tested to show by example. Where the headmen are tested for HIV/AIDS most of the community will follow. Apparently in Monze more than 20% of people are currently testing positive.

It is going to such meetings that I realise just what good work Jennipher is doing. The initiative at Hatontola should save many lives. People testified that the ARVs had enabled them, from being dependant to being able to work and support their families. Small amounts of money can make a huge difference. By registering, a group can become eligible for extra support, but it can cost 1 million kwacha (£130) to register. Money for seed, a well or pump, a couple of pigs etc. can help start an income generating project that provides extra food or money for transport to a clinic or hospital. I have for many years hoped to set up a small group in the UK that would raise a small amount each year to support the groups that Jennipher has established – so far it hasn't quite happened. Dilys has one solar radio to bring out for Jenniphers clients, if anyone else would like to donate one it would make a difference to someone here.

I would have liked to be able to wander around the village and enjoy being out in the bush – we were about 10 – 15 km from the tarmac road. There is a nice lake and plenty of birds flitting among the numerous trees, including what I think was a paradise flycatcher which has a very long thin tail. It was a delight to be out of town for a bit. I need to get out more!

After dropping Jennipher and her group representatives at Pemba, I got out at Manungu where I had agreed to take some photos of The Legion of Mary members after their meeting. This group of Catholics is already taking up the challenge to find out more about the Cheltenham group and report on their activities. I hope more will do the same and that eventually we will have a lot of contact between the parishes.

Just time to pop around to the projects office, set up a meeting with Vincent for tomorrow morning and contact Disacare in Lusaka – who make wheelchairs and bicycle ambulances – before attending mass at the chapel!

After mass Sr. Rachael caught me to ask if I really meant that I couldn't take anything else back from the 'orphans project'. I had been in touch with the friends who have been selling the baskets and, although they have taken the ones David brought back, they say their shed is overflowing. People in the UK don't feel rich at the moment and aren't buying! Apparently on receiving the money for the baskets, the ladies went to Lusaka and invested in material to make bags and doormats, knowing that Dilys and Amy were on their way with space in their luggage. (At the time I was hoping that the market was still there.) So please let me know if you would like some nice shoulder bags with traditional African patterns or some mats. I will try to take some photos tomorrow and add them to the blog to give you an idea about what is on offer – network permitting. The money provides a small income for the guardians of orphaned children in Monze to help them provide support. I don't feel rich enough to buy them all myself without any indication that at least some of the money would come back.

Take care,


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Visiting Friends

Tuesday 26th July

I sometimes wonder how it is that time passes so quickly here and how little gets done!

I spent some time this morning with Sr. Lontia. Sr. Lontia is the co-ordinator / manager of St. Vincent's community school, which was established by the Catholic church in Monze to provide an education for orphaned or otherwise disadvantaged children. She has recently spent some time in Scarborough, England - her first visit outside Africa. Two representatives from Monze were invited to spend a few days visiting 10 schools in the Scarborough area with a view to establishing a link with 10 schools around Monze (one being her school - St. Vincent De Paul). At one point she said that she wanted to make it clear to me that when she was considering a link she wasn't begging! She was not looking for money but for an exchange of ideas – things that would help them improve the lives of their students. She is keen to explore the cultural differences between the partner schools.

It was so refreshing to hear this! I have tried to explain this concept to many both in England and here, and many people just don't seem to understand what I am talking about.

Two representatives from Scarborough visited Monze. Sr. Lontia arranged to meet at 8.00am one day but because of various factors didn't arrive until 8.30am by which time those from England were in a state of considerable agitation. In England of course if you are to meet at 8 am you will be there ready at 7.55am. This is something I am used to here and you often lose an hour or two in a day because of such things. However, as Sr. Lontia commented, the obsession with time and filling every minute makes life in the UK very stressful – here people smile much more and can stop to enjoy life.

There is a school blog, but Sr. Lontia wasn't sure that it was working properly. So I decided to have a quick look. The Zamtel network is much better this year, but we decided to call it a day after about 45 minutes, having just about logged in! Sending a few e-mails and a blog can easily take me 2 – 3 hours if the service is OK! So on reflection it is perhaps a marvel that I manage to do anything here.

On Sunday after mass we made an attempt to link the churches in Monze and Cheltenham over the Internet. There were a few hitches! Firstly my message about the time mass was likely to finish here did not get through, so many parishioners at St. Gregory's had given up by the time we connected. We had a problem with voicemail being activated instead of a live session and the network speed at this end was poor. However, despite all of this, some of the parishioners at each end were able to talk to each other and we saw a few pictures at each end. We live in different worlds and there is a danger that the financially poor are ever put at a greater disadvantage. In the West people assume fast broadband speeds are universal and design the systems accordingly. The impatient and efficient mindset can find it difficult to cope with anything less than perfect. So it can be easy to decide that the session where often words were not picked up, video was a small series of stills and the line kept dropping during conversation, was not worth repeating. Here it was a revelation that people here could talk to others across the world – the first time for many. The technology appeared revolutionary and ground breaking, rather than primitive and poor. I hope that we will get many opportunities to try this type of link. Some days it won't work at all, but now and then we will be able to see each other and maybe begin to learn about each others world. If we in the West have the patience and give it the time maybe we will learn to smile again!

I had lunch back at the priest's house and immediately headed for Simon and the 'section meeting'. Simon told me that they had a number of deaths in the past week and most of St. Veronica's members would be attending funerals. It was therefore unlikely tht the community would meet. He was about to eat, so I was invited to join them in a meal of nshima and cabbage. Though I had just eaten, I was pleased to take a little with them. The cabbage was cooked with tomatoes and onions and flavoured with powdered garlic. This isn't a combination I would have thought of, but it worked very well and I helped myself to n extra portion.

The meeting didn't take place so I returned home where I rested, read and caught up with one or to things.

Yesterday Best called around at about 9 hrs to take me to his home on the western edge of Monze. I visited another friend's house some years back. At that time there was space between the town and the one or two houses on the western fringe. Now the town has expanded literally into best's back garden. The council has taken some of their land and will sell the plots to people wning to build houses. Land tenure is a problem in Zambia. Traditionally the local chiefs and headmen have allocated land to local people for them to build their homes. It is rare that people have any evidence - such as title deeds – to prove they own the land. So even after very many years of occupation people can find that the land they thought was theirs can be given away.

Best's parents both died some time ago and he lived with his grandmother. He nyow lives with his aunt and some cousins. The main source of income for the family is brewing beer from maize. Best is the only one in the family who has managed to complete his schooling. If he cannot get support to enable him to take a degree course in law, he will probably get a job with the Ministry of Justice at the beginning of next year and try to raise a bit of money before attempting to complete his studies in a couple of years.

For the second day running I was treated to a meal with friends. As when I ate with Raymond, the women of the house prepared the food but didn't join us to eat it. This might seem sexist to us in England, but it is a tradition that is currently in place and has to be respected. I am often surprised to find the most senior police officers here are often women! I ate a bowl of sump with Best. The sump was flavoured with pounded groundnuts – again a very pleasant dish.

I returned to my computer and databases in the afternoon, but was glad that I spent a bit of time outside my house in good company.

I failed to see either Vincent or Sr. Barbara from the projects office, so I rang both in the afternoon. I will have to use my time very wisely when I eventually get to see Vincent! Sr. Barbara confirmed that she had booked me into a bungalow in the grounds of Homecraft for when Dilys and Amy join me in three weeks.

This evening Luke has invited me to his house, so I don't expect to need supper with the priests this evening. Sr. Lontia mentioned one day in England visiting one of the teacher's homes. They were given some tea and biscuits. On returning to their guest house they were told they were too late for supper and had to pick something up from the supermarket. We can learn a lot about hospitality from the people here in Zambia. I know there are still places in England where visitors won't be allowed to go without having a meal, but it is getting much rarer. Unfortunately our sense of community seems to be giving way to a more self-centred culture.

I suppose that I will soon once more enter the battle with technology here in Monze and try to post this blog. If I can I will add some pictures – the previous ones I took were deleted because I needed to reformat the memory card!

Best wishes


P.S. The picture shows the garden kept by the children at St. Vincents. Last year they sold tomatoes so that the children could have a meal at school each day - for come their only meal.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What Earthquake?

Friday 22nd July

Almost another week has flown by since the last posting. My only excuse is that I continue to be frustrated by computers and internet access. Despite numerous different attempts, and many promises, to get Airtel to provide the product I bought three weeks ago, I am no further forward. If I was in Lusaka I would have demanded a refund and bought an MTN modem instead!

I have got access to the Internet through the borrowed PIZZ laptop, but that computer has a non-functioning letter e! This can be rather annoying when you are trying to type anything substantial. Of course I can type here and transfer to the other machine to send, which is what I will do tonight. However there are issues around viruses etc. etc.!

Though time is passing progress seems to be very slow. In fact I am trying to work out just what I have been doing over the past few days!

I decided to spend this week and next in Monze. Here, the school term ends next week and there are things I want to do before it finishes. For much of this week I hoped I would be able to establish a webcam link between PIZZ and Whitecross schools. Having sorted the laptop here, it was a case of co-ordinating with the UK. In the event we cut things very tight and only had yesterday as an opportunity to try the system. Unfortunately the security controls in the UK prevented them from using Skype, and there wasn't time to resolve the issue. After many false alarms, I had the staff and children prepared for the session yesterday, only once again to let them down. I couldn't just go without doing something, so I showed them the laptop and used the webcam to capture them on it. I talked a bit about what we were hoping to do and explained a little about the technology. I hope that next week we can do something – though it is too late to link with Whitecross.

The talk here is about the forthcoming elections. No date has been set, but the current term runs at the beginning of October. It is generally believed that the elections will be very close, despite the incumbent government using all its powers to gain the advantage. Emotions are running high but we hope that the elections will be fair and peaceful.

As well as working on the Diocesan projects database, I am looking at the personnel database, with a view to reviving it for the new Human Resources Manager (though he now has a more complicated title!). The hospital also wants me to sort out ant-virus software. Each year I think I will get away from computers and databases, but inevitably I spend much of my time fighting with both!

Jennipher has been around a few times in recent days. She brought a patient to the hospital who was due to give birth. Unfortunately the child was delivered dead. She is a widow with three children and apparently has been busy trying to collect grass to re-thatch her house. Jennipher thinks she has been overdoing things. Soloman is currently ensuring that the children have some food and Jennipher is keen to keep the client from her house, because she is sure that otherwise she won't get the rest she needs to recover.

I saw Ireen earlier this week and she gave me the shirts that she has made – one for me and the other for Kris. As usual they are well made. This time Ireen has a guy working with her. I think that this is in part because family commitments have prevented her working full-time.

I continue to meet old friends. Captain pulled up in his car yesterday and said hallo. Captain was in charge of the block-making when I first came out in 2003. I spent some time working with the lads – mixing the sand and cement that would go into the moulds. By working in this way Hands Around the World volunteers get a chance to know local people and share some of their different life experiences. I occasionally meet some of the guys around Monze. Mike, who worked at Nampeyo, now the Moonlite guest house, where we stayed on our first visit, said hallo the other day. For a number of years after that first visit, Mike was working in a market in Lusaka. He returned a couple of years back and last year was working in a new bar in Monze. I am not sure what he is currently doing – but he was looking well. Mike's brother Chris has a shop in Monze market which I usually frequent to buy groceries. This time he is getting very little trade from me as my food is still being provided by the parish.

A group within the Catholic church – the Charismatic movement – decided to take a cross from the north of Zambia – by the Tanzanian border to the south at Livingstone. This was a symbolic gesture to encourage prayer for peaceful and fair elections and to pray for the right leadership to help the people of this country. On Wednesday evening the cross arrived in Monze and prayers were said almost continually during the Thursday (incidentally the day of the earthquake!!)– with people from all over the Diocese attending. For me the charismatic movement is too emotional and seems to concentrate too much on physical healing, but for many it is a valuable support for their faith. On Thursday evening I attended their mass, which was held outside. I wished I had put my jumper on, but I enjoyed the mass.

After I showed the children the laptop yesterday the headmaster asked me why I was always seen walking! He thought I should be provided with a small car to move around town. Most people think I am rich and probably think that the charity that 'sponsors' me pays me a salary. In fact, like most small charities, HATW struggles to survive and in fact looks to its volunteers to be a source of income, rather than an expenditure. My bank balance is evidence to the fact that being involved in projects in Zambia is a very expensive business – but it is also tremendously life-giving and fulfilling. I would not want to drive around Monze. You don't get to know people when you pass by in a car. In the book I am reading by John Simpson on Saddam Hussein, he comments on the towns redesigned by Saddam. He says that they are devoid of the culture and the history of the area, but adds that they are the sort of towns you want to see as you pass in your convoy at 60 mph. It is only at walking pace that you have a chance to take in the reality of a place. You don't get a chance for a bit of light hearted banter, or the greetings if you are passing by car. So often people come up to me and start talking. Like the guy who got off his bike and walked with me to the dam a few days back. We share thoughts about a variety of topics – sometimes politics, sometimes views on why Zambia is not prosperous, or maybe just comments on the weather. It is this interaction which for me is key to my life here in Monze. In many ways this is as important as the specific projects and certainly more important than the games with the computers.

I have almost all my meals with the priests at the priests house. Some are resident and others just visitors. It is interesting to get to know them as people, relaxing and discussing a range of topics over meals – mostly in English! It is strange not catering for myself. Even the cleaning and washing is done for me. In many ways I like to be independent, but I am coping OK – especially now I have a lounge and tea and coffee making facilities. I seem to have been alone in this block now for a while - though people have come to have meetings in the lounge which, as yet, haven't quite materialised. There is also apparently a short cut through my shower, and the offices that are also part of the block have access – though it isn't normally used!

I am still wearing my jumper in the mornings and evenings – yesterday has been the only really warm day since I arrived. I don't remember experiencing such cool weather in Zambia before. When August arrives I would expect the temperatures to rise a few degrees.

I was talking to Jennipher yesterday about water. She says she is now struggling because she has to go a long way to fetch water. Up to about a year ago she had mains water. Then apparently the water authority had a problem with the local supply, and ever since it has been off! The water she gets now is not clean. Yesterday she had been given some chlorine to allow her and some of her clients to treat the water. Her vegetable garden – which also supplied some of her support group members is barren and the banana trees are suffering – though Soloman puts some water on them each week. (there is a bunch of bananas waiting for when Dilys and Amy arrive) Promises to sort out her well have so far failed to materialise. I remember people moaning about our water problems a few years back in Cheltenham. They couldn't understand why I considered it to be no more than a minor irritation. Jennipher, and so many other people in Zambia, really know what it means to have a problem with water.

I am very fortunate at the priests house. The water is from a borehole and is pure – it also flows almost all of the time. I have a trickle of water from the shower, but with patience I can have a good wash. The electricity has been pretty reliable, with only the odd hour when power has vanished. I took advantage of one such break to gaze at the wonderful starlit sky. The Milky Way is very clear at such times – so many stars in just one of millions of galaxies. The Southern Cross is also prominent at this time and always fills me with joy when I see it.

There is plenty going on around me. The nearby bars play their music till about 2 am then there is a break of a couple of hours before people start getting ready for the new day, sometimes at 5 am the local mosque calls its worshippers to prayer. Fortunately I can sleep through almost anything!

Oh I nearly forgot – we had an earthquake yesterday. Well, so everyone tells me! Jennipher rang to ask if I felt it, but I didn't understand what she was talking about. Apparently everything shook for some time – some claim as long as five minutes. I don't understand how I didn't notice it. People came out of buildings and things looked as if they would fall of the shelves. Yet I was totally oblivious sitting in my lounge, probably playing with the computer!

Well time has gone and again I will have a late night.

Saturday 23rd July

I had some success today, having managed a Skype session with John for at least half an hour. Our church in Cheltenham has set up an internet connection in the parish hall so that we can have live links. I hope that this will just be the first, with perhaps future links with India or Jerusalem taking place in future. The sound was fine, but outside the webcam couldn't cope with the brightness. I will have a bit of work to do tomorrow morning to find somewhere a little shaded. After the morning, when I couldn't log on to my blog, I was very pleased. I hope that tomorrow, when we try to connect Our Lady of the Wayside and St. Gregory's churches we will also be successful.

My appointment to work with Vincent on the projects database didn't materialise. I have grave doubts now that we will make enough progress this time for the system to be used while I am away. The security guard welcomed me and, on the way out, said that I needed to be around to tell them how things are where I come from. I thought that summed it up nicely – of course I also need them to tell me how things are here.

Diven came around and I tried to connect with the Internet with very limited success. Best also popped along to invite me to the family home. I always feel privileged when people invite me to their homes, and perhaps share a simple meal. Luke and Diven also want me to visit their homes during the next week.

I took a brief stroll around the market after lunch. I am missing my interaction with the marketeers! Since I am not cooking at the moment, I am also not shopping. Some of the shopkeepers and stallholders are perhaps missing my custom, but I also realised that I am missing the regular trips to buy vegetables, which gave me an opportunity to chat with some of them.

After my Skype link I went for a walk. I headed out to the East of town and did a small loop returning along the main road. It was good to get out for a short while and listen to the quiet! It is wonderful when the wind rustling the long grass is the loudest sound. I never strayed beyond sight of the main road and the houses, but the peace was refreshing, calming and yet strangely invigorating.

I had a 'shower' when I returned – I explained earlier that the water is a small trickle. After struggling as usual with the dribble of water I thought it could no harm to see what happened if I forced the water up to the shower head – knowing that if there wasn't enough pressure to force if from the tap at the bottom, nothing would emerge from the shower. To my astonishment a reasonable shower emerged! This reminded me of a fateful trip I made to Wales in my youth. I kept a diary and recorded all the silly things I did during the few days we were away. There was a catalogue of events culminating in buckling a wheel on my bike, locking the bikes together and losing my wallet with my money and the key to the padlock! There were other fairly trivial instances were a little more thought would have been wise and prevented potential disasters – fortunately most we got away with! I might easily have continued for the next few weeks trying to wash under the trickle of water when I can enjoy a decent shower – even if it only produces cold water!

The choir were practising in the room next to my shower, so I was fully entertained!

Best wishes


Thursday, July 14, 2011

I have moved - though not far.

Saturday 9th July

If I had almost unlimited Internet access – as I should have – I would send this today. However you need to be patient for the time being.

Today I finished my thriller. Fortunately, like most, though not all, authors, Mary Higgins Clark makes sure there is a happy ending!

I took a walk to the small nearby dam and was treated to some real spectacles. On the way a roller was perched on the power cable – a very beautiful bird with deep blues, lilac and red, a forked tail and very acrobatic flight. I managed to find a spot close to the water's edge, but before settling a large snake eagle flew directly above me with what I assume was a small snake hanging from its mouth. A mixture of various types of swallows, swifts and saw-wings flew over the lake. A couple of pied kingfishers flew past and then one perched on a stone only a few feet away. A truly beautiful black and white bird with a massive beak when seen up close. Cattle egrets, African Jacanas and crowned lapwing were also present. There was a bit of a commotion when some pied crows disturbed the lapwings and then turned on the snake eagle which had returned. The eagle then settled on a nearby tree and allowed me to study it quite closely through my binoculars - quite a treat. I wondered whether it had a nest though the was no evidence that it was feeding any young.

This evening I sneaked a look at BBC World which made a change from ZNBC extolling the virtues of Rupiah Banda - the current president.

Wednesday 13th July

For the past few days I have worn a jumper during the day – something I can never remember from previous years when I have visited at this time. I have known cool evenings and nights, but usually during the day it is comfortable wearing just a shirt. The forecast is for it to be a little warmer tomorrow so maybe I will be able to abandon my jumper until I return to the UK!

My Sunday was largely spent at church and with the Small Christian Community. I realise that I am now a longer serving member of the Community, than some of the local people. It was good to meet up again and receive the usual warm welcome. Simon who was the chairman is working away in neighbouring villages – despite being in his 70s. This causes me a bit of a dilemma since his is one of the very few houses I can consistently find. (having said that I did get myself rather lost on Sunday!) Anyway I found his wife, eventually, and, with the help of others, found out where the meeting was taking place.

I continue to fight the technology. The project computer is still dead, because, try as I might, I can't produce a copy of Ubuntu or other Linux based software. Airtel Internet, as far as can make out, is still effectively unusable and I haven't received my data bundle yet. So the link up between schools here and the UK hasn't taken place and the count down to the holidays is gathering pace.

I continue to be greeted by lots of friends and acquaintances I have made over the years - and fail to recognise most! Each day several people come up to me and say that they would like to have a word. Almost everyone here has a problem to survive and I am very aware that they have problems that fortunately I don't have myself. I try to listen to their issues sensitively and would love to solve all of their problems, but I have very limited resources. I will give you examples of some of the issues raised. Two ladies I know, who work as cooks/cleaners, told me that just about earn enough to provide food for themselves and their children. They want to build a small house. They would mould the bricks themselves, but could afford iron sheets for the roof. I think they would rent out the house to pay off a loan and then move in. Their children cannot afford to attend secondary school because of the fees. Even if I had the money, I wouldn't give it as a loan because the reality is that more often than not, because these people have nothing spare, repayment of the loan becomes virtually impossible. For me I never assume that a loan will be repaid – so if I help it is by way of a gift. I remember once being shocked by someone repaying loan – but I only remember it happening once. I think I told them to use it to buy their child a much needed pair of shoes. Another friend says that his families home is in desperate need of refurbishment. (he has invited me to visit the families house on Sunday – an invitation I will accept). Again he has an idea of buying and selling goods to fund the work and wants a loan. Another acquaintance wants a bike and another fees to go to college! These are just a few examples from the past two or three days – I would have no difficulty in making good use of almost endless amounts of money just with the people I know. It is natural for people to use the opportunity to try to sort out one or two of their problems, but, as it is, my money is spent as soon as I get it. Occasionally there are someone comes to me with a particular need that I can satisfy from some donations given to me before I came - but on the whole people go away disappointed.

On Monday I spent much of the time chasing around hoping to sort the computer . I used the meeting with Mrs. Sianga to sort out one or two things, instead of connecting with Whitecross school in the UK – much to the disappointment of teachers and students – not to mention Mrs. Sianga and myself.

I am now used to joining the priests for meals in the dining room. Once or twice I have tried to eat nshima with a knife and fork – mainly because I find eating rice with the hands not so easy. However it has just confirmed my belief that there is only one way to eat nshima and that is with your hands. It is only with your hands that you can properly scoop up some relish (vegetables and meat with gravy) using the nshima as a spoon!. The texture of the nshima also changes when moulded by the hand and I find it a much more pleasant taste. The discussions with the priests discussions are wide ranging, with a lot of good natured banter and joking going on. The number of priests varies from day to day, often with additional visitors – priests and others.

Jennipher took me to see the local AIDS co-ordinating body DATF – I can't remember what the initials stand for! Jennipher certainly stands her ground, and showed her knowledge of the procedures – sometimes superior to that of the manager. Although there was some dispute as to whether Jennipher's group comes under her jurisdiction, the manager agreed to visit and see for herself how the group functioned. Jennipher is keen that she visits another support group she is in the process of setting up, but, like me, the manager (another name I haven't remembered!) is concerned about giving people false expectations. She was keen that I went out as well, so we will probably go together. I think this might be a useful contact to develop. Maybe she will be able to help Jennipher get more local support.

I have started discussions with the Diocesan Projects Team. There is quite a lot of extra work to do on their database. Vincent can only spare Saturdays to work with me – which might not be sufficient. Still I will have to see what can be done in the limited time. At least there is decent internet access (satellite) at the Projects office, so there is a good possibility of keeping in touch when I am in the UK. However the temptation to revert to spreadsheets will be great!

I can see myself struggling to cope with the work and with working Saturdays, I should try to find a few breaks during the week. However with already less than 5 weeks left before Dilys and Amy arrive, time is ticking. I am aware that there is more work for me to do at the hospital and I need to spend some time at Chisamba!

I moved house yesterday. I am still within the parish complex – just a courtyard and a few dogs away from the main priests house. The dogs can make a lot of noise – a couple of Alsations and a big black beast!! They enjoy chasing the cat – one Alsation got stuck under the kitchen cupboard a couple of days ago. On another day the cat was apparently taunting them behind a window and one of them launched itself at her, smashing the window pane and bringing down the curtains! They jump up at me as a pack, but so far I have come away unscathed!!

I bought myself some tea and coffee and a kettle, so I can get my regular caffeine fixes and entertain my guests! I also have my own small lounge which is very useful for that purpose.

Once again it is past my bedtime. I am hoping to wake tomorrow once more to bright warm sunshine and the African winter will soon be a thing of the past.



Saturday, July 9, 2011

Technical Problems

Saturday 9th July

Already nearly a week has past since my last blog. Yesterday I had expected to tell you that I had made great progress with the technology and could keep you up to date on a regular basis from now on! Oh that life was so easy!

My friend Yunus lost his battle for life on Tuesday. Despite all the best care he could be given in a hospital in England, his system didn't seem able to fight any longer and the machines keeping him alive were finally switched off.

I first met Yunus about 18 years ago when we took him with his friend Danny on a trip to Lourdes. He was cheerful and had a wonderful heart. He was very sensitive and could be a great comfort to those suffering pain – emotional as well as physical. He enjoyed anything that was lively and full of excitement. Many years ago he told me of some of his dreams – he wanted to ride a Harley Davidson (a powerful two wheeler, not a three wheeler or one of the slower models). His cerebral palsy made this ambition a big challenge, which unfortunately he was never able to fulfil. He wanted to teach cookery and fancied himself as a TV chef. His ambition to do a skydive was one that he did achieve and we have the pictures and video to prove it! He did the skydive in style, riding to the plane on the back of a Harley and diving out of the plane wearing his Harley Davison leather jacket, that he wore proudly ever since. He appeared several times on Central TV in connection with the jump and always managed to steal the show. When asked on landing “what next” he managed to say very clearly “bungee jump” - unfortunately that is another ambition he failed to bring to fruition. He had a great love for animals – though he did suggest to me the chicks at Leonard Cheshire would be tasty for lunch! He had a memorable trip to Florida where he swam with dolphins. But it was with people that he found his greatest joy – particularly children. He was devoted to his godchild Abigail, met some of my grandchildren and always asked how they were getting along. He would have loved to have got married and have his own family. He would have made a very special dad.

All who new Yunus loved him. He will be greatly missed by me and so many. I am sure that at last he has the freedom that he was deprived of during his life and much more. No doubt his great friend Danny will be there to welcome him. God Bless you Yunus.

Tuesday was another holiday “Unity Day”. I was invited to the Gonde celebrations, but wasn't feeling on top form and, after all the busyness of the past couple of weeks, wanted to collapse and do very little. I read and sorted out a few things for the week ahead and generally took life easy.

On Wednesday I passed around the hospital trying to catch the Human Resources Manager/ Admin Manager to determine what work the hospital might have me to do and see whether he could advise me about MTN modems and data bundles!. He was out, but I caught up with Teddy and one or two others. I still hadn't received the 'data bundle' promised by Airtel and paid for when I bought the USB modem. I did buy a little more 'topup' in the meantime and found that the Internet was desperately slow – in fact most of the time no data could be transferred. When it did operate the speeds rarely exceeded 10kb/s. In comparison the slowest broadband in the UK is 2,000 kb/s and it often operates in excess of these speeds. After 4 hours I gave up trying to attach a compressed picture to an e-mail! At these speeds, there are not enough hours in a month to use the 1GB a month 'data bundle' I have bought.

I was told by the Airtel data helpline that the modem had not yet been fully set up and hopefully would be loaded by the end of the day – I am still waiting!! Though at the moment having the data would be of little benefit because of the problems with the service. Such is life here in Zambia!

I picked up the PIZZ project laptop – the one without ee's! - with the intention of acquiring some data bundles to go with it's MTN modem. Ever since buying the modem from the network provider Airtel, people have told me that MTN is better! My experience in previous years is that MTN does work well and so I had reasonable expectations from the system we used previously. However my problem here was that I seemed unable to convert 'talktime' into data. I thought I understood the procedure but it failed to complete on my phone. I have never managed to speak to anyone on the MTN customer services helpline – this year it seems to be no different. Luke informed me that the Accountant at the School of Nursing used an MTN modem. (the Human Resources manager was the only other person I knew used the equipment). Unfortunately he too was not around!

Wednesday passed and, although I was kept very busy walking from here to there, I felt that little progress had been made.

I had agreed to put some notes together in advance of a HATW trustees meeting to take place on Friday. It was also hoped that I could join the meeting via Skype. So the priorities were to write my report and establish decent Internet access. The first wasn't difficult and I spent much of the morning doing this and producing a card for my daughter Helen's birthday – also on Friday. (She starts a series of family birthdays that follow each other every 4 days until 24th July!) The whole of the afternoon, apart from a brief excursion to complain about the Airtel network and find out how Ireen was faring with the shirts, was spent waiting for Noel the Accountant. At 14 hrs he was coming (I found later found out he was in Mazabuka 50 miles away!) and at 16.30 he arrived!! It was however worth the wait. It appears that I was doing everything correctly but for some reason my phone was incapable of sending the correct information. The same process on another phone worked fine. So with this information I prepared to buy lots of talktime.

I decided after a frustrating couple of days I would celebrate by meeting with my friend Diven for a bite and a couple of drinks at Tooters. I enjoy these sessions where we talk about all manner of things. Diven hasn't had the easiest of lives and, since I met him in 2003, he has had numerous 'adventures' that have caused him – and to some extent me – a lot of grief. Once again he hopes to get his life back on track to a good long term future. He has a small shop which seems to be hopeful. He is busy trying to build up his stock and has a dream of buying a small plot of land and building his own house. If he can avoid any further adventures it might be possible.

I knew that Friday would be busy. The Internet café still couldn't provide sufficient talktime but we agreed that they would send me details when it arrived. I had arranged to meet with Mrs. Sianga at 9hrs. Initially I had hoped to pass back the laptop with various bits updated etc. I also expected to have the other laptop set up with Internet access. In the event I was still a long way off with both these aims. There was a lot to talk about and plan in relation to the project. One of the areas that is very important is to find out what a difference this project supported by Hands Around the World is making to the lives of the children. Unless we are achieving this, the buildings and equipment we help to supply are worthless! Mrs. Sianga told me that there are some children that started in the original school at Grade 1 and are now in the final year (Grade 9) in the new school. I am sure they have stories to tell and I hope to have the opportunity to here from them over the coming weeks. I know that the project has changed so many of the children's lives and given them real hope, but it is important for them to be allowed to tell their own stories. It is hard to believe the extreme poverty that many here suffer. One of the children I have come to know came to Mrs. Sianga recently, when she had received a supply of shoes. She had only a limited number and his name wasn't on the list. He came to her office asking for some shoes because his were falling to pieces. (As well as being important to have reasonable shoes for our health, children are embarrassed to go to school if they haven't any shoes). Mrs Sianga felt pity on him and gave him a pair and he jumped for joy. I wonder how many children in the UK would react in that way if they received a pair of school shoes?

It is meeting children every day who have insufficient of the basic needs – food, clothing and shelter – that acts as a constant reminder of the unfairness in our world. The weather at the moment is cold! Maybe not in our experience, but night time temperatures of 4°C or 5°C are very cold when you have no blanket! One of Jennipher's children Mike was complaining that he was unable to sleep because of the cold, and he was in need of a blanket. Mike is currently away at school not far from his home in Pemba. Mike is now OK but there are many that are not so lucky.

On Wednesday clouds appeared again in sky and since then there have been a few wispy clouds about. During the day the temperatures are staying below 20°C, though the sun is still hot!

My next appointment was at 10 hrs at the new school, where they were having sports – soccer and netball. I had asked if I could take some photos of the children in their new sports strips with the new balls. It appeared at first that I wasn't expected, but in fact one of the teachers had things organised. While I waited I received the details about my talk time and decided to try to load my modem. Since this is a process that the school will need to understand for the future I enlisted a teacher (and his phone) to purchase the data bundles. Success at last!! I have a modem loaded with 1GB of data.

I took some photos and headed back home to prepare for my meeting.

I managed to confirm that the MTN network worked very much better than the current Airtel network, and it appeared useable. I was keen to update the anti-virus software. It took about 2 hours but was successfully completed. I did a quick test to check that Skype was working and joined the priests for lunch. Today the table was full. A number of visitors were present because on Saturday several priests are being ordained in Choma (100 km south of Monze), and people from all around the diocese will be attending the ceremony and celebrations. I had been invited but again declined because I have yet to really settle and I have a lot to try to sort out.

I was connected via Skype between about 14.30 and 19 hrs. During that time we mainly used only voice communication. The network is still much slower than in the UK. Trying to have the video and expecting clear voice transmission was too much. I was able to hear most of the proceedings and comment now and again to remind people that I was still around. I think that a better microphone at the far end would have helped pick up the voices of those seated around the long table. Still I was glad that I could take some part in the meeting and could hear the discussion. It was particularly good to hear Mr. Naskar, who is on a visit to the UK from India. He is another inspirational man who manages a project in Sarberia that we support. I had hoped that I would have been able to meet him in the UK but in the event I left a day or two too soon. I was disappointed that I was unable to see him over Skype (I am not sure of the technical problem). He has been staying in the UK with Tess who I know from our church. Tess went out to Sarberia a couple of years ago and, like me, has been affected by the experience. She went out again last year and is very active encouraging ongoing support.

Although the video call was far from a total success I believe it was a useful experience. I intend to pursue the links with the school and church. That situation will be different because these events will focus around the Skype session – yesterday the important event was the meeting in Wales. There wasn't the luxury to check what I was catching or continually stop the meeting to bring me up to speed. If we can say a few words to each other and see a few jerky pictures when the schools and churches link up, it will be very useful. In time the technology here will catch up and such sessions could become commonplace.

I went for supper at 19.30 and found that we had a lot of guests and music playing loudly. Mweemba is a seminarian who has spent the past year in Monze at this parish and at Manungu (Our Lady of the Wayside). He is about to leave to return to the seminary in Lusaka, so a party was organised to celebrate his time here. As well as the usual fare we had a barbecue with chicken, beef and pork. Many of the people I already know. Sr. Gabriella told me about her 37 years in Zambia and how she really loves the people at Our Lady of the Wayside where she works in social pastoral work. It seems that most of the beautiful paintings on the shelters and walls of the buildings were done by herself, with friends who have visited over the years. We discussed the origins of the devotion to Our Lady of the Wayside and both confessed we do not know. If anyone knows please let me know, because Sister Gabriella has also been keen to find out.

The evening continued with dancing – and no one was allowed to sit or stand still! It reminded me of karaoke and Budweisers in Manilla many years ago with a group of Burmese priest and nuns! Finally people spoke of the wonderful experience of having this seminarian in their midst. I thought I had got off lightly until I was asked to say a closing prayer. With so many priests and religious present, I hardly felt qualified but I did my best to formally link the proceedings with the work and hopes of our creator.

It was already late when I returned to my laptop. I had left it running because my anti-virus had detected some problems! I was expecting to find myself with the same difficulties as last year when the computer wouldn't start. At least I now know the solution – unfortunately it requires Ubuntu and the copy I have doesn't function!

Sure enough! I now have only one working laptop – and this one has no effective battery, something I was relying on for Monday!!

I am convinced that technology is one of the solutions to some of the problems faced here, but until the supporting infrastructure is in place it seems that I am destined to have many stressful and frustrating times here in Zambia.

This morning I got up for mass at 6.30 despite the late night, since I couldn't be sure of a later mass knowing that most of the priests were leaving for Choma. (I usually lie in on Saturday and go to the 7 am mass at the hospital chapel!)

I relaxed with my rather macabre thriller and decided that maybe hot showers are available in the morning (I haven't succeeded in the evening since the first day two weeks ago!). I was delighted that the water in the tap was warm, the pressure in the shower was low but it was also warm. However very quickly the pressure fell to zero and, with difficulty, I rinsed most of the shampoo from my hair. Oh well, when I do next have a decent hot shower it will be a very special delight!

Best wishes


Monday, July 4, 2011

A busy week

Monday 4th July

A week has passed and I find myself with yet another computer. This one, brought out by David, should stay with me till almost the end of my stay.

So much has happened that perhaps I should just try to keep to the highlights.

On Tuesday morning Harrison, the new manager at Kaliyangile, arrived. We spent some time together during the day and, among other things, I tried to explain the accounting system. Power was intermittent, which limited the amount that I was able to do. Harrison was staying at the guest house so we ate together and had a couple of beers.

A committee meeting was arranged for the Wednesday morning and we were soon joined by David and Jim from Hands Around the World. As always, projects for the poorest struggle to survive. There is no income from the students, so funds need to be found elsewhere. The project was revived last year, but it will take a while for the extra income needed to be generated. I was delighted to see the wind pump busily drawing water, once more, from the borehole.

After the meeting and a tour of the site, we all went to Fringilla for lunch. (Staff, committee members and HATW guys.) I rarely visit such places, which charge similar prices to those we might be used to in the UK, but it was a nice treat. I remember last year going to a Brie at Fringilla organised by the Catholic church. I thought the price was very reasonable and discovered that our event was held in a nearby field! Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable afternoon.

We set off reasonably early on Thursday morning. David have acquired a car and driver from Fr. Tim – who started the project at Chisamba about seven years ago. Our first stop in Lusaka was the Chief Immigration Office. I was surprised to find that they had no difficulty in finding my file – though my work permit has been awaiting collection for six months. I have been granted the 2 year extension that I requested, so next year I need to come out again at the end of the year if I am to gain a further extension.

I was told that the Arcades shopping centre had an MTN office where I was to obtain a USB modem. In the event it was a shopping centre close by that we should have visited. I couldn't remember where the other one was and we had released Morton, our driver, for a few hours.

The sagas with my computers continue! The laptop that David brought out had Windows newly installed. It is a requirement of XP that the software is 'activated'. Here the only practical way is to connect to the Internet. Unfortunately my initial attempts failed because the first Internet café used a system to log in, which required Windows to be running and the second required a wireless connection which I haven't got! In the end I was allowed to connect direct and, somewhat to my surprise, the activation was successful. I am still waiting to use the modem to connect to the internet, but that is another story!! I am still reasonably confident of joining the HATW trustees meeting over Skype on Friday.

We spent the night with Fr. Tim at the parish house in Lusaka and I arose in time to join the morning mass at 6.30.

At breakfast we were joined by two Irish priests who had just celebrated 50 years in the priesthood. They were of the order formerly known as the White Fathers who were the first missionaries to come out to Zambia – I think that was about 150 years ago.

After breakfast it was time to head for Monze. We were running late so we picked up a few items at Shoprite in Mazabuka to serve as our lunch.

After dropping off our bags the next port of call was Pemba where we were meeting with Jennipher. I had reorganised my schedule and gave only a days notice about the changed programme. In addition we left Monze late. Had I thought things through, I would have realised that Jennipher would organise a gathering and that changing the day wouldn't be such a trivial matter. I was very sorry to have disturbed things but in the event we were escorted to her home by a group of ladies who sang a welcome as we followed in the car. There were probably 50 people assembled to meet us including several of the local headmen. The headmen traditionally allocate land and generally look after the villagers, but in recent times many of them have also become desperately poor and have difficulty proving for their own families.

Jennipher had everything very well organised and different people, all affected by HIV/AIDS, told us of their major needs. Children without school uniforms or shoes – one who also mentioned that she had no food – a story that is far too common here. One man told us that he had 8 children and all of them died as a result of AIDS. Those unfortunate enough to have lost a child will understand some of the pain but to lose all of your children must be unbearable. Some outlined their plans for refurbishing a clinic to supply the ARVs (Anti-retroviral drugs needed by people with AIDS) and the idea of a drop in centre to help some children learn and play. Many of the stories are heart rending and the size of the problem is huge. It is easy to feel totally impotent, but we can only do that which is possible. Jennipher has made a huge difference to thousands by setting up support groups and educating people about AIDS. There is no doubt that ARVs are allowing many not only to live longer but also to be able to provide some support for children who otherwise would find themselves orphaned. It was getting dark before we headed back to Monze.

Saturday was another full day. It is Jim's first trip to Zambia and it is important that he sees the projects in which HATW has had an involvement over the years. The first project at the hospital, the refurbishment and extension of the laboratory and pharmacy, took place in 1999. Since then various groups and individuals have spent time working at the hospital constructing buildings or passing on some of their skills to the permanent staff. Walking around the hospital it is clear to see how much difference has been made to the environment within some of the wards and specialist areas. The impact of the skilled volunteers isn't so easy to see, but the affection in which they are remembered tells a lot.

We were passing by the church and Fr. Kenan insisted that we joined the priests for lunch rather than go to a hotel. The hospitality we find in Zambia is exceptional. I am already being provided with accommodation and meals by the church here.

In the afternoon we caught up with Mrs. Sianga and the head teachers to give David and Jim an update on the progress at PIZZ school. The school receives a lot of ongoing support from people associated with HATW. More and more projects which have started with our help are now receiving some long term support. It is relatively easy to obtain donations to put up structures or provide equipment, but unless ongoing support is provided it will be impossible to make the difference we want to the children where we work. With partners like Mrs. Sianga our efforts go a long way. There are now more than 200 children attending her schools and getting a chance that otherwise would be denied them. There are few, if any, of the children who Mrs. Sianga doesn't know individually. She provided support to many of their parents as a community nurse before they died as a result of the AIDS pandemic. If the younger children need a shower before starting lessons this is provided and if they are absent someone is sent to find out what problems they have. The school provides a caring environment and a community for children that are going through a very traumatic childhood.

The examination results in the past year have been very good – despite a lack of resources. Three of the children are now at secondary school – largely sponsored through the project. More would be able to go if funds were available.

HATW past volunteers often keep in touch with the projects and one volunteer recently raised some funds to pay for textbooks, sports shirts and balls. Until this donation perhaps 2 or 3 textbooks would be shared by 30 students. The teachers expect the results to improve now that most students will have a textbook in each of the subjects.

Visiting projects like this make us realise just how worthwhile our efforts can be. Without our support it is hard to see how this project could have survived. With the help of past volunteers and supporters the future looks good.

Mrs. Sianga and her husband joined us for supper and a very full day reached it's conclusion.

I suggested that we made an early start on Sunday, so we left at 8 hrs to return to Mrs. Sianga's first school. Each month she provides some additional food for 240 children in desperate need. Again Mrs. Sianga knows their families and their problems. These children are under-nourished and without this extra food many would die. I couldn't help think how terrible it was that in the world where we currently live, such situations still exist – and this is just a very small glimpse of a huge issue. The children pick up packs weighing about 30lb each and take them back to their homes. Some of the little ones are helped by older siblings. The distribution is carefully organised and some get extra items according to their need. Mrs. Sianga says that only two of the children have died during the past 6 months, which shows the success of the project. However that's two children too many, and also certainly two more than would have died in the UK. It is hard to be confronted with the very harsh realities of live here, it is even more difficult when you know that it needn't be so! The feeding programme is not HATW funded, but receives some money from a small group of Italians. After a visit a couple of them decided to do something, and with some family and friends they are ensuring that 240 children have the extra essential food each month. It is amazing what some people are prepared to do when confronted by the reality of life here.

We headed for the 10 am mass at Our Lady of the Wayside. 14 young children were being baptised so the day was one of extra celebration. This weekend (which finishes at the end of tomorrow! Tuesday) sees the Lwiindi / Gondi ceremony – a ceremony where the traditional culture is celebrated. As yet I haven't attended the ceremony despite promises from people keen to accompany me. The church was far from full, no doubt because some had been lured away by the events elsewhere!

After the mass we were invited to join the baptism group for lunch. The proceedings included some speeches and, after lunch, the children exchanged gifts before the final prayer at about 15.30! David and Jim had to make their apologies after the meal. They had another appointment with Mrs. Sianga to visit some people in the community. It was a similar visit with Mrs. Sianga in 2003 that was probably the most significant event during my first visit. At that time there were no ARVs available and the patients I saw were all dying. To be welcomed into their homes was such a privilege and very humbling.

In my turn I headed towards Bridget's house where there was a large pile of baskets for David to take back to the UK. The baskets are made by guardians of orphaned children under a scheme ran by the hospital. These provide a little income for the families. My contacts – more HATW volunteers – provide a much welcomed outlet for their products.

We retired to a local hostelry for a beer before moving on to a hotel for supper.

There was a lot to discuss over our meal. There is never enough money available to meet the needs of the projects and Hands Around the World also struggles to survive. It is difficult to convince people that organisations such as ours need funds, in order that all the projects around the world are able to continue. It is often only by visiting a place that people begin to understand how great the needs are. The volunteers help fill a gap by providing essential ongoing support. The structures and equipment provide a start, but without the ongoing support provide by the organisation, it's past volunteers and supporters, much could be wasted. So if anyone has a few thousand pounds looking for a home you couldn't do much better than donating it to HATW!

David and Jim left this morning on their journey home. They will relax in Lusaka for a few hours before leaving at midnight for Cardiff (via Harare, Nairobi & Amsterdam!) arriving home about 24 hours later.

Today was the funeral of my Uncle Gerard. He was a lovely man and I would have wished to be present. I decided to sit in the hospital chapel at the time of the UK service and pray for him and all those whose hearts he has touched over the years.

I will see whether I can get an Internet connection in a bit and send this blog.