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!