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.

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