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


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