Friday, August 12, 2011

Life Giving Encounters

Saturday 6th August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that's your lot for now!



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