Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Safely Home

Tuesday 6th August

I am now home safely after an uneventful flight home.

On Thursday night I finished posting my blog and prepared my laptop which would be left for PIZZ school. The laptops they have both are suffering from some faults. One has a screen that doesn't function and the other has a couple of keys that are extremely difficult to use.

On Friday morning I went to the school to talk to more of the children being sponsored and to hand over the laptop. As always there was more to discuss and do than I had accounted for. We set the computer up with the local Skype account, I was offered a drink and some biscuits and by the time we were finished it was getting on towards 15hrs. I had already told a number of people that I would be available from lunchtime and the number of my phone calls was increasing.

My last day in Monze is always frantic and I have never managed to complete all the tasks and see all the people I want to. I am aware that there are people that I haven't seen at all on this visit and many others who I have only met briefly. I was aware that Fr Raphael was meeting me at 14 hrs, as was Obert's mum, Diven was calling around at lunchtime and I needed to return the dongle to Luke. As I said it was already approaching 15 hrs and I was a kilometre or so from the flat! Oh and I hadn't yet picked up my new shirt and the chitenge pieces for the African quilt!

So another very busy few hours were ahead. My flat was occupied by one or more of my friends until about 19hrs. At last I was free to make my 18 hrs appointment with Diven!

It has been a tradition for many years to sit in Tooters with a bottle or two, a meal and discuss all manner of issues with Diven. This would be the first and last time for this visit – but it was important that we had this opportunity. Diven has had a difficult time ever since his father died when he was about 11 years old. Unfortunately there is still a tradition here that the family of the man often claim his possessions when he dies. Diven's father was a farmer with some animals but Diven was left with nothing and has effectively had to fend for himself ever since. He told me that many of his school friends have not survived.

It is good to see see him looking so well these days. He struggles to earn enough to buy food. He often fails to raise enough for his rent or for clothes and shoes. It is hard for us to understand how fragile life is here for many. My friendship with Diven has given me an insight into a world that we are hardly aware exists. He does not ask for a lot, but as a friend I cannot see him without food or shelter – so when he is stuck, I see him through. Just to see him so happy more than makes up for my small contributions.

Diven's shop is slowly getting more stock – most of it still detergent paste. The owner had promised to install extra shelves, but these haven't materialised and I doubt whether they ever will. I still don't understand Diven's plan – it seems to revolve around the detergent paste, which he regards as his capital. I suppose it enables him to fill the shelves, whereas with most expensive products they would be half empty.

We chatted for a couple of hours before I returned home to start packing!

I decided to pack the bananas that Soloman gave me for Amy as they were, still attached to the stem. I would wait till Lusaka to remove them. I had been given a few presents for myself, Dilys and Deana. St. Veronica's Small Christian Community gave me two tee shirts marked with Our Lady of the Wayside on the back and having a picture of Our Lady on the front pocket – one for me and the other for Dilys. I feel a bit embarrassed that I always receive gifts such as this and I rarely think of suitable gifts to bring. I sometimes have photographs from the previous year but it is humbling to see the efforts made to ensure I go back with a gift. I was given two handmade bags and two bags of groundnuts by Catherine – for Dilys and Deana.
In addition I had bought some additional tee-shirts for our church, my usual mixture of baskets, bags etc. from the hospital project for orphaned children and a few pieces of chitenge material. I packed the items wondering whether I would be able to bring them all into the UK!

I had no scales but judged that neither case weighed more than 20kg (at least when the bananas were removed!)

I settled down for sleep at a little after 23 hrs – which is a early night for me.

I rose at about 7 am to sunshine. The past couple of days had been cool, cloudy and windy. I was told that there had even been rain in some parts of Zambia – something virtually unknown for August.

I had expected to see Jennipher on Friday and was surprised that she didn't appear. I was a little concerned in case something had happened – though it might have been that she was disappointed at not joining me and was finding a final visit difficult.

I had some breakfast, finished packing and headed past Tooters to engage a taxi. The guys here are waiting for any chance of a fare – these seem to be few are far apart. Someone offered to take me to the Tooters Roadhouse (Golden Pillow) – about 1 km - for 15 kwacha (just under £2). I agreed, but as I was about to step into the car, Selina called out and Jennipher also appeared. So I invited them to jump in with me . We fetched my luggage from the flat and eventually I found someone who would take my keys. We were all taken to the Roadhouse where I bought a ticket and chatted until the coach arrived. Our parting was more poignant because Jennipher should have been travelling with me. Maybe next year!!

The journey to Lusaka was not too bad. The diversion added best part of an hour to our schedule so the 9 hrs bus, which left Monze at 9.30 arrived at about 13 hrs. instead of 11.30 am.

As usual I was spotted by an eager taxi driver as the bus entered the Intercity Terminal. He claimed that he knew the Ndeke hotel and offered me a fair price of 30 kwacha. Having made the agreement I refused all other offers. The depot was very congested and the 80 metres to the parking spot took about 10 minutes. My driver took one case and I followed with the remaining luggage. He loaded the boot and we tried to set off. He was evidently not the most patient of guys and got cross with others trying to exit the car park, driving back and forwards to demonstrate his frustration. I wondered whether I had made a good choice!! Eventually he got onto the road and sped along in what I thought was probably the right direction. He guessed I might need transport to the airport. I guessed that his car would make it – I wasn't so sure about arriving without incident though. On balance I decided to risk it, if Best couldn't provide a taxi for me. So I took his number and promised to be in touch if my friend couldn't help.

We arrived safely at the Ndke hotel – not a place where I had previously stayed. Justina had arranged the reservation for a standard room, but I was offered an executive suite when I tried to check in. Fortunately a standard room was also available and I was very happy to settle for that!

I phoned Justina and she said she would meet me at the hotel in about two hours.

I had expected to be close to a shopping centre and the hotel I usually use. However, it seemed that I was a long way from my usual destination – in the midst of various embassies. There were no Internet facilities at the hotel so I asked the receptionist for directions. She told me to go out of another entrance near reception and I found myself at the shopping centre I knew so well! After a few more enquiries I found an Internet cafe. After 15 minutes I had almost managed to open the web page for checking in with Kenya airways. I decided to pay for another ½ hour and needed it!! The outcome was a couple of black and white boarding cards and the checking in process completed. Job Done!!

I had been concerned about bringing bananas and groundnuts to the UK so I attempted to check the regulations. Kenya Airways told me I could bring in 2 litres of wine or spirits which surprised me a little, but at least clarified that issue. They didn't however advise on other items. I went to the government websites and eventually downloaded a pamphet with details of items prohibited and restricted. I was able to bring in 2 kg of fruit and couldn't find any restrictions on nuts. So decided I would work on that basis,

I returned to the hotel and decided to wallow in a warm bath. I was about to relax when I realised that there was no plug!! Deciding not to let this go, I asked the guy on reception if he had any spare plugs – only to receive the response - “not today, maybe tomorrow” ! It reminded me of comments in a book I read about the African way of saying no! Apparently it is considered impolite to say no, or that you will not agree to something, so you provide an excuse to explain why it isn't currently possible. It was clear that I wouldn't get a plug – certainly not on the Sunday – probably never!!

I was about to return to my room when Justina arrived at reception. She is setting up an organisation to combat the growing problem of abortion in Zambia. I have been working with her and linking her with the Life organisation in the UK. She brought me up to date with their progress over a drink and I promised to get back to her with dates of a conference taking place soon in Uganda.

I asked about the nearest church and she showed me the way to Lusaka Cathedral, which was close. I have previously attended mass here but, as usual, couldn't have found it on my own. She left me to progress home and I returned to the hotel.

Undeterred by my failure to secure a plug, I returned to my room and once more had to make use of the medical kit! I have found the most valuable piece of medical equipment is the pair of scissors - always supplied. Most items these days are packed in plastic, so I found a piece of appropriate size and cut it to fit the plug hole!! At last I could wallow for a few minutes and relax in a warm bath!!

I read a little more of my novel and headed to the dining room for supper.

My stay in the hotel is part of a process of preparation for the jump to another world. I like to have a time on my own to reflect a little and think about the return. It is not a time for more nshima, so I plumped for potatoes with my fish. However, a Mosi is still very welcome. I finished with coffee and even treated myself to a South African brandy in the bar afterwards.

I turned the TV on briefly and found a sports channel. There are times when you are far from home when life becomes a bit surreal. I was watching some news clips when they reported on the cheese rolling event at Coopers Hill, a couple of miles from my home in Cheltenham!! Not something I was expecting in my Lusaka hotel room!!

I needed to move the surviving bananas to a bag and place them in my backpack for the journey home. I also made the final rearrangements to distribute the weight evenly between my two cases. Ready for the journey I turned in for an early night – tomorrow would be a long day.

I slept well. At 6 am I received another call to wish me a safe journey – I also had a couple of similar calls on the Saturday evening!! I turned over and re-awoke a little after 7 am.

I found that the dining room was set for breakfast. Most importantly tea was available – as was cornflakes and bread and jam. I helped myself and with no staff about assumed that this was probably included with the price of the room.

I enjoyed the early morning sun and read a bit before heading to the Cathedral for mass – which was advertised for 10.30. I collected my things and checked out – leaving my luggage in a storeroom by the reception desk.

I arrived at the Cathedral just after 10 am and could hear the singing and drumming – presumably from the vernacular mass. I decided to wander around the grounds and found myself at a grotto. This was a replica of the grotto in Lourdes which has been a very special place for me. It is interesting that all around the world people choose to use this as a model to create a place of prayer and peace. I wondered about the people who would be sitting in front of the actual grotto in Lourdes at that time - pilgrims visiting the place where the mother of Jesus Christ (our God) visited a young, poor peasant girl. A place of tremendous healing, but not, as many imagine, so much of physical healing, but more importantly of spiritual healing. A place where the sick and disabled are truly welcomed as being special in the eyes of God. I sat for a while in prayer.

I slowly toured the grounds and when I approached the church entrance again was surprised to hear the priest addressing the congregation in English. The service had reached the offertory and therefore had some way to run. The only conclusion I could make was that this was some form of combined service – perhaps starting at about 9 hrs. If there are special events – e.g. baptisms or confirmations it is common for the services to be combined into one longer event! I therefore decided to enter the church for the rest of the mass.

It continued – part in the local language and part in English. At the end the priest announced that he had banns to read for 8 couples. He called each person out to the front of the church in turn four couples were having a “white wedding” and the other four were having their marriages blessed. Eventually the formalities were completed and I left to return to the hotel.

Before lunch I relaxed with a Mosi in the now warm sunshine. As I finished my lunch the guy on the next table introduced himself and finding out my purpose in Zambia told me he too was involved in supporting children's projects. He worked for a Zambian NGO and gave me his details.

By this time my taxi was waiting and I hurried to collect my bags – discovering from the receptionist that I needed to settle my bill for breakfast!!

We survived the journey to the airport!! and I was dropped at the terminal more than 3 hours before take-off. I wanted to be early because on a previous occasion I had to queue for well over an hour. In the event I waited about half an hour before being able to drop my bags and then was through security and emigration in less than 30 mins. In the departure lounge I took advantage of the 2 litre allowance and picked up a couple of bottles of brandy. I read a little and decided to have a coffee. No sooner had I ordered it than it was announced that my flight was ready for boarding!!

I have never understood why at Lusaka airport you go through two sets of security. Everything is scanned before you get to the check-in desks and again before you board the plane. There is only one 'gate' at Lusaka airport. From here you walk to the plane and up the steps.

We left Lusaka 15-20 minutes before the scheduled take-off time before the setting sun at about 17 hrs. Some years back when I worked for Eagle Star Insurance Company I had the joy of an overnight trip to Greece – returning to work the following morning! When offered a drink I decided that I didn't fancy a beer or a short but settled on a gin and tonic – not a drink I usually have. However, it seemed to be ideal for the circumstances. Whenever I fly now, if I get the opportunity I have a g & t. The stewardess asked if I would like two and I thought it would be only right to accept.

It wasn't much later that the meal arrived and of course a drop of wine was appropriate – especially since I haven't tasted wine for a few weeks. When I was offered another bottle however I declined or I might not have negotiated the exit at Nairobi!!

We arrived at Nairobi having made up more time – despite having no time lost. I was not eager to rush off the plane because my 2 ½ hour time in transit had already grown to over 3 hours. At least I think so! It appeared that I was now and hour ahead of Zambia time and two ahead of BST.

I wondered around the airport with a smile on my face. I wasn't sure whether this was because I was amused by the comparison of the happy dark faces with the rather glum light ones (It has always struck me when I have been to very foreign parts how, once I return to an airport where I again meet up with the light faces of the Europeans and Americans, the faces seem so serious in comparison to those I have been living among.) or whether it was just a result the excess of alcohol that produced an inane grin!

I walked from end to end of the departure lounge and eventually found my way to the airport lounges. In the past I have sat in the Kenya Airways lounge. It seemed that on this occasion the lounge had been refurbished. When I showed my boarding pass however I was told that it wasn't open to me, but only business class passengers

By the time I found my way back to my boarding gate it was open. I therefore settled there until boarding commenced. Again we were on board in good time and took off before schedule. It was nearly midnight (Nairobi time) but after we were at cruising altitude we were offered another meal (same choice as from Lusaka). I wasn't sure that I was ready for another meal, but I seemed to have chosen the chicken instinctively. I couldn't cope with another bottle of wine but thought a small tot after supper might settle me down. Of course bottles of whisky also arrive in twos!!

I am not sure when I finished my supper. By this time I wasn't sure whether I was on Zambia, Kenya or UK time. I decide to try to sleep but with little success. At least I had my glass of whisky to keep me company throughout the night. I slept very little and finished my drink just before the lights came on for breakfast at 4 am BST.

We circled a couple of times and landed just after 6 am - about ½ hour before schedule.

I collected my bags without difficulty and headed for the green – nothing to declare – exit. It always seems deserted these days as you exit. This time however a guy appeared and asked me to accompany him into a side room. He asked me if I was aware of what I was allowed to bring into the UK and what my allowances were. I said that I believed I was. It became clear fairly early on that in fact the allowance for spirits had not been increased to 2 litres! Though he and his mate weren't too bothered that I had exceeded my allowance in this respect. I was asked where I had come from and what I had been up to in Zambia, where I stayed etc. Having decided that I was doing charity work with the church, they seemed quite sympathetic, however that didn't stop the officer from taking every item out of my cases and placing them on the table. When his mate saw my birds of South Africa he became quite excited. I confessed that I had very little time to watch birds this time, but recommended my other book on common birds of Zambia. We had a bit of a discussion about bananas and another colleague confirmed that they were fine as I only had about 2 kg. The nuts weren't a problem. It must have been about 15 – 20 minutes later that I had everything repacked and I was sent on my way – with a leaflet giving full details of the official rules!!

I met up with a couple of Australian ladies who wanted the Central bus station. I offered to accompany them and we agreed to get lost together. We were separated when I had to abandon my trolley and try to manhandle my luggage to the connecting train.

We met again a couple of times but when the signs became clear we made our way to the bus station separately.

I had told Dilys not to bother to come to the airport because it was so early and the bus service to Cheltenham is very good.

The sun had risen as we passed over Europe. The peaks of the alps showed in silhouette and the snow was just visible. When we reached the channel the sky was clear and Dover and Calais looked metres rather than miles apart.

It was overcast in London but mild. On the journey back there was a little drizzle but the driver said he was expecting heavy rain.

Barby picked me up at Cheltenham bus station and by just after 11 am I was again home.

I settled in and Dilys arrived home after 12 noon. I had a short siesta and caught up with Dilys.

Today we had a very pleasant day at Dingestow. I took the opportunity of catching up a little with David and Hands Around the World while Dilys and Cheyenne enjoyed the Gwent Wildlife open day.

I will post my reflections on my trip in the next few days.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Its not easy for a poor African to visit the UK

Thursday 1st August

Time has once more run away.

It is almost a week since I posted the last blog and in 3 days I will already be on my way back to England! Unfortunately Jennipher will not be returning with me – she has again been refused a visa. This is a huge blow to her and I am devastated by the decision.

On Monday I met with Kai for a visit to PIZZ school. Kai is a representative of Global Giving - an organisation that promotes charities by giving them a platform on the Internet where individuals are encouraged to donate. PIZZ school is one of our projects that benefits from Global Giving's publicity.

We met Mrs. Sianga and a couple of the teachers to provide Kai with a bit of background information before seeing a series of sketches and hearing songs and poems by the students. AIDS was a prominent topic dealt with very openly by the children who are all affected by it in some way.

At the end of the performance Kai was presented with some pictures drawn by the children – I was impressed by their skills.

We returned to the office to discuss with the teachers some of the challenges and the achievements. It is very easy to identify the challenges and perhaps easy to become too weighed down to recognise the achievements made by the school. The results are improving year on year, but there is great concern about the children who have no prospects of a proper livelihood after finishing at the school.

The reality is that the current situation in Zambia is very difficult and prospects are not generally good. However, just to see the children performing with tremendous confidence in front of us demonstrated to me a great achievement. I doubt whether many who hadn't attended the school would either have the skills or the confidence needed. Even if these children don't immediately find jobs I believe they will have gained a lot from their experience and hopefully, if things improve and opportunities arise, they will move forward. A few will progress to complete their secondary education and some might even obtain degrees and professional qualifications. It would be wonderful if none of the talent was lost and all could fulfil their full potential – I dream that one day we will have a world were that is the norm.

We had a tour of the site taking in the vegetable garden and visiting the additional plot before moving on to have a brief look at the old school. This is in the midst of the compound, with no playground space and noise from nearby bars causing unwelcome distraction.

After the visit Kai headed straight back to Lusaka where he is based while in Zambia.

I returned to my flat to catch up on a few things. I contacted Jim on Skype and discussed the latest progress with the bee-keeping project at Kaliyangile.

Jennipher had told me that when she previously applied for the visa she was rung early and told to go straight to Lusaka to pick up her documents. I was hoping she would hear on Monday so that we could try to sort flights before I left early on Tuesday for Chisamba – assuming the result was positive. It seemed that this wouldn't happen and that it might be the end of the week before things were settled – with the associated problems. I was therefore surprised, when I finished my call with Jim, to find that there was an e-mail to say that the documents would be ready to collect within 24 hrs. It seemed that perhaps the miracle would happen after all. I had checked the Kenya airways flight the previous evening and found only on seat available – in business class!! I had decided that if was what it took we should go for it. However I couldn't go ahead until the decision was known. I asked David if he would contact the travel agent to see if they could find a seat and hold some flights for a day or so.

I decided I needed an early night. Jennipher was staying with a friend in Monze so that we could make an early start in the morning.

I was up by about 5.15 and by 6 hrs I had met up with Jennipher and we boarded a bus for Lusaka. I was surprised that no buses were outside Tooters when we approached – perhaps they left a little before 6 am. The bus we were on didn't look very hopeful, but it slowly progressed down the main road and headed in the direction of Lusaka. Most buses try to pick up fares wherever possible. They often leapfrog other buses to get to the next pick up first. Our bus wasn't in that sort of hurry! It moved fast enough on the open road, but seemed to find passengers at places where none seemed to be – at least when we arrived!! On several occasions we lost the driver and/or conductors for 10 minutes or more while passengers made their way, or livestock were loaded onto the trailer. So, despite the roadworks causing only minor hold-ups, the journey took us 4 ½ hours!

Still we should be at the British High Commission before 12 hrs - which I expected would be the critical time. (i.e. before lunch break!)

Jennipher was negotiating a price with the taxi driver and we were lead to his car. It is not a good sign when the engine is started – with much difficulty – using a strange device connected to a few wires under the dashboard!

So off we headed for the High Commission. Now my sense of direction isn't good but when we headed up Independence Avenue I was reassured. From memory most of the Embassies, courts etc. are to be found in this direction. I was less comfortable when at the first opportunity our driver made a left turn into a very congested road. Still he was the taxi driver wasn't he! My heart sank when he started asking people along the road the direction to the Intercontinental Hotel!! (Which Jennipher knew was close to our destination – as is the Supreme Court.) After several people pointed us in a variety of directions we eventually hit Independence Avenue a little further along the road and about 20 minutes later!! As we approached the Law Courts the engine stalled. The driver started the engine again and we managed another 20 metres before coming to another stop. It appeared that we had run out of petrol and were stranded in the middle of a section of dual carriageway just beyond a roundabout! I couldn't open my door – but in any event it was probably safer to clamber over the drivers seat to escape onto the central reservation!!

The final ¼ mile was done on foot!!

Surprisingly it was still only just after 11.30 when we arrived at the British High Commission building. There was a notice saying that passports could be collected between 14.00 and 14.30 and this was confirmed to Jennipher at the gate. So despite our 5 ½ journey we still had a further couple of hours to kill. We were directed to a restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was situated in some nice grounds with tables and benches outside. We had some fish, which was very good, and then relaxed in the garden – as best we could in view of the anticipation. I decided to check my mail to see if any progress had been made with flights and, if I am honest, to fill a little time. I was able to deal with a couple of e-mails but nothing on the flight front. I reflected that only a few years back dealing with correspondence in this way while sitting in a park would be the stuff of science fiction. (Many people of course would now be using their smart phones rather than a laptop with a dongle!!)

At 2 pm the doors were opened and Jennipher moved with the assembled group into the building. After about 15 minutes she emerged with a sealed package which we opened in anticipation.

I think I had convinced myself that the application would succeed. So when Jennipher found the rejection letter it was a huge blow.

When I came to Zambia this year I arrived at Lusaka without a visa. I completed an immigration entry form stating that I was visiting friends, that I was staying at Homecraft, Monze and stating how much money I could immediately obtain! The official placed a visa in my passport, stamped it and I handed him $50.

When Jennipher wanted to come to the UK she had to complete a complicated form – in English – using a computer and accessing the Internet. Anyone without computer skills is reliant on help. Anyone without any English is facing an extremely difficult task and is absolutely reliant on a third party.

The form is in a format that requires most boxes to be completed in order to move to the next section. Dependant upon the answers different fields appear and need to be completed. It appears that there is no scope to say that information isn't available or that the question is not applicable. In fact there are sometimes ways of indicating these things e.g. if you don't know parents birth dates you need to record them as 01/01/1900 – perhaps not immediately obvious – but if you locate the appropriate help icon it gives this information! The word 'none' might be acceptable in some circumstances – though not in others!

The answers cannot be changed after printing. So unless the applicant checks the form carefully on the computer they have to assume that their 'agent' has completed it correctly.

Perhaps this is part of a deliberate policy to select only those with a good education and perhaps a certain social standing – I hope not, but in effect that is what is happening.

With Jennipher's first application she relied on someone to assist her. He asked for details he clearly couldn't know – passport nos, dates etc. but completed the rest as he thought appropriate. For a reason unknown to Jennipher, he referred to her as a business woman rather than being unemployed and being confused by the new kwacha – as are most people in Zambia (and to some extent even myself!) he made the mistake of quoting her earnings as the equivalent of £2,500 a month. It was only when she saw the printed form that she saw these errors – by which time it was too late. The agent had found he could put that her business company or organisation was n/a. Unfortunately a phone number and e-mail address of her employer was an obligatory field and he filled in his own details!

The first refusal didn't include all these details and the application I completed only dealt with the problems with the currency. Now they had two applications one with Jennipher as a wealthy business woman and the other as poor, unemployed and surviving from what she grew and the few animals she kept. Their conclusion is that she is lying. In fact her offence is that she is a poor Zambian who was let down by someone trying to complete a complex form on her behalf in the way he thought best and with the misunderstanding that Jennipher would be able to correct any mistakes during an interview.

Although to some extent the decision is understandable the fact that I completed the form myself on her behalf, that I carried it 5,000 miles and intended to book her on my flight to the UK might have suggested that my invitation for a three week holiday was serious. Remember the evidence I produced for my visit to Zambia – I am glad I didn't have an eleven page form to complete in Chitonga!!

The decision has been made and it won't be changed. I hope there will be another opportunity – perhaps next year. It will take a lot of work to ensure that concerns expressed in the rejection letter are fully addressed.

In the meantime I am considering asking a few questions about the percentage of successful applications from poor Africans. In summing up the reason for refusal the entry clearance officer uses the phrase that “I am not satisfied that a visit to the UK for 3 weeks is commensurate with your economic or social circumstances.” I also want to know what this means. I was told that a poor African has no chance to get a visa to visit the UK – is this what is meant?

I would argue that the chances are that a person with adequate means is more likely to overstay because they would be able to support themselves in the short term. Someone like Jennipher would find it very difficult.

It was 6 pm and dark when I reached Chisamba.

I met briefly with Moses and Persis at the Guest House in the evening.

Kai arrived just after 8 am yesterday. Kaliyangile is different in many ways to PIZZ School. It has about 10 Hectares of land, a lot of chickens, some cows etc. The project was described together with a bit of the history. Moses, Patrick and Dr Nkata represented the management committee and discussed the project with Kai as they toured the site and was shown the buildings, equipment and activities. The tour finished with myself, Kai and the three committee members planting orange trees for the orchard – all of course recorded for posterity.

We called back to the room being used by the tailors. There was now a class busy cutting material for children's dresses. Earlier they had been disbursed in the grounds on other activities.

Moses persuaded Kai to visit his farm and set up his Skype account and he was happy to help. So we found our way to Kalilele Farm. Kai did the business with Skype and Moses showed us some of his business including a fish pond, a large bed of strawberries (we were given samples!) and a shed were his assistant was growing oyster mushrooms! Not exactly what I would have expected from a Zambian farm.

I was given a lift back to Lusaka and Kai joined me in the back of the car to talk about Hands Around the World and my role. We also shared a little about our lives. Kai has a Japanese passport but has lived in a variety of places including studying for 18 months in Lusaka where his parents still live. He is currently studying in Germany. It was good to get to know him, if only briefly – he will probably see some of the people from the two projects on 16th August, when he is running a workshop on using the Internet to promote your organisation.

Despite leaving Chisamba at about lunchtime, it was after 18 hrs when I reached Monze yesterday.

Soon after getting home the power went off for a couple of hours. I reflected on the difference between seeing the cup half empty or half full! After a long journey the last thing you want to be greeted by is no power to see or cook by! However, when I arrived home I put the kettle on immediately and the power went off just after it boiled! In the past when I have had no power I have cut up suitable vegetables and made a coleslaw. When I looked in the fridge I found cabbage, carrots, capsicum, tomatoes and a few spring onions. When I had finished I also had enough for another meal this evening. A bit of bread and an egg and some mayonnaise added to the vegetables completed what was a very acceptable meal.

With the power off I decided to abandon the computer and spend a hour or so reading a few more chapters of my crime thriller – I am not sure I will finish it before leaving Monze.

Apologies for the length of the blog, but the laptop is due to pass into new ownership tomorrow so my ability to continue the story will be severely limited for the next few days.

This morning I attempted to meet with Joseph at HHI and get some more cash from the ATM. Joseph was out at the bank – not mine! The ATM was not in operation so I chose to return home and book myself a hotel room. The hotel was full Saturday night! I phoned Justina and asked if she could suggest somewhere and she agreed to check once she was back in Lusaka. I visited Diven and was surprised to find him at his shop – he told me he has purchased yet more detergent paste! My phone rang as I entered his shop. It was Justina who was at Tooters. I said I would see her at Homecraft in five minutes. 10 minutes later I was home, but no Justina. I waited a further few minutes and rang her. She was still at Tooters so I said I would find her! We were obviously playing hide and seek! A couple of calls later confirmed that we were both at Tooters but somehow not within sight of each other. When she told me she was on the bus going to Lusaka it was a bit easier to meet. Jennipher found us and we were in mid-conversation when the driver started the engine and Justina left us abruptly. We shall meet on Saturday!

Soloman was with Jennipher, unfortunately he was attacked yesterday and had to visit the hospital. I am not sure what is happening in Pemba. My experience is that Zambia is a relatively peaceful place. I certainly feel safer here than in Cheltenham on a Friday night!!

They came back and Soloman was introduced to my onion and tomato sandwiches! They seem to be quite popular!! It was almost 14 hrs when I set off for my 2 pm appointment at Manungu – for the second time I resorted to a taxi because it would take too long to walk.

I was there to meet some of the students who are supported by the parishioners at St. Gregory's church. Most students were at school but Mutinta, Elizabeth and Nelson met me along with Annie the mother of Gift who is also supported. None of the children would be able to attend school without our support. I like to get to know the children a little. I ask them a little about their schools and themselves and then try to give them some information about me and my life – encouraging them to ask me questions. Nelson was the one with the clearest view of what he hoped to do as a career. He hopes to be a lawyer. I was able to tell him about meeting Best some years back. He had the same idea and will soon achieve his ambition.

I hurried back picking up money from the now working ATM. Joseph is now in Livingstone and will return Monday, or maybe tomorrow! On my way back a strap on my sandal broke – the third time during this visit.

Precious was my first visitor – soon after I got back, Jennipher then joined us but agreed to get my sandal mended. When she returned Precious left and, after a while, Raymond rang to say he was outside. Somehow Raymond is always aware if I have a visitor!

Raymond stayed for supper – which I improvised from what I had left in the house! We had a little rice and sweet potato together with the remains of yesterday's coleslaw and an omelette which I must say turned out very well.

At 8pm I was ready to start work on the computer – still more to do and it is 12 23!!

It might be when I am am back home in the UK that the next instalment arrives.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Holy Spirit Celebrations

Sunday 27th July

A large part of today was taken up celebrating with some local nuns – more of that later!

Yesterday I had another date at PIZZ school. Hands Around the World runs a child sponsorship scheme. People in the UK donate £10 a month which goes to one of our projects and we provide details about a child. In this case students at PIZZ School. The money doesn't go specifically for that child's use but the sponsor receives details of the child's progress and a little about their background. Often the student gets a boost from knowing someone abroad is sponsoring them. The children at PIZZ are chosen often because they are bright and with encouragement will succeed in their exams. Sometimes children having a very rough life are chosen to provide a little spark of hope and help them realise that they are not abandoned.

I like to talk to some of the sponsored children and over time I can get to know a few. Yesterday I spoke to Jack, Esther, Christine and Gideon. These were all in their initial years at the school, so Mrs. Sianga interpreted for me. The children are taught English, which is eventually used to teach all their lessons. Christine is Bemba by tribe and that is her local language. She therefore has the extra difficulty of being taught in Chitonga, when English isn't being used – neither language is her normal tongue. I wouldn't be able to manage.

Some books had been sent from the UK and I wanted to go through a few of them with the teachers to understand what was useful. Atlases and dictionaries were much needed – even if some of the country names had changed. A few books such as GCSE revision guides were generally too advanced for grade 8 or 9 children, but would be useful at secondary schools, despite the syllabus being different. Some books were designed for individual students – with spaces for answers. Individual books of this sort have limited use. Mr Men books could help the young ones with reading and some books on nature were considered to be very useful. Story books were also considered good. However the problem I see is that these are designed to be read to children not read by them. They are often for young children, however the vocabulary is too difficult for the children to be expected to read, at that age. So for instance if the school developed a library – which is a hope they have – the books would be of limited value in that context.

I also looked at some of their textbooks and was dismayed to pick up a couple of 'activity' books. These were of the type already described where they are designed for an individual child to work through the questions and fill in the spaces in the book. e.g. sentences with words omitted or grids where numbers need to be entered according to particular rules. These books have limited value if the children cannot write in them – and if they do, the book cannot be usefully be re-used. Each book costs at least £4 or £5 and might last a year – possibly only a term - and cover one subject. I am not sure who has the designed the material, but it doesn't seem to be very clever for the Zambian system.

Jennipher came around with Selina and Maambo (a young woman who often stays with Jennipher). After lunch Selina accompanied me to the bank and was amazed at the workings of the ATM, while Jennipher, Maambo and another friend made themselves at home in my flat!

In the evening Teddy came around and we caught up with the latest – particularly in relation to the hospital. There has been a lack of stability over the past few years with Acting Medical Superintendents (who are in charge of the day to day running of the hospital) staying for a year or so, before going back to college. The current postholder has started leave and is also on her way to resume her studies. Unfortunately doctors are encouraged to get additional qualifications – then they get management positions and their practical medical expertise is wasted.

Today I awoke once more to a bright cloudless sky. It is several days since I have seen the faintest hint of a cloud in the sky. Absolutely cloudless skies very rarely occur in the UK – here they are very common.

Every time I come to Monze – at least since 2004 - I ask Ireen to make me a shirt, which she does. Urgency however is not a word in her vocabulary! I saw her very early on this trip, knowing that my time was brief. She said she would choose me some nice chitenge material and make my shirt. So a day or so back I looked in to check on progress! Ireen told me that she would buy the material the next day (except that she had someone to see so it might be the day after.) The shirt would however be ready on Monday, or Tuesday! I will keep you updated with progress!!

A local order of nuns – the Holy Spirit sisters were formed 42 years ago under the authority of the then Bishop of Monze, James Corboy – an Irish priest. During these years the nuns have officially been a local community, but in May this year they were officially recognised by the Catholic Church (with Vatican approval) as a religious congregation of the Monze Diocese. This is a rare event – the first to occur in Monze since the formation of the Diocese. It was therefore right to celebrate in style – so today we did just that.

The main celebration took the form of a Catholic mass. We started at 10 hours and interspersed were talks about the history of the order of nuns, and a few words from various people attending. The processions and dances were elaborate and great fun. The advantage of this service compared with most I attend was that it was conducted largely in English – despite the fact that I was one of only a few for whom it was their first language. Bishop Emilio gave an interesting sermon based on the constitution of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. (Honestly it was very interesting!) Their charism is to let their lives be guided by the Spirit. He pointed out that their constitutions talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit – the most important being Joy. He referred to Pope Francis saying that a Christian should always have a smile on his, or her, face. Today there was joy in plenty and smiles everywhere! If only we could follow the example of the people here. Unfortunately smiles and laughter are not the norm in Catholic churches in England in my experience!

Bishop Emelio, thinking of the 42 years, also mentioned how 40 was an important number in Christian tradition – he could also have mentioned that 42, according to “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything! Maybe in fact when thinking of the Holy Spirit this is close to the truth!

So with lots of singing, dancing, drumming and laughter we finished our service just before 14 hrs!!

I remarked that it wasn't likely that we would experience such an event in the UK. Fr. Kenan pointed out that it would be inside the church not outside in the grounds, I mentioned we would be unlikely to have dancing and drumming and I doubt if our congregations would be happy with a 4 hr long mass!!

I enjoyed every minute and felt spiritually refreshed as a result. We are hoping for action on the visa and I am happy to storm the heavens over the next few days.

There was a feast laid on at Homecraft for those with tickets and something for everyone – so we were told. Some people were checking for tickets at the gate, but I felt I should be allowed in as it is my home!! I suspect that I would have been welcomed at the feast, but I would be uncomfortable barging in because I am a 'white man'. I headed for my flat and a welcome cup of tea and a couple of sandwiches.

I then popped into town for a couple of items and on my return wandered over to the assembled gathering to seek out friends. There are a few nuns from the congregation who are away from Monze but I know from my connection with the hospital. A few greeted me. In particular it was good to see Sr. Juunza who told me she had just finished her studies. She had travelled from the Copperbelt, arriving this morning, and was now back at the hospital. I hunted for Sr. Christeta who worked closely with Dilys when she came in 2006. Eventually I found her. When the bishop spoke about joy, I thought of Sr. Christeta! She is the bubbliest nun I know, never without a smile and was in the thick of all the dancing today. It was good to have a brief chat with her, unfortunately, though she will be around tomorrow, I can't see how I will have time to get together with her again.

I must remark that religious congregations all around the world generally lead a life which revolves around a pattern of formal prayer – much of it based on the Psalms from the bible (used by the Christian and Jewish religions). The psalms have a verse and a response – traditionally the verse is sung in a very simple chant. In our mass we sing a psalm between two readings. Today the sisters sang the psalm and I immediately recognised the simple chant in the first verse, then as the second verse began a vibrant beat was introduced and my mind drifted to 'Sister Act' because it was very much in that vein. (Those who have watched the film will know what I mean!!) Religious services can be, and should be, fun!!

I was meant to be picked up by Edward for another night on the town. However, I decided not to remind him. If he turned up I would join him, but to be honest I have so much to fit in in these last days that I am better of doing some catching up. Which is what I have just been doing with my blog as he hasn't arrived!

Please keep praying – and smiling!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Visiting Pemba

Thursday 25th July

It might only be a couple of days since my last blog was written but it appears that there are three days to catch up!

On Tuesday I spent a long morning at PIZZ school – that is to say that it was 14 – 15hrs when I returned to the flat. There was much to discuss with the teachers. In particular the issue of what happens to children when they finish at PIZZ school. The school teaches to grade 9. Some pass the exam at the end and are awarded a certificate which allows them to finish their secondary education. Those that fail have limited prospects, though we hope they will have developed in many ways at the school.It will undoubtedly be a struggle for most. One boy Boniface who didn't do well academically is now earning a living as a musician, both as a performer and songwriter. I am sure that his time at PIZZ school helped him to develop this talent – if I can I will meet him and find out more. Those who pass grade 9 often cannot afford the secondary school fees and drop out if we cannot find some extra support.

Diven's shop is taking shape. He tells me he has a system, but why he has several shelves filled with different varieties of detergent paste instead of other goods I cannot quite fathom. Still he tells me this is part of his master plan!

After supper Edward called to take me out. We started at the golf club and moved on to Moonlite! The Moonlite Guest House used to be called Nampeyo and was were I stayed with the team on my first trip to Monze. Mr. and Mrs. Chiiya – the owners – were not about on Tuesday and I felt bad that I hadn't been in touch. Edward and I caught up with the events of the past year or so. It is good to chat over a beer or two. We have known each other for a number of years since I got involved in a project he initiated at Monze Basic School were he was head. We continue to meet when I come over here and it is interesting to share our relative perspectives on the world. We discussed some of the difficulties between the indigenous population and others in the country. Unfortunately there are still some who belief there is a natural hierarchy. He dropped me back home and we will probably meet again on Saturday. I will also call on his wife to say hallo if I get the chance.

Yesterday I headed for Pemba. It was about time I said hallo to Jennipher's family. I didn't fancy the buses outside Tooters – near empty buses usually mean very long waits! I wandered up to the main road and was told a small bus was going to Pemba now now! I was suspicious when I saw another empty bus and when a Rosa came by I jumped on that instead – without realising this was also empty! The conductor I had just ignored, jumped into the full bus a little further down the road and away they went. I went to dismount, but my bus continued moving slowly. To my surprise it then sped up and headed for Pemba – still virtually empty. I went to ring Jennipher to tell her I was on my way and realised I left my phone in the flat. I have come to realise that, particularly here in Zambia, a mobile is a very important asset – especially if you intend to meet with someone. The conductor of the bus main a vain attempt to gain extra passengers at Chisakesi – even to the extent of trying to pull passengers from another bus – much to the amusement of all of us! I arrived at Pemba Post Office with no Jennipher to collect and guide me! I spoke to a man at the grocers and told him I was going to try to find the house on my own and to let Jennipher know if he saw her!

My sense of direction – or lack of it is renowned. I can get lost in a building – many times I have found myself in a cupboard when trying to find the front door! I have a vague idea where Jennipher lives – the fact that I might have visited on 10 – 20 occasions is only marginally relevant in my case! After walking a kilometre or so up the main road I decided to follow a dirt track. There didn't seem to be any obvious paths off this track, so I kept going. At one time Jennipher might not have been known beyond her immediate neighbours. This is no longer the case, most people in Monze who I talk to know Jennipher. I heard today that she had recently been on the radio telling people of her forthcoming trip to the UK – not necessarily a good idea, knowing how jealous people can be. Anyway being a bit unsure I was confident that if I mentioned the name I would be put on the right path. Surprisingly I was heading in the right direction and might well have found my destination alone. However, an elderly lady – who turned out to be one of Jennipher's members – led me by the hand (literally) to the family home. I spotted Jennipher and she alerted Selina who ran to me and jumped into my arms.

In the past I have got to know all of the children Jennipher is looking after, but I confess I lost track of who was living with her and who was just visiting! Maggie was around but Emmanuel and Obadiah were with relatives when I arrived. There was a succession of Support Group members who came in one by one and greeted me. Jennipher told me a little about each. There were two main groups – those who hadn't received any seed and fertiliser for the coming season and those that had! The ones without of course need some ( but at least they had received some food) and those with the seed, were hungry because they didn't receive the mealie meal! Jennipher does her best to find support for her many clients – she has done well to get seed etc from various agencies, but invariably there is a shortfall – which she tries to fill from other sources!!

There were two educators from local organisations teaching her group today. One of these teachers had been involved in prostitution until only a few months ago but was persuaded to take a different route. She is now a volunteer trained to teach others. As with Jennipher, the testimony of one who has a wealth of hard experience, is much more powerful than one who is talking from theory. In general peer educators are used to teach about AIDS - as such they share the burden being HIV positive themselves and speak with authority.

An elderly gentleman came into Jennipher's house and sat down. Jennipher said he always spends the day with her and receives his meals there. A small house – the original one that Jennipher used – is now occupied by a young mother and her baby. Rogers is a little lad who has also joined the expanding family. So Jenniphers dependants increase. Soloman is a great help, looking after the family when Jennipher is out and about.

Selina spent some time making herself pretty before being photographed with me. She reminded me that she wants a bike and a school bag!

I am reminded how fragile life is in Zambia, when I visit Jennipher's home. The stories of terrible hardship follow one after another. Mothers looking after children with disabilities with no support and perhaps also having elderly parents to look after. People reliant even more than most on a good food supply have managed to grow nothing because of last years drought. For many Jennipher is literally a lifeline. Some people walk 10 – 15 km to attend the weekly meeting despite their illness and lack of food. Some sump with ground groundnuts was provided for those at the meeting and I was also given a bowl – which tasted good. (Sump is made by boiling maize and is a little like rice pudding.)

A small pre-school group also receives some lessons from volunteer group members in the garden. Soloman and Selina were also helping these children when I was around. Everyone was enjoying the experience.

Selina and Soloman escorted me to the road and Soloman flagged down a car that took me back to Monze.

It was Charlie's birthday – the last of the series! I decided to ask Andy if we could get together on Skype to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Jennipher followed me to Monze – she had further work to do in relation to her attack and other local issues. She arrived with Selina who had expected to come with me – though I was unaware. I told Andy they were around, but he was not yet home to set up Skype. While we waited, I showed Jennipher and Selina some of the uses for the Internet. I showed them the Hands Around the World website and associated Facebook page. I decided to take a picture of Selina with the Facebook page and post it with a comment. I reflected on what a different world we live in today. Only a few years ago this wouldn't be possible. Until very recently access to the Internet from Zambia was very difficult, if not impossible. Today I sit here in my flat and have easy access to the world!

Eventually Andy came online and we were all able to see Charlie and sing him the traditional birthday greeting. It was good to be able to connect the two worlds in this way. Maybe in a little over a week Jennipher will be greeting Andy and his family in person! I hope you are still praying for a miracle!

Today I had arranged to visit Buntolo. A project to support orphaned children was started at the hospital and, about the time of my first visit, they starting using a place called Buntolo for meetings and training sessions. Some of the guardians make baskets, bags, aprons and other items for sale, to bring in a little income to support the children. At one time I had an outlet in the UK where some products were sold. In recent years this source has dried up. The market here is very limited, so on my visits when I make contact, I somehow seem also to fill a case with sundry items! The amount of work that goes into each item is enormous, but a charge of a few pounds can seem expensive when compared with the mass produced goods available these days.
I enjoyed the opportunity to walk a bit. It allowed me to reflect and slow down just a little. On the way back into town I was passing Tagore school and decided it would be rude not to call on Mrs. Chiiya, who was a former headteacher of the school and lives at a house on site. I was able to make up for not seeing her at Moonlite and also met Mr. Chiiya. The nursing school she set up is still operating, but like most ventures, it is not without its challenges.

I had agreed to visit a couple of places in the afternoon. Heading for Chisikili with Jennipher we were still in town when met the leader of the group we had intended to see. Since he was on his bike it seemed sensible to talk to him at the flat rather than journey to the site and wait for him. Warren has a support group that has the use of a little land suitable for growing various crops. They have a well and a water tank, but no pump to take the water from one to the other. Deana who came to Monze a couple of years ago as a Hands Around the World volunteer has acquired funds to provide a solar pump. She asked me to talk to Warren about the progress if I had a chance. It appears that the scheme has been planned, quotes obtained and contractor organised. Shortly the installation should start. There should be sufficient money to provide for the pump and water distribution system. This will mean that the group might be able to support the members with very little need for outside support.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with Fr. Raphael and Fr.Clement discussing the link between Our Lady of the Wayside here in Monze and St. Gregory's Parish in Cheltenham. There are various connections being made and we are currently supporting 18 young people with their education at secondary school and a small church run local university.

Raymond joined me for supper – for which I was grateful. I was enticed by some of the lovely vegetables in the market a day or two back! I wanted a small cabbage, then spotted some Chinese cabbages. I was told they were 1Kw (12.5p) and expected to be given one 'cabbage' only to find there were about four strapped together. (These look a bit like large cos lettuces but cook like cabbage and retain a lovely fresh crispness. A little further I came across the sort of cabbage we are used to, but I wanted a small one!! I was told that the one offered – again for I Kw (or maybe 50 ngwee ½ Kw) was small! It must be 2 kg at least!! So I will need plenty of help to get through my stock!

Again time has run away.


P.S. Today I will treat you to a few photos taken recently.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Martha and Mary

Tuesday 23rd July

All is well!

My camera came back into life after I charged up some new batteries. I have Internet access back and this morning I managed to transfer some cash to bring my bank balance back into credit! So life is good!!

I awoke on Sunday morning to find I had no power. I had slept in a little and it was after 8 am so I wasn't surprised. I assumed that Zesco were doing work and that power would be restored in the evening.

I went to mass at Our Lady of the Wayside and met a few more friends. It was useful to have reflected on the Gospel the previous Sunday. Since the service is in Chitonga I don't understand any of it!! Perhaps that isn't entirely true, because the format is the same, I am aware of what stage the service has reached and know the standard prayers. However, I was able to think a bit more about the story of Martha and Mary. Mary who just sat and listened to Jesus and Martha who rushed around doing things of less importance. We live in a world where activity seems to be admired, however pointless and spending time with others – particularly listening is often frowned upon as wasted time. I have come to realise that the great gift I was given when made redundant 17 years ago was the freedom to be available to listen. Yet too often I fill my life with activity of less importance.

After mass I had a sandwich and headed for St. Veronica's section meeting. I called in on a lady who said she would direct me to this week's location (the meetings move between the homes of the members each week). She invited me into her house while she got ready to come with me. I was aware that her family had suffered a great tragedy and asked how they were. For the next hour or so she shared the details of the horrific events. A story of suffering, courage, forgiveness and outstanding loyalty. I listened! I was aware that here at least I was able to fulfil the role of Mary and I had no doubt of the presence of the Lord. It was an enormous privilege that someone who I don't know well was happy to share such personal and private events with me. I was deeply moved and promised to remember the family in my prayers, please will you also pray for her and her family.

By the time we arrived at the meeting it was winding up. I was reprimanded for being late, but knew that I had already spent time deep in prayer.

They were making preparations for the feast of St Veronica on 16th August. I told the group that I wouldn't be there. I mentioned that Veronica was a special name for me. My mother and a cousin who recently died were called Veronica. They were both very gentle people who would put themselves out to help anyone and their lives were an inspiration to me. I asked them to remember my special Veronicas on the feast day. There will be a special mass followed by a celebration and meal for the Small Christian Community.

I returned home and unsurprisingly the power was still off. I used the laptop until the battery power ran out and then read for a while. I have candles and a torch so I could cope with the dark.

I expected that at about 20 hrs normal service would be restored and was a little surprised when the time passed and there was no change. I decided to look outside, only to find that mine was the only house in darkness! I tried lights in the corridor – they too filed to work. I decided to head for the security guard and ask him why I had been singled out to continue in darkness. He suggested a trip switch, but didn't seem to know how to address the issue, so he suggested I spoke to a member of the projects staff who was outside her house. Eventually she came around and confirmed that they use a meter and someone must have forgotten to top it up!! She offered her house for me to make a meal, but I decided to chop up a few vegetables and make a coleslaw, then follow it with a bowl of cornflakes and a couple of glasses of mango juice!! (A well balanced meal!)

Yesterday by 9 hrs power was back on and I celebrated in the traditional way by making a cup of tea! Still suffering from Internet failure, I went to the cafe to check my bank account and to see if there were any important e-mails. At 8 hrs the cafe was closed. I asked the guy in a neighbouring shop what time they opened – he confirmed 8 hrs. Almost next door is HHI, so I took the opportunity to call around and ask if anyone knew anything about bee-suits! I was directed to Joseph who expected them, though not from me! I took the opportunity to pass the goods over to Joseph who accepted them gratefully and promised me a trip to Gwembe where their project was based, if I could fit it in.

Makwembo Internet Cafe now open I proceeded to sort my business and returned for another cuppa before heading out again. Raymond was going to collect me and take me to the PESSA project the other side of Hichaanga Dam. I have been involved with this project for many years. They struggle to support a few elderly and disabled people through growing a few crops. Floods and drought destroyed most of the maize – a little harvest of cow peas was all that came from the rainy season. Animals have broken into the garden and helped themselves to the impwa! One Ox died and the cart is in need of resuscitation, but the well is in good condition and still providing water – if only for washing clothes at the moment – so there are plenty of challenges ahead!

Diven joined me for banana sandwiches. I hadn't managed to get to the hospital during working hours so I headed over and looked for familiar faces. There have been a lot of changes – even in the past 8 months. The long term secretary and receptionist have moved. The acting Medical Superintendent has been replaced by another and other changes have occurred. I headed for Teddy's office. I have known Teddy since at least 2004 so it would be good to meet an old friend. I entered his office to be greeted by Sichone. He used to work in the stores and in 2004 I introduced him to a new stock control system, which despite our joint efforts was never fully implemented. As we got down to catching up on the past year or two, I received a call from Jennipher. She had just arrived at the hospital as a patient. Someone had beaten her with a stick and kicked her and she needed treatment. It is a sad fact that too many disputes here are settled with violence. I went to the outpatients department to meet her. She was walking but in pain. She needed a medical report to present to the police and needed 50 Kw (£6) which seems a lot of money. She was going to be seen by the doctor and given some medicine, so I left her and she was going to call later for a coffee.

On my return to the flat I decided to ring the MTN helpline once again (they don't appear to work at weekends!) A girl checked my account and found that I had failed to activate the data bundle and the connection was just eating my talktime. I had little choice but to take the hit and buy some more – this time making sure that the data bundle was confirmed. 1 GB should keep me going for the rest of my stay.

I met Jennipher as I headed to pick up some talktime. She decided to head straight for Pemba. Soloman wasn't around when the incident occurred and she was afraid he might be very angry and retaliate, so she wanted to return quickly.

At last I was back on the Net! I realise just how dependant on it I have become. While in Zambia it is important to feed back as much information as possible – not only in my blog, but in reports to the many groups and individuals who have an interest in what I am doing. Somehow a report written a few weeks later when I am back in the UK hasn't the impact, more importantly it is too late to interact and respond to the thoughts of those back home. Only a few years back this communication would be impossible.

I was invited to supper by Fr. Clement and it was good to chat over a meal. Fr. Gabriel from St. Mary's parish about 12km to the west of Monze joined us and was interested about my views of the church in the UK and how we encouraged the youth. Unfortunately I had to say that most young people find the church irrelevant and it isn't surprising when they live in a world of Facebook, I-pads and smartphones and the church sings hymns from the 18th and 19th century! Personally I think we need to embrace the new technology and not be afraid to use it in the services. I told them that people rarely laugh or even smile during services, which is very different from what I experience here in Zambia where mass is a wonderful joyous occasion where people are undoubtedly celebrating.

After supper Fr. Clement, Fr. Gabriel and myself headed for Mayfair where the pool table awaited. In the event Fr. Gabriel decided to forego the game and chat instead to another priest based at St. Kisito which is within St. Mary's parish. There was another guy at the table and he was persuaded as the winner of the previous game to defend his position against Fr. Clement and having succeded against me. Again he was successful – he then admitted he was just beginning to learn the game! We played a decent series of games and Fr. Clement came out on top overall. We returned a little before 23 hrs.

More news soon!