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.


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