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.


No comments: