Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Welcome Home"

Wednesday 9th April 2014

I am safely back in Zambia! “Welcome home" has been my greeting!

I had a few things to sort out on Monday, but on the whole I was well organised for the trip.

Dilys joined me for mass at St. Gregory's and we took up the bread and wine – the Eucharistic offering. I am always aware that I need God's help - particularly when I venture out into Africa. It would be so easy to do more harm than good, as many have done in the past.

I popped into town and had my glasses straightened to avoid them constantly falling off! I bought another webcam having stood of mine the previous night.

Barby, Amy and Cheyenne came around to say goodbye. I tried to be a little sociable but I hope they forgive me, because my mind kept being distracted. Little things that I needed to do, or still pack – or unpack! kept coming to mind.

I wanted to cut my hair before leaving and Barby helped tidy up the bits I had failed to clip myself. I re-weighed my bags and decided the cases were both on the high side of 23kg and the backpack was just on the low side of 7kg. I decided that it was silly to risk paying excess charges and the added concern of not being sure. I therefore removed a bible – which I hope to send later and a reading book which was not quite what I had intended anyway. So now being a few ounces under for each bag I could relax a little.

We had a light lunch, the family left and ,after a quick check, I thought I had all I needed for the trip and we set off for the airport.

The weather was cloudy but OK and we made good progress, arriving at terminal 3 at about 4.30 pm. 3 ¾ hrs before the expected departure.

I wanted to be at the airport in good time (since none of my contingency was used up we were very early). I had failed to log in online and therefore would need to go through all the formalities at the airport.

I was surprised to find out that the check in desks were open. As I queued, I was asked to sign a form agreeing to something! It appeared to be an agreement to pay extra if my hand luggage was over 7 kg. There also was mention of electrical goods and various other things!! I just hoped that the laptop – which shouldn't have had any accessories with it – didn't count in the 7kg!

Other than a slight delay when they checked why I appeared to be “staff” the check-in went smoothly. I decided not to fight for different seats and took the seats given.

I rejoined Dilys for a cup of coffee. She would probably go into a second hour for parking anyway, so we took our time.

We said our goodbyes and I was soon through security. For once no alarms were set off – despite me leaving my watch on.

It is always good to arrive in the departure lounge. I don't know why checking in bags and passing security should cause such tension, but I certainly don't find it a relaxing process.

I was surprised just how different the terminal was on the other side of security. I was greeted by caviar and sushi bars, designer shops, duty free stores selling goods at apparently reduced rates though way above what I would consider paying, and a Harrod's store. It made me realise that there is a different world that a few inhabit and another different world – at the other extreme – is where I would soon be living. I wonder how long some of my friends would make the cost of a caviar snack last!!

The flight was due to leave at 8.15pm but my boarding pass said 9pm (boarding from 7.30pm). This was of interest because there had been the changes last week diverting the plane via Rome. The information board confirmed that the flight was due to leave at 8.15 and would be going via Rome. A delay of ¾ hr would give us a scheduled stop of 35 mins in Addis!! Possibly a little tight!!

Sure enough the information soon changed. We would be leaving at 9 and boarding at 8. As we approached the boarding gate we were met by a guy with some scales! Most passengers were asked to place there bags on the scales and some seemed to be diverted to another desk - where I suspected they were paying the excess. I noticed that those with backpacks on their backs didn't seem to be questioned, so with backpack in position and laptop in hand I walked through unhindered.

We were all on board by 9pm. I was sitting amidst a young family who were returning to Zambia to live. The father had been in England for 20 years and had three small children – the eldest perhaps 7 – 8 years old. The family had been visiting Zambia each year. He thought that we would be in Addis for about 3 hrs. When I said that I doubted it, he told me that his information was that the plane was flying direct. I had to admit that there were no obvious spare seats, so I couldn't see a purpose in stopping in Rome unless we had some short haul passengers on board.

We were airborne more or less according to the revised schedule. We passed Rome while still flying over the Mediterranean and headed for Africa. We were at the front of the economy class and as such didn't appear to have video screens. I was trying to work out why we were given earpieces, when a neighbour showed me how to extract the hidden screen. I was not really interested in a movie but found a pool game to play for a few minutes.

One of the cabin crew produced a carry cot and proceeded to attach it to the front wall. Travelling with young children cannot be too much fun! Another carrycot soon arrived in front of the mother. It was therefore possible to settle the two younger children to sleep during the trip – a great, and unexpected, joy for the parents. Ethiopian Airlines had suddenly become the family favourite.

We talked a little about what we were going to be doing in Zambia – he was going to set up his own business, though at the moment it wasn't defined. He had sold medical products in the UK. He felt that Zambia after suffering from British colonialism now was suffering from industrial colonialism – I tend to agree. It was sad, and I was a little surprised, that he believed that the Chinese gave the Zambians a better deal than the Europeans. He particularly cited the lists of conditions attached to any aid provided by the European nations.
I dozed a little and closed my eyes when when breakfast arrived at 2.30 BST!

We landed at what was probably about 4 BST , 6 Ethiopian Time, 7 Zambian Time. My new Zambian friend was right - we had a three hour wait in Addis Ababa.

I decided to rest a little on the loungers thoughtfully provided in the departure lounges, rather than join the queue for getting to gates 4-8. (My flight was due to leave from gate8) This proved to be a mistake, although even a few minutes with my feet up was a delight. When I went to join the queue it was a lot longer and I noticed that movement was extremely slow. Fortunately before I reached the security check passengers for Lusaka were fast tracked.

It must be inherent guilt but I tend to get a bit flustered at a security scanner. Laptop out of bag, belt off, mobile and coins in the basket (how many baskets do I need, what needs to be put with what and the belt is running and my items are about to disappear!) This time I would not be allowed to proceed without taking off my watch – oh and yes, my shoes. I couldn't undo my laces – they had become knotted!! There is nothing like a security scanner to humiliate you!! This did its job!

Unusually from the boarding gate there was a view outside the airport into the town. I watched as a small flock of birds of prey hunted nearby – I couldn't identify them, but wanted to think they might be Steppe Eagles. I took a couple of photos for the blog.

I was surprised that at the boarding gate our cards were not scanned and we were not asked to board in any particular order. One of the staff said something like we had a different plane and it was free seating. I confirmed that we could sit anywhere and managed to find a window seat. The guy next to me thought that we would arrive in Lusaka at about 2pm. He understood that this flight went via Harare!

As usual on such occasions I could no longer keep my eyes open to enjoy the views as we crossed Africa. The pilot announced as we passed Mount Kilimanjaro – unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the plane. I must remember to get a seat on the right hand side of the plane for the return flight.

We arrived in Lusaka, without visiting Harare, on schedule at 12.30pm.

I was at the back of the plane and wanted to reduce my wait at immigration as much as possible by making my way up the plane. Eventually I retrieved my bags and as I headed to the front of the plane they opened the back doors. So unusually I found myself near the front of the queue at immigration, since I had very limited success towards the cockpit..

I was a little concerned that I hadn't had the opportunity to fill in an immigration form – would I be sent to the back of the queue!! In the event it wasn't a problem. On recent trips entry forms have been used to exit - maybe they have run out of forms!! I was asked to plant the fingers of my right hand on the machine – then asked for 50 dollars and my visa was issued with the customary 30 day permit without any further procedures. I was told that I could go to any relevant office where they would extend the permit for a further month - “without charge” ! I couldn't help wondering why he couldn't just give me a two month permit, if it was automatic. Still I cannot complain! If only Jennipher could obtain permission to enter the UK so easily!

Of course what determines your stay at Lusaka airport is not necessarily your time in immigration. I didn't find out who Malcolm was!! People have different ways of making their luggage stand out. Malcolm used a piece of A4 to write his name in bold capitals along with his cellphone number. Malcolm's cases circulated for what seemed like half an hour before mine came into view.

Best told me that the going rate for a taxi from the airport was 50 kwacha. Since his taxi used to do that run, I considered it good information. I didn't expect to achieve that price but thought 100 kwacha might be possible.

I wasn't surprised to be asked for 200 kwacha (£20) by the taxi driver, however I was surprised that he wasn't interested in bargaining. He asked me to check with others, who of course backed him. In the end I admitted defeat!! He showed me a list of prices to back his claim. (I wondered how many lists he had!!)

As usual at the Intercity bus station I had plenty of people wanting to help. I was told that I should get on the bus that was going “now now”! I told them that I was aware of what time now now was!! The Muzandu bus was not going for two hours. The next I knew my cases were being carried to the now now bus. The conductor admitted that now now was at 4pm (the time was just after 2pm.) I still expected the bus to be sitting there at 18hrs! With an effort I picked up my cases and headed back to Mazundu. My helpers reckoned that despite what I had been told I could catch a Shalom bus earlier. So again I watched as my cases shot off up the road. The 14.30 bus hadn't gone – and after some checks, the Shalom staff decided there was a seat available to Monze. At one point I looked down to see my cases had vanished. My helpers were quite amused by my shocked expression, because they had moved the bags just to the other side of me. The cases were once more on the heads of the guys helping me. I followed them around the side of the coach where there appeared to be the complete stock from a shop or warehouse!! I assumed that this was just sitting there waiting to be sold or collected. My cases were manoeuvred as close to the luggage doors of the bus as possible and the conductor eventually assured us that they would be loaded. My helpers seemed surprised (I hope by my generosity) when they each received 5 kwacha (about 50p) for their efforts. I waited until my bags were loaded. Another passenger, despite having still to wait for hers to get in, pressed the conductor to put mine in the locker.

It seemed to me that they were going to have difficulty finding any room for my cases let alone any of the other goods that by now I had decided were destined for the journey to Livingstone, but at least mine were on.

The bus was a little late leaving – no doubt due to amount of 'luggage'. Getting away from Lusaka is very slow. Vicious road humps slow the traffic dramatically around Chilanga and 'road improvements' means the bus is diverted in several places across country.

I was surprised to see a set of robots in Mazabuka, but they weren't working.

We arrived in Monze at about 18.30.Again I failed to get a reasonable price for the taxi and paid 15 kwacha (£1.50) for the short trip down the road. My taxi driver called after someone to remove my luggage from the bus. I was asked where it was and had an idea but was a bit vague. They opened the doors where there were many cases but mine wasn't there. I had a feeling that they were in the next locker, but when this was opened they couldn't be seen. It appeared that there was no option but to unpack the bus! Large boxes and bags were thrown out and eventually five or six foot inside the locker something that could be a case was spotted. After further excavation my bags were finally extracted. I apologised for all the work it entailed – though none of it was my doing!

When I arrived at the priest's house by the cathedral church there was no one about. Something was happening in the church and there were noises like pots and pans being washed but I couldn't rouse anyone. After a little while a guy who knew me welcomed me, sat me down in the lounge and moved my cases into one of the bedrooms. He reminded me that he was a seminarian who I met last year.

The place was lit by candles and it turned out that power had been off for 24 hours and the expected resumption at 18 hrs – now passed – had been revised to sometime tomorrow. The lack of power had affected the water supply both the mains and the church's borehole, from which only a day's supply can be stored. So the town was dark and without water when I arrived last night.

The priests – Fathers Kenan, Jackson and Clement eventually joined me and we had a candlelight supper.

I read a little – had a minimal rinse and settled down for the night.

I awoke at about 6 am to hear people about and light entering from the corridor. Yes it appeared that we again had power.

I turned over to go back to sleep but eventually decided to get up have a quick wash and shave and make my way to the church.

It was good to surround my journey with the prayer of the Catholic mass. I spotted a number of familiar faces amongst the congregation and was greeted afterwards by some of them.

It is always nice to be greeted by wide smiling faces and “you are most welcome”.

I was glad that I was able to have a couple of cups of tea with my breakfast, thanks to the resumption of power – they are part of my essential treats here in Zambia.

I haven't been able to use my Zamtel SIM since arriving in Zambia. I added some talk time and it was accepted, but I cannot make or receive calls. After breakfast I headed to the local Zamtel office to get help. I was told that the problem was that I hadn't registered the phone and SIM. After a return visit to get my passport, I signed a completed document and was told that my phone would be working later today – in the morning! It is now approaching 15hrs and still no luck!! I feel another visit coming on!!
Jennipher arrived at about midday and we talked a while – particularly about the need to sort out her documents. Selina finishes for Easter tomorrow and wanted to come to see me but Jennipher said no, she needs extra tuition as exams are approaching! Soloman wants me to finance his next business venture! There are still people going hungry and Jennipher has no mealie meal herself. Its lucky I am prepared for an expensive visit – at least mentally!!

On my way to Zamtel I spotted a strange sight. Incredible as it seems Monze has its very own set of robots – I will try to include a picture! And they are working!! Last night with no power the robots were not as easy to spot!!! I hope you will recognise them in the picture!

Well there is plenty to do. Communications are my top priority – phone and internet access.

Hopefully I will post this blog very soon.

Take care


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