Friday, May 30, 2014

PIZZ School

Friday 30th May

Each year I try to see the students and teachers at PIZZ School. In particular I make an effort to talk to as many students as possible who have been sponsored by people back in the UK. As the success of our sponsorship grows so does this task – though please don't let that put you off, we need many more sponsors. So on Tuesday morning I met a number of children who are currently being sponsored or who are awaiting sponsorship. Most of these children face great challenges and the knowledge that someone cares about their lives can give them a huge boost. When asked what subjects they enjoy most – perhaps surprisingly - say maths and english. Many want to be teachers, doctors and nurses but one lad said he wants to be a pilot and another to drive big buses. I would love to fly with the aspiring pilot in 20 years time, if I am still around!! When one girl was asked what she most liked about school she simply said – food! This brought me firmly down to earth and I started to realise that so many here are barely surviving.

I was assigned to collect more chitenge material for the bag tidies – which reminds me that my shirt and Jennipher's dress should be ready – I was to collect them yesterday, because they wern't quite ready on Wednesday evening (or the other days!). Both look good and to be honest it was only the buttons and some braiding that was still required. I searched the market for 'traditional African' chitenges and eventually found a small selection. These are really of a quality that is wasted upon this task – but I wanted to move on, so I paid the necessary price.

I still have my regular visitors. Diven is busy starting to build a small house and shop down St. Mary's Road. He has a small plot – which I am hoping will not get waterlogged during the rainy season! I met him yesterday to observe the progress and when walking down the road he was greeted as “Mr. Boom”. During the past couple of years he has developed a market for the small packets of detertent paste. He buys 20 packets at a time and has been selling them for 3 kwacha which is probably as cheap as you can buy them. However, for some 3 kwacha (30p) is too much to find in one go – so Diven lets them have credit by given them the Boom and collecting his 3 kwacha in installments of 1 kwacha per day. In this way he provides a service to some of the poorest and makes just enough himself to buy some food to keep him alive. Whenever Diven joins me at supper time he brings with him something he has cooked or some biscuits to share.

Obert and his mother came around on Wednesday to talk about the baby (Carol) who needs dried milk and Brian who is short of school fees. Obert and his mother spent time with Carol's mother while she was in hospital and really in desperate need of medical attention which wasn't provided in time. Brian didn't manage to get his fees for last term until late and missed most of the lessons as a result – he was distressed at the thought of not being able to continue with his education. I will make sure that neither are left without support. We also spoke about the bag tidies that she is making, which should be ready early next week.

Yesterday I had it in my mind that I was to meet at PIZZ School in the afternoon. However, checking my notes I had written that the appointment was at 9 hrs. Perhaps it is old age! It was as well I checked, because ALL of the students at the school were assembling to greet and entertain me. It is a great privilege to be honoured in such a way. I was seated on a sofa in the field were the event took place.

There were a number of introductions followed by some songs, poems, sketches and cutural dancing. I don't know how much is geared specifically towards me, but most of the subject material for the songs, poems and sketches was AIDS related. There was a long sketch where a girl, desperate for some support, found her uncle but was mistreated by his wife. eventually she left and found a family much kinder, where she prospered.

I realised that what I was seeing and hearing were the stories of these children and not some remote situation. Many of the children will be passed from relative to relative, some of whom consider them a burden and treat them as little more than slaves. We might be appalled, but if we had 5 children of our own and had to take in another four how lovingly would we respond? - especially if we already struggled just to feed our own family?

In one of the songs the children say that AIDS has taken their mother and father their brothers and sisters. I remember a young girl I saw the other day who now lives alone with her mother having already lost her father, her brother and her sister.

I was asked to give a “speech” after the entertainment. I told them that I was feeling extremely fine because it was such a joy to see them – many have seen me now over many years and have grown considerably since our first meetings. To see them happy and healthy and to see them perform with such confidence gives me a warm feeling and hope for their future. There is no doubt that the school is making a real difference to the lives of the children.

It was then time to adjourn to the shelter and meet the teachers.

It is remarkable what the staff manage to achieve at the school. I am very aware that they receive very little by way of wages, especially when compared with government teachers. Most struggle to cover the cost of food and rent. I am happy to let them tell me the problems they face because of insufficient resources. I try to explain how Hands Around the World fits into the picture and the fact that we too have very limited resources.

My role as Project Coordinator is to understand how the School is working, see how resources are being used and where there are shortfalls. I then act as an advocate back in the UK to find as much funding as possible to ensure the best outcome for the students. There is a huge list of requirements from decent salaries to books, school uniforms, additional buildings, better water supplies and electricity.

I listen and respond as best I can. Some things we can address, for others we can seek funding and yet others will be put on the long wish list. It is clear from our discussions how important it is to make personal visits. You cannot feel the passion from 5,000 miles away, nor is is easy while sitting in England to convince the people in Zambia that you really do appreciate what they are doing and that you are fighting for them back in the UK. We need these staff to be well motivated and they need to know how much what they are doing is valued.

At one point the headmaster said that they in Zambia were unable to give us anything in return for what we do to support their school. Later I felt the need to correct him! A very important part of the work of Hands Around the World is to send volunteers to various projects to get involved and meet the people. As volunteers the gifts we receive are so much greater than any financial contribution we make on our own or on behalf of the charity. To see a student succeed or even to see one look much healthier than last year has no price. Many of us have had our lives transformed because of our experiences as volunteers and you cannot buy the fulfilment this brings. I consider myself so fortunate to have the opportunity to visit my friends here in Zambia and play some part in their lives. I wouldn't hesitaate to recommend the experience to anyone who has the opportunity.

Best wishes

Chris


Monday, May 26, 2014

Living life to the full

Monday 26th May

Today it is a holiday, as it is in the UK. We are celebrating African Freedom Day, which I assume is marking the freedom from colonial rule. Unfortunately there is still a huge legacy from those times and much of the continent, although free from direct rule, is still largely working under the rules set down by the powerful nations and businesses. For example the games that are played to avoid paying taxes result in people suffering and dying throughout Africa.

On Saturday my main task was to make enough samosas for St. Veronica's Small Chrisian Community who were due on Sunday. There was a lack of power from morning till about 18.30. Losing public utililities (and some private ones!) is a fact of life in Zambia. This year I suspect that as often as not either electricity, water or mobile phone access has been unavailable – sometimes more than one simultaneously - but you learn to work around the issues.

Mains water can be difficult at the end of the dry season and here at Corner House there seems to be a problem with the supply from the borehole – though what exactly the fault is I have yet to figure out. If you think a problem might arise you keep some supplies – drinking water and if necessary bowls, pans and even baths filled for washing etc. My problems currently seem to be minor and I am sure I will get supplies if I run out for any length of time – so a few bottles of water for drinking and a pan and jug for washing mean I can cope quite well.

Electricity is often off all day on Sunday for 'maintenance'. I therefore planned to cook at least the majority of samosas on Saturday when, as mentioned above, power was absent until 18.30 – in practice I just postponed the cooking phase to the evening and early Sunday morning.

Many people here have phones that accept two SIM cards so they are not dependant on a single network. I have a SIM card in my USB modem I can use as well as using Skype to make phone calls.

So all in all you learn to work around ther cuts and life continues – albeit by candlelight!

Mrs. Chiiya called around to show me how far she has progressed with her school of nursing. Hands Around the World were initially involved when she started a school for disadvantaged children, but, after she found that funding it became a problem, she moved her attention to nursing. Out of 160 students she provides places for about 14 disadvantaged young people – some were students at the original school. She is currently trying to complete an accommodation block for the students, but finding th money is a challenge.

Sometime during Saturday night a couple of frames – one with a swing attached – arrived on the lawn! I didn't think they would be an asset when my group gathered for prayers so I hoped I would be able to move them.

I met Best at church and he was willing to come back with me to make the final preparations for my guests. He drove me back and joined me for a hot drink and sandwiches before we moved the frames and put out what chairs I had.

The owner of the house offered me some extra chairs when I mentioned the gathering and Eunice said she would bring them around. (I had unfortunately told her that I needed them for 14 hrs!)

At 14.30 neither the chairs nor the community members had arrived! However Eunice arrived soon after and I helped her carry about 25 plastic chairs from the 'events' location opposite. By 14.50 I had two members of the community present and wondered whether I had overdone the preparations However,eventually about 20 more guests arrived and we had our meeting. This year Monze Diocese has decided to set aside some christian community meetings to reflect on family life and what we learn from scriptures and church teaching about the subject. I am impressed by the activity of the church here in Zambia – in many respects it puts us to shame back in the UK.

After prayers we had some fruit juice and samosas. Everything was quickly devoured and I realised that I only just provided sufficient – I think there were at least 50 samosas made!

In the evening I met up with some of the priests and we hit the pool table. I didn't expect the luck of last time and I was right. The champion of the night was Fr. Clement who beat all opponents. It was close to 1 am when I was dropped back at my house after a very pleasant evening.

I had hoped to visit The Holy Family which is an organisation which works with people (particularly children) with disabilities to help them lead a mre active life. They provide aids and other support. However, the meeting wasn't arranged. I hope that I will still get a chance to see the how it has developed since I last visited , many years back before I leave this year.

This afternoon I went to Pemba to visit Jenniphe. She arranged to meet me just outside the town and I was lucky to get the opportunity to be dropped where she was. At the beginning of the year when I was speaking to Jennipher from the UK, almost as an aside, she mentioned that a Non Government Organisation (NGO ) would provide for her support group a borehole and hand pump at a fraction of the true cost. I was interested but found it a little hard to believe – but she assured me that it was true. I told her that if in fact it was the case, I would find the funds for her to have it installed. For me the idea of being able to provide a clean reliable supply of water for a community was something very significant and worth the investment. Subsequently when asked, Jennipoher told me it had been installed and was being used, but she never seemed as enthusiastic as I expected. She said that she decided it shouldn't be placed on her land, but at another site which would be better for the group as a whole.

She told me today that her reason for meeting me at the police check point was to pass by the pump. On the way she pointed out a large hole (well) where there was some dirty water. She told me that this used to be a major supply of water for the people in this area. A little further on we reached the handpump. It looks like an excellent and well thought out installation.There is a ramp at one side to allow wheelchairs access and it is designed with sufficient room for a wheelchair user to get to the outlet with their containers. On one side is a round plinth. Apparently pregnant women when lifting their water containers use their extended stomachs to balance the load before lifting it onto their heads. This plinth allows them to raise the container to their heads using the plinth as the staging post instead of their stomach. There is also a channel alowing the dirty water to soak away avoiding contamination of the borehole.

For me to see this was a great delight. It makes it so worthwhile for me to se that between us we can make significant changes to a few lives. There is also a garden being developed close to the borehole.

We passed by a place where an elderly woman was staying. Jennipher told me that she has no relatives – she had no children. She hasn't the strength anymore to collect grass to rethatch her house and would dearly like to have the thatch replaced with iron sheets.

Jennipher had talked about a child of one of her clients who was deaf and dumb. We came to her house and met the girl with her parents – I am afraid I have forgotten her name but it means gift. The girl came to us – apparently she often runs away from people. Something about her was particularly appealing. Her parents seemed to treat her with a great deal of dignity and respect. They hope to obtain a place for her at a special school near Choma – about 50 - 60 km from Pemba. This is the same school that Bright's son Brian has been attending.

Eventually we arrived at Jennipher's house. I didn't recognise Obadia he has grown into a wonderfully cheerful, healthy looking lad and no longer the baby I remember. He ran to me and laughed the whole time I was with them. Maggie has a new companion – Jennipher. Emmanuel is staying with Sandra just outside Livingstone while she has a short break. Selina arrived on her bike and is quickly growing into quite a young lady.

Soloman has created a little den where he has made a small gym – using engine parts as weights – apparently the young lads like working out here!

The headman who helped Jennipher with her visa by writing a supporting letter came around and Jennipher showed him the plane tickets.

Soloman has managed to build an extension to the house using money gained from the solar phone charger and a little business he has done selling goats.

The book Wayfaring refers to the Ignatian practice of reflecting on your day and particularly noticing the life giving moments. For me to see the hand pump and have the young children joyfully playing on my lap made my heart leap. I really am privileged to have the opportunity to get to know some wonderful people and have the ability to help improve the lives of a few here in Zambia. I would urge anyone who has the chance to take a small leap of faith and risk getting involved – the rewards are so much greater than the costs.

This evening Obert came around with the bag tidies. His mother will make some more if I obtain some extra material. He showed me a letter from a local school where a child had been accepted for grade 8. She is the child of a client from his mother'ssupport group – the client died. They are struggling to find the fees for this term (about £9). Of course the girl will not finish at grade 8 and the fees will increase significantly after grade 9 – it would be easy to cover this small cost and forget the years to come!

Obert also told me of a child of a friend of his – a 18 year old girl who died from complications after delivery. The child needs to be fed on dried milk for the first few months – again the costs are difficult to meet. Obert has helped a bit himself and says when he has his own car he will look after the child because he was a close friend of the mother.

There is little here that is dull and grey! Everything happens as if in full technicolour stirring the emotions one way and another. I look with pride at Jennipher as she walks head held high among the people who know, love and respect her around Pemba. There doesn't seem to be a house in the area where she is not intimately involved with the lives of the residents. She is much more deeply impacted by the difficulties of the people around her than I am. By supporting her I can also support those who now look to her. I hope that her visit to the UK will enable to her to do even more when she returns to her people here in Zambia.

With my love and prayers

Chris







Friday, May 23, 2014

Difficult decisions



Friday 23rd May

Sitting under the veranda here at 'Corner House' I realise just how wonderful life can be here in Zambia. Yet I am constantly challenged by the world in which most people in this country find themselves.

It is my choice to come here each year and welcome the people who meet me and touch my life. This can often be a painful experience.

Jennipher arrived on Wednesday with Tabia, a girl who has been accepted at a college in the Copperbelt to do a teacher training course. The fees amount to about £400 per term. Tabia is the daughter of one of Jennipher's clients and has managed to obtain support to go through secondary school. Although relatives had promised to fund her progress through college, nothing has been forthcoming. It is difficult when you realise that someone's future could rest in your hands, but it is easy to agree to too much. I realise that education is a long term commitment – there is nothing worse than having to give up a course midway. I hope that Tabia will find a way to achieve her ambition, maybe even if it means a delay of a year or so, but I am aware of the dangers that lie ahead if she is unable to continue her studies. Unfortunately Tabia is one of many very vulnerable children in Zambia who are struggling to make a reasonable life for themselves.

Bright arrived a little later. His son Brian is now in grade 12 at a special school for the deaf. Brian is hoping to go to teacher training college after school. Fees at the special school are quite high and those at college will be higher. Bright is a general worker at the hospital and only his determination and resourcefulness have enabled him to ensure that Brian receives a good education. I showed Bright a picture of him that I had noticed in the brochure brought out for the hospital's golden jubilee. Sr. Juunza had previously pointed it out to him.

I visited Teddy at the hospital and found Sr. Juunza. Sr. Juunza is the Senior Administration Officer at Monze Mission Hospital. We first met some years back and recently she has been studying to improve her qualifications. Unfortunately in Zambia there is, to my mind, too much emphasis on qualifications. Senior government jobs cannot be held by people without the relevant certificates. It is important that people are well trained, but being able to pass exams does not necessarily equip you to manage projects or carry out technical tasks effectively. In my expereince there are many who have few qualifications who make far better senior personnel than those with pretty pieces of paper! However, in Sr. Juunza, we now have someone who now has the paper to go with her abilities as a manager.

She told me that this year the hospital will celebrate its golden jubilee. They have embarked on a campaign to make significant improvements and refurbishments to mark the event and are looking for sponsorship. The plans are very ambitious and a booklet has been produced with details and budgets.

I spoke about the stock control system and agreed to demonstrate it on Friday if the managers were available. In the event some people have turned up unexpectedly this morning from the Ministry of Health, so I am waiting to see when the morning's planned meeting will now take place.

Yesterday I visited PIZZ school in the morning. At about 10 hrs the children have a break and are fed some fortified rice. I felt humbled, and a bit upset, that this small meal could mean so much to the children. First the young children brought their containers and later the young teenagers also came to eat a meal which will stop the hunger for a while and is actually making them noticeably healthier and more able to concentrate on their lessons.

We visited the new school briefly to see the progress with the construction of a strong room – needed in particular to keep safely examination papers. We also visited the new plot of land – though it must be at least 7 or 8 years since it was acquired. We discussed the issues where residents had built up to and beyond the boundary, and even dug a well in the school grounds.

On the way back to the first school we visited Euphrasia. Euphrasia has worked at the school for many years cleaning and cooking for the children. Recently she has become ill and since January has been unable to work. She has a serious skin disease and has lost a lot of weight. I have met her on numerous occasions over the years and she seemed pleased to see me. Before I left she assured me that with God's help she will recover.

It appears that landlords are often unhappy about very sick people living in their houses and Euphrasia has been told she has to move. She has been building a house for herself and her children which is almost complete, but the roof only covers half of the structure. Members of her church have agreed to move her furniture and she will move to her house within 24 hrs. of our meeting. Fortunately we are in the dry season, so it is unlikely that it will rain before October – by which time she will need to have completed the roofing of her house.

In the afternoon I met Tabo Meheritona who is now the director of Health Help Zambia (HHZ) a part of Health Help International (HHI). This organisation, based in South Wales, supports disadvantaged people, particularly those with disabilities. They are keen to seek out any people who have disabilities and are not included within the wider community. Sometimes as a result of stigma and shame severely disabled people are hidden in homes and rarely experience any interaction with the wider world. HHZ tries to counsel the families, bring children into schools and provide aids such as wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks and glasses to enable those with disabilities to take an active part in the life of the community.

I was interested to learn that the Leonard Cheshire organisation was going to rent offices at HHZ for a pilot project, attempting to make schools in the area more accessible for children with disabilities. For many years I have had an association with 'Leonard Cheshire' in Cheltenham and have come to know a number of residents at the local home. I would like to talk to the organisation here and perhaps establish a link. Mr Meheritona promised to let me know if Leonard Cheshire move in before I leave Monze.

I started by saying how wonderful it can be in Zambia and so it can. However we live in a world where the gap between the wealthy and the majority is becoming ever wider. We hear more and more that we cannot afford to look after the most vulnerable, while being afraid to tax people who receive obscene amounts of money in salaries and bonuses.

Many of the people I met during the past two days struggle to live with any sort of dignity, some will die prematurely because they have insufficient nourishment and/or lack access to the necessary medical treatment. Living in a world which has enormous resources and capability through modern technology, I am ashamed that we continue to allow such situations to arise. I am disgusted that we are allowing matters to get worse.

Hands Around the World have a campaign to obtain funding so that the children at PIZZ school can continue to be fed. The target is to raise £600 by the end of May in order to provide a meal for 50 children for a whole year. To donate £5, please text HATW01 £5 to 70070 (That's HATW ZERO ONE space £5)

I know just how important this is for the children and I hope that we will far exceed this target and secure the feeding programme for a long time into the future - please spread the word by distributing this link.

Thank you,

Chris

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A return trip to Lushomo

Tuesday 20th May

I expected to have no problem with my mobile phone now I am back in Monze but there has been almost no network access since I returned. This has made arranging the appointments I need to make a bit difficult. I have an MTN Sim with the usb modem and can use Skype – which costs a lot more to call a mobile here than a landline in the UK – so I can work around the problem when it becomes necessary. I cannot remember having problems with Zamtel signals in Monze before.

Jennipher popped around yesterday afternoon. I went onto Goggle Maps to show her my house and 'walk' into town to show her some of the buildings and places of note. It is a good resource although I do worry about just how much information is held online.

There was plenty of admin to catch up on and a need to top up with cornflakes!!

The house was a hive of activity with a number of people including my landlady involved in cleaning the rooms. It seems possible that some children will be staying for a while and having some lessons. I understand these are granchildren of the owners. However, it is possible that I will have left by the time they arrive. However, it still seems likely that the volunteers will be able to stay here – we shall see how things progress.

Today I had an appointment to keep with Mrs. Sianga and a possible one to visit Lushomo school again – the problems with the phone network meant I hadn't received a response, nor was I sure that my text had been delivered.

Mrs. Sianga would like to take the children to Livingstone in the holidays – I think that this might be an opportunity for the holiday club! Maybe the volunteers could raise the funds to finance the trip!

I managed to contact Precious and arrange to meet and pay the return visit to Lushomo school – she had sent a confirmatory message which I hadn't received. As we approached the school we met a number of children heading there and when we arrived there was a large number of students on site. The children packed into their classrooms sitting on the hard floor – about 60 to a classroom. Another group of older children who had lessons in the morning had come to meet me!

I talked briefly to the teachers including one who was experiencing his first day at the school. The children are obviously very keen to learn despite the extremely limited facilities. Deana through her charity Friends of Monze is trying to provide a little support, but the challenge is great. However, they have been getting some good examination results suggesting that any investment is likely to produce significant returns.

Unusually tonight no one joined me for supper and as a result I feel rather over full!! Once more I had some kapenta – it always seems wrong to have so many small lives given up for a single meal!

Cheers,

Chris






Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Railway and the Moon

Sunday 18th May

I am back in Monze and I realise that time is running away. I was thinking that I have 3 weeks left but realise that effectively my last 'working' day in Monze will be Tuesday 4th June. I need to make another visit to Mazabuka – probably on the Wednesday and the Thursday will be a day to say goodbye! Hence not much more than two weeks to cover what is still outstanding.

The project in Chisamba was established to support the local community, so I was keen to have a meeting with as many community leaders as possible to see whether we could provide more to support them with their work. A meeting was arranged for Wednesday to listen to the leaders and collect their ideas and observations. I subsequently met with the vocational centres committte to review the suggestions put forward and agree a response. I am hopeful that this will result in a wider base for managing the project and I hope that the community will feel more that they are co-owners of the Centre.

I was quite comfortable at my new home, though the kettle had a mind of it's own – in the end I still managed to get a sufficient caffeine input. Each evening except for Friday I walked to the guest house for my supper.

It was good to witness the mounting of the first five bee-hives at Kaliyangile – hopefully they soon will be populated. I also saw that the tree I planted last year is growing well.

The railway is a very significant item this year. The Guest House and Kaliyangile are on different sides of the railway and here in Monze I am on the far side of the railway from town. So every day I cross the railway – often walking on or alongside the lines. One evening the passenger train arrived while I was about to cross – I crossed anyway, since when 100 metres away the train takes 2 -3 minutes to cover the distance! In fact the train stopped at Chisamba – I haven't seen a station! I thought that all the people were from a funeral which had just taken place, but more people from the town arrived as the train approached. I was a bit concerned with so many people alongside the line (there is a single line with shunting areas for trains to pass!) as it didn't hoot the horn. Of course many around the train had food to sell to the passengers. I was told there were 3 passenger trains that passed along this line each week. On the other hand there were several goods trains passing each day – these are very long – probably at least 200 - 300 metres long.

The moon was also of great significance while in Chisamba. It was almost full when I arrived and took over from the greater light of the day to allow me to see clearly on my evening trips to the guest house. However each day it rose a little later, until on the Friday it was still asleep at 20 hrs.

On Friday Persis invited me for a meal which her friend had prepared for us – kapenta and rape with nshima (or I should say nshima with kapenta and rape – since nshima is always the most important ingredient.).They were watching some Mexican soaps!

I left Chisamba yesterday (Saturday) at about 13 hrs. It looked like I would wait for a while for the taxi to set off - Persis's mother was also on her way to the 'turn-off'. However, Moses saw friends heading in the right direction and asked if they would take us – which they did.

There is rarely a delay at the crossroads since all the buses are heading for Lusaka and pleased to pick up passengers.

Over the past few days I have met a couple of guys with big ambitions. The first joined me on the bus from Lusaka to Chisamba. He is apparently going to be President of Zambia in 2020 and has many talents from God, which make him good at everything he tries. The other has given me some information about an invention he is working on which will utilise magnetic fields to fly huge planes around the world. It struck me that many of us want to make make a major impact on the world – for instance I certainly wish I could help stop humanity from the disaster looming as a result of climate change. Most of us however have a more humble view of our capabilities and the chances of achieving these changes than to two men I met.

It was after 20 hrs when I reached Monze last night. As usual travelling in Zambia is interesting for me. No other 'white' passengers joined me at any part of my journey – in fact I am finding it hard to remember ever seeing other unrelated 'white' passengers sharing my trips on local buses. Both local buses yesterday carried live chickens as well as human passengers. It is normal here to buy your chicken dinner live!!

When I reached my destination I was locked out! I had left my key with the owner and couldn't contact her on the way back. However the night watchman soon retrieved my key and I settled back in my mansion!

Today I went for prayers with St. Veronicas. I had no idea were they were meeting and got lost again! I found the one house I know – that of Mrs. Moonga and was escorted by one of her children and a friend, who put up with the comments from people along the way.

I was pleased that I made the effort because I received such a warm welcome from the lady who was hosting the small Christian community meeting. She said she had been very ill – spending a lot of time in hospital and only after two years they diagnosed a form of TB. People expected her to die but she is now reasonably active again. It will have been several years see she last saw me – she said she thought she was dreaming when I arrived and was delighted that I had come to say prayers at her house. It was a joy for me to meet her again.

Raymond arrived this evening in time to share my supper of eggs, green beans and garlic chips.

Chris



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My New Home

Tuesday 13th May

I have remarked in earlier years how I take for granted sights here that you wouldn't witness in the UK. Yesterday I realised how many people were wandering through the streets of Lusaka pushing wheelbarrows. These are loaded with all sorts of goods, some no doubt being the wheelbarrow owners own items, but many more being transported for a customer for a small fee. Often the barrows are piled high with heavy goods I suspect that having a well balanced barrow is a must. Big bags of charcoal, onions or even furniture is moved around in this manner. Women, and a few men carry heavy loads on their heads, goats are tethered outside shops – many more wander at will, cows graze at the side of the road in the high street, children sell goods at market stalls, and 5 or 6 year old children walk around carrying babies on their back. All these are everyday sights here in Zambia and I have grown accustomed to them. The insects and other creatures that are part of life here don't cause me to turn very often. Crickets, grasshoppers and locusts are abundant and fly rather than jump – some can easily be confused with birds because they grew quite large – as do the beetles! A moth chose to land on my leg the other day and I realised how I react differently to different insects. I was delighted when on more than one occasion after a quick flight he chose to return to settle on me again. I react differently to the ants and mosquitos who also seem to be attracted by my flesh!!

On Sunday the power was off – this is a common event in Monze when they use Sundays to do maintenance work. The lack of mains power didn't stop the wedding celebrations using the space opposite my house from filling the air with loud music for most of the day! Maybe its my age, but I find a type of music that is very common these days disturbing. The beat is very fast and the song is a constant repition of a few phrases. I am sure that I have been told in the past, that the rate of the beat of the heart is very significant. A slower beat has a calming effect while a faster one brings excitement, but also tension. I think that we live in a world where the beat is too fast and this is reflected in the music – one feeding the other.

I attended mass and section prayers and, not being sure when power would be restored, I made a 'vegetable salad'. Diven came around in the evening so we feasted on sump, which he had brought plus my vegetable salad and my version of garlic chips! I will start putting on weight! Sump seems to be a universal term for a sort of vegetable stew. Diven's contained beans and groundnuts.

Yesterday I spent much of my day travelling – setting off at 8 hrs to try to find the landlady and leave the front door key. Even having visited the house before, I had very little idea where it was – though I knew it was in the same road as my house. I asked several people and called at another house before I received some recognition! I hope that I gave the keys to the daughter of the owner and not a stranger! – otherwise I could be in trouble!!

I was given a front seat in the Rosa bus and felt very vulnerable without a seatbelt! This year buses to Chisamba from Lusaka seem to fill quickly. When I arrived and the bus was full, but within a few minutes the next bus filled and we were on our way.We were overtaken en-route by the bus that filled behind us. In the past I have sat for an hour or more at Lumumba bus station.

I have exchanged my luxury villa for an empty converted storeroom (the conversion comprising a wall which has been built to make a bedroom).I have a mattress on the concrete floor. Both sets of accommodation, believe it or not, have their attractions! I don't have a veranda but I can sit on the cattle troughs and look out over the project land. There is always bird song – plus the constant clucking of the hens in the barn next door. I have water and electicity and asked if a kettle and mug plus chair and small table could be provided. These installed, I am very content!! I have a bowl and spoon for my cornflakes and can make a cup of tea whenever I wish. There is a cool shower and toilet block within 100 metres and the place is very peaceful. Last night I walked to the guest house for a meal guided by a wonderful bright, almost full, moon. I use small paths that cut through the fields and cross the railway lines but I didn't need a torch to light my way – the Lord provided a spotlight casting its wonderful light and mystical shadows from the sky above.

On my last visit I suggested that it might be an idea to invite the local community to meet at Kaliyangile and discuss how they would like to make use of it. Persis has organised the meeting for tomorrow inviting all the church and youth leaders to be present. It seems that the response has been very positive. Yesterday I met with Grace a local social worker who explained that many young people want quick money and spend it on drink. There are various initiatives to try to help the youth to seek more positive ways of spending their time. I hope that this project can help in this process.

This morning I visited the new Catholic priest to talk a little about the project and my role. The Catholic Church was very much involved with setting up the project and its early running and I am keen that they continue to play an active role. We also met with Patrick whose family provided the land for the project's use. It is important that all interested parties and particularly those involved at the inception of the project, are involved in its development and are happy with any changes.

There is a sense in which it is easier to relax here in Chisamba. The project forms a single focus here and I am a little bit shielded from the harsh realities of this world. In Monze my friends are a constant reminder of the difficult lives that so many face.

As I write this three little children are enjoying playing games with me just outside the room. I have taken some photos and will see their reaction in a minute.

Take care,

Chris


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Community Schools

Saturday 10th May

I enjoy seeing swallows! I saw one swoop around the house this morning and my spirits rose.

Many years ago when I was a student I spent a lot of time watching the birds swoop around the halls of residence. I was quite ignorant when it came to birds and decided I needed to be able to identify them. I found that an 'I-Spy' book was adequate to enable me to know that the swallows, house martins and swifts were the birds that first caught my imagination. Often these birds seem to appear for me at the right momentas if carriers of God's joy to us here on earth.

On Thursday afternoon I had agreed to meet Precious who agreed to accompany me to Lushomo school. We met at the crossroads and she had two of her brothers with her - Andrew and Mike. Andrew is an artist and I carried some materials from the UK with me - these were donated to help him in his work. He had produced four pastel drawings for me - one of them was of a giraffe. When I asked him if he had seen a giraffe in the flesh he replied “no, only a picture”. I felt guillty that I, a visitor, had seen sights that most local Zambians will never see.

Lushomo school is now on the edge of the developed part of Monze (I suspect it will soon be surrounded by houses). A piece of land was given to the community for the school and a few simple structures were erected – one has since collapsed. There are two classrooms which are not good buildings. The roofs leak and sometimes in the rainy season the children have to be sent home. The floor is mud with a few blocks. They have been given a couple of desks but with 400 students these don't go far and most children sit on the floor. The teachers are volunteers and take several classes throughout the day, during which the children from grade 1 to grade 7 are taught. Despite the problems the results compare favourably with the government schools.

Those running the school are concerned that people are encroaching on the land, putting up houses. With the school buildings in such a state the feeling is that more land might be lost. If they could do some work to renovate the buildings it is thought that this would be less likely.

It is always difficult to visit such projects and tell the people that I cannot provide any help. The best I can do is let you know in this blog where there are needs and if anyone would like to help I can channel it to the right place.




On the way back Precious took me to another small school Shalom Academy. This was set up by a widow in her living room and her daughter – now also a widow - helps her run it. They have 30 young students who pay a small fee to attend – this helps the women keep it running and buy some food for themselves – though it is only survival.

I have started sitting in the garden to enjoy the early morning and evening sunshine. (There is almost always sunshine!). It is good to feel the warmth of the sun while I delve into yet another crime thriller! The water problem was sorted quite swiftly and it seemed that the tank was overflowing, rather than the water over shooting! It seems that the pump operates overnight and by morning has filled the tank. At 8 hrs it switches off. It seems a waste for all that water to overflow into a pool next door, so I thought that today I would throw some water on the grass and a few plants around the garden – maybe it won't overflow tomorrow!!

Jennipher's tickets arrived by e-mail yesterday and I printed them. I was even able to transfer some money to cover the cost, without leaving the veranda! – such are the wonders of technology these days.

Today I had an important task to perform! I have said that St. Veronica's Small Christian Community should meet at this house tomorrow week. In past years I have provided samosas to my guests, so today I wanted to have a trial samosa making session. I bought some flour. I was checking to see if I could get some more spices to make up for garam masala and coriander leaves which are not to be seen in Monze, when I realised that I needed some 'Irish potatoes'. Almost immediately I spotted some bags near my rasta friend Brian's stall (not a place I expect to find them) so I picked one up. Often these potatoes are in poor condition, but this bag looks good. In Zambia Irish (or English) potatoes are far more expensive than sweet potatoes. (15 kwacha (£1.50) for a small bag of Irish, against 3 kwacha for sweet!). My friend with the spices wasn't around but another women let me taste some. I bought some chicken tikka spice and promised to return with a samosa.

Shopping done I returned to the preparation of the meal. I have found that a bottle of water serves as a rolling pin and managed to produce some passable samosas. I would like a bit more bite and will add a little more piri piri net time – though my guests don't usually like them too hot!

I returned to the market to fulfill my promise and nearly caused a riot by handing out samosas at a market stall, where I had also offered to bring a sample. I might make a larger supply sometime and give them out – though that could prove unwise!! The samosas all met with approval.

Eunice came around to say that she will stay the night in one of the bedrooms. She has to start work at 5 hrs tomorrow and it takes her nearly two hours to walk from her home – she left home this morning at 4.30 to start work at 6 hrs. She seems to work most if not every day starting at 6 and often not finishing before 17hrs. Though since she doesn't spend much time here its possible that she gets away early some days.

Take care,

Chris


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seeds of Hope

Thursday 8th May

I lent a book “Wayfaring” by Margaret Silf to a seminarian staying at the priests' house. I met him in church the other day and he returned it, because he was going away for two or three weeks and thought that he might not see me before I return to the


UK. I have been trying to read this book for some years and always get so far and get distracted. This year however it seems that it keeps returning to me, maybe I will persevere. Margaret talks about an agate stone which looks like any stone on a beach until you turn it over. It has been sliced and polished to reveal something very beautiful inside. The journey she takes you on in the book is to help the reader to recognise the beauty that is hidden deep within ourselves. I have found on my Ignatian retreats that in getting closer to God I also discover a lot about the real me. If we believe that God dwells inside us in a very real sense then of course it is natural that the two cannot be totally separated. When I read my other book entitled “Belief” it is sad to see that many of the people interviewed have rejected the idea of a personal God that we can get to know to some extent. It seems to me that they are missing out on a very important aspect of being human. It is possible of course that I am deluding myself, but am I worse off for finding a deep peace and joy from the delusion?

In the garden are strewn seed pods from the Jacaranda and I am tempted to say flowers from the bougainvillea, though the actual flowers are largely insignificant – the beautiful red/pink colur is from a type of leave – no doubt there is a scientific name for this part of the plant - there are also green leaves. I look at these plants and wonder at the beauty and the difference. Both scatter their seeds across the lawn. The vast jacaranda trees drop hard seed pods when they are ready to split and expose seeds each covered with a small very delicate wing which allows the wind to carry them away to find fertile ground. The bougainvillea, which I stated in an early blog has here climbed the 20 metre high Jacaranda, lets its fine pink leaves, which appear like the delicate petals of a flower, float on the wind carrying its seeds into neighbouring gardens. So very different and yet performing the same task of continuation of the species. Each carrying a small seed that has the potential to develop into something very beautiful and amazing. It is by nourishing the seed that is within all of us that we too can realise the potential of the beauty contained within.

I talked with Charles for some hours yesterday. For the past couple of years he has been out of town and I have missed our discussions about the world and all its issues!! We covered everything from the latest problems with his projects to politics, the economy and the missing Malatsian plane! He fed me with sump and by 14 hrs I departed.

The day had been unusually cool and cloudy but finished with glorous sunshine. Teddy popped around for a chat and it was good to catch up. He has been very busy with the organisation of the bishops consecration and has hardly had a chnce to catch his breath during the past week or two. We agreed to meet at the hospital today to see if there was any progress that could be made with the stores database.

Obert and his mother visited this morning. She is making the 'bag tidies' for us to sell at our church in Cheltenham. Obert told me when I met him the other day that his mother had bad toothache – otherwise she would have come with him. Some years back I had a problem with my tooth which couldn't be fixed before my visit to Zambia. The dentist advised me to bring some oil of cloves with me and assured me that it would sort out any problem, even over a period of 3-4 months. In the event I had no problems with toothache, but I soon found someone who did! I gave them the clove oil and was rewarded with grateful thanks for the magic medicine! Ever since that experience I have brought with me several bottles of clove oil and plenty of cotton buds. I have yet to find a dissatisfied customer!! Obert's mother had started using some of the oil a day or so back and was now feeling much better. She says that, having not been able to eat because of the pain, she could immediately chew on the tooth after the first application of the medicine.

I found Teddy at the hospital but made little progress in respect of the stores system I used the opportunity to meet Sr. Joyce who is standing in for the Admiin Manager while she is on leave.

Chris

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Trip to Mazabuka and some Good News

Tuesday 6th May

I awoke yesterday at about 6 hrs and decided to go to the morning mass. I had noticed that the past couple of days the water seemed to be overflowing from the storage tank. On closer observation I realised that the water was in fact shooting over the tank and landing in the neighbour's garden rather than filling the tank. Soon after the water stopped flowing from the taps! I told the lanlord of the problem before heading down the road to catch a bus.

George's wife met me and because there were no full, or nearly full, buses we headed down the main road to another bus stop. Soon a Rosa arrived and we got on board. We were on the back seat which apparently has room for five adult passengers. By about 9.30 we were in Mazabuka.searching for the immigration office. I haven't been since 2004 when I ended up with problems, because I wished to stay for 4 months. It seems that 3 months is the limit for a visitors permit – though I don't think it is explicitly stated anywhere. We found the office without too much difficulty and there was no delay. I was asked how long I wished the permit to cover and told the officer that I intended to leave on 7th June, but it was possible that I might wish to extend my stay by a few days, if I needed to change my flight. He told me they could issue a maximum of 30 days – which apparently extends my permit from 7th May to 6th June! My passport was stamped and I was informed that I could extend it by another 30 days if I came back between 2nd and 6th June! I will have to decide whether to return to Mazabuka in my final week or go to Lusaka early!!

Although prison visiting was not until the afternoon we called in to check. George is a builder by trade and has gained the trust of the officers. He is currently involved in building a house a little way from the prison – it seems that by such activities the prison can generate some income to improve facilities. It also gives George something useful to do and helps him maintain his skills. I was surprised that this was possible. I have the impression that in the UK prisoners rarely spend their time usefully.

We were told that George should be back between 15hrs and 16hrs. Being about 11hrs we strolled to the market to pick up a couple of items George had asked for and his wife contacted someone for whose company she was making some clothes. At about midday we adjoined to a pizza restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink. Monze doesn't have pizzas and I haven't tasted cheese since I arrived! I thought it would be good for a change and my companion was happy with the choice.

After half an hour or so I suspected that our order had been forgotten. Since we were in no hurry I waited to chase them. Our pizza had been sitting waiting for I don't know how long! The time gave us to talk about her family and how they were coping. At about 14.30 I mentioned that jennipher should be receiving her visa decision and right on cue my phone rang. Jennipher told me that she had been granted a visa. She also said that she had lost her bag on a bus and was stranded in Lusaka!!

There was a kiosk opposite where money can be sent. You just need a phone number for the recipient and some proof of identity and a text is sent to tell the receiver to collect the money from another kiosk using a 4 digit code you have devised. Within a short time Jennipher had picked up the money to get her back from Lusaka. She would stayovernight and see me today.

We arrived back at the prison at about 15hrs but when we were led into a sort of waiting room we were told George wouldn't be back for a while. Apparently when he returned he might have a wash and rest a while. We tried to find people to catch him - looking in the garden. -We wanted to let him know we were around. I suspect that with the two of us wandering about – especially a 'white man' – word will have spread.

After a few minutes George appeared outside the prison building from the direction of the garden. We spotted each other and greeted with a big hug. It was good to see him again – even in these circumstances. We haven't met since he was put in prison two years ago for a serious crime. He will probably serve another year or so. We went inside to the 'waiting room' where he obviously was well known to the officers. We talked for best part of an hour, sharing a few jokes. It was good to see him in such good spirits and I was very glad to have made the effort to pay him a visit – I couldn't promise to visit again before I go, but I will see him again next year, when with luck he will once more be a free man.

I was due at Our Lady of the Wayside church at 10 hrs this morning to meet some of the students sponsored by St. Gregory and St. Thomas More parishes. When I arrived I was surprised to see a number of vehicles in the grounds and the church was full. Fr. Clement was no where to be seen so I sneaked into the back of the church. I had intended to get up for mass at the cathedral earlier, but awoke too late! I wanted to thank God that Jennipher had succeeded in obtaining the visa, despite my doubts! The service turned out to be a funeral mass for someone who worked at Monze Mission Hospital. I will have come across him, even if I didn't have much contact. Several of the staff from the hospital greeted me after mass and encouraged me to visit them at the hospital. I didn't make contact with Fr. Clement.

I didn't want to intrude on the funeral so I left and made my way back. I decided to walk on the far side of the railway and was attracted by a path that took me through some pleasant bush until once again I found a pleasant opening where I sat for a short while. I try to tell myself that I don't need to constantly rush around, but our current culture makes that difficult. Somwtimes here in Zambia I am forced to sit around and wait – this time is very valuable and if used properly can greatly increase the productivity of the more active periods. There is a lot to consider while I am here and plenty of challenges to try to overcome. It is interesting after some quiet time the thoughts often start fitting into place.

Jennipher called around on her way back home from Lusaka. She showed me her passport complete with her visa. There are seats on the planes on which I am booked to return to the UK so she will join me and stay in the UK with Dilys and myself for a little over 3 weeks. I am sure that it will be an experience of a lifetime. She will be keen to meet lots of people and tell them about life in Zambia and in particular her work with those living with HIV/AIDS. If you would like to meet her or would like her to talk to a group or organisation please let me know, I am sure that she will be eager to respond.

As always, with love and prayers,


Chris

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Consecration of Bishop Moses

Sunday 4th May

It was a big day for Monze yesterday. The Catholic Diocese of Monze celebrated to consecration of its new Bishop Moses Hamungole. I am sure that in the UK this would be a significant event purely for the Catholic church of that region, but here it is national news, broadcast on the national TV station.

I was told I should be at the ground where the event was being held at 9 hrs – an hour before the event was due to start. I suspected that as usual no one would arrive much before the start time and that we would br underway at 10.30 or 11 hrs.

Raymond called for me at about 8.30 and we sat drinking tea and coffee till about 9 hrs. The ground is very close to where I am living and we started to hear singing as buses and pick-ups passed by, while we were still in the house. When we emerged there was a steady flow of cars, buses, pick-ups etc. all heading for the ceremony. I haven't seen such traffic in Monze before!!

A large piece of ground was being used to stage the gathering. Several areas of seating were arranged – some under cover. I decided I needed to find shade since I expected the ceremony to be long. I therefore found myself a seat. Later it transpired that all the undercover seating was reserved, so I moved to the edge and stood where I could still get the benefit of some shelter from the sun.

It seemed that the organisers underestimated the crowd numbers – they catered for 4,000 wanting to receive the eucharist, but very many were disappointed. It's possible that there were close to 10,000 people attending the mass.

The consecration followed the form of a Catholic Mass with a few additional features – notably the ordination and consecration of the new bishop. The main celebrant for the mass was the outgoing Bishop of Monze Emilio Patriarca. He has been unwell during the past few months, having very recently returned from South Africa where he underwent surgery. He was not well enough to participate in the recent Easter services. It was therefore wonderful to see him take this major role – despite being a little unsteady.

In attendance were 11 bishops and the Apostilic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi (who has the status of a cardinal) I couldn't count the number of priests!! Various dignatories attended including many politicians, though President Sata wasn't present.

There were a number of processions – starting with the priests, bishops and bishop elect. These were led by dancers in tradition fashion. I couldn't help comparing this entrance with what I would expect in the UK. The people of Monze certainly know how to give a rousing welcome. The drumming, singing, dancing and waving reaching a crescendo and then was raised to yet another level, this was repeated several times as the choir led the congregation in welcoming the new bishop.

The service included a brief history of the Diocese and the decree announcing the election of the bishop by Pope Francis, was read. I was moved by the fact that Pope Francis refers to himself as the servant of the servants of God and he spoke of the special place that Africa has in the heart of the church. I was also pleased that this document was also read in Chitonga, as were some of the other important texts of the service (including the homily!) even if it did add to the duration of the service.

The ordination and consecration were moving and dignified parts of the mass performed mainly by Bishop Emilio.

The service finished with words from several of the bishops, including a very moving speech from Bishop Emilio where he thanked the people of Monze for showing him their love. He has obviously become very attached to the people of this diocese and is much loved by them.

Bishop Moses thanked the people for the welcome and promised to work alongside the people to carry out God's work.

The final blessing was given at 15 hrs having started the service promplty promptly at 10 hrs. I think that for me this is a new record!

I decide not to stay to watch the presentation of gifts, but to retreat to my house with Jennipher who had joined us for this celebration, though like many others she does not attend the Catholic Church. It is always good to have the support of other denominations and faiths and this was acknowledged during the service.

I was glad to see Sr Christeta at the mass – she asked after Dilys who worked closely with her in 2011 and invited me to visit her where she now stays. I will have my work cut out to get everywhere that I have been invited, but I want to try!!

Jennipher left as Raymond joined me for a coffee and after he left Diven arrived in time for supper.

Sometimes people ask me whether I am lonely – as you can see I had almost consatnt company yesterday from 8.30 to 20.30! This might be rather more than usual, but it is rarer for me to have no visitors during a day!!

I did a bit of cleaning and washing before mass this morning. I usually wake at dawn 6 hrs! – possibly because Godfrey (night watchman) sweeps the yard at this time each morning!

After a short service (only 2 hrs!) Joseph caught me outside the church. He used to be the director of HHI in Monze and we met last year. He invited me to his village – Gwembe to look around and meet some of the people. It is a place where there is a significant group of people who have contracted leprosy – a disease that still is not entirely wiped out here in Zambia. Joseph has worked with HHI to establish some projects in this village, but says there is a lot more that needs to be done. I warned him that I was unlikely to be able to help but would be interested to vist what he describes as a forgotten part of Zambia.

I just had time for a couple of sandwiches before going to join St. Veronica's Small Christian Community for prayers. I didn't get a chance to arrange for someone to meet me and managed to get hopelessly lost. A guy with another prayer group called me over. He said he worked with Maluti – the man with the scales. He wanted to talk to me! I let him have my number and no doubt he will be in touch before long – I will listen but I am unlikely to go beyond that. He said that he had been trying to meet up with me and felt the Lord must have sent me – it was certainly a strange route I on which I had been led and I was about to give up and go home. I turned around and was greeted by friends from St. Veronica's on the way to the prayer meeting. They guided me nearby where 'section prayers' were about to take place.

I was keen to see the wife of a friend who is serving some time in prison. I am going to Mazabuka tomorrow to extend my visitors permit and hoped that I could pay a vist to Mazabuka prison while I was there. She was at the prayer meeting. I discussed this proposition and she will go along with me tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow Jennipher should receive the news about her visa – please pray that, if it is right, she will be given the chance to pay us a visit in the UK.

With much love and prayers,

Chris