Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Joy of Interacting with People in Monze

Tuesday 30th June

It is still a great delight to wake to bright sunshine and clear blue skies.

The temperature is very pleasant – I would imagine just above 20°C for most of the day. The sun of course is still very hot. Back in Cheltenham the minimum temperature tonight is expected to be 21°C and tomorrow 28°C or 29°C is predicted!

I rang my man at Zamtel and was surprised to hear that the SIM cards had indeed arrived! So, after sorting a few things on the computer, I set off for town. I decided to take my time and enjoy the stroll. I walked with my shadow ever present reminding me of my God in whose image I am told I am made. It is great to interact with people and share some friendly banter. I have taken to walking down a road which has shops along it, and the people are beginning to get used to my frequent journeys to and from the crossroads. The children too are becoming used to me and call out their greetings, amid lovely smiles and much laughter.

My new SIM was obtained and installed in my phone – there was even 9 kwacha credit from last year. It is good to back on my familiar number – I expect a few friends will now get in touch.

I wanted to buy a few more mugs and to find some oil to stop the door squeaking. It has been impossible not to disturb the peace as you open and close the door to the corridor and since I tend to turn in later than others, I suspect sleep is being disturbed.

I called at a shop and asked for oil and was directed to another – however a tin of engine oil wasn't quite what I had in mind. I suggested that machine oil for sewing machines might be more appropriate and was told to go “behind”. I noticed that there were narrow alleys between some shops, but wasn't sure if I should use them, so I took a longer way around. I found an area I haven't come across before with a variety of shops and little businesses. I saw a tailor and asked were I could get oil, such as she might use for her sewing machine. She directed me to 'My Prayer Shop' – a shop I am very familiar with. I was told that it was “behind”. Again I took the longer route and was soon accompanied by a guy who had heard me ask and thought I was getting lost. He made sure that I found My Prayer Shop and obtained the oil. It is very typical of the people here to help as much as possible. They are happy to direct me to someone who has a product they don't sell, or will often go and buy it for me. I have even had people close their shop to accompany me to buy something.

After buying the oil the guy walked back a little way with me, then said he made pulpits and would I like to see. I walked to his little business were he was working with another guy, using metal and glass to make church lecterns, shop display cabinets, windows, door frames etc.

On the way home I called in at Homecraft which was my home in Monze for several years. Unfortunately my small flat is being turned into an office. I chatted for a while with Sr. Barbara about a variety of topics relating to the work done by Monze Projects and the world in general. A guy I had not met before came into the office. Patrice has taken over from Vincent and apparently has resurrected a database I produced a few years back for collecting and analysing the assets of the poor communities in Monze Diocese and he is using it. I will call around sometime to find out how it is working and see if there are any improvements I can make.

The rest of the day has been filled with a variety of visitors.

Warren and his wife came around to say goodbye to Martin, who leaves for the UK tomorrow. They brought a shirt made for Martin as a farewell present.

During the afternoon Jennipher called around with a friend. She has returned from Namibia were Sandra went for an operation. It seems that She is staying there for a few days to recover before returning to Livingstone, where she works as a nurse. We chatted for a while and Jennipher and her friend enjoyed some egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Jennipher mentioned that some baby shawls that a friend of mine provided, while Jennipher was in the UK, were very well received and are now keeping the babies nice and warm. A double pushchair again provided through a gift from another friend Jennipher met in the UK is making a big difference to a mother with two children, both of whom have disabilities. She is able to get out and even do a bit of business thanks to the pushchair.

Raymond popped around early evening with a note from Charles. The moon was getting brighter, the bright orange glow of sunset dimming and two bright stars appeared close in the sky – I suspect they are Mars and Venus. I took Raymond to observe the sky and he said he had intended to ask me about the stars which he noticed have been getting closer each night. (He knows that in the past I have taken an interest in the sky – I particularly enjoy seeing the Southern Cross.)

Later Charles, his wife, Precious and eventually her two brothers Andrew and Mike came to say goodbye.

So ends another day blessed by the people I meet here in Zambia.

With my love and prayers,


Monday, June 29, 2015

A Unique Hat

Monday 29th June

It the UK we take for granted reliable supplies of water and electricity. Here we are a long way from the town centre and at the end of a long road – this is apparently why the water can be a bit erratic. There seems to be no pattern, but if often fails to reach our taps. There is an outside tap in the grounds and often a tin bath sits underneath it – usually with the tap open. This ensures that as soon as water arrives the family living in the small house within the wall get their supply. Unfortunately pressure is rarely sufficient to reach our taps inside and service the outside tap at the same time. If we are lucky when the bath is full water comes out of some or all of our taps - depending on the pressure. Maximum pressure starts to fill the cistern in the toilet!

Of course when our turn comes we will refill the drums and containers in the house to cope with the next gap in supply. So far we have had water everyday that I have been here, equally we have been without water for at least one period every day!!

Electricity has been more reliable! Today it has been off for a few hours – fortunately my laptop is doing well – providing 2-3 hours of battery power. Yesterday power was off from morning till about 17 hrs. However on the whole it has been pretty good. Only once have we had to create a cold meal in the evening and read by candlelight! As if listening to my comments, power has just been restored and the kettle has burst into life – I could just do with a cup of tea!

Yesterday I decided to take the opportunity, while Deana and Martin were away to clean the floors. After sweeping I got down on my hands and knees and got floor washing. I had managed to get a bowlful of water before the supply stopped which was just sufficient to clean the house! I was quite proud of my achievement as I marched swiftly to church. (Though as you will hear later pride always proceeds a fall!!)

Fr. Clement made up for the short service last week. He gave a rousing sermon – receiving, no doubt well deserved, applause at the end. (My chitonga still doesn't enable me to make out anything). At about 12.20 the new church committee members and the related Small Christian Community committees were brought to the front of the church. It was heartening to see so many actively involved in the organisation – probably between 60 and 100 people in total. After notices I left for home at about 12.45.

I am realising how far I am from everywhere! A very brisk walk gets be from the church to home in 35 minutes. However on the way back I met Ian. Ian used to work in the stores and we spent many hours together while I was developing the stock control database. There have been many changes since and he is now working in the Male Ward, looking after their information. He told me that he was looking forward to meeting me again because he wanted to develop a better way of analysing and presenting the statistics – particularly in relation to cause of death. I remember in 2005/6 when I was working with Bentoe we were trying to lay cable to create a local network. We hoped to have links to the wards so the hospital could benefit from an integrated patient records system that I was also developing. Unfortunately Bentoe died in a tragic road accident in 2006 along with Rose – another hospital manager. The computer systems never developed properly after Bentoe's death.

I was now running very late. I had a couple of sandwiches before rushing to St. Veronica's section meeting. The numbers started very small – the committee from St. Veronica's were meeting at Our Lady of the Wayside so they were unable to join us. Numbers grew towards the end of the meeting.

Martin and Deana returned at about 18 hrs. Later in the evening I found a distressed Deana who found that water had somehow found it's way into her room. She imagined some sort of hidden spring – or perhaps a less savoury source and was a little relieved when I assured her that I must be the culprit!! It seems that the corridor has a slope which in all directions leads to Deana's room. By gaily sloshing water around I had inadvertently sent a river under her door where it headed for her mattress!!

This morning, after putting together a few notes, I headed back to Zamtel to pick up my replacement SIM card - which of course would be there!! At the main road I met Mr. Phiri – the barber and proprietor of Sweet Sixteen. In 2004 I remember he cut my hair whilst flirting with Emily a physiotherapist, who was volunteering here at the time. He was standing by his car-washing business and is well on the way to constructing a block of three shops which he intends to rent out. He has a plan to build a lodge where the car-wash currently sits and told me he also needs to have a college and sports facility!! Quite an empire for a barber who speaks with a kind of American/Jamaican drawl.

The SIM card is on its way!! There are at least a thousand cards with the courier heading for Monze – they will be there in the afternoon!! The guy at the office told me he wants to study accountancy in the UK and asked about getting a visa. I told him that it was not easy!! I also pointed out that it wasn't cheap to study in the UK - as well as the fees accommodation is very expensive. He hopes to fund himself. I agreed to return to the Zamtel office when it fitted with my programme.

I headed for the hospital - a visit was well overdue. I greeted a few familiar faces and was greeted my people who obviously remembered me better than I did them! I called on Sr Juunza but she had a visitor and it was clear that I should wait. I recognised a very familiar voice from the office – it was Jennipher, if my ears didn't deceive me. I popped over to the Director's secretary and said hallo. The Director was in the operating theatre. I was pleased to know that he was still doing some work for which he was trained. It has always seemed sad that much needed professional doctors are given jobs as managers and administrators, for which they have had no training and often are not suited. Not that it is only in Zambia that this is an issue. Increasingly in the UK, doctors and nurses are expected to deal with more financial, purchasing and administrative tasks, as if these were areas of their expertise.

When I returned to Sr. Juunza she was free and we talked a bit about possible re-introduction of the stock control system. Although I am sure it could help the hospital, I am not keen to spend a lot of time unless I am sure that it would be properly used and maintained and processes are put in place to protect the data. I will talk to Sr Juunza again.

On my return back home I was joined by a lady saying something about a Zambian hat!! Yes she had been true to her word and had made a cap with the flag of Zambia and the words “Republic of Zambia” embroidered on it. She said she had seen me earlier in the week but didn't catch me. I am know the proud owner of a unique Zambian cap.

I picked up a large avocado and made a lot of guacamole. Raymond came later in the afternoon and we put the world to right – or at least. recognised so much that was wrong!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

More Friends

Saturday 27th June

I tried to contact the man from Zamtel yesterday morning, but as I received no reply I didn't bother to walk the couple of kilometres to check whether blank SIMs had arrived.

Mrs Sianga rang to say she had made an appointment to see some toilets. We took a taxi and picked up Mr Mweemba on the way to what turned out to be the Modern College of Education and Technology – a private teacher training college.

The first thing that hit me was a building with Ablutions written large on the side. We found the manager and he first described the system and then showed us around the toilet block which had flushing toilets and, on the girls side, also a shower.

I am not sure whether this is the most appropriate solution for PIZZ School, though the government seem to be pressing for such toilets. The manager then showed us a room of arts and crafts were some of the students work was displayed – including charts illustrating the alphabet, board dusters and a range of musical instruments. I was offered a drum – a bit too large to contemplate bringing back on the plane – but gratefully accepted a smaller drum.

I returned to PIZZ school where I met Boniface. Boniface was a student at PIZZ School. He didn't go on to do great things academically, but the school gave him the confidence to set out as a musician and he is now sort after to perform at various shows in the area. He appears every bit the musician! He has a great outgoing personality and is obviously a very confident man. He showed me, on his phone, a video that a friend of his had made of him singing one of his songs and I thought it was very good. (The friend seems to specialise in this sort of work). I suggested that maybe we could put a copy on YouTube and he liked the idea. I will try to sort it so that you can view it. Boniface has said that he will get this friend to make a video of the schoolchildren. I understand he has written, or is writing, a song about the school and how it helps people like him. I am hoping that this will help us promote the school. I also hope we can get some publicity for Boniface, who obviously has a talent.

I had offered some computer training – I had thought that it was for teachers doing training within the school. It appears that it has been offered to teachers, some of whom have no previous computing experience. I continued, but had to adapt my approach somewhat!

Deana and Martin were heading for Livingstone today. I had decided that it was time to wander down to the dam to relax a little. On the way I made a short detour to find a cap. I didn't go as far as the lady who promised the Zambia cap, but bought a plain green one. The guy claimed he could get someone to embroider Zambia on it! Maybe that is what the lady had in mind. If I see her and she has my cap I will of course buy that one too! For the time being I will make do with my plain green cap.

On the way to the dam I met a couple of old friends. Mr Lungu I had already seen in Tooters, but the other young man I couldn't place. It is always embarrassing when someone clearly knows me and I cannot recall who they are. Brian is Queen's son! It was probably 2005 or 2006. I was trying to find where St. Veronica's Small Christian Community were meeting and Brian acted as my guide. At that time he had stopped going to school because he couldn't afford the school fees. Some children from Our Lady of the Wayside were being supported, but not Brian. I met him a couple of times that year but I was sorry not to be able to help. He told me today that he is struggling. He has gone to Lusaka looking for work but they want to see certificates that he doesn't have. In Monze there is very little industry and even getting little bits of piecework is difficult. He does what most do – a little buying and selling. He wants to meet to talk more - so we exchanged phone numbers. I will listen to his story, but told him that I didn't want him to raise his hopes, as it was unlikely that I could help. He would like to return to school to finish his education.

On the way to the dam I met Diven briefly. He was going to listen to a preacher who was holding a 'crusade'. He told me there is a bit of a battle between the Seventh Day Adventists and the other Christians who have their services on a Sunday. It is a shame that which day we celebrate the Eucharist can be so divisive. I think we should all respect each other and the religion they practice. What really matters is how we live our lives, not our interpretation of a few words in the bible. I worry about 'crusades' especially when the preachers claim healing powers and very vulnerable people are encouraged to donate very generously!

At the dam I soon began to recognise some of the birds commonly seen there. Cattle Egrets are almost always present. I saw a couple of smaller birds out of the corner of my eye - the behaviour was so characteristic that I knew they were pied kingfishers. I later had a good view of one of these birds perched nearby. They hover above the lake before diving to catch their prey. African Jacana's were plentiful. The distinctive head pattern and trailing legs give them away as they pop out of the reeds briefly before submerging again beneath them. A gun shot rang out and the birds took to the skies, including a flock of African Openbilled Storks. I don't know the purpose of the gunshot there was no obvious target. A Great White Egret eventually returned to the lakeside.

After a few sandwiches Diven and Deliah arrived. My brother in law Roger had taken an interest in some of the tales about Diven, so I suggested that I introduce them to each other, using Skype. It was a successful session where they were able to see and talk to each other and connect in a way not possible at such a distance by other means. Diven suggested that Roger comes to Monze to paint his house. (I must confess encouraging him with this!) I am sure that Roger would enjoy such an experience – maybe one day it will come to pass.

I showed my guests some pictures taken last year when Jennipher was in England.

After tea I spoke to Dilys via Skype and she reminded me of a concert at the church in support of the Parish Projects – including the link with Our Lady of the Wayside, here in Monze. During their interval, I have just talked to some of my friends organising and attending the concertl – though only using the phone.

I never get a chance to get bored here in Zambia,

Best wises,


Friday, June 26, 2015

Students, Challenges and Potential

Thursday 25th June

Yesterday I went with Mrs. Sianga to High Destiny School which is a private fee paying school in Monze. We were visiting to see their computer lab. The computers were provided and installed by Camara an Irish organisation who provide them at subsidised prices. I was impressed by the set-up – the room has about 20 computers, each with a socket for the monitor and CPU.

The machines come loaded with Ubuntu software. I was delighted to see someone using Ubuntu! However, I was told that the Minister of Education insisted on Windows software being loaded! So the plan was to add it. However, not surprisingly, the computers now also needed a hardware upgrade – and will also need Micro$oft Office. This will increase the cost significantly and in the years to come further expensive upgrades will be necessary.

Ubuntu can cope well with the syllabus and can be upgraded without any cost. It is less extravagant on computer resources and the current computers would perform well. It is also far less susceptible to viruses. It is a pity that the government don't recognise its value. Though they are far from alone in thinking that if you have a PC it must be Micro$oft. (I am not using a Micro$oft product to write this blog!)

Since PIZZ will have to try to prepare the students for computing exams in December, I have offered to do a few sessions with the teachers, while I am around. Many of the teachers here have had little exposure to computers. I am no expert but I have been using computers for more than 40 years!

Today Best rang me early and picked me up. His family have owned land on the edge of Monze – just off the road to St. Mary's - for several generations. We called on his aunt briefly, just to greet her. In 2011 when Dilys and Amy came to Zambia, Best's family provided us with a meal at this house. We left his aunt and cousins and he took me just a little way to another part of the land, which Best is developing as a small farm. He has a two roomed house, but has started digging the foundations for a 4 bedroomed house next to it. He is planning to marry and settle here with his wife and child.

The custom in Zambia is that if a man wants to marry he is expected to provide a “bride price” to the brides parents. This is quite considerable and as a result marriages seem often to be delayed.

At the moment the area in which Best lives is surrounded by fields, however Monze is growing rapidly. PIZZ School which used to be in the countryside is now almost totally surrounded by houses. I enjoyed the current peace of the area and watched as the eagles patrolled the skies effortlessly using the thermals.

I left Best in town and went to pick up my replacement SIM card. Unfortunately the cards had not arrived, but they will definitely be there by 10 hrs tomorrow, Friday! (I seem to remember that they would be here by the end of last week!)

I have been a bit irritated by being charged 25 kwacha (about £2.50) for every transaction this year at the Barclays ATM. In recent years I have been charged by my UK bank for withdrawals abroad. This has amounted to over £100 some years. So this year I changed my account to provide free access. To find that, for the first time, I was incurring charges at this end was particularly galling. When I first came to Monze there were no ATMs in the town. The nearest was in Mazabuka, about 50 km distant. Obtaining money involved lengthy visits to the bank to change currency or travellers cheques. I remember one memorable occasion when I needed to provide money for a project and spent several hours in the bank signing travellers cheques and waiting for a large number of small denomination notes to be counted. I left with a backpack half filled with notes!! Zanaco was the first to introduce an ATM in Monze and my life was transformed (I gained several days that year – otherwise used in bank visits!) Barclays soon followed with an ATM and I had choice – except after a year or two Zanaco refused to give me money. Finance Bank ATM arrived and the ATM would say welcome Mr Barrell and allow me to go through the usual processes before telling me they couldn't give me cash. So for the past 5 or 6 years I have been restricted to Barclays ATM for cash in Monze. However, today the Zambia Finance Bank was pleased to dish out some kwacha and didn't impose charges. I am happy!! I would much rather use a local bank anyway.

I popped along to Ireen who has started by cutting out a shirt from one of the chitenges and I returned picking up a few bits and pieces from the shops en-route.

On the way home I received a call from an “unknown” number. At the moment MTN seem to be pestering me with unwanted calls and I wondered if this was another. In fact it was Fr. Tino – our Burmese friend – who is visiting the UK tomorrow, after his three year course in Rome. He will be in the UK until the beginning of September, so I will have an opportunity to meet him before he returns to his homeland.

Our lives have been greatly enriched by our association with Tino over the years. He was about two years old when we started communicating with his mother. As he grew he started writing back himself and sending us work that he had done. We had been corresponding for about 25 years before at last we met him in the Philippines. By this time Tino was studying in preparation to becoming a Catholic priest. We were privileged to take the place of his parents at the graduation ceremony, where we dressed him in his gown. We were also embraced by a community of Burmese people – many of them priests, nuns and seminarians- some of whom we have come to know better over the years. We were able to join the wonderful celebration of Tino's ordination in Lashio, Myanmar (Burma) and recently attended the consecration ceremony of Cardinal Charles Bo – the first Burmese cardinal – in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Cardinal Charles was formerly Fr. Tino's parish priest and looked after us very well on our visit to Myanmar.

It was good to link my life in Africa with the Burmese, through that telephone call today from Rome!!

I spent the afternoon talking to another thirteen sponsored children individually. These were mainly children I met last year. Many have tragic stories to tell. It was good to meet some who last year responded very little and had very little energy, but now were much brighter and exhibited the familiar Zambian smiles. Some had clearly benefited from receiving a reasonable meal once a day. It is a scandal to think that there are still many children going hungry throughout the world. For a few their difficult lives had become even tougher. Another parent had died and they had joined the family of an aunt or grandparent, who already had children of their own. The grief and upheaval is very difficult for the children to cope with. The school does its best to understand the family situation and help wherever possible. Building friendships with other students going through similar difficulties also helps the healing process and allows the children to develop. You can find out more about the school by following this link : PIZZ School providing a caring environment for disadvantaged children

We finished a little before 17 hrs so I called on Diven and we headed for Tooters. Diven has had problems with one leg ever since I met him. At that time someone had used a rock to smash his ankle and it was in plaster. A week or two back he twisted his foot and has since had a lot of pain – he was therefore liming as we made our way to Tooters.

We enjoyed a meal together and I had a couple of bottles of Mosi. Diven doesn't drink alcohol so he had some cola. I have been told that Zambians either drink no alcohol or can't stop until they are drunk. Unfortunately my observation seems to back this statement.

Being after dark (and aware of Diven's bad leg) we took a taxi back home. I expected Diven to drop off near his house but he continued to mine and chose to walk back! (About the same distance as the walk from Tooters would have been!) I was at least able to give him some painkillers and lotion for his leg.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Relax and Enjoy

Tuesday 23rd June

After a few days of clouds the sky is once more a uniform blue - though I am told that it is still cold.

On Monday, I was eager to sort out an internet connection and to recover my Zambian mobile number. I am still suffering the loss of my UK SIM card in Rome in February. I had moved my numbers to the SIM from the phone when I swapped it with Jennipher. The result is that I no longer have the numbers of many Zambian friends. However, they will have the number I usually use in Zambia and will also know I am in the country – word gets around very quickly!! The only problem is that I lost two SIMs in Rome – the other being my Zambian one!!

My first trip was therefore to Zamtel, where last week I was assured that blank SIMs would be available from last Friday. It appears I must have heard wrong, but they should be around on Thursday!

Next stop the MTN shop to buy a dongle. “Sorry we have none – try above Food Royal!” So on to the only two storey block in Monze. I was told they had no dongles and it seemed that there were none in Monze. However, the other salesperson picked up the phone and told me to sit down. A little later a guy presented her with a dongle – apparently the last one left in town!! I needed an additional SIM card. At the airport the process was very straightforward. They used the details from my passport to register the SIM and the process was very quick. In Monze they completed the form, then took my photo, a photo of the passport, probably a photo of the form and finally a photo of the Assistant who served me!! I asked for the numbers required to convert talk time to data bundles and the girl said she would show me. There were a few quizzical looks and I was asked to sit down again. Assistants went in and out of the office, phone calls were made, other customers were served. How much, if anything, had to do with my connection I don't know. Apparently the SIM was registered, but not activated. Half an hour passed, ¾ hour and then a bit more – suddenly smiles appeared and the process was completed. Most of morning had now passed. However, when I entered the shop I was feeling rather tense and slightly down. Yet I left happy and with a spring in my step. You can choose to fight the relaxed atmosphere of Africa – or you can embrace it!! Fighting it won't make anything move faster – so relax and enjoy!

On the way into town I picked up two pieces of chitenge – paying a lot more than usual. They seem to be of good quality and are made in Nigeria. At least they are made in Africa and Nigeria is were my son-in-law has been attending his father's funeral during the past few days. The shirt will remind me of this time. I couldn't find Ireen but a guy, who guessed that I was looking for her, took my material and said he would pass it on to her. I am sure that a shirt will appear one day (most probably late on August 4th!)

I couldn't return home without diverting through the market. A friend from St. Veronica's sells lusala (I wrongly called it Masala previously) – the root vegetable I like. I also picked up some pounded groundnuts and some dried fish. I started my quest for mayonnaise – easy to find except that I don't want Cross and Blackwell products (part of the Nestle empire). I read only a day or two back that Nestle are planning to buy rights to extract enormous amounts of water for almost nothing from a drought ridden part of the US – I think a poor town in Oregan. They will then sell it back at a fortune! It appears the company's ethics have not improved. Perhaps I should spell it Ne$tle! I have now searched a large number of the small shops for an alternative brand without success as yet. I will continue my quest!!

I have forgotten my hat this year. I have a couple at home - one with South Africa on it and the other Zambia. I could get one that says 'Boy' or another that says 'Pot'– neither appeal!! A stall holder however promised to get a hat with Zambia on it for tomorrow! I will keep you posted.

Back at home I needed to connect to the Internet, catch up with my mails and send reports. It is good to be back in touch.

This morning I spent at PIZZ School talking to the children who are being sponsored or are awaiting sponsorship. Most were in grade one and had limited English (though still better than my Chitonga!). The sponsorship scheme raises much needed money for the school, gives the sponsors a chance to connect with an individual from the school and often gives a boost to the most disadvantaged children.

I was struck by the differences between the children. A few were very cheerful and full of energy, but many were extremely quiet and seemed weighed down by a terrible sadness. The children all have very difficult lives and many have endured terrible losses and upheavals in their short lives. I like to meet all of them each time I visit. I hope that next year some will seem to be a little less burdened. The school is very active in trying to support the children – those who are not performing well or are not responding as would be hoped, will usually have someone visit their families to see what might be the cause and if there is any way the school can help. Over the years I often see differences in the children - particularly in relation to their self confidence. PIZZ School is so much more than just an educational establishment.

At the end of my session I was asked to take a picture of the grade one children. After the formal picture I asked them to wave their HANDS to add to our HANDS around the world. You can still show your support by using this link. Lets join our HANDS to support disavantaged children around the world

Precious came around after lunch and invited the three of us to join her for nshima with rape and pounded groundnuts at supper time. We enjoyed the meal later and talked for a while with her, her mother and brothers Andrew and Mike. I enjoyed the company and hospitality. Mike accompanied us back home under the starlit sky.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Back Home

Tuesday 16th June

I have reached my destination!

Dilys came to see me off at the bus station. I wasn't looking forward to carrying my luggage between the coach and train stations at Victoria, but I consoled myself with the thought that I had built in an hour to cover contingencies.

We were at the bus station at just after 7 am in good time for the 7.30 am coach. Unusually by 7.20 there was no sign of my transport. Eventually at 7.50 a coach arrived. The driver seemed a bit confused by the number of passengers and picked up the phone. It seemed that my bus had broken down, but he should be able to pick up all the passengers. However a different route meant the journey would take longer and it was doubtful that I would meet my train (I got a special price because I was willing to book the 11.02 without any possible amendments! It seemed like a good idea at the time.) I thought that I could get a train to Gatwick from Heathrow so I warned the driver I might jump off there!! In the end I was transferred to the Gatwick coach at Heathrow without additional charge. This was the coach I would have got if I hadn't muddled the booking. So the final outcome was that I didn't had to lug my bags at Victoria and I saved a couple of pounds on the official cost of the coach!! The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways.

The procedures at the airport went very smoothly, without a hitch. I had prepared to remove my laptop from my backpack at security so I was prepared for the unpacking and repacking this entailed.

The plane left for Dubai on time – although to be honest a delay of an hour or two wouldn't have mattered – this was one occasion when it was difficult to use up all the available slack!!

The plane was big! 10 seats across the plane even at the back where I was sat in row 88! There was also an upper floor with stairs going up from the rear. As well as a wealth of films and CDs there were a few games on the console in front of each passenger. I have rather a liking for backgammon. On my laptop I have a backgammon game, but unfortunately the computer cheats!! The dice thrown are far from random and are heavily weighted in the computer's favour. Although I occasionally play the game, I soon give up in frustration. On the plane the dice seemed random, but unfortunately the computer wasn't a very good player and was too easily beaten! It also lacked the doubling facility – an essential part of the game from my perspective. Anyway it helped me pass an hour or two!

The meal was good and accompanied and followed by a good selection of drinks – so I enjoyed some wine etc.

In fact the 6 ½ hour flight passed quite comfortably – helped no doubt by a little alcohol!

I was in the departure lounge at Dubai airport with 8 hrs to spare before my next plane. The large array of luxury goods didn't tempt me, but the airport is very smart and clean with a couple of pleasant gardens laid out. I found a chair – all loungers being claimed , very much in the style of those around pools at holiday resorts!! I dosed on and off until about 5 am (2am BST) when I went for a stroll and tried to locate my boarding gate. It was quite a distance so another twenty minutes or so was taken up. An early breakfast of coffee and croque monsieur helped further. I then positioned myself near the gate and dosed on and off until the gate opened.

We boarded on time, but a broken down loading trolley blocked our path to the runway for 30 minutes. The next stage of my flight was mainly one of further dozing. The 6 ½ flight passed reasonably quickly  - two meals being squeezed in (I decided it was too early for more alcohol!). We landed at Lusaka airport at about 14.45 local time. There was a 'health check' at the airport where temperatures were taken and passports checked to see which countries we had recently visited. The queue in immigration was to the back of the hall as usual – interestingly the Diplomats queue was as long as for visitors! However, despite no obvious reason, movement was even slower than usual – not surprisingly there was absolutely no delay in collecting bags, the carousel had long stopped and bags been laid beside it! At 17.45 – yes three hours after landing, I made it to the entrance of Lusaka airport. (and I still beat some of the diplomats!!)

An Inter City coach and two taxis later I arrived at this house around 22.30 - 38 ½ hrs after starting my journey.

Raymond met me at the coach with the second taxi and Deana was waiting for me when I arrived at the house with a welcome cup of tea. I spent a little time reading before settling down some time after midnight.

I arose at 8 am to the sound of the sparrowsand seeing the glowing sun in a cloudless sky. Despite being relatively cold during the night there was no need for a jumper by the time I left my bed.

Today was time to say hallo to some good friends and venture out to explore the environment. I rang Jennipher and she immediately said she would head for Monze. Teddy said he would come around within the half hour and Diven's phone wouldn't work!! As usual Jennipher came with a friend – one of her clients. She told me a little of her news. Family members with cancer and other health problems, no food at home, Soloman trying to make charcoal to generate a little money but not really being fit enough for this work. She said she was currently trying to look after 12 people at her house. Unfortunately the solar phone charger has broken and it doesn't look as if anyone can fix it. This had been a good source of income for the past couple of years. It doesn't take long to come down to earth here in Zambia.

Teddy told me of the new systems and computers at the hospital and brought me a warm blanket for my bed.

I walked with Jennipher to the original PIZZ School which is only 800 metres straight down the road. Mrs. Sianga and her husband greeted us and we talked in very general terms about the situation. Mrs. Sianga is having problems with her blood pressure and the monitor I brought with me confirmed some frighteningly high readings. Some of the teachers greeted me including one who asked how Barby was doing. Some years back the children were talking about birthdays. It just happened to be Barby's birthday that day and the teacher got them all to make her a birthday card based on the one she put on the blackboard.

It was now time to see Diven's new house, shop and toilet! After all the effort and disasters it was good to see that the buildings were looking solid. Diven has always made great efforts to keep his houses tidy and well arranged – despite only having single room rented dwellings previously. I met his wife before he joined me to go around the town to pick up a few essentials.

My impression is that generally prices have risen – particularly non foodstuffs. I was disappointed to notice that a number of the stallholders were drunk and hardly able to carry on their business. This is not an issue that I had been so clearly aware of before.

Going around the town I met a few of my friends and others that knew me. Ireen grabbed me for a big hug, Patrick pretended to run me over as he approached in his car – Jennipher had earlier been telling us how Patrick saved her life by getting her as one of the first people to take ARVs. Mr. Mongu was about again and greeted me with a hug, I exchanged Rasta greetings with Brian and others greeted me in their particular fashion. Children cried out “How are You” and some shared high fives.

My first day couldn't be complete without visiting the market stalls and stocking up with vegetables and spices.

At last I had really arrived back in Monze!!

It was about 18 hrs when I returned home. Precious was there with a friend and Raymond was waiting for me. When Teddy returned we were struggling a little to find enough cups. I waited until the visitors had left before cooking my evening meal. Now it is time for bed but I will read a little and get another caffeine fix before turning in!


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Almost Packed

Saturday 13th June

As I prepare for my next trip, I find myself being aware of some of the differences that I will face.

Here convenience food is readily available - packet soups and frozen pizzas are no problem. It is however some of the other items I will miss. Cheese can be obtained at a couple of places in Monze – but not Stilton or Gorgonzola and what is available is expensive! In practice I rarely eat cheese in Zambia! Chocolate is best left on the shelves! It doesn't taste the same after it has melted and solidified several times! However there are plenty of compensations. The market stocks lots of lovely fresh food and it all seems to taste so much better. Impwa and masala (not the spice, but a root vegetable) are products you won't find at Tesco's (or even Sainbury's or Waitrose!) - you probably won't even find dried pumpkin leaves or ground ground nuts. Of course in Monze there will be fresh bananas and tasty local eggs; tomatoes grow all the year round (and very quickly) if you have a water supply. However, there are a couple of things from home that I find important - namely tea and cornflakes!! When I get up in the morning I find my cereal and a couple of cups of tea very comforting – combined with the welcoming sunshine which invariably greets me, this sets me up for the day.

The past couple of days I have started to say goodbye to friends – so today's HANDS are signalling farewell and very soon a similar shake of the HAND will mean welcome. It is amazing just how important are our HANDS. My journey to Zambia this year is squeezed between two Hands Around the World events. A Trustees meeting where we reflect on the work of the charity over recent months (and perhaps years) and look at the path forward to ensure that we are able to enrich the lives of more children around the world. Children who can achieve so much if we are willing to lend them our HANDS. The day after I return to the UK in August we celebrate the charity's 21st Birthday with some of the people who have been involved in our mission, many of whom (like me) have found their lives changed as a result. If you haven't added your HAND to show support you might like to follow this link. HANDS Supporting Hands Around the World

Surprisingly I am almost packed with a few hours to spare. My 30kg allowance is proving quite a challenge. In the past I seem to have been provided with an allowance that was always ample – irrespective of the official scale!! The record was 3x23kg bags on a standard BA economy flight – I was surprised to find that in fact I was able to make full use of this gift.

As I say goodbye I receive many words of encouragement as well as an envelope or two with money to help some currently unknown people in need, who I will invariably meet. I am aware of the many difficulties that I will face – some of which I will not be able to resolve. Working with the local people it is generally possible to achieve far more than we could alone – people like Mrs. Sianga and Jennipher who have used the support we are able to give to make huge differences to many in their community. However, during my visit I will be made aware of the huge issues that these people face. They never have any reserves! Every Kwacha is spent as it is received and when unexpected bills come along the implications can be enormous. So often in our world we like to be comfortable and to guard against any risk. As I continue to read Jean Vanier's account of life at L'Arche it is clear that his life is firmly rooted in Christianity – a faith which worships a God who ended up dying the death of a criminal and preached a message of love and compassion and told us not to worry but to trust in him. (Seen to many in our current world as total madness!!) As with most worthwhile organisations finding the resources is a constant struggle, but he trusts in the message and example of Jesus and is able to transform the lives of many who have previously been abandoned by our world.

Life is not meant to be comfortable – if we have enough to do what we want to do, we need to do more.

I too have prided myself on having a small reserve in the bank for emergencies. Recently I have been challenged to dip into this reserve. If someone needs expensive medical treatment that might save their life, or another is in danger of losing their family home or yet another's house is in danger of collapse - though perhaps not the emergencies envisaged, surely the reserve should be used.

Needless to say I will travel to Zambia this year without any of the comfort of money in the bank. However this in no way compares to the life of my friends in Monze! Diven said that he would like to meet me in Lusaka but he hasn't any transport money. If he had 50 kwacha (£5) I am sure he would use it all to travel to meet me on Monday – and would be very happy, even though then he really would have nothing!

Maybe when we have nothing, we more easily turn to God and let him in. I have often thought that God within us often breaks out into a huge smile and I look forward to seeing those smiling faces when I return in a couple of days to that special place – my second home.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Long term relationships

Wednesday 10th June

I must enjoy long term relationships!

Twenty years ago I made my first visit to Leonard Cheshire Home in Cheltenham. A friend had suggested that Danny and Yunus would like a trip to Lourdes. Indeed they did enjoy it and we became friends over the years, as a result I am still visiting Leonard Cheshire – though unfortunately both Danny and Yunus are no longer with us.

Today I took Peter to South Cerney (near Cirencester) where he goes sailing – I managed to limit my involvement today to that of driver and spectator – my main role these days is as a volunteer driver for the wheelchair adapted vehicles at the home. Before suffering brain damage Peter did a lot of sailing – learning his skills on the River Severn. Last time I accompanied him I found myself in the boat. It seemed that they didn't want an instructor with Peter' because he might take over, whereas Peter knew what was needed and was capable of being the skipper giving the necessary orders – what they really wanted was someone to accompany Peter who was totally incompetent !!! (and they found him!!)

Last year Jennipher visited the Leonard Cheshire Home and met a few of the residents. Today I talked to Kay who used her hands to show Jennipher how to make bracelets from loom bands and Paula who acted as our guide to the home – showing Jennipher around. Todays HANDS however are from Lizzie who has more recently followed Danny and Yunus on trips to Lourdes. Show your support by following this link. Give us your hand - Hands Around the World

I am getting through my list of things to buy or find and jobs to do before I leave for Zambia. Yesterday I collected my 'new' car which will make life a little easier and make Dilys happier!!

Our accommodation in Monze was also settled yesterday, so it was quite a day. I will be sharing this year. Deana and a colleague are heading out tomorrow and I will join them on Monday. Unfortunately we couldn't find a furnished house and will be busy trying to find something to sit on etc.!! Maybe I will be lucky and by Monday my chair will be in place!!

I have decided to buy a double mattress – not so much because I like a lot of space,but because I have a friend who had his mattress stolen several years back and hasn't been able to replace it. He is now married! It makes me realise just what some people need to cope with. For me 7 weeks without a mattress seems too much to cope with – for others these are the normal trials of life. Anyway after I leave my friend and his wife should sleep more comfortably.

As usual my luggage contains many standard holiday items!! e.g. 7 footballs, twenty knitted glove puppets, a few blankets, 20 bars of soap, a BP monitor, 6 bottles of clove oil and 600 cotton buds. I will get around to packing a few clothes on Saturday if I have any room left!

Having decided that a coach to Gatwick was too expensive I booked to Victoria and then a train from there to Gatwick. Of course if I had looked at the cost for one ticket instead of two I could have saved myself the trouble of lugging cases between the coach station and train station!

As usual this time is one of mixed emotions. There is the stress and anxiety of preparing for the trip together with anticipation of the joys and pain of what I will meet back in Zambia.

I have been reading a small book about John Vanier and his life with people with mental disabilities.
He reminded me how important it is to take time out to pray – to be with our God. Most of us are guilty of filling every waking moment and forgetting to take time out. I certainly plead guilty! We need a lot of help to do anything worthwhile, my coming visit will only be successful if I give the Lord a chance. I will have plenty of opportunity on my long journey on Sunday and Monday, I hope to make a good start – I will let you know.

Please pray for me!