Friday, July 31, 2015

Something Useful - Maybe!

Friday 31st July

Unusually I am writing this in the morning.

Yesterday I went to meet Pacheli at the Projects office. I had created a database a few years back to record the situation of some of the poorer households in Monze Diocese. I understood that Pacheli was using the database and I must confess some surprise. I have produced a lot of databases in the past for the people of Monze and wasn't aware that any were still in use!!

I did intend to bring a copy with me to his office, but power thwarted me at the last moment! We had a look at what he had on his system when power was restored, but it was not a lot and didn't relate to my database! Apparently Vincent – the guy I previously worked with -had the information on a laptop which was almost impossible to use because it was so slow. Instead of fetching that laptop I suggested we picked up my laptop where I was sure there was a copy of the database.

In fact there was a vast array of different copies of the database – but one seemed to be the final version. It was so long since I prepared it I couldn't remember much about it. In fact it was 2011 when I left it. It seems that Pacheli has very little good information about the baseline for the studies here in Mone Diocese. The idea was to capture information about the assets of each household – picks, hoes, ploughs etc and animals - chickens, goats, cattle etc. Action would be taken to bring about improvements and then another survey taken and the results compared.

I was pleased to see that I had at least captured the initial information. So for about 3,700 households I had recorded details of all the assets, animals etc. and produced results to group this information by community, parish etc. Hopefully this information will be useful. If additional surves are done, even if the information is captured in spreadsheets, I should be able to import it into my database and analyse the results. So maybe my time wasn't wasted after all!

Pacheli drove me home and, on the way, asked which part of the country I came from. I told him - but he wasn't familiar with Cheltenham. However he knew East Anglia because he studied for two years at the University there. As it happened I also studied at East Anglia University – so we compared a few memories of Norwich and the University campus. It is a small world!!

I had some computer work to catch up on in the afternoon. Jane returned having been busy with the children at PIZZ School.

In the evening Obert came around with his brother and I had also invited Fr. Raphael along. I felt guilty when Obert said that he would return on Friday. It was good to chat for a while with Fr. Raphael, but was a pity we couldn't have arranged to go out – perhaps with Fr. Clement as we did last year.

I rang Dilys in the evening. It is good to spend time here in Monze, but it can be hard being away from family and friends. At least the technology is available to keep in regular contact.

I miss getting along to morning mass. In Cheltenham we have mass at 9.30 most days. Here it is at 6.30 and there is a long walk to church. However today I made the effort. It happens to be the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was the founder of the Society of Jesus – or Jesuits. In recent years the Jesuits and their spirituality has been very important to me. I have been on several retreats at their centre near Liverpool – now unfortunately closed. In particular a seven day retreat in 1996 had a major impact in my life and developed my relationship with God. I learnt many lessons that still influence my life daily. It was therefore very appropriate that, if I only managed one daily mass this time, it was today.

After mass I attempted to withdraw money from the ATM, not really expecting success and getting what I expected – nothing!!

I returned to the house to a somewhat surprised Deana who had realised something was different but couldn't quite make sense of it. I had a note to say what I was doing, but left it in my locked room!!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We are now Three

Wednesday 29th July

I arrived at the Kobil filling station at 6.30 and Fr. Kenan was there waiting. I was wondering how three of us would squeeze in the front of the pick-up, but he told me he was swapping the truck for a car. I was then a little confused when we headed from Monze in the pick-up!! At Mazabuka we offloaded the maize from the truck and then continued in the pick-up!! It eventually became clear that there was a loose convoy and someone was driving a car in the same direction as we were travelling. In Lusaka we called into Photo Express where we both had some photos printed. Next stop was Voltamp, where I was able to buy a battery for the solar mobile phone charger, followed swiftly by the opticians - Fr. Kenan's main reason for being in Lusaka.

We drove a little further to an area where there are a large number of car spares shops – and finally Fr. Kenan spotted the car and the other driver. For the next hour and a half we attempted to find some new shock absorbers and a back light fitting. Shock absorbers were found and two lads took the old light fitting and ran off into the distance. We hang around for a while, we swapped vehicles and Fr. Kenan and myself headed for the airport.

We arrived in good time and found the cocktail bar and restaurant. This has many happy memories. When I have arrived on early flights and someone has been coming to meet me, I would tell them to take their time. I would then make my way to the cocktail lounge and have a pot of tea while I acclimatised to the new environment. It was a nice way to settle back to Zambia and prepare for the challenges ahead. Fr. Kenan and I were both ready for lunch after our early start. We both chose the whole bream – which was a good selection.

Jane's plane landed on time but about 15 minutes after the Ethiopian Airways flight. I was concerned that she would be held up for 3 hours like I was, but was pleased to see Emirates bags coming out. It seemed that they might somehow have found immigration first. Within about an hour I had at last met Jane. She had the advantage of seeing pictures of me – I had no idea what she looked like and resisted waving back to every white lady who gave a wave!!

Fr. Kenan told us that his glasses weren't ready so he was staying in Lusaka. Fortunately the other driver Staffred would drive us back to Monze. The drive was without incident (other than seeing a couple of animals that looked like deer, just before Mazabuka. I haven't spotted wild animals – apart from the very occasional monkey – on this journey before. Before 21 hrs we had reached home.

Deana had prepared some supper and we talked for a while. I abandoned putting up the mosquito net for the night, but provided an electric killer instead. I have only noticed one mosquito since I arrived, but there could be others around!!

On Tuesday we had decided to have a leisurely start. Since the power wasn't due until after 10 hrs we didn't plan to go anywhere beforehand. My only appointment for the day was to take the picture of a child that I spoke to on Friday, when I had forgotten my camera. So after a couple of cups of tea I took Jane for a stroll down the road, then past PIZZ school – all sites! - and finally settled for half an hour or more by the small lake for a rest in the shade of a small tree. Time had run away. We said hallo to Diven on our return and decided to call in to take the photo before returning home. Mrs. Sianga and Jane were introduced to each other, but we quickly said goodbye and headed back home for lunch.

It seemed a shame to stay in all afternoon, so, as it approached 16hrs and was a little cooler, we headed out for another stroll. I thought that Jane should find the town, we then wandered down the 'High Street' and greeted Ireen. At the end of the High Street I decided we might as well visit the railway. Astonishingly a train approached as we neared the station. I pointed out that this was not a common occurrence.

We crossed behind the train and made our way to Railway compound, where the standard of housing is rather better than in other parts of Monze. We passed the golf course and I showed Jane the house I used last year – now Tubbyland School. We eventually returned home via the indoor market – picking up some spices from my friend – The Queen of Spices. Unsurprisingly Jane was ready for a cup of tea and a rest when we got back!!

I had volunteered to make a Zambian omelette, so, once I sorted myself out, I started to prepare the meal.

I stayed up trying to access the internet, but eventually gave up.

Today was a typical Zambian day! All was going well in the morning until the dongle stopped working with a message saying it had an 'invalid profile' and I should contact the network provider. After trying all the usual avenues with no avail, I headed into town to the MTN office, via the Diocesan Projects office and the Hospital - only to be told it was a network problem, despite the error message. I returned home, picking up an avocado on the way home – it was guacamole sandwiches for lunch!!

I went with Jane to PIZZ School after lunch where she was to work out a timetable with the staff. I spoke to one of the sponsored children I hadn't previously seen on this visit, before heading back into town. I wanted to meet the people from Leonard Cheshire to find out more of their work and see whether some sort of link could be made with the home in Cheltenham. Mr Meheritona had agreed to introduce me to the guys.

We walked over the road, across the railway tracks and headed for the station. The Leonard Cheshire office was a little way before the station, but unfortunately all the staff were out!! I returned home, after having a local fizzy drink at a cafe in town. At least today I had some exercise!!

Jane cooked and Raymond paid us a visit this evening. Once again the internet is playing up!! There is no water in the taps though there is another pond down the road, next to a familiar looking digger!!!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bleak prospects ahead

Sunday 26th July

It's sad when you are addicted to tea and the morning provides no electricity. I don't seem to function properly until after a couple of brews! Today the power came on briefly at lunchtime, but didn't boil the water befor it went again. It was this evening before I received my first dose!

Yesterday I was reasonably free. I thought it about time to do a bit of cleaning – so I brushed the floors. It's amazing how much dust accumulates here. Now that the tarmac road is nearing completion that might reduce the dust, but I am not banking on it! I popped into town to make sure Jane wouldn't freeze at night. According to the BBC the temperature in Livingstone is expected to drop to 5°C during the week!

Luke was due at 14 hrs so I settled down preparing some presentation material for the Hands Around the World 21st Birthday Party on 8th August. I am sure that they'll find you a place if you want to come – contact details if you want to book are on the website: Hands Around the World I hope to see you there – I arrive back in the UK on 7th August!!

In the event Luke didn't make it in the afternoon, but Jennipher called. It has been discovered that Sandra's condition was worse than at first thought and Jennipher is very worried. After all the trauma she has suffered during the past year, Jennipher can do without another. She came around at about 17 hrs when I had agreed to pick up Diven and Delia. She needed to tell me the latest. She intends returning yet again to Livingstone for a few days, to be with Sandra who is now in hospital there - being cared for largely by her nursing friends in their time off.

I caught up with Diven a bit after I had intended and we headed for Tooters. Diven's leg is causing problems and he is limping badly. We settled down to chat over a meal and a few drinks – though I am the only one who drinks beer! Delia was happy to listen, but is not sure enough of her English to join in a lot. As usual we covered a range of topics and Diven is always fascinated to try to understand the behaviour of the English – though sometimes it is difficult to explain fully. For instance I am reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome written in 1889! This lead to me trying to explain some of my exploits in boats – such as hiring a yacht, getting stuck on a sandbank in one of the Norfolk Broads and the fun and games that ensued before being pulled free. For someone not familiar with boats, the Broads or England in 1889 there is much room for confusion!!

We returned by taxi – me because a long walk in the dark is probably not a great idea and Diven – who lives enroute – because his leg needed a rest.

I picked up a couple of e-mails Jane had sent earlier saying there were problems with her ticket and she might no longer have a valid one. Since it was only hours before her departure this looked serious, however David was on the case and I wasn't going to do a lot of good from here, so I just sat tight.

I arose this morning and checked to see if there was any communication. I checked Emirates flights and there were still seats available – but only in business class. I hoped they would recognise their mistake and, if they had sold her seat, they could give her an upgrade!! There being other information I continued to church and decided an extra prayer or two might help.

After mass I made my way back home - I have just about sorted a short route.. Before arriving I received a text from David saying all had been sorted with Jane's flight. I had about ½ before it was time to set of again – this time for St Veronica's Christian Community. I find it useful to reflect on a short Gospel passage. This week was about belief in Jesus – The Bread of Life. As Christians we all like to think we have this belief, yet so often we fail to recognise him at work in our lives. I have been reading a booklet with words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta – now recognised by my church as a saint. She says that the sisters have no income, no work, yet they feed thousands of people everyday – including 70,000 lepers. She recounts a day when a sister told her that there was nothing so they would be able to give nothing to the people for the next couple of days. Then by lunchtime all the schools were closed by the government and all their bread given to the sisters. I am sure she has many similar tales to tell. She says they people say they don't know where the food comes from – but she knows. It is amazing what God will do if you are working with Him. I know from my experience how He works – often in very small ways. Yet more often I don't notice him in my life.

Luke had been back in touch. I let him know I was again home and he came around with his daughter Charmaine.

We talked a lot about the situation in Zambia. He said that climate change was causing big problems – the changing weather patterns making it hard to grow the crops most Zambians rely on. The maize yield in Monze District this year is estimated at about 50% of that received last year – and that was not a good harvest. Luke says there will be a lot of hunger this year. Electricity shortages and no doubt water shortages in a few months, will cause hardship and further damage the economy. The government has borrowed a lot and spent it on local roads in towns such as Monze. The roads go nowhere and cost a fortune – yet the roads between small towns are still dirt tracks. Luke's assessment is that things here are getting worse and are set to become even more difficult for the vast majority of Zambians. Unfortunately I have to agree.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Child Sponsorship and digging wells

Friday 24th July

Its hard to believe that another week has gone by! Today is the last of five birthdays which occur every 4 days between 8th July and today. My success rate at remembering the order and at least making a phone call has varied. In Monze it is relatively easy to ring via Skype – electricity and network permitting, travelling to Chisamba and Kabwe however made life a little more tricky.

I managed to catch a bit of a cold – perhaps in Chisamba where the nights were surprisingly chilly. Yesterday I felt rather worse for wear, but today a bit of energy has returned.

I made a brief visit to Mrs Sianga, then settled at home on the computer. I needed to make contact with Jane who will join us on Monday – and succeeded in having a bit of a chat. Diven called around with Delia in the afternoon because he was worried about my illness. I told him that I would soon be fine again and he left a bit re-assured.

I decided I needed a good night's sleep and turned in early.

This morning I took my time rising and felt a bit better. Jane has a mobile phone charger for Jennipher to replace the one destroyed by lightening. However, she is not allowed to bring the battery on the plane. I therefore need to find how I can find another. Victor who is doing much of the building work at PIZZ School said he might be able to help, if he had the specification. I decided to provide a copy for him and leave it with Mrs. Sianga. In the event she arranged for him to meet me at the school and he was able to suggest two shops in Lusaka where I could probably obtain a battery or if not be told where to find one. Both shops are within walking distance of where I will get off the bus so I should be able to go on Monday. He assured me that such batteries are easily found in Zambia.

I met with Rosemary this morning - a quiet first year student. She is one of about 35 students for whom we have sponsors in the UK. Other than having a chance to talk to me, so that I can tell some of their stories to their sponsors, the children do not individually gain benefits. However the school receives some regular funds and the sponsors have a chance to follow the progress of astudent at the school. The children are picked often because they have a particularly difficult background. Sometimes the fact that someone is taking interest can give them the boost they need. Rosemary was very quiet and didn't say a lot – hopefully next year I will see a lot more confidence, as I have observed this year with many of the older children.

There was a meeting this morning with others from Hands Around the World in the UK about the child sponsorship programme and I agreed to attend via Skype. On the whole it was a very successful session where I felt part of the meeting, which lasted for about two hours. If all the students at PIZZ were sponsored it would provide sufficient funds for the school to operate well. So we just need another 300 sponsors!! If you are interested to find out more about the scheme you can find details on the HATW website. Hands Around The World

Just before the meeting John came knocking on the door. I haven't seen John for several years. In fact I wondered whether he was still around. It is many years ago that John asked me for a pickaxe and shovel so he could build himself a well! A friend who read my blog offered the equipment and the saga of John's well began. I won't recall everything here but needless to say the two implements were not quite sufficient to complete the job. It started getting complicated after about 1 ½ metres! Getting out of the hole and removing the soil required a windlass and a bucket – oh and a friend to hoist the buckets contents (whether soil or John!). Eventually a 30 metre deep well was constructed!! Anyway John is still around, but picked the worst time to call. I really was pleased to see him and thought I'd arranged for him to see me later. He didn't return – maybe he'll catch up with me again this year or in the future!

I met another student after lunch and spent a while talking to the headmaster and deputy. They had decided to represent the teachers to save me listening again to teachers concerned about the very low salaries they are paid. I was glad of the opportunity to talk to them, but also suggested I spoke to the teachers.

Hands Around the World has been paying the teachers wages at PIZZ School for a number of years. When we started, although the wages were below those of government teachers, the difference was not huge. However, two or three years ago government teachers received large rises in their salaries, but we have been able to do little to increase our funding. Donors can sometimes be found to pay for buildings or equipment, however very few will consider paying ongoing costs such as teacher's salaries. It is easy to put up a classroom and show some nice pictures, but without teachers it is a waste of money! Yet I have great difficulty persuading almost anyone else that there is no better way of using our money than paying for teachers to provide education to the students. At PIZZ School many lives have been changed significantly. Children are not on the streets with all the dangers that entails, and the older students are now progressing through secondary and some onto tertiary education. I want to tell the teachers just how proud they should be for the wonderful work they are doing. I recognise that they are not paid enough and I can't promise any increase. I will however fight for everything I can get to ensure the school continues to improve the lives of many children – and perhaps save the lives of some!

Time for a quick trip into town to meet Mr. Meheritona the director of HHZ. We know each other from the time he was the manager at St. Vincent's School here in Monze. We talked about bee projects, containers and other issues. I was also interested in his work with the Leonard Cheshire organisation. This group spent last year looking at improving accessibility in schools in the Monze area for children with disabilities. After a successful trial the initiative is being extended to other parts of Zambia. I do some driving for Leonard Cheshire in the UK and am interested in talking to the organisation here and possibly forging some sort of link. I have set an appointment to follow this up next Wednesday.

I realised this evening that it was Charlie's birthday, so I made a hasty call and interrupted his party!

For supper I found some dried fish which we had with sweet potatoes and cabbage.

With love and prayers,


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A hole in the road

Wednesday 22nd July

Another week has flashed by since my last post. For most of the time I have been in Chisamba. I didn't go with my laptop – or my dongle – so I have been out of contact.

The electricity problems are affecting the whole country. I must admit that I find it hard to understand the view that the level of water in Lake Kariba is the cause of nationwide problems. Firstly there are other sources of hydro-electric power, but more importantly Lake Kariba is vast. The figures which I gave in an earlier blog are staggering. I have just done some calculations which suggest that, if the turbines could cope with all the water at the average rate it flows over Victoria Falls - 1 million litres per second - the level in the lake would reduce by about 4 ½ metres after 250 days, which I suppose could be significant, especially since low levels in the lake would also affect its initial surface area. I don't know whether the turbines could cope with this amount of water however. - we need an expert!! In Chisamba the electricity went off just after 6 hrs and sometimes didn't return till after 15 hrs. This is having a major effect on everything Watering the crops is difficult because not enough water is being pumped into the storage tanks – where schools have flushing toilets they have to close, if there is no water- again often the tanks have a limited supply. At Kaliyangile the incubator for the village chickens wasn't on long enough to provide chicks. Industry must also be greatly affected.

The journey to Chisamba was a good one, with less waiting than usual. I set of at about 5.40 and arrived just after midday.

Apparently the Acting District Commissioner in Chisamba wanted to meet with me. It seems to be usual for charities and other NGOs effectively to run projects in Africa. Hands around the World is a little different in that we support projects run by local people. Obviously we will share our views and have some influence, but the strategic decisions are left to the local people. However it seems that I was looked on as a decision maker in respect of Kaliyangile. The government was keen to help the project, primarily by providing trainers. It was a very tempting offer and one for the local management committee to consider. The details of the arrangements were a little unclear, though they became clearer as the days went on.

In many ways I am able to have a bit of a rest when I visit Chisamba. There are quite a number of things to check out and discussions to have, but inevitably there are times when local staff need to attend to their business and I have a chance to reflect. The site is quiet and full of bird life.

I had intended just staying for a couple of nights and returning on Saturday, but the District Commissioner persuaded me to extend my visit until Monday to enable me to visit a school and training centre which he regarded as models of such establishments where the government was involved.

Kaliyangile is trying to run itself using the profits from various on site activities such as gardening, poultry rearing, bee-keeping and pig farming. Training for bee-keeping has now commenced and working with the Forestry Department looks to be developing into a good partnership.

I ate out most nights – not having cooking facilities myself. Davidson accompanied me to the Better Place for nshima and relish. Relish being anything not nshima!! So I had fish, chicken and sausage on successive nights – there is also a “soup” which comprises some vegetables and cooked tomatoes. After supper we adjourned to a local bar with a pool table. I enjoyed a few games and managed to play Davidson now and them. The general rule is that the winner stays at the table and plays the next challenger. However, when I was ready to go someone would inevitably want to play me and it was difficult to get away at a reasonable hour. On one occasion it was 23 hrs before we left.

I met the management committee on Saturday and brought them up to date with the DC's offer as well as discussing other business. It was a very positive meeting where the local committee seemed determined to make the centre work well.

They have introduced an English mass at Chisamba so I arrived before 6 hrs ready and eager! There was no activity but at about 6.15 some ladies arrived and told me mass was at 6.30. I wouldn't have minded another few minutes in bed!! This was the first service that I have attended this year in English and it was good to be able to understand what was being said.

After mass I visited a plot of land where Davidson is building himself a house. He has constructed two rooms and is acquiring bricks which he will 'burn' and use to make additional rooms. He has a small pigsty and a few ducks to help with the family finances.

Most of the rest of Sunday, and a part of Saturday, I relaxed watching the birds. A group of young children joined me and we entertained each other with a few games.

On Monday I went to Kabwe with Persis where we met the education officer. No prior arrangements had been made but we were able to visit the two establishments identified.

Kabwe Skills was a training centre established and run by the government. It ran a wide range of courses from tailoring to car mechanics and catering, and a few more beside. They seemed to be quite successful in what they did. They charged significant course fees, unlike Kaliyangile where the courses are free. It is also a much bigger operation and doesn't provide agricultural training.

Shitima School was set up by an order of Catholic brothers to provide education for the poorest in the area. Being under the Catholic Church they are able to seek Grant Maintained status – which was given to them as a Basic School (grades 1 – 9). They have now extended the school to provide education to grade 12 – the final year of secondary school and are seeking similar status as a primary and secondary school. This status enables them to have government teachers but still maintain control over the policy of the school. In particular they still select the children from the poorest sectors and charge no fees. They are supported by a small UK charity which has provided the infrastructure and other funding.

The school is very impressive. The current head has started getting the children involved with rearing chickens and growing vegetables to give them extra skills and to raise some income. The extent of the gardening is significant. The provision of teachers is a big benefit and the special status afforded to the church enables the school to continue to work in the way establishes by the founders.

I left for Lusaka at about 13.30 on a big bus – unusually without any delay. However the congestion as we entered Lusaka meant we didn't arrive at the bus station until 16 hrs. Shalom and Mazundu provide buses that run to a schedule, but unfortunately both were full until 19 hrs. I was offered a bus going “now now” but turned it down believing that “now now” was after 19 hrs!! Instead I walked through town and found a Rosa almost full. By 17.10 we were on the road and I was in Monze by 21hrs. I accepted a taxi and picked up some chicken and chips from Tooters on the way home. Deana had warned of a hole in front of our house with no warnings and suggested the back road. The driver dropped me the other side of a large mound of earth that apparently had been dug up that afternoon.

Once inside Deana informed me that water last came out of the taps a couple of days ago. So we started to plan for a prolonged period without water. The electricity load shedding had also changed with a couple of periods during the day without power – but usually power was provided in the morning and evening.

Tuesday was an opportunity to start catching up on the computer work missed when in Chisamba. The 2hrs plus battery life on my laptop meant that I could use it for most of the day – unfortunately I couldn't access the internet. It later transpired that I had no data credit left in the dongle – though the indications had been otherwise.

Water was now plentiful – unfortunately it still didn't find itself in the taps but rather had filled the large hole dug the previous afternoon!! Still it was progress in that we had plenty of 'Grey water' - or rather dirty brown water - for flushing the toilet.

Diven, Jennipher and Raymond popped around during the afternoon and early evening.

This morning I had arranged to meet Mrs. Sianga. But when I awoke I was aware of water in the taps outside!! The immediate crisis was over! It was a delight to have an early morning cold shower!!

Mawini had come to see me at PIZZ School. I didn't recognise her at first – she has grown into a an elegant lady and has thinned a bit. She has now completed her first year at Zambia University in Lusaka, having started her education at PIZZ school. Her brother suffers from a number of disabilities as a result of cerebral malaria. This makes it very difficult for her mother to work to support the family. They are all very proud of their daughters achievements and look forward to the time when she will be a qualified doctor. She is determined to do well and works hard as evidenced by exceptionally good marks in her examinations.

I talked to Mrs. Sianga about many aspects of the school. I was particularly touched when she talked of the value of feeding the children. She said that it was important to make sure they had the food on the premises, because otherwise it might just go to others in the family. She told me that she didn't mind when some children only ate half of what they were given in order to feed their hungry brothers and sisters at home – at least they were eating something! It stories like these that bring home to me the poverty in which these children live.

After lunch I had a couple of things to sort out on the computer before heading for town. It was after 16 hrs when I left and I expected to miss the post office and fail in the most critical tasks. However, I must have been looked after because everything fell into place, I had my parcel wrapped and with a couple of minutes to spare presented it at the post office. It was a few minutes after 5 pm, within a post office with closed doors, when I finally had deposited my parcel. For some reason the guy behind the counter was very pleased to meet this Mr. Christopher Barrell – I wonder why? I also managed to sort out one or two other tasks.

I returned via the market, called briefly on Diven to postpone our trip to Tooters and played the Pied Piper up the road! I knocked up a quick meal and got busy for the evening. As usual its now time I was asleep.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Wonders of Zesco

Wednesday 15th July

Yesterday I had arranged to meet Obert and his mother and visit the pre-school she has organised.

We met at Our Lady of the Wayside church and walked to his house just beyond Comfort Lodge – perhaps a kilometre from the church. We met his mother on the way who had to meet a couple at the church, but she assured us that she would soon be returning.

We sat outside the house and talked about the pre-school and other topics. Last year a baby was born to a friend of Obert, but unfortunately the mother died a few days after the birth from some complications. The child was taken in by another friend and I was told she is now a healthy naughty little girl!! They were able to build a small structure at the back of their property with some money that was initially going to be used to extend the house. This structure has two rooms – one is used as the pre-school and the other Obert uses as a bedroom.

The pre-school has gone through a difficult patch. The teacher left to get additional qualifications and one of the children died suddenly. Obert told me that the child who died had three close friends who don't understand why he is no longer coming to school. They call at his house and when they are told he can't go with them, they say they will wait. Two of them have not been to school since. A new teacher has just started and I was introduced to her.

I just made it home in time to go out again to meet some more children with Mrs. Sianga. Unfortunately her aunt is very sick, so she was preparing to go and visit. Killian was with me when Stephen arrived. Stephen had been at PIZZ School, but after grade 7 he moved to another school. His circumstances took a turn for the worst and his grandmother could not afford the school fees. Mrs. Sianga decided to cover his fees for grade 9 rather than disturb his education again. Stephen told me how difficult it was. His father is sick and his grandmother is also unwell – she tries to care for him but hasn't any work – she says she relies on well-wishers to keep them fed. Stephen has been asked for 35 kwacha (£3.50) as a contribution towards computers and art instruments but doesn't know where they will find the money.

No other students arrived so I made my way into town to pick up some money. Once again the bank wasn't dispensing cash and I returned home rather tired after the day's walking.

Raymond called around in the evening and joined us for supper which was a kapenta stir fry with plenty of ginger and rice. It went down well and then the lights in the main room flickered and went off one after the other. Next door the lights were still on, so we thought our trip switches had been activated. Raymond quickly returned to tell us the transformer was on fire!! True enough flames were pouring out of the equipment about 100 metres from our house – needless to say the neighbours lights were also now extinguished!

The evening ended with candlelight and plans to get a brazier and charcoal in case we had to live without electricity for some time.

This morning the children put on a ceremony to welcome me to their school. It is a great privilege to be the guest of honour at such a function. It is also rather nice that some of the children are now confident enough to greet me in the street “hallo Chris” or to grab me by the hands and lead me into the school. Today one young lad gave me a hug and a girl came to tell me how glad she was that I was around again. I am more at home with this friendly approach, than when I am sitting in front of the 350+ students.

The children performed a variety of songs, poems, dances and sketches. They performed well, with a lot of humour. It was also good to see the interaction with the teachers, who, although keen to instil discipline would happily except witty comments from the students in response to their remarks – and introduced themselves with a lot of good humour.

I enjoyed the event which was also quite moving and poignant at times.

Killian accompanied me to my house, but left me at the gate - I invited him to call around for coffee another time.

Best popped around after lunch. He told me he was thinking of running as a councillor unless he got a job as a magistrate, in which case he wasn't allowed to be part of a political party. I introduced him to guacamole and he said he would try to make some himself.

I had a lose arrangement to meet Mr. Meheritona, but couldn't reach him on the phone. I wanted to try the ATM again so I went into town. I collected some money but was told that Mr. Meritona was out of town.

Ireen just had to sew on the buttons of my shirt – which would take her ½ hour! I was wondering how to pass the time when I bumped into Jennipher. We went to Food Royal – a new experience for both of us. A Food Royal there was equipment for making kebabs, but we contented ourselves with some drinks and cakes. The cakes were enormous! I went for a long doughnut which was a little smaller than most! Jennipher was able to enjoy her cake and still bring back a hefty slice of it for Selina.

We returned to Ireen who just had to put the buttons on my shirt!! She gave us each seats and about 20 mins later the shirt was ready! She has made a very good job and I think it is perhaps my favourite do far.

I returned as the sun was setting. I grabbed a quick shower before darkness fell and then Deana arrived with the news that a brazier and charcoal were on their way. Andrew and Mike brought our new “cooker” and, after they lit it, Deana cooked some sweet potatoes and scrambled eggs – then the power returned!!

I must congratulate Zesco who had replaced the transformer and burnt out wiring and reconnected the houses in about 24 hours. Incidently one of the guys working for Zesco knew me – apparently in connection with Monze Diocese. I wasn't able to place him myself.

So the evening finishes with electricity and a fully recharged laptop! The water has gone again, but you can't expect everything!!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Road Construction

Monday 13th July

I have returned from Mazabuka where I extended my visitor's permit. The permit is issued at the airport on entry, for 30 days. After this period a visit to an immigration office is needed to extend it. Again a further 30 days will be given. However after 3 months, as I found to my cost in 2004, immigration is reluctant to grant a further extension to a visitor's permit. Extending my permit today was very straightforward and took no longer than 10 mins. Despite having limited delays the whole morning was taken up travelling and it was about 13 hrs by the time I reached home.

Friday seemed to be occupied almost entirely trying to acquire some cash. The ATM is about a ½ hour's walk each way. My money doesn't last long here and I was down to my last few kwacha. I hoped that once the power returned late morning, the Finance Bank ATM would release some funds. However, it seems that the loss of power upsets the systems and, although everything appears to be working, no funds are released. I called in at the hospital where I chatted a bit to Sichone, dropped some glasses with Teddy who was attending a meeting and visited Bright at his “office” by the motuary. Bright invited me to visit his house on the Saturday, where he had further building work underway. I also caught up with Jasper – who is our landlord and a driver at the hospital.

It is interesting that there are some people who have the energy and ability to make big changes to their lives, whereas others in similar positions seem to be completely weighed down by their problems. I am sure this is true everywhere – however in Zambia the contrast is stark. Jasper has managed to buy the substantial property we are renting and is enjoying the income. Bright is in the process of building himself a six bedroomed house for his family. I can think of another driver and another general worker from the hospital who, as described above, are always desperate to find money to buy the next bag of mealie meal. I wonder in which category I would fall given their circumstances? It is not possible to know!

I returned home with no more money. I thought we should celebrate Friday with fish and chips! Having found a fish shop, bought a few “Irish potatoes” and a small bag of green beans, I had the princely sum of 1 kwacha to my person!! (about 10p) I had lunch and returned to the bank. In the morning I had an inkling that I might be lucky because the ATM was “temporarily out of order” which suggested someone might be checking the problem. I was right and felt relieved with a bit of money in my pocket. I would at least be able to buy a few scratch cards to load airtime into my phone and make a few calls.

I called around on Ireen who told me that I could pick up my shirt on Saturday – she just had the buttons to sew on! ( There was a feeling of Deja-vu!!).

I made the mistake of trying to fillet the fish! Its a while since I've had fresh fish in Zambia. I have decided next time just to leave the bones until it is cooked. What was left was good and the chips and green beans were fine. I will repeat the performance and hopefully get a better result next time.

I headed for the crossroads to meet Bright on Saturday morning. Bright has been working as a general worker at the hospital for many years. He has a son Brian who is deaf. Despite having relatively low wages Bright has used his initiative to ensure that Brian goes to a special school where they have experienced teachers for children who are deaf. He has also managed to look after the family well. After a while we realised that there are a number of crossroads in Monze and we were not at the same one!! Eventually we met and headed past Diven's shop towards Bright's house.

He seems to be the only person so far to have defined his land with a fence. It is a reasonable size – I would guess it amounts to an acre or so. He built himself a small house using empty paint tins as a mould for the mud. He has recently moved his family into this house. However his new project is constructing a very large house out of proper “burnt bricks”. I am always impressed by the skills of the local people. Bright has built his own house – albeit temporary. He dug a well with one of his sons and he will “burn” the bricks himself. The building of his new house however he will leave to the professionals. I met Bright's wife who told me she recognised me from Our Lady of the Wayside church.

On my return I joined Diven who had prepared some lunch for me and a cup of tea – for which I was particularly grateful, as it was my first of the day. A few days ago Precious mentioned that she wasn't able to have a cup of tea whenever she wanted – like we do. Diven asked me how I make coffee – obviously having never made it himself. It is very easy to forget that tea and coffee are luxury items for most people here. It is so easy to moan because we are unable to have a cup of tea before 10 hrs these days, yet this inconvenience is nothing compared to the daily struggle of so many of the people around us!

While I was at Diven's we were warned that a machine was about to drive by and we should close the door. A little later horns sounded and smoke billowed up outside. After passing a thin layer of tar or bitumen was left on half of the road. The process was repeated and the other half of the road tarred. This emulsion was laid on compressed stone which seemed also to have a bit of dry cement within it. We will come back to the road construction a little later!!

Jennipher called around in the afternoon. She had been to Namibia where Sandra had her operation, hoping to bring her back to Zambia. However, they decided she wasn't fit to travel on a bus and Jennipher returned alone. We decided that it was probably best to leave here were she was until she had recovered sufficiently to make the journey herself. It seemed that I have not previously introduced Jennipher to Guacamole. She enjoyed some when she was with me. She had a bit of a cough and sore throat so I also supplied her with a hot cup of honey and lemon – another first for her.

Raymond called around in the evening and we talked a little. I showed him how I was creating a birthday card for Dilys for Sunday. I completed the card later and sent it via e-mail later that evening.

The Tonga mass gives me time to reflect and pray. On Sunday I was glad of the opportunity and felt better for it. I met George at church and he offered to give me a lift back after the service. George has been a key figure at both Our lady of the Wayside and St. Veronica's over the years, though he was away for a while and is only now getting involved again. He was attending a brief session with Legion of Mary – a Catholic group who particularly
encourage those who are no longer coming to church to return. A group in Cheltenham have developed a bit of a relationship with those from Monze, so I was able to bring their greetings. They meet at a grotto which is based on one in Lourdes, where it is said Mary appeared to Bernadette. Lourdes has been very important for me over the years and is a wonderful place to go to with sick and disabled pilgrims. I was reminded of the many wonderful people I shred that experience with over a number of years.

I called Dilys to wish her a Happy Birthday properly, and then headed for the Dam. A tarmac laying machine was ready for action with two guys sitting very grandly on top. In addition to my regular birds I spotted a little grebe. I realise that few of the birds I see are also present in the UK. The little grebe is an exception, being resident in both places. On my return the machine, which has been in place since the morning, had not moved. The tar laid yesterday is dry and numerous people, bikes and probably vehicles have travelled along the road since!!

I spent a little time with Mrs. Sianga discussing the budget for water distribution and toilets among other things. Electricity had gone again by about 14hrs and I returned to a dark house. The sweet potatoes couldn't be cooked, so I put together some coleslaw and Deana opened a tin of fish in “hot chilli sauce” - it didn't make me cough so it couldn't have been very hot!! Deana is looking after my health with bowls of fresh fruit and sour milk, she added a few cornflakes for a bit of carbohydrate.

The wonders of technology enabled me to arrange for a weekend away and visit to the theatre as a present for Dilys. Before I turned in everything was booked and tickets delivered to my computer!

The road building outside continues! Stones have been built high and compressed – again with some cement. However, today water has been added to create a concrete mixture – most people walked on the road anyway. Deana was caught out! She avoided the road, but failed to notice that under a pile of leaves the concrete mixture had leaked from the road to form a pool. She returned quickly having covered her sandals and feet in the mixture – at least both her and her sandals made it out of the trap!

Earlier today after returning from Mazabuka I called in on Ireen. She will have the buttons put on by this evening – if I am passing I can pick it up!!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Water Levels are Low

Thursday 9th July

Since Saturday we have not had electricity or water first thing in the morning. The past three days the electricity has returned at about 10 hrs. the water a bit later in the day. We are told from various sources that this situation has arisen because of the low water levels in Lake Kariba. Lake Kariba is more like an inland sea stretching 170 miles in length. A huge dam was built across the Zambesi river and the large valley was flooded displacing 57,000 Tonga people (The same tribe that lives here in Monze). The dam provides hydro-electric power to many parts of the country, but at the moment the water level is low - resulting in the rationing of electricity.

I find it very worrying to find concerns about water levels at this time of the year. I hope that the measures are to ensure that it will still be possible to provide power up to November, rather than that the problem of providing power already exists. In any event the lack of rain over the past three years is a major problem. It is almost certain that there will be major shortages of water before the next rainy season. If the rains are late, it could be disastrous.

There are still a few people who dispute that climate change is taking place or that humankind is responsible. However, the scientists have predicted the sort of weather patterns that are now being experienced around the world and here in Zambia it is rapidly becoming a matter of life or death. It is just possible that I am wrong about climate change, but the evidence is mounting – and if I am right, can any of us just stand by and let people die and not say anything to try to stop global warming?

Yesterday was a relatively quiet day for me. PIZZ school needs some form of proper water distribution and some toilets on the new site. We spent some time discussing quotes. Provision of a solar pump in Zambia doesn't come cheap. All the components are made in other countries and shipped here, taxes are added etc. I have long hoped that a solar industry would emerge here in Zambia, but there are no signs. Zesco power is relatively cheap and investment in developing local grown manufacturing industries seems to be low. Yet, despite our short days, we must have averaged more than 10 hours of bright uninterrupted sunlight each day since I arrived! The potential for solar power here is enormous. Of course eventually it will come! No doubt when the oil companies are finally persuaded to stop extracting oil (I worry this will be too late to save us from devastating, possibly annihilating, climate climate). Then they will construct solar power stations and sell Africa her sun!

Anyway the local debate is whether we invest in a solar pump for PIZZ School, or save money by connecting to Kariba Dam power! That is assuming we can secure funds for either!

At PIZZ School there are a number of students suffering from Epilepsy. I met a former student last week with this condition and we are working with her grandmother to explore improving her treatment. As with most services in this country, medical facilities struggle to provide the treatment needed. For most specialist treatment it is necessary to go to Lusaka and there are usually medical costs to pay in addition to the fares. The result is that many fail to receive the treatment they need. I met the grandmother once more this morning to see if we can make progress with this issue.

This afternoon I had another session with the teachers showing them some of the internet applications and caught up with Mrs. Sianga who had spent the afternoon with school inspectors.

The evening ended as usual with a glorious golden glow in the sky and the planets continuing to move apart. I have been remiss in not correcting my previous error. The planets are Venus and Jupiter not Mars and Venus as previously stated. I did think it unusual because I seemed to recall one was known as the evening star and the other the morning star. So please accept my apologies and thanks Lyn for putting me right.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Zambian Paella

Tuesday 7th July

Today was the last day of the long holiday. People were travelling back to their workplaces from where some had come to visit friends and family. Edward was heading to Lusaka where he works as headmaster, leaving his wife in Monze, Simon was on his way to his farm close to Kafue and Fr. Kenan was returning to Chilimantando.

Yesterday, after doing a little on the computer and making some phone calls, I decided to have an hour relaxing at the small dam (lake). I watched a Great White Egret stalking its prey and catching something quite large in its beak (either a fish or some type of amphibian). The African Openbilled Storks flew low over the lake before settling. They make me think of Pterodactyls with there large gaping beaks and the way they hold their heads – a very unusual sight.

Teddy popped along in the afternoon and we caught up on a wide range of topics. He has been off work because he scalded his leg with boiling water which he was going to use to warm his bath. Precious came around, but couldn't be persuaded to try my scrambled eggs with “House of Commons” (at least that was what my mother called a mixture of fried onions, tomatoes and rice!).

I had arranged to meet Edward in the evening. Some years back, while he was the headteacher at Monze Basic School, he realised that the school was in dire need of renovating and could also do with some improvements. He had the idea of contacting some “old boys” to see if they might provide support and had some success. Before independence the school was for Europeans only and, needless to say, some of the ex-pupils were in a better position to help than some of the more recent intake. (It is now a standard government school) When one of these “ old boys”, now living in England, found that I visited Monze regularly he asked if I could act as a sort of liaison. For a couple of years I met with Edward, discussed his plans and observed the progress. We became friends and I like to get together with him when I can. We chat over a beer or two. He is now living in Lusaka and is headmaster at a secondary school there - returning every fortnight or so to his family who still live in Monze. He dropped me home a little before 22 hrs.

Today I set off for Pemba to say hallo to Jennipher's family.

It was good to meet up once more. Soloman is getting stronger after being very ill during the past year. He was at UTH – University Teaching Hospital, which is the main hospital in Lusaka and he was not expected to survive. As a last resort he was treated with some “Chinese medicine” and eventually pulled through. Selina is now a young lady and apparently doesn't appreciate being shown the pictures I took when she was a very small child. Maggie and Obadia have grown, but still want to sit on my knees. Little Jennipher was busy rehearsing for an event at the Catholic Church so wasn't around and Emmanuel is still staying in Livingstone. Since Maambo's death a few months ago her sister has been staying with Jennipher. Among other things, Maambo took on the major role of looking after the children while Jennipher was in England. She is missed terribly by Jennipher. There is also a young boy staying at the house - his mother died last year,. An elderly gentleman arrived while we were talking – he spends most of the day at the house and Jennipher gives him food.

The house is quite crowded and mattresses and blankets are a bit sparse – some of the family have to sleep on the concrete floor. Jennipher wants a double mattress and Selina needs school shoes and a jumper.

On the way to her home we passed by the house of one of her clients. The lady has made a nice garden and is growing onions, rape (a local vegetable a bit like spinach), tomatoes and other vegetables. She has mains water but the pressure is very low during the day. It is very important to be able to grow some of your own food. With a decent water supply everything grows rapidly – but without it it is difficult to grow anything during the long dry season (April to November – and recently even longer). This lady was managing very well under the circumstances.

Some people in Pemba are buying storage tanks and filling them overnight in order to have water for their gardens. Jennipher is hoping to be able to get one some day. She says they can make a stand but cannot afford a tank. I will try to find out the prices. I think a tank would make a big difference to the crops they could grow.

Jennipher told me she has 18 goats. Any male goats she sells, but she keeps the females to increase the herd. She also has a number of guinea fowl, a few chickens and two ducks which produce some eggs. She showed me her orange tree where she had left two oranges for me – Selina picked them and gave them to me before I left. It is only a small tree but it produced over 100 oranges which she was able to sell. It is from these animals and by growing some vegetables that Jennipher is able to feed the family. A solar panel designed to charge mobile phones was bringing in a good income – as much as £4 - £5 on a very good day - but unfortunately it was struck by lightning and, not surprisingly, does not work any longer. I would like to replace the charger if I can sort out the logistics of acquiring it and arranging for it to be brought from the UK.

I brought a football with me because I remembered that Soloman is involved with a small football club. A friend back in Cheltenham lives close to a football ground and field where they practice. Balls regularly land in his garden and no one comes to collect them! Little did the guy who kicked this ball one day out of the ground into a Cheltenham garden realise that it would end up in Zambia!!

When I arrived in Monze a few weeks back Jennipher told me that her daughter Sandra needed an operation in a neighbouring country. She had the operation but a problem with the stitches has caused her to remain in the hospital. Jennipher is intending to travel and arrange for her to be moved to a hospital in Livingstone or Monze where Jennipher will be able to care for her more easily.

On the way back I caught what I class as a 20 seater bus. This one actually managed 21 passengers if you count a child of 9 or 10 years old – here children don't get a separate seat, so perhaps there were only 20 passengers after all. At least this travelled at a respectable speed – this morning we were in a race with another minibus and had to concede when we were eventually overtaken while we were travelling at about 80 mph (130 kph).

This evening I started preparing a Zambian Paella when Raymond appeared. Dilys then rang with an issue about a document saved in a format no-one can read. Undaunted I held the phone to my ear with my shoulder, giving instructions on how to reformat the document, guiding her around the Ubuntu menus, whilst chopping onions and trying to entertain my guest! - who said men can't multi-task?! Eventually I was able to concentrate on my culinary activities whilst chatting to Raymond.

Deana didn't seem too convinced as food was piled high and eventually dry rice was added. However all took shape with some boiling water and a bit of simmering. I must admit that I was very pleased with the resulting dish – and it tasted good too!! This could be the first paella which included impwa as one of the ingredients!!