Monday, August 17, 2015

Returning Home

SANDRA - May she Rest in Peace
Friday 14th August

I have been home for a week. I should be used to returning home by now, but that doesn't make the transition easy. Perhaps jumping from one world to another makes it more difficult. I am suddenly in a different environment, where most people cannot understand the experiences that have been commonplace for me over the past few weeks.

Last Tuesday was my last day in Monze. I like the spend my last day seeing friends and saying goodbye, however I had a few appointments that needed to be fulfilled. I had arranged to see some more students who would be added to the list awaiting sponsorship and then to meet the teachers and listen to their issues.

Unfortunately Mrs. Sianga's aunt died and Mrs. Sianga had travelled back to her village to be with the family. Killian had been given some details of the meetings arranged but a few aspects were lost in the process. In the event I was able to see some of the teachers. I knew that their main concern was the small salaries they were receiving. I explained the situation to them which seemed to steal their thunder – in the event they said little. I am aware that the teachers receive very little and struggle to cover the basic costs of rental and utility bills. Having sufficient food for their families is an issue and they cannot afford to send their children to secondary school or college. I fight hard to provide ongoing funding for the school, but I am aware it is inadequate.

I tried to explain the situation and the fact that it is easier to get funds for buildings and equipment than for salaries and other routine bills. Yet buildings without teachers don't provide a school. I said how much I appreciated what they were doing to improve the lives of the children. Despite salaries of about 25% of government teachers (who are no better qualified) the school has produced pass rates at grade 9 of 40%-60+% compared with a government pass rate that I am told is about 10%. However, I recognise that giving praise without any reward seems somewhat hollow!

It is very difficult to motivate the staff – and stop the best teachers from leaving – when I am aware how difficult it will be to obtain any increased funding for salaries.

I met another 10 children, spoke briefly to them and took photos.

I decided that I should visit Charles and say goodbye. I had forgotten to give Raymond the card reader that I had gone to such bother to obtain and didn't bring it with me, resulting in Raymond having to make the long trip back with me. On my return journey I called in to see Diven and suggested he came with me in the morning to the coach station (Tooters Roadhouse). He could then use my taxi to collect the mattress and sheets which I had been using. It is about time that Diven and his wife had a mattress to sleep on.

Precious came around in the evening to say goodbye. Eventually I got around to packing and was sorted before settling down to my last night in Monze.

On Wednesday I called a taxi said goodbye to Deana and Jane and called on Diven – who was almost ready!! At Roadhouse I was told that the next Mazandu or Shalom bus with seats didn't leave until 12 hrs. (i.e. in 3 hours time).There was another coach apparently leaving at 10 hrs, but I hadn't heard the name before. The guys (even from Shalom) assured me the coaches were OK, so I booked my seat. It set off at about 10.45 which was a little early by my estimation!!

I chose to let Joe take me to Longacres Lodge for 40 kwacha. As I arrive at the Intercity bus station there is always a gang of taxi drivers hoping for business. I try to avoid the first in the queue, who has fought his way to the front. (it is interesting to note that I can never recall seeing a female taxi driver!). Joe turned out to be fine and I let him know I was going to the airport on the following day and we agreed a price.

It was about 14.30 when I checked into the hotel. It was good to begin to relax. A quick snack and then I planned a long warm soak. Unfortunately it would not be before I returned to the UK that I experienced a hot tap!! However, I was able to catch up a little on the news from BBC World and
finished my book in the afternoon sun sipping a Mosi or two.

My flight on Thursday wasn't until 21.25 so I had another day in Lusaka. After a leisurely breakfast – including a couple of cups of tea! - I called at the internet cafe and checked in to my flights. On the Wednesday I noticed the museum and decided that It might be good to spend some time there while I wait for my flight. So I set of in what I believed was the correct direction. I headed down Independence Avenue. It was interesting to walk along a pathway in the middle of a dual carriageway. Sprinklers sprayed the grass, hedges and plants creating a green oasis in the middle of the otherwise dry desert-like scenery. On one hand it reminded me of what a beautiful world Zambia can be and on the other I couldn't help think of all those people who would be desperate for clean water in October and November.
I never found the museum – I suspect that I walked in the wrong direction. However, I wasn't disappointed. I had a very pleasant walk and found myself passing some beautiful houses with lovely green gardens. Why is it that the majority of people in the world are deprived of the beauty and joys of such a life? Even a very modest house is beyond most.

I returned to the hotel and had lunch. I had another couple of hours to pass before heading for the airport. I was sure that the Catholic Cathedral was
not far from the hotel – though after the morning's walk I had some doubt! I headed in what I thought was the direction, but after walking for 10 minutes and not recognising anything, I turned around. A taxi driver asked if I wanted a lift, but I declined and asked him where the cathedral was. He pointed to a cross behind my hotel and said he would take me! I have been to the hotel on a number of occasions but never noticed the church directly behind it!! In the end I agreed to let the taxi driver take me the few yards to the entrance of the Cathedral. (less distance than the walk up the drive to the church!) Like most people the taxi drivers struggle to make a living, so I was happy to give the guy a few kwacha!

I was glad to spend some time at the end of my stay sitting quietly with my God in the cathedral reflecting on what had been a challenging few weeks in many ways. I was aware that I would soon be back in a different world – one where people would find it difficult to relate to a world in which people have no electricity or mains water; where a meal or school uniform provides a huge attraction for children to attend school; a place where unbroken blue skies are the norm; where sharing roads with cows and goats is commonplace; where luggage and water are often carried by women on their heads and where goods are transported in wheelbarrows. A place where poverty defines the lives of most people.

I am now home. I have spent the weekend at a nice hotel in Stratford and watched Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was a great weekend, yet impossible for me not to reflect on all those friends in Zambia who will never get the chance of a similar experience.

Since arriving back home I have heard that Sandra has died. Sandra was a lovely girl. I felt sorry for her in the early years, because at a relatively young age she was expected to do much of the housework and to look after the young children – in particular Selina. I was pleased when Jennipher arranged for her to go back to school to complete her education. She did well and then trained as a nurse. Once qualified she moved to a hospital in Livingstone where she pursued her career. Life wasn't easy for Sandra but she did well. It is tragic for such a young life with much potential to be cut so short. For Jennipher it is heart-breaking. May Sandra rest in peace and please pray for Jennipher and the rest of the family.

My journey home was uneventful. Joe - the taxi driver - picked me up at 16.30 as arranged. The flight arrived at Dubai a little early which was as well since I had to wait for a train between gates at the airport! I arrived home at about 19.30 on the Friday tired, but pleased to be back home.

I will share some reflections on my visit a little later – I think it will take me a little time to re-adjust!


Monday, August 3, 2015

Final Days

Monday 3rd August

Jane joined me on Saturday morning for a trip to visit Jennipher in Pemba. I gave in to pressure and jumped into a half empty bus and was surprised when it left Monze in the right direction – and even more surprised when it continued to Pemba.

We met Solomon at the lion and Jennipher joined us before we turned off towards their house. Selina, Maggie, Jennipher and Obadia met us and we spent some time with the family. Jennipher's herd of goats is increasing – she would have shown us the latest additions, but they were wandering somewhere in the bush!

I was able to deliver a replacement mobile phone charger for Jennipher and a solar light to go to one of the clinics which has no power. I hope that it will make a difference. The light is bright and should make it easier to deliver babies at night. An investment of £20-£25 might well result in a life saved! If it is successful I will consider trying to bring more in future – or see whether good solar lights can be purchased in Zambia.

We had agreed to watch birds at the small lake and dam in the afternoon. When we arrived there was a baptism service taking place and Deana sat down to watch. I showed some lads my binoculars, and as usual they were passed among them. We saw a large bird of prey – possibly a snake eagle. This circled the dam for a while and another bird of prey also turned up. The dam was busy with human activity but the bird life was less pronounced, however the African Jacanas, Great White Storks and a heron were around.

I rearranged my meeting with Fr. Clement to see him in town in order to have a chance to pick up some cash – unfortunately both Finance and Barclays banks refused. I chatted for a while with Fr. Clement and he then offered me a cup of tea – which I gratefully accepted. We went into the lounge where I met Fr. Fred, who is the parish priest. I was pleased that at last we had a chance to talk. Last year the volunteers stayed at the priest's house with Fr. Fred. After tea it was supper time and it would have been rude to have left at that point – even though I knew there was a curry waiting for me back home. Supper comprised nshima and goat offal, plus some vegetables. It is interesting that often the parts of the animal we find least appetising are often most prized here. (Fish heads – including the eyes! are also much valued.)

I am in danger of putting on weight!! It would again have been rude not to have taken a full helping of curry!! I noticed that my phone was no longer in my pocket when I was in the house, but hoped it would eventually turn up. A phone call suggested that at least it was still in service, though no one answered.

On Sunday Jane and Deana went to PIZZ School where children were receiving supplementary food. Mrs. Sianga has been trying to help as many orphaned children as possible. In the past, in addition to the school, she provided food for about 250 children with support from an organisation in Italy. This has been cut to just over 70 children recently. The children are given large bags – probably weighing nearly 30lb – which they carry home. Hopefully they benefit as well as other family members.

First thing – about 7hrs I rang my phone and Fr. Clement answered – so all was well!

I took the opportunity to brush and wash the floor while the others were out. I then picked Jane on the way to Our Lady of the Wayside. There were 24 baptisms of babies and young children, which provided a focus for the mass. The singing, drumming and dancing was good. I was asked to say a few words at the end of mass since I was about to leave.

Fr. Raphael produced my phone after mass and I spoke to some of the students that are supported through donations from St. Gregory's and St Thomas More's churches in Cheltenham.

I was due at St. Veronica's by 14 hrs which gave me 10 minutes after leaving Our Lady's. I decided to go home and have a cup of tea first. I showed Jane a short cut back, though she was very sceptical! I have to confess I didn't expect to see the main road after about 10 minutes!! We did get back on track eventually, but by the time I set out for St. Veronica's I knew I was unlikely to catch Queen – my guide – before she left. I decided to go anyway and wandered aimlessly around the compound. A guy asked me what I was doing and I told him. He had no idea where they were meeting, but knew someone who might know. A girl eventually showed me to where they were meeting. The session was just finishing, but I had a chance to say goodbye and say a final prayer with the community.

I was determined to make somosas for supper, but was delayed by trying to copy videos from CDs to a flash drive for Stella. ( a five minute job turned out to be a lot longer and eventually proved unsuccessful)

Raymond joined me as I was preparing supper and when the samosas were ready he helped me to ensure none were left over!

It is time to tidy my laptop as it will not be making the journey back to the UK. As usual it has been my main computer for the past year, so I need to be a little careful before deleting too much. The flash drive will be a lot easier to carry on the way back! I didn't believe that it would take 8 hours to copy the files – in the event this wasn't far wrong. I left it running when I went to bed.

I called on Diven this morning. Delia cooked some rice for me which I had with milk. I chatted to Diven about his shop and house.

For the rest of the day I have had visitors – or expected them!! By now a number have spent time with me chatting generally and saying goodbye. In between I have been tidying my laptop.

Tomorrow my laptop will be left with PIZZ School so this is likely to be the last post until I return back home.

Deana and Jane have taken me to Food Royal to 'celebrate' my departure. There were no chips so it was chicken nshima tonight.