Monday, June 27, 2016

Wildlife and Shooting Stars

When I first came to Zambia there was no internet access or mobile phones. Now it is possible to keep in touch regularly with what is happening at home and in the world at large. I therefore keep abreast of happenings at home. This last few days there has been a lot happening, both at national and personal level and from my perspective most of it has been negative.

Thursday 23rd June

I was a little later getting up than for previous trips. I left the house at about 6.30 am. Previously I had hoped to avoid the Rosa where I was hustled onto the bus, but today I was almost disappointed that I reached the middle of town and a parking place for Rosas without being approached. All buses seemed to be empty. I was told one was going in 10 mins at which I laughed. They wrote me a ticket but I said I would pay when it set off. After ¾ hour or so rounding the town a guy said hallo and announced that he was the driver! We continued rounding – the vehicle being driven by someone who presumably wasn't the driver! - while he stood at the parking spot. At about 8 hrs the driver got on board and we set off! Despite having no delay at Chisamba turnoff it was 15 hrs before I arrived in Chisamba – 8 ½ hours for a journey of about 150 miles. The journey itself was unremarkable, except that I saw a lion! (It was in Chisamba Zoo!)

I spent some time with Persis preparing a few thoughts for the meeting on Friday with the Global Giving Rep.

I met Davidson as I got off the bus and arranged to meet later for a meal and perhaps a game of pool. We kept the appointment but fared poorly on the table!

I brought a notebook computer with me specifically to track the events in the UK, but the MTN network was so poor that I failed to get anywhere. I decided to go to sleep and check in the morning.

Friday 24th June

I woke just after 6 am, got dressed and tried to check on the referendum results. Again the connection was too poor. I had some breakfast but after an hour or more still couldn't get a connection. I had some talk-time on my phone and the dongle was apparently universal, so I swapped SIMs and at last got a connection. It took me very little time to hear the devastating news that we had voted to leave the EU.

I was in shock! I really didn't believe that the British people would make this choice. It seems to me that in a world which is becoming more connected, to choose to isolate ourselves in this way is an odd choice. What saddens me is that it appears to be a move made primarily out of selfish motives. We are keen to keep the benefits of a decent life to ourselves and not be prepared to welcome others, particularly the less fortunate, to share in our good fortune. I suspect that in fact the result will in fact be that we will be much poorer financially as well as being much poorer as human beings.

It was difficult to concentrate on the matters of the day. Aleia arrived at about 11 hrs. Patrick joined us and we outlined some of the history of the project. Unfortunately the tailor is sick – just when we were about to recruit more students. We toured the site – keeping a good distance from the bees, which by all accounts are a bit aggressive! We were reminded why we should have been wearing gumboots when we passed close to a snake – as usual I didn't see it!

We met a couple of the students. One has just completed her course and the other, Matilda, finished a couple of years back and has her own machine. It seems that she is having some difficulty because where schools used to provide material for uniforms, they now only buy completed goods. Matilda has no capital and is finding it difficult. She needs to find the equivalent of about £100 to enable her to buy material and get into the market.

I decided that I should invite our small group for a meal and so we headed for Fringilla. I think that it was when David and a supporter from Jersey – Kevin – were out here that I last went to Fringilla. I think that was in2008! Fringilla is about the only place around Chisamba where I have seen white faces. Although there are a number of white farmers who own the large farms around I never see them in the town.

We had a chance to chat in a relaxing atmosphere and enjoy a nice meal. It was however quite cold and we needed to move out of the draughts to be comfortable.

Aleia's taxi dropped us at the crossroads and she headed back to Lusaka. What she made of us and the project she didn't say!

I spent a short time with Persis putting together an agenda for Saturday's meeting and was ready for a meal and some action on the pool table. I tried to ring Davidson, but the Zamtel network was now out of action. So – late – I caught up with Davidson in town. We had a meal and headed to the bar. I was an angry man and no one was going to beat me on the table tonight!! And so it turned out! Davidson arranged to arrive late for his night work and I destroyed all opponents with the courage to challenge me on the pool table!!

I checked the state of play on the internet – having already had regular updates from Dilys throughout the day.

The day ended with me wondering what was going to happen as a result of yesterday's decision. One immediate impact is that unless we increase the amount we send, our projects in Zambia will receive less today than yesterday. With fluctuations in the kwacha to some extent the differences cancel themselves out, because prices here go up or down as a result, but the drop in the pound it will have a direct impact.

Saturday 25th June

The weather has been relatively cold. A strong wind and cloudy sky have added to the impact. Yesterday was probably the first day since I arrived when the temperature hasn't reached 20°C. Albert, Dr. Nkata and Patrick who form the active committee at the moment came to meet with Persis and myself. They had scheduled the committee meeting to fit in with my visit.

It must be ten years or more that I have been visiting Kaliyangile on a regular basis. I have come to know some of those involved quite well. Though it is a formal meeting we get on well and can discuss issues openly and honestly. Last year Hands Around the World stopped sending regular funding for the staff. This has given the manager a serious challenge, but so far she has kept the centre going and paid the staff. There are activities in hand which should help the long term sustainability of the project – particularly the piggery. I will continue to visit and will keep in touch with their progress.

I left for my taxi at 1pm and was on the road by 1.30. Occasionally I spot a monkey or two on the road – Aleia said she saw some on her way. Today they were about – a single monkey then a few more further along the road. There were also some impala in one of the farms. Apparently when they established some of the large farms a few wild animals were trapped and have stayed. It is unusual for me to see wild animals in Zambia apart from this stretch of road – though I have seen a monkey once or twice on the Great North Road in the Mazabuka area. My heart does lift a bit when I get close to nature – and on Saturday I felt in need of something to raise my spirits.

I decided not to delay in Lusaka, so I headed straight for the bus at Downtown without stopping for lunch. I was on the other side of the road when someone called and said there was a bus waiting to take Mr. Chris to Monze! It seems that even the conductors recognise me!! He said that there was only one space!! Well it was almost full!

I settled in a seat with good legroom – something quite rare on Zambia's buses. I had been told that an empty seat, which had a jacket on it, was taken. The bus filled and I thought the extra passenger was a bit inconsiderate having a rear seat and waiting till the last minute to board, thus disturbing all the other passengers. I needn't have worried! The guy came in through a window! What surprised me more was that his friend followed him through the window, though there was no longer a vacant seat. One of the advantages of a Rosa is that although passengers are tightly packed, you do get your own seat – or so I thought!! The guys squeezed either side of a girl and made our row a very tight squeeze. I was at least happy that I had enough room to stretch out my legs.

As we approached police check points various procedures were introduced by the guys to prevent detection from outside! In the event, for some unknown reason, we didn't seem to need to stop at any check points – another first!!

I was heartened when the driver filled up in Lusaka with nearly 70 litres of fuel – it seemed that he expected a long journey!

We made good time to Mazabuka and arrived at 18 hrs. I was surprised when everyone started disembarking! It seemed that we had no lights and therefore couldn't continue.

The way it works is that the conductor now finds another bus to take his passengers. I am always a bit out of the loop because I don't understand any of the chatter! Usually a Rosa happens to be around and it happens reasonably smoothly. This time – perhaps because it was unplanned – it was a little random and I was told to follow a lady who took the last seat on a small bus. She insisted that I still boarded and I more or less sat on her lap. Another guy was told to get in and finally the conductor filled the remaining space! I think I counted 22 in the Toyota Hiace (plus children of course!). Behind the driver, where we would have 2 people in the UK, we had 6! I was one of them! Fortunately after a very uncomfortable few kilometres a passenger got out and I found a seat. The driver was good – he even checked the tyre when we smelt burning rubber! (we did continue!) Travelling on the roads in a small bus can be risky, travelling at night is not advisable!! Travelling at night in a small overloaded bus is probably something to be avoided – but sometimes there is little choice!!!

I settled down and saw a wonderful array of stars outside. The milky way was clear, looking like a spiral of grey mist in the sky. I decided to watch, hoping to see a shooting star – and so it was that I saw my first Zambian meteor! Maybe there are forces at work far stronger than our politicians that will bring peace to our world – I hope so.

It was good and comforting to reach home. I picked up some sausage and chips from Tooters and put the kettle on! Dilys wanted to chat to me about work issues that had come up affecting our family – life everywhere has its challenges!! We spent some time chatting via Skype.

I tried to relax but ended up with difficulty sleeping – there was too much going through my mind. It is unusual for me to have disturbed nights but Saturday night was one.

Sunday 26th June

I arrived at church to find a group of men in a huddle. It appears that when they arrived they saw that the water pump had been disturbed. In fact it had been stolen. It seems there has been a spate of such thefts recently. It is a terrible crime because it means the church and the local community now have no direct access to water.

This tends to put some of our problems in perspective. Water is so essential to life itself that to be deprived of it is a real catastrophe. Of course there will be other sources, but water which was readily available is no more. The pre-school might have to close and there are other services that might struggle – such at the counselling and testing centre.

After mass I visited the site which is being prepared for the oil press.

About two years ago I talked to Fr. Clement about introducing a project that would help the parish, which St. Gregory's church might be able to support. The people at Our Lady of the Wayside met and decided that an oil press would be the most useful investment. It would enable parishioners to get oil from their crops and would provide a service to the local community which would generate income for the church. I confess that I never managed to arrange any fund-raising activity to raise funds - this is not my forte! However a few months back a parishioner expressed interest and, after I still didn't take decisive action, agreed to fund the project herself. We had hoped that everything would be in place before I left, but issues with the money transfer mean that it will not happen while I am around. However, the press should be bought from Lusaka on Tuesday and preparatory building work for housing the equipment has commenced.

I headed for Queen in order to track down today's meeting for prayers. Queen was out but a neighbour took me on a tour of the compound and after some enquiries led me to the correct place.

The reading was about Jesus sending out his disciples to spread the Gospel. It struck me that it wasn't just a set of instructions for them, but He was also telling us how to receive His Word. There is a verse which says the disciples should enter saying peace be with this house and if the person is one of peace, peace will stay, if not it will return. It is so important that we are people of peace and that we are ready to welcome strangers into our house and land. The Jesuits place a lot of emphasis on discernment – trying to understand whether your actions are in harmony with God or not. One test is that that having made a decision we feel peaceful - a feeling likened to the difference between water hitting a rock or a sponge. I found this reading made me feel more peaceful, again the knowledge that there is a greater power which can transform any difficulty into something life-giving is reassuring.

I decided to make a quick meal – scrambled eggs with rice fried, onions and tomatoes is an easy standby. Diven rang to say he was nearby and Delia needed a coffee. I increased the quantities and they joined me for supper. Delia hasn't visited before. It was good to have them around and of course Paul is a delight! We chatted, looked at some photos and took a couple of new ones!

I finished the day feeling rather more positive, though still wondering what Thursday's decision will mean to the world.

With love and prayers,


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