Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Changing Perspective

Wednesday 28th June

I have noticed how quickly the scene changes as you walk along the road. If you glance to the other side, after just a step or two your view can change dramatically. The buildings which dominated suddenly vanish behind the trees and a rural landscape appears. A little later some rubbish or a broken fence gives a very different impression.

It is similar with the way we feel and perceive life. A pain relieved by a tablet, a friendly smile and a hug can quickly change our mood. Today I met three teenagers attending local secondary schools. I asked one what would make her life at school easier and she said “food to go to school and power – a light at home.” We take for granted that we will be able to eat at lunchtime and have electricity for a lot more than just lighting. Another girl who plaits hair when she gets back from school has food if she has people wanting this service and none if she doesn't. Yet another asked whether I would be helping her with a ream of paper and school shoes that she needed for school. These children are the “lucky” ones because we are paying their school fees. For them a couple of small steps could change their view dramatically.

Deana joined me for a meal on Saturday and it was late when she attempted to get a taxi back home. Most drivers had long stopped work for the day – fortunately one was still awake and came to collect her. We had a good chance to talk. It is sometimes useful to share experiences with someone who also lives most of the time in another world.

After mass on Sunday I visited Diven, Delia and Paul. It seemed that there had been some friction and I was filled in on some of the details. I listened to Diven and watched Delia! I don't claim any skills as a counsellor, but some issues seemed clear to me and I reflected on what I was observing. Since it was past lunchtime, I suggested that we adjourned to Tooters for a meal. Fortunately by this time some smiles had returned and they increased throughout the meal. What tomorrow will bring who knows – yet more steps and changes in scenery, for good or for worse!!

I continue to meet friends and others who greet me along the road with a friendly “Hallo Mr. Chris”. Robert passes by daily and I see a few others regularly. Many I am desperately trying to place!

There is no progress on the lighting, other than a few positive messages. I have been working on the PIZZ Annual Report. The narrative has been written by Mrs. Sianga and Killian and I have changed a few things, altered the language here and there and re-ordered paragraphs in order to make it more appropriate for a UK audience. I am keen that the document is jointly produced and agreed reflecting our close relationship and common purpose. Monday was devoted largely to this task.

Yesterday was spent at home. I had more work to do on the report and a few other tasks. However, it doesn't take long for visitors to arrive. A lady from the church came around to tell me about a child she took in when the mother died in childbirth. Another couple had arranged an appointment and I expected to need my marriage guidance hat on again. For various reasons life is very raw here and often life and death issues are at stake. In this instance the husband had killed his daughter. He had spent some time in jail. Since his release he had lived apart from his wife. Or so I thought! It seems that they went through another wedding ceremony in February – in fact on the day of my own 45th Wedding Anniversary. They wanted to tell me the good news. I have kept in contact with both parties and am delighted they are re-united. The events were terrible, but nothing will bring the daughter back and the wife's ability to forgive is truly inspirational. I wish them all the best for the future.

Jennipher arrived with Lillian(not Lillian of the rosaries but another!) and another lady. I had made some guacomole for lunch – Deana brought me an avacado pear as a present, this year fruit and vegetables are enormous! This avacardo must have weighed almost 1 Kg!!- Jennipher and friends seemed to enjoy the feast and had no problem demolishing it!

Obert cycled around. He is having a lot of problems with his leg and wasn't working yesterday. I popped into town with him and picked up some more milk – I don't know why but I seem to get through a lot of milk! On return it was around dusk and an owl flew across the road in front of me. I have heard owls around, but this was the first decent view of one this year. I suspect it was a Spotted Eagle Owl – these are apparently more common here than Barn Owls
I checked that Raymond was en-route. He had mentioned that he might see me Tuesday and as I was preparing a beef stir fry I thought I would add another sweet potato if he was on his way. He was!! I rather enjoy beef with plenty of ginger – it seems to improve if the beef is left with ginger and garlic to marinate while the rest of the vegetables are prepared. I decided to make some sweet potato chips and fry them with some pounded groundnuts. Raymond said he enjoyed the meal – I certainly did!

There are a number of things that are different here in Zambia. Forgive if I am repeating myself, but sometimes I am reminded of these features. Today the morning started completely cloudless and I was struck again by the intense blue of the sky. My laptop has a light blue background which resembles the UK sky - when we are lucky enough to see blue sky, but here the colour is many shades darker. The moon at the moment is new – which means it forms a in the night sky – eventually turning into an as it sets! having passed overhead!! I need to look at some models one day and make sense of it all!!

So today I talked to a few students and discussed the project with Mrs Sianga and Killian. Mrs. Sianga kindly provided me with lunch at her house next to the old school and her office.

Jennipher and Lillian popped around again this evening. I have promised Jennipher a notebook computer for her cervical cancer screening. I showed her how it worked this afternoon and she has borrowed it for tomorrow. I hope it will be useful for her work.

Life in Monze is difficult for so many people, my decision to share part of my life with these people brings me into constant contact with these situations. Sometimes I am able to provide a little support and comfort, often I can only listen and feel some of their pain.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Chisamba and Back

Saturday 24th June

I travelled safely to and from Chisamba. New this year are a series of tolls on the roads. I have personally never been convinced that tolls are the most efficient method for collecting taxes – I believe that an extra few ngwee on a litre of fuel would be better. Between Monze and Chisamba – a distance of about 250 Km we passed through three toll booths. Two booths were within 20 Km of each other.

Travelling to Chisamba takes a good eight hours. A significant time is spent waiting for buses and taxis to fill. I set out just after six hours on Tuesday and would have arrived at about 14.30 if the taxi hadn't ran out of fuel!! In the event a back-up taxi delivered us at 15 hrs!

When you get a bus to Chisamba you are dropped at Chisamba crossroads on the Great North Road. I once walked from there to Chisamba town, but since it is about 23 Km you need to be well prepared! Hence the taxi!!

It seems that Miriam and her son Cephas were being evicted for a couple of days to accommodate me. Miriam was very gracious and said that she would be visiting a relative, much as Mary visited Elizabeth when carrying Jesus in her womb. She told me that it was therefore a blessing.

Miriam has worked hard to transform the room, which was prepared for me some years back, into a home for herself and her son. It is humbling to think of this very basic building being a full time home. At least there is now a bed and Miram has everything sorted and in its place. Fortunately I wasn't around long enough to do much damage.

Cephas wrote his name for me in the book I was using for my notes about Kaliyangile! He told me that he was six years old and was in grade 1. His grasp of English was excellent and I am sure he is another child who will go far. We became good friends during the short period I was around. Miriam teaches knitting and some dressmaking at the Centre so they were present quite a lot. At one point I thought I would take a picture of Cephas – possibly a mistake!! He asked me how to operate the camera and then spent the next half hour making me pose for photos which he took, as if he had been using the equipment for years. After showing him once how to look at a pcture just taken he checked all the photos on the camera to see what I had been taking during the past week or so.

Hands Around the World's financial involvement with Kaliyangile has dropped very considerably in recent years, but it is impotant to maintain the relationship. I like to see how things are progressing, what plans they have and if there are particular issues where we might still be able to provide some support. The fact that the project is still active is an achievement in itself, since they used to rely on significant funding from us. The Centre is developing in different areas where there seems to be a local need. For instance they are now providing literacy classes. It is good that the project develops and adapts to what is needed locally.

There is always time to ponder and reflect when I visit Chisamba. I wandered around the site and had a meeting with the local committee – the members of which I know well. I also managed a session of pool with Davidson. In fact I thought I might have to forgo pool when Davidson wasn't around on Tuesday, however I bumped into him in town on Wednesday morning and arranged an appointment for the evening!! In the event Persis came with us to the club, after a meal and met friends while Davidson and myself took our turns on the table throughout the evening. I enjoyed some good games with the local guys.

There is a well known character in Chisamba whose name escapes me. He creates very intricate plans and drawings and has an idea for an aeroplane which runs on magnets! He told me that he had written a song about Brexit and would come around with his guitar and play it for me! I hoped he would visit – in the event I was disappointed because he didn't appear!

While in Chisamba I had a call from Fr. Victor who had some guests wanting to use rooms at my house. Unfortunately I had the keys and the spares were safely inside the house! So different arrangements were made for the visitors– I hoped I wasn't in too much trouble!!

I left Chisamba just after eight hours on Thursday. A couple of half empty buses left the High Street - well in fact the only street in Chisamba!! Eventually my taxi left and took me to the turn off. A friendly policeman found me a “bus” - since it had only a single row of seats it was more like a van!! We made good time until we were stopped at a police checkpoint. It is often difficult to understand on what grounds the police stop vehicles. Our bus on the way up avoided problems of overloading by dropping a guy before the checkpoints and retrieving him further down the road. On one occasion he hitched a lift past the police in a pick-up truck and came back on board a few kilometres later!!

I decided that at eleven hours I would do best picking up a bus from the Inter-City bus station. There was an 11.30 FM bus which suited me fine – if it had left before 12.30 I would have been in Monze by 15 hrs - as it was, a extra hour was added to the journey time.

I paid a brief visit to Mrs. Sianga yesterday morning, but needed to get back for a trustees meeting in Monmouth in the afternoon! With the wonders of Skype I was able to attend the meeting, with only a short break due to network problems. On the whole I was able to listen and participate fully – though occasionally the quality was poor.

Jennipher and Bonadventure popped along at lunchtime and joined me for guacomole. When I emerged from my meeting, Raymond was waiting so we finished the dip (spread) between us as a snack before supper.

Today I have caught up on some household chores. Lillian called around to drop off some rosaries. I had forgotten our arrangement, but fortunately I was at home. Lilian also had a present for me – a necklace made of beads. She explained that the main beads were in fact made from old calenders that she had cut up. I am very impressed with her ingenuity and recycling initiative. I have ordered some more necklaces because I think they look good and might go down well in the UK. Lillian told me that she also works at the Home Based Care office at the church and makes the Communion hosts for the church – both of which activities she does on a voluntary basis.

I have promised to make Deana supper – so I had better sort out a little shopping and get busy.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Drinking Coffee

Monday 19th June

I spent most of Saturday at home.

I tell people that my most valuable job is to sit at home drinking coffee with friends. Yet, like being still, it is hard even to convince myself of the value. In our world little importance is placed on such activity. Maybe our world would be less harsh and the anger would diminish, if we spent more time talking to each other over a coffee.

Teddy popped along Saturday morning. It was already a month before we met this year. Teddy has been Acting Information Officer for 11 years now. He has been doing the job and yet whatever qualifi

cations he obtains they don't quite seem to meet the criteria for the post. We have been friends since 2004 when we worked together with Bentoe on the hospital computer systems. He hopes to move out of town when he eventually retires.

Deana came to have a chat and catch up. A few years back Deana established Friends of Monze – a small charity based in Wales. They have just built their second school around Monze and handed it over to the government to run. They are looking at a third.

We were beginning to have a discussion when Jennipher, Soloman, Obert and another guy turned up. Jennipher told Deana all about her new mission to screen women for cervical cancer. Apparently in the Southern Province of Zambia cervical cancer is a particular issue and is becoming a bigger killer than AIDS.

I will have to arrange to meet Deana another time!


I am having a slightly slack time with the food at present. I am heading to Chisamba tomorrow to visit Kaliyangile - another project I co-ordinate for Hands Around the World. I am keen to run stocks a little low as there are plenty of creatures that would like a share!! Small cabbages don't seem to exist in Monze! I would think my current cabbage will provide at least 10 – 20 portions! Fortunately the cabbage is very nice so a few different daily meals containing a generous helping is fine! I can't remember whether I have commented on the soya. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, you can buy soya pieces in the market, which are very tasty and have a texture very close to meat. These are nothing like those I avoid back in the UK! This soya could almost turn me vegetarian!!

Yesterday was Corpus Christie. Religion is not hidden in Zambia, but widely acclaimed. On Sundays I pass a number of churches with hymns filling the air with multi-part harmonies. At Our Lady of the Wayside Church after our mass this Sunday we processed around the surrounding roads stopping now and again to listen to readings and reflections on them from parishioners. Fr. Clement carried the host, which we believe in some real sense, Jesus Christ, our God, is truly present. It is an act of witness and a way of bringing God among the people. It is very rare for such acts of witnesss to take place in England. Here they are quite common.

One of the tasks I have, is to bring back reports for children who are sponsored by people back in the UK. Most of the children I have now met over several years and it is difficult to encourage them to tell me something new. The sponsorship helps us to provide much needed funds for the school, it provides sponsors with a tangible link to the school and gives the children a bit of a boost. I met about half a dozen children this morning, including two who want to become doctors, a policeman and a soldier! It is good to have a chance to talk to the children - we can learn a little about each other. I also like to encourage the children to ask me a little about my life – it only seems fair!

I have talked to the Project Manager at Kaliyangile and she tells me that there are no rooms at the “Chisamba Hilton” so my own little hotel will be prepared. Some years back I spent a week or more at Kaliyangile. They cleared out a storeroom, put a mattress on the floor and the carpenter made a simple chair and desk. Here is a large washbasin and, across the field, is a toilet block with a couple of showers. (No hot water for a couple of days!!). I am not sure whether I prefer it to the “Hilton” or not! Neither have hot water! The Hilton however has a generous breakfast of eggs, sausages, beans tomato, onions, chips & bread – although some things are not always available – so it varies from the full monte, to bread, onions and tomato or another random combination! The small hotel however is very peaceful with only the birds and cattle to keep me company.

I won't take my laptop to Chisamba so I will have some peace from our turbulant world for a day or two.

Best wishes


Saturday, June 17, 2017

When it's Hard to Spot a Bishop

Saturday 17th June

It is not always easy to recognise a bishop! This is especially so when he is divested of his episcopal finery. I suspect that I have been in the presence of the bishop during my stay here at the Curia without being aware. David told me that the Red Bishop was resident in the garden here at the Curia yet I haven't noticed him around! He is a handsome fellow in his rich regalia and should stand out from the crowd. However, on further investigation, I find that, like most bishops, he only wears his robes during special occasions. At this time of year he blends in with the crowd and is hard to distinguish from other weavers or even females – yes they do have female Red Bishops here in Zambia!!

It is easy to become blaze about the bird life here. A lovely rounded tree just beyond the garden is a perch used alternately for Black Headed Herons and Brown Breasted Snake Eagles. The snake eagles sometimes fly in formation two or three at a time. They hang in the sky like a kite without a string, on their long wide wings surveying the ground below. Other birds show aerobatic skills twisting and turning – the Fork Tailed Drongo is a master. I even saw a Pied Crow use the power lines as asymmetric bars – hanging on by its toes rotating upside down!!

I have become so used to the sights here, that I find little surprising. A lady balancing a single wellington boot on her head was a little unusual – baskets of food, cases and even pumpkins on the head are routine! I couldn't resist asking if I could picture two children sitting comfortably in a wheelbarrow – something we might even see in the UK, less common in our Country is to see adults resting in the same way. Ox-carts are a common sight in the centre of town, but there are also large lorries that find their ways onto the smallest dirt tracks and park outside mud huts!!

On Thursday I went to the Immigration Office to extend my visitor's permit. Fortunately there is now an office in Monze and the operation is very straightforward. In the past, a trip to Mazabuka was required. This took a good half day by the time transport was found. For some reason you only get a 30 day Visitor's Permit – it can be renewed twice without any difficulty or extra cost, but you can only get 30 days at one time! On one occasion I had to travel to Mazabuka just to extend my permit by one day!

Ireen had almost finished my shirts by Thursday evening. A couple of weeks back I brought two pieces of material for Ireen to choose the best to make a shirt (I also had another chitenge in the bag which was to be for display back home). She said all three would be good!! So this year I will be very well adorned! Rather than wait for buttons to be attached I agreed to meet Saturday – later today – when they should be complete.

I continue to meet friends from the past – most of whom I don't recognise. A guy reminded me that some years back I gave him a manual on ACCESS – Microsoft's database design software. Somewhere in the distance it rings a bell! He is keen to meet up and catch up again. Sarah greeted me warmly when on one of my trips through town. I always confuse Sarah with another woman from the hospital, but on this occasion I was completely confused!! Sarah told me that she is still in the laundry, where they have a lot of new equipment. It seems that provision of equipment is improving, yet there are routine drugs where shortages occur and staff who retire may never receive their gratuities.

Mr Phiri who owns the hairdresser's Sweet Sixteen bumped into me as I passed by. He has plans to open a lodge and other businesses, but says he is having a bit of a rest at present. He cut my hair in 2004 and I seem to remember he took rather a shine to Emily – the physio!

I have seen Deana and Charles a couple of times now – always rushing!! I will ring Deana later and arrange a proper meeting.

I seem to have lost a week!! I thought I had a month remaining, but it only appears to be three weeks!! As usual there is a lot to sort out. I spend quite a lot of time with Mrs. Sianga discussing the progress of the school and the huge challenges they face. I find I need a lot of time to think through the issues and try to plan with them a way forward. The school has developed over the years, but PIZZ is so much more than just a school. We have a rich community of families where the students range from grade one to University, and family members involved must count in the thousands. Maintaining the delicate balance which makes the project so successful is extremely difficult – my job is to work closely with the people here to avoid its collapse.

I have taken a break from working on the computers and decided to see if I can jump to a proper solution. For years I battled at Monze Mission Hospital to establish a process to maintain antivirus software and have regular back-ups. Eventually I admitted defeat!! I have the same challenge at the school. Access to the Internet has improved, but the same issues remain. I am willing to give it a shot, but doubt if the odds are in favour of success – we shall see.

Another book I have with me from which I am gaining inspiration is called “Ostriches, Dung Beetles and other Spiritual Masters”. It is written by an American nun Janice McLaughlin who spent 35 years living and working in Africa. Ben enjoyed this book while he was here. She reminds me of the importance of giving time for rest. We are now programmed to be busy all the time. Even in Zambia I find it difficult to stop! To stop reading and listen to the birds for ten minutes is uncomfortable. Yet we need to try to adopt a more natural rythym – Sister Janice looks at the animals and sees that they have plenty of time to rest and to play.

We shouldn't feel guity about stopping, resting and taking in our surroundings. We are much more likely to be productive if we follow the natural rythms of life – we might also learn to listen more and talk a little less!!

With love and prayers,


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When less can be more!

Wednesday 14th June

Ben is now on his way to Lusaka
. There was a slight misunderstanding with the taxi driver and he started at the destination – Tooters Roadhouse ( as our bus station in Monze is known!) - rather than the starting point, losing valuable minutes. Whether if the taxi had been on time a seat would have been available on the 8.40 bus I doubt. I didn't see anyone getting off in Monze.

Monze is on the Livingstone – Lusaka route. To book a ticket on the bus the operator needs to know there will be a seat available. Since most buses leave Livingstone full, the only chance is if someone disembarks at Monze. This also means you have to wait until the bus has set off from Livingstone or at least has the full complement of passengers before knowing the situation.

In the event, the Shalom bus was full. On Ben's trip to Livingstone he was enticed to use an F & M bus – not one with which I was familiar. They seem to run a semi-official service from Roadhouse – using minibuses. (Roadhouse is usually reserved for coaches). Anyway Ben seemed happy with their service and, having being assured that they could cope with his luggage, he booked the 9.30 bus. As it happened I was also impressed – particularly as the bus arrived and departed before 9.30am, something I don't think I have experienced before in Zambia. Ben was given a seat and safely wedged in with his second case as he left Monze!!


My mind was pre-occupied over the weekend by Helen's “Race to the Tower”. Unfortunately things didn't go well! Shortly after the start she developed a migraine. However, Helen is not one to give up easily, so she took a couple of tablets and continued. Unfortunately things got worse as she became dehydrated and subsequently became over-hydrated trying to compensate. This set of circumstances started a reaction which messed up the bodies balance, leading to some potentially very serious consequences. Helen eventually had to give up, being more or less at the state of collapse. Somehow she reached the final marshalling point 46 miles (73 Km) from the start. At this point they recognised something was seriously wrong and called an ambulance to take her to hospital. She stayed in Gloucester Royal Hospital over Saturday night, was transferred to Cheltenham General on Sunday and discharged on Monday. The doctors were amazed that she had managed to get so far in her condition. Apparently she was suffering from a known problem that affects elite athletes and particularly those undertaking extreme challenges such as Helen was attempting. It was identified during a study at the Boston Marathon a few years back and is apparently sometimes referred to as the Boston Marathon Syndrome!

We live in a world of competition and targets. Too often success or failure is measured by a very limited set of criteria. However, sometimes less can mean more. Jean Vanier tells of the time that they opened a bottle of champagne because one of their community manage to wee in the toilet. Something not often recognised as a major achievement. So often we just look at raw statistics. We compare schools or hospitals in a “league table” but we don't know whether the students came to the school with severe disadvantages, or the patients arrived with little chance of survival. Our measurements are crude and can take no account of many factors where figures cannot apply.

Last Friday we watched the children play football and netball. Yes, the teams who scored the most goals showed some ability, but for me the sheer exuberance of the children when goals were scored told me much more about the value of PIZZ School! How can you measure that!!

Helen might have only – I said only!- covered 46 miles (in fact she did a slight detour and her phone recorded 47.8 miles) out of an intended 53 miles. However, being as ill as she was for much of the way, I would claim that the effort required far exceeded 53 miles under normal circumstances. Sometimes less really can be more!!

My Sunday was spent largely at church and St. Veronica's – though I did spare a couple of hours to battle with Fr. Clement and Fr. John on the pool table. Having made my comments about competition, I need to confess my determination to win – appropriately therefore after an excellent start, I was put firmly in my place by Fr. Clement!!

Ben arrived back at lunchtime yesterday. I had just made an excursion to the market and bought a lot of chitenge material – there were a lot of happy marketeers!!

I helped Ben with his packing. We only had half a dozen – well maybe 10 - baskets to pack – some fairly small. I had ordered more but it appears they have yet to be made. It would be a shame for Ben to return with an empty case - hence the chitenges. I have a motto when packing, learnt when I had a minibus, which was sometimes used as a removal van. This was “yes it will”! Ben was dubous that the Zambian baskets would fit, and if they did the English ones certainly would not! By the time the 20 bead bags and 20 – 30 2 metre lengths of cotton cloth were also eased into place, I was satisfied that the case was close enough to the 23 Kg limit to be worth taking. There was still a little room in Ben's other case for any excess!

Jennipher and Obert visited yesterday afternoon and Ben went to say a final farewell to the Siangas and Killan. I followed a few minutes later.

When Ben set out four weeks ago he expected to spend a significant time installing solar lighting in the school classrooms. In the event the equipment is still at Lusake Airport, while we try to negotiate reasonable costs. If Ben's only reason for coming to Zambia was to install lighting this trip would have been a disaster! However, the real importance of such visits is for people to meet and to touch each other's lives. Unless, when you meet another, you are changed, that encounter was at best superficial. We never know the impact we have on another, a smile, a cross word – each matters, and has an effect. Ben embraced the whole experience and met many during this short period – I am sure he will be changed, as will those he met.

With my love and prayers,


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Getting Around

Saturday 10th June

My daughter Helen should be about half way along her run to the Tower as I start to write! She set off at 8.15 BST – about 5 hrs ago on her 53 mile run! I hope that sufficient will be raised to secure Talent and Betty's secondary education – there are of course more children who need our support. Any raised above the £1,800 will go into the fund which is attempting to pay the fees for about 80 secondary students – all former PIZZ Students. So we still have a challenge ahead. For anyone wanting to make Helen's efforts really worthwhile, donations are still being received at

Tuesday seems a long time ago and a lot has happened since. In terms of the diary we met the caregivers from the school on Tuesday, went to Hachanga Dam on Wednesday, out into the rural areas on Thursday and attended a sports day at the school yesterday!

Of course this brief diary contains a wealth of interactions. Everywhere you go, whether a visitor or resident, you need to make time to say hallo – to ask whether the other is well, and how is the family. Enquire about any problems etc. When we went out into the villages this was very apparent.

We left the tarmac just before we reached PIZZ School and drove 14 Km to St. Mary's – probably regarded as a small town here. Another 10 – 15 Km and we reached Hatontola. I had been here before with Jennipher – then we came from Pemba, about 15Km distant. Jennipher donated one of her bicycle ambulances to her support group at Hatontola, because of the long distances people have to travel in these parts. There is a school and clinic at Hatontola. We continued for a few more kilometres and arrived where Mrs Sianga was born and brought up. She told us that all the people around were her relatives. A village in Zambia is a remote place – you cannot expect any mains electricity or water and you don't expect to be within 10 Km or so of a tarred road. This village was probably at least 20 or 30 Km from a tarred road.

On our journey we met men pushing bicycles with perhaps four large bags of charcoal balanced. They were on their way to Monze – 30 - 40 Km or more distant. There they will sell the charcoal for 25 kwacha a bag (Just over £2). It would be getting dark before some were back home, having left at four in the morning.

A village in Zambia comprises a small group of structures which form the family home. Maybe a couple of hundred metres away there is another family home and so on. There is little need for roads between because vehicles are rare – though we came across one or two guys who had sold some cows to buy a motorbike!

We stopped at a home – to be honest I was a bit surprised, since there were more houses than I expected – maybe this was a small community and my concept of the village was wrong!. However all was explained when we met the headman – who of course shared a grandparent with Mrs Sianga! He had married six wives – four of whom are still alive, including his first wife. I think the man said he was 83 years old. He had 26 children and 50+ grandchildren. So yes all these buildings belonged to his family – it was just that his family was rather large!!

We were made very welcome. Ben asked if he could take a photo and spent the next half hour being taken on a tour of the place, with family members posing at each stop. Everyone had a great time!

The visit to Hachanga Dam on Wednesday was a little more sedate. On the banks of the lake a small community has been established. With support from the Catholic Church, a group of disabled people have built houses and grow some crops. They also make beautiful baskets from palm leaves and small twigs which they sell to bring in some income. We were visiting to pick up some of these baskets. Again we were made very welcome and learnt a little about their lives. In recent years the community has grown with many children being born and a school has been built. They also have their own chapel where priests occasionally come to say mass.

We left the village and stopped close to the lake to relax a little and see what the fishermen had caught. In fact the women and children had caught some very small fish in nets.

Back to to visit in the rural area we continued further from Monze and finally arrived at a village where Killian's mother was born. Killian had many relatives in this area. We were expected and were invited into a school classroom where we were told about some of the challenges facing children living in such remote areas. It was several kilometres from the nearest school and, particularly in the rainy season, it wasn't safe for small children to walk to school, since they had to go near dangerous streams. They erected a two-roomed classroom to form a pre-school and grade 1. They lacked many of the resources needed – such as story books. The village has no clinic – the nearest is 15 Km away at Hatantola where it has a very basic clinic. The nearest hospital is Monze Mission Hospital 45 Km away – about two hours along a dirt road if you have a car. Probably an ox-cart would be usual means of transport.

Most children would never have a pair of shoes. Apparently we were the first Europeans ever to visit the village! An American had visited in the past!

On the journey Mrs. Sianga and Killian stopped regularly – the car often went very slowly, finding a suitable path along the dirt tracks, so it wasn't hard to stop and chat. We rarely seemed to pass anyone without greetings being exchanged. On the way back Mrs. Sianga told us that as a child most of this area outside Monze was a big forest with many wild animals. She also said that in the 60s there was trouble between rival political groups and, as children, they would flee into the forest to escape fighters. Often returning to find that family members had been killed.

We had a lovely picnic before returning to Monze. Sitting in the shade without any noise except for the birds.

Yesterday the children spent the morning playing another local school at football and netball. There were several matches representing the different age groups. PIZZ School performed well – particularly in the netball. There was tremendous excitement whenever a goal was scored – the pitch was invaded with dancing and cheering.

It has been a week when we have experienced different facets of life here in Zambia. The Siangas have been very gracious ensuring that Ben in particular experiences different aspects of life and that we appreciate some of the daily challenges that people face. I too have been reminded of the different aspects of life here and have seen new places – including the Sianga's farm, which I have nearly visited many times over the years!

Early in the week we heard from the caregivers. These women give up their time to act as the link between the school and the community. A small organisation from Italy which has been providing support over the years has cut back drastically in recent years. The caregivers do what they can to provide support to the vulnerable children, but there are always too many to cope with. They were keen to find ways in which they could generate a bit of income to help them meet more of the demands. We talked for a while and listened to their ideas. We will need to take the thoughts away and see how we can help them move forward.

It is always uncomfortable sitting in the middle, but that is where I live! The needs here are enormous and people are desperate not to abandon any of the children. On the other side I am told that money is hard to raise and we cannot keep meeting demands! I will do what I can and hope that I can make a difference to the lives of some of the children here in Monze.

Today was Ben's last full day in Monze. Tomorrow he is heading to Livingstone for a couple of days and will, more or less, just pass through on his way back to the UK and a very different world. I am sure that he has found the experience worthwhile. He has allowed himself to be touched by the people and their lives and we have all enjoyed his presence. I am sure he won't forget Monze and nor shall we forget him.

This afternoon we went to the showground and spent some time at the agricultural show.. It was interesting to see the variety of produce on display and there were a few other interesting stands as well as some music.

I am now going to see whether Helen is nearing home – it is 10 ½ hrs since she set off. I am sure that she will be hoping the finishing line is close!!

With love and prayers,


Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Close

Monday 5th June

On Saturday morning I introduced Ben to the local buses, as we headed for Pemba. There seemed to be a lot of amusement when I asked to be dropped off at the lion. Maybe they thought I wasn't aware that it was made of stone!! Ben now knows why the big anthills, he had pointed out around Monze didn't impress me a lot. In Pemba anthills can be over five metres high and probably ten wide. (Yes metres not feet!) They are a good source of fertiliser and Soloman has also built a couple of houses making bricks from the material.

Soloman met us at the lion and escorted us to Jenniper's house where the children were waiting. Selina had come from school and Maggie, Jennipher (little), Emmanuel and Obadia came to greet us. Jennipher's little sister had also joined the family. Like most of Jennipher's younger children their parents were members of one of Jennipher's support groups. The mother died. Little Jennipher was adopted by Jennipher and her sister by another family. Unfortunately the woman also died and now Jennipher has also adopted that child.

It was particularly good to see Emmanuel again. It must be at least three or four years since we met. He was staying with Sandra – another of Jennipher's adopted children. Sandra was a nurse in Livingstone, but became ill and two years ago she died. Emmanuel stayed with a colleague of Sandra's until a suitable point came when it was felt a move would least impact his education. Emmanuel is gradually picking up Chitonga again – where he has been living for the past few years the language spoken was Losi. In 2011 Amy met Emmanuel and Jennipher has a photo of her with Emmanuel on her knee – apparently Emmanuel tells Jennipher that Amy is his white mother!

It was good to spend a little time with Jennipher's family and Ben seemed to enjoy it too.

On the trip home I talked with a guy who had been involved in a local development organisation. He had some ideas for trying to help people in his community – unusually on a first encounter I let Onex have my phome number.

It was Charles' birthday on Saturday so after our trip to Pemba, I had to pop around to wish him many happy returns. Charles has been out and about for sometime now, so we have met rarely over the past few years. He has been in charge of the PEASSA project for many years – supporting elderly and disabled people. It has never been a great success – with all manner of disasters befalling the project. We always put the world to rights, but concluded maybe this time we are too late!! We enjoy plenty of banter about the political situation at home and abroad. It was great to catch up.

Yesterday was Pentecost! The celebration of mass was good – if a little long (just over three hours). There were about 50 candidates for confirmation. We were expecting the Bishop to preside, but in the event Fr. Milimo – the Vicar-General took the service.

I felt I needed a rest in the afternoon. There is a lot happening here and plenty of challenges present themselves daily. The needs here are so enormous that it can become overwhelming. Very easily I am caught up, running from one place to another – almost literally. It is important to find some space to just be for a while.

Today was one of frustration. The lighting is still stuck at Lusaka while we try to get a reasonable solution. The computers refuse to behave and just eat time and my data-bundles!

Delia – Diven's wife- cooked me a nice lunch, which was the main highlight of the day. I returned to find that I forgot to bring my key with me and Ben was out at the shops. This evening Raymond came around and joined us for supper, giving us the latest gossip in town.

We easily find ourselves keeping busy trying to do things, yet deep down we know that it is people and relationships that matter. It is here that we touch the true essesnce of our being, where I believe we meet God. The book I am reading written by Jean Vanier is all about relationship.

On Friday there was a girl called Matron who was at Obert's family home. She is blind and deaf and
has some difficulty in walking. Her mother has died, but her grandmother now looks after her. Obert's father spoke to her, held her and helped her to her feet. I was moved by the tender way that he was communicating with her. He didn't recognise it as communication, but it was obvious that there was love and trust between them. I was also moved by the sacrifices made by the grandmother to look after Matron. Jean Vanier talks about the difficult realities of living with people in his communities - most of whom have considerable needs and are often very disturbed. He always talks about how much he gains and learns from their presence. I can understand that – it is a wonderful mystery that the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable people teach us so much – if only we are willing to get close.

Being around children here is a great joy. In the UK there is almost a fear of getting close to children and they are in danger of being deprived of normal physical contact. Here children will automatically sit on your knee and want to hold your hand. Jennipher's family has become an extension of my family over the years and most of the children have come to know me over a long period. It is great to see them growing and looking healthy. We had great fun and laughter when they decided to wear our hats and glasses.

Best wishes,


Friday, June 2, 2017

Touring the Hospital

Friday 2nd June

The solar panels are still causing some anguish as they are still in Lusaka – there was to be another twist later on Thursday which I will recount later.

We arrived at 10 hrs for our appointment with Sr. Juunza. The receptionist greeted us and informed us that Sr. Juunza was not around, but would be back on Monday! Some years back I had an appointment with someone from the hospital which I had arranged the afternnon before. After about an hour I asked, and was told he was not yet in. After some further time passed I enquired again and established that he wouldn't be in that day, because he was on a course. I checked on the course duration and was informed that the course was three years long – I met the guy three years later, by which time he had decided to leave the hospital!

In this instance the issue was easily resolved and Sr. Joyce agreed to step in and show us around the hospital. It was good to have a proper tour with Ben. It is a while since I visited all the wards. I sometimes visit patients, but rarely touch some departments.

The hospital has a number of new buildings – funded by different organisations. The Japanese government funded a new Radiography department with ultrsound scanners and x-ray machines. The Surgery has been rebuilt.

Hands Around the World has been involved in a number of projects over the years providing funding and volunteers. In 2003 we started building the ICU - it was opened in 2006 or 2007. We extended the Male and Children's Wards. When I came in 2003, men were on mattresses under the beds and children slept two or three to a cot. By extending the wards - moving the walls to the edge of the verandas, a considerable increase in ward space was produced. On this visit the number of patients seemed to be quite low in all wards. By my reckoning this is success!! I have also claimed that the most succesful hospital is one without any patients – because the people are all well!! Throwing patients out of hospital as fast as possible only to readmit them doesn't seem the best healthcare! So often we measure the number of patients seen, assuming that is better than measuring those not seen!

Malaria here is now rare! This no doubt has a big impact on the number of patient admissions and the staff workload. When there is a case of malaria they check where the patient is from and if they are in the catchment area they treat the whole family. A big exercise has taken place – particularly in the Southern Province of Zambia - to educate people, hand out mosquito nets and spray the houses. This appears to have worked very well and reduced the incidence of the disease dramatically. In my book this is good healthcare!

We caught up on all major departments and finished by being shown around the IV (intravenous fluid) production unit. Monze Hospital has been producing it's own fluids since 1984! The machines are new and high tech, but the process is still essentially the same. We were given plastic hats as we entered the unit. Warren, who first showed me around in 2003, described the process and showed us the production and storage facilities. Ben asked how long the fluids would last and was told they had to be used within a year. Warren added that they are usually used within a day! Having their own production is very valuable because whenever fluids are needed they can be provided. This isn't the case at many Zambian hospitals.

During our visit their were many familiar faces – though again quite a few were new. One I didn't immediately recognise told me, as I guessed, that she was Mrs.Bentoe. I am always embarrassed that I fail to recognise some people year after year – and she is one of them. I have a disability when it comes to recognising faces – here in Africa where men have shaved or very short hair and women change their hair or wigs regularly, I find it even more challenging. Mrs Bentoe, as she described herself, was my good friend Bentoe's wife. We worked very closely at the hospital on the computers and our knowledge and skills complemented each other very well. He was a stalwart of the Catholic Church and our outlook on life was very simlar. Tragically, while my wife was in Zambia in 2006, Bentoe was killed in a car crash. He is a terrible loss to everyone who knew him and we all miss him a lot.

We returned home to get the message from Fr. Timothy that the agent had told him that the bill for collecting the solar lighting was 9,500 ZMW – about £860. My understanding was that solar lighting for schools was exempt from duty . We understood a small charge was due to the agent for clearing but nothing of this order of magnitude. It seems that an error might have occurred in the paperwork and it is being investigated!! I have no personal experience of importing goods, but those we are working with have been involved many times before. However, getting all the bits and pieces correctly completed and sorting out all the bureacracy seems difficult. Just as well we won't face any such problems after we leave the EU!!!

By the time I had made a few calls I had little time to get to the school to work on computers. I called by anyway and arranged to return on Monday.

Diven was after a discussion with me. We talked for a while and made additional arrangements to try to resolve an issue or two which had arisen.

I have looked around for Deana but she is not to be seen! Diven has met her this visit and I met her friend Precious who is now at the hospital nursing.

On the way back from seeing Diven I met up with Jennipher and confirmed our visit for Saturday. I also met a girl who said she was Nancy's sister – it seemed Nancy had mentioned our encounter the other day. She told me her name was Christine or Mercy – she prefers to be called Christine!

I met Mr Lungu who has retired as a driver at the hospital and is waiting for his gratuity – like most government workers they have to wait years – and many die before it is paid!

So today is Friday!! I was going to walk to Obert's house where his mother has a playgroup and a club for vulnerable people. However, I remembered that I had a few items to take with me – Ben was therefore spared a walk and we hired Obert and his taxi.

After greeting the children and hearing them sing us a welcome song we went outside where I had a strange looking bag with me. I unzipped the bag and slowly creatures starte to form as the vacuum went. A large hippo appeared followed by bears and tigers, snakes, dogs and chickens. Before I left home one of my grandchildren cleared out all her cuddly toys and gave them to me to bring here for the children. All twenty children were able to have a toy with a few still left over – the differences between the worlds is very evident! I was amazed that, as soon as asked, the children returned the toys to the bag. It was lovely to see the joy as they saw the furry animals emerge. I am sure they will have a lot more fun with them in time to come. I also had jumpers- though some were small for the children and there were not enough to go around. (Jennipher was given the bulk of my case full.)

I spoke to the teacher who would really like some desks for the children a small table for himself and some crayons! The children currently sit on planks of wood balanced on small concrete blocks. To write they kneel on the floor and dirty their clothes which their parents can't afford to keep washing.

We visited the chickens. There are currently a hundred at two weeks old which will be sold to pay the teacher's wages and another hundred at four weeks old which will be used to fund the club. At six weeks they will be sold!

We took our leave and walked back past Our Lady of the Wayside Church and returned home.

I checked in on the internet and chatted to a young woman who was having lunch. I played one of Boniface's videos to Ben – I loaded it onto Youtube a couple of years ago.

Diven has resolved his issue – at least for now – so I arranged to visit Boniface at his recording studio in town. Ben decided to join me.

As we passed St.Vincent's School Nancy ran out to greet me – you will now see some photos of Nancy – I won't need to identify her!!

I had a chance to introduce Ben to yet another little corner of Monze. Another market – or extension of the market with plenty of music playing.

Boniface has his studio inside a hairdressing salon. The complete unit cannot be more than five foot by eight foot and comprises both a recording studio and a room for mixing the recordings and videos! Despite this some of the music and videos are impressive. I agreed to see where the equipment was being built. A guy builds the frames for the speakers and puts together the pa systems. These are big units and the costs reflect it! Whether I can help at all we shall see. At the moment Boniface spends most of the fee he receives hiring and transporting the equipment.

I picked up almost a kilo of prime steak this afternoon - the cattle is usually slaughtered on a Thursday – so the meat is fresh! It costs 38 ZMW per kilo (less than £3.50).

Ben cooked some fish this evening which we have frozen at our house. He has also been doing far more than his share of washing up – for which I am very grateful. I'll miss him when he returns to the UK.

Best wishes,