Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chasing a drream

24th March 2015

You might remember that when I was in Zambia last year, Diven persuaded me to help him to buy a plot and build a house and shop. For Diven his dream is to have a family, a house and a little business to enable him to provide for them. A relatively modest ambition and one that most of us share. In Diven's case it was a dream that he doubted would ever be possible to fulfil.

The last few months have not been completely straightforward – though since I have been involved with many of Diven's adventures over the years it shouldn't surprise me. The house and shop were roofed and the costs kept rising!! By all accounts the building was good, but it would not be appropriate to have such a building without a decent toilet. More construction was started – thousands of bricks and numerous bags were obtained and what seemed to be a super loo started to take shape. This was just before the start of the rains! It seemed that the construction was not good enough and a disaster occurred. The walls collapsed and water flooded into the foundations. There was concern that the house and shop would also be damaged.

Time has moved on and the toilet has been reconstructed, the house and shop are complete and partially plastered. Shelves and a counter have been installed and Diven is now starting to trade.

The other change in Diven's life is that he found a girlfriend and is now married with a child on the way!! Let's hope that all goes well and Diven realises his dream.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Too many coffins

21st March 2015

Maambo was buried today.

Maambo had too short a life. She died after fighting illness for the past few years. I met her sometime ago when she was in need of some support. Jennipher did her best to help her through difficult times and Maambo responded by supporting Jennipher. She enabled Jennipher to visit the UK last year by being the main carer for Jennipher's children. May she rest in peace.

A lot has happened since my last blog. I will summarise the key events here and fill in the details in subsequent posts. Best has returned to Monze from Livingstone, he has rented an office and is offering legal services. Diven is beginning to sell from his new shop along St. Mary's Road in Monze. Solomon has been very unwell and was not expected to live a few weeks back. Luke's younger brother has started teacher training. Obert is getting a little work as a taxi driver using a friend's car.

The PEASSA project effectively stopped operating some months back. The manager of the major site left without notice. Foot and mouth disease prevented the pigs being sold from the other site. Charles (the PEASSA Director) has been away from Monze on various courses for the past year or more and hasn't been able to deal with the issues. Raymond keeps in touch with me and I try to ensure that his clients - which surprisingly seem to be increasing in number - have some food every so often. Charles has been ill and needed an operation in Lusaka a few weeks back - he is currently recovering.

I had an hour long Skype session with Mrs. Sianga on Thursday. The number of children at the school has increased from 215 last year to 380 currently.
Everyday orphaned children come to her office begging to be granted a place at the school. Some no doubt are tempted by the offer of food and a nice uniform, but that doesn't make them less in need of the chance to escape from a life of poverty. Mrs Sianga faces tremendous challenges - new courses have to be taught including computing - with only 3 laptops and no electricity at the senior school this isn't easy, not to mention the need for new sets of textbooks. Registration Fees have increased from 500 kwacha to 8,000! (about £800). I recognise that for us fundraising can be difficult, but if we find it hard, how can we possibly expect the poor people of Monze to raise the money. I am determined not to let Mrs. Sianga down - more importantly I don't want to take away the hope of the 380 children currently at the school and those now in secondary or higher education. I have a lot of work to do and will need lots of help.

Take care,


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jennipher's Trip - the Legacy

Wednesday 24th September

Another month has passed. I think it is time to write the final episode of Jennipher's trip.

It was a wonderful visit, filled with different experiences. It would be easy to list all the places visited and people met, but that would not do justice to the value of that precious time.

It is always difficult for me coming back from a trip to Zambia and trying to re-adjust to life back in the UK, perhaps this time it has been more difficult because I brought back a bit of Zambia with me. Jennipher has had to return to the difficulties of her life in Pemba. Our close connection was strengthened during her visit. We shared our home and our lives for a few weeks and we came to understand each other better. The differences between our worlds has been reinforced and the huge gap emphasised.

Fortunately Jennipher threw herself into the experience. Everything was different. The climate, long days, rolling green hills, a lack of dangerous animals particularly snakes and crocodiles – there were so many strange things to get used to. Jennipher ate nshima twice during her stay, probably less nshima than she would consume in a normal day in Zambia, but she was so interested and willing to try new foods that she hardly missed it. We were so grateful to Jennipher for throwing herself into our world. It must have been quite frightening and challenging at times.

It was towards the end of her visit that we journeyed to London. She had seen many things but London topped everything. We arrived at Buckingham Palace in time for the changing of the guard, had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Thames and travelled around the city by underground trains. There is certainly nothing in Zambia to compare with these experiences.

Of course we were determined to spoil Jennipher, so we lived more extravagantly while she was with us. I have always tried to be honest about our lives in England and haven't tried to hide the fact that we live a very different life - so perhaps she wasn't too surprised, though of course being told and experiencing the life yourself are very different things. Some people I know in the UK seem to have been too embarrassed by their relative wealth and as a result kept their distance.

I remember once having a decent meal with friends who asked if I found it difficult enjoying a feast while my friends were hungry. My response was that I was happy to spend more than the cost of the dinner on my friends in Zambia and therefore I had no problem. There was another occasion years ago when I was in Rotterdam and I was asked to buy some cakes for tea - they do very nice cakes in the Netherlands. I then realised that the day was designated by CAFOD as “Family Fast Day”. Initially I felt guilty, but then decided to add a letter and turn the fast day into a feast day. Instead of just cakes, I bought biscuits and beer to take back home and really went to town indulging myself. To solve my conscience I had decided that for every £1 I spent (or more accurately guilder) I would donate two to CAFOD. Needless to say CAFOD did very well that year! I would like everyone to be able to enjoy some treats - as Jennipher did in the UK – but this should not be at the expense of the poorest.

It was amazing that Jennipher's interests and concerns so closely matched those of Dilys and myself. We visited the Slimbridge Wetlands and Wildlife Trust reserve and the Forest of Dean where she embraced the natural world, delighting in it's variety - even if some of the creatures seemed to her ripe for the pot! She was interested in people with disabilities, sickness and the homeless in fact all the disadvantaged and marginalised. She enjoyed meeting my friends and family and made a lasting impression on all she met. As I have said before it was a delight and a privilege to have her stay with us.

Since returning to Zambia she has been busy. The harvest this year has been poor and food is beginning to get scarce and expensive. Most of the money Jennipher was given while in the UK has been converted into maize before prices get too high. Her main support groups have each received a small stock for when times begin to get hard.

In discussion with the Hands Around the World volunteers Jennipher took in a mother and baby and two young children. The mother and baby weren't in the best of health and some extra food was needed for the baby – unfortunately the child wasn't strong enough and died a couple of weeks back, the child was buried with dignity at Pemba. The mother is still will Jennipher, though not in the best of health. She is supporting the other children but feels that her accommodation is small for her growing family.

I am still in very regular contact with other friends in Monze. Diven has finished building his house and shop - though how it is complete when there is no roof I am not sure! There is also the issue of a toilet! It is good to hear him so happy and proud that one of his dreams is near fruition. Mrs. Sianga enjoyed having the volunteers and the Holiday Club. More than 60 students had a wonderful day in Livingstone and the volunteers found out that children in Zambia aren't so different from their counterparts in the UK.

I am well aware that the rainy season is a month or so away. This will bring good news but crops will take a while to grow. It will also bring challenges – some buildings which are not watertight will be in danger of collapse, the mosquitoes will be very active and the rate of malaria will rise. Flooding will also bring its own hazards. The maize harvest will not happen until March/April at the earliest, food prices will rise and during the next few months their will be a lot of hunger in Monze.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday 26th August

Once again I have failed to maintain my blog – apologies.

A lot has happened. Hands around the World volunteers have spent 4 weeks in Monze and are on their way back as I write. I have just come back from Pontypool where a container is being packed today and will soon start its journey to Monze.

I produced a photobook of Jennipher's visit and was able to send a copy to her with the volunteers. I will use the book to bring back memories of her visit.

I look at some pictures of Ogmore and Raglan castles. Jennipher told us that when she is back in Zambia she will be able to show the people a real castle. People in Zambia only know castle as a brand of beer!!

One of Jennipher's groups has land close to a small reservoir and they would like to grow vegetables to make themselves more self-sufficient. During her visit Jennipher met members of a small bible group and told them a bit about herself and her work. In return they donated some money. Last week I was able to send this money to Jennipher, because she can buy a treadle pump which should make the dream of a vegetable garden come true for the Hatontola Support Group. Next year I hope to see the pump in action. For me it is a delight to be so close to such small projects and being able to monitor and report of the impact.

I see a photo of Jennipher with Martin Horwood – our local MP – who wrote a very supportive letter which I am sure influenced the decision to grant Jennipher a visa this year. We had the opportunity to meet him and thank him personally for his sup

There were many new experiences for Jennipher during her stay. A train journey – only to Gloucester - but enough to show her the differences between Zambian and UK trains. She was amazed at the air conditioning, but the speed, the cleanliness and general comfort are also a long way from the experience of the Zambian Railway. Of course the London Underground was another thing altogether, but again Jennipher delighted in the experience and put aside any fears.

Nelson Mandela is one of Jennipher's heros and she was delighted to find a large portrait of him in Gloucester and the statue in London literally brought her to tears.

Jennipher is a very caring person and has a particular affinity with the most vulnerable. We visited the Leonard Cheshire Home in Cheltenham where she saw an electric wheelchair for the first time and was surprised that the residents didn't need to buy them themselves. We were given a tour of the home by Paula – one of the residents – and Jennipher was introduced to Loom Bands by another. (Jennipher was subsequently shown how to make bracelets by my 8 year old granddaughter Cheyenne and I hear that now Selina has a little business in Pemba selling Loom bracelets to her friends!) Jennipher was asked to return to the Leonard Cheshire Home one evening to talk to the residents – this worked very well and clearly had an impact.

During a visit to my sister in Milton Keynes we had a meal at a restaurant staffed largely by people with learning difficulties. Jennipher was delighted to see these people living a fulfilled and largely independent life. She was very complimentary about the way people with disabilities are treated in the UK – I hope that it continues to be the case! However, the most amazing thing she saw at Milton Keynes was an elderly friend of Theresa (my sister) catching a good sized bream and then returning it to the canal!! No one in Zambia would throw away good food like that!! She had previously asked Nick at the Leonard Cheshire Home whether he ever ate any of his goldfish!

Since Jennipher left she has been in regular contact. She has also spend some time with the Hands Around the World volunteers, who she first met at our office near Monmouth introducing them to some of her support groups.. Some money she raised has been used to buy maize while the prices are still affordable – this will be stored for the difficult months to come. I am sure it will help but it is unlikely to stop the hunger that some of her clients will suffer.

I will close here, though there is a lot more to say.

Best wishes


Friday, July 11, 2014

A very special visit

Friday 11th July

I am very aware that an update to my blog is very much overdue.

Jennipher left the UK last week with over 400 photos – most relating to her 3 ½ week stay in the UK. I therefore have plenty of photos to share with you.

There are far too many photos and much too much to say to do justice in a single post – so I will give a very brief account of her visit and include a few photos now and over the next week or two I will add some photos and expand on some of the events, experiences and insights of this memorable visit.

I as said last time, it was a joy to have Jennipher with us. We had a packed schedule visiting places, meeting people and also trying to find a little time to just relax enjoy each others company and let her take in some of the English culture. Everyday was busy and for Jennipher each brought new amazing revelations. For me it made me focus even more on the differences between life here and in Zambia and how wrong it is that, in this world of plenty, people routinely go hungry and die as a result of poverty.

Jennipher is not one of the more more privileged African people who we generally see in England. Her background and current day to day life is among the poorest. Without support from Dilys and myself, she would regularly go hungry and her children would probably get no education. The contrast with what she experienced in the UK was unbelievable. She told people back home that she was eating like a princess and claimed to have put on 10 Kg (almost 25% of her total weight)
Of course we spoiled her, trying to ensure that she had everything she wanted while she was with us. The Lord played his part – the good weather had been ordered and, as predicted, we had an unusually fine period while she was with us.

At the end of her stay we helped her fill her cases to within an ounce or two of their maximum permitted weight and drove her to the airport. I failed to check her in online from Heathrow – though the exercise was completed and boarding passes were printed for Addis Abbaba. At the airport I was a little concerned that Jennipher seemed to be having long discussions at the check-in desk. I wondered what was wrong. Eventually she emerged and told me that the guy on the Ethiopian Airlines check in desk was a fellow Zambian and they were having a good chat in Bemba (one of the local languages). Once again I realised that I should have more faith – the Lord had everything in hand. She was assured that everything would be fine. Her luggage would be take all the way to Lusaka where she would collect it and she would be fine wit her hand luggage.

On the day before she left Jennipher was invited to listen to a local choir that Sheila (the artist) attends. They sang a number of African songs for her and Jennipher sang some for them – including one which she said they would sing when she returned. On her return many people would gather to greet her and they would sing this welcoming song. It is based upon the idea that when Jesus returned to heaven his father would have given him a special welcome and when anyone goes on a special journey they too deserve to be welcomed in the same way! It is wonderful to know that Jennipher was greeted back home last week with this song.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New Experiences

Tuesday 17th June

I am very aware of the huge contrast between life in England and that in Zambia.

Last Thursday we visited a school in Oxford were my friend John teaches. The school has extensive grounds with football pitches, tennis courts etc. Well equipped classrooms with various items of technology are standard – computers are used as a matter of course, as we found out when we joined a french class. There were several music rooms with various instruments available for the students and even a recording studio! I couldn't help comparing this school with Lushomo in Monze where there were no tables or chairs and where buying enough chalk was a major issue!

Jennipher talked to some of the students who were interested in her life and work in Zambia. We then made our way into the city along the river where we watched young people rowing. In the centre we looked around some of the impressive buildings and pleasant parks, we climbed a church tower for a better view of Oxford. Jennipher is enjoying her experience in England – she was particularly pleased to visit Oxford which was the place named on some her her books when she was at school many years back!

John joined us after he had finished at school and he led us to an inn on the river. He asked me where I thought we should sit and I suggested a table near the river in the sun would be ideal. We headed for the river and as we approached the customers at a table at the riverside freed it for our use – we couldn't have found a more suitable table. We had a very pleasant meal in the evening sun to conclude a lovely visit.

On Friday we returned to Wales – this time to meet the volunteers and trustees from Hands Around the World. Jennipher gave a moving talk about her life in Zambia and met people from Hands Around the World including David and Jim who she knew from their visits to Zambia.

While I attended the trustees meeting Dilys took Jennipher to Raglan castle which she found interesting.

The World Cup has started!! Jennipher enjoys watching the games when she gets the chance. Dilys has been recording the matches – despite the fact that she doesn't enjoy watching sport herself. It is therefore wall to wall football here when Jennipher is at home!!

On Saturday Dilys took Jennipher to our church where they were doing a “Stitch and Pray” session. Jennipher learnt to knit and now spends much of her time knitting while watching the football! She seems much too good at knitting for it to have been her first experience!

On Sunday we went to St. Gregory's church and met some of the parishioners over coffee. In the afternoon Barby and Cheyenne, Andy, Tracy, George and Charlie joined us for a barbecue and Paul and Jess came later. Jennipher has known about the family over many years – seeing photos, now she was able to meet them properly.

Yesterday Dilys took Jennipher to Gloucester to visit the hospital. When I asked Jennipher how she found it she said she was amazed that everything was provided – women giving birth didn't need to bring any bowls and patients could choose what food they wanted! She was saying today that because Selina was in hospital for a few weeks with a broken arm some years back she missed important schooling and as a result lost a year. She was impressed that our children can continue their education whilst in hospital.

It has been busy, with new experiences every day for Jennipher. It is a delight to have her with us – she is so easy, enjoying trying different foods and taking in the new environment.

Today Jennipher is having her portrait painted by an artist friend. Unusually the artist wants to pay for the privilege! I hope to be able to have some good quality prints produced.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Different World

Wednesday 11th June

It's a different world!!

I have been asked whether it is difficult to adjust to being back in the UK. In reality it isn't, but what is difficult is to connect the two very different worlds. On this occasion the differences are accentuated by having Jennipher here with me. She is totally amazed by what she sees, but enjoying the experience enormously.

Last Wednesday I went to Mazabuka to extend my visitor's permit. It took less than 10 mins to go through the process find the stamp etc and issue the permit, 1 ½ hrs to travel there and back and 3 hours waiting for buses!!

Thursday was my day for saying goodbye, but I found myself sorting out a few bits of business and constantly running an appointment or two behind schedule. It reached abour 20 hrs and I decided that I had to call it a day and recognised that my visit to Monze was finished. I finally called at the priest's house before joining Diven for a final meal at Tooters.

I didn't sleep well on Thursday night, but managed to over sleep eventually. It was therefore before my breakfast when Obert's parents arrived unexpectedly to wish me a good journey. In the midst of a later than expected breakfast, Julie arrived and I had the chance to talk about the imminent arrival of the first of the volunteers and hoped she was ready to accept them at the house.

Obert arrived a few minutes late – for which I was grateful. He had agreed to take me to Pemba, where we would pick up Jennipher. Soloman was at the roadside waiting to direct us. I was welcomed with hugs from Obadia, Maggie and Jennipher (the younger). Jennipher joined us in the car and we headed to Pemba Basic to say goodbye to Selina. On seeing the police check point however, Obert was persuaded by the owner of the car to head straight for Monze. I was sad that we let Selina down, but I heard later that she understood the problem.

Jennipher's holiday had begun! We arrived at Monze just in front of a Shalom bus (quite literally). They had a couple of spare places – it seemed that the Lord was with us for we were on our way without delay. At the Inter-City bus station a taxi driver was waiting – he agreed a fair price, drove well and had a good car with ample space for the luggage. When he dropped us at Longacres Lodge, I engaged him to take us to the airport the next day.

I spent a considerable time during the afternoon trying to check in online. This proved futile and eventually I gave up. I don't think that Jennipher was impressed! We returned to the hotel and rested for a while. I rang Judy who I was aware was in Lusaka preparing for some exams. I have come to know Judy over many years from Monze Mission Hospital where she worked as the secretary to the Hospital Executive Officer/Medical Superintendent. She was transferred to the Copperbelt a couple of years back, so I was pleased when she met us at the hotel. Jennipher appeared with a nephew who works in Lusaka and he joined us for supper. Judy had to rush off, but it was good to see her - even if it was brief.

On Saturday there was no great hurry. The taxi was arranged for 9 hrs, so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast and even sit and enjoy the early morning sun. I warned Jennipher that she might not see it again for a while!

Our taxi arrived on time and we were at the airport in very good time. One of the many error messages i received when trying to check in online suggested that I contact customer services at Ethiopean Airlines to complete checking in, so I took the opportunity to go to their office at the airport. The guy confirmed that on the first plane my attempt to gain a window seat had succeeded and that we were in adjacent seats – though not by a window – on the final flight. Unfortunately he couldn't change this. However, a final attempt to sort out our seating arrangements to my satisfaction succeeded at the check-in desk. I wanted Jennipher to be able to see as much as possible from the plane, hence the energy expended trying to get to the window.

We watched the planes from the departure lounge before getting onboard. A delay at Harare meant that it was dark by the time we passed Kilimanjaro, but there were some good views. It seemed that the equipment that lifted the luggage to the plane was faulty – hence the delay. Most appeared to have been had been loaded, so eventually we carried on with our journey.

At Addis Abbaba further confusion reigned!! I told Jennipher she should find the next plane! However, it seemed that there was a delay of an hour or so. I tried to contact Dilys, first by phone, then by e-mail and, since neither was operating, by a message to a friend on Facebook chat! When I returned to Jennipher she said that there had been a call for Heathrow passenfgers to go to gate 4. Since we were still 3 hours from the revised departure time this seemed strange! I looked on the departure information screen and was alarmed to find that apparently the next plane left at 8 hrs (it was about 23 hrs) and there was no mention of any flight to Heathrow. I decided to ask someone with the right uniform on, and was informed that the Heathrow plane was leaving from gate 6 which was in a separate area. We were both sceptical but after receiving confirmation we passed security and made for the gate. An hour later about 50 people were at gate 6 where an Ethiopean Airways plane sat. (Since almost all the planes were Ethiopean Airways it wasn't very significant – except that since it could hold about 350 passengers there was a marked disparity with the number waiting to board.!!) It was sometime later that thepassengers at gate 4 eventually joined us!!

I had told Dilys not to rush as we would be at least an hour late. In the event when we boarded the plane it was announced that, despite leaving an hour late, we were expected to arrive on time!

We had no food on the plane to Harare but had lunch at 15 – 16 hrs on the next leg of our trip. We were now served supper at 3 hrs (Ethiopean time). By 4 hrs (UK time) – 3 hrs after supper! It was light. We enjoyed watching out of the window as we flew along the Greek coast picking up the many small Greek islands. We were then gifted with the sight of the alps in bright sunshine – Jennipher's first view of snow! As we approached the coast it was cloudy but this cleared as we neared England. Finally we were treated to a close-up view of London before coming into land. It was a wonderful flight for Jennipher. She appreciated all the new sights and was in awe of the world which was appearing before her. All the efforts to precure the window seat were amply rewarded.

I decided to do all I could to stay with Jennnipher through the entrance process and was able to be with her at the immigration desk. Being able to explain that we were together on the flight and that she would be staying with me me and my wife made the process relatively straightforward – I suspect on her own Jennipher might have had a more difficult time.

Jennipher found a trolley while I tried to spot our bags. Two cases arrived on the carousel but when all was loaded my final bag was missing. I eventually found it at the side of the carousel with the lock broken! (I only noticed this when I arrived home!) I don't think anything was taken – probably because it contained nothing of interest, but it was curious that it appeared to have been taken from the carousel. I can't imagine anyone removing it of the carousel, then trying to open it in full view of the other passengers!

Dilys wasn't around so We had a couple of coffees and waited.

The song “I'll raise you up” started playing at the café and I wasn't surprised to see see Dilys appear at that point – it is one of her favourite songs!

Dilys drove us home, while Jennipher looked in wonder at the world in which she had suddenly arrived.

On Monday I went to mass and arranged that Dilys met me for a coffee afterwards. I was a little disappointed that some friends weren't at the service. However, I greeted a few that were around. Dilys and Jennipher should have been at the parish office but hadn't arrived so I headed to see if I could get some mealie meal! Before I left the church grounds I bumped into Maria and after a brief chat Dilys and Jennipher arrived. I introduced Maria to Jennipher. We entered the office and before leaving Mary arrived and agreed to join us for coffee. Both Maria and Mary have been very much interested and involved with my Zambian trips and I had hoped that I would see them on Monday. It appeared that I would meet neither since they weren't at mass, yet both were brought to meet us anyway.

I showed Jennipher around town and we entered some of the shops. I organised a mobile for her before rwe returned to relax in front of the TV.

Yesterday after dropping Paul in Cirencester for 8 am, Dilys, Jennipher and myself made our way to Ogmore on Sea - just beyond Cardiff - using the scenic route through one of the Welsh valleys. Jennipher loved the views – especially the mountains and we were blessed by good weather. Until that is we arrived at the coast – the first sight of the sea was still a special moment for Jennipher, though we didn't linger. We met Deana who lives nearby and who visited Monze in 2012 as a Hands Around the World volunteer – where she first met Jennipher. Deana has subsequently set up her own small charity and is leaving to return to Zambia this Friday. I was able to pass on some items from Zambia for her and others items for her to take to Zambia with her.

We had a very walk around Ogmore castle before having a very pleasant lunch at a café overlooking the sea.

Of course, though the weather had changed for the worse, I was not going to allow Jennipher to return without getting really close to the sea. The rain eased and we headed for the beach. Only I was brave (or foolish) enough to have a paddle, but we all enjoyed walking on the shore at the edge of the sea. Deana showed us to a walled garden and Jennipher continued to say Wow!

We took the quick route back on the motorway over the Severn Brige to complete a very memorable day.

It is such a joy to have Jennipher here with us. She is enjoying all the new experiences – the food as well as the sights, sounds and smells!

Today was a quieter day but we visited Cheyenne's school where her class put on an interesting and entertaining assembly for the school and Jennipher met Amy again. Amy visted Zambia in 2011 and spent some time with Jennipher – we visited Livingstone together.

I will try to maintain my blog while Jennipher is with us in the UK.

Best Wishesws