Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Day(s)


…was certainly different. On Christmas Eve Fi, Nikki, Justin, George and I went over to the Flight House to play crazy games and eat Christmas goodies with Bruce the Pilot and Mrs Bruce (who is actually called Marilyn and is a real sweetie). It was interesting getting to know a bit more about everyone’s very different backgrounds. On Christmas Day Fi and Nikki were working although Fi hoped to get away about 10 for a while and she and I were planning to go to some of the 9-12am church service! However things were really busy and she finally got back about 11.30 which was too late, even by Brown standards  I would have gone by myself quite happily but had no house key and you don’t leave your house unlocked, especially not when it has all the Christmas stockings in it!

Instead I went back to the hospital with Fi and entertained some of the boys on men’s ward (children’s only caters up to 6yrs) making origami birds and boxes etc and supervising the colouring-in activities (ie trying to ensure equitable distribution of colour pencils etc etc!). There are some very sad cases in there but also an incredible amount of optimism and cheerfulness.

Fi, Nikki, Justin, George and I were invited to Alice the hospital administrator’s for dinner – Fi was almost too late and the guys didn’t make it at all as the 2nd set of twins for the day decided they had priority! They were undiagnosed too so it was all on. Unfortunately the first ones who arrived earlier on were only 24 weeks and didn’t live but the later ones were healthy. After dinner we all were back on deck to hand out Christmas presents and fruit to the patients. I was on women’s ward first which was humbling to say the least, then maternity. There were 16 patients and at first I could only see the mothers. There are no cots but the brightly coloured bundles on the beds contain tiny wee scraps of humanity if you look closely enough! The mother who had lost the twins was in a separate room and received a package of pampering things just for her.

The rest of the day was very quiet – I think we had chicken noodle soup out of a packet for supper! Not very Christmassy at all but that day was really for the patients and Boxing Day was for the mission staff. We invited J and G for pancakes, bacon and mangoes (had run out of bananas!) but once again they couldn’t make it – an emergency C-section this time! However all 21 of us got to the dinner which was held under a big chota (shelter) in the Poidevin’s orchard (the pilot) Everyone contributed and as always with this type of meal there was far too much food and it was all delicious! Our salads caused a bit of comment from the Canadians…strange people!! There was the obligatory rainstorm while we were still out in the orchard and a humdinger of a thunderstorm when Fi and I were helping with the dishes back at the Poidevin’s. There was nothing for it but to curl up in big armchairs with mugs of tea and sit it out 

We finally got home about 5.30 only to turn around an hour later and go to the Reed’s for dessert and presents. They have 4 young children, one of whom I’m tutoring. We had had the Christmas bags in our house for a few days – chosen in part because we have so little furniture there’s plenty of floor space!! People had been calling in all week to add their contributions to each bag so everyone had a range of gifts. It was a really nice idea and whilst the emphasis was on the children, the adults, including the short termers, certainly weren’t forgotten. The final act for Christmas in Zambia was going back to the Reed’s for midday dinner on Sat to eat leftovers!!

It’s now Mon am and it’s raining steadily as it has been most of the night. Yesterday we had a trip to Hillwood Farm, owned by the gt-grandson of the people who founded Kalene Mission in the 1880’s. It was an absolutely fascinating afternoon….but that’s another entry 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

a few random photos


2 posts at once! The previous one has been on the memory stick for ages, WAITING for a chance to use the internet. I was hoping to yesterday afternoon but the power went out so that was that.

check out fi's blog too at


It really began in HK airport. After my long day I was in plenty of time for the next leg to Johannesburg but still waited in the queue for 1’30” – in spite of there only being 6 people ahead of me in my line!! Partly the B team but mainly an overloaded flight and much weighing and reweighing of luggage. Eventually I was asked to transfer to Cathay Pacific – only another 30 mins wait to be ticketed. Thankfully I had a good book!

On arrival in Jo’burg I had another 6 hrs wait for the flight to Lusaka which wouldn’t have been so bad if 3 of them hadn’t been spent in transit where I was firmly told to stay until my onward flight appeared on the board. It turned out I didn’t need to be there at all but chatting to a chap from Botswana who worked for the Min of Ed helped pass the time. Overall Sth African Airlines staff members were terse and unhelpful.

In Lusaka I was met by Bruce the Pilot who took me to the head of the queue for my visa so that saved another long and tedious wait! However the star treatment was in vain because a combination of the flight being late and my pack taking forever to appear meant that we missed our window of opportunity to leave immediately for Kalene and had to spend the night at the Mission Guesthouse in Lusaka. I was in bed by 6.30pm!

After waiting for days for the powers-that-be to let Fiona know how she was going to get to Solwezi (ca 300km away) to organise her work permit (long story behind this) we were informed at midday on Sat 20th that a ride was leaving for Mwinilunga now. As in NOW. I was working with Kirrilee and Fi was in theatre – we got ready in 15 mins then – you guessed it – waited! Not for too long though before a ridiculously fast trip to Mwinilunga, given the state of the road. The next day Charlie dropped us off in Solwezi with the expectation that, all going well, we would bus back to Mwinilunga the next day and stay at his place again. We really thought that we might have to stay another night in the rather awful Solwezi but amazingly, the permit was ready in 3 hrs and we were in plenty of time to catch the 11am bus - which left at 1.20…..

A journey that took us ca 3’30” the day before lasted just over twice as long. It was classic – there was a huge outburst of cheering when it finally arrived at the depot - much reasonably good natured pushing and shoving to get on - it was totally overcrowded with people sitting on 10 gallon plastic containers down the aisle – luggage included a swivel office chair and a TV (there were mighty cheers from the “lucky” village kids when that was unloaded into the darkness several hours later) – and the obligatory livestock (one soon-to-be-dinner chook peering resignedly out of a plastic bag) – the interior had been reconfigured to accommodate 2 seats on one side and 3 on the other of a very narrow aisle so the seats were very small but actually quite comfortable which was just as well as we didn’t shift from them – the windscreen was cracked and the wipers barely adequate when we went through the inevitable thunderstorm – the lights weren’t much better – in fact when it first got dark the driver didn’t use them for quite some while – there were crying babies, shouted conversations from one end of the bus to the other and complicated manoeuvres every time we stopped (which was often!) as the alighting passengers were inevitably at the back of the bus and the aisle wasn’t exactly clear :-)And then of course there were the breakdowns….the first on the good section of road which wasn’t encouraging but they all turned out to be the same problem – something to do with the compression and it kept overheating. Finally after one particularly long stop someone produced a piece of rubber that seemed to do the trick! All very mysterious although by then it also wasn’t so hot. At one stage, as we ground to yet another halt, thick smoke was pouring out of the engine. There was an immediate panicked stampede for the only door – and I’m sorry to say it was the young men trampling over the women and children – not a very chivalrous lot. They were sent back with some very sharp words from the front although how he knew it was ok I don’t know.

All in all it was quite an experience – we wouldn’t have missed it but don’t feel the need to repeat it in a hurry! And it was magic to be met by Shayne, one of Charlie’s volunteers, at the bus stop. He was pretty pleased to see us too – having been waiting for 90 minutes!! He produced a great supper (what they call the evening meal here) and was up cooking brekkie at 6.45am because we were being collected by Davison from the Mission at 7am. Ha! He forgot us and we WAITED until 2.20pm!! – finally arriving back at Kalene at teatime. It was pretty frustrating but I can think of worse places to be stranded than a house full of fascinating books – and we had a very nice nshima dinner which we even ate traditionally – ie with our hands. :-)

how I came to be ironing towels in Zambia and other random jottings...

· If you forget to bring in the washing before dusk falls, putzi flies lay eggs on the nice clean clothes and towels which hatch (the eggs not the washing) and burrow into your skin when you next wear said clothes etc. Solution (if dusk catches you unawares)? – fry the beggars by ironing them, TOWELS included!!
· Mossie nets are only vaguely romantic to sleep under for a couple of nights then they become a bit of a nuisance. But nowhere as much of a nuisance as having malaria
· When you haven’t got much in the pantry you make do and it can be fun concocting. The established families have gardens and there is a market about 20 mins walk away but the best stuff has all gone by the time we get there in the afternoon – after work. Fresh meat and dairy is available from a nearby farm weekly. However, “making do” in Western terms would mean a feast in many Zambian eyes. The villagers mostly eat nshima which is ground cassava root or maize cooked and mixed with water to form a ball of dough that they dip into “relish” eg eggs, beans, cabbage or kapenta which is dried fish and apparently disgusting to our palate. And that’s basically it. Once a day if you’re poor and twice a day if better off. And if you are really poor your relish is made of cassava leaves that have hopefully been processed enough to remove the toxicity. :-(
· After that it seems wrong to admit it but there is nothing like the smell of fresh baking when you come in the door after work! Especially bread. Deenia works for one of the other mission families but they have gone on furlough for 6mths – and there’s no such thing as holiday pay – so Justin and George, and Fiona and Nikki are employing her between them to tide her over. She works for the ‘boys’ 4 mornings and us 2 per week – hmm, there’s a comment in there somewhere. All the households here have workers – some as many as 4. All the white adults work in one capacity or another on the mission station and the 7 children flow seamlessly between their 2 respective households :-).
· You do eventually get used to living at nearly 1500 metres! The headaches subsided after a few days but on the 3rd evening Fi took me up Kalene Hill and although I’m reasonably hill-fit the walk knocked me. The view was well worth it and I hope to get up there again to see the sunset. It was cloudy and we didn’t have torches anyway so couldn’t have stayed. The locals are starting to feel cold and even I noticed it a little cooler the other night but I can’t see me wearing a woolie any time soon!
· Things happen to anyone round here, irrespective of who you are – the doc in charge, John, has just been bitten by a roaming dog that he surprised in his shed and although he has had all the vaccs he’s been given rabies and tetanus boosters just in case. They’re trying to get away for a week’s break – it’s only 4pm! (and people think we Browns are chronic !)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

it's a long way to's a long way to go

hi all. We're in Solwezi, about 6-7 hours from Kalene, depending on road condition and which kamikaze driver is at the wheel. We're here to hopefully sort out Fi's work permit in the morning in time to catch the bus back to Mwililunga at 2pm. Or 12pm. Or 3pm.... if the paperwork is finished we'll be there waiting from 12!! We got a ride from Kalene to M/lunga yesterday in a mission vehicle that left with 30 mins notice! That was the hairy part of the drive - bouncing in and out of potholes at a very fast clip. Today's journey has been much more comfortable, partly because the road, for the most part, is much better, but also because Charlie believes in making his vehicles last!! We stayed with him last night as he is on the way to Harare for Christmas. he's a most interesting person - attached loosely to the Mission but very much his own person. He dropped us at a guest house that he knew - always good to have local knowledge. You have to position yourself rather carefully on the broken loo seat but otherwise it's fine!!

Solwezi isn't exactly a tourist destination - in fact Charlie described it as a dump - and it is pretty uninspiring. It's been raining so the paths are muddy, there's litter everywhere but it's lively and we found an internet cafe! We ate lunch at the guesthouse and are fast learning to order "nshima" - the local staple - which comes with "relish" ie some vegetables!!

Out of time - will hopefully update once back at Kalene - hopefully by Tues.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

there is no easy way to eat a mango - and stay clean

Fortunately there are zillions of mangoes to keep trying with - with which to keep trying, for the purists :-) They are literally dropping out of trees and are very scrummy. Most people here have gardens but Nikki the Nurse and Fiona are in the converted garage with no garden, therefore no vegetables, no privacy, no phone and therefore no internet (i'm in the hangar at mo) and virtually no furniture!! And as they are never in when the vege seller comes past, if indeed she does, fresh veges don 't feature much!! Hence lots of mangoes and they do raid Justin and George's garden from time to time. Justin is from Shetland via Hamilton and George is from over the border - the Congo. They are both doctors. The established families have very established gardens but i think they tend to forget that the short termers don't! Hopefully tomorrow or Fri we may have a chance to walk to the village and visit the market.

Today I finally met the children - for one reason or another that has taken a couple of days. In the meantime I was very quickly snapped up by Barbara in the office to do some proofreading of the nurses' manual, various minutes etc and print them out. It took ca 3 hours yesterday to transfer the minutes from an antiquated computer that didn't recognise memory sticks - therefore via a 31/2 in floppy - to a laptop in another office that is connected to an elderly printer that periodically sulked! Fortunately there was plenty of entertainment in the form of the 1001 interruptions that make up Barbara's day! I'm still ploughing through the manual - some of the more bizarre instructions include:

The bath water must be changed when it is a)cold or b)dirty......and
When making up the polio vaccine it must not be mixed with other mixtures to form a cocktail !!

The children are delightful - what an amazing life being brought up here. We spent the afternoon making samurai hats and water bombs and reading stories and from tomorrow will do a bit of schoolwork as well - but not too much!!

There's heaps more I could ramble on about but it's dusk and I need to get back to the house before night falls and a mossie or a snake gets me or - more likely - I lose my way!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

oops - of last post

early on in the tour we went through a tunnel and the guide apologised in advance that there would be nothing to see. Never mind, he went on - he would sing to us. Which he did - a passably tuneful rendition of "Love me tender" It lasted exactly the length of the tunnel and was all very well EXCEPT that he sang it to yours truly, sitting in the front seat!!! My face clashed horribly with my top! :-)

elvis is alive and well in HK

Well the 6 hour trip nearly was that but not because the guide intended it to be so. There were 37 of us which posed problems right from the start. I don't think I've ever been counted quite so often in such a short space of time! First stop the lookout over the Tsing Ma bridge and HK in general - apologies to those who know HK if the spelling isn't correct. It took 9 months of continuous spinning and twirling to get the suspension cables, which fan out like ribbons off maypoles, sufficiently spun and twirled to perfection. Impressive. Not so the smog which marred the view unfortunately. Next stop was in traffic - for the best part of an hour...Then the stars walk which was somewhat ho hum (sorry Jackie Chan fans) then the ferry over the harbour which was fun then the Ma Mo temple which was interesting. I shouldn't have gone in because by now I was ravenous and the incense nearly made me keel over but also because sight-seeing in someone's place of worship, when they are actually there worshipping, doesn't seem right. It's the equivalent of the tourists popping into a St Mag's Founders' Day service for a bit. Anyway out I popped before I dropped. Last thing was 15 minutes - 15! 15! 15! You understand?? looking at the antique shops. Unfortunately it wasn't until the 14th minute that I found the tea shop with the old teapots. However I might as well have been a straggler because the 3 Swiss chappies thought he said 50 and the irascibility guage on the guide had risen to near boiling point by the time they'd been hunted down :-) I could have bought a dozen teapots!

Anyway someone is breathing down my neck wanting the computer. Back to "A spot of bother" by Mark Haddon -thanks Christine :-)

Friday, December 12, 2008

lost in HK airport

well not really but it sure is a big place! I've just booked a 6 hr city tour that leaves at 9.30am and gets back at 1pm - apparently :-) As I don't fly out again until 11.50pm there's plenty of margin for error on someone's part. But first, a shower.....bliss!