Not all plain sailing

Life here can be hard.

This post is an eye-opener for anyone who doubts that life is tough here.

We have Cholera in the area. Spread from the slums of Lusaka where the pollution of wells (main supply of drinking water) by nearby pit latrines (holes in the ground) has had inevitable consequences.

The schools will not start again on the 15th because of Cholera. There will be a review on Jan. 30th.

It’s almost lucky (!!!???) that the rains appear to be failing again for the second time in three years in Eastern Province, as Cholera is a waterborne disease and the compounds become flooded when the rains are good. At least The ridiculous Potato-head President of the United States assures us that global warning is not a problem.

The crops will probably fail; it’s too early to say yet. The government is supposed to support the population by giving food aid. They probably won’t as they have huge debt to pay.

Ketty had Malaria. An inevitable consequence of living here even if you have a mosquito net. You just get ill for a while, sometimes very ill. You feel dreadful. Then her grandmother had malaria straight after her, Then her mother. They’re all recovering or have recovered. It’s the annual competition for survival; will it be a mild illness this year or severe, even life-threatening?

Most of my friends here work for an NGO as ‘volunteers’ which means that they’re not covered by Zambian minimum wage. They get paid less than a dollar a day. They work up to 9 hour days but there are no other jobs in the area.

One positive note; I was invited by the Chief of this area to go to New year celebrations at his Palace. I was treated as an honoured guest and sat with him as The Nyau dancers (a secretive male sect) performed the ritual dance of ‘Gule Wamkulu’ accompanied by shouted vocals answered by singing from the girls of the community, and drumming to get deep under your skin. Awesome, powerful.

Happy new year to everyone.

A first year completed

We went to pick up Ketty a week ago for the long summer holiday at the end of her first year at Magwero School for the Deaf. She was so happy to see us; myself she hadn’t seen since last February just after she’d started at the school.

I’m struck by how young she still is, but she has a confidence about her and she’s clearly a popular kid with her school mates. Amazing to see such a different culture; instead of the shouted ‘goodbyes’ of the kids when a typical boarding school breaks up, there’s mostly silence with a goodly amount of sign language as the kids say their farewells.

Ketty and I have resumed our easy friendship and she’s over pretty much every day to the NGO where I’m staying, and where her mother Alice works. Alice is a good friend of mine as are many of the others who work here, so it’s a real pleasure to see everyone again, work with them, share lunchtimes.

Ketty and her friend Eva have been helping me as I work in the garden, they’re more adept with the traditional hoe, used for cultivating the land, than I am. So they prepared one of the beds between them, also they help me water on the days when the rains don’t come.

I’m also working in maintenance here; there’s a lot of buildings and so a lot of upkeep. I’m teaching the guy who is maintenance head, Jason, some of my fine carpentry skills and Ketty likes nothing more than to get a hammer, and a bag of nails I bought for her, and …er…. nail things! If it moves, nail it.

So once again (I never tire of saying this) thanks so much to everyone who has helped us make this possible. Your donations are slowly giving us the security we need from year to year to pay those school fees but also the taxi fares for Alice to visit which is so important. She was with Alice every day since her birth until her first day at school a year ago, and I’m amazed at how resilient this little 8 year old girl is; to be on her own except for two visits each term from her mum. Also we are helping Alice to buy the stuff she needs for school, equipment, clothes, shoes and little treats for when she feels a bit homesick. Zikomo Qambiri! Thanks very much. Please feel happy at what you have helped us achieve, and continue to achieve.

Finally, we shot this video yesterday just on my camera phone. Ketty had seen some people at the catholic church playing guitar and singing, she was in a crazy mood anyway and put together this little performance for us …. watch the eyes! She’s a natural actress and mime artist and though she has no spoken language (because of her deafness being from birth), she has her own exuberant vocals going on most of the time.

The star of the show

Signing to Ketty from a lake near the ashram

Hi to everyone again, from my hilltop haven in Wales.

So I told you wrong in the last post. In fact Ketty started her education proper in her second term. The first was cramming sign language, which I guess continues. But she’s started on mathematics and introduction to science and other stuff. They give school reports… the comments remind me of my school reports from about a century ago, like ‘keep up the good work’. Ketty doesn’t need exhortations, she’s loving her school life and works for pleasure.

End of the second term. Ketty sends her love to all of us who have made this possible for her.

Do you remember what I said in the intro to the project, a couple of years ago, Ketty needs to communicate, cos she’s bright, intelligent and has so much to say. About how we could help her get to the school she needed, to fulfil that need to learn and communicate.

Well we’ve done it my friends!! How awesome that it’s turned from a dream into reality. Ketty came top in the class (out of 10 students) in that first term of general education. Woohoo!! Ok even if she’d come bottom, she’d still be great in my eyes, but she came top. Ketty you’re a star.

Second term end report

So I have my ticket booked and in just under three months, I’ll take the long road out to Eastern province once more. Ketty’s getting ready to go back to school on Monday, for her final term of the year; Alice has told her that soon after she returns home after this term, I will arrive. She’s as impatient to see me, as I to see her.

Thanks again everyone. Thanks so much to the people who have donated. Look what we’ve done. We can be proud. We still need donations to build up the fund…. enough said. God bless.

Thanks from Alice, her parents Mr & Mrs Ngwenya, and Ketty.

Love, Tony

 

Settled in at school

Seems ages since I posted. The fact is that I’m now living in a Welsh hilltop ashram and everyday life seems so far away. But we’re a busy place, established and run by a renowned Yoga Master, Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati, so there are courses and many people passing through. Many of them now know of Ketty and the community of friends in Eastern Zambia as I have a small poster up on our notice board, so the net of helpers spreads wider. Thanks again to all who have become involved in this lovely project.

Alice putting in hair extensions for Ketty to look cool at school

So to Ketty. My previous post was after we’d been to see her for the very first time at school. Her mum, Alice, sends me messages nearly every day via whatsapp (I gave her my old smartphone and use some of my contribution money to pay for airtime as she gets so little money from the NGO where she works. Like… none! right now).

are you leaving?

Anyway Ketty loves school. We left her, at the end of that previous post, hardly looking at us as we drove off, sad at us leaving, as we were at leaving her. Then she returned home for her first holiday… signing so fast that Alice couldn’t keep up. Her teacher says she’s little miss popular (of course); when she saw some of the young kids in the dorm didn’t have soft toys to cuddle as they went to sleep, she organised a rota to make sure everyone had one for a few nights a week, including in the rota her own little ‘Storm’, the husky dog I’d bought for her to soften her transition to boarding school.

signing ‘I love you’ to me during the school hols

I tell you, she’s special!!

So then back to school for her second term, and so happy to go back. Not that she’s had a bad time at home, her grandparents were so happy to see her as well as Alice and her friends in the compound. She was looking for me, even though we’d explained I was away until summer (our winter)… she was looking in the room at Tikondane, that NGO where I used to stay, just to check if I was hiding.

So my friends, I have to keep the dynamic going, year after year I will ask anyone who wants to share this delightful adventure to help me pay for the coming years of schooling. Just if you get pleasure from following this story and just if you get pleasure from knowing that you change the life not just of Ketty, but of her whole family. Why?

Because Ketty is also their pride and joy; when she’s happy and fulfilled, it brings sunshine into the lives of her family (Zambian families are very close and ‘organic’).

Alice, and her mum and dad, ask me to send their gratitude to all of you who have contributed.

I’m soon booking my trip out in December to take fees for Ketty’s second year of schooling. The first year was to learn sign language. Next year she will be starting an education proper, in that sign language, with both deaf and hearing teachers.

 

Love to all, Tony

Ketty’s first month at Magwero school for the deaf.

Ketty at Magwero
Ketty at Magwero

We managed to keep away for a month! After we dropped Ketty off for her first taste of school (https://ulingana.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/a-very-special-school/)  we only had one communication from the head, that Ketty was doing fine.

Alice & Catherine bought loads of vegetables & stuff in Chipata, on the way, then we went to the school. Saturday, day off, kids playing everywhere, then we spot Ketty…they hadn’t told her and she runs over to us, surprised and happy to see us.

A beautiful day then kind staff lend us a stove & charcoal, and we cook her favourite; chips!!! plus a feast… sausages, cabbage salad, green beans in tomato sauce.

It’s still very much the rainy season here so we were lucky… a hot sunny play and eat… then the heavens opened and we rush for cover.

So so sad to go…. Ketty hardly looking at us, shuffling around. I took her aside for a mo and explained I was flying away, not to see her for a year…. finally she looked at me and we had a little goodbye. I was so sad driving away, then I thought, ‘this is actually beautiful… having someone I care about this much and being loved in return…. how fortunate to be so sad on parting’.

Alice told me on the way back… the teacher told her that Ketty had cried for her mother the first two nights of her stay. I’m glad I didn’t know that! But now we know she’s settled and is proudly showing us the sign language she’s learned already.

Once again, to those generous souls, friends of mine, who have donated money, please be proud of how much you have changed the life of a beautiful young person. Not only her, but her whole family… Alice’s father and mother both said ‘God bless you’ to which I replied, please also give your thoughts and blessings to my friends who make this possible.

love to you all, from us.

A very special school….

This year the rains have been good. Very good. The road that I described last time as looking like the road to paradise is even more so; verdant wetlands bordering a lake, big fields of maize every so often, and all framed by the towering wooded hills that bring the rain clouds. It looks like how you imagine a tropical country to be.

This last stage of the trip along the winding dirt road, Ketty’s eyes are shining; I look round at her and she gives me a big smile and both thumbs up. Excited. The generosity and kindness from all of you who’ve donated has led to this moment. Our heartfelt thanks once again. I can’t give you the first hand feeling of this delightful adventure, but I can give you some pictures, below.

Nora, the principal of Magwero school for the deaf greets us with a hug; everyone here is soft, kind. Gentle people. Ketty has her hand in mine as we wait to pay the fees, a father of another small first-time deaf girl asks me, ‘are you her father? ‘ Quite funny when you see how black Ketty is and how white me!! I laugh, ‘no, but I wish I was, it would make me very proud’.

The house ‘mother’ who will look after the 9 little girls who are here to learn sign language in this first year, before starting the academic year 1 ‘proper’, signs to the older girls to help Ketty with her things in the dormitory, then all too soon she takes Ketty kindly but firmly, waves goodbye to us, gestures Ketty to do the same (her experience says no prolonged farewells), then turns with her and walks off.