Monday, 29 April 2013

Highs and Lows

Sorry I've been absent for so long.  Things have been kind of overwhelming here in Lusaka over the past month.  It's a long and slight convoluted story so you better get yourself a cup of tea (I have!) before you start.

The month didn't get off to a good start when I saw two snakes in a week.  The first one was crawling along the ridge of my cottage roof - a little too close to home for my liking - and the second was outside the office. The timing of the sightings happened to coincide with the Pastor having a 'chat' to me about watching for snakes on the ground around the church when I came back late at night.  In all likelihood, the snakes had been there all the time but my ignorance had made me not notice them whereas once I'd been told to watch out I started seeing them everywhere!    

Here's a pic of the Lizard that lives in my living room:

Anyway, to say I was a little rattled was an understatement.  As you've probably come to realise I'm not the greatest fan of God's cold blooded creatures with even Geckos and Lizards making my skin crawl so two snakes in a week wasn't good.  For several nights that week I just couldn't get to sleep due to my worrying about them coming into the cottage.  Lack of sleep and worry really affected my mental health and I started to get quite down and homesick.  It was a bit of a vicious cycle if I'm honest.  I remember John Cammack at the AfiD training day talking about the emotional cycle associated with working abroad; the highs when you first arrive and everything's new, followed by the lows as the reality of the work and day to day life sets in.  You always think it won't apply to you but it does and I was very grateful for the advice I'd received in training as it really helped me during this period.

However in the end, fate played a part in breaking the cycle.  We had a sort of lucky draw at work with everyone's name in the hat, with those whose name was drawn winning an ex-demo solar light..  My name was drawn and I got to take my solar light home.  I'm not sure why but I decided to charge it and use it as a night lamp, keeping it switched on throughout the night as a sort of comforter.  It worked wonders and a couple of good night's sleep later I was feeling alot more positive.  I haven't seen a slithering snake since but to be honest I've stopped looking too; ignorance really is bliss.

The next hurdle I faced during the month was work related.  As I've mentioned before, one of the real concerns I had when volunteering for this role was my lack of experience of day to day accounting and double entry. However, as my boss used to remind me, I've got alot of common sense and can spot an error at ten paces so I've got all the skills I need.  As it happened, he was right. 

I'd started to prepare the YE accounts using the Sage Pastel records and had decided (don't ask me why) to spot check one of the Sage Balance Sheet accounts against the accompanying paper records.  This quickly highlighted differences and a few more spot checks later I discovered the Sage records really didn't represent the financial records very well at all.  I think the churn of Finance staff during the year (I was the fourth accountant to have touched the books that FY) had taken its toll and things had become muddled.  I quickly realised the correcting journals to Sage would be extensive so had to approach the Zambian and UK auditors to discuss our options.  It was decided that we'd produce the YE accounts in Microsoft Excel, essentially replicating the Sage ledgers and journals and creating an Extended Trial Balance.  In theory this is easy but it involves typing up an entire year's financial journals which is quite alot, even in a small operation like Sunny Money. 

Now, those who know me well will know I'm a very methodical person and I don't do 'cutting corners' unless its absolutely necessary so I set about, ledger by ledger, typing up the records and reconciling the journals.  I had planned a vacation with my parents w/c 29 April so I was determined to at least get things drafted and reconciled by then but that was three weeks away....quite some deadline.  I'm a pretty single minded girl though and very stubborn so I was determined to meet the deadline.  I worked evenings and weekends, typing up the records.  It was truly exhausting.  The Pastor watched me come home with a different file every evening as I ploughed through the masses of paperwork, ordering it and matching it to the chequebook and bank statements. 

There were times this month that I thought I'd never get there.  The team at work were great, giving me hugs when I felt beaten and dejected, and convincing me day by day that I'd succeed.  Karla was great as she helped me massively with the Debtors, calling around hundreds of schools to check payments.  She even baked her 'special' chocolate treats (brownie base, topped with melted marshmallows, and then covered in chocolate coated rice krispies) to boost our spirits last week :)  It was worth it as last Thursday I completed the draft accounts, a month before the auditor is due to arrive, and in perfect time for my holiday with mum and dad.  It was such a relief as it allows me to take some time out with nothing hanging over me and gives Sarah and I time to review the accounts with a fresh pair of eyes on my return.  The Pastor gave me a 'high five' today when I told him the good news.

What I find interesting is, when you tell people at home you're going off to volunteer, they seem to think you're on holiday.  If I'm honest with myself, I think I also thought it would be a relatively easy ride too, working 9-5 and having less pressure.  However, it couldn't be further from the truth.  Organisations like SolarAid request volunteers because they generally need the help and in small organisations, whether they're charities or not, there's always more work than there are people to do the work.  I've seen it in the UK and it's no different here.  During the past month there have been times when I've grumbled and wanted to run for the hills but as I sit here now, reflecting on the past month all I feel is a great sense of achievement and, excuse the cliché, alot of 'lessons learned.  I feel like I'm adding value here and whilst it's very hard work I'm learning alot about myself and the kind of job I'd like to do when I get home.   

This role has really made me sit up and take responsibility and use every skill I've got, including my sense of humour!  I was speaking to my AfiD coordinator, Apeksha, this week about some of the emotions I'd been experiencing and the challenges I'd faced, she commented that she was surprised, yet pleased, by my resilience and determination.  I flippantly replied that I thought she knew I moonlighted as 'Zambia-Girl', the local version of superwoman ;)  We were chatting on Skype at the time and she laughed out loud at that comment and attracted many weird looks from her AfiD colleagues.  I duly explained that I'd been known to pass the time during powercuts by watching 'The Incredibles' movie and was trying to model myself on Elastigirl!!  You should see my outfit :)

Despite working hard this month I have managed to have some other interesting experiences. 

Firstly, it's probably worth mentioning our interesting visitors to the office over the past month.  Firstly, we had a visit from the local Police, complete with guns!  Claire, Karla and I were talking about our respective work visas when they arrived and to say we looked worried is an understatement.  You could see us looking at one another when they arrived, wondering what they were here to reprimand us about.  The look of relief on our faces when they said they wanted to buy lights for their elders in the village was palpable!!  The Police were followed by a couple of gentleman with a truck of 1000 1-day old chicks, cheep cheeping.  They wanted solar lights for their hen coup to keep the chicks happy and secure.  They let us stroke the yellow chicks, which were so soft and cuddly.  I almost wanted to take one home but I'm not sure the Pastor would appreciate being woken up by grown up hens!  Next, came the bus load of Peace Corps volunteers, otherwise referred to as 'soap dodgers' due to their slightly unkempt appearances, seeking solar lights to charge their phones and kindles in the bush.  Claire did a sterling job, marketing our lights to the new Peace Corps volunteers that morning, and we sold over 30 lights in 15 minutes so it was quite a rewarding morning!  Oh, and finally my friend Christopher, Karla's son, came to the office.  He joined us in the office last week for a few hours and was a breath of fresh air.  Musonda was prepping lights for a pickup from one of our big partners so there was a big stack of lights next to my desk and I proceeded to teach Christopher multiplication using the stack of boxes and a calculator. He did very well and is now, officially my protégé.  I think Karla's concerned he'll be my replacement in June.........

Secondly, as you may remember, the market at the Dutch Reformed Church was delayed from the last week of March to 6 April (not Christmas!) due to the timing of Easter.  I normally bump into a few familiar people at the market and this month ended up bumping into Claire (fellow SunnyMoney volunteer) and her partner Dave.  Interestingly Claire is from Kettering, which is where my Mum was born, so it's a small world...but I digress.  Dave's family has been in the Salvation Army for many years and he actually grew up in Lusaka when his family served here.  Claire and Dave were at the market with family friends, Ann and Ken, who are currently serving here with the Salvation Army and they were kind enough to invite me to join them for lunch at the market.

The market is famous for its food and alot of expats come just for the treats on offer.  You can get homemade cakes and pies, Chinese delicacies, Mexican tortillas and fajitas, BBQ meats, freshly pressed lemonade and pineapple juice, cinnamon rolls.....and the list goes on.  We opted for Chinese food and had freshly fried spring rolls and pork steamed buns.  They were delicious and very fresh.  Ken and Dave even got a condensed milk cake for dessert.  I was having a lovely time, although I was pretty full.  However, Ann and Ken invited me to join them and Claire and Dave for dinner back at their place afterwards.  I couldn't resist, especially when she said she'd be cooking Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding.  I thought I'd gone to heaven.  I have a lovely cottage in Kabulonga but one of the things I, and indeed other volunteers I've met, miss most about home is baked food as nearly all of us have only a hob in our accommodation.  It was so nice having roast meat for dinner, indeed anything oven cooked.  Ann spoilt us rotten with dinner and even did coconut tart and thick yellow custard for dessert - yummy!

Thirdly, I have been managing to fit in some R&R.  A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly stressful week at work, Claire and I decided to have some R&R and a bit of a girly day.  We started the day at The Silver Tulip jewellery shop in Rhodes Park where one of Sarah's in-laws sells her homemade silver wares.  I bought a lovely pair of silver fish earrings.  The shop had so many things to choose from I'm now saving for another treat before I come home.  We then had a walk through the quiet, back streets of Rhodes Park.  It was a lovely sunny day and it was great to have a walk away from the bustle of central Lusaka.  We were headed for Senses @ Sensorium where Claire had a Back, Neck & Shoulder Massage and I opted for a pedicure. 

You've probably gathered that I walk literally everywhere in Lusaka.  George, a driver at SunnyMoney, has taken to asking me every Monday morning where I've been a wandering as he's so intrigued by my weekend rambles around Lusaka.  Anyway, I think the beautician looked on in horror when I presented my feet for the pedicure.  I hadn't realised how the walking had taken its toll on my feet but she spent over 20 minutes with the soap suds and pumice scrubbing them so they must have been pretty bad.  I was getting a little embarrassed at the state of my feet as there were two South African 'ladies who lunch' next to me having pedicures and they looked like they'd never walked 100m, let alone the miles I rack up in a week.  After the scrubbing, came the foot massage and moisturising; it was heaven sent!!  The final step was painting my toenails a wonderful deep red colour.  When I finally rejoined Claire it felt like I was walking on air my feet were so clean and soft.  Claire commented that I had to try and maintain my 'peachy' feet - quite a challenge in the Lusaka dust - however, 3 weeks on the polish is still in tact and my feet are soft, even if they're turning brown again with the dust/sun!  We finished the day with a lazy lunch at Pzazz.  Deciding what to eat was quite a challenge as everything there is yummy but we were determined to have something baked.  We opted for Lasagne and a Chorizo Pizza and went half/half swapping plates mid-meal much to the amusement of our waitress and fellow diners.

Last weekend, Claire, Dave and I went to AfriColour and Jackal and Hide at Sugar Bush Farm in Leopards Hill thanks to Sarah.  It was great getting out of the city.  AfriColour had some amazing fabrics and homewares but, true to form, I was drawn to the jewellery.  I found Mulberry Mongoose in Nzito Furniture and was immediately hooked.  Mulberry Mongoose is a jewellery brand created by a friend of Sarah's, Kate Wilson.  The jewels are handcrafted and designed in the South Luangwa Valley by local ladies using organic materials from the African bush mixed with semi-precious stones, bone and beads.  I immediately fell in love with the Luangwa Charm Bracelet.  I wear turquoise colours all the time so I'm certain it'll get alot of use.  It was really relaxing having lunch at Sugar Bush Farm in the fresh air.  They even made me Earl Grey tea so I was in heaven as I really miss my fresh tea leaves collection from home.        

This weekend, as you've probably guessed, has been the first for a while that I've not worked, hence the blog post.  It's been weird rediscovering what to do with 2 full days of freetime.  Yesterday I made the most of loafing about at the Dutch Reformed Church Market, having a cup of tea under the shade of a tea whilst reading my kindle.  Here are a few pictures of the market:

This is where I bought Noah some colourful toys:

I also watched an amazing movie 'August Rush' which I highly recommend.  Robin Williams was great in it, as the character Wizard.  Today, I had a nice lunch at my favourite, Mugg and Bean, and made the most of their free Wi-Fi to update my kindle eBook collection, ready for Livingstone. Now, I'm having a drink outside whilst finishing my blog post, listening to Nina Simone as the sun goes down.  Quite, quite perfect!  Now, all I have to do is wait for Mum and Dad's arrival and my trip to Livingstone.  Expect lots of animal pictures in my next post.........

Cheerio folks


  1. On our way can't wait to see you not sure about the lizard though but hey ho its an adventure. See you tomorrow! tx

  2. You'll be fine. He's harmless enough. I just make sure he's not above the dinner table before I eat as I don't want lizard relish on my supper :)

  3. Lets hope our feet hold up! We have been to the gym this morning to 'get us in the mood'. Off to the airport soon so will be 'winging our way' to you tonight via Dubai and their duty free its amazing!

  4. Have fun in Duty Free. I have your new Solar Lights charging :)