Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life isn't fair

It’s Sunday, and we are enjoying our day of rest. Reading. Napping. Munching. Savoring the quiet that results from our Sunday ‘no visitors’ policy. Later in the day, American, British, and Danish friends come over for a friend’s birthday party. We dig into pork-chops and baked macaroni-n-cheese. Everyone is drinking, eating, laughing. We sing “Happy Birthday”.

It’s Sunday, and they are miles from their village, in the bush, collecting charcoal. It takes a lot of time and effort to make charcoal. A sack of charcoal fetches 10,000 Ugandan shillings, or $6.00 US. They have collected their charcoal and are walking back home, seven of them, men and women. Their path is crossed by armed bandits. The bandits open fire on the little group. The volley of shots can be heard from our house. Bullets ruin bodies. One to a man’s head. One to a woman’s hip. Another to a man’s pelvis. Five are killed. Two cling tenuously to life. All are from our neighborhood. Senseless violence.

It’s Sunday, and life isn’t fair.

A Fork in Communication

Every morning I have a little chat with our night-watchman about the night that has just passed. Often a major part of their account is the various things that our dog, Buddy, had barked at. One morning last week, both night-watchmen excitedly began explaining to me that Buddy had been barking at a ‘fork’. A fork? I expressed my doubt over Buddy’s barking at a fork and began to say the word out loud repeatedly, letting it roll around in my mouth so I could discern which other English word they must be mispronouncing.

No, it was a ‘fork’, they insisted. So, I told them to write the word in the dirt. One night-watchman scrawled in the dust: F-O-R-K. Yep, that’s ‘fork’. I told them I think you mean ‘fox’, and I wrote F-O-X. Then the light came on. Yes, it was a ‘fox’ Buddy had been barking at. What a relief. I would have had a hard time picturing our intrepid guard-dog getting riled up over a piece of tableware inadvertently caught in our chain-link fence. I knew he was a good guard-dog, but barking at forks would have been cause for some concern.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rainy Season

The rains have come to Kaabong with a vengeance...but they say it's too late to produce a good harvest.

Our driveway during an akaale...'flood'
Where our bridge 'used to be'...Hey, the Grand Canyon and Rift Valley had to start somewhere...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Escape to the Escarpement

Our third trip to Ikland is now history.

Last time we drove up to visit the Ik, we had to turn away four or five people who wanted a ride. When we stopped to pick some passengers up in Kaabong, others just emerged from the woodwork. Some of them even started getting in the vehicle without greeting or asking. It seems that if you can see daylight on the other side of a vehicle, then it's not full. This past Thursday we went to Ikland again. I decided beforehand that we needed to set the official limit at 7 passengers. When we stopped for two of them, next thing I knew, two boys had actually gotten in the back. I had to physically extricate them. Not fun, but necessary for safety and sanity.

We had been advised to take armed escorts on our trips to Ikland, but many organizations refuse to do so because, for one thing, it can make one more of a target. It doesn't help that our truck is dark (army) green. Nevertheless, we paid a visit at the barracks to let the Officer in Charge know of our travel plans. To move about safely in this area, we have to let authorities in on our activities.

Timu and Kamion are the two Ik villages we visited in March and April. This week we visited Timu again, but at a different location. We got to hike away from the road a ways, winding around on steep slopes, from small village to small village. We passed a tree containing a kanasha 'beehive' where ts'ik 'bees' make dad 'wild honey'. Later one family gave us a gallon of wild honey as a gift. Yummy! One village we visited was brand new because the residents had recently moved from their previous village as a result of Turkana warriors giving them trouble.

Nearly everyone in the villages and on the trails were related to our guide, Hillary, or so it seemed. Every man's a brother or an uncle and every woman a sister or an aunt. I've just decided it's easier to understand that all the Ik are related, kind of like all people in the world are related.

Sitting on a rock overlooking the Rift Valley in Kenya, Hillary and I talked about the region's insecurity. While combing the ridges and valleys below with my binoculars, I had an idea: why not buy 10-20 binoculars and distribute one to trusted, trained members in each village? The Ik are already experts at surveilling their habitat for prey and for danger; with binoculars, they may have additional hours or even days to get away from approaching threats. (Anyone interested in sponsoring this? Let us know.)

The second area we visited in Timu was the home of Hillary's more immediate family (which, again, doesn't narrow it down all that much). His mother was out by the road, waiting for us to arrive. She was clearly overjoyed to see him. He hadn't been home in a year and a half. (His father was killed four years ago by Turkana warriors as he walked through the forest.) We descended a steep slope to enter the village he grew up in. Inside the village, things looked unexpectedly tidy, though human filth filled the air with a pungent stench. More and more people came to see Hillary and the cluster of white outsiders he'd brought with him. More greetings. More handshakes. More gifts. Besides the honey, we received bananas and two chickens. We're not sure if the gifts were gifts, payments for something nice we did, or payments for something they anticipate us doing. By the time we exited the village and climbed the hill, we were being mobbed. People had been streaming in from outlying villages to see the spectacle. Kids had once again scrawled graffitti onto the side of our truck, using rocks and sand. Thanks a lot for that. I knew that with polite, conventional good-byes, it would take forever to leave, so I just forced my way to the car, got in, locked the door, and started it up. Amber and the others heard the engine and managed to join me. We drove off with people almost clinging to the car.

For this visit, we had had no official agenda. We just wanted to make contact again, to remind ourselves why we have come all this way. Living in Kaabong 20 miles away, surrounded by another, equally needy tribe, has a way of obscuring all those good reasons we had for being here. The Ik are a needy people, but like other needy peoples, they're learning how to market their neediness to well-meaning people and organizations. The task of developing their society so they can have equal opportunities and standing as Ugandan and world citizens is immense. We know we can only play a very, very small part. Right now it doesn't feel like we're helping much at all. So for the moment we must be content with just 'making contact'.

"Just to be with you..."

Whoever said being flattered is a good feeling? It's generally accepted that Africans tend to tell people what they think the people will want to hear. One reason for this tendency is the high priority they place on relational harmony. Another reason in the part of Africa we're in, is that relationships are necessary for survival: the real, daily, bitter struggle of life and death. But even when it's not a life-and-death survival matter, the same relational principles often apply.

I had a chance meeting with a guy in Kampala who was looking for a job. A few weeks later I agreed to have lunch with him to find out more about him. He certainly wanted a job with our organization. Before he knew anything about what kind of work we do, where we do it, and how much we pay, he insisted he wanted to work for us. In fact, he said he would do absolutely anything---and voluntarily!---just so he could be with us. That's when the interview was over in my mind.

Last week we had lunch with a young Ik man who we feel has a lot of potential. He's finished high school and is one of the three Ik people in history to have the equivalent of a year or two of college. During this lunch we were fishing for indication that he would like to continue his education and eventually work with us in Bible translation. Knowing that any yes/no question I asked would be answered positively and optimistically, I went for a content question. "So, Pascal, what is your vision for the future? What are your plans and dreams for the next few years." I should have expected the answer...but it did come as a surprise. "My plan for the future", he began, "is to be with you."

So if you ever need a boost in your self-esteem, just come to the land where retired army colonels and young, popular educated people are willing to do anything, anywhere, anytime, anyhow...just to be with you (or so they say).