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'.

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