Saturday, September 20, 2008

Something doesn't compute...

This community elder---we'll call him Isaiah---was at our house the other day again. We've told you about him before. Well, this time he was there for his usual cup of tea and a couple of requests. While sipping on his tea, he began to praise the work of the white people. 'I'm very happy about the work of Medair (our neighbors who dig wells and latrines),' he said. 'I'm very happy about the work of Nakuwam (Amber's local name, meaning 'the one having been born/having come during a windy time of year'). (Isaiah never mentioned the work I do because it doesn't benefit him in any obvious ways.:)) After finishing his laudatory speech, he concluded with a counter-intuitive: '[Therefore], you should give me a gift.' Huh? 'Give YOU a gift', I said. 'You're the one who is happy, you should be giving us a gift!'

(Imagine: next time you feel the need to give someone a gift, for whatever reason, ask them for a gift instead! It's really quite freeing.)

One of Isaiah's sons came along later that same day. He's a bit hard-up for money, so he had come to do some business with us. He brought an old, rusty, griddle-type thing that one uses to cook pancakes and stuff. He explained that it had been given to him years ago by former missionaries but that they never got a chance to explain its use to him. So in the interim years, he and his family have been using it as a 'latrine'. Now we were never sure what he meant by that, but the imagination can supply several possibilities. Could it be that they basically 'went' on the griddle at night, in their huts, and then deposited the materials outside in the morning? We're not sure. In any case, he wanted us to buy it back from him. That's right: BUY a rusty pancake griddle that someone's been 'going' on for years! Tempting, but no thanks.:)

When things just don't compute, we know there's something in their cultural and mindset that's so different from ours that we just don't understand. We have to stay sane. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bird’s Eye-View

This week I hiked to another nearby hill called Keepak. I was accompanied by friends Aleu Peter, Loido J.B., and Nguran Mickey. These hikes are not only fun, but they provide a good chance to be immersed in the language and to learn the geography of the area. Now when someone mentions the name of such-and-such a village or landmark, I can picture it in my mind. However, I’m not sure my friends really understand my zeal for hill climbing. On the way to Keepak, one of them suggested that Karamoja trade its hills for America’s water. I told him America has hills and they have water (though it’s often difficult to access). Anyway, in one picture you can see Kaabong Town in the valley. In another, you see me clinging desperately to a rock on the edge of a precipice (I’ve signaled the raven who is swooping in to rescue me)…and in the third, my companions silhouetted in one of Karamoja’s many geological idiosyncrasies.