Monday, January 26, 2009

Land of Fireflies

The place we hope to start living part-time in is called Kamion, a name that comes from a Karamojong word meaning 'fireflies'. Last week we visited the government official responsible for the health clinic and clinic staff housing in Kamion. He was kind enough to give us permission to live in the staff house and for Amber to volunteer part-time in the clinic. Miraculously, he even typed out a letter of permission right there as we set in his office. If he hadn't done that, it might've taken weeks to get the document.
The next step was to meet with the Ik elders in Kamion, to ask their approval for our living there. So last Saturday we drove up there, got measurements made for a security fence around the house, and had an informal meeting the elders. They welcomed us to come. We may stay in the house for the first time as early as this weekend! (The main thing holding us back is the fact that windows are still missing on one side of the house.) It's exciting to think about living among the Ik, but also daunting to think of all we have to do before the place will be ready.

Fruit of the Land

This year we continue to enjoy produce from that plants and trees planted by others in the past. It goes to show that the land here is plenty fertile, and that given enough water and protection, fruits and vegetables can grow quite nicely. We've been planting lots of avocado trees, of which we'll probably never get to taste...but why not return the favor we've received?


The latest living addition to our homestead is an irresistably adorable puppy whom we've named Fujo (Swahili for 'mischief'). He goes by 'Joe' or 'Joey' for short. Fujo was brought to us two days ago by a shepherd named Loiki. We were thrilled (because we've been looking for a dog) and so was Loiki, because he's going to benefit from the deal somehow. The tricky thing for Amber and me is that we don't know what our side of the exchange is going to be! (As in 'I brought you a puppy, remember? So now you have to send me to America!). Fujo is certainly living up to his name (though what puppy isn't mischievous?), but he's a lot of fun, too.


The night after we posted the prayer request for RAINED. The first drops from the sky since October. Granted, it was just a sprinkle, but the symbolism was powerful nonetheless. It's been sprinkling a little bit every day since, and larger rainclouds loom in the horizon. Thanks!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dry and Thirsty Land

A dry river bed...

Six months ago...

It’s hard to believe that six months ago Kaabong District was so green it bordered on lushness. Since the last raindrops fell in October, the (near-) Equatorial Sun has been scorching the ground, bleaching vegetation and turning dirt to what seems like lunar powder. Much of the soil here is the kind that doesn’t retain moisture, such that during the rains there is widespread flooding and massive erosion, but very little surface-water accumulation. Groundwater pools are full and underground rivers flowing, but now, during the dry season, one could wonder how far we really are from the Sahara. The land is brown, and if the rains delay, will start to look almost white with heat and desiccation. Praying for rain in Karamoja is a sacred task that is often undertaken on mountaintops. Would you join us in uttering a short prayer, not only for rain to soothe the sunbaked earth, but for Living Water to quench a deeper thirst in the peoples of Karamoja?

Why, viboks you very much!

Sometime last summer I switched out my new cell-phone for an older model left with us by our friends. As usual, I often used the phone to send short text-messages to people instead of calling them. When painstakingly typing out little messages on the cell-phone touch pad, the phone’s built-in ‘dictionary’ is supposed to help you spell words. With this second-hand phone, however, the dictionary would give me these really ridiculous choices that didn’t even remotely resemble English words. So, I ended up having to spell out most words letter-by-letter. (That I kept text-messaging for months despite this inconvenience is evidence of the West’s addiction and subservience to technology…and of my imbecility perhaps?) I would try to write out very basic sentences like “Do you want to play volleyball” and nine times out of ten the dictionary would not get any of the words right. The most annoying word of all—that ‘thanks’ that we Americans like to tack on the end of every utterance—perpetually popped up on my little screen as ‘viboks’. “What kind of idiotic English dictionary doesn’t know how to spell ‘thanks’”, I would mumble to myself in disgust. It did occur to me several times that perhaps the phone’s dictionary wasn’t configured, set to ‘English’…or maybe wasn’t a dictionary at all, but rather a computer virus sent to destroy all my communications! Finally, last evening, I was complaining to a friend about this, and he calmly reached over, took my phone, and changed the dictionary setting from Swahili to English. All I could say was ‘viboks’.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I know I can't send you a bouquet, but I wanted to share some of the flowers we've seen in Uganda. These all came from the south-west where we took our trip two weeks ago. Enjoy!

New Ik Alphabet!

Ik has never been a ‘written’ language; instead, it has been only an ‘oral’ language, spoken by the people for thousands of years, but not inscribed on paper, rock, or papyrus. Much of what I (Terrill) did for work last year was study the sounds of the Ik language so I could match alphabetic letters with those sounds. In the last two weeks before Christmas, I slaved away on a written description of the phonology (sound system) of Ik. This was to provide a scientific basis for the alphabet. We are at the stage in the project where we’re about to start using what’s called a ‘trial orthography’, meaning: a new alphabet ready to be tested in actual use. As we try out this new alphabet, we’ll probably have to make some changes over time. But for now, it’s an exciting milestone in our language development work among the Ik!


A, a
B, b
B’, b’
C, c
D, d
D’, d
Dz, dz
E, e
F, f
G, g
H, h
I, i
J, j
J’, j’
K, k
K’, k’
L, l
M, m
N, n
Ŋ, ŋ
O, o
P, p
R, r
S, s
Ŝ, ŝ
T, t
Ts, ts
Ts’, ts’
U, u
W, w
Y, y
Z, z
Ž, ž

(One symbol was left out and one changed to accommodate this font.)

A gash in the earth

Also on our vacation, we visited a place called Kyambura Gorge (pronounced 'chambura'). This gorge has been being dug into the plains by a river for who-knows-how-long, just like the Grand Canyon has been with the Colorado River. Surrounding the Gorge are miles and miles of lightly-wooded brush- and grasslands---the savannahs of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Until you drive up to the Gorge, you'd never know it was even there. Then suddenly, a gash in the earth appears, deep enough that the tops of full-grown tropical hardwoods fail to reach the skyline.

Kyambura Gorge is an attraction primarily for its primate inhabitants: monkeys and chimpanzees. We had seen chimps in the Entebbe Zoo, but never in the wild. This was our chance. We hired a guide who took us several kilometers along the edge of the Gorge and eventually by foot down into it. Every couple of minutes we would stop and strain to identify the calls of the wild. First we heard some monkeys and found them high in the tree-tops. A few minutes later we heard the chimps. Their loud, resounding hollers and tree-pounding reverberated through the jungle and sent chills down my spine. Whether or not you believe we are the 'cousins' of chimps, their genetic and behavioral similarities are uncanny...and fun to observe.

The first chimp we saw approached us and then stopped to relieve himself. He and another large male were skiddish at first, so we didn't get much opportunity for pictures. In fact, they took off down the man-made trails, crossed a man-made bridge, and disappeared into the forest. I love this picture of one of them leaving the bridge because it reminds me of all those mysterious photos of Loch Ness monster and Yeti and UFOs that are NEVER clear. Here in this photo is a chimp on the fly, looking back at these human intruders, and vanishing into the darkness of the jungle, just as the knowledge of our past vanishes the farther back we go.

We followed four chimps of different sizes, all males, for several hundred yards along the trail. Occasionally they would stop, scratch themselves, sit or stretch out for a nap. I think they got a kick out of us, and most of the time I wondered who was really watching whom. As you can see from the photo, Amber may have spent a little too long down in that Gorge among the chimps! :)

Close Call

On a game-drive back before Christmas, we encountered a lone bull elephant. These guys are notoriously dangerous. We toyed with him a little, revving the engine of the truck and stuff, to see if he'd take the bait (yeah, it's these kinds of things we do to have fun!). He didn't...until he charged the poor guy riding a bicycle behind us (whom we hadn't seen). The cyclist dumped his bike and took off on foot, full-speed, to hide behind some trees. We were afraid the elephant would destroy the bicycle, but fortunately, he lost interest in it and lumbered off. Close call!