Monday, May 31, 2010

A tedious chore... cleaning the rice. I buy it locally from my friend in Kaabong. I usually buy 2 kilos of rice at a time and my friend scoops it from a 100-kilo sack in her shop. Gone are the days of going to the grocery store and picking out a perfectly clean bag of rice. These days, I sit and sift through our rice so we won't chip our teeth on rocks...choke on bits of wire...swallow the hard beans and pieces of corn that are somehow mixed in...or ingest random pieces of plastic. I do hereby promise not to ever complain about the price of packaged rice again.
On the other hand, it feels good to be eating something that was grown in Uganda. This is one way to help the economy here and support small-scale farmers. Maybe picking through rice is worth it after all if it means improving someone else's life.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sickness, death, and sadness

When we come to our home in Kaabong, from our home in Ikland, we are usually in need of some privacy and down-time. Ikland is now the frontier, and Kaabong the base camp. We are pouring our people energies into the Ik and often feel like we have little left over for the Karamojongs in Kaabong. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it seems.

Yesterday was one of those days when we came down to Kaabong. Visitors came with all their requests. One man alone asked for medicine, batteries, phone charging, a job for his nephew, and food. A neighbor came at 8 am complaining that his child was sick. Okay, I thought, sorry for you. I mean, we get that all the time. What are we supposed to do about it? Take the child to the hospital. It’s only two miles away. Then the mother came two hours later with the same complaint. We gave the same answer. They delayed. The father kept working in the field. So did the mother. Noon rolls around, and they’re back in on our porch, stubbornly asking that we give medicine. We stood our ground. After all, we stopped holding clinics here in Kaabong since last year. We occasionally give medicine to our employees, but these people aren’t our employees. We’re trying to set boundaries. We’re trying not to promote unhealthy dependence. We’re being strong.

This morning we find out that the sick child died last night. The child of our neighbors and friends. The same toddler we took out to eat at a restaurant last month, probably his first time in a restaurant. That child is gone. Gone forever.

Should we have done more? Could we have prevented this? Are we morally responsible? Will they blame us? These are the kinds of questions that first assail us.

We know we can’t take on this responsibility. It would be too much to bear, and we wouldn’t be able to stay here much longer. But it still hurts. The 'what ifs' hurt. Sickness, death, and sadness hurt. Pray for us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Green Dreams in Timu Forest

Timu Forest is a protected forest in northeast Uganda, near the border with Kenya. Only parts of it preserve the arboreal glory once characteristic of much of Karamoja. In those days, great herds of elephant traversed the forest, sharing the space with other East African wildlife greats, like Cape buffalo, rhinos, giraffes, lions, and leopards. Today most of the forest is devoid of these creatures, though rumor has it that there is a lion living somewhere. What you can see are dik-dik, oribi, bushbucks, serval cats, ground squirrels, and a colorful variety of birds. The only human inhabitants of Timu Forest are the Ik and the Dodoth, though modern protected-forest standards are working to keep them out. Where we live in the area called Lokinene, fifteen or twenty villages are strung out along the border of the forest. And the Dodoth are probably only temporary visitors of the forest.


The word Timu is supposed to be derived from the Karamojong word akitimur which means something like ‘to rest’ and possibly overtones of ‘to swoon’. Legend has it that in the old days, Timu Forest used to be a place where you could lose yourself in green, misted fantasies beneath the forest canopy. The trees were tall and thick, allowing only ribbons and bands of sunlight to enter. Swirling mists enshrouded all who entered. Just a few days ago our neighbor, Philip Lojore, told me of ‘those days’ when he and his family lived in a lush section of the forest. He said ‘there was no hunger there’. Their green dream had to end, though, because the Turkana from Kenya made a habit of killing the Ik without just cause. Today much of the forest has been thinned out by fires and firewood gathering, but in a few remote areas, like where Lojore used to live, the real Timu can still be experienced.


I experienced it yesterday, and I wanted to tell you about it. Yesterday afternoon, I set out on foot, on my second attempt to find a way to a certain hill near our Ikland home that has a great view of the Kenyan Rift Valley (I could just ask an Ik the way, but then I wouldn’t be exploring, would I?) Though the sky had been promising rain, it had only sprinkled at the time, so I put on my camouflage rain jacket and rubber boots and headed down the trail. Because of the altitude (6500 ft.) we are often in the clouds. Now I was in the clouds, the silent mists that the Ik call gozhoik. As the gozhoik moved over the ridge, their moisture collected on the high grass, and I quickly got soaked from the waist down. I could hear the ‘squish, squish, squish’ as I trod along in my sopping gumboots. No use turning back now. I am already wet.


Through the fog I kept following a faint trail in hopes that the skies would clear up eventually. They didn’t. When I started going down an incline I was unfamiliar with, I decided I should sit and wait for a while. So I found a rock and sat down. I took off my boots and wringed out my socks. And I sat quietly. And I sat some more. The mists kept wafting gently through the woods. I could only see a stone’s throw in any direction. My world became small and unknown. Little by little, the forest eased at my presence. After a good long time, birds began to stir. A pair of bulbuls came to loudly investigate. The hopped from branch to branch, trying to get the angle that would identify the strange creature huddled on the rock (me). Down the valley through the haze, something—I don’t know what it was. A bird? A monkey?—began a loud, howling call that echoed eerily up the hill. Something else rustled in the grass near my rock.


Then, my mind began to wander. Nearly hypnotized, I began to remember my own dreams: dreams of life, dreams of career, dreams of childhood, dreams of Africa. Over an hour passed while I sat in my green mysted daydreams. And that is exactly what I had been told happens in Timu Forest. After some time, the clouds began to pass, and my dewdrop blanket began to recede. In a matter of minutes, my view went from a stone’s throw to probably fifty miles or more into Kenya. My claustrophobic forest cocoon of time and space split open to reveal not only the slope I had stopped on, but slopes going up and down in all directions. Few trees gave way to a whole forest, and my moment of eternal time gave way to late evening. And so I started back toward home. I never reached my original destination, but I experienced Timu Forest, and that I will never forget. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sipi Falls

About two weeks ago, Terrill & I needed to travel south to a town called Mbale. We were gathering supplies to do improvements on our Timu house as well as buying a grinding mill for the Ik community in Timu. Some generous university students had raised the money for the mill. We wanted to give the Ik some incentive for building a house for this grinding mill, so we bought a mill to take up to Timu thinking that they would be more motivated. After procuring our supplies, we decided to take a break in a place called Sipi Falls. It's located about an hour away from Mbale on Mt. Elgon. It's known for the numerous waterfalls splashing down the mountain at different locations. We stayed at Lacam Lodge. It included full board so I didn't have to cook or clean up anything. Always a plus. The lodge is built down the side of a mountain. When entering our room, we discovered that the toilet was a bucket that gets emptied several times a day. There's a container of sawdust beside the bucket. We were instructed to throw a handful in every couple of hours to keep the smell down. :) A little door beside the toilet was where the guy (who we called the 'toilet fairy') came in to empty the bucket when we were at our meals. We were also intrigued by their hot water system. They had a fire lit under a large barrel. Pipes ran from the barrel down to the rooms. I'm sure the cold water got mixed in somewhere in the plumbing. The rooms were made of logs and bamboo. The view was stunning. Below is a view from our room. We're looking west onto the plains. If we looked to the right of our little guest house, we saw this. The sound of the water falling helped us get to sleep.

Terrill was dreaming up ways to start another lodge on the top of that plateau. Anyone interested?

We went on a short hike one day and saw other waterfalls up close.

Our guide, Martin, took us to some caves. He said that some of his people (the Sebei) used to live in these caves. His facts were a little fuzzy, but they made for interesting stories. He told us that the Sebei only had one king and his name was Kingo (after the English word 'king'...My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone?). He said that this king had six wives and 76 children and that the descendants of the king are now the wealthiest Sebei around. He explored the cave below and once found a room full of crystals. It took him three hours of crawling through the cave to find that room. This is definitely a landmark in the Sebei culture.

Some of the rocks in the cave formed smooth indentions where Martin says people slept. He says that Sebei still bring their animals into this cave when they fear enemies or want to come out of the rain.

Next we hiked to another larger waterfall. This waterfall also has a cave behind it but Martin says it's a man-made cave. People chip away at the rock to get salt for their animals.

From behind the waterfall...the water was pounding and a mist encircled us.

Back at the lodge, Terrill enjoyed some 'down time'.

We had a view for dinner. The first night was surreal. While eating, a heavy fog came from the plains and surrounded everything in sight. We couldn't see five feet ahead of ourselves.

Thank the Lord for these times of getting away, relaxing & reflecting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Church planting in Timu

We've been busy this spring with visitors. A few weeks ago some new friends from AIM (Africa Inland Mission) came for a visit. We took them up to Timu and showed them both sides of the mountain, both Lokinene and a place called Kapalu. When getting to Kapalu, we were delighted to hear about a new church being started there. An Ik man named Zachary has just finished seminary and has returned to Kapalu to lead a congregation. He is with the Church of Uganda (Anglican). At first, Zachary was leading prayers on benches under a large tree. Now his congregation has erected a small building to meet under. This will protect them from rain. They may also put mud on the walls as a protection from wind. We thank God for another church among the Ik. This is just one more opportunity for the gospel to be preached. You can pray that the people of Kapalu will come to know the Lord. You can also pray that Christians will be sent to this place to encourage the church and disciple believers. The new meeting place is above, the old meeting place is below.
The landscape is even more striking from Kapalu. This is near some villages known as Tulutul.

The man to the right is named Lochiyo Gabriel. He is one of the more educated Ik men around and the brother of Pastor Zachary. Gabriel is also an elected government official for the Ik. Pray that he can lead them wisely and have opportunities to do good for his people.