Monday, January 24, 2011

What it takes to get a bride-Part 2

Do you remember the story about the marriage negotiations back in December? This is Rose. She's lived next door to us for several weeks now and we're getting to know her. She has a quiet spirit and is very helpful around the house. She's been at the village next door ever since the men stole her away in December. So this is what happened after negotiations. A price was settled upon and the families drank mes (the local brew) together. The next day, her family returned home. At one point, she 'officially' walked through the door of her groom's brother's village and they sprinkled water on her from a calabash. Water sprinkling is meant as a blessing. Then it was over. Her husband started living with her and she is now pregnant.

Traditionally, there were many more rituals to a woman entering a man's household. She would have to put heavy beads around her neck, waist & head and wear an animal skin around her waist. She would visit the many villages of the man's relatives and serve them wherever she went. Mes would be prepared in massive amounts and a celebration would last for days. We would be able to hear singing and know they were dancing late into the night. It did not happen this way for Rose. When I asked why, I was told that the relatives were upset that the marriage negotiations weren't handled in the appropriate way to start with and so they did not follow through with all the marriage traditions. They are officially married in the eyes of their fellow Ik, although maybe not by the Ugandan government. But the last time I checked, the government wasn't too concerned with who has marriage certificates and who doesn't.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daniel marries Kristin

Our good friend and house helper, Kristin, got married last Saturday and I wanted to give you a glimpse of a Karamojong wedding. I call this a 'town' wedding because she got married in a church and it wasn't a 'village' celebration like some weddings are. Both she & her new husband, Daniel, are Christians who attend the Church of Uganda (Anglican) in Kaabong. I won't go over all the details of the wedding, but maybe bring up some interesting traditions. The day started at 4am for the cooks but 7am for me & Terrill. Above: Daniel is sitting on the left with a friend and having his breakfast before going to the church. Breakfast included hot, sweet tea and fresh chapatis (flat bread). The wedding party had a base of operations at a friend's house. Both bride & groom were there early, interacting and dressing. They don't have any superstitions about seeing each other before the ceremony. The bride was getting her hair curled and plastered to her head by a local hairdresser, and the groom was pacing restlessly most of the morning. As is typical in Africa, everything was running late. They planned to start the wedding at 10am but didn't leave for the church until 11:30am.
These flowers are borrowed and used by many a bride in Kaabong. I'm sure they were cleaned and hung on the line to dry.
Kristin was a beautiful, glowing bride. When dressed, Kristin sat quietly in a dark room until she was called out to the wedding cars. She had one attendant (bridesmaid) who was instructing her what to do and when to do it. I mentioned above that her hair was plastered to her head. What I meant by that is that the hairdresser applied finger nail polish to certain parts of her hair to make it sparkle and stay in place. I would not suggest this for a westerner's hair.
Being good friends, the couple requested that we allow them to use our vehicle to transport their wedding party to the church. There were two vehicles that got decorated with multi-colored ribbons and bows. During our first trip to the church, the vehicles were loaded with men only. We were asked to drive through town and pass all the government buildings, honking our horn constantly and waving to everyone we passed. It was quite a show. Next we took the women of the wedding party and did the same thing, going a bit slower so everyone could admire the bride. When we got to the church, people were inside and out, shouting and dancing. There must have been at least 300 people in attendance, spilling out of a small church. The wedding party lined up in pairs. There were nine flower girls, followed by the bride, followed by her attendant who faithfully held up her veil. The procession walked slowly and in rhythm. It took a good twenty minutes to get the bride to the front of the church.

The wedding coordinator instructed the girls on how to walk.

The church was decorated with streamers, ribbons & bows of all colors. People didn't want to sit down, even when instructed to because they wanted to see what was happening at the front. Relatives and honored guests were escorted to seats in the front to witness the ceremony. Terrill & I chose to sit in the back so as not to make a spectacle of ourselves. We were reprimanded later by the couple because they wanted us in the front as well. Although I was taking a few pictures, three other men also had video cameras, so I figured they'd get enough coverage. The vows themselves were concise and over quickly. When the microphone was handed to the couple for them to confirm what was being said, women broke out in the typical African ululation. The people cheered and ululated at every important moment of the ceremony. An elder of Kristin's family went forward to lift her veil over her face. Daniel was asked if this was really the woman he wanted to marry. He confirmed it was and more cheers were heard. (It reminded me of the Bible story retelling the events of Jacob's marriage to Leah instead of Rachel. I wonder if this practice is a safe-guard from that happening again?)

After an hour-long sermon, the couple stepped forward to sign their marriage certificate at a table in front of everyone. More cheering. Then it was time for gifts. A practice that I've seen more than once in Uganda is this: people get in a line and present their gifts to the couple while they are giving congratulations. I don't know why it's so important that the couple receives the gift directly from the hands of the giver, but it seems to be. I had forgotten my gift and it was the first thing I heard from Kristin after the ceremony. She was hoping for us to come forward as well.
We had to giggle to ourselves when seeing multiple goats and chickens presented to the couple at the alter. The mother of one young goat had to brought in as well because it was still nursing.
And then the ceremony came to an end. It was 3pm.
The lady on the left is wearing traditional Karamojong dress. It is considered appropriate and even desired to come to a wedding like this: your skirt must swish as you dance and your beads must be piled high in adorning your waist, neck, arms, ears and head.
The groom & bride both had one attendant each. They were beside the couple throughout the ceremony.
Just as they entered, they exited in procession. Walking very slowly and to a rhythm, no smiles were seen on these faces. All were solemn.
The new couple weren't allowed to smile yet....until they got into the wedding vehicles.

We drove back to the base of operations so the bride could change clothes for the reception. But first, yhey wanted to take a few pictures. One of the required photos was Daniel picking Kristin up while in her wedding dress.

When Kristin went inside to change, the sodas were brought out. Each child in the party received 1/2 a liter of soda (mostly fanta orange) to guzzle down before returning to the church, where the reception was held. I laughed when the wedding coordinator ordered the children to drink quickly so they could return to the church quickly. In my mind, drinking quickly meant that all 14 children would need the bathroom soon after and it would not make things go quickly.

Kristin re-emerged in a lovely blue evening gown and everyone piled into the vehicles to return to the reception. I'll admit it...I didn't go to the reception. It was already 3:30pm by reception time and I was tired. Since Terrill was driving the wedding party, he had to go but did it graciously. The procession walked slowly into the church once again and sat at the front while waiting for food. Since I don't know many details about this part, I'll stick with the basics. Food was brought out on platters and people rushed for it. Some didn't even use plates but grabbed handfuls. A cow had been slaughtered for the occasion and this was very special, something that happens rarely for people. There was also a cake, decorated with the words "Daniel marries Kristin". I heard that the couple cut a piece and fed it to each other. As Daniel & Kristin returned again to the base of operations to change again and head to their first honeymoon location, the party really got going. Daniel's relatives were said to go heavy on the homebrew and sing and dance until the following morning. That's celebration Karamojong style! They know how to party!

If you think this blog post is loooonnnggg, you should've been at this wedding!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

When Strangers Become Friends

As surprising as it may sound, we often receive visitors to our remote little corner of Uganda. Whether they are related to us and come out of strong familial ties or just believers who want to come and make a difference in the world, we usually have a wonderful time and end up blessed by our visitors. This happened once again this past December. Two nursing students from our home church in Tallahassee came over for three weeks to spend time with us & the Ik and get a taste of what life is like on the mission field. Jenna & Taylor came as strangers to us as we'd never met them before but by the end of our time together, they were dear friends.

They helped me to run the clinic, put on a garage sale for a bunch of coats/sweaters that was collected & sent over from our home church & measure about 160 children for school uniforms. On top of that, they washed countless dishes, played with countless children and were always available to lend a hand. I actually found that I had more energy & enthusiasm than usual while they were with us. God reminded me just how much I need friends & fellowship even in a remote part of the world, because when I have them I feel like a healthier individual. It reaffirms the notion that (wo)man was not made to live alone...we were created to be in love and be loved. I just want to take this opportunity to thank Jenna & Taylor for pouring into our lives this past Christmas. My dad used to say that he didn't know any strangers, just friends he hadn't met yet. Maybe there's something to that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All-purpose nets

Mosquito nets are like the quintessential charitable donation to the developing world. And that’s why the large donors like them. They are cheap. They are simple. They are light. The prevent malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. They require little instruction and little follow-up. They are mosquito nets, for crying out loud. Who wouldn’t want to use them, and who wouldn’t know how to use them? And what looks better to the donors than a mass-distribution of pieces of white netting that instantly save thousands of lives?

Well, we have discovered that these mosquito nets are used a lot, just not always quite in the way the donors and distributors intended. That’s okay, right? With the help of others working in Karamoja (you know you who you are), we’ve compiled a little list of what these all-purpose nets, ahem, excuse me, mosquito nets are being used for throughout the region. Here goes:

-to catch minnows
-to catch white-ants
-to cover young livestock
-to protect young tree saplings
-to cover this year’s grain harvest
-to strain homebrew beer
-to make the seat in homemade chairs
-to pad the ground for sitting or sleeping
-to tie grass for thatching roofs (see photo)
-to use as the rope for a tree swing
-to make wedding decorations
-to make the bride’s wedding veil

Oh, and of course:

-to keep mosquitoes off the body at night

So, besides all the advantages of mosquito nets listed in the first paragraph, add that they are incredibly useful for a wide variety of challenges life throws one’s way.

And THAT, my friends, is why the ALL-PURPOSE NET is the quintessential charitable donation to the developing world.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Buddy (1999-2011)

Early this New Year's morning, our beloved dog Buddy passed away. About six months ago he started showing signs of pain while eating. By three months ago, he was having a hard time keeping anything down. By last month, he couldn't keep anything down, even water, and was wasting away. He was finally diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia. Such a hernia is only correctible by surgery, but given the 50% survival rate and Buddy's age, the vet said it wouldn't be a good idea. Two days ago, Buddy's strength had waned to the point he couldn't move any more. Last night, on our back porch-that place he always tried to get to because it is closer to us-he gave up the struggle at last.

Missionaries brought Buddy, a brown mixed terrier, to Karamoja ten years ago, when he was a young dog. Since then, Buddy has been the loyal companion and vigilant watchdog for four different families. Buddy was there for all of us when we were discouraged; he would happily and noisily welcome us home and patiently listen if we bore our hearts to him. With the first clink of the gate's padlock, a chorus of barking would come from Buddy. At night, he would listen intently and bark at any strange noise, whether it was the toilet flushing or a warrior treading softly by outside the fence.

No one can tell how many times Buddy saved us and this property from robbery. On May 27th, 2008, Buddy certainly saved us from armed robbery. It was our third night alone in Karamoja. Three goats in the neighbor's yard attracted the attention of armed livestock thieves. They cut the fence, shot at our night guard twice, and stole the goats, all the time yelling drunken threats at us. Before they broke in, Buddy had been barking for two or three hours. The thieves gained access to all main areas of the larger compound, except for our inner yard where Buddy was patrolling.

Thank you, Buddy, for being such a wonderful dog. We, and all your previous masters, will miss you dearly. You have been a living symbol of the security and continuity offered by the Red Roof Inn (Baptist Mission) to wandering souls like ourselves. Rest in peace.

Buddy in the background, with Fujo, our strong young dog who will try to follow in Buddy's footsteps.

For a touching testimony about the kind of dog Buddy was, click here.