Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lochiyo Gabriel (197?-2011): R.I.P.

Last night a special Ik friend of ours, Lochiyo Gabriel (pictured on the right), died in the hospital from complications linked to HIV-AIDS. He left behind his Karamojong wife, Alice, and two young children.

Lochiyo was the second Ik person we ever met (the first for Amber) and the first we met in Karamoja (March 2008). While staying with our friends, Jacob & Georgia Reed, for five weeks in Kaabong, I linked up with Lochiyo to start researching the Ik language. Sometimes I met with Lochiyo at the Reeds' house, sometimes in town.

I particularly remember two occasions with him. The first was when we met in a dusty school classroom full of broken desks and pored over Ik words scrawled in rough linguistic notation. A couple of Karamojong boys stared through the open door at what must have been an odd sight: a white man and a Teuso (Ik) uttering unrecognizable syllables and writing them down. The second occasion I clearly remember was when we were doing our work on the back porch of the Reeds' house. Amber had picked up Lochiyo from town, bought three chapattis (like tortillas) at a local restaurant, and handed them to Lochiyo to carry on the way home. When I sat down with Lochiyo at the table, he pulled out the three chapattis, rolled them up together in a great wad, and took a big bite out of them. A bit shocked, I asked him if he knew those chapattis were for all three of us. He just shrugged his shoulders, gave a sly smile, and said---the now infamous line---"bad luck for you". That simple phrase was seared into our psyche and was a more than adequate introduction to the different social norms we were to encounter.

With Lochiyo's help, I collected 1700 Ik words which formed the basis for the Ik writing system. That system is now, after three years, nearing completion. I'm going to dedicate the alphabet to him.

After those early days working with Lochiyo, we rarely saw him except in passing. But when we did, he was always kind and gentle with us. We very much appreciated the way he related to us; his demeanor was not something we could take for granted. We will certainly miss seeing him from time to time in town, when he used to stop us for a quick greeting.

When Lochiyo was hired as the Chief for the Ik parishes within Kalapata Sub-County, he became the first Ik ever in history (to our knowledge) to hold a government post. As the Ik people's newly-formed sub-county takes shape over the next year or two, we should not forget the quiet but foundational contributions made by Lochiyo.

With his family we mourn the passing of Lochiyo. May he rest in peace in the Everlasting Arms.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beauty from Ashes

Every year the Ik burn the grass around their villages and gardens. The reasons they do this are two-fold: sometimes they are hunting small animals (cane rats or antelopes) and better able to catch them during a fire...but more likely than not, the Ik burn the grass because they think their crops will grow better if there is ash in the soil. Also, burning saves them the hard work of cutting down the grass manually which would take days.

At first I was a bit unsure about fires burning around our house as I have no idea about how to handle a fire if it got out of control. Thankfully, the Ik are masters of controlling fires. They may not go to school, but they've learned how to manipulate their environments in the school of life. If a fire is coming close to a village, the Ik will start another fire near the village to stop the first fire. I'm sad to say that this technique does not always work as planned. Three weeks ago, a fire got out of control near a village and couldn't be stopped. It started burning the village and when some people went back to salvage their belongings, five of them got caught in the fire and died.

It always makes me a little sad to see the fires burning. It symbolizes death & destruction in my mind. The hills of old, dead grass are suddenly gone...replaced by black nothingness and a soot that stays in the air for days. But the Ik don't mourn the change. They know that very soon a bright green will sprout forth from the ground. The dead grass is replaced by new life, only made possible through the fire. I feel a spiritual lesson coming on but I know it's one we've heard many times so I'll just leave these pictures as a reminder. Death is necessary for new life. After the burning rituals, it never fails to amaze me what beauty can rise up when least expected.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A little extra something

Some people call it good luck, others call it good fortune. In the language of faith, we might call it blessings or grace. What I'm talking about is that 'little extra something', those little twists and turns of fate and providence that 'make our day', those quirks of life that are above and beyond what we need to merely survive. I think all people experience this thing I'm hinting at, but learning to recognize them and be thankful for them doesn't always come easily.

This week Amber and I have received 'a little extra something' in the area of transportation. We came down to Kampala on Monday to have a break, buy supplies, and pick up visitors. We decided to fly down instead of drive, so all week we've had to rely on either our legs or public transport to get around. Using public transport can be frustrating, tiring, and risky (not to mention expensive...), but this week our travel was touched with 'a little extra something' that made me pause, smile, and be thankful. I want to tell you about just three scenarios.

Coming back from Jinja, we were waiting for a 'taxi', a mini-van that carries 14 passengers, has no seat-belts, often speeds, and is generally uncomfortable and unsafe. Before we could board one, a small privately-owned car stopped and offered us a ride for the same price. The ride was comfortable, at a decent speed, and we arrived in Kampala safe and sound. That was the first scenario.

A day later we were walking out of our guesthouse to find a motorcycle taxi to take us to find a larger mini-van taxi to take us to Entebbe. Just as we stepped outside the guesthouse gate, the guesthouse manager was pulling in with his vehicle. He asked us if we needed a ride somewhere. We said 'yes', and he took us to the taxi stage, about a twenty-minutes' drive away. That was the second scenario.

Yesterday we needed to pick up some visitors from the bus station. They were supposed to arrive between 8:00-10:00 p.m. but got delayed until 3:00 a.m. I was planning to walk down the hill in the evening, hire one of the many taxis in the area, and go get them. But during the early hours of the morning, I knew taxis would be harder to find, and I didn't relish the idea of riding around on a motorcycle taxi, or walking on foot, looking for one. Then I called a guy whose number I had had in my phone since 2008. I knew he ran a taxi service. Even though he had just got back from a job at midnight, and with me calling him at 1:00 a.m....AND though he had a long trip to take today, he agreed to take us to pick up our visitors. That was the third scenario.

These examples of 'a little extra something' in our transportation ordeals may seem simple or silly, but they didn't escape my notice and I didn't want them to escape mention either.