Saturday, March 19, 2011

And so begins the change of seasons

It started raining this week. We haven't seen a good downpour yet but we've had drizzly rains for the past few days. The temperature has also dropped into the 60's during the day...which is chilly for us considering the wind speeds on the top of our ridge.

The air is buzzing with excitement. It's planting time! Every time we see people now, they're either coming from or going to their gardens to plant. The only tools available are common hoes. The can buy the hoe head in Kaabong and then make a handle for it themselves. I know we've written about gardening before but it's just such a dominant activity here that I can't help but talk about it.

I honestly don't know if this is the 'real' beginning to rainy season. As we all know, the weather is unpredictable. Pastor Jacob made his own prediction today. He thinks this is a false start to rainy season which happens often. Regardless, the ground is currently soft and getting planted by everyone who can get their hands on seeds. The Ik are planting pumpkins, maize & beans. Terrill & I have started by planting some snow peas, bell peppers, watermelon & cilantro. Once we make some nursery beds, we'll also plant onions, carrots, tomatoes and red beets. I'm still not sure what grows best up here but we keep trying new things. We've been burying our compost (old food stuffs) in our garden all during dry season, so hopefully this will improve on the quality of veg that comes up.
The beginning of rainy season and just a few things growing in our small kitchen garden.
We planted these banana trees & the avocado last year. They didn't grow much during dry season but I have a feeling they'll shoot up in the next few months.
These onions were a little surprise that came up recently. They are the result of our onions seeding last year and dropping before we collected them.
This pumpkin plant came up as a result of our composting. I have a feeling that the ground is holding a few more surprises for us.
During rainy season, there is a fine mist that covers the mountain that we call gozho (Ik word). Actually, 'fine mist' is too delicate a name for the thick clouds that cover us. Sometimes they are so thick that we can't see very far in front of us. Tonight gozho has descended on us and will probably not lift until the sun returns.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Bald Mountain

At least that's what its Karamojong name, Morungole, means. It's a good enough name since the summit is above the tree-line. Three years ago, I tried to climb Morungole with a friend but failed. We started too late in the morning and didn't have enough food and water. The rapid ascent, dehydration, and weakness exacerbated what should've been only minor effects from the altitude: I started getting a headache and tunnel vision. Disappointed at not reaching the top, we had to turn around and head back down.

At approximately 9000 feet above sea level, Morungole is the highest mountain in our district. From its lofty vistas you can see well into three countries: Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. The northern and western slopes of the mountain are claimed by Kidepo National Park, while the southern and eastern slops fall within a national forest. The Ik and Karamojong people who live on the mountain don't seem perturbed by this, though, and so far the government has let them stay. There they farm their potatoes, cabbages, corn, and beans, enjoying ample rainfall and bubbling brooks. Staying high on the mountain protects them from bush-dwelling marauders, though the distance between their villages and the foot of the mountain makes education for children and healthcare hard to get.

Where Morungole begins to rise from the valley floor, the land is covered in woodland forest. As the altitude increases, the ravines and gorges, carved out by streams over eons of time, are draped in rainforest, complete with towering hardwoods, vines, and moss-carpeted rocks.

On the upper slopes, the forest gives way to afro-alpine shrub-land, dotted with stands of Portuguese cypress clothed in moss and lichen.

With Amber gone to Kampala for a women's conference over the weekend, I took the chance to retry Morungole. I picked up an Ik friend and headed out to the village of Usake, at the foot of the mountain. A large group of people met us there, first to gawk at the foreigner speaking a few phrases in their language, and second to see what 'good things' they could get out of the foreigner.

Partway up the mountain, it started to rain through a shroud of cold mist. But since I was already soaked in sweat, I didn't mind at all. At each village we passed, we repeated the same act: greeting in Ik (met with stares and giggles of amazement), giving packets of salt as gifts, and trying to explain why I didn't want to take the night there (it was only mid-afternoon after all...but the people just don't understand what is so interesting about the top of a mountain). Our impromptu guide eventually lost the trail, or so he said, so we were forced to take the night in a village. The family we imposed upon was kind enough to offer us a hut all to ourselves, but all the same, the mice and rats made plenty sure I got no sleep.

Fortunately, high mountain air and adrenaline have a way of mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation. Following an old man and two young boys, we reached the summit of Morungole at 9:00 am that morning. At the rocky peak, if the 40-50 mph wind didn't do it, the view certainly could take your breath away.

Just below the peak, I thought to myself: "This is it. Today I am actually making it to the top!" It was a moment of personal victory and profound satisfaction. Now, whenever I glance over at that jagged-topped mountain from our home in Timu, I will remember the struggle and the victory. And that will be worth it all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

There are things we take for granted... water. I had just always thought it would be available. And then one day, the borehole (well) in our village broke. It was broken for nearly a month before the government engineers finally came up to fix it. We were actually lucky to have it fixed in that 'short' amount of time. Another borehole in a near-by village was broken for months on end. Don't get me wrong...I am SO thankful that someone came to fix the matter the amount of time it took.
During the month of having a broken borehole, the girls of our village had their days filled up with finding ways to acquire water. Water truly is life. Everything stops without it. No cooking, eating, drinking, washing, brewing beer, mudding the walls of their houses...everything!

Terrill & I were blessed to have a half-full water tank at our house that provided us with water during that month. But I was interested in seeing what everyone else had to do. I walked with my young friends down to their water source one day.
We walked down a steep hill to a dry riverbed. The young children had fun sliding down the dusty hill on their backsides.
While waiting her turn to collect water, my friend Kuku showed me how to climb trees barefooted and in a skirt. Quite a skill.
The make-shift watering hole was dug several feet into the ground under a bed of large rocks. The girls would climb down into the hold where water was dripping off the roots of some plant. The hole was cramped and the water polluted.
The water dripped into a muddy puddle. The girls used an old laundry detergent bucket to pick up water and pour it into their jerry cans.
Another activity while awaiting their turn to collect water was to bathe. Alice is demonstrating how they scrape their skin with a rock to get it clean. It works much like a pumice...except they use the rock everywhere they have skin. I noticed that the skin was definitely clean but also dry and scaly by the time they were finished. Some girls had skin flaking off. They attribute this problem to illness but I may have to address the vigor with which they scrub themselves with rocks some day.
When the bathing and filling up water buckets is finished, the girls heave buckets onto their heads and start up the steep incline. The whole routine of going to fetch water and get it home takes at least two hours per trip.
And the result: a bucket of dirty water. But water is water and even this polluted source of water ensures the peoples' survival.
Please think twice the next time you turn on a faucet and clean water pours forth. You are truly blessed! Pray for those who spend their lives finding water to survive.