Thursday, November 24, 2011

Really. Big. Mushroom.

With all the rain we've been getting the last four months, we see some weird stuff growing out of the ground (and elsewhere, like the hideous slugs that emerge from our grass roof). For example, check out this mammoth mushroom. The Ik call it lomóí. Too bad it's toxic; we could have made some nice 'shroom steaks from this baby!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Investing in a future generation

So, in the last blog I told you about how we're investing in the elderly. In this blog, I wanted to mention how we're getting involved with the youth. In early October, we were encouraged by our supervisor to think of other ways of getting involved in our local community. Since the Timu village school has no formal teachers (only parents who volunteer their time for free), we decided that we could come up with lessons and start a bit of teaching at the school. Kate has been doing English lessons. The kids are very receptive and always find something to laugh about. I think they've really enjoyed having an interactive teacher instead of learning every lesson by rote. For those of you who aren't familiar with rote education, it's basically when the teacher says something and the students repeat the sentence over and over until it is memorized. Below, Kate is teaching the kids some action words. She is telling them to 'come here'. After she has demonstrated the action while saying it, she will have someone come to the front and will instruct them to do something. Then the child will be the instructor and have another child come to the front, telling them to do something. A very effective method for learning. One of the first English lessons was the appropriate greetings to use. She is teaching them 'Good morning' below.
After all of the interactions, Kate will write the new English words on the board and the children will copy the words down in their little blue notebooks. They get pretty excited about writing new words. Many days she will give them an assignment and if they've done the assignment by the next class period, she will reward them with a pen or notebook (both of which is highly valuable in this classroom).
And these are the excited learners...well, maybe it was a 'down' day. They usually look happier to see us. Some days no teachers come to school and the children end up spending hours just sitting in this classroom, writing anything and everything down. They are truly eager to learn. But this school is not accredited by the government yet and no formally trained teachers have been sent to Timu. In order for that to happen, they will have to get officially registered and someone will have to build teacher housing (since none of the Ik who live here are trained teachers). There will also need to be Ik translators for those teachers, who will not speak the Ik language. And at this point, the children know little English so the teacher will not get the point across on his own. Then those translators will have to be paid from some budget that doesn't currently exist. It's a complicated issue but we are still praying that a teacher will find his way to this school and will start empowering our children through education.
These are the new desks that were kindly donated by friends of ours at Powhatan Mennonite church in Virginia. We are not the only ones investing in the lives of these Ik.
Many children really care about their studies like the one above. Lucia Lemu (below) is a bright girl who has just started going to school. She usually has to help her mother with chores at home but recently she's been given more freedom to attend. The story is the same for many of the girls. You'll notice in my pictures that most of the students are boys. Interestingly enough, many statistics say that the women are the majority of 'bread-winners' in Africa. They are the ones who figure out how to provide for their families even when living in abject poverty. Who knows what educating a woman will do for this society?
Kitella (below) is starting early with her education. Many of the girls have to bring their wards to school with them because the mother's are too busy to care for small children and do the bulk of the household chores.
Before I go, I just want to publicly thank Kate for investing with us in the future generation. She's graciously and lovingly given her time to these children and they are all learning much from her. She will be remembered well!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Old souls

For the past several months, we've had a friend named Kate staying with us. She is on a Discovery trip with Wycliffe, observing what life looks like as an overseas missionary and seeing how she might fit in the organization if she were to join Wycliffe. We've given Kate several activities to be involved with so she might get a taste for different aspects of the work. One of the activities that she & I (Amber) have started doing together is to collect oral histories from the elderly Ik in and around Timu. We identify key elderly people who still have a clear mind and can remember the past well. Then we pick up our video camera and recorders and hike out to their villages. It's been great fun to visit each j'akam (old man) and duneim (old woman) and to hear their stories.
At each village, there are onlookers who are interested in what we're doing and wanting to listen to the histories. Many times they've tried to add input and we've had to shush them. The Ik like to talk; that's all there is to it. Once inside a village, we find a suitable and QUIET place to sit in order to get a clear recording. Our language helper, Philip, gets things started by asking permission to tape/record each elder. When they agree, we start the recorder and video camera and begin asking questions. What is their name? How old are they? Who were their parents? Where were they born? These are the easy questions...all except for the age question. Nobody knows their real age. The answer is either many years old or something like ten years old. That was the age when they stopped counting. Then Philip starts with questions about their lives: Tell us the story of how you met your wife and got married. What did the Ik wear when you were a child. What kind of foods did you eat 60 years ago? Do you remember when the gun was introduced into your area? What was your relationship like with your neighbors, the Karimojong and Turkana? Tell us your hunting stories. They each have something a little different to say. They each get excited about a particular aspect of life. One man went on and on about hunting elephants. It made him come alive. After we've done the interviews, which generally last about an hour, we pack up and go home. Once home, Philip starts the long process of translating what's been said into writing. One day we hope to put these stories into a book that can be given back to the community.
One of our favorite parts of the interview is when the old people start to sing. The men have something called a bull song, where they sing about the bull they were named after. It's a ritual that is done as a young man. The women also have their songs which the men sometimes know little about. The woman below is singing a special song that is sung after a woman gives birth.
So here we sit recording the details of a man's life. He tells us what he's been telling his children for years. We're going to try and save it for them in written and oral forms. It's been a privilege to be on the receiving end of these interesting stories. We receive the wisdom of old age...and what do we give them? They've been settling for knitted hats and other small gifts.
I think the whole process is also giving something back to the family though too. Below Elisabeth is listening to her grandmother tell her life story. She might learn something new, she might walk away with a better understanding of her loved one or she might just appreciate her grandmother a little more today than she did yesterday. To us, what matters is that we're saving a piece of the Iks' past for their future. May the Lord bless these efforts!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A picture says it all...

Amber is well loved by the children in Timu, as this photo makes abundantly clear:

Terrill is well loved by the adults of Timu, as this picture makes abundantly clear:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The 'makings' of a good baby shower

While in Entebbe at the beginning of October, Kate & I got to participate in a colleague's baby shower. Our friend, Irene, had delivered Josiah back in August. But in Uganda, it's typical to throw a party after the baby is born instead of beforehand. It did prove more convenient as well because Irene's husband could let us all know what the couple needed as far as baby apparel. The ladies of SIL who work with Irene decided to throw her a surprise party and her husband, Sam, was happy to help us. Below Robin is holding the baby boy, Josiah.
And a party isn't a party without good friends like Esther....
...and lots of food. Believe it or not, that fruit salad was almost finished by the time we left. Everyone was pretty excited about the grapes in the salad, which normally cost something like $5 per kilo. I personally hand't tasted a grape in about two years.
And then there were the party games, which Kate & I were responsible for. The first game involved picking safety pins out of a basket of rice while the participant is blind-folded. It was actually harder than one might think when using tiny safety pins. But we all giggled and cheered as the participants dug through the rice for their 60 seconds of picking. The next game involved birthing & pregnancy beliefs from different parts of the world. Kate & I had researched different traditions and we quizzed the ladies to see how close they could get to the country of origin. Below are some examples:
  1. A woman is told not to do any knitting while she’s pregnant as it could cause the umbilical cord to become wrapped around the baby’s neck. (BOLIVIA)
  2. The mother is supposed to keep her legs crossed during the postnatal period based on the belief that it will reduce the air flowing into her body, which could cause her abdomen to remain permanently fat. (GHANA)
  3. During pregnancy, women frequently eat a special kind of salty clay. When chewed, the clay is believed to increase appetite and decrease nausea. (SUDAN)
Next came the presents. As we each presented Irene with a gift, we also offered her a word of encouragement for raising Josiah. At the end, we offered up some prayers for her & Sam as they spend the next twenty years raising Josiah.
But we couldn't leave without a group this is our first attempt at getting organized.
Yes, it had the makings of a good baby shower.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dormice from H-E-double hockey sticks

Personally I'm not really surprised that in animist societies, various birds and animals are attributed with spiritual powers. In Ik society, some creatures are called badiam, which translates loosely as 'wizard', 'sorcerer', or something having 'dark' or 'weird'  powers. Included in this group are the owl, the hyena, and of course, the snake. The reason I say I'm not surprised is because at times during my life in Africa, in Tanzania before and in Uganda these past four years, I've been the victim of the strange ability of a creature to (seemingly) know what irritates me and to hone in on that very irritation. It's so uncanny and seemingly intentional that I've often just described it as 'demonic'. 

In Tanzania, it was the rooster who would come right under my window every morning and crow its little head off. Of all the other places in our entire big backyard, it chose the worst, most annoying spot possible. Here in Uganda it's been the red-winged blackbirds who built their nest in the air vent in the ceiling right guessed it, our bedroom window. Their syrupy-sweet slurry whistles at 6:00 am and the loud, grating cries of their young sent me to new heights of irritation. No matter how many times I shot one with the BB-gun, the other would quickly find another mate. No matter how many times I pulled their nest out, they would build another one. Finally after being dive-bombed and pecked on the head (after that I wore a helmet), I bested them by wrapping enough barbed wire around the air-vent opening. 

Second only to the blackbirds have been the evil dormice. Dormice are little mouse-like critters with long bushy tails. They look like a tiny cross between a mouse and squirrel. They are noisy, energetic, and downright exasperating. And our ceiling is their playground.

Last night something fun(ny) happened, which is the whole reason I'm writing this post. Two dormice were really going at it, starting at about 9:30, while we were still watching The Fellowship of the Rings. They were chittering, chattering, squeaking, running, jumping, fighting, mating---whatever they were doing---with total impunity. At 11 pm, exhausted from the day, we put in our earplugs and hit the sack, thinking we'd be asleep in no time. Wrong! Those little &%$@!s came right over, directly above our bed, and carried on with their nonsense within seven feet of our heads. I started having fantasies about taking a broom and whacking at them with all my might, but I knew Amber would disapprove of the shower of dust that would fall on our bed. My irritation quickly became murderous. I got up and started pacing, knowing I could never sleep like this and not knowing what I could possibly do. 

My inner hunter could take no more of this rodential pestilence. Wearing nothing but a loosely fitting pair of trousers, I got a light and reached for the BB-gun hanging above our closet door. I climbed the closet shelves, pushed up one of the ceiling tiles, and rather clumsily hoisted myself into the rank, dust-caked attic. There began a nice game of man-and-mouse. For twenty minutes or so (by now it was midnight), I hunted one of the dormice who was clearly not afraid of me at the beginning. After four narrowly missed shots, s/he got the idea that my goal was to inflict harm, permanent harm. That one eventually escaped. The second one was on the other end of the house chittering and chattering, not having learned his lesson. I turned the light out for ten minutes and then stalked toward it. When the light came back on, I saw him, raised my gun, and let fly a small nickel sphere, putting an abrupt end to his rowdy night out. I climbed down out of the attic, took a sponge bath, and crawled back into bed.

Rarely have I felt such satisfaction as I did over the utter silence that lasted the rest of the night.