Thursday, May 31, 2012

Strength in Numbers

We've had a lot of visitors this year! A few weeks ago we had the privilege of hosting Terrill's parents, Arlin & Velma Schrock, as well as his uncle and aunt, Calvin & Mary Jane Schrock. Having close family or friends---people with whom we share a lot more in common---with us in Timu gives us emotional strength. It's nice to have members of our 'tribe' live with us from time to time. There really is strength in numbers. We've become ol' veterans of aloneness, but that doesn't mean we always like it!

The Schrocks & Schrocks stayed with us for a good two weeks. We took a week meandering our way up to Timu all the way from Entebbe, then a full week in Timu, followed by a weekend on safari. Here's a picture of us enjoying a first lunch together in Entebbe (Cheers!):

On the way up north we encountered some of the worst driving conditions we've ever been through since coming to Uganda: lots of rain and mud! Here's a picture of us cleaning some 'black cotton' soil out of our shoes. Or, should I say, trying to clean it out!

It seems like we spent a lot of time in the truck this time...but we sure had a good time (though sometimes scary, I'll admit). Here's a picture of Mary Jane, Velma & Arlin (left-to-right) engrossed in conversation along the way:

We love when visitors bring us goodies from home! (Thanks, Schrocks!) It's always like Christmas in...March...May...or whenever. It's also fun when we have gifts to give to the Ik. Here's a picture of an old lady named Cecilia who was the blessed recipient of a blanket (she's sitting in front of it) made by Terrill's grandmother, Anna Weber. No more chilly nights for her!

Our recent spate of visitors have also helped us with a ton of projects. Below is a picture of all of us enjoying our first breakfast in our new 'sitting hut'. Arlin and Calvin put in quite a few hours helping us finish this bad boy (the Atmore Team in March helped us get it started). It's specially designed to allow sleeping on top to watch the stars. In addition to the sitting hut, the whole crew helped do some painting and varnishing down at the clinic, as well as up at our house on the ridge. Calvin applied his mechanical expertise to making and installing a home-made solar water heater and fixing a variety of things around the ol' Schrock Homestead. Meanwhile, the ladies were a whirlwind in the kitchen, cooking up a storm and washing up a typhoon. They also made some curtains for our bookshelves; a safeguard against the dust we have for most of the year.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, Calvin and Mary Jane, for making the long, long journey to and around Uganda, just to be with us! We were blessed, and we hope you were to. Until next time!

Ilakasuƙotimaa zuku ʝiki muka!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hunger Week

Some of you have asked how to respond to the hunger crisis among the Ik, and we really appreciate the compassion you feel for them. In fact, that's why Amber wrote the post 'Hunger pangs': to raise your awareness about world hunger by sharing how difficult it is to be on the sidelines. Many of you know us, so now you know people who know people who have very little to eat. They don't eat breakfast. They don't eat lunch. If they're relatively well off, they may still have a meager dinner of maize-meal and beans or greens. Often the adults will go without completely so that the children can get something. That's why the kids are still okay, but the adults are slowly wasting away. However, no one is starving to death at this point. 

For those of us from the West, our knee-jerk reaction to hearing about this is to want to fix it. Amber and I feel that exact way. Surely there is something we can do. We've got money, contacts, influence, and most importantly, a strong belief that we can work to make life better, work to make the earth more like heaven. But the reasons the Ik are hungry now are complex. It's not just that the land didn't give them enough food. It's not a simple failure of the environment. No, it's the result of numerous factors working together. For example, the Ik have become dependent on free food distributions that have been going on every year since 1980 when the Red Cross helicoptered food in during a famine. Because of that dependency, they have forgotten how to budget the food they manage to acquire through farming, hunting, and gathering. They can't grow more food than they currently do because they don't have tractors or oxen. If they had oxen, the neighboring tribes would steal them and maybe kill someone in the process. They can't gather wild foods as far and wide as they used to because of the same threat of being shot by bandits. And they can't hunt and trap as much as they used to because they are no longer nomadic, so the wildlife is being decimated by overhunting. 

Because of these and other factors, we feel that immediate food relief is not the best option right now, especially since people are not dying of hunger. Instead of widespread food relief, what we want to do now is simply coexist with our Ik neighbors, try to identify more with them, try to take their condition upon us so that we know how better to pray and to do acts of kindness on an individual, relational basis (rather than a large-scale tribal basis). To that end, we are going to do a Hunger Week, from June 1-8.

Hunger week will be a week during which we lower ourselves into a state of hunger, a state in which Ik people dwell in more often than not. Our plan is to eat one meal a day: dinner. And that dinner will consist of cooked maize-meal and beans of some sort. We will eat sufficient portions of that each evening. And we will allow ourselves meager snacks if we are to the point our health is in decline. But the idea is that we will experience that pervasive emptiness that comes with reduced eating. The hunger (ɲeƙ in Ik) the Ik experience is not that annoying yet exciting twinge we feel after our morning coffee or an hour before our lunch break, that feeling we quickly and habitually quell with calories. Rather, this hunger is just an emptiness. If you've ever fasted, you know what I mean. So for seven days we are going to eat one meal per day. Our goal is not to fast or to test our endurance or to assuage any guilt. Our goal is to identify with our neighbors so we can better understand them (better understand why they talk about hunger so much!) and better know how to pray for them. 

We invite you to join us for Hunger Week. Don't feel you have to for our sake, but if it's something you feel led to do, you are welcome. We suggest you eat only one meal a day, and if you really want to be like the Ik, eat something like cornbread and beans for the single meal all week. See how you feel empty. See how your body gets weak and your mind gets clearer. See how much you think and dream about food. And then, at the end of the week, thank God you can go back to your abundance of food and breathe a prayer for those who can't. And be blessed in the process.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


We'd like to introduce you to two new friends: Sam Beer (on the left) and Stephen Burger (on the right). They arrived in Kaabong this weekend on their way to Karenga where they will be staying for the next two months. Stephen is grad student in TESOL (teaching English as a second language) from Oklahoma; he hopes to do some phonetic research, possibly on Karimojong or another language spoken around Karenga. Sam, also from Oklahoma, is doctoral student in linguistics at the University of Colorado. He's here to investigate the fading Nyang'i language to see if he can capture enough to write a grammar of it.

Sam's project is special to me (Terrill) because Nyang'i is a 'sister' language to Ik. Ik, Nyang'i, and So/Tepeth are the only three members of the Kuliak family of languages. Kuliak languages are quite different from other languages in East Africa, and no one is quite sure how to classify them. Both So/Tepeth and Nyang'i are on the verge of extinction, so in a decade or two, Ik will be the only surviving member of this ancient language family. If Sam is able to document and describe Nyang'i a bit more, it will not only make a valuable contribution to linguistic science, but also to the prehistory of the peoples of this area and hopefully to the cultural pride and solidarity of the Nyang'i people. Like the other two members of the Kuliak family, the Nyang'i people have been severely oppressed by their tribal neighbors. But unlike the Ik, the Nyang'i and So/Tepeth have mostly forgotten their languages.

Sam and Stephen will be around here until late July. We wish them every success and pray that God will take their research in fruitful directions. I (Terrill), for one, am thrilled to have another 'Kuliakist' in the neighborhood! You'd have to be a linguist to understand, I guess.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hunger pangs

Have you ever just woken up one morning to realize that your worldview has shifted? Terrill & I have been so busy with hosting visitors for the past few months that we didn't realize what was happening around us. Now we're on our own back in Timu with our eyes wide open at the changes.'s suddenly staring us in the face.
Remember watching those commercials on TV about world hunger? The commercials that asked each viewer to help fill a child's stomach. Sorrowful eyes and round bellies would flash across the screen and as a child in a sheltered home in rural Ohio, I felt a twinge of sympathy for those who were hungry. But then the commercial ended and all was forgotten. I was born into a home where there was no hunger. A culture that doesn't really know hunger. And it was easy to forget faces of people that I don't know. 
All that has changed. Now the faces of people that might flash across the screen for those commercials are my friends and neighbors. I know their names, how many children they have and the way they like their tea. Think about your own neighbors....those you know the best....the ones who collect your mail when you're on vacation or take care of the dog. What if you went to visit them one evening only to find that they've already gone to bed at 7pm because there is no food in the house to eat and sleeping is the only thing left to do. How would you respond? You'd want to help them, right? Well what if you had 300 neighbors and they were all in this fix? 
This is the situation. The land that the Ik people live on and practice subsistence farming on cannot sustain them. They grow enough crops for a portion of the year but not the whole year. They dig and weed their gardens by hand. It's not safe to have oxen to plow with. They would be stolen by the neighboring tribes and people would get killed if they got in the way. There are no tractors around. Some tractors have been brought to Kaabong district for plowing in Karimojong gardens, but they never make it all the way up to Ik gardens. Just another way that the Ik get marginalized by the KJ. So the Ik do 'group work' and dig their gardens by hand in groups. Imagine having to dig a garden big enough to feed your family of 9 people for a whole year. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? 
The Ik used to get food relief from the United Nations World Food Program. In fact, they'd been getting it annually for many years (since the 80's). It suddenly stopped this year and the WFP is pulling out its relief. I believe this to be a good thing that happened the wrong way. People had become dependent upon the WFP and they were not managing their food supplies or families wisely. Since the WFP food was a crutch, they could continue to produce large families without any consequences. They could also eat as much as they wanted during the season of plenty...because they'd be getting food relief during the season of famine. It happened this year again. I watched it happen. My friends and neighbors would cook huge meals multiple times a day and would eat to their hearts content during the harvest season. They didn't save much or think about putting food away 'for a rainy day'. They could use some lessons in food management; someone teaching them how to stretch their resources for 365 days. The Ik don't seem to value planning ahead. They seem to live for the moment and embrace today. They eat like there is no tomorrow; maybe this is a lesson they've learned over time. Too often, there was no tomorrow. 
But back to the problem with the WFP pulling out. It's good that they left, but in the wake of their leaving, someone needed to come in and help the Ik develop their economy. If the Ik are to live on land that can't sustain them, they need jobs to survive. But alas, there was nobody to follow the WFP's departure and the Ik are getting hungrier and hungrier. The adults are starting to have prominent bones stick out and bellies that are drawing Charles (below). Charles is married to Sabina and he loves onions in all his food. It hurts me to see him suffer. 
The children are beginning to have bellies that poke out and eyes that sink Paul (below). Paul has three sisters and likes to make trucks out of cardboard. It's especially hard to see the children suffer.

The Ik say there used to be more food that could be hunted and gathered. They used to collect white ants from the valley this time of year. They said they would get fat on those ants. These days, it's too dangerous to venture into the valleys and gorges where the ants are because the Turkana are there with guns and more than one Ik has already fell victim to a Turkana bullet. There is also not nearly as much game as there used to be because the animals have been overhunted for too long. 
There is something amazing in this sad story. The people are still singing and dancing. They've not lost their capacity to love or enjoy life. A baby boy was born yesterday and we heard a great celebration come from the village. They might not be eating much, but they're still alive. I wonder if we would all respond to these type of circumstances in the same way? 
This is a pretty emotional blog for me to write (and I don't usually get emotional on here), but it hits close to home and the subject matter is of utmost importance. Life or death for some. As I've been racking my brain this week about what I can do for this situation....the most tangible thing that has come to mind is that I can pray for these people. I can pray that they find food, that they are comforted in their misery, and that they would find God through their trials of life. Won't you please pray with me for the Ik today...and for all those who across the world are hungry? Thank God that you were born into a culture that never knew true hunger. Thank God that he poured out his grace upon you and you've never had to worry about starving to death. Thank God each and every time you sit down to a meal. It's a privilege not given to everyone.