Friday, June 29, 2012

An update on Mandella

As many of you know, we've been concerned about a 13-year old Ik boy
named Chilla Mandela. He became sick last year and by August was
unable to walk or control his urine anymore. We continually requested
the parents to bring Mandela to our compound so we could drive him to
the hospital. For five months, they avoided us and did not bring the
boy. Finally in February of this year the father came to me requesting
pain medicine for a headache. I negotiated with him that I would give
him medicine after he agreed to go with Mandela to the hospital. He
finally agreed. We drove to a place near Mandela's village and loaded
him up. At the hospital, the doctors in Kaabong let us know pretty
quickly that they could not help Mandela because they didn't have an x-
ray machine that worked or other proper diagnostic tools. So we took
him home but decided to transport him to Kampala later that month to
see a British doctor. In Kampala, Dr. Stockley did an x-ray and some
blood work. After spending the day at his office, it was determined
that Mandela had contracted Tuberculosis of the spine. He was put on
medication and told to go somewhere for a follow-up visit in a few
months. We brought Mandela home and he's been taking his medicine
faithfully since then. We've seen him improving over the months as
well. At his worst, he could only sit at a 45 degree angle without
pain in his back or a tremor in his legs. Now he can sit at a 90
degree angle and his mobility has increased significantly. He has knee-
pads on and can crawl around the compound. He hadn't been able to do
this since last August. He is still somewhat incontinent of urine
(especially when he is stressed) but he is gaining a small degree of
control. He also reports that all back pain is gone no. When he was
last taken to Kaabong hospital, we were told that he'd need one more
month of medication and then at least a month of physical therapy to
regain some of the strength in his legs. Our hope is still that
Mandella would one day walk again. But more than that, we pray that
this experience will draw him to the Lord. Please lift Mandela up with
us in prayer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Conning the Conman

A while back, during Hunger Week, we stopped at our favorite
restaurant in Kaabong to have our lunch of posho and beans. The place
is called Riverside Restaurant, owned and operated by Bantu folks from
further south. It's a classic dining experience with filthy walls and
tables, flies buzzing around your head and food, and people staring at
you through the open door. But the food is good, cheap, and very fast.

Anyway, we were seated at a table just inside the door, on the left.
As we were digging into our grub, a tall, smiling (probably
inebriated) Ugandan man interrupted me, making quite a commotion. He
took my hand and shook it vigorously and wouldn't let go. He said how
happy he was to see me (his good friend). This show goes on for a
little while, and finally he asks me if I know who he is, and I say
no. By this time I'm mostly bemused but bordering on annoyed. (We
often have complete strangers coming up to us acting like we're bosom
buddies or something. If you know me, you know I really can't stand

So just as his reputation and chances of getting something from me
(his best friend who's strangely forgotten who he is...) are in
danger, he kindly offers to buy something. Come again? Yes, he wants
to buy me something. What? Yes, he says, gesturing magnanimously
toward the wall where a number of products were being sold off the
shelves. I quickly scan the shelves. There is bottled water for 1500
shillings ($.60), soft drink for 2000 shillings ($.80), and mango
juice for 5500 shillings ($2.20). "Okay, mango juice," I say.

The waiter brings the box of juice over to the man who has just pulled
out a 2000 shilling note. He asks how much the juice costs, and as the
waiter tells him the price, he has to reach into his pocket for more
money while everyone else in the restaurant bursts out laughing. Wow,
I think, I just got a complete stranger to buy me a box of juice that
is worth an entire day's wage for unskilled manual labor. Cool! And
for no reason at that! Even better.

Then, the guy, now having lost the sloppy smile and looking a bit
overcommitted, asks me if I'm going to Kalapata. Oh, so that's it! He
wants a ride! No, I say, I'm not going to Kalapata, but I can drop him
off at the junction (I had no other passengers at this point). I tell
him and his wife or sister or whoever it was (hopefully not one and
the same person, though I thought he used both titles) to meet us back
here in 15 minutes. So 15-20 minutes later, I drive back through there
very slowly and even park to see if he's around. Nope. Okay, we're
outta here!

And so ends the story of how I conned the conman as he was trying to
con me into giving him a ride, which worked, even though he never

Friday, June 8, 2012

In the Beginning

Milestones come and go in this language and translation work, and sometimes I hardly notice! Maybe that's one of the hazards of the job. In any case, this week our Ik translators---Philip, Daniel, and Sylvester---made the first draft of Genesis chapter 1! So this 'in the beginning' refers not only to the beginning of the Bible but also to the beginning of our working together as a team.
I'll spare you the text of the entire chapter, but I did want to post a few excerpts (for those of you who can read it...Richard? And those who can appreciate it aesthetically if not intelligibly).
First verse of the first book of the first testament of the Bible, translated into Ik:
Noo itsiaketonio iɗimetoo Ɲakuʝa didigwariyaa nda kiʝ. (Genesis 1:1)
And other verses I like in Ik:
Kutoo koto Ɲakuʝa, "Iyoo iwiron," nda iyoni iwironi. (Genesis 1:3)
Kutoo koto Ɲakuʝa, "Iɗimetano roɓa ikwaanatie nda njin, ƙamatie njini, ipukaini nta nkolea ni ɲanamui nda gwaicika ni bur, inoicika ni barana kiʝoo muɲ, nda iɗimotosiicika muɲu ni ɓeƙesata ʝumugwariao." (Genesis 1:26)

Enuo Ɲakuʝa ɗia nuu iɗimeta muɲ, maraŋaakatik. Iyukoo widza nda iyukoo barats---odowoo noo tuudonie nda keɗi kona kiɗaa. (Genesis 1:31) 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hunger Week: Days 6 & 7

On this evening of the final day of Hunger Week, I realize that we have gotten used to being hungry. This morning I was hungry all morning. But it didn't bother me. I went about my work as usual. Then we ate maize-mush and lentils for lunch. As I was stirring the maize-mush in the pot, I noticed that the promise of eating had no control over me. 

By evening I was hungry, and I'm hungry still. If I think about food, I understand that eating would be pleasurable, and that my body would profit from it. But it has no hold over me. Eating or not eating is not something by which I will organize or evaluate these evening hours. I'm hungry, but so what? 

Hungry or not, life goes on. Being hungry becomes a way of life. Honestly, I can't remember what it's like to not feel hungry most of the time. If I wasn't writing about hunger right now, I don't know if I'd even be thinking about it. 

I'm not saying being hungry is nice, fun, or easy, or that being perpetually hungry is good or desirable. But what I am saying is that we've learned a little bit about how the Ik live day in and day out, month in and month out, well...hungry. They just do. It is possible to enjoy life, to delight in relationships, to work manually or mentally, all the while having an empty stomach more often than not. And that kind of bowls me over.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink...Is not life more important than food...?"---Jesus

As our Hunger Week draws to a close, we thank God that the Iks' Hunger Season is also drawing to a close. This very afternoon, World Vision delivered two truckloads of maize, sorghum, soybeans, cooking oil, and salt that people have earned over the last couple of months in 'food for work' projects. I tweeted on Twitter today that this is an 'unsustainable' solution to the hunger. But that's not totally fair. This wasn't just a free distribution to bale the people out of hunger. They actually worked for it. So, they bought it, just like we all buy food to survive on. The food they received today will get them through the following weeks until they start harvesting from their gardens in late summer. 

Thank you for reading, praying, empathizing, commiserating, and encouraging us this week. Thank God that he has provided 'daily bread' for us all, including the Ik, today. And pray that the Ik one day can feast on the Living Bread of their souls and spirits.

Until next Hunger Week (June 1-7, 2013)...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hunger Week: Days 4 & 5

No, we haven't starved to death (though I'm getting there! JK). We've just had an incredibly bizarre, busy last seventy-two hours or so.

One of the potential positive benefits of being hungry (especially if it's voluntary) is that in setting aside your own need for food, you may become more open to the needs of others. That's what happened on Sunday. After church, a young father named Ariko Joseph showed us his sick four-year-old daughter (Nakiru Akoro) who had body swelling and rapid breathing (66 breaths per minute). So while we were looking forward to an ambiguous yet restful sabbath, we were suddenly faced with a huge need: getting this girl to the hospital in Kaabong. Having already set aside our self-gratification in eating (and the daily scheduling that happens around meals), it wasn't a big leap to set aside, well...everything else and basically donate our entire day to someone in need. 

I've been looking at the positive aspects of going hungry or fasting, but then on Monday I got a taste (ha!) of one of the darker sides: irritability. Monday was a rough day for me. I got up feeling edgy and anxious. I was in no mood to give my time or energy to anyone. The hot, sweet cup of milk tea that had been so satisfying as a breakfast on Sunday just burned a hole in my shrunken stomach. We spent most of the morning running around here and there in town (which I hate anyway because of the begging and sordid stares), tending mostly to the needs of various Ik patients we are involved with. The closer we got to our lunchtime of beans and maize-mush, the more desperate I felt to feed and feed quickly. When we finally got back to Timu in the early afternoon, I was dead set on getting a couple hours of Me-Work done. But because our day watchman didn't show up, there were kids shouting and banging on our gate like little fiends most of the afternoon. My mood went from bad to worse...until Amber rescued me with an amazing cup of Jamaican Blue coffee.

I guess, then, that living a life of hunger has its ups and downs, just like a life of satisfaction. But getting to personally experience the weakness, mental dullness (last night I tried to write this blog post, but nothing resembling English managed to get typed), and extreme irritability helps me to understand some of the extreme behaviors we've read about or seen among the Karimojong and Ik. Back in 2008 and 2009, there were numerous instances where people would get beat up or even killed at free food distributions. We're talking about people beating up on old ladies and stealing their food. And if you know anything about the book The Mountain People (about the Ik), it describes shocking behaviors like ripping food out of children's or elderly people's mouths. Thankfully we won't reach that stage before Hunger Week is over, but I do get the idea that in the throes of hunger, your deprived flesh can cause you to do some pretty nasty things to your fellow human beings. I hope I can extend more grace in the future to empty people who I feel are mistreating me in my fullness.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hunger Week: Day 3

I felt very little 'hunger' today in the sense that we usually mean it: that somewhat annoying, somewhat exciting twinge in the stomach that calls for immediate attention. It's that feeling you get thirty minutes after your morning coffee, or an hour before your lunch break, or later in the evening when you get home from work. It seems we've trained our bodies to expect three meals a day, and when we miss one, our body complains loudly.

It has surprised me again to discover that the body can adapt to other patterns of feeding, like, say, one meal a day. By this third day of Hunger Week, I've already adapted quite a bit. In the evenings I would normally be planning to eat, feeling 'hunger', eating, cleaning up after eating, planning what to eat for the next day, etc., but this evening all that was just...not there. In the mornings, I would normally look forward to breakfast from the time I get up (I love breakfast!), but this morning I just had a cup of tea and then went to church. No problems there.

By lunch today, I still wasn't 'hungry', but I was feeling irritable and incapable of dealing with cross-cultural interactions. I felt somehow weak, empty, frail, and...diminished. So I munched on a few handfuls of trail mix. Good thing, too, because we didn't get to have our 'lunch' until 4:30. That was 26.5 hours since our last meal. 

But it's incredible how the body adapts to a decrease in food intake. I am realizing what it's like to live in a state of hunger with occasional satisfaction rather than in a state of satisfaction with occasional hunger. And honestly, strangely, scarily, I kind of like it. I mean, I don't like losing weight, and I don't like feeling weak, but I do like feeling empty (not 'hungry'). And I love eating out of bodily need rather than sheer habit. Maybe it's a primal experience, a deep truth about human and animal life that we've easily forgotten in our privileged society? 

This all leads me to a perhaps controversial observation: maybe those we so pity for being hungry really aren't as miserable as we think they are? Now, of course I don't mean people starving to death or those suffering from malnutrition, but rather people like the Karimojong and Ik who may have one meal a day, or two at the most. I well know that feeling when you're just so hungry you could devour a horse. Maybe it's because you ate cold cereal for breakfast that was too sugary, or maybe you drink a cup of sweet coffee at the wrong time of the morning, or maybe you're smelling the BBQ steaks sizzling on the grill...or whatever...and you're HUNGRY. Then, thinking how miserable people must be if they feel that way most of the time, we rightly have compassion on them. But, if my observation is correct, then people like the Karimojong and Ik don't feel that type of hungry much of the time. Instead, they feel a vague emptiness and a slight weakness of the body. I'm not sure yet, but it's a thought.

It's hard to articulate. There is just something pure about taking foods into your body when you know you need every calorie. You're not eating out of habit or compulsion or addiction or whatever. You're eating because you need to feed. I guess it feels right somehow because not only is that the level of hunger/fullness that much of the world's human population lives at but also the vast majority of other living creatures. And even though I know Amber and I won't stay at this level, I'm really grateful for the chance to experience it and learn from it. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hunger Week: Day 2

It's great to hear from those of you who have joined us for Hunger Week! Thank you for standing with us as we stand with the Ik in a time of hunger.

Good news: a truckload of food has arrived for the school children! So now they will have a simple lunch for most of the current school term (if the food doesn't get stolen).

More potentially good news: the LC5 of Kaabong District, the highest elected district official, visited Timu this afternoon. He came after hearing numerous reports about the state of hunger. Maybe after seeing things first-hand, he will be compelled to do something about it.

On this, our second day of Hunger Week, I awoke feeling more empty than hungry. But my body was definitely weaker. We went about our normal work routine until lunch when we had maize-meal and beans again. Late morning I felt nauseated for a couple of hours. After eating two large servings of maize-meal and beans, I got all dizzy and had to lie down for a while. It wasn't until late afternoon that I started to feel like I had profited nutritionally from lunch. In the evening I spent over an hour pruning one of our acacia trees with my hatchet. At first I noticed how weak my arms felt, but the more I worked, the more energy I seemed to have. Perhaps I was tapping into reserves. That must be what the Ik do all the time when they work hard in the gardens without eating much.

Coming up from the office, we ran into a middle-aged man named Anton. I asked him what he was up to, and he replied Ipasoi, meaning literally 'I'm useless'. He said he hadn't even gone to the garden today because his arms had no strength. Tawana ɲeƙa ncik, he said. "Hunger is afflicting me" (That's one way they say 'I'm hungry'.) This evening, swinging that hatchet nearly in vain because I had little strength, I could really sympathize with Anton. 

Today, eating a large meal initially made me feel much worse than not eating anything. Perhaps that's why so many Ik prefer drinking mes (beer made from maize or sorghum) over eating solid foods. When you're not eating solid foods regularly, the body seems to accept liquids much better. By now, even the thought of solid food isn't all that appealing.

On Amber's evening village visit, someone gave her a handful of roasted watermelon seeds. When she got home, she gave me a few. They tasted so savory and delicious. Once my almost mindless habit of snacking on this and that has been broken, it's amazing how delightful a simple snack like those roasted seeds can be. Snacking when you actually need nutrition versus snacking for other reasons (boredom, indecision, habit, cravings, peer pressure, instant gratification, etc.) is a blessed aspect of our human existence, of our original need to eat in order to survive. 

A final thought for today: even when you're hungry, life goes on. Relationships go on. Work goes on. The world around you goes on. Food is needed for physical survival, yes. Cooking and enjoying food as a social event is a marvelous blessing, yes. But life does not consist in food alone. Man cannot live by bread alone.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hunger Week: Day 1

We have just completed Day 1 of our self-imposed Hunger Week, undertaken to build solidarity with our Ik neighbors who often do not have much to eat. As I should have expected, we'll probably learn as much or more about ourselves this week as we do about the Ik.

This morning, skipping breakfast, I was hungry. The actual will-power not to eat wasn't the problem. The problem was that I thought about the fact I wasn't eating all morning. It was the very lack of eating that was prominent in my consciousness. At some point I realized a key difference in our experimental experience of hunger and the involuntary hunger of the Ik: we have food we are choosing not to eat; they do not, generally speaking. 

We decided to make our one meal lunch instead of dinner, partly because it may be healthier and partly to know what it's like to eponuƙota kuk, that is, 'to go to bed hungry'. By lunch, my hunger had overtaken my mind such that I couldn't do much else but linger around the kitchen until Amber came back to make the beans. Hunger was driving me, just like it drives the Ik to walk down into Kenya in search of food. Honuƙotaa ɲeƙa roɓaa Burukaik: 'Hunger has driven people into Kenya'---a phrase we've heard often recently.

For lunch I ate a lot of maize-meal and beans...too much actually. But I kept thinking, this is the last food I'll get until lunch tomorrow. I need to stock up on calories. 

When the man came around this afternoon to ask for assistance against hunger, I had no problem getting him a bag of maize flour. It wasn't much, but it was worth a few meals. And I know what a good meal of maize is worth when you're hungry.

It's late evening, and we're approaching the moment of going to bed hungry. And I'm hungry. But wow, our evening was so long and empty. Three whole hours to read or do whatever. No cooking, no dishes, no digesting. Just a gaping hole of time we're entirely un-used to. I think we could get used to this...except for the fact that I'm starving.

That's Day 1.