Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chicken soup for the soul

A few days ago, a man showed up at our gate. He said that his sister-in-law was sick and needed me to come visit her since she wasn't walking very well. The only other piece of information he gave me was that she was two months pregnant, according to his estimation. I told him I'd come that evening for a visit.

4 pm rolled around and I started my trek to the village with my trusty backpack full of medicine and my day guard, Tengan, who also acts as translator when I need him. The village we were going to was a good 45 minute walk one-way. It should only take me half an hour to get there, but I have to figure in multiple stops to greet people and shake hands along the way. We arrive at this woman's village to be told that she wasn't home, but had just been taken to a river for a traditional healing practice. The old women of the village had insisted on this practice, so they rigged up a stretcher made of sticks and rope and carried the sick woman a good distance to the river.

I was probably twenty minutes behind them. A sister of the sick woman led us to the riverbed. Six foot high grass slapped me in the face as I tried to follow the unfamiliar path. A weed called blackjack shed it's sticky seeds onto my skirt and scratched my ankles as I walked. A field mouse crossed the path just ahead of me. It wasn't my idea of a good time. But finally we made it to the river. From the top of the riverbank, I could see the old women and the sick woman sitting below in the river. It was just a stream really. I descended the bank about fifty feet into the stream below. This is where my translator left me to ascend the bank once again and be a spectator from the top. I later realized that I probably wasn't supposed to be so close to the ritual.

The women were sitting near a banana grove. As I neared them, I found myself surrounded by bees who were thirstily buzzing near the water. The water itself was a murky, clay-orange color. Someone later told me that the ritual began with the women all drinking this contaminated water.

Finally my eyes focused on the sick woman. The first thing I noticed was that she looked nine months pregnant instead of two. So much for an accurate estimation! She was awake but seemed unresponsive. I couldn't tell if the woman was being dramatic, as the Ik tend to do when they're sick, or if she really was as unresponsive as she looked. Two old women were busy massaging the sick woman's body with a live chicken. I knew the Ik used 'poultry' massages for some diseases, but I don't know the origin of this practice or how they think it helps. Terrill believes that the Ik believe that the spirits of sickness can pass from the woman's body to the chicken. Indeed, after the massage, they killed the chicken. Possibly killing the disease? They plucked the feathers from over the chicken's vital organs and scattered them in a circle around the banana grove. Then they rubbed the chicken's bare organ's over the woman's belly. Next they cut the chicken further and splattered it's blood around the banana grove.

All the while, the sick woman sat unresponsive, being held up by her brother-in-law. Next came a basin of ash which was poured over the woman's body, focusing on her belly. Then the other old woman walks up with a gourd of river water and starts splashing the sick woman & her brother-in-law. At one point, I had heard that this ritual was a sign of forgiveness from the community so that the sick person would be spared a terrible fate.

The traditional healing ritual was almost over. A fire was lit around the woman and the man supporting her. It was lit for less than a minute but still almost managed to scorch the woman's skirt. After the old women lit the fire, they walked around the woman and stomped the fire out.

Three live chickens were left in the riverbed as live sacrifices. The dead chicken was left as well. Then they scooped the sick woman up and assisted her to walk up the riverbank. On the way, someone had placed a hoe (pointed side up) and a maize stalk on the path. An elderly woman told me to walk over the maize stalk but to avoid the hoe. I think this was to represent an entryway/exit for spirits.

When we were a good distance away from the riverbed, the group sat the sick woman down in an abandoned garden. Her eyes were open but she was still unresponsive. I checked her for malaria. Negative. I listened to her heart and lungs. They were fine. It was late by now (almost 6 pm) so I left the group with vitamins, painkillers and a package of instant chicken soup (ironic!) for the sick woman. I suspected that her delivery of the child was near. Since it was getting dark, I couldn't take her to the hospital until the next morning.

I hiked home exhausted. At 7 pm, I collapsed in our front yard and told Terrill the story.

The next morning, I prepared for a trip to Kaabong. I needed to take a 3-yr old with a broken arm to the hospital for a cast. Right before I left, the sick woman's husband showed up at our gate saying she had delivered her baby the night before. A healthy baby boy. Now he stated, the problem was that she was shaking. In my mind, that is either chills or seizures. The Ik can't always differentiate them for me. So I sent the husband home, telling him to bring his wife to the road, which was very close to their home. The husband said the family was refusing to let the woman go to the hospital. I drove by their village twice and they didn't bring the woman out either time.

The morning after that, another relative comes saying the woman needs to go to the hospital. Still 'shaking'. A truck was coming to our house to deliver some supplies, so we told the relative to bring the woman. They never showed up. The last thing I heard was that the family was taking the woman back down to the river for an healing ritual and more chicken sacrifices.

Yesterday a woman brought the baby for me to see. His mother, Betty, was dead. I still don't know what took her. I don't know if the hospital in Kaabong could have helped her anyway. I'm pretty sure the chicken massage didn't do much good. In my mind, it seems so clear how senseless their rituals are. In my mind, they waste time and resources for what they believe to be related to spirits of disease.

Do you feel my frustration as a nurse in this Ik community? They are straddling two worlds: trying to adopt modern medicine while retaining their traditional practices. The introduction of Penicillin injections changed everything in Africa. It made people believers in modern medicine and in injections. But they can't quite relinquish the old ways. They don't quite believe me when I say that the water is contaminated by small bugs. If they can't see them, how can they be there? They are stuck. And they want the best of both worlds. But does it work to have a foot in tradition and a foot in the modern world? For some people it may, but it didn't for Betty. Modern medicine might have been able to save her if the family could have put their traditional practices behind them. I know that some anthropologists say we shouldn't mess with culture and tradition. But my question remains: what is best for the people themselves? Should we leave people alone with some of their harmful traditional practices and just accept that they will have a poorer quality of life than westerners do? Or should we try to be a voice of change at the risk of doing away with some of their traditional practices? These people are my neighbors. I care about them. And for those reasons, I'm choosing to speak truth against their ignorance.

Monday, July 22, 2013


We've been posting a lot recently about Janet & Lemu, for good reason: they were a HUGE change and are a HUGE part of our lives. But other changes have been taking place too. Like Amber mentioned in a previous post, she has ended her official clinic hours to spend more time with the girls and to avoid some major mismanagement issues on the part of the local staff. She still does wound-care and helps treat more serious cases, but the days of handing out hundreds of doses of drugs for coughs, colds, and body aches are (mostly) over.

Since getting Janet & Lemu in April we've also been longing for a bigger living space. The rock hut we built in 2009 was designed for just two people and was perfect for just me and Amber. But with the children, it's a little crowded. Since the beginning of June we've been making moves to build a new house in a slightly different place. It took us a long time to find an arrangement that we can afford. The cheapest way seems to be to buy the materials ourselves and hire out the skilled labor. As of today, we have the house site cleared and have gathered some of the raw materials like rocks and sand. We still need to get cement, bricks, and water. Hopefully construction will start in early August and be mostly done by the end of September (optimistic, I know). Building another house here means that we are making room for us to live here another five to ten years, God willing.

Another wind of change blowing through our lives is in the area of translation. Due to some serious staff problems, the Bible translation is now on hold for a while. It seems that after several years of trying to make translation happen (and failing), it's time to step back and wait for the Ik church to feel the need themselves and seek out help if they want it. The Ik church (Assemblies of God, Anglican, and Catholic) use English and Karimojong Bibles but haven't shown much support for what I've been trying to do. I think they saw it as 'Terrill's project' and that of a few people who were making nice salaries. It was time to clear the air, let things settle, and see how God wants to move the translation forward. For the time being, we are going to focus on building the house, growing our family, working on the linguistic foundation for translation, and being good neighbors. We are as committed as ever to the Living Word of God being known among the Ik, and we are exploring different options for how scripture translation might continue in the future.

Please continue praying for us and praying with us for the Ik people. If you'd like more details about the changes we are going through, feel free to contact us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Getting to know the girls

That's what we've been doing for the past 3.5 months. Can you believe it's been so long? For those of you who don't know...or if we never said it explicitly enough, the first three months with the girls were some of the most difficult of our lives. Slowly and surely, things are getting better and we're establishing routines. We're beginning to know what to expect from each other. The interesting thing is that the girls are both hard work...but also a reprieve when life is tough. They make us laugh with their beginner English and quirky ways. I'm starting to believe those people who tell me that things will look better and the girls will turn into a huge blessing for us. Although I don't see a lot of 'fruit' right now, I have hope. 

Just a few photos to help our viewers get to know the girls. 
Their favorite toys are baby dolls and they treat them just like real children. Today, Lemu took her baby to the toilet after I had taken her to the toilet. She knows just what to do and had some nice, soft leaves ready to clean her baby. They also love to carry their babies around in what they call 'kuku' (above).
Since the girls hadn't lived together for the past two years, they really didn't know each other well. But we've found them to be good playmates and they've begun to tell each other that they love each other. Janet is a worthy older sister and watches out for Lemu.
They still love to eat everything and anything put before them. However, recently they've been telling us what they like and don't like. We hear this is a good sign because the child is having control over choices in their life. And Terrill and I aren't fond of eggplant, so how can we force these children to eat what they're not fond of? Above Janet is sampling both macaroni-n-cheese and jello. She liked both so was alternating the flavors. 
 The girls are tumblers. They wrestle and tumble whenever an opportunity is given.
They LOVE riding in the car. I think it represents a safe place for them and brings some consistency into their lives. We make trips to Kaabong and Kampala...trips full of unknown things to them. All these unknowns can cause stress. But being in the car usually calms the girls down. It looks like Lemu is comforting her baby; perhaps she was modeling needing comfort herself?
Just since our return to Timu in June have the girls started getting into books. Before, they spent a matter of seconds looking at them and then they got tossed to the floor. First off, we worked on the proper treatment of books and them being placed nicely in the box. Then, we found that they were more interested if we looked at books together and explained what was going on. So many things are foreign to the girls about our culture. Talking animals? Above, they are showing a book to their Ik cousin. Janet was looking at a picture of an esophagus (in a kids encyclopedia). Her cousin wanted to know what it was and Janet didn't know, so she confidently explained that it was some sort of snake.

Janet is our village girl and is constantly climbing on things (like at this pizza place). She used to climb trees pretty often and that experience has translated into our context....which is what we want. One of our prayers for these girls is that they can learn to be bi-cultural. We don't want them to lose/forget their native culture and tongue, but we also want them to fit into (or at least understand) our culture. Will you pray with us for these children? Eventually, they'll have to sort through their confusing past to discover their identity and where they came from. We're hoping that they can reconcile themselves to and even thrive as bi-cultural adults. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Language Learning

One of the more interesting (funny and annoying at times) aspects of having Janet & Lemu with us has been language learning. Our home has become a tri-lingual confusion with often rather amusing results. Lemu came to us speaking only Karimojong, and Janet came speaking only Ik. Being immersed in our culture of course has motivated them to learn English, but we have also had the opportunity to improve on our Ik abilities.

The first month together was characterized by Janet & Lemu learning memorized phrases in English, like 'I love you', 'Thank you', 'Please help me', 'Peepee', 'Poopoo', etc. We also got a lot of practice in Ik as we tried to teach Janet in Ik about all the rules and preferences of our family culture.

Through the second and third months, both girls started picking up more and more English. Being in Kampala, in an all-English environment, for five weeks really gave them a boost in the language department. As they were exposed to so many new things, from pools to ice-cream to boats to toy motorcycles to digital media, they had to learn all the words to go with them. And apart from seeing their Ik Uncle Hillary every Sunday, Amber and I were their main company...and we spoke English.

It's funny, sometimes a day or two will go by without us seeing any notable improvement in their English skills, and then all of a sudden, they will just bust out with a new word or grammatical construction. Janet started this much earlier than Lemu (being older), but Lemu is starting now, too. For example, a couple of weeks ago I asked Janet why she did something, and she answered "Because,...". Amber and I got so happy because that was the first time in her life that she not only had said the word 'because' but had actually used it in the right context. We didn't intentionally teach her that, her brain just recorded all the uses of 'because' she had heard, and then she ventured out on a hypothesis that this was the right context for it. Another time recently, Janet was trying to say something, and she prefaced it with "Um", which is a very English filler word. Who ever thought a child would be praised so much for saying 'um'? But we sure did praise her for that.

Lemu is only three years old, so her world-view is pretty much Lemu-centered. She operates on the basis of pure desire, or curiosity coupled with desire. For the longest time now, her primary mode of being as expressed in language goes something like this:

Lemu: "What is dis?"
Terrill/Amber: "It's banana bread."
Lemu: "I want-ee banana bread."


Lemu: "What is dis?"
Terrill/Amber: "This is tea."
Lemu: "I like-ee tea." (I.e. 'give me tea').

A few evenings ago, while I was walking home holding Lemu, she broke out with her first non-memorized, created English sentence. It went something like this: "Ee go home, ee take bath, ee, ee go sleeping." We were so proud of her and tried to make sure she knew it. Language learning goes so much better when people encourage you.

The books on international adoption talk about children going through an 'interference' stage of language where the sounds and patterns of their mother tongue interfere in their usage of a new language. We definitely see this with Janet and Lemu. For example, in Janet's best-known language, Ik, there are no prepositions like 'in', 'at', 'on', 'from', etc. Instead, little particles (suffixes) called 'case endings' go on the end of nouns and take the place of prepositions. So even though English doesn't have case endings, Janet will say things like "Let's go Kaabong" or "Can I sit Daddy?". As another example, in both Karimojong and Ik, the main verb of a sentence usually comes first before the subject and object. So Lemu used to say things like "Coming Mommy?" or "Eating Janet food?".

Unfortunately, much of the English the girls have learned is in the form of prohibitions like 'don't do___', 'don't say___', etc. We have been trying to eliminate some of the less desirable behaviors arising from selfishness, or should I say human nature. For a long time we've been telling Janet "Don't be jealous of Lemu". For over a week now, every time we say or do anything to Lemu that seems even remotely enjoyable to Janet, she says "I'm not jealous of Lemu." Yeah, wish I believed that. She also likes to forbid herself from doing stuff before we get the chance. We often hear her saying herself things like "Don't say 'where is food?'" or "Calm down". Doing this kills two birds with one stone: it both reminds her to do or not to do something AND shows us how obedient she is.:)

And lastly, for those of you who don't follow us on Twitter, here are some linguistic gems from the girls:

Terrill, whispering sweetly in Lemu's ear, "Lemu, I love you!"
Lemu: "I want cookies."

Amber, kissing Lemu gently on the forehead, "Lemu, I like you."
Lemu: "I like eggs." (Actually she doesn't...)

Janet, always eager to prove her worth (I wish she knew she didn't have to), proudly announces to us: "Janet spanking English!" Yes, my dearest, you are, in a manner of speaking.

Janet: "I am good!" We'll have to work on her theology later...

Janet, praying: "Thank you for food, thank you for Janet,..."

Janet, trying to be funny: "Janet fun!"

One evening we were trying to get Janet to help Amber make cookies. She just could not get the concept of lining up cookies on the cookie pan. She would put them at random places and look up at us for approval. I'm sorry to say we got quite frustrated. Disgusted, I walked back to the kitchen and continued washing dishes. Janet messed up the cookie project a little more and then called out to me: "Daddy proud of Janet?" My heart melted. "Yes, Daddy proud of Janet."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Family Fotos

Elaine, sister of Susan, one of the IMB's Echelon team-members, recently took some photos of our family which is now double in size. We thought you might enjoy seeing them:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Transitions and chapati-making

We've been back in Timu a few weeks now and are trying to get settled in with the girls. One big decision I've recently made is to quit the clinic work I was doing several mornings a week. It wasn't an easy decision because I've been doing it for so long and the community still has a need for medical care.  However, I've been thinking about my priorities lately and what I really want to see happening in Timu is long-term development vs. short-term solutions. Is there any better way to invest in the long-term than to help raise some of the community's children? We can't see what the future will hold for Janet & Lemu, but we do hope they'll take an interest in their community and culture when they're grown. Maybe one of them will return to Timu one day in the future to empower their people in some way. We dearly hope it will be in spiritual transformation, but we'll be happy if they address other issues as well. 

All this to say that my clinic days are over. I closed up and sent out a letter of explanation to the community. I'll still be available for consultation if someone is really sick, but I'm sending all the minor health problems to the village health workers (local volunteers). I don't think it was a coincidence that two village health workers had 'set up shop' in the clinic while we were on furlough and were attending to the community even before these girls came into our lives. Then when I returned in February, I worked alongside these health workers for three months of training. God has a way of orchestrating these things, doesn't he?

So starting this week, my days will look very differently. You can pray for our family as we make adjustments and I learn to be at home with the girls. I truly desire to be a good mother, yet constantly have this nagging feeling that I don't know what the world I'm doing. ;-) Can anyone relate?

One of the activities that the girls & I enjoy is making chapatis (Indian flat bread). Their favorite part (and my least favorite because of the mess) is mixing the dough. 
It starts out on the hands and somehow ends up on the bottom of their feet, behind their ears and ground into different parts of their clothing. If I had aprons for these girls, I'd still have to scrub dough out of the fabric, so what's the point?
Valuable lesson #1: mixing dough outside.
Lesson #2: finding a way to clean them up outside. 
They roll dough about as good as I do. 
Yes, she was supervised and knows the stovetop is hot. But if she's going to make a chapati for daddy...she needs to see the thing through from start to finish.
Lemu ended up with two cute little chapatis that fit in one pan. Not bad for three years old. Seriously, the thing the girls like the best is to follow me around and help with household chores.
Here is to the start of many chapati-making days!