Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What More, What Next, What is Left After This?

clothing distribution.
The saddest statistic I heard the entire time I was in Gulu was 4. I heard numbers of orphans and widows reaching thousands. I heard amounts of displaced persons in percentagest of a million. I heard of the number of abducted children, of the years they spent in the rebel army. A decade in an IDP camp. The number of kilometeres walked.
What rips at my heart is 4.
Watching clothing distribution at an IDP camp with the ministry I was helping in Gulu I wondered what help we were by being there. We were just sitting around, just watching while others worked and distributed the donated clothing.
Why did these white people need to be here, making it seem like we were 'do-gooders', we hadn't even donated these clothes.

Then a member of our group told me some information; he said a resident of the camp had told him they love it when visitors come to the camps during distribution time
because they recieve 4 times as much.
Because unsupervised, the distributers often only give 1/4 of what they should be. Corruption within the NGO's and ministries is a problem in the north. What hope is left if even the ministries and charities are taking advantage of these vunerable, oppressed people?
Now I can attest that there are some great organizations in the north, doing very good things and helping people and using their money (or the donated funds) in the ways they say they will. But it is common enough that the people recieving the help don't even think about how they are being cheated anymore; its their lot in life to be abused in every way possible.

I almost got trampled during one of the clothing give-aways.
There is a list of people who are especially in need in each particular camp, so their names are called and they come select garments for themselves or their children. In or outside a building doesn't matter; a huge, impatient crowd gathers no matter what.
Infact, inside a building can easily be worse at times; the people push at the doors so it is almost impossible for anyone to get out once they get their clothes and at the last IDP camp I saw some people break the guard rails off the window and soon anyone who could was vaulting the window, grabbing an armload of clothes. They had to open the doors to let all the people out.

I was standing near the last pile of clothes in an outside distribution point, waiting to ask a few beneficiaries questions (as was my task by the ministry I was helping). I asked a young boy, 12 years old about why he had been selected to recieve clothes. But the boy was almost one of the last names on the list and there were still many clothes left, so the people in charge of keeping order eased up for a bit and the wall of people attacked the clothes.
The adults ran reguardless of the small children at their feet. The crippled elderly had better wobble a little faster.
I saw two wrestling over a garment, ready to tear it in two. Both were screaming and desperate to recieve the shirt. They were both adult women. Most of the people fighting were adults.
Did they just not care?
No. They just cared that much.

After Dinner. And Lunch. And Breakfast.

Jack asks me, “Can you use your natural forks?”
Well, sure I can- kids love to do it when their little, right?

Some of the food they eat here:
Cassava (very much like potatoes)Greens (basically leafy stuff like spinach that is cooked in water and oil)
Chapatis (flat bread that is cooked in lots of oil)
Bread (only at breakfast)
Corn (roasted on the cob and only as a snack)
Meat (which means beef, never any other animal)
Chicken (roasted, also not considered part of a meal, only a snack)
Posho (made from corn flour, a white substance that has the texture of stale corn bread, but hardly any taste)
Ugali (used in place of Posho and I think it is disgusting- something like sardine-flavored raw pizza dough with sand mixed in. Good helpings of sand.)

And that’s basically it.
Not really much fruit. Oranges sometimes, and bananas. But I don’t like bananas.
My favorite thing to eat- pineapple, which I could eat until I am sick and could eat for months without getting sick of it (its true, I’ve attempted it, and still love it).
I guess when its mango season they eat mangos like crazy, but it wasn’t mango season.
So that list of 13 foods was what I ate. Please, I don’t want to eat any grease again for the rest of the year. I’m amazed that these people aren’t obese, even more amazed that they are skinny with the amount of oil they eat.
And tea, every day is tea. Fine with me, I love tea. But they add tea to their sugar. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if they have room in their tiny little mugs to add any more sugar, its quite amazing that they aren’t fat.

Monday, October 30, 2006

After Dark in Kyengera

Tonight we dance.
The electricity is out- its an every other night thing and tonight is the lucky night.
So we dance.
Ucheza Ucheza! (Dance Dance!)
The flashlight becomes a strobe light and the dark hallway a dance hall.
I’ve been to dance clubs, but I think I prefer dancing here, to no music, with the little children pulling on my arms and spinning me around.

I can’t remember the date, it got lost somewhere after the 10th- which might have been Monday.

Kampala is very busy, too busy. I love people, but it exhausts even me to walk through the thick crowds of people. Kyengera is sort of a suburb of Kampala- it is strange to say suburb because that words sketches matching houses and green, trimmed yards with a mini van in the driveway. That’s not Kyengera. I wouldn’t call it a slum, because I’ve seen slums. They have houses, they have a section of dirt which could be considered a ‘lawn’. The roads are undefined and trails to homes laughable. Here are directions to the place I stayed at:
Get off at the gas station.
Walk across the street and down towards the market.
Turn left at the sign for the school.
Turn right where the dirt road T’s at a section with gravel.
Turn left small line of trees between the fruit stands.
Follow that path: over the feed bag filled with mud, between the large pile of dirt or sand or whatever that is laid in the middle of the path.
Turn right just past the tiny ‘convenience store’ (which could never, ever be confused with a 7-11).
Walk between the block of houses, ducking under the clothes line and behind the house using a sheet as a door-
It’s the house with the high black fence around it with the clothes stabbed along the top, drying in the sun.

I really loved staying with that family, they were amazing. I made a mistake when I said they were Rwandan refugees. They are refugees from Rwanda, however their nationality is Congolese. They fled to Rwanda, stayed there until the genocide threatened their lives, and now are in Uganda.
Of the children, I’m not sure which ones are cousins or siblings because Nunu has a mother who works away in town and comes to visit once a week, and Rehema waved a hand at the whole group and announced that their parents had died. They don’t use step-mother or half-sister, so I don’t know who is related or what way, not that it’s really that important because they live as one family, all taking care of each other.

Miriam, the oldest girl went and took my dirty clothes bag and washed all my clothes for me. Then she took my tennis shoes and washed them, too. She even re-washed the clothes I had washed and left to soak, not trusting in my ability to wash them properly.

Before I leave to go to town (Kampala) each morning, Ahmedi, who is 6 and missing his front teeth (and not just the 2, but 4 of them- so you can barely ketch a glimpse of white at the very edges of his lips), grins at me and says “Bisqueet?”
Which means ‘biscuit’ and translates from British English to American as ‘cookies’ and I can’t deny this adorable little boy some cookies. I hope he doesn’t get too set with having cookies everyday.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

After Everything, We Still Want to Giggle

I woke up this morning with a cockroach trying to crawl in my ear. I felt something tickling my ear, opened my eyes, and saw 2 little antennas twitching back and forth. Picked up the bug and flung it against the wall. Well, thats a pretty good alarm clock; now I'm wide awake.
For those of you remembering stories you've heard of 'cockroach ear' and temporary deafness attributed to these bugs, no need to fear, the cockroach was too big to fit in the tiny hole in my head.
I'm in Gulu, staying at the office for Noah's Ark Children's Ministry.
The house girls are so funny! The younger one doesn't speak any English, but we have a hilarious time combining my Swahili with her Swahili and the other language she speaks, I think she keeps hoping I will miraculously learn the other language.
And they are cleptos. I keep finding the large bag of bracelets given to me from little girls at Hilltop Camp hiding in a corner in their room and now all my pens and pencils are missing. That should teach me to leave my notebook lying around.

Noah's Ark in Gulu has a shelter for the night commuters- at one time they held thousands of children in their center, but now only host about 200 each night, as the security in the area has been much better for some time now. Only 200?
I saw the compound the first night, one long house, the last 2 rooms with concrete floors and clotheslines strung with the mattresses (which were simply blankets, no other form of mat) along the wall. There were 3 large concrete slabs between the shelter and the toilet area, I was told that at the time of greatest insecurity, when even young mothers were seeking safety there were large UNICEF tents. Only one of these tents was still standing, and from outside I could see the sillouettes of boys getting ready for bed.
Up on the hill was the girl's room. I entered to see many girls making their beds; selecting a blanket and lying down on it. The girl sitting near the door I entered was finishing her homework and smiled at me when I entered. She asked my name, where I was from and how old I was. As it turns out, we are the same age. Try as I might, I could not imagine facing all that she had gone through, yet we have lived the same number of years.

There was another, smaller building close by the toilets, one room was the study hall; a place were the children could finish their homework if they were attending school or just read a book if they had nothing else to do. The other room was opened on the weekends and played movies for the children to watch.
Sunday night they watched the movie Polley (the one about the talking parrot). It made me happy that in the middle of this tragedy- children fleeing for their lives, sleeping away from their homes and families, there was something they could still do that was fun, that was silly, that let them be kids; just gathering together to watch a movie. Some of them sat on the floor. Some sat on wooden benches, some crawled up the walls and sat on the window sill.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Afterglow: Let me paint an IDP camp

Tan- the dirt. The vivid line where the camp starts and sits atop. There is no grass within the camps, instead it grows just everywhere around the camp; almost like looking at rolled-out cookie dough where a cookie-cutter has gone through, except invert the green counter top and the tan-colored dough.

Green- the creek flowing behind the only toilets in the camps; often port-o-potties. A few rare times, I saw grass growing near one of these small rivers and even saw ducks having a little wade.

Clear- the dirty plastic bag in the mouth of a little girl who stands infront of me, staring. The words written on the bag that I can manage to read, just near her lips "Vodka" and the percentage of alcohol. She didn't used a cute pout-y face or ask for anything, she just stared at me, sucking on the piece of trash.

Brown- the little bare butt of a boy running past. He was wearing shorts- sort of. They had a waistband, but the legs of the shorts had ripped apart, now a loose sort of skirt with a high and wide slit. There were enough children (boys and girls) wearing similar shorts to make one think that perhaps this was the new style.

Blue- the cloudless sky. I ask Mary what she does to support her family and she says she is a farmer. I ask another woman her means of income and she tells me she's a digger (meaning she goes to local farms and digs up the potatoes and ground nuts for the farmers). They both tell me there hasn't been enough rain for the past 3 years. Many farmers just keep their produce to feed their families, as their isn't enough left to sell. Every digger I talked to was paid in food, not money.

I was walking through the camp, thinking of how sad it was, how depressing when I heard an uplifting note.
I heard a song playing on the radio. A few huts farther down, I heard a different song playing and saw a television lighting the dark doorframe of another hut. Amazing- I didn't even think they would have electricity!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It is an Adventure, After all

I tapped the woman infront of me on the shoulder 3 times before she turned around. I don't know their language, but I pointed to her feet, where the chicken who had escaped from the clutches of the man seated behind me was cowering. She reached down and gripped is wing, wrestled with it for a moment, then lost her grip and I never saw the chicken again. It must have managed to get out of the mini van taxi we were crowded into and went off running freely through the bus park.
The baby behind me started tugging on my hair- because blonde-ish brown curls are a novelty there. It was a constant thing for the rest of the trip, this baby playing with my hair- occasionally giving it a yank.

I knew there was something wrong with our vehicle from the start- because as soon as the engine turned over it started to roll backwards and the driver had to get out and push it forward.
The road from Lira to Gulu was much less bumpy than others I had been on, so I settled myself against the window to ketch up on my lack of sleep from howling dogs and end of the world rain storms. No sooner had I rested my head against hte window than I was vaulted into the air and my head crashed against the side of the van. We had a blow out.

A passenger had warned the driver that there was something wrong with the tire, but he assured us that it would be fine. We hadn't even been on the road 15 minutes. Even the wires of the tire were showing, it was that bad.
So we unloaded ourselves and settled down on the grass for the next hour while they changed the tire. 4 hours later we arrived in the town of Gulu.
The buspark was small and muddy, It was uncovered and filled with real school-bus sized buses, mini vans and plenty of boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) each one of them calling out for you to be their customer.

I ignored them, re-read the directions to the ministry I was going to, swung my backpack on and headed off. She told me the distance in meters. Like I know meters. I should, actually, from being in track where the races are based in meters and all, but it doesn't click fast with me.
After walking for about 10 minutes I stopped and asked someone for directions.
"Oh, its just that way." She pointed behind me.
Great, I had been walking in the wrong direction, of course.

When I finally did arrive at the location, it was laughable that it was just a block away from the bus station.

As the person incharge of the programs was currently out on the field, so two security guards kept me company.
I asked how many children commuted to this ministries center each night.
"Now only about 200."
"Where did they sleep before there were shelters for them?"
"In the bus park, mostly."
"How many bus parks are there in Gulu?"

" The one I came in at?"

I couldn't imagine how any of the children could sleep there- if the buses and taxis parked there at night, there would have been no room, the children would have had to sleep under the vehicles, right there in the mud or dirt.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Week After I went to Kotido

I thought it was the Rapture.
I sat up straight in bed and covered my ears. My eyes were wide, I'm sure. I was afraid, so scared. This horribly loud crashing sound was all around me, filling up my head.

Now, I've heard rain on a tin roof before, but it was nothing like this. This was like 20-30 people jumpiing on the roof above me. While crashing pots and pans together. There was no way I was gonna fall back to sleep.
Besides, I needed to be awake in an hour anyways- my bus was leaving at 4:30 am.

Saturday night we met the missionary who had been living in Kotido for 14 years now. An amazing guy who definately has had God's protection. He had to face a lot of culutural, tribal beliefs with the tribe here- things like cutting down trees were forbidden without the proper rituals performed, and if rain hadn't come in a while, prepare to sacrifice a goat or cow. But he stood in opposition to that and one day faced a crowd of angry women coming at him ready to attack.
He told me he sat down under a tree and prayed to God. If it was his time, he was ready, but asked him to please spare him if there was still work for him to do.
Out of nowhere (and literally, this place is in the middle of nowhere) armed military men forced the women back.
Now he has a large church with 2 services, one in English, another in the local language, and has already started a new church in a nearby village pastored by a former warrior of the tribe.
The next day we helped with Sunday school. Well- the two pastors I was with helped with Sunday school, I only speak English, so I just sat while they gave the lesson.
We went to visit some of the local people (
Karamonjong) in their villages which are made up of a handfull of small huts (just like the ones in IDP camps) and surrounded by a woven-stick fench with a tiny door where you must crouch down on your hands a knees to enter. The people have beautiful markings on their faces, carvings, sort of in beautiful designs along their forehead and cheeks. However, they later told me that one recieves those markings as a sign of bravery. Usually it is a testament to having killed someone.
In their culture, killing is not a crime and stealing, or being a good raider is a pride. Their herds are stocked with cattle all bearing different tags from their true owners somewhere south of here.
Some of the girls wore my glasses; it was so funny to see them, with their many tribal necklaces, their customary wraps and hair-cuts putting on my very modern glasses! I will have to put some pictures up.

I never want to go to Kotido again. It was a great experience, but it was way too remote. Also, as the title of this blog implies; a week after Kotido the Karomajong raided the town. The roads to and from Kotido were blocked off and buses stopped running there because of the many ambushes they had been experiencing by both the LRA and the Karamonjong.

The day after I returned to Lira, I read in the local newspaper about how the Karamonjong sell their children as slaves under the guise of being 'house girls' or childbrides to nearby districts or to western Kenya.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

After some consideration... did I mention I am thankful for all the prayers?

The dust here is different; it doesn’t come as a cloud or on the wind. It slowly, invisibly covers you.
Riding along on the back of a truck- a normal pick-up truck loaded with 13 adults squeezed in the back, a young girl’s feet behind me and a baby beside me tugging on my shirt. I’m sitting on a jerry can, the same that line the whole truck, filled with the local brew so that is all I smell and even more strongly as the one under my right thigh is slowly leaking on me. My dirty tennis shoes hang limply beside the bare feet of Yolanda, the woman sitting beside me.
“ You sit well.” She says to me.
It’s not a compliment, but an order; to keep myself from falling as we bounce along this pot-holed road.
It didn’t seem dusty, but after a few hours I realize my dark arms have a removable tan and later, when I see my face, all I can do is laugh. Every crevice is red from the dirt- my ears, my nose, even my belly button , which I am puzzled by because I had a long shirt on all day.
We traveled up to Kotido- about 6 hours away, just below Sudan. I had thought we were visiting more IDP camps.
“ Kotido isn’t a camp, it’s a town. Its were the Karomajong live. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) doesn’t bother them, they are too fierce.”
Since discovering that, I have slowly learned information about them;
Cattle herders
Don’t like to wear clothes
Known for their violence and rape of women

Oh joy, and we are spending the night there?
“Not with the tribe, in the town. It’s a normal town.”
It was an exaggeration to call it ‘normal’. Anyone who has been to Freedom, Indiana has been to a town much like Kotido. The World Food Programme has more lights around its compound than the entire town.
“ Oh, you shouldn’t worry about that. They probably won’t do anything to a visitor. It’s the transport up there you should be worried about, the road is quite dangerous.” My friend Jack tells me the day before we leave for Kotido.
And that is supposed to make me feel better?

Half-way through our trip we stopped at a town, unloaded some of the alcohol and added a soldier- our armed protector on the dangerous road. He kept asking me questions about my home and nick-named me America. On the trip up there, about 6 hours away we passed about 5 or so other vehicles, one of which had broken down. We stopped to give the man a lift, his business being gin (in plastic bags, no less!), he paid the driver in alcohol and also shared some with the soldier.
When we reached past the risky, insecure part (with absolutely no trouble at all) the soldier got off and made a slurred good-bye and walked unsteadily away.
Great, our valiant guard was drunk. I feel safe.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

After the parents are gone

In a room full of 30 orphans, 10 lift their hands.
The question asked was how many had their parents killed by the rebels.
1/3 of the room- just by the rebels. I won't say because of the war because the war has contributed to the spread of AIDS, other diseases, lack of medical help, hunger and poverty. So physically killed by the rebels.

The room is dark, today there is no electricity. There are only a few chairs, the middle of the room left empty for the children to crowd in on the floor. Smiling faces peer around the sunny doorway into the dark office of Bethel Children's Ministry. The porch infront of the office is full of children and a few older ladies, hoping to maybe recieve some of the gifts this ministry gives.
I shared some of the bracelets given to my at Hilltop Camp with group.

There are so many orphans here. So much that people who are missing one parent don't think of themselves as orphans. At the 4th or 5th camp I visited, they were sorting out some of the more needy orphans (without an aunt or uncle to care for them) and suddenly the whole group started laughing.
"That little girl stood up, but she's not an orphan. Only her grandfather died."
How was that funny at all?

I'm sitting in Gulu, listening to the song "Indescribeable" (which I hate listening to, because it makes me want to cry, which it is doing again). Its Sunday, but I'm 2 weeks behind on my updates. However, each day has been so full with adventure and stories that I would rather be late than skip over one.
The president of Uganda drove past me yesterday. I'm glad thats what all the soldiers were for- seeing so many military men makes people here a little uneasy, I don't blame them.
For the first time today I ate a mango and actually liked it! All these years I've thought I hated mango, I guess I just never ate a good one.

My next update should be more cheery, so sorry- I blame the mood of the music.

Afternoon: Sun and Shade

Church here is dusty and loud. Few insturments means clapping and random peircing screams. The dancing is upwards- leaping straight into the air. Makes me smile to see these bent foward elderly people jumping up and down in worship, kicking up the dust around their bare feet from these dirt floor isles.

I went to my first IDP (internal displaced peoples) camp today. In my mind I pictured a long, bumpy road traveled to reach this remote camp, but it was less than 5 minutes away. The Starch Factory is a small camp, but a camp none the less, just outside the town of Lira.
The children followed us around as we walked through the camp. The friendly, nearly naked children held my hands- or whatever they could; a thumb, a finger. I had 3 children on one arm, 2 on the other.

We sat under a shelter- just poles and roof as we waited for the camp leader to greet us. At first it was just children that milled around the open sides, and then we were sitting in the shade of over 100 people as they created a wall around us.
The camp leader explained some of the major issues of the camp to us.
The learning center (the school at the camp, not requiring school fees) where nearly 200 children in each class had been shut down, so now the children are not attending school. A year ago NGO's stopped supplying food on a regular basis to the camp. This rainy season there hasn't been enough rain, so that has hindered crop growth.
Some offered to tell us their story and came foward to share. The first boy was in a wheelchair created by bicycle wheels, his torso invisible, his bony legs twisted infront of him. He explained about some of the issues he was facing at the camp- the main one being school fees. Exams begin tomorrow, he was supposed to graduate this year but will not because he has no school fees.

Another boy came forward, standing tall and strong. 17 years old, 3 years ago he was captured by the rebels. He was forced to carry 80 kilos of beans as his 'admission' into the army. After being beaten, an army commander chose him as his escort. So for the next year his job was to carry items for the commander. Then he escaped and came to this camp. Now he faces the stigma of being called a rebel and a murderer by people who were once his friends and neighbors. As we left, he handed me a envelope addressed to "Helen from Canada".
"Please help us." He said.
I still haven't had the courage to open that letter.

The church bishop turned to me and asked if I had anything encouraging to say to them.
After that you want me to tell you something hopeful?

Friday, October 13, 2006

After Teaching

Yesterday was spent at Dwelling Places- I only have the nicest things to say about them. They are an awesome organization helping street children and orphans in Kampala. They rehabilitate them, reunite them with family, pay their school fees, teach them and help them and their parents learn skills that they can use for a job.

They taught me how to weave the way they make their handbags- its alot harder than it looks. My teacher was a little girl named Lydia who I sat next to for lunch as she told me about her 2 mothers- her real mother and her biological Aunt, both who had died leading her to Dwelling Places. She now has 20 or so Aunts and Uncles who take care of her at Dwelling Places.

I taught English and reading to her and 6 other students. Innocent was adorable and paid good attention, Moses David did not want to sit in his seat. The oldest, 17 year old Faroo was the top student of my class, always the first hand raised. It was 1st grade reading, but these children had been deprived of school while they were begging on the street or taking care of their dying parents.
I carried one little girl, whose name I forget because her foot was injured and she kept limping around in barefeet, hobbling to the nurses' station. She was sweet and funny and kept making me laugh. I promised her that when I return to Kampala in 2 weeks I would return to Dwelling Places to teach again, so I would see her again.

I have to travel the rest of the way alone because Michelle's passport has still not arrived. Please pray for me!!!
Tomorrow I take a bus to Lira and from there I will be traveling to camps throughout the northern part of Uganda.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

After a day at Noah's Ark

"Muzungu Muzungu how are you?"
"Muzungu Muzungu I love you."
It should be a song, this chant which is stuck in my head. Or wait- no, I am really hearing it.
Even the adults aren't embarrassed to stare. I have seen a few more white people, but truly, Kenya was nothing compared to this.

Yesterday I went to a home for abandoned children. I held a few babies to get them to fall asleep and fed one named Esther. The whole time all I could think was who would abandon such beautful children? They were all so affectionate and loving, so willing to give hugs and hold your hand. There were several volunteers from Holland, so seeing another white person was not amazing. They all referred tome as 'Auntie'. The 60 some children who live there have about 20-30 Aunties and a few Uncles, too.

And I rode on a buda buda (or is it boda boda?) yesterday- a motorcycle taxi. No, I did not have a helmet or a jacket, sorry parents. I think I am in more danger crossing the street than I am on the back of a motorcycle, here. (not that its all that dangerous- for the grandparents, parents and other relatives who read this.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

After about 20 some hours on a plane...

I haven't seen a white person since I left the airport and I keep hearing 'Muzungu' which means "White" in Swahili.
I made it safe to Uganda. Its beautiful, the people are so friendly and nice and I just passed a Thai grocery store on the way to this internet cafe- go figure.