Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Day in Lira, December 26th

By Ben

Today I played with the neighbor boys for most of the day. Before we went to Kenya the boys asked if we could make a pigeon house together, naturally I agreed. In Lira the boys raise pigeons (called “amam”) for both eating and selling. We gathered some scrap metal, stripped an electrical cord for binding wire, and began making the birdhouse. Our backyard had a constant stream of boys who wanted to help with the project, or just hang out and play. Their resourcefulness never ceases to surprise me. They make games out of rocks, and slip-n-slides out of torn up cardboard boxes.
This evening Holly and I attended a worship service for a friend who was involved in a serious car accident three years ago. Every year he calls his friends and family together to celebrate God’s goodness in keeping him alive. After a lengthy sermon we gathered around the vehicles present and prayed for them. The prayer session ended in starting the car and making the sign of the cross over the hood.
It had just gotten dark when we left to go home. As we rode our bicycles home, a girl ran past me in the tall grass on the side of the road. A couple hundred meters later, she was still running and Holly heard her sobbing. Holly asked her if she was okay. The man accompanying us home spoke with her and found out that her father had just beaten her, and she was running away from home. She was about 14 years old. The man we were with advised her to go home, and assured us that it was the best thing for her. I wish I knew if he was right. The risks of being on the street for a girl her age are tremendous, but her home is no longer a safe place. During this time of year so many men celebrate the holidays by drinking together and come home thoroughly drunk. When we got home we did all that we knew how—we prayed.

Boys in a Box

Advent Longing

by Holly
This season would best be characterized by longing. My soul is longing for so many things. Some things selfish like less dust, cooler temperature, more flowers, others bigger and in some ways less attainable, peace in Northern Uganda for example. I read a passage during advent about how Anna, a prophetess who was in the temple when Jesus was brought there as a baby. She spoke to all in the temple who, like her, were longing for the redemption of Israel. Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation. A time when we all long for redemption from all this brokenness. I feel like that, like Anna, like those in the temple who listened to her, like all of the earth and creation that groans waiting for the fulfillment of promise, the coming of a Prince of Peace.

It’s good to be stripped of all that is usually Christmas to me. There is no winter. No presents to buy. No stress. No parties to attend. No services to plan. No family or friends to celebrate with. No consumerism. It’s good. Some of that, like the friends and family actually help me to be in a place of worship but it is truly a blessing to experience the day without any of those things and to note the difference. There is space in my life for a time of expectant wonder—waiting to celebrate the fulfillment of promise and the longing for redemption.

African Christmas

by Holly

On Christmas Eve we were on an overnight bus from MCCs annual regional meeting in Nairobe. It was a wild night beginning with the bus leaving about 5 hours late and the ticket office taking pity on us and giving us yummy samosas. On the bus we went from huddling together to stay warm, to sweating, sticking to our seats. We were stopped at police checkpoints so many times. I had an upset stomach so for most of the night I concentrated to make it from one pit stop to the next which was usually several hours. At one of the police checkpoints in the middle of the night a semi inebriated officer pulled a fellow MCC worker off the bus. Ben elbowed me and whispered “put your seat belt on now—they kicked Esther off the bus.” I was quite groggy so none of this made any sense. Apparently, all those without seatbelts were outside with the bus driver and the drunk Kenyan cop arguing about who should pay fines. After half an hour they agreed and the 20 some passengers got back on the bus and we lurched our way on down the road. At one of the pit stops I was taking too long and Ben came to check on me. We were almost left behind but fortunately, Ben went back out just in time to chase the bus down as it pulled out down the street. We got into Kampala and met up with CPA colleagues who were running last minute Christmas errands. In the end we got home to Lira 8 hours after we intended to, hadn’t slept or eaten in what seemed like forever and we felt horrible with a migraine and stomach aches. The house was a mess and there were bugs everywhere. I went to take a shower and a spider crawled up my naked inner thigh. It startled me and I screamed and smacked it really hard. I still have a hand shaped bruise on my leg. Then just as we discovered we were almost out of Toilet paper and candles I dropped the last bit of toilet paper in the toilet and the electricity went out. There was nothing to do but pray so Ben did and asked for electricity. 10 minutes later it came back on.

Christmas was as perfectly memorable as Christmas Eve was unfortunate. Our morning was so “normal” with Christmas carols, little presents and a yummy breakfast complete with our first real coffee (we brought a coffee maker home from Kampala) since we’ve come that we almost forgot we were in Africa. Then we looked out our window. We spent our afternoon baking star shaped Christmas cookies and then taking them to delighted neighbors and friends. We were ambitious, thinking we could visit 7 homes in one afternoon. At the first neighbors house we spent over 2 hours. They gave us soda, and then after we tried to refuse a second round they told us we had bad manners so we agreed to stay. We had to rush the rest of our visits. Each of them fully intended for us to spend the rest of the day with them. When we had delivered most of them the sun was sinking low and had turned everything red. In front of most homes there were children playing, women cooking and huddles of up to 30 men blasting African dance music and sipping from the same bucket of local brew from 6 foot long straws. One of the huddles next to the huts behind our house invited us to join them and cleared two chairs. I was the only woman and they all waited to see how I’d react as they handed me the massive straw in the bucket of what looks like mud. Of course I told them in Lango it was very good (even though it was warm and chunky—definitely the first beer I’ve had to chew). Our last stop was to our favorite boys who play soccer in the yard. I got the smiles I hoped for. In the evening we cooked and ate together and got calls from our family. It was a good Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Roasting Peanuts

Sandra lives with her family in a series of little huts. The family has adopted us. On the left is "Ayaa" the true matriarch of the family. We spent the afternoon trying about 20 different national dishes, playing witht he kids, and learning to roast peanuts on a charcoal stove.

Climbing in the Mango Tree

If you watched Invisible Children you might remember the part when one of the night commuters talks about how he used to climb mango trees without fear. Ben and Sandra's son Leviticus are climbing their mango tree.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Giving Thanks in Uganda

This thanksgiving was the most unique ever. Everything was laughably different from buying our live Turkey from a guy in a bar playing cards to rolling the crust of an apple pie on the kitchen floor. Ben killed Harriet the Turkey himself. We enjoyed sharing our Thanksgiving dinner with our new Ugandan friends in our front yard. Clockwise from Holly: Sandra helps us with laundry and cooking and cleaning. We’re so happy to have her. She is quickly becoming my Ugandan sister and a good friend. She’s tough in an endearing way. At first I was really resistant to house help. It was explained to us that if we didn’t have help people would think we didn’t trust them to be in our home and that when we were able to provide a job for someone we weren’t willing. Sandra is an IDP. Her husband died 5 years ago and the income she gets from working with us will put her two kids through three years of school. Mr. Ouni Obero is our language teacher. He has been displaced twice. First, by the karamojong cattle raiders in the East of Uganda and then by the LRA. We study with him for 4 hours every morning and then eat lunch together. He’s taught us a lot of Lango already and has become our cultural guide. Tom and his wife Immaculate are quickly becoming our friends. Tom was the engineer on our house. They invited us to a traditional introduction/wedding ceremony of their sister that we attended last week. Jackson, is the driver for CPA, husband to 2 wives and father to 22 children. He’s a riot. Matilda is the receptionist for CPA. Emmanuel is a dear man who has inspired us greatly. He has volunteered with CPA from the beginning when his daughter was abducted from Aboke. Last year he received word that she had been killed. He gives new meaning to transcendence. George is the night watchman for CPA.

During dinner we each shared something we were grateful for. Matilda was grateful for an education for her children. George was simply grateful to be alive on that day. Emmanuel and Jackson were thankful that they got to taste “real American food.” Sandra expressed that she felt working with us was a gift from God. Others expressed their thanks in meeting new friends and for the beginning of something good.

Ben Kills Harriet the Thanksgiving Turkey

Let the Battle of the Values Begin by: Ben

During this adjustment time, I feel as if I’m hosting 3 or 4 separate personalities. There is a clear tension between assimilating into Ugandan culture and keeping “citizenship” with the Western paradigm. At one point I’m reading the latest best practices in psychosocial programming from an academic journal and maintaining professional correspondences, while at another moment I am being swarmed by the neighborhood boys, practicing my Lango, and trying to figure out what I can eat without getting sick. The two worlds seem to collide.
A behaviorist would tell you that personalities are formed by the experiences that one encounters. We learn by accommodating to our environment. We are constantly taking in an infinite amount of intuitive details in which our minds, over time, translate into beliefs or values. As such, we are guided by our circumstance. Our physical environment, socio-economic status, family, friends, culture, biological aptitude—basically everything that influences our being at any given time, builds our values. (Naturally, I’m not a strict behaviorist. I believe in divine intervention and God’s sovereign ability to work in people’s lives regardless of their circumstance).
Every “environment” has its unique set of values. And each of these value sets have core values and periphery values. The more diversity a person experiences, the easier it is to locate those core beliefs and hold onto the periphery values lightly. In coming to Africa I have been faced with an obviously different set of values. I am just beginning to learn how Africa will affect my value system, but I already know that I am grateful to be here and have the opportunity to learn from them.

Ario Aber by: Holly

Backdoor neighbors building an outhouse

I was trying to think of a few words that could sum up the experience so far. The first thing that came into my head was something my mom used to say when I was kid. She’d say, “Life’s tough and then you die.” Life in Lira, Uganda is tough. People live hard lives and then they die—from malaria, typhoid, AIDS, violence, sorrow—it seems like few die from old age. I feel guilty because I know the trivial inconveniences, isolation and homesickness I feel ought to be put in perspective with the tremendous suffering taking place just outside my door. The little things I thought wouldn’t phase me affect me more than I’d like to admit—the cold showers, the mosquitoes, the massive and ever present cockroaches, ants and spiders, dust and heat, the electricity going off every night from sunset to bedtime. Every day I’ve had to face my own weakness. I thought I was tougher than I really am. It is humbling to admit this is hard.

The second day in our house we decided to bake cookies—an attempt at some sense of normalcy. There was comfort in doing something routine. The sugar and flour are different here. Vanilla and butter are nowhere to be found-but regardless I was baking cookies. Ben was putting the first tray in and I was holding the oven door when my hand slipped. The oven door banged shut burning Ben. He yanked his arm away from the heat hitting me right in the nose with his elbow and knocking me off my feet onto the floor where there was immediately a growing pool of blood. Between the pain and the blood I was trying to convince myself this would be funny in a year but mostly I was thinking my God I don’t even know where to find a doctor in this crazy town. All I could do was lay there and cry feeling really not tough. I iced it a lot and for a few days my nose was pretty funny looking—swollen and blue. It still looks crooked to me but we’ll see when the rest of swelling goes down.

Last week we ordered some white curtains from a really kind tailor, clearly just scraping by. When he came to put them up they weren’t white. They were well made, but totally hideous fabric that somehow managed to clash with everything in the room (the paint resembles an Easter egg with pastel pink as the main color—you know how much I love pink). I think I’m mostly over it now but I was so bothered I really almost cried after he left. Ben asked which was worse, when he broke my nose the day before or the curtains. The curtains—definitely, because my nose will heal but I have to look at these every day for three years. It’s not as if I’d send them back and say, hey buddy you got the color wrong—his family might not eat for a month. It’s this kind of thing where my own weakness is just so obvious. I was sitting and looking at the curtains and trying to squint, because if you block out 6 of the colors present it almost looks color coordinated (but not really) and I heard a baby crying. In Lira you can always hear at least one baby crying and a child laughing. One of the cries is constant and comes from a mud hut behind our house. When I heard the baby crying I thought how sick am I that I am worried about the color scheme in my living room while behind me this child is probably suffering from disease and his mother is worrying about how she can possibly relieve his pain? I determined to try to help the baby instead of staring at the curtains. The next day I met the neighbors who are digging an outhouse as far from their hut but still on their property as they can. Unfortunately, that’s just upwind of our kitchen window. But they’re really great people. I bring them tea while they dig and talk with them. I asked about the baby and as it turns out he’s not sick. He just wants to be held all the time and whenever they put him down he cries. I was so relieved, I told them a stubborn baby is much better than a sick one and they laughed and agreed.

A better way to sum things up—a way that reflects our gratefulness for the inspiring transcendence and warm kindness of the people we’ve met is “ario a ber.” We have been well sustained. Every day the little things bother me less and my eyes are wider to everything that is sustaining me.

The Soccer Field by: Ben

Today I went to the soccer field to say “Ko Pango” (how are you) to the boys. The vast field was occupied by one hundred children playing their hearts out. When they saw me coming, many of them stopped their game and ran over towards me. Some wanted to feel the Mzungu’s (white person’s) hairy arms, others stared with their mouths open, and yet others wanted me to join their game.
As I walked through their “barracks”, I was taken aback at the lack of adults present. Even though there were easily 100 children in sight, I could only find 4 adults tending to other activities. Many children are orphaned by AIDS, some children have 20 brothers and sisters, and many parents have died of disease or war.
When we first came, Holly invited the boys to come into our yard to play football (soccer). They searched the entire neighborhood looking for a football, to no avail. It didn’t cross our minds that they didn’t have or couldn’t find a football to play with. A few days later we bought them one and instantly became their heroes. From that point forward our gate bell rings constantly. Within minutes of letting the first few boys in, many others stream in to join the game. We have developed relationships with a few of the boys. They bring us mangos and help water the plants to show their appreciation.

Man Was Made to Be Broken by: Holly

A young man named Daniel came to see us a couple days after we got here. He has a degree in computer science. He’s sharp, compassionate and likes politics. He cares for his aunt’s kids during the week and on the weekend bikes to his village 20km away and works on the family’s land. On Sunday he bikes to the neighboring region over 4 hours away to bring 5 boxes of tomatoes to Lira where he can sell them at a profit of about $2. He says he would do that every day but his aunt can only let him borrow her bike on the weekend. At 21 he’s the only one of the family with an education but he hasn’t found a steady job. The burden to provide is heavy on him but he bares it well and is clearly not afraid to work hard.

We were talking about playing soccer barefoot. I said I didn’t want Ben to play barefoot because he might break a toe. Daniel looked at me seriously, as if that was the silliest thing I could’ve said. “You don’t want him to break? But he will break! Man was made to be broken! How can we not break—with all our passion—no, we will break. That is what we’re made for.”

Saturday evenings are his only free time and so far he’s spent them drinking tea with us. Yesterday we heard more of his story while we watched the African sun sink low on our back porch. Two years ago the LRA came to his house and abducted him along with his little brother. After a week in captivity they had walked from Lira all the way to Sudan. During a battle between the UPDF (Ugandan forces) and the LRA he managed to escape with his brother. He had been badly beaten. He still carries the scars. But, he says, I was able to protect my brother. His brother was only 7 years old.

Good Morning By: Ben

Days begin early here in Uganda. No alarm clock is necessary because roosters crow just before dawn breaks. After our first night’s sleep, I looked out of our window to find a gardener sent by a CPA colleague. He came with a 10 Kg bag of fresh oranges and spent the whole day working on our small plants. Still before 7am came our “”house help”, Sandra. Sandra is helping us adjust to life in Lira and is teaching Holly and I how to cook Ugandan food. It is a strange dichotomy to be so catered for, yet feel so uncomfortable.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After Amen: A Call to Action

We have watched the Invisible Children with a lot of people in the past month. Afterwards, the inescapable question is asked, “How should we respond?” Appropriate responses: to cry, to have compassion, to pray. Should our compassion also move us to action? Yes. Tell others. Raise awareness. Be creative. Beyond that the water is murky. After watching the film with ILLC students we did some Q&A where the efficacy of a military solution was raised (not to mention the ethics of waging war on child soldiers whose participation is involuntary). We were discussing this in terms of how the problem should be solved and how, as outsiders, we should advocate in our government’s response. What kind of policy should the U.S. or the U.N. have towards a solution in Uganda? At the time I had very little tangible advice other than, “violence is not the answer.” Still just getting my feet wet in this ocean of an issue--I now have a few concrete ideas to offer.

Through all channels of advocacy we should address our leaders (specifically, President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and US Ambassador to the United Nations Bolton--addresses provided below) to:

Thank them for their support of the peace process in Uganda. In May 2005 the U.S. joined the old troika of engaged countries (Norway, Netherlands, UK) to make a quartet of mediators. Urge them to also send a U.S. envoy to further the efforts of the quartet. The U.S. envoy should engage President Musevini to develop a consistent policy and to make clear how the U.S. is prepared to support or give assurances of a future peace agreement.

Ask them to take opportunities to make public statements in support of the peace process. This would give Kony greater confidence that the Ugandan government will negotiate in good faith as well as raising awareness on the issue in the global community.

Ask them to support (initiate) a plan within the African Union (AU) and the UN to decide now, how they might deploy observers to assembly points if/when a ceasefire agreement is reached.

Ask them to include peace in Northern Uganda in their agenda for diplomacy with Sudanese leaders. Sudan needs to stop their ambiguous stance towards the LRA and make clear to the Ugandan government and to the LRA that it will halt support of LRA activities, provision of arms, and that it will cooperate with the Ugandan government to that end.

Urge them to hold Sudan accountable. Ten thousand UN peacekeepers are already being deployed to Sudan to oversee the recent North / South agreement. This requires the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to amend the current mandate but would not require any additional funding or manpower. The UNSC should be encouraged to amend the mandate to include a priority on observing LRA movement and Sudanese support for its activities.

Thank them for their commitment to halve the levels of world poverty and hunger by 2015 through their commitment to the Millenium Development Goals, and for their commitment together with other G8 countries to increase aid by $25 billion a year, doubling their current commitment by 2010. Ask that a significant portion of the increased aid committed in September be designated for research and development of affordable preventive measures for HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (the latter two diseases are least researched and most adversely affect development in poor countries, including Uganda). Urge them to promote the development of vaccines that would be available to the poorest countries and their poorest citizens. (One way to do this would be to promote research and development by pharmaceutical companies from the developing world.)

Urge the U.S. to restrict any military assistance to Uganda to defending the civilian population of the North and to preventing future abductions of children. For example, night vision equipment could be provided. Most abduction occurs at night because the Ugandan army does not patrol after dark for lack of equipment.

The U.S. envoy could also support peacebuilding in Northern Uganda by supporting Musevini in developing a strategy for “the hearts and minds” of the Northern Ugandans. Most Northern Ugandans feel abandoned by their government and isolated from the rest of the country. (Did you know that Ugandan statistics reported annually do not include anyone from the North of the country? They simply aren’t counted.) A more active approach to provide for their security and their basic needs would promote peace in the region. Planning should begin now for a “rebuilding” effort (roads, hospitals, schools, psycho-social services, etc.) convincing the people of the North that the government is serious about brining an end to the conflict and is planning for the normalization of life. With this encouragement might they dare to hope and work towards peace and the establishment of a new normal.

*Many of these ideas inspired by publications by the International Crisis Group, Foreign Affairs articles: Giving Justice Its Due, How to Rebuild Africa, and How to Help Poor Countries, several internal MCC documents and briefings, as well as hours pondering next to the Stone’s pool.*

President Bush
The White House1600
Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

John R. Bolton
US Ambassador to the UN
United States Mission to the United Nations
140 East 45th Street
New York, N.Y. 10017

Condoleeza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

(I welcome your comments and ideas. And if you do take action--we'd love to hear about it.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Role Beyond Solidarity?

Joe and I had coffee sometime the month before Ben and I left Denver. Sipping on something fair trade, Joe said that as outsiders wanting to “help” groups that are suffering from war, injustice and poverty—really the only thing we have to offer is solidarity. I found that idea sobering. Solidarity is significant—the importance of it shouldn’t be downplayed. It has deep spiritual roots—we should mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are celebrating. Maybe our contribution is tied to our dear Prof. PVA’s notion of “witness.” Or to what I shared with the students in Azerbaijan volunteering in deplorable orphanages—there is value in crying over children who have never had anyone to cry for them before. Or maybe it’s related to what Mark and I talked about in the ILLC’s kitchen when he was discouraged about Lebanon—there is a spark that can lead to empowerment when an outsider shows hope/energy/optimism to an insider too beaten down by years of oppression to remember the strength of his/her own spirit.

In the reading I’ve done so far about Uganda several key characteristics that are either sources or results of the conflict stand out: fear, mistrust, desensitization/normalization of violence(that drives the night commuters, that keeps the land uncultivated, that makes children kill, that keeps Kony from negotiating, child soldiers from returning, communities from accepting back the abducted…) . The results are too many to mention. And I’ve only read about them. I haven’t seen them yet. As someone who wants to be an active agent for positive social change in Uganda I hope that in addition to solidarity I can offer the opposite of fear, mistrust, and desensitization: hope, trust, and a profound respect for human life. God help me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fast for Peace & Justice in Uganda This Monday

October 10th is the commemoration of the day 139 girls were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army from the Aboke boarding school in 1996. These girls are among the 25 thousand others since the beginning of the conflict that have been taken from their families and forced to serve as soldiers and sex-slaves in the LRA. The Concerned Parents Association and members of the communities affected by the ongoing war spend the day in prayer and fasting. We think it’s a good opportunity to stand in solidarity with our suffering family in Uganda and to connect with God, collectively bringing our sorrow and our hope. We’ll be fasting together with the Stone’s here in Florida and would love to hear from others that respond to this invitation to fast or might want to post a written prayer.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls.”

(from Isaiah 58)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Our Oasis

For the past 2 weeks and for the next 2 we are enjoying the hospitality of the Stone's at their home in a country club in Florida not far from the beach. It is a strange and welcome oasis between our past and future. Their peaceful home and good company allows us the time to sit and do nothing, to read, to pray, to meditate, to let go, and to prepare our bodies souls and minds.

They are spoiling us. And they get so much joy from giving. I think it's their hobby--or maybe even their profession. It's easy for me to accept good gifts--a credit to my parents and God having always given them to me. The only thing that inhibits me is the fear (or pride) that they will think I take advantage of their generosity, or not know how deeply I am grateful. And with people as generous as these two there simply aren't words...

Before Holly

The Porter's Future Home in Lira Posted by Picasa

I'm thinking some potted and hanging plants, window boxes, maybe shutters--would do wonders for this baby. Ben is convinced that's a banana tree on the left side and we have no idea what the mud structure on the right is. I'm just happy to have electricity and running water, a gas stove, fridge, two bedrooms (we already ordered a second mosquito to protect any guests from malaria), and I can garden. There is a field next to the house that I'm told I won't have energy to plant. I have been hoping for a place to create beauty (and food) gardening--or as the Ugandans call it, "digging." Depending on what's in the mud thing--don't you think the porch--with a screen over it, could be a perfect place to sit and smoke hookah, talk over the day and drink African red tea?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So not savvy

Have patience with this inept blogger. Hopefully, within a week there will be something here worth reading, looking at and commenting.