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.