Thursday, November 30, 2006

Splitting the White Ants

By Holly

For a long time I've had the idea of this post in my mind. Probably since the time in March when flying white ants stormed our house for the first time and a rush of neighbors licking their lips came to collect them. People told us then how valued the white ants are. They are considered a precious and tasty morsel--rare and shared only among friends. Another way of describing a dear friend is to say "split the white ant at the waist." Even if you only had one ant you'd share half of it with your friend. Someone told me that if you have a "split the white ant" friend then you know that you have a true friend, someone you can depend on and who depends on you. It reminds me of chilly evening walk with Tina, Kimbal & Kellen in Boston. We went through the Holocaust memorial after consuming massive lobsters and yummy clam chowder. It's a glass hallway in a park with stories etched along the path. One of them was of a girl in a concentration camp who while doing work outside happened upon a raspberry. She hid it in her pocket and brought it back into the camp that night where she shared her now smooshy raspberry with her best friend. It made me cry when I read it--and since I was with very good friends--we teared up together--and promised that we would share the smooshy raspberries of life.

So my idea was to post some of the faces of our growing friendship here--people that we've shared white ants with. The problem is that friendships/relationships are not static. Every day is full of changes-of new closeness, new trust, but also of betrayals and disappointments--some big and some small. The largest blow to my white ant idea was when our closest friend confessed that he'd been stealing from us (see betrayal and reconciliation). Most of our relationships are not so dramatic, but as human beings I think we regularly give one another reason to doubt, reason to wonder about true motives, and reason for me to put off posting the faces of people that I sometimes ask myself, but are they really friends that I can share white ants with? Am I really the kind of friend that they'd share a white ant with? I don't know. I think that there just comes a point when we have to be ok with the fact that our friends will disappoint us, and we will disappoint them and we make conscious choices to continue to trust, hope and love in full knowledge that the human experience is broken and vulnerable.



Philip and Tonny





Sunday, November 26, 2006

3 Snapshots

Un-ordinary things happen all the time in Lira. I’m not sharing anything deep or meaningful, just giving you a snap-shot into our daily lives.

For our 2nd thanksgiving in Lira we invited 20 of our CPA colleagues and other friends over for a delicious meal. Holly spent the whole day cooking and baking all of our favorite thanksgiving dishes. I got to kill a massive turkey named Dr. Fred. As tradition goes, we all shared the things we were thankful for. I am always amazed at the strength and resilience of people who have seen 20 years of war. It was a great evening-some ate grapes for the first time in their lives, others cracked jokes, and an American visitor said that this was the most memorable thanksgiving he has ever had.

Yesterday, War Child (an INGO working with children through games and play-therapy) hosted a volleyball tournament for NGO teams in Lira. The all-day event was a huge success and almost all of us released pent-up stress. On the way to a game I passed by a tree where the surrounding soil had recently been dug up. I looked down and saw two empty AK 47 magazines. I picked one up to see if my eyes were fooling me. A friend on the team quickly advised me to drop it or I was going to be harassed…I followed his suggestion. Even though volleyballs were flying, music was playing, and people were eating BBQ, these empty magazines were a stark reminder that I was still in a war zone.

Today, Holly and I went looking for a Christmas tree. It is not exactly the way we do it in the States. We rode our bikes to a small tree nursery. They only had Christmas twigs (one foot tall seedlings). We told them that we were looking for a small Christmas tree for the holidays. They talked amongst themselves and one person said, “Let me ride my bicycle to the village and dig up a tree for you from our compound there.” The ride iss ten Kilometers and he said that the tree was simply a gift from him. Naturally, we will give him something for the tree, but the offer left Holly and I feeling blessed by his generosity.

Studies in Italy

Dear friends, I hope that you have all been well sustained since we last spoke. I just returned from Italy and wanted to share a few words with you about my time there. Going from Lira to Orvieto, Italy was a shocking experience. Our course in Italy was held in the mayor’s villa, we sat under beautiful frescos and listened to lectures given by leaders in the field of trauma mental health. Students included anthropologists, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and others.

We stayed in a monastery opposite the Duomo cathedral built in 1260 to host a piece of altar cloth said to have Jesus’ blood on it. Every year, citizens march the piece of cloth around the small town. Orvieto is known for its olive oil and wine.

The most meaningful aspect of the training has been the relationships we all developed while in Italy. The course will continue for another 6 months as we review the lectures, ask questions, and work through clinical and policy case studies on-line in small groups.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

How to Bend a Speer

I’ve found it surprisingly challenging to reconcile hope with critical thinking about current events. I told Ben earlier in the week (on our date night, which we do every week and it’s so great!) that I was having this struggle and as we talked about the dynamic of hope the thought occurred to us that perhaps it was so hard to reconcile the desire not to blindly wait for something that was not going to happen and not giving up on it because we had a wrong view of hope. Maybe hope isn’t convincing yourself to think that something good is actually the most probable outcome, but believing that it should happen and that the good thing you hope for is closer to what God intended—closer to original design. With this little shift in my thinking it’s been easier to reconcile my mind and heart while I achingly long for peace in Uganda and reason through the complexity of the ongoing peace process. People want it so much, I want it so much. The emotional investment in this process is deep. You can see it on people’s faces. After 20 years, God, let this be the end—if not now when? When you talk to most people and ask them about what they think about the process the answers are on the tip of every tongue “I just want to go home,” or “I just want my sister to come back from the bush, that’s all I want.” I’m often humbled and baffled by the unflinching hope that many in the north express—but I do wonder, everyone has their breaking point, if this process fails will they reach it?

I spent most of this week with a delegation from MCCs advocacy offices from DC, Ottawa, and the UN office in New York as well as from the Africa and Peace departments in Akron. It was refreshing to be with them, to experience Uganda with them, and to discuss how we can better support the peace process through advocacy. We had a series of meetings with people from the groups of cultural and religious leaders who have been supporting/observing, military, NGO community, people in IDP camps, people on the monitoring team for the cessation of hostilities agreement, observers of the process from Juba, and others. The views they had, the messages they wanted to send were diverse, and rather than give my own ideas I thought I’d capture a few from what I heard: (paraphrased)

Why is the international community silent? The West is too silent, not showing oneness with Africa. If this conflict was happening somewhere else there would have been more support from the US. (Religious leader)

The incidences of violence around Juba reported in the media are not UPDF and LRA. Most incidences that have taken place have been the result of misinformation. (Monitoring team member)

I think that the government is trying to save face and that the LRA are rebuilding. There is a lack of commitment to relieve the suffering of Acholi people on both sides. They need to build confidence: don’t discuss wounds, don’t praise yourself, the negotiation should include the suffering people because they are motivated to work for peace. Maybe the negotiating teams should visit a camp so that they can get motivated (community leader)

Are you really sure that peace and justice are friends? Who is the parent in this conflict? Parents take all the costs of their children’s misbehavior. Convince the ICC to bend the rules. (Community leader)

What’s needed for peace is restorative justice. This is not a tribal war but crimes against humanity by terrorists. The military method hasn’t succeeded for 20 years. This might work. It is the most hope we’ve had. In the past the LRA wouldn’t eat food provided by the government of Uganda. But now they are accepting food, so there is some trust. (Formerly abducted person)

We want a statement from the Secretary General of the United Nations not only Jan Egeland. Now the Secretary General is leaving, I hope the next one will at least say something. (Religious leader)

Why is Kony so difficult to capture? We have a saying in Acholi, a coward lives longer. But the fighters are there in the bush, for them this is about reorganization. The LRA negotiating team are people who have a power hangover and they are not fighters. They are waiting for it to fail and getting attention and money. If you think I’m lying time will tell. (Military)

Why is Kony so difficult to capture? Because he is surrounded by children. Children are his water. (Community leader)

When I met with Kony, he had 3 messages: 1. He is for peace. 2. Watch and witness who will spoil the process. 3. The suffering should stop and the war should end. He is willing to do Mato Oput (reconciliation ceremony, that means drinking bitter herb) with the community but is not sure how it could be done with the government, since the government is not a tribe. (religious leader)

What specific confidence building measures are needed? UN supportive statements and a visit from the Secretary General to Northern Uganda. The African Union to respond to the call to be on the monitoring team. “Tell off” the government of Uganda to withdraw all troops in Sudan. Media should send positive supportive messages. It should not be a hurried process—there is no hurry in Africa—we need community views and this takes time. LRA needs to listen to the community. Focus on the victims and the costs of more war. (group of cultural and religious leaders)

These all are not exact quotes, but they are the things I remember and scribbled down in my notebook while I listened to people. Someone said, knowledge speaks, and wisdom listens. Trying to be wise, I’m listening--to those who may have accurate information or may be confused and misinformed but who all have a reason behind their words. I have many questions, but one is at the forefront of my mind. In any negotiation, a party’s position is strengthened when their alternative to a negotiated agreement is good. Unfortunately, all the parties have pretty decent alternatives, which may be why we've seen so many walk-outs. As I see it, the degree to which those alternatives are weakened motivation to settle without violence will be strengthened. How do the Juba peace talks become the most attractive option, and how can the alternatives to a negotiated agreement be minimized?