Sunday, March 25, 2007

Accepted Foreigner

by Holly
It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Partly, I think because I didn’t have any interesting photos to go along with what’s kept me busy. I thought about taking one of me and the team of people (Anthony, Sylvia, Charles, Godfrey, Ben) who were working on one of two intense proposals we’ve done this year. It would have had all of us gathered around a computer very late at night and pulling out our hair and gritting our teeth. The title would have been, “Is this Framework Really Logical?” But, like most people, I don’t bring my camera with me for long days of office work.

Finally, I’ve broken out of the office again. I’ve been in Gulu this week monitoring the office there with the Program Manager. Ben always teases me because I love meetings so much—and I really like trying to improve systems to manage and support and supervise our staff and programs. It’s so much fun—although I sometimes want something really concrete that I can point to and say that-that’s what I do and why I’m here. We had a conversation with a friend last night who (among many other things) has installed playground equipment at a water hole near our office. I ride past everyday on the way to work on my bike. There are always kids there laughing and playing. He said how encouraging that was. I’d like to have something like that—a daily reminder that what I’m doing makes a difference to somebody. I get moments. In Gulu I spent a few hours under a mango tree in a camp talking with community members that are in a committee that protect children’s rights. In the past month because of what they’ve done one kid is back in school, another that was neglected is getting medical treatment and a girl that was sexually abused is in a safe environment. That’s wonderful—but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s facing kids in the camps.

Last week I joined the TOTs (Ben’s project) in Soroti to learn more about “Traditional and Religious Ways of Healing in Acholi and Lango.” I went to learn and to spend time with the facilitators and ask my burning questions. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about traditional ways of reconciliation and restorative justice--an integral part of healing. The instructors for the training were the key people from the traditional leadership of Lango and Acholi. The discussions were remarkably honest and I was encouraged by how progressive those entrusted with the preservation of traditions are.

Sometimes I start to feel like I’ve really adjusted and know the people that I work with and for and then I get a window into something deeper—something that I will never be a part of and may never understand. I was reading a book (which I hope to post about soon) about the ICC. It’s insightful, but there were times when reading it when I thought to myself, “This author doesn’t really know people here.” He’s probably spent more time with them than the majority of researchers, but still, he doesn’t understand the world view. I said this to myself with a kind of smug self-congratulatory tone—until last week when I had to confess that I don’t really know people here either. There is so much that surprises me, that seems unreal, or that even when it’s translated and explained I just can’t understand.

Once after a session where the Acholi leader was describing how to read signs of impending success or failure before leaving on a journey (like which direction birds chirp from or which toe you stub first or whether you first meet a man or woman on the road) he came up to me and asked if we had similar things. The only thing I could think of was a black cat crossing your path, but I explained that was a superstition that we don’t take very seriously and in general we don’t know how to read the noises of animals and birds. He looked at me with disbelief and said, “Do you mean to say that you just do things blindly? You have no idea what is coming and don’t try to read the signs that are there for you!” He admitted though, sometimes the signs can really disrupt life. What do you tell your boss when you don’t go on a business trip because the morning you were meant to leave you stubbed your left toe instead of your right and met the opposite sex of your first born child when you walked down the street? I’ve never felt particularly blind, but maybe I am. Could it be that in the physical world there are messages that if interpreted could guide us in constructive ways and avoid danger?

One night we practiced Wang Oo a communal time of gathering around the fire at night. It’s a time to educate the young children, to tell stories and riddles, share local brew, dance, and “deceive the hunger” while you wait to eat supper. Though I sat as the women should slightly away from the fire (traditionally to avoid eye contact with men who might want an “appointment”) with bare feet on a grass mat and shelled g-nuts and told riddles—I felt very much a foreigner. I was taught a riddle so that I could share it. “Two birds crossed the sea.” The answer is “eyes.” I don’t understand. Apparently, that’s really hilarious—but I have no idea why. All night I laughed with our friends but mostly because I loved the shared joy. Whenever the jokes were translated (or even when they were simple enough for me to catch in Luo) I rarely understood why they were funny—but I was so happy to be an accepted member of the circle around the fire.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Party Church

A package just came (I know those of you who put it together--you did it a long time ago!) from the family in the UK that had been forwarded from Celebration. And after about an hour of reading all the love sent out on 3x5 cards--we thought-we had to send out a HUGE THANK YOU! And thought, the internet not only tells you Celebration readers what we think, but everyone else on the world wide web that the party church is the most amazing community ever--truly, the way you support us in prayer and in action is a source of immense encouragement, strength, accountability, solidarity, hope, etc. etc. We are so happy that some of you will get to see our lives here pretty soon and experience Uganda for yourselves. (it seems like a couple more men would lead to greater gender balance, not to mention any names--cough...Jim P,ahem...Steve)

We really want to thank you for loving "the real and not the ideal" us. One of the great beauties of community is that in ways we can't fully imagine you are part of us and life here as we are part of you and life in Denver.

I was reading a book (thanks to Ryan) last week where the characters are looking at old map and reminded of a time when you could live without knowing where you were't living. Life in Uganda is good-we love what we're doing, our colleagues and friends, each other, the raw beauty/pain and freedom--but we have a constant awareness of where we aren't living--near you.