Sunday, June 24, 2007

A few pictures and thoughts

by Ben
I don't have any profound thoughts or insights, but I wanted to put a few pictures on our blog. Life has been full...and good.

Two weeks ago a group from our home church came to Lira. We set one day aside for a "solidarity day". Upon our arrival at an IDP camp about 2 hours out of town, men and women were divided and assigned everyday life tasks. Women went to go shopping and prepared food, while men dug in a rice field and tried to thatch a roof. It was probably a first for many of the women to get beef from a recently butchered cow placed on banana leaves on the side of a dirt road. They simply pointed to the part they wanted and someone hacked it off.

(This is Zach, Kimuli, Patrick and a guy from the camp digging in the rice swamp)

(This is Zach sitting on a grass roof after separating the grass, thinking, "So, I'm suppose to jump down like that too?" This is a hut for two boys who lost both of their parents in an LRA attack)

(This is a picture of a baboon after stealing our cookies out of the truck. Ask Zach for an impersonation.)

We also went on a game drive.

(The raw beauty of Uganda never ceases to amaze me)

On a different note, I was in Gulu last week, for the first of a four-week training in Narrative Exposure Therapy (for my trainers and other local staff from rehabilitation centers across N. Uganda). I am very excited about this training. It is being facilitated by researchers and professors from Germany. The therapy model is adapted for children in Northern Uganda and research has proven its effectiveness. Until recently any empirical data on prevelance or effective treatment of mental health disorders has been almost completely absent. I am grateful to be a part of this training and really sense people's committement to raising standards of psychosocial care in N. Uganda. I also co-chaired the first meeting of a new group called "Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Technical Team for Northern Uganda" with Quaker Peace and Social Witness last Friday. There seems to be increasing mommentum for this kind of work and I'm excited to see where this group takes us.

World Sorrow

by Holly
I used to like very serious movies with painful subject matter. No need for happy endings--I liked movies that depicted the sorrow of the human experience. Not that I don't still appreciate the art of honesty in film--but I just don't feel like I have the space to take it in. These days I only watch things that make me laugh. At the end of the day I don't need any more reminders of how painful living on earth is.

Lately, I've been pouring all my energy into work--and while the last month has been one that has been unparalleled with impact and significance for me, I'm tired and kind of stressed out. My body tends to take it on, so in an effort to surrender (and inspired by another yoga journal that Ryan sent me via the Celebration crew), I'm spending more time on my mat getting centered, grounded, and opening my heart, making some space in this crowded soul of mine.

There's an article in the journal about sadness and grief. Personally, I feel ridiculously blessed to have had an unfairly preserved life--If there is a reason, then I sometimes think it is so I have the capacity to feel more "Welt schmerz" or world sorrow--a sadness that arises without a personal cause--a transcendant feeling of pain for the state of the world. (apparently, this is written about in a book by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called the Sorrows of Young Worther, which I've never read but I'm now intrigued and if I can make enough space to handle something sad in my free time I will) I remember once calling my dad in tears, when I was having a crisis of faith and wondering if God was indeed good--and his first response was to ask whether it was me or a close friend who had experienced some great pain. It was neither, I was still in university and a war I opposed was starting and I was studying genocide and angry about unanswered prayer in Darfur and I just couldn't handle it anymore.

So, I've been thinking about the constructive potential of sadness--at the same time the risk of spiralling feelings of hopelessness and lack of vision that lead to a destination of either cynicism or resignation. The constructive potential is when we recognize that suffering is not personal but universal to the human experience. I say it has potential because the risk in recognizing the pervasiveness of suffering is that it can evoke paralysis, or feelings along the lines of the writer of Ecclesiastes, "everything is meaningless."

The other option is that it has the potential to inspire great compassion. I'd choose compassion over paralysis any day--but compassion is not a solitary discipline. I'm convinced that sorrow over the state of the world is channeled into creative and active compassion through community.

That means, as much as I enjoy doing yoga--I can't tranform strong negative emotions by myself--or just by realizing that I'm connected to everyone else, I think it's active, I have to be connected. God's spirit transforms through the experience of community.

It was a great blessing to have these beautiful people from Celebration in Lira. It was encouraging to be with them while they also wrestled with the tension between great compassion and debilitating hopelessness. It's a reminder that the struggle is worth it, and I'm grateful for their presence, from the first evening of receiving cards, books, and yummy things from home (Thank you everyone from CCC that sent us stuff!) to Solidarity Day in an IDP camp, to evening conversations, blueberry pancakes, lions in the rain, and swimming while overlooking the Nile.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Big Daddy Gave Me a Name

After an hour of bumping over potholes on narrow red dirt roads, our car pulled up at the home of “Won Nyaci” the Paramount Chief of the Lango tribe. CPA parents have been asking what we can do now to work for peace and reconciliation and what our unique role in that process should be. We’ve decided on 4 “Steps Toward Reconciliation” that we can take and we began the journey this morning. Tomorrow we’ll go to Gulu to meet with Rwot Acana the Acholi Paramount Chief. A team of 5 parents and a couple of “technical people,” like me make up the group.

We were led to a grass thatched open hut. The door is so low we had to duck to get inside. When I entered I saw the chief, or the Big Daddy—which is the literal translation of what most Langi call him. Unlike other times, when I’ve seen him decked out in colorful African fabrics, he was dressed in simple western clothes. The two other women got on their knees to greet him. No one briefed me on protocol and I’m a little uncomfortable kneeling in front of anyone—but I tried to look humble and kind of curtsied a little while I shook his hand. This was such a curious but significant meeting. Chickens walked along the edge of the open room which was lined by 15 wooden chairs with fuzzy leopard print cushions. His wife began praying as soon as we came and then walked back and forth with a handkerchief and an inhaler. She liked to move and seemed friendly and full of energy. Big daddy on the other hand sat very still and drew long breaths and smiled with his kind eyes. Angelina (CPA’s chairperson and great mentor and inspiration to me) explained about the new program of reconciliation that CPA is beginning and the vision behind it. She introduced everyone and told him about the work I’ve been doing with CPA for the past year and a half. Then each parent talked from their experiences and spoke their desire for peace.

People talked slowly to Big Daddy, as if every word deserved time and space and held some special power if it was considered and accepted by the listener. On paper, when I worked on the proposal to get funding for this project, this meeting looked very different. But here I was in this hut and it was so real. Each parent here had a daughter abducted. Each of them are raising the grandchildren of LRA commanders. One of them is still waiting for his daughter’s return. She’s still in Kony’s house—and here they are talking about reconciliation as if it’s a real and possible thing for them. They have turned such unspeakable pain into contagious energy for healing. Each word they speak does have power.

The entire meeting was in Lango—which I can catch bits and pieces of but my comprehension is often a combination of a few words and a lot of guess work. When it was time for Big Daddy to say something he looked thoughtful and then got out a piece of paper. Slowly and deliberately he wrote four names and then explained what each of them meant. One was someone who is feared, one was someone who organizes and keeps house well, I didn’t understand the third one, and the fourth was one who is so precious to everyone that her contribution to the community is invaluable. When he read the last name on the list the parents I was with nodded and made affirming noises and Angelina started to clap. I didn’t know what was going on but then he explained. The names are only given to women who have done great things for the Lango community and who deserve a special name. These aren’t names that are given at birth, but they have to be earned. He says that I need to be given a great Lango name and as the chief of Lango he will name me. The parents should confirm which of the four names is right for me. From that moment they stopped calling me Holly and started calling me Elit.

Big Daddy expressed his commitment to support our initiative and talked about how he felt it complemented other current efforts of peacebuilding in northern Uganda. At what we thought was the end of the conversation Angelina thanked them and said we should be going, but the Big Mommy jumped up. She shook her finger, scolding us, “when you are a visitor it is not you to decide when you are leaving. It is us who will release you and I have refused.” Then she bustled out of the room, ducking through the low door and walked to the smoking mud shack I assume is the kitchen where they were making us food. Five chickens perched on the edge of the room and watched us eat while what must have been a new litter of puppies cried and pawed at the board that barred their entrance into the room.

What we write in project documents packages a meeting like this with goals, objectives and objectively verifiable indicators. Program design makes it all seem so straightforward, predictable and measurable. But the reality is almost always decidedly stranger—and often more powerful.