Sunday, April 22, 2007

Friends Continued (by Ben)

Yesterday we celebrated the birthdays of two of our closest work colleagues. On this special day, the birthday boys are called "Babies". Birthdays are often recognized in Uganda (especially if the D.O.B. is known), but seldom is a birthday an occasion for a party. Imagine the drain on resources if you had a party for all 15 of your children...

(Tonny "Warming Up" for the competition)

Godfrey, CPA's program manager, celebrated his first b-day party at the age of 35, and Tonny, the District Coordinator, had celebrated once before. We had an afternoon of games and competitions, an evening meal, and two cakes for the group of about 25 close friends and colleagues. Godfrey's cake read "Mzee (elder) Okello". He then turned to the oldest man in the room and sincerely asked, "May I be received into Mzee-hood?"

(Godfrey showing us his strokes in the dance competition)

Godfrey and Tonny were touched by the outpouring of affection and gifts given to them on their day. After presenting the gifts, all spoke aloud "what we liked best about the birthday boys". Godfrey's son (age 5) came up to him after the gifts were given and said with surprise, "Why is everyone giving you free things? I'm little, why don't I get something?" As it turns out, Tonny's team won the dance competition and won.... A NEW CAR!!! a prize. Because it was a toy car, Tonny was generous enough to give Godfrey's son something after all.

(Godfrey's children, Dan and Rachel also wanted to show us how to dance)

There is something bonding about celebrating a common tradition with our friends here. Sharing this experience made me feel closer to my culture and to theirs.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Friends and Family: by Ben

Having Travis with us for the past week really made me wish that all of our friends and family were closer. It feels like there is something “hard-wired” into me that makes me crave long-term relationships and regular contact with those I love most. Many of our African friends have such pity on us for being so far away from our families; they can’t imagine a life so far away from their families. In the West, we have access to travel that takes us to the ends of the earth in relatively little time. Jobs easily take us to other cities, states, and continents, and our contact with our loved ones diminishes.

I just finished a training on indigenous ways of healing. In this module we discussed ways in which people have traditionally sought healing through community collectivism and various ceremonies. I learned so much, and was amazed at the richness of social support built into the culture. We learned traditional ceremonies meant to cure physical, emotional, and spiritual illnesses, but we also learned about lifestyle practices such as hunting (dwar), sitting around the fireplace (Wang Oo), and dancing/singing (Myelo/Wer) that naturally build a sense of community cohesion.

There is a controversial debate whether resilience is a product of nature or nurture. Some people believe that resilience is inherited; that some individuals have a resilience gene or perhaps inherit a resilient personality. Others believe that it is the neurobiological process that occurs after the initial fight/flight survival reaction. The absence of “calming” hormones after the survival reaction leaves people over-alert; consciously and subconsciously awaiting a reoccurrence of the traumatic event. Such hyper-vigilance also works against our physical bodies. Others believe it is the social support offered after an individual has endured a traumatic event.

(This is one of seven parent support group representative trainers)

I suppose the answer should consider all of these factors. However, living in Uganda has highlighted the social support component of resilience. Imagine the personal resources someone has when in the presence of generations of family and a cohesive community versus going through a mental breakdown in an alien or isolated environment such as a hospital. All this to say that my heart is torn between the longing I feel from being so far away from friends and family and the joy I feel in sharing my life with remarkable friends here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

After You've Hurt or Every Day is like Holy Saturday

Photography can't begin to capture the beauty that we experienced in Queen Elizabeth National Park--not even with Travis' good eye and camera. Travis arrived in Entebbe in the middle of the night--we picked him up only after he'd been half eaten by mosquitoes and then drove straight to Mweya Safari Lodge--6 hours southwest. Travis is writing an article about them for his magazine so they were putting him up. Ben and I had intended to camp or stay in a hostel nearby but when we showed up the manager said they'd prepared a two room suite for Travis with plenty of room if we wanted to stay together. It was the first of surprising gifts during our week with my brother.

The last time we'd been this spoiled in Uganda was with Kimbal and Kellen at Paraa in Murchison Falls. Both times we thoroughly enjoyed the break, the luxury, the companionship of some of dear friends, and incredible beauty. Can I draw conclusions about a "trend" if I've only experienced it twice? I think this kind of beautiful experience has changed for me forever since coming to northern Uganda. The first time, I would've called it white-girl's guilt. This time, the change has matured into something more nuanced and difficult to express. Though a totally different experience--the only comparable emotion I can compare it to is the way that you feel in moments of love after you've deeply hurt and been hurt by your lover. There is a simplicity, gratitude and open hearted freedom when you're in love before you've ever hurt each other. After the first major injury--the relationship may be stronger, deeper, even better--but it's never the same because now you know how much it can hurt.
The Holy Week before Easter is a good time of reflection for these things. Between amazing food, swimming in the pool, enjoying the view, and the cool wind at dawn sticking our heads out of the jeep on game drives and watching lions--I had two of my favorite men to process with. I don't feel guilty for my full life--and I have a really full life. (though I try to be conscious of and avoid the ways my privelege can contribute to the injustice of others) But I don't feel as free to just be grateful for it because I'm kind of mad that not everyone has the same freedom. I feel loved by God but I'm not sure I would if I'd been born in an IDP camp or if I'd been raped or watched my family members decapitated. It's easy to say "thank you God" when I get to stay in a beautiful suite at a luxury safari lodge instead of camping in the rain--but I don't want God to be loving to me, I want him to be love. My life isn't in the middle of the sorrow of Good Friday. But that sorrow is a daily reality for a lot of people--and without the hope of redemption of Easter Sunday--I can't hold the belief that He is good and loving.

I confessed to Travis, sometimes I'm totally sure God is good and loving but maybe he just isn't trying. I get angry. I feel like I'm here--totally inadequate and working as hard as I can--and what is He doing? He could fix this tragic mess if he tried, and I can't--but at least I'm trying. This isn't really what I believe--it's how I honestly feel when I get discouraged. I have my sense of the problem of evil and I know what I think the answers to these questions are--but it's not where I operate from consistently. Being with family is healthy. It was a time of a strengthening faith. It reminds me where I've come from and makes me feel like I have roots that are still in tact. Somehow, the questions are easier to hold unanswered in my heart when they're voiced to someone who gets it, who doesn't judge, and who reminds me of the character I believe God has--that He wants a full life for every broken human being and to redeem the earth and everything in it. And we're on that day inbetween crucifixion and resurrection, groaning for redemption.
Easter Sunday we were back at home in Lira and sharing things that were new to Travis--like kasava. We got up late, ate a great breakfast, listened to a sermon online from Celebration, dug in the garden, and ran around the house looking for chocolate eggs that Ben surprised us with. The week with Travis was refreshing and wonderfully comfortable and natural. It seemed like he ought to just be able to come over every Saturday and hang out. Sharing what has become familiar to us in Uganda with him was so much fun. Doing life together and enjoying the ordinary as well as the awesome beauty was a gift we received gratefully. My parents just got our home videos from when we were kids put on DVD and sent them to us. So we got nostalgic watching younger versions of ourselves and marvelled at our parents' youthfulness, how totally adorable Tina was, and how much relationships change in 15 years.