Rahab & Home

No pictures today. It isn’t appropriate.

We left Murchison Falls this morning, stopping first at Masindi and at some point not found on a map to say good bye to our South Sudan friends. It’s hard to think about the contrast between our homes, each one of us going to something different. After letting them go we continued on to Kampala where we dropped our safari guide off.

Philip arranged for us to visit a home for victims of human trafficking. The shelter seemed to be in a ghetto area of Kampala. We found Ellen or Allen, I couldn’t understand Philip’s pronunciation of the letters as he spelled her name. She was the assistant director of the program. Ellen (or Allen) and I seemed to hit it off. After sharing a bit of our backgrounds she suggested that I move to Kampala and help pass laws that would make it easier to prosecute those buying the girls.

As we talked I asked Ellen (still uncertain, it may be Allen) about the ages of the girls that they have helped. She said that right now they have an 11 year old in their program as the youngest. However, they have helped a 9 year old as well. I’m not certain of the number of girls that they can shelter. In addition to the shelter program, they walk the streets to do outreach.

She mentioned that she had just come back from the U.S. She had been here to attend a conference on trafficking and prostitution. For some reason I happened to mention the name of a friend of mine in the federal government who trains on these issues. She said he was one of the presenters at the conference she attended, driving home the idea that it is really a small world.

After saying good bye to the staff at Rahab House we started toward Entebbe where Philip would drop us off for our flight to Amsterdam. Before going to the airport, though, we have one stop to make. We must find dinner. Philip chose the place for our last meal together…Pizza Hut.

Philip…seluganda. So long for now, my friend. Thank you for the hard work you put into making the last two weeks happen and for the work you are doing in Africa.

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls is a wildlife reserve in west central Uganda. Lake Albert separates parts of the reserve from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lake Albert incorporates both the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile rivers, the Victoria Nile originating in Jinja and the Albert Nile flowing out of Lake Albert. My understanding is that the two combined are referred to as the White Nile.

As we waited to cross the Nile River into the park on the ferry at first light this morning, a pod of hippos and a baboon or two greeted us in the early morning light.

From that point forward we saw primarily giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, hippos, and kob…lots of kob. Occasionally you would find a pair of oribi, however they aren’t as easy to find as they run in pairs as opposed to herds. Unfortunately we didn’t see many elephants and those we did see were usually turned away from us.

Then we spotted a lion. First there was a lioness walking among some antelope. They must have known that it had already eaten or that the day was heating up. They kept their eye on the lion, but never ran. As we followed her we found her join a small pride that included a male. Our guide told us that there are about 300 to 350 lions in the park and it can be hard to find them given the size of the park.

After watching the lions for a few minutes we ventured on toward the Nile River and Lake Albert where we would turn around and head back to our campsite. We continued to see many of the same animals as before and I am amazed that you see multiple types of animals in the same line of sight. The above image of the lioness walking among the antelope is just one example.

After lunch and a bit of time to rest we took a ride up the Victoria Nile toward Murchison Falls.

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Along the way were the usual suspects. This included hippos and crocodiles. There were numerous birds of various types, including this African Fish Eagle.

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As the tour was ending it became more and more of a reality that tonight is our last night in Africa. I am not ready to go home. I would stay longer if I could, maybe permanently.

 

New Faces, New Names

Today we traveled to Murchison Falls park. We are staying the last two nights in the park at Red Chili campsite. We met up with Philip and our guide at the Paradise Hotel in Jinja before starting a drive that took most of the day.

Along the way Mary Jo decided we should stop at a roadside stand and buy some mangos. Philip introduced himself to the young woman, probably in her teens, selling the fruit. When he got back in the van he said that based on her name she belongs to a royal family in Uganda.

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Along the way we saw scenes that could’ve come out of a prior time in American history. At the same time the scenes are nestled in settings that are much more distinctly associated with Africa.

Along the way we stopped in Masindi to meet up with two men that Philip has been working with. One is a pastor in South Sudan and the other works with refugees from South Sudan who have fled to the camps along the border with Uganda.

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One couldn’t help listening to the two share their stories of life in South Sudan, of the wars going on and ultimately of the work being done to bring the country back together.  After lunch, the two men joined us to finish the trip to Murchison Falls.

As we approached the entry into Murchison Falls we began to see glimpses of what I hope we see more of tomorrow. A group of baboons greeted us at the entry checkpoint of the park.

 

Boscoe’s Village

Meet Boscoe. IMG_2965-EditHe should have a village named after him. He runs a children’s home, but he is the only director that we visited who acknowledged the problem of runaway youth in Jinja and beyond.

While Boscoe isn’t picky about the backgrounds of the kids he works with, his program seems to attract children from the Karamajong (Karimajong) tribe. The Karamajong are a nomadic people within Uganda and neighboring countries.

These children have been abused and run away from their families, longing for a better life. It isn’t easy for the Karamajong. They stand out from other kids and are often bullied. Boscoe has found that the best thing he can do is use the older children to mentor the younger ones with the hope that they will learn more about their culture than they might otherwise experience.

IMG_2966-EditBoscoe’s program provides shelter, food and an education for about 250 kids, mostly from the Karamajong tribe.  The children are scattered throughout the community in 11 different houses.

Facilities are very rudimentary. An outdoor cooking area at this one provides the meals. Nearby is a latrine. Boscoe showed us the facility and explained the leach field that helps to disburse the liquids from the solids. He explained how a truck can come in and clean out the solid materials. It kind of reminded me of growing up in a one-room country school with outhouses.

Boscoe took us to a second location. There was a park in the center of several houses. One of the houses belonged to his program. As we pulled up children of all ages came running up to greet us. Boscoe informed us that the kids wanted to do an impromptu dance for us. He said that we would have to travel several hundred kilometers to see a performance like this by the tribe represented in these youth.

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The first dance was a welcome dance, inviting us into their world. It was followed by several other dances including a wedding dance of sorts. Philip explained that the Karamajong perform this dance and during the dance the male forcefully takes his bride without her affirmation. He grabs her wrist and pulls her to his tent and has sex with her regardless of her wishes in order to claim her as his wife.

The teen girls performing this example of the dance would likely be married and with at least one child if they were in their traditional tribal setting. Boscoe has been working to educate the kids on the importance of heritage while acknowledging the rights of women.

After the dancing ended the kids gathered around for their photos. While this group of kids are among the lowest class of people in Uganda, those we encountered seemed to be among the most well-adjusted to their circumstances. They were utilizing the schools to better themselves, they were learning their culture, and they were taking steps to better their community. All of them presented themselves with a smile, greeting us, welcoming us into their courtyard and their lives.

Kiyindi Revisited

After bidding Joshua farewell, Phillip, Mary Jo, David, Moses and I went back to Kiyindi for our final visit to one of the leadership training centers. These meetings have always had some connection to all three goals of Gospel Mission Africa and this one was no different.

After David and Mary Jo finished their talks, the women of the village had to show them the crafts that they have been working on with the materials provided to them by GMA. What isn’t evident from this photo is that everyone is standing around the school that these children attend.IMG_2947-Edit

These women may have made the best use of the beads provided. As you can see from the picture below they have made a number of purses, focusing on the empowerment of women that these materials provide.

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As you’ve browsed these pages related to Uganda you may be asking why there is such a strong emphasis on empowering women. Traditionally Ugandan women do all the work. They go to the fields and raise the food. They care for the children. Men on the other hand make use of the privileges given to them in their culture, the privilege to not work and the privilege to drink the locally distilled, cheap and poisonous alcohol. GMA hopes that they can provide women with opportunities to earn more income with less hard labor and encourage men to share the responsibility of earning the food.

The children in Kiyindi are just like all the others I have come across. Shy at first but once they realize that the camera will show them what they look like, they swarm around any one person that they think I’m about to photograph. It is difficult to capture an image of just one or two children.

As with most any child in any culture you will find attitude. I came across this girl standing in the doorway to her home. A knife with no handle in her hand, chipping away at a piece of sugarcane. I motion to her that I’d like to take her picture and she seems indignant at first. Moving toward her I motion again and her body language shows that she is agreeable. After taking the shot she drops her hands to her side and marches toward me and in unbroken English says “I have GOT to see what I look like.”IMG_2961-Edit

Not surprisingly, there are things that could be done to help this church and school. The church has a tin roof with holes in it. The walls of the school are incomplete and falling apart. Yet, the alphabet is written on the outside walls for the children to see whenever they are in the area.

Kiyindi, the gateway to the island of Buvuma. Kiyindi, a village with its own issues. This is the last of these gatherings that we will take in this trip. It is hard to imagine it quickly coming to an end.

A Hugger, Not a Mugger

Today we say good bye to Joshua, seluganda. The good thing about a good bye is that they don’t have to be the end of the story. Joshua lives in Seattle and I can get up there from time to time because my sister lives in the area. Plus we have email and telephones. Right?

It is funny how someone can be involved with things you are involved with for a brief moment of time and yet it feels like you’ve known them for years. As I said when I first introduced you to Joshua, he has a big heart. I’ve watched him with members of our team. I’ve watched him with the kids he has interacted with. It is clear he understands the meaning of his name.

So the façade of the intimidating, “don’t mess with me” guy found in that very first picture of him was shattered this week. He is a hugger, not a mugger. I look forward to the time our paths cross again. IMG_2881-Edit-2

June 2

I hate June 2. Today is the second anniversary of dad’s death. I dreaded today as much as I did last year. Honestly, it felt strange today being halfway around the world with 8 hours on the clock separating me from family. Last night was a rough night of sleep knowing what today meant and not knowing what today would have in store. Lying there listening to the minutes tick by on a non-existent clock in our room, hoping that the day would stop before it got started.

It didn’t.

We decided last night that David and Mary Jo would not go out today. Philip anticipated that it would be a rough journey. Joshua and I were to meet him in the parking lot at 5 a.m. mzungu time. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.

As we got up and not knowing the level I despise this particular date on the calendar, Joshua told me he starts every day reading Psalms 139 and he wanted to read it out loud to me. That was the start of our adventure, one that I will fail miserably to describe in ways that anyone will understand.

Philip picked us up a few minutes after 5. We needed to be at the ferry landing at Kiyindi well before 7. We picked Moses up and headed to the ferry.

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As we waited at the landing, Stephen and several others joined our group as did fishermen and others who were heading to the island of Buvuma. I watched a tree full of weaver birds and egrets and reflected on the omen told earlier in the week. Joshua bought several chapata and handed them out. Philip was cold and maybe the warm chapata helped a bit.IMG_2642-EditAs we left Kiyindi for the hour-long ride on the ferry, one couldn’t help but notice that we might be stepping further and further away from the world we knew.

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As we landed on Buvuma we began our journey. First trying to find transportation. The transportation that had been pre-arranged didn’t work out, so Joshua, Philip, Moses and I ended up in a car that couldn’t have held anyone else. Stephen and his brother got on a boda-boda and we began our journey across the island.

The roads to the first village were pretty decent. In fact, many of the roads throughout Uganda reminded me of some of the old dirt roads I grew up on in Nebraska. IMG_2688-Edit

And if you were lucky you might even spot a boda-boda on them or some other sign that there was life on this island.

Even the isolation getting to the first village wouldn’t prepare you for what we found.

As with any place we go we find it is easy to make friends with the kids. I think I’ve mentioned that it is hard to take pictures of one kid without a frame full of everyone around. Joshua sat next to this one young boy who seemed very shy. Joshua and I made eye contact and I wanted to take a picture of the two of them without anyone else around. As you can see, it just doesn’t happen that way.

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Similar to other places we’ve visited, the mission has provided the women with materials they need to make things to sell. The women in this village were still learning how to do beadwork, but they seemed to have the best baskets that we had seen. Joshua and I both bought two.IMG_2789-Edit

After Joshua handed out Bibles and toothbrushes and toothpaste to the women we started our journey to the second village on another part of the island. I can’t even begin to describe the roads other than to say, as you can see from these next two pictures shot through the windshield of our car, that we shouldn’t have been driving on them.

When we arrived at the village we found something similar to what we found before, but something not so similar. It was another fishing village. It was the definition of extreme poverty as we know it, but something seemed like it had adapted better, that the people were more self-sufficient and had a little higher income, though that doesn’t say anything at all after visiting the poorest place I have ever seen in my life.

We were fed lunch at this village. Fish, more fish, cassava, fried cassava, and more fish. It may sound as though I’m being flippant, but I’m not. There was a pan of small silver fish, heads, tails and everything in between. I was NOT going to try them. There was boiled Nile Perch and deep fried Nile Perch. The cassava was either boiled or fried and I honestly couldn’t tell a difference between the flavor of the two. The fried perch was delicious. Joshua finally talked me into trying the sardine-like fish. They were hard and crunchy and I later realized that they had been laid out to dry. Before eating someone brought a jug of water in for us to wash our hands with. The man poured it into our hands and I learned that it was a blessing ritual.

As we left the village to start our journey home we had about an hour to get back to the ferry and we only needed 45 minutes. That seemed like plenty of time. It did until the car broke down. The boda-boda that was traveling with us went back to the village to find other boda-bodas to take us back to the ferry landing. We emptied the car out while we waited. My camera gear is in my backpack. Joshua takes the baskets we had purchased. Philip grabs the food and water.

It might have been a 10 minute wait, but it seemed like it took the entire hour we had given ourselves. Philip instructs me to get on the back of one particular boda-boda and the driver takes off for the ferry landing before the others are ready to go. The others catch up with us and pass us. Then we pass them. I don’t know how fast we were going, but riding a boda-boda in the jungles of Africa on an island with a backpack full of camera gear is fun and nerve-wracking at the same time.

We made it to the landing and ended up waiting for the ferry to arrive from the mainland. As we headed back across the water Philip told me that the boda-boda driver I went with told him that he had just purchased his new motorcycle. The night before the driver had a dream that he would be giving a mzungu a ride on the island. Mzungu on Buvuma are rare.

Philip had told me a bit about the island when we first arrived. The fishermen in the village use their money for alcohol and sex. The alcohol is distilled onsite and often causes alcohol poisoning. I asked him about HIV and AIDS since he had mentioned that it was prominent in the villages. He suggested that probably 80 to 85 percent of those living on the island have been infected. Without proper treatment and nutrition, things they cannot afford, he said that most will die within three years of learning of their infection.

Joshua and I tried to process the day. Difficult, yes. Today, though, was a day that cemented in me a longing to come back to this place. This, this is Africa. TIA.

Psalm 139