Thursday, June 01, 2006

The North is better than I dreamed in many ways, and worse in ways I had not imagined. Everywhere there are fields of sunflowers that make you want to run through them like Maria in the Sound of Music. I didn’t expect the green. Green trees, green wispy grass, and green cornfields taller than I am. If their huts were green you wouldn’t be able to see them. Granted, there are IDP camps in the North that are nothing but dusty heaps of dry ground and dirty hovels. But Lira makes a heaven out of hell.

I felt like I had my idealistic National Geographic moment when on the third day I sat among the women and their nursing babies and felt a part of them. Ok, so we couldn’t communicate that well, but through a series of hand demonstrations I was able to find a girl who barely spoke English. They pretty much just laughed at me as I tried to speak Luo, but in a way I felt we connected. I guess that is what I came there for.

It was amazing to see the way the whole community would gather under the mango tree and we would dialogue through a translator about the projects Abundant Life is presenting to them—at this point—planting seeds, making bricks for the school, and soon, fish farming. There was a real relationship there that has taken months to foster. Maresha and Peter introduced us and told us to say whatever God had put on our heart. No pressure or anything ;) But the words just sort of came as hundreds of eyes stared at me, the mzungu, wondering what I was going to say. I had been playing photographer most of the afternoon, so I told them the reason I was taking so many pictures was because I wanted others to know the kind of success they were having because they had decided to work hard and trust these people. I hadn’t brought anything, and in many ways I felt completely inadequate to speak to them, but I realized that sometimes all we can do is encourage and offer hope and let God use our mouth to say what He wants. Just like the Israelites, God has given them their promised land and is bringing them back from captivity and I just spoke about the parallels between their current situation and the promise God made to His people. Of course I almost cried as I talked about how one of my dreams had been to come to Northern Uganda and that I felt God had given me that. They clapped so I guess they got it. One is never sure how much gets lost in translation. That phrase has taken on a whole new meaning over here.

One highlight for me was getting to ride in a UN land cruiser out to the camp to talk over the partnership with the World Food Program who is going to offer food for work. I’m not going to lie—it was pretty cool. A lot of things are coming together, but in the middle of that—working with a community is seriously hard. One day many of them are ready to donate their land to build their own houses and centers on, the next day we come, a select few of them start complaining that we should pay them to work on their own land to build their own houses. It was kind of ridiculous, but I was able to see the mentality that has dominated the North for years. A mentality of dependency that has been enforced by NGO’s and ministries who come only to give, but never to empower. Even when we offered to give them food for working, and continue to give seeds for their land, they really only wanted money. Because money to them, is power and they think the mzungus are here only to offer handouts. For Maresha and Peter it was disheartening, especially after the many conversations they have had with the community, but there will always be a few who want to disrupt something good. Tamara (the other missionary) and I were just praying and singing as everyone was discussing and in the end it worked out and things will move forward, but my eyes were opened to the need for more people who will empower the community. Like Peter said, “if I come and build you a house when someone tries to take it away from you, you will run, but if you put your sweat into that house and if it is really yours, you will fight for it.” These people for so long have not had anything that was really theirs that they do not have the ownership and pride that comes along with having worked for something. We are trying to give them back their dignity, but the “give me” mentality is still very strong. I know I got to see the best of the North—an area where families are returning and re-building and that there is so much more need in other places. That is why I feel so strongly about this model of recovery.

All in all, I learned a lot, but still feel as though I really want to get my hands dirty—you know, build a house or something. Every time I come back from doing something or seeing something, I feel this incredible anxiousness and sense of being paralyzed. Like—what am I supposed to do now? Now that I’ve seen, now that I know these things, what am I responsible for? So I’m waiting for an answer. And in the meantime feeling torn between life here and life back home. My sis wrote me an email and I just started crying. Out of all the things that are hard about being in Africa, missing out on life with people I love is the hardest. And yet, I feel the truth of this quote:

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

There is something about the rawness of Africa that teaches patience and self-sacrifice. When you can’t get your food for two hours, when you have to sleep on the floor or worry about what kind of bite you got on your leg, when you see a woman with a one-month old abandoned by her husband or a community that doesn’t seem to understand you want to help them, there is something that dies. And hopefully that is the small or sometimes, large part of myself that is only concerned with me.

Sometimes the smallest inconveniences bring out the worst of our personalities and believe me, I complain too when I’m hungry—but it teaches me how far I have to go. If anything, people should come to Africa to learn patience!

If there was just a way I could bundle everyone up in my suitcase or transplant them over here, life would be good. I’ll work on that. Until then, I’ll make it. But don’t forget about me. As if you could ;)

1 comment:

Vasti said...

I love this. There are so many things in this post that I can relate to. It's weird seeing those feelings-- those indescribable moments flesh out into words.

Apwoyo! I hope you'll enjoy my blog soon. I visited Uganda this past summer, and I will be returning for seven months in Jan.

-Vasti