Friday, June 16, 2006
A view of from inside an IDP Camp
Malaria or Unidentifiable Bacterial Infection that feels strangely like Malaria—or what I imagine to feel like malaria—ie—worst flu I’ve ever had. Hmm, so which would you rather have? It’s kind of like that game “would you rather?” Like would you rather be burned alive or drown to death? Only not as fun in real life.
Don’t worry Mom, I feel better. I always feel like it’s easier to tell my mom things after the worst is over. I find this easier for both our sanities since if she starts crying about me being sick, I’ll start crying and turn into a worthless ball of self-pity. It’s been a rough coupla-days but I’m out of the woods now. I’m just wobbling around a little now like an old man with arthritis of the knees, but--No turning back. Honestly, being me, I’ve sort of felt like it was a miracle I haven’t been sick before now, so thanks for any of the prayers you sent out into the universe for me.
Other than being on my death-bed I’ve had a great time the past week. I went up to Gulu and bounced around doing a myriad of things—prayer intercession, hanging out with orphans, going to IDP camps. Probably the scariest but most fulfilling thing I did was I preached at a prison. Now, I know what you’re thinking…why in the world would you go into a prison? And preach? I felt all Johnny Cash without the guitar.
And no, I wasn’t preaching to men—I’m not that crazy!
It’s part of what this ministry, Favor of God, does and they asked me if I wanted to, and I said sure, why not, never preached before. Now, I’m not a preacher by nature. Not one of those people who can get up in front of a bunch of faces and not get nervous and carry out a complete sentence without a lot of thought. I know people like that. I am not one of them. Not only do I like very few preachers (my pastor being one of them) but I’m afraid of whether or not people will think I’m good. It’s a lot of pressure getting up behind a pulpit. Not that I had a pulpit. I was more like Anne Lamott reading at a bookstore. Still, the whole thing went off really well, surprisingly which just went to show it was totally God and not me, because I would have mucked the whole thing up. Sadly most of them were there for stupid things like fighting with their husband’s “other wife” or stealing food for their children. So I spoke on what it means to be a daughter of God, which sounds really elementary, but in fact was a revelation I only had a couple years ago—one that I think instills a lot of dignity and self-worth that some women have a hard time grasping. I sort of um, edited the prodigal son story (for good creative purposes) to fit more with their situations and by the end of the whole thing I was praying for all these women and they were crying and then they all started singing and dancing, and of course I was too. It was all way out of my control and completely amazing.
The cutest little kid who tried to grab my camera
The journey of awesomeness continued as I met up with Invisible Children. Now, this is like a small dream come true. Having put in all that work to see screenings come together and having so supported their cause, to actually be on the ground looking at what their doing, was needless to say—Rad, as the Californians would say. Yeah, they still use it. Not to mention hanging out with a bunch of people my age, who actually speak English was a nice change of pace. I find in traveling you come across the same wandering souls who are looking for their little piece of heaven. You find people who offer a kinship and a nice haven for all the mixed emotions of having left people back home. We meet and we part, it’s the nature of these things. But before we part, we ride the best of both extremes—we spend a day in Awer IDP camp and a night making our own drum circle. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this hippie-like concert of moonlight and thunderous sound, but aside from harps, it could be the closest we get to God’s kind of music. If Wyoming is God’s country then drums are his heartbeat.
The IDP camp was hard. Tiny mud huts packed together with 45,000 people sharing holes in the ground for toilets makes for a disease-ridden situation. But I can see a glimmer of hope in the fact that Invisible Children is starting to work there. They want to bring their bracelet making project there as a way for some of the people to earn a livelihood. For those of you wondering—many of what IC does on the ground is the bracelet making, and using that money for sponsorship of children in school. They are truly doing great things. Sadly though, there is one, let me say that again, ONE, NGO working in Awer camp, besides IC. Out of all the glamorous Land-cruisers rolling around town, not a single one is there in the camp. The one we were working with is a partnership of IC called Hope after War—they’re pretty optimistic. They are made up of Ugandans who actually come from that same area and have decided to do what they can to help. It was incredible—they organized a whole welcome committee to meet us with dancing, singing, and even a drama on the war. It is the most real drama I’ve ever seen probably because the former LRA abductees play LRA soldiers, and the former child wives, play child wives. The whole experience was surreal. Welcoming is a big deal here. And it’s almost cute how they have a committee chairperson for each committee—now let me explain—you think camp and you think unorganized but these people have put together their own groups—there is the Widows group, Orphans group, and Disabled person’s group and each of them spoke to us. Their main message was:
“Don’t forget about us. Tell America about us and please bring them back with you.”
And that is what I, we, all of us, aim to do.
I tried to not feel like a tourist, asking permission to get their stories and take a few pictures. We tried to keep it to a minimal, but of course when you see things like that, you want evidence of it. There were about a million raggedly clothed children. So many kids. And so many kids with kids. I was able to interview a few child mothers about their stories, but I want to go back and do more. I told them the reason I do it is not to exploit them, but so that more people will want to come help. The sad part is that many of these women who came back from the bush did so before the cut-off point World Vision instituted, which means that girls who came back before 2000 I believe, cannot get help. They are just slipping through the cracks.
My friends got a former LRA soldier on video and this guy actually choked up and started crying and he was this big-cock-diesel type guy. Not only do men NEVER cry here, but women hardly do either, so to get this guy crying was crazy—he happened to be with the woman I interviewed. She was his child-wife in the bush I found out later, but apparently they had bonded or she doesn’t have anywhere else to go because they are still together and have three children. This one baby broke my heart--he kept climbing towards the cap for the camera lens and trying to put it in his mouth.
What they need are income generating activities like sewing, bread-making, etc, but they need sewing machines and someone to teach them. They need hoes for farming, and seeds for food. And they need medicines for preventable illnesses like Malaria. Having had it, or something similar, but surviving because I have the drugs, and realizing that a child can die from it, simply because they can’t pay the few dollars to get it—makes me feel nauseous.
I think we feel it’s a huge feat to get over to Africa, but the more people I meet here who have just up and done it, I realize it’s not that hard. Why are we so afraid? I was totally jealous of this girl whose friends came to visit her and she was like, why don’t you just ask your friends to come? I guess that was kind of an unspoken, but here’s my open invitation: Come to Africa. See what you can do. And do something, even if it seems very small. Every type of skill can be used here—from business to baking, so don’t count yourself out if you don’t know what you could offer. Half the time, I don’t know, but I’m still over here ;)
What I realized in my beating up of myself for feeling too touristy, is that simply seeing a white person or someone who cares enough to come to them is a big deal and that is why they put on these incredible shows for us. Because they want us to come back and bring more. Visiting them shows that we care. That doesn’t mean we make a spectacle of them or plan never to do anything for them, but what it does mean is that we let the seeing create a movement in us towards greater change.
The reason why many NGO’s are not in the camps I believe is because they think they will break down soon and then they’ll have started something that will not last. I on the other hand, think we can turn these camps into smaller villages and not allow the work we’ve started to dissolve. The other argument is if we help them while they’re in the camps then they’ll just want to stay there, but truly if there was safety, these people would return to their land, or a much better situation in a heartbeat. They don’t want to be there. Who likes to live without freedom?
Speaking of freedom—it’s what I live in these days. Freedom to go or not to go. The malaria-type/bacterial infection set me back a bit…I was supposed to hop on up to Lira to help out with Maresha’s program some more so I hope to get up there by Sunday. I want to introduce her to this couple from England who I think can donate to her projects and maybe we can start up a little tailoring business. Dream. Dream big.
An IDP Camp, from the outside
Many ideas are brewing in me, and it’s my goal to talk to a lot more people who have been doing this a lot longer than me, including the Ugandans who live here. I have so many questions, but deep inside I feel like the questions are not bad, like a faith with some doubts is not awful, because the questions force me out into an open field where I feel waiting for me are answers.
I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and strangely enough that has correlated nicely with the book I’m reading Eat Pray Love (girls—get it!) and the author’s journey within herself as well as through different continents. Something she said really struck me as a way I have often felt:
“I was not rescued by a prince. I was the administrator of my own rescue. My thoughts turn to something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. The acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential. But only a few can recognize there is another force operating—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding from nothingness to maturity. The Zens say it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born. I think about the woman I have become lately and I see a happier, more balanced me who pulled the other younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years. It was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time, “yes, grow, change, evolve!” Come and meet me here where I already exist in wholeness and in maturity. Where I was always waiting in peace and contentment, always waiting for her to arrive and join me.”
I am not saying I am there yet, but I am dreaming of it there, and yes, slowly becoming. Africa has that effect on me. Wish you were here too.