Monday, September 29, 2008

Teso

Last week I was traveling in eastern Uganda in the region of Teso. I went with Jim, Carole and Allen who all work for CRWRC. I couldn't have asked for better travel mates! It really was a nice week, even though we heard a lot of difficult stories. It took over 6 hours to drive from Kampala to Soroti, which is where we stayed for four nights. So Monday was basically a travel day, but was nice because we crossed over the Nile river at it's source in Jinja. We also stopped for Chinese food on the way, which I had my doubts about at first, but turned out to be great. The restaurant was in a full blown, ornate, chinese style architecture building in the middle of rural Uganda. You would have doubts too, right? Much to my surprise, the food was excellent. I had chicken and cashews that would have given the chicken and cashews at my favorite San Francisco Chinese restaurant a run for its money.

Starting on Tuesday, we traveled anywhere between 60-80 kilometers every
day to the surrounding towns and villages. Tuesday Kaberamaido, Wednesday Katakwi, and Thursday Kumi. We would start our day by going to the offices of the group we were visiting and would get an overview of all their programming. Carole, Jim and Allen would also deal with any CRWRC business they had. Then, into the car and out into the field for community visits.
We always took more people from the office with us as our guides, which meant Carole and I had to ride in back where the luggage usually was stored. (see photo left) We loved it and felt very wild with no seat belts, actually no seats at all, and just an overall feeling of wild, car rebellion. The thing that was funny was the children's responses to seeing us get into the back of the car. After we were done with our visit in a community,we would crawl in, all the kids would crowd around our car and stare. I don't know what they were thinking, but every time they would just stand and stare at us in amazement. Normally, when you see visitors from North America, they are riding in the front seat of the car,
so maybe that was it. Or maybe they were just wondering if we understood the concept of riding in a car (we were always the first one in since Allen had to shut the door behind us, so that might have been it). Finally on the third day
of being the recipient of these bewildered looks, I took a photo which is what you see here.

Overall, the week was really powerful for me personally. Everyone we met was so welcoming and sweet. The groups were so joyful and open about sharing their stories. Every community visit was a treat. I think the thing that made the week so powerful was knowing the history of this area. For over 20 years, the Karamojong have been raiding villages, stealing cattle and sometimes killing villagers, even women and children. The Karamojong are very traditional in their dress, lifestyle, etc. They believe that their god has divinely ordained that all the cows in the world belong to them, hence the frequent cattle raids. Before and during the reign of Edie Amin, the Karamojong only had spears, so their attacks weren't too dangerous. Edie Amin had quite a tight police force and was able to keep the Karamojong in check, but after he was kicked out, the Karamojong were able to get access to automatic weapons and that's where the trouble began. People in the Teso region were under attack/being killed by the Karamojong, and then to add to the trouble, the rebels in the Lord's Resistance Army began attacking them in the early 2000's. In case you are unfamiliar with the LRA, this is the group that has terrorized northern Uganda and southern Sudan by raiding villages to take boys for child soldiers and girls as sex slaves. They have killed thousands as well as mutilated their victims who lived by cutting off their arms, noses, lips and ears. It's truly horrible.

Between the insurgency from the Karamojong and the attacks by LRA rebels, people were forced to leave their homes and move into displacement camps. In the camps, they could protect themselves because many were living together so they had strength in numbers. Today, many have been able to return home because the LRA are in peace talks, but many are still living in the camps because of the Karmojong. Almost every town you visit in this area still has camps that people are living in.

The challenge for people when they returned home is that oftentimes, everything they had was gone. Their homes had been burned, all of the cattle had been stolen, the crops/farms were destroyed. Everything they had left behind was gone. What is amazing is that the people we met with haven't given up. They have returned home and have begun rebuilding, but this time with new priorities. One of the pastors of a village shared with us that the reason they built a school as one of their first projects post-conflict is because they realized that knowledge can't be stolen. Rebels can steal everything, even kill people, but they can't take knowledge, education and information, so they want their children to learn. Amazing.

The picture on the left is of the residents of the village that built the school in Kumi. This is who is left after the years of suffering and terror. What is amazing is how these people are so hopeful and sincerely joyful. The things they told us about, the things we saw first hand, just the entire situation - it would have been too much for me to handle if I had lived through it. And to come out of it with hope that things will be better, even better than before, is mind boggling. I think this is one of the reasons I love Ugandans so much. Sorry for the generalization, but I have never seen a country full of people who have lived through nightmare after nightmare (corrupt governments, massive killings, famine, basically everything horrible you can think of) and are not only still here, but are still here and full of hope. The faith they have in God is amazing and indescribable. But really, you would have to have that kind of faith to still be alive.

This afternoon, I am going to work on writing their stories. Sometimes, I feel like the words I use could never do justice to what they have been through or what they are continuing to live with. I wish that all of you could come here and spend time in the villages. That all of you would have the chance to sit in a circle under a mango tree and spend time these beautiful, strong, faithful people. I don't understand why God would allow me - out of everyone in the world - to be here and to hear these stories. Being here makes me feel small and humble and so incredibly blessed and lucky to be the one chosen to write these stories. I seriously wish you were all here, but since you can't be, I just pray that the stories I've written, the ones I've yet to write and the ones you've yet to read will change your lives the way they have changed mine.
-Kristen

6 comments:

Colleen said...

I am so glad that you keep up this Blog!! I look forward to EVERY entry! I love reading about where you are and what you are doing! One day I want to be there too! Yes! you are blessed! :) some of your feelings of being humbled and blessed about being there were the same as mine when I was in Cuba. Similar feelings, amazing people, hope in the midst of suffering and oppression, different continents, same joy~ it is wonderful that you get to share in their lives and I am looking forward to read what you write! Prayin for you!
Colleen

radiep said...

Kristen, Thank you for all your postings! I also check every day to see where you are and what you are doing. Americans need to hear the stories you are writing. God bless you!
Rika Diephouse

Anonymous said...

The kids & I prayed over your email mentions today. Thanks for writing. Good to hear from you "off the record." The ride in the back of the car without belts sounds wildly fun to me. Wonder what that's about?! Love the staring children picture! You are a wonderful journalist, listener & traveler plus! I am sorry, sorry to hear about such anguish lived. I feel I don't want to believe it's true, and yet so in awe & so believable about our God & His gift of faith in the Ugandans. I pray for God's peace, joy and blessing to rain down on you, your partners in journey & very much so over His people in Africa. -Shelley M

Anonymous said...

Oh by the way, by "off the record" I meant person to person email vs hearing from you via your blogging record. Hope that didn't come across weird. Oh boy...sorry about that. -Shelley

rubyslipperlady said...

love the picture of bewilderment!

rubyslipperlady said...

The Maasai also believe that all the cattle belong to them.

I love that knowledge can't be stolen. Knowledge IS power.