Geelong to Uganda

Geelong to Uganda
Google image of trip from Geelong (my home) in Australia to Karamoja, Uganda!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fun in Karamoja

Children love to climb

Me too!!

Our trip to Kaabong in Northern Karamoja


A land of potential, beauty and wonder. Vast plains of scrub and bush with mountains and rocks scattered all around. Kaabong should have been called the 'place of many rocks' in Ngakaramojong, like Gumly Gumly in Aboriginal, that small Australian town next to Wagga Wagga. Surely there are more rocks here than there.

Kaabong was actually named after an important man named Aabong, I feel sorry the man was born with such an unfortunate name. 

I do love the meaning of the town names in Karamoja though, they are so very descriptive. Lolachat for example, near where we live in Nabilatuk, means the "place where the river is so strong that it will rip your clothes off". Although if you're only wearing a blanket, as the men here do, then it doesn't have to be a very strong current I suppose.

It has been interesting to discuss with the people here the cultural differences between our tribal group in Nabilatuk (the Piyan) and these people here in Kaabong, the Dodoth. When the current president, Museveni, came into office there was a mass disarmament and North Karamoja was the first to have their guns taken away, by force. Since then they have been a source of attack from other Karamajong tribes, primarily the Jie (pronounced gee-ey) tribe that are next door. Vulnerable, their cows were stolen, along with their pride and sense of autonomy. Without cattle here, a person loses wealth and status & standing in the community, and, culturally - God's blessing. That is a universally acknowledged truth for the Karamajong people.

 The Dodoth also have some very slight differences in language to the Piyan tribe.

 The only downfall for this place is that the mountains and the wind make it so cold! Ok, so probably only 15 to 20 degrees but that's cold to me. Summer laughs at me as I pull on my thermals to leave the house, but hello, I have only been three places in my life; Australia, Asia and Africa. Do you see a pattern?? At least I know my mission field can be no colder than Africa ;) and to think I was originally going to spend the year in Mongolia!!

 Lotim near Kaabong is the place where it had been planned that the team I came to join would move their ministry of Vet and Bible storying/church planting to part way through this year. As we drive out there on Monday morning, I think to myself how incredible and amazing nature is. If God created this, how much more awesome must the Creator be? All around me it is just so perfectly designed, and stunningly beautiful. I see a mountain of rocks reaching up to the sky with one smooth round boulder perched precariously atop it all. Of course it only looks precarious, but no storm has moved it yet. It has been perfectly undisturbed.
There are 11 of us in the Land Cruiser as we bump and rattle down the dirt road to Lotim, about 45 minutes from Kaabong. There are 5 Taliaferros; Susan and Jeremy and 3 children- Victory (4 yrs), Memphis (2yrs) and Ember (1yr), plus Summer and I, and 4 K'jong guys helping us with translation and any land issues that need to be sorted.
Along the road there are sunflower fields on either side, their yellow faces looking our direction, with mountain ranges stretching out into the distance. We drive closer and closer to them and finally get to our destination. The road was rough, noticed particularly when you are holding on your lap a two year old with a tornado in his pants, but the view was outstanding. As I do a 360, I count 7 mountain ranges, not including the one we stop at. We got to Lotim and even the men said, wow, as they looked around.

The plan for the day is to set the ground work for missionary training to be done late January for 3 months, on K'jong culture, language & lifestyle, plus Bible storying & church planting appropriate to this oral learning, semi-nomadic people group. The 'business', that was expected to take two days, took only a few hours and went so smoothly. We met with the elders when we first arrived and by the grace of God were welcomed unconditionally, with open hearts, by the people there.

After the pleasantries, introductions and the like, we climbed up the hill to where the site is. There are 4 huts already in place, just waiting to be mudded, but the place is currently overgrown, thorny and a snake haven. A lot of work needs to be done but Jeremy is ready & excited for the task. From there we can see at least 6 manyatas (Karamajong villages) that look like the alien landings off that movie Signs. As yet there is no church in this whole region.

 The training is going to be awesome; cultural immersion, pushing the boundaries of those attending. As Jeremy says, balancing the fine line of being culturally appropriate and 'going native', breaking down the barriers people make in their minds for fear of stepping out in faith and just going for it, and learning how to live and survive in such a different place from our background. Feeling some of the pain of how the people here live, e.g. lugging 20L jerry cans full of water up a mountain, every day. How to be stretched, yet still find yourself drawing closer to God through it all.

There will be 4 families plus, including some Karamajong leaders too, who want to learn how to plant local churches who worship in Spirit and in truth, to see their land be a nation of men and women who seek and love God with all they have.

Not for the first time, I find myself wishing I could be here for next year too. At the same time though, I'm pulled back home with my desire to finish what I started at Uni. Like I said, this month is going to be an emotional rollercoaster.  

We go to Kampala on Wednesday and try to find new parts for out truck that is broken and sad at the moment. Hope to return to Karamoja soon!

Love Mel

Sunday, 11 November 2012

More car trouble

So the story of the last few days: Get invited to a village, they slaughter a goat for us, car breaks down in village, walk 10 km to nearest town to get help, friendly missionaries tow us back to their place to fix truck. Thursday we realise truck has serious issues. 
Friday we drive in convoy down to Mbale to get parts and fix engine. Get stuck in mud and rear axle falls off said vehicle. Front light gets smashed. Have to drive the rest of the 7 hrs in 2WD. Get properly bogged 10 more times. Get pulled out 10 more times by Jesse VanGorkom (so grateful). Arrive in Mbale. Just. Saturday 9am hitch a ride with rock n roll lovin, rodeo junky Texan missionaries back up to north Karamoja (Kaabong)... Awesome fun.
10 hrs later arrive in one of the most beautiful places, body is sore but God is gracious. Saturday arvo hear that Bob Wright and the OPC team have fixed our engine and are getting the axle fixed now now. Amazing how things work out right?
Dangerous Predicament crossing the river

Bogged in a rut caused by big trucks

Our truck 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Team Update - car trouble

8th November 2012

Hey everyone, I am just writing to give you a bit of an up date since the last post. This week we had a car problem! Unhelpfully, Summer and I know as much about cars as we do about astrophysics and when you are out in Karamoja, that is not always a good thing. Don't worry yet though, it has a happy-ish ending but I am considering trying to squeeze in a mechanics course to go with my vet degree!
So, on Tuesday this week we headed out to the village of Naboru's husband. Nabor is a KACHEP employee with the chicken project as well as a neighbour and friend.  Her husband, Akol Paul had invited us there to thank us for helping Nabor when she and her newborn baby were diagnosed with tuberculosis about a month ago. We helped with some medicines and food for her while she was sick.
 When we finally arrived at his village, through the torrential downpour of rain that was happening as we drove through the mud, he brought us a large and handsom he-goat and wanted our approval of it. He was going to give us one of the biggest of K'jong honours, to slaughter a goat for us! The men made a fire out of wet thorn bushes and roasted the goat on top, resulting in a delicious smokey flavour. So we had smoked goat, danced with the women and then had a Karamajong slumber party in a mud hut, sleeping on cow skins. Paul, not a Christian, has 5 wives all of whom have different huts but we slept in the 1st wife's hut.
 In the morning, we headed out to the vehicle as we were going back to Nabilatuk to plan for Thursday's program.
On Thursday we had planned a 'Keeping Healthy Animals' day at a village we hadn't had much contact with before. The theory behind the day was that the men of the village live too far from Nabilatuk township and so don't bring their sick animals to us, they just buy antibiotics from town and carry them back to their villages. The problem is though that the people here are mostly all illiterate and so unfortunately can't read the directions on the back of the medicines and don't really know how much meds to give. So very commonly they are under-dosing their animals, leading to bacterial resistance and they end up having to bring their cattle to see us anyway. Our aim was to spend the day teaching on the basics of doing a physical exam, estimating weight, common diseases and available treatments, just to give them a bit more of a knowledge base in their strive to keep healthy animals!
 As we all piled into the truck to go back to Nabilatuk, Summer tried to start the car and it gave a few pathetic whines but never sparked to life. She tried again, with the same results, so we popped the hood and saw that one of the wires coming from the battery was smoking. So, imagine if you will, us, two whites and four K'jong, in a broken down car, in Africa's version of whoop whoop. Thankfully we were able to contact OPC, our neighbourly mission friends who live an hour away. They drove to a semi-central point that we both knew, we walked 10 km to meet them and then directed them through the bush to the village and our car. Thank you God for mobile phones and friends. We were towed to their compound and made the executive decision to postpone our 'Keeping Healthy Animals' day for another day, hopefully in two weeks time.
Jesse, an engineer, and son of my mission leader from CVM, worked on our car for the rest of Wednesday and some of Thursday and worked out that it was a short in the positive circuit of the battery and when we turn the car off, the short drains the battery. So by disconnecting the battery every time we turn the car off and then reconnecting it again we can use the vehicle, but it's not great. We are driving down on Saturday to a mechanic to get it properly fixed (praying!).
 By around Thurs lunchtime when we had realised all of this we headed back to Nabilatuk to pack some more clothes because all we had with us were what we had from our village stay and we smelt. Badly.
When we arrived, it was to find that our neighbour had died and a funeral was going to take place that afternoon. We were worried that the afternoon rains would catch us on our drive back to OPC, but it was all fine in the end. We attended the burial, giving the family a sheet to wrap the old man's body in. It was so sad in particular because the daughter had drunk her sorrows away and was wailing at an excruciating volume. You know when you're in a situation where one person is doing something a bit out of the ordinary, and everyone knows it. I was a bit like that and it made me feel sick to see her sorrow so on display. Not that it was wrong for her to show her anguish, of course, just that I had never seen someone in so much obvious emotional pain, people usually do a good job of hiding their true feelings.
So although we are fine, it hasn't been the week we'd planned.
We know 100% that God is looking out for us and protecting us through these things but it is still a bit disappointing to be out of ministry action for a while, while the truck gets fixed.
We hope, however, that we can use the time to go up north to Kaabong and Lotim, where the team was originally meant to move to and still might. Summer has some business to sort out there before next year and I've never been and am a travel monkey so I'm along for the ride!
 - Pray for safe travels on the road on Friday and that the truck would get easily sorted out.

 - Praise that God had help and provision for us in our time of need and that we now know of this problem before we were really out of reach.

 - Pray for the villages we won't be able to get to for our Bible studies next week that they would continue on without us.

 - Pray for our trip up north, again for safety on these crazy crazy roads and for a good, efficient time of business and for a bit of fun as well.
"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps."

Proverbs 16:9


Visiting a Peace Village

29th October 2012

On the weekend we had a bit of a Christian Veterinarians Mission party! There was Dr Val and Waffle, plus another CVM couple, Dr Daniel and Rachel Graham, as well as Julie, Summer and I. On the Sunday we all headed to Nabwal and Nakayot peace villages along the slip and slide they call Karamoja roads.
These villages bring 11,000 people or more together from two huge tribes, the Piyan (the people group we work with in Nabilatuk) and the Bokora (the people Dr Val works with in Moroto), from 4 different locations to live together in one main location. This location is pivotal to the peace village as it is in the raiding corridor between these two tribes. This peace village, set up 3 years ago, has been able to try and stop potential raiders moving between the tribes to steal cattle.
Check out 'Karamoja Peace Villages - YouTube' to get more of an idea of what I'm talking about.
 When we visited this weekend we met with the village elders, hearing their struggles and victories. Many people are sick and even passed away, animals too. The main problem is the road. It is so bad, that if it ever rains, no one can get to them. They have a clinic but without a way to get there, the nurse and medical supplies can't make it to them. During the meeting, I felt super awkward at just how ferocious the warriors were when they were talking. The Karamajong are very strong people in many ways and their manner of speaking to each other is no exception. The purpose of the meeting was to persuade the members of the peace village on the importance of improving the road and by the end of the meeting 400 men had volunteered to get their shovels and hoes out and work on it. Dr Val volunteered the idea of a 'food for work' project, she would make sure they had food for the time they were working so that they could finish the road. Everyone agreed on that.
One of the more troubling moments for me as I was sitting in the meeting was when one of the warriors was talking about how much they need this road because so people are dying from illnesses. He said things like "Our animals are all dying and we're all dying! If you don't believe me, I'll show you their graves" and he reiterated the same sentiments over and over again. I thought that although yes, this is a serious issue of sickness, he was going a bit over the top. I now understand that he was doing that to get everyone on board for the larger vision of persuading people that the road needs to be better to improve their access to supplies. If the people aren't pushed to see the need and a way they can fix it, then it may not get done for a while. At the time, however, I didn't know this! I almost cried at this angry man's intimidating yet moving words (which is not a wrong reaction but I have it in a better light of understanding now). So they are making a step forward in the right direction on this which is an awesome blessing for the community! It was a really amazing time and a privilege to be a part of such a meeting. Just being in this spot, the raiding corridor, they are helping Karamoja be one step closer to seeing each other not as enemies but neighbours.

Psalm 37:2-7 says,

"Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the noonday sun.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him."
As Dr Daniel said as we were leaving, "If they build it, we will come."

A wonderful suprise

Wednesday 24th October

Summer and I had a surprising visitor this week, Dr. Julie from Vermont, USA. She has been in Uganda working with Dr. Val (a vet also working with CVM, see other posts) for almost a month. I had met Julie when I was in Soroti with the CVM team there (see 'Surgeries' post).

 I got a call from Val, Monday afternoon as we were leaving our Bible study in Kasiapus village. We didn't have a translator that day and I was, at that moment, so happy because I had just managed to lead the study predominantly in Ngakaramajong (the local language here), God is good. Anyway Val calls me and tells me that her fiance, Waffle (yes, he goes by Waffle, don't judge)  had just arrived in Uganda to see her and had been in a car accident coming up to Karamoja! But amazingly, Bob Wright and Jesse Van Gorkom, missionaries with Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Namalu, a town an hour from where we live in Nabilatuk, happened to be in the city and came across the accident, recognised Waffle from a Facebook picture he once saw, and stopped to help!

 Val then asked if Julie could come and visit Summer and I for a few days while Waffle recovered and Val cared for him. Without asking Summer, I yell "Yes, yes of course we'd love to have her!", knowing that my team-mate is always up for visitors! So come Tuesday, the exchange had taken place, Bob had Julie from Val, and Val had her Waffle. Summer and I picked up Dr Julie from OPC and spent the rest of the week having great fun. Waffle had broken a few ribs in the accident but is a very brave man, barely complaining, just happy to be here.

On Wednesday, we all went to Okutoot village for a Spray Day. Okutoot is another village where we have started a Bible study with a few people, as a spin-off from the Bible storying; a more in depth look at God's Word together.

So we sprayed the animals for ticks and got to do many, many treatments for sick cattle, goats and sheep. One of these days I'm hoping to get a donkey case!

It was a particularly productive day, spraying 564 cows and goats and treating around 70 animals. Scarily, all of those animals really needed treating, many with fevers of over 41 degrees Celsius! We saw a number of East Coast Fever calves, wormy cows, cows with trypanosomiasis, contageous bovine pleural pneumonia and anaplasmosis - so it's a good thing we tick sprayed so many of them as many of those diseases are tick-borne.

It was great to have a vet with me, even if only for a short time.