Saturday, June 27, 2009

And now for something completely different

Okay…today I want to tackle a problem that I know has been a result of the colonization of the Acholi tribe. That problem is transformation of the family unit. This is a multi-fold problem in the history of the Acholi people that was first brought on, as far as I can research, by colonialism, and then further perpetuated by the conflict with the LRA. One of the problems that occurred that seriously damaged the Acholi was the weakening of the family unit. The men became, basically, emasculated when the people were ordered to pick up their things and move into the nearest Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) in 1996. While the conflict between the government and the LRA began as late as 1988, the real “conflict” happened when the people were given 48-hours to flee to the nearest IDP camp or “Protected Village” in 1996. This really wasn’t so much about the people as it was that the government needed a place for the non-violent protesters to live and be out of the way of the fighting with the LRA. Basically, if someone was not in the IDP camp, he or she was assumed to be part of the militia and would be shot as an “enemy combatant.” So much for being assumed innocent until proven guilty. Gee…that sounds a lot like what it is like to go through airport security these days. As we hand over our shoes and liquids, we are truly being assumed guilty until proven innocent. But, I must resist from this conversation. The card-carrying Libertarian in me “made” me make this analogy. “Give me Ron Paul or give me death!?” SMILE When the men were put in the camps, basically, their jobs did not follow them. Women still had to make the meals, care for the kids, wash the clothes and all the other various and sundry jobs women since the day of creation had to do. But, the men, who had been primarily agriculturalist, lost all meaning in their lives. Their jobs did not follow them into the camps; so, hence, they had nothing to do. Nothing save do what most normal males do…have sex. Before colonization and even afterwards, virginity was a trait to be treasured. If a girl was not a virgin, she was rejected by the family and by the tribe, as well. That attitude did start to unravel during the period of colonization; however, no where was it more eroded than during the war. During the conflict, many, many young girls who had been taken hostage by the LRA came back home with babies on their backs and this lessened the value placed on virginity. Oddly, if a young girl became pregnant by a rebel soldier, the family “reserved the right” to reject her when she returned with the “pitter patter of little feet,” even though she might have lost her tongue when she said, “No!” to the rapist. Even worse that not knowing how to deal with “cultural transformation,” the people, who had always prized their ethical standards, began to allow said standards to relax and, consequently, evaporated. Sound familiar? People felt free to, well, relax the rules and immorality became the norm rather than the exception. Sound familiar? Once the family unit was destroyed, the tribal cultural went through its own metamorphosis. Incest became acceptable to the point that boys would stalk, even kill, other men who “came calling” on their sisters. And, polygamy became rampant. Both of these exist quite openly and quite unbridled in northern Ugandan society. It is not unusual to find even the most “devout” men with two or three wives and “umpteen” number of children. Even more acceptable is the attitude towards this type of behavior. The people I have met talk openly about how many brothers and sisters they have and how many wives their fathers have. Interestingly, the wives usually just have one husband and the husband is the one who seems to be the one who introduces the diseases to the wives. Today, it is not unusual to find families of 15 living under the thatched roof of one hut. AIDS/HIV has killed millions of people because of the lack of social morality. And, this lack of social morality has one “public enemy number one,” and that enemy is boredom. There has just not been anything for the folks to do in the IDP camps. Their world is very, very small. These people do not read as they have had no education. They don’t work because they do not have any skills, and they do not go any where because there is no where to go. Sure, life in the camps is horrific, but life back in the village is even worse. “Back home,” the people face uncertainty that we cannot imagine and the least of these is the lack of basic necessities, especially water. I have walked the miles to peoples’ only source of water and I can tell you that I would worry if one of my dogs drank from the stank pool of liquid these folks use to drink and bathe in. Just imagine with me, looking in a stream and seeing a herd of water buffalo upstream and then seeing the water that is downstream. It is NOT a pretty site. But, I digress again. I suppose that the collapse of the Acholi family unit has occurred because of other problems. One that I can personally attest to is the number of languages that is spoken in northern Uganda. While I used to be a strong proponent of Spanish offered on all U.S. ballots, I can really see how different languages has caused more than a conundrum of problems. I have, at times, had to get a translator to translate for the other translator. I know there are nearly 100 dialects spoken in Uganda alone even though the national language of the country is English. Just imagine! No wonder the family unit has taken an enormous “hit.” Language is the one thing that holds people together. When people communicate “samely,” they act “samely.” The camps basically brought together people who really didn’t want to be together any more than they wanted to be there. So, as the family goes, so society goes. Sound familiar?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Saga of Joseph Kony

Today I want to introduce you to Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed “Messiah” and nephew of Alice Lakwena. When I think about Kony, I cannot help but think about the number of crusades and other military exercises that were waged because “God wills it!” In all actuality, Kony was raised in the Catholic Church. He even served as an altar boy. His mother was a strict Anglican, so it is clear that he was influenced by a family who was steeped in faith. Kony was a strong advocate of the 10 Commandments and, when organizing the Lord’s Resistance Army, he promised that his main goal was to conquer the Ugandan military and return the country to the basic premises of the “Big 10.” Hmm? It is an interesting commentary on his skewed faith to think that when he kidnapped children from their homes, he forced them to kill their own parents so they would not have a home to return to. So much for “Honor your mother and father!” The kids who were kidnapped were basically turned into “pack mules” and then trained as soldiers and the girls were used for “reproductive” reasons. The main way that the L.R.A. grew was the pride. That is a term for how dominating a lion is. A truly successful male lion will have a large “pride” of females and other subservient lions. This is the methodology for the L.R.A. A man’s army (pride) was judged on how many kids he had abducted and turned into killers and how many girls he had stolen and turned into “wives.” Again, if we go back to the Ten Commandments, that really shoots a hole in the “Thou shall not commit adultery” law. And, I suppose it is a fair assumption to say it is a violation of, “Thou shall not covet,” but, I think I can stop with the Bible analogies. We have already seen them distorted beyond reasonable doubt. The boys were put on the front line and were the first to be killed when facing down the Ugandan Army and the girls were given to the soldier who kidnapped them. Well, that is unless Kony wanted the girl. It is predicted that he had over 60 wives. This is, of course, speculation from the girls who were the lucky ones. But, I have personally met several girls who had been his wife and they were really not so lucky. I know young ladies with mouths cut off and tongues slashed because they tried to resist. It is a little bit like being one of King Henry VIII’s wives…not the best of circumstances, at best! Here is another leader suggesting that his views will actually liberate the people of Uganda from their sins and their immoral thoughts. Like Henry, Kony wanted to establish a government that was led by God in the way he thought it should be led. He believes he is receiving messages as a spiritual medium, but just which “medium” he hears from has never, nor will it ever, been established. In fact, because there is significant evidence that his funding comes from the government in Khartoum (remember Darfur), there is an increasing reliance on Muslim teachings that appear in his regime. Kony was approached by his own people from the Gulu District two years ago to “cease and desist” from his evil ways. Something that is very much a part of the Acholi Tribe is the need for reconciliation and restoration. In fact, it is “part and parcel” of the Acholi Tribe. Members of the Gulu District Community met with Kony at the first “Peace Talk” in Juba, which is located in the Southen Sudan. We happen to know two people who were at those talks. Retired Colonel Walter and District Speaker Martin were sent by the Ugandan government to talk to Kony and ask him to stop. Their message was, “You are forgiven…please stop.” This group arrived with a message of restoration and left with the promise of an immediate “cease and desist” from Kony. While the Ugandan delegation was serious that Kony and his group would be forgiven and, God forbid, offered asylum in the District, Kony did not take them up on this offer and, instead, moved his sadistic, terrorist ways into the neighboring country of the Congo. Kony has promised to “attend” numerous Peace Talks, but he also knows that he is a marked man, now. He has been indicted by the ICC and will, if he is ever captured, be tried for the atrocities he has committed against his own people. There are a plethora of stories that one can read about his savage ways. One that I happen to know is found at: It is one of a dozen that I have heard about Kony and the beasts that support his movement. I wish I could say that he has “retired”; however, he is just as vigilant about killing the Congolese as he was about killing the Ugandans. In fact, you might want to check out the words, “Falling Whistles” to hear what he is doing in the Congo, along with other rebel armies who claim to be “working for the good of humankind.” I know that every person on this earth has a mission. My favorite book is Man’s Search for Meaning. And I believe that if everyone on this earth had the opportunity to do what he or she is meant to do, our world would be so very different. I also believe that each person has the right to self-actualize. I think the U.N.’s “Declaration of Human Rights,” adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948 was right to declare unalienable rights of every citizen of this world. I think they just forgot that many people just don’t “play by the rules.” For example, when I pick up the Sports page of the local newspaper, I find an article about, say, soccer. Well, this article just assumes that I understand the rules of the game. Otherwise, the article doesn’t make sense. Tragically, I have found that I just flat don’t understand the rules of a lot of this game we call “life.” Because, for the “life” of me, I just do not understand how it is that people are starving to death, that people are literally dying of thirst, or that one person, in the name of religion, can wreak the type of sadistic havoc someone like Joseph Kony has wreaked on so many innocent lives...especially my own!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starting at the very beginning

I was running this morning and had quite a revelation! I usually take the time during my morning runs to solve all the world’s problems…the problem is, I can’t remember the solutions when I return. But, I am sure if I could remember them, they would be quite effective. One constant worry I have had since I returned was what to do with this blog. It seemed weird to just stop writing. After all, the trip has really just begun! I have “created a monster” in Gulu and I just can’t pretend that the “monster” is not living all around me just because I am in Texas and not Gulu. The Hope for Africa Vocational Training Centre has started and it has to go on in spite of me. Or, perhaps it is better said, to spite me! Regardless, I am committed to the school and to the hundreds of people who are anxious to walk through the doors of the classroom and emerge with a trade that will provide support, both monetary and emotional, for the rest of their lives. The most important revelation that I had when running was that I was going to have to keep up this blog. And, as I thought about what the blog’s intention is, I came to another realization that this blog has really been insufficient. It is insufficient in the sense that what I have written has been, in a sense, akin to asking someone to open a book in the middle and have a full understanding of the beginning of the text. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a book in the world, save Moby Dick, that a person could open and have a full understanding of what the heck is going on. So, I think it appropriate for us to start at the beginning…in the immortal words of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, “a very good place to start.” Ahem. Many of you may already know that the people of northern Uganda, primarily the Acholi Tribe, have suffered the ravages of a war that began in 1986. The current president, Museveni a southerner, over threw the northern Uganda-led government. Museveni overthrew Obote, a northerner, who had been overthrown by Idi Amin and who returned to overthrow Imin. Confused? I don’t blame you. Stability is not a “staple” of the Ugandan government. Suffice it to say, Museveni really had no love for the Acholi. In fact, he didn’t care if this group lived or died as they were supporters of the northern regime. Because of his disinterest, a group known as the “Holy Spirit Movement” that was led by a woman by the name of Alice Lakwena who combined Christianity and Acholi witchcraft to garner a renegade group of dissatisfied army soldiers to fight against the newly-formed government emerged to become a modern-day “Joan of Arc” in Uganda . Alice Lakwena was an Acholi prophet who claimed she could decipher messages from the spiritual world. She was brazen, at best. She advised tribesmen and women, even though they were completely unarmed, to oppose all governmental intervention in the Acholi territory. Known locally as "Alice," she also advised her followers to protect themselves against bullets by simply smearing tabs of cooking oil on the skin. The spirits told her that the oil would repel the bullets. Also, she told the people that stones or bottles they threw at government troops would turn into hand grenades. Many of her followers were killed in confrontations, and many others found means to get guns to reinforce their so-called, “spiritual armor.” Interestingly, she led her army of nearly 10,000 to within days of the capital city of Kampala before they were defeated and she fled, on bicycle, to Kenya where she was arrest and imprisoned. However, her nephew, Joseph Kony, picked up where she started. Let’s leave our Moby Dick here for now. Tomorrow, I will give some details about her nephew, Joseph Kony, and his rise to fame as the new leader of the “pack,” known as the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Moral Compass:

I am sitting on the second of two long flights back to Houston and I have, of course, lots of time to think about my trip this time to Africa. While I wish I was sleeping, there are so many wonders that I have experienced that I have to be diligent to remember each and every one. It would be so easy to return to America and say to myself…”Okay…mission trip. Check that one off the “bucket list” so to speak. But, I have found that my life is nearly complete in Uganda. You ask why? I am come to a point where I absolutely believe that aid is killing the spirit of the Acholi, dare I say the entire country of Africa. I hope that soon everyone who is operating in Africa will realize that they are, indeed, only “giving a man a fish.” I have come behind many organizations, the World Food Bank and Children’s Hunger Fund, just to name a few, whom I believe to have perpetuated a culture of “gimme” in Africa. Children in Africa are beggars…they look at Muzungus and they automatically want something. They think that we exist to give them something. Sadly, we have turned them into those beggars. We waltz into their villages and camps and hand them a piece of candy or worn out t-shirt and get back on the bus. Before we do anything else, we are reaching for the hand sanitizer to make sure that we don’t leave a part of them on our skin. What kind of aid is that? When we went to a “graduation” ceremony for some people who had been in training to be tailors for some time, there was a tent set up for the “V.I.P.” group. The “V.I.P.s” were the white people. I was astonished and embarrassed. In fact, my family will tell you that I further “embarrassed” them by going to each and every one of the people whom I could reach and stretched out my hand in greeting. I shook hundreds of hands and, in Africa, that is not an easy feat as they have a very complicated handshake. But, I was determined to show them my solidarity with them. As we sat through the service, I was annoyed that the white people still sat on one side and the natives on the other. So, I was quick to get up and go sit with the villagers and play with the children. Yes, I am sure that I was quite a site, but I just didn’t want the celebration to be about “them and us” any longer. Interestingly, I met the Pastor of the village two days later and he took me aside and told me how much it meant to the people that I would leave the tent and sit with the people. He told me that it was a very special thing that I had done and he wanted me to know how much he appreciated that I wanted to be part of the village and not just a by-stander. I tell this story not because I think you should know how “great” I am, but to tell you that I just don’t think that we are willing to get out of our comfort zones enough when we are in different places and be “where the action is.” I believe that people really do like it when we show that we do not think they are different. I think it is important for us to realize that in many cases, WE are the different ones. Heather bought a shirt in the airport that I think is wonderful. It has the word, “Muzungu” on the front, which is what African people call white people. What is clever about the shirt is that written on the back are the words, “My name is not Muzungu.” Every where we went during these past four weeks (and during the other seven trips that I have made), children stare at us and yell out, “Muzungu, Muzungu.” It has served as a reminder to me that I am the “different” one. For the first time in my life, I am not the ordinary person on the street. I am a different color. I speak a different language. And, I am not the same as the majority of people on the street. It feels really good; in an awkward sort of way. I have gotten used to people staring at me. I have gotten very used to being called strange names. I have gotten very used to being laughed at. And, I have gotten very used to doing everything I can to “bridge the gap” between the Acholi people and myself. I am used to having people speak in front of me in a language that I just simply do not understand and I have to hope that what they are saying is “okay.” I have had to rely on people to translate to others and I have had to hope that what they say is just what I said. I am rather fluent in Spanish and I am also somewhat fluent in sign language. I know that I can “speak” well enough to get my point across. But, when I am here, I have to hope that the person who speaks for me “gets it right.” If not…then what I have said is for naught. My words return to me void and I cannot imagine anything more devastating than that. Because of this, I have learned to be a person of fewer words in Africa. I imagine my family is saying, “Yeah…right” as they read this. But, I never want to leave my words as empty to people who have suffered so much and who are relying on me to help them so much. I gave a translator 30,000 shillings once; which, at that time, was equivalent to $12.00 and he thought I had given him a fortune. One day, we worked on the bike all day long and Barr gave one of the fellows, Sam, 35,000 shillings and he thought he had made quite a lot for a day. That amounts to $16.00 American dollars. Do you understand that these people work for less than that per month? I happen to know that Sam makes about $75 a month working at the church, but he is required to be there from sun-up to sun-down. Literally. He opens the church and closes the church. He teaches lessons, runs errands, does the handiwork and anything and everything that Pastor wants him to do. The people who work at the hotel where we stay, Jo Jo’s Palace, make $17.00 per month. They all stay in a hot, cramped room, with no bathroom, but they have a job. They work all day and all night. But, they have work. I just do not think that we understand the nature of the work that most of the world has to endure. I was continually shocked when I walked up to the market in Gulu around 9:00 (yes, I was out late), and found scores of women on the side of the road trying to sell their tomatoes, avocadoes, mangos, cabbage, and so on when the road was totally dark. We really do not understand what “hard work” really means. These are people who get up at sunrise, perhaps earlier, and work in their gardens. Then, they take what they can harvest and bring it as close to town as they can get to sell at the best price they can get. It is no wonder that I just am not good at or willing to bargain with people over some prices. While I know it is expected, I just don’t feel good about haranguing someone over 500 shillings ($.25). We would never do that in America! Imagine, if you will, going into your local Dillards and bargaining over the price of an item! It is just not in our nature and it is certainly not in my nature to try to take that little from someone who has worked so hard and who has so little. I am returning from this trip with a resolve to try to stop the “giving out” of food, clothes, and so on to people in Africa. I am returning from this trip with a real mission and that mission is one that teaches them the benefits of hard work and reward from that work. One of the things that we put on the application for the school was, “Will you promise to tithe?” The women and men had to say they were willing to give back from what little they had in order to be able to be admitted to the school. I can see that the real problem in Africa now is the NGOs (non profits) that offer the people something for nothing. It is time for the people to learn how to give as well as receive. They have received for 25+ years…and rightly so. But what has happened it that those gifts have been nothing more than, as the old adage says, “Give a man a fish and he eats for the day.” These people cannot look forward. They have been given help in the form of a fish to eat today, but they have no skills for which to eat for a lifetime. That is where we come in. I am determined that no one I help “eats for a day.” I am going to fight World Food Bank,” Children’s Hunger Fund” and all the rest of the organizations who are still on the ground in Gulu to stop the handouts. It just saddens me that all this time, they could have had someone giving food AND teaching the people how to grow the food. Instead, they threw out bags of rice and beans and went on their merry way. Their donors were assured that what they did was of great benefit to the people in Africa. But, they have deluded themselves. What they did was make the problem worse in Africa. The people needed to learn the skills to grow their own food at the same time they were given the help. Of course the help was needed! However, the people should have been given hoes and rakes and seeds and shown how to produce, for themselves, the very food they were being handed. This is my “new” mission in Africa. It is to stop the free “handouts” and start helping make those “handouts” tools that the people can actually use to help themselves. Trust me…these are very hard working people if given the chance. They have learned the art of survival. We need to turn our moral compasses to a point that gives them a chance to live, not just the chance to survive. There is a BIG difference!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Homeward Bound

Well...finally in Amsterdam and waiting four hours to board for a 10 1/2 hours trip to Houston. Barr will be there to drive us home. Whew! So much to tell and so little time. Blessings, Sally

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday…all day long!

I spent a great part of the day in bed. I went to the Internet CafĂ© and checked my blog and checked e-mails while having the usual one-shot cappuccino.. I am not sure what happened, but I barely made it back to the hotel before I got sick. I have no idea what happened, but I am wondering about the milk in the coffee. I spent over half the day in bed sleeping. It is possible, too, that my body is just getting worn out. I actually wanted to come home for this first time this entire month. I have been homesick and I miss my family, but I haven’t REALLY wanted to come home until today. I think being sick had a lot to do with it and I am worn out. I have pushed myself pretty this trip. We have been going back and forth between the school, working on the bike, and going into the villages. The physical aspect of all that is hard…not to mention the emotional aspect. I have been really concerned about leaving the boys at the school. I have grown so close to some of them and I hate to leave them in the same situation I found them. These are street boys. Literally, they were picked up off the street because they do not have homes. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them didn’t deserve to get kicked out, but they have absolutely no future now. The place they stay does not send them to school. They do some English/Math/carpentry and a few other subjects, but they are not in school and they won’t be going if someone doesn’t step up and pay their school fees. I told you about Simon Peter, the young boy whose father fused his hands together over an open fire for eating the supper, but there are other boys there who have had an equally bad time in their short lives. I have been struck by one of the boys, Jeffrey, who has the sweetest eyes! His eyelashes are thick and curly. He is missing one of his front teeth and I would bet it has been knocked out. He must be about 11 or 12-years old. I think he is adorable. Every time we come, he smiles and slowly makes his way to where I am. I think he sees someone who really does have empathy with him. I wish I could help him. But, I know I can’t. The funding is completely running out for the project there and I happen to know that the director is looking for another job. Closing Noah’s Ark is eminent and giving us the buildings is equally realistic. We had another 20 women come to the school to register today. It is amazing how much our school is needed!!!!! I spoke to a woman today who is a hairdresser and she said she would like to teach women and men how to style and braid hair. Heather had her hair braided today and it took three women nearly four hours to do it! They charged her $25. Can you imagine what that would cost in the U.S.? Heather looks really cute in her braids. I KNOW for a fact that I couldn’t have sat still that long while three women pulled on my hair. They are meticulous with the parts. Her head is a work of art!? SMILE. I’ll be anxious to see how long she keeps them. This afternoon, I got up and went to the school to do the final wrap on the bike. We bought some hemp and it really works well. The sisal we bought from Kampala had a hard time drying, but the hemp has behaved perfectly. Our plan is to finish the bike tomorrow and burn “Bamboosero” into the frame with the boys at Noah’s. We have given them shirts and bought them sodas a couple of times. It is amazing how little it takes to make a child happy here. Dinner was a wonderful time…we picked up Pastor Chris and met Speaker Martin and Retired General Walter (I do not know his last name) at a restaurant. It is one we never go to because it is the “hang out” for the Muzungus and it is a bit more expensive. But, we had a great time. We didn’t leave there until 10:30 and that is WAY past our bedtime! It was fun. A wonderful thunderstorm came through and cooled things down. It was such a pleasant evening! It is getting time to start thinking about coming home. There is so much more to do here. I will leave the details in capable hands, though, because Deo is one of the finest young men I have ever know…bar none. He is responsible and he has the vision for what we are doing better that I do!!!! And, he wants it to succeed as much as I do. It is strange to say this, but…see you soon!