Sunday, September 21, 2008

When milk costs $6 USD

I had the privilege of eating dinner with Victor, a pastor from Zimbabwe who is in the US for a few weeks, last night (as well as spending more time with him today). We know from the news that things there have been very bad economically there, but how do you wrap your mind around 13 million percent inflation rate?

As someone who loves to go to the grocery store, this has really struck home with me. Americans are dealing with the effects of too many choices, of option overload. In Zimbabwe, you go to the grocery store hoping the almost-empty shelves will have a few staples like rice, mealie meal (maize flour), oil, sugar, and perhaps - if you are fortunate - some greens. In large part because of economic policies and poorly-planned land redistribution, the "bread basket of Southern Africa" (with an incredible amount of arable land and perfect weather) cannot produce enough now to make ends meet - hence the 95% unemployment in an agrarian culture. With the inflation rate, it is often not worth while for the mills to grind up the flour, leading to shortages even of mealie meal.

For those who can afford it (and naturally that would not include Zimbabwe's many, many orphans - the highest orphan population in the world), groceries can be bought in Botswana or South Africa, where currency can be converted to the more stable rand or US dollar. But even so, by the time the deal is done, milk might cost you $6.

Aid organizations seem to be significantly hampered working there, but in some cases the local church is giving even out of its poverty. Victor says there have been stories of white people in old folks' homes starving; worse for old black people, who have no resources at all. His church has started creating meal packets to ensure these elderly people get fed. There are many more ministries like this going on within his own small church; what others are doing, I don't know. But it gives some hope that although I personally can't do anything at the moment but pray for better things for Zimbabwe and provide some monetary support (through my church here) to their work, there are people there who are giving generously of all that have, not not just time and resources. They have faith, as Victor encouraged us this morning to have, that God has promised them an eternal inheritance that will not spoil or fade or be affected by inflation - and that he is keeping them for that inheritance; we have the unswerving commitment of Jesus himself, so we can serve him without fear even in times of great physical and emotional suffering.

"I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Friday, August 08, 2008

j is for jerricans

When not carrying oil or water, they make good speakers...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

i is for illness

This is an easy one. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes apparently like the taste of my blood. (Actually, they like the taste of everyone's blood, except Pastor Al's.) My favorite malaria memory is Bob laughing when he heard that I got malaria for the first time...eight days after I arrived. It was nice proof that you really can get malaria from Kampala - it's not just a rural disease!

(Oddly enough, I was always faithful about taking my anti-malarial drugs. I tend to be a little too lackadaisical about taking medicine sometimes.)

My first experience with how deadly malaria is was soon after I got to Karamoja. Martha and I were hanging out in one of the villages, and started talking to a woman whose baby was very ill; his skin was pale and i got a cold feeling up and down my spine as I looked at him - he really looked like he was dying. Martha told the woman to bring him to the clinic right away and she, Martha, would pay. So instead of having a Bible study as we'd planned, another woman (Joyce?) and this woman and her baby and Martha and I all trooped back through the hot sun. Martha got the van and gave everyone a ride down to the clinic.

Segal David, the head medical officer, was on duty and immediately went to work. He had the mother (really just a young girl) use a razor blade to shave off a patch of the baby's hair so he could insert an IV.

I wanted very much to watch Segal save this baby's life, but when he was getting out the needle I had to go sit down on a bench with my head on my knees...apparently I am not cut out for watching medical procedures. At least when they involve small children. The IV was inserted successfully, though, and the baby started getting some fluids to counteract his severe dehydration.

That was on the greatest things I've ever seen, I think: the gift of medicine at work. I know the story didn't have a happy ending; the poor mother had waited too long, there was nothing that could be done, and a few days later this baby died. It makes me very grateful, though, for the work of the clinic and for the probably hundreds of lives they've saved since opening in 2001 or 2002.

Monday, April 28, 2008

H is for Harper Lee

As if just being in Karamoja again wasn't enough, in 2005 I also got to lead a literature class on one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird. Katie, Em, and Rachel kindly put up with my first real attempt at teaching lit. and I, at least, had fun! The best part was hearing the other girls' impressions of characters that I'd always thought of very differently. I remember best our discussion of Mr Dolphus Raymond, who sipped Coke from a paper sack and thus "perpetrated fraud against himself" (since everyone assumed it was whiskey); we were all amused and touched by his kindness to Scout, Jem, and Dill.

(Today is Harper Lee's birthday, by the way.)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What G Is For...

As usual, there are lots of choices: germs, guns, girls, grins...they could all be fitting. But I saw this picture tonight, while I was looking through hundreds of old K'moja photos, and knew it had to be posted.

The Gecko in the Glass

This little guy thought flies were getting a little boring, so he climbed down into the empty milk glass (milk for tea has to be made every day from Nido powder and water) and tried it out. Unfortunately, getting out of the sink is never as easy as getting in....

(This is a re-posting, as for some reason the original picture stopped displaying.)
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

F Is for Friendship

No surprises here, I hope. I've thought occasionally about why I felt connected so quickly in Karamoja, in spite of just as quickly finding out that life there was not all a piece of cake. And the best answer that I can come up with is that I was blessed with friends there right away. The Wrights were so welcoming; it wasn't many days before I was hanging out at their house all the time, picking books off their shelves to read, drinking up their peptobismal, borrowing one of Martha's Penn State sweatshirts (I was underprepared for fevers), walking out to the village with them, doing "mathletics" with Bobby, having sleepovers (there's a great pic of of the four girls and I, Rachel and I on beds on the floor, all reading books). They were so gracious to me; thanks, guys!

There are several other friends I made on that first trip who I've gotten to know better on subsequent trips and would very much love to see again. Rose, who washes dishes more cheerfully than anyone I've ever met, shared with me how many children she'd lost over the years, either as infants of because of miscarriages. She was pregnant at the time, but that baby died, too. I can only imagine how hard that must have been; in Billings, I grieved over it. But the next year was she pregnant again, and in 2006 baby Bob (Loduk Robert?) was born. And is now a healthy two-year-old, I think.... Anyway, I love Rose, with her usual greeting of "Hi, guys!" She patiently told me the typical Karamojong greetings again and again and again until finally I sort of got it - and then she and Joyce and the others were always encouraging when I tried out my lame Karamojong on them. :)

There are others I've mentioned before or should have mentioned - Lokwii and Emmy and Joyce Margaret and Elizabeth and, in a different way, Mamachipa. Also many other friends from later trips - Amy and the Tricaricos, and, which is very fun, Chrissie and the Eldeens from my own hometown. I'm so thankful for how kind and friendly they've all been to me!

Here's a picture of another friend. Unfortunately, I have no idea what his name is. But I met him in 2004, where we both sat in a hut waiting for Rose to come, and drew pictures in the dirt for each other. He was there the next two summers and once came down to the schoolhouse with some other village kids and gave me flowers. (I think they were originally meant for Amy, but when she wasn't there, he said my name. I was too flattered, completely. :)

Good times.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

E Is for Eating

I just got a good internet connection at home last week, thus the sudden flood of blog posts...

I never tried the tasty flies which are a Karamojong delicacy, never eaten grasshoppers. But Karamoja has expanded my taste in other ways. In 2004, I ate at an Indian restaurant for the first time (in Mbale). I love Indian food now. (Unfortunately, no Indian restaurants here. It's up to me to cook.) I almost got to try Ethopian food in Kampala, too. I drank Italian beer for the first time in Kampala, though. And at the Tricaricos' house, I tried veal for the first time. It was very good; I'm almost over my horror at eating baby calf now. And at Martha's house, I learned to make bread...and discover it was pretty fun.

I did try more traditional foods, though. The clinic staff and construction guys get rice and beans (and usually cabbage and occasionally matoke) every day for lunch. This has led to some quarreling because where formerly all they would have expected for lunch is perhaps some posho, now they would like a bit extra oil in their beans, please, and more salt, and... But such is human nature. Anyway, except when I was sick, I always really liked the rice and beans and especially the cabbage. Joyce once showed me how to cook the cabbage, but my attempt to cook it at home failed to duplicate it. Anyway, I've been assured that if I ate rice and beans every day for longer than a month or two, I would get tired of them. (But I'm naturaly inclined to like them; red beans and rice used to be a treat when I lived in Louisiana.)

I also tried posho, at this restaurant in Nakapiripirit. And it was good. It was legendary in my family because my dad had told me about it - a kind of porridge without much flavor. But cooked this way, it's somehow tasty. Basically smooth polenta with a lot of salt, good for dipping in beans.

All this is inspiring me to cook rice and beans, but it probably just won't taste the same....