Sunday, August 19, 2007

curt's journal from Uganda-Aug. 18

After a great night of sleep, we woke up and had a wonderful breakfast. During breakfast Pastor Moses dropped by to tell us that we would be going to visit the centers later than we expected. The locals heard that he was in town and asked him to spend a half hour speaking on the radio. He wanted me to “help” him, but since I had just sat down to breakfast, he let me off the hook. Whew! If I ever come back to Uganda, I better have several sermons prepared, practiced, and ready to deliver on a moment’s notice. Here, if you can preach, by golly, you preach!

We had a little time to kill, so we walked down to the other hotel where the rest of our traveling companions had spent the night. They were just sitting down to breakfast, so we sat and chatted with them. One young man, Ben, invited me to sit with him, so I spent some time getting to know him as he ate his cow hoof for breakfast. That’s right...cow hoof! It looked like, well, a cooked cow’s hoof...a good-sized leg bone surrounded by, what looked like, a healthy amount of fat. He offered some to us, and Leslie was quick to say, “No thank you, we just had breakfast.” I, on the other hand, enjoy a well-marbled steak, so I thought, “why not?” and took a bite. Resty and Ben insisted that it wasn’t fat, but it sure had the texture of fat. I think that it’s just skin, but it actually tasted pretty good. Not something I’d go out of my way to order, but definitely edible. Ben thought it was funny that I had learned some Luganda, so he taught me a few more phrases, and kept grilling throughout the day. It was a very enjoyable second breakfast.

After Pastor Moses got back, we headed outside the city of Gulu to the new school that had just broken ground, thanks to Moses’ team. We met two of his sisters and his brother James. One of his sisters works for World Vision, so Moses had partnered with them for this project. World Vision had gathered all of the biographical information for the kids that needed to be sponsored, so all we had to do was take photos of two hundred kids so that ICN can try and get these kids sponsored in the United States.

The drive out to this remote area was on the worst road we have encountered thus far. It was barely a road and was swampy from all of the recent rain. It’s the rainy season in northern Uganda, so the roads were well watered. It felt like we were driving in a bog. Fortunately, our van has four-wheel drive and our driver, Moses, is amazing and very experienced. As we drove, I surveyed the beautiful landscape. It’s hard to imagine that just three or four years ago this area was being ransacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army, slaughtering innocent people as they moved through the area like hungry locusts. As I mentioned earlier, this group became famous through the movie “Invisible Children” for their practice of kidnapping children to increase the size of their army. I learned that the LRA has a beef with the Ugandan government, so they are just trying to cause trouble. They are currently stationed in the Congo, I believe, and are in peace talks with Uganda, but no one here trusts them to ever be peaceful. By the time the movie came out, the problem outlined in the movie no longer existed, but there were still a lot of problems that the LRA had left in its wake. I found out today that the “Invisible Children” campaign is finally starting to do some good in the Gulu district, focusing its resources on setting up educational centers for the children. There are 400,000 children in this district alone. We passed by several camps where temporary housing have been set up to house the thousands of displaced people. It was quite an awe-inspiring experience.

We finally reached the education center. Pastor Moses told us that not many white people make it out this far. The movie has generated a lot of attention for Gulu, but most white people just fly into Gulu city and don’t venture out into the district. It would be like someone wanting to write an article on farming in Nebraska, yet never venturing outside the Omaha city limits. It wouldn’t be a very thorough or accurate report.

The center boasted a brand new building with the foundation under construction for a teacher’s quarters. Unlike the established schools we’ve visited, the group of people waiting for us consisted of guardians and children alike. The guardians seemed so grateful that we had come there just for them. From the school you could see the tree and bush filled plains stretching out on all sides. It was just beautiful. We took all of the pictures and then the girls played with the kids, while I was engaged in a conversation with a group of older high school boys who had built the school building and were working on the rest. I found out later that some of them had been captured and brainwashed by the LRA. They had been counseled through this and were now helping where they could. They “worked me” for money for a while, as many of the older kids here do. Hillary told me not to pay so much attention to them, but I already knew what they were up to. They were basically nice guys though. As Ben said, “When your stomach is empty, you don’t always wait for the coconut to fall.” Next thing I know, Ben’s carrying a live chicken that some appreciative person in the community had given our group. Out of earshot of the locals, Mary said, “I’m not riding with that thing!” (I don’t think she knows it’s in the van as I write this.) As we left, another group waved down our van so they could load two huge sacks of cassava into it. We had to unload them out of the sacks so we could pack them in next to the chicken that was tied to the leg of the back seat.

As we drove to our next center to take photos, Moses expounded on the many problems facing Uganda and its people. There are so many, that I can’t really begin to mention, but he was quick to add, that it also has a lot of great things about it, and many things are improving. I can now say I’ve seen this first hand. Uganda is a living illustration of contrasts. As much as they are quick to aggressively, and not so subtly, angle for American dollars, they are quick to help their fellow man. Every day, I see strangers jumping to the aid of their fellow man as a truck gets stuck here, or giving a ride to a stranger. As probable as it is that a Ugandan man will leave his family to fend for itself, only to start a new problem with another woman, someone will volunteer to take in a homeless child and add them to their family unit. It’s at the same time disturbing and wonderful...annoying and endearing...pitiful and hopeful.

As I sat down to a relaxing dinner of rice, Irish potatoes, and goat stew, I looked across the table at my family and my new friends and thanked God for this experience. Every day that I’m here, my world becomes larger and more full.

The trip home was tedious, but uneventful, except for one thing...the baboons. We drove by a place where there are usually a lot of baboons on the roadway during the morning and early evening. Just as Pastor Moses was wondering aloud if the recent rain had sent them back into the shelter of the forest, a mother baboon jumped onto the highway, her little baby wrapped around it’s stomach, holding on for all it was worth. I scrambled to get my video camera rolling and Leslie snapped a bunch of photos as we threw bananas out of the van windows. Soon another baboon joined the party. We only stayed for about a minute because we didn’t want to hold up traffic, but it was fun to see real wild animals in their own natural environment. I would’ve liked to stay longer, but the locals that were traveling with us see them all the time on this road. Usually, when the weather’s better, there are a very large number of them along this stretch of highway. I was just grateful we got to see some animals besides cows, goats, and chickens on this trip.

Although the Ugandans that travel with us don’t seem to have a problem with it, I find it impossible to get any sleep while traveling here. The abrupt jolts of slamming into a surprise pothole...the sudden swerves to stay on the smooth part of the road...the speed bumps that seem to be randomly placed to keep traffic under control...the police checkpoints...the regular honks of the horn to warn pedestrians and boda-bodas to move over...and the quick application of brakes to ease through potholes that span the width of the highway...make it impossible for me to shut my eyes for more than a few minutes at a time. Pastor Moses slept peacefully behind me until we rolled into Kampala at about 11:30

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

"Every day that I’m here, my world becomes larger and more full." That was beautifully written :)

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the latest on the sells

As of May 27, 2009...

Wow, it's been almost a year since we've updated this. Our family had a wonderful experience traveling to Uganda two summers ago, which prompted us to keep a journal on this blog. You can read our daily journal from our month long trip

This year brings new adventures. Our eldest daughter, Courtney, after graduating from George Fox University with honors, left for her third trip to India to spend nearly a YEAR to work at Happy Home for the Handicapped in Shimoga, India. You can read about her first trip to India and the impact it had on her life here. She'll also give us new updates from her current trip on this site (here). As of this writing, she is just starting to settle in and is very excited to be there. She has been looking forward to this for a long time!

Meanwhile, Hillary spent all of last year
touring the western U.S. with Matsiko, the choir of children we grew to love as our own in Uganda. She journalled about her experiences in Uganda if you'd like to see what that was like. At some point during this tour, she felt led to join the U.S. Army. Quite a big decision, and one she didn't take lightly. After moving through Basic Training with flying colors, she is now at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio training to become a combat medic. It's a very intense training, but we're sure she'll do well. Our whole family was able to travel to South Carolina to watch her graduate from Basic Training. What an awe inspiring experience!

Leslie is having a great year of teaching 5th graders. She's also in a Master's program, which takes a good chunk of her time. She's still finds time to read a TON of books. Literally, a ton!

Curt was overwhelmed by his experience as a first time overseas traveler and kept up his journal here (you can also read his random posts on everyday life here). The busyness of life and keeping track of his traveling kids has slowed down his writing, but he hopes to begin writing on a regular basis again soon.