|Took this photo from the back of|
the boda-boda as we were racing off.
But somehow I missed photographing
the elephants and giraffes I saw...
I love Thanksgiving. I like the food, the nice-though-possibly-historically-questionable story of Squanto and the pilgrims, hanging out with family, and official (in my mind) beginning of Christmastime. Usually, however, I’m not in the US, not with family, and not eating traditional Thanksgiving food, and this year was no different. Though, I generally try to at least make something out of pumpkin (I have some in my freezer, which I’ll use when I get back to Chad). This year, I wasn’t in hotels that I could talk into letting me use their kitchens, and even if I had been, there is too much involved in pumpkin foods that would not have been available there anyway. So my Thanksgiving meal was Ugandan chicken stew, chapatis, a neon green apple-flavored Miranda soda, and later that night—mangos. Let’s be honest, would I have preferred to eat turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce (the jellied, completely unhealthy kind from the can without berries), and several kinds of pie, followed by watching all the new Gilmore Girls episodes with both of my sisters, wearing all their clothes and using all their blankets (their houses are always too cold for me). The answer is…probably. I missed my family (and I really missed the food), but I had a pretty good Thanksgiving week, and I got to spend it with people who feel like family.
With the influx of South Sudanese refugees into Uganda (nearly 3000 per day in recent estimates), Neverthirst is looking into supporting the relief efforts in northern Uganda. So, as Africa Programs Directrice, I last-minute planned a trip out to visit our local partners on the ground, worrying them with my spontaneity, though everything worked out fine, as it always does. I was also especially happy to be re-united with Repent and his family, who fled South Sudan and are now living in Arua, more on that later. (Note: I’m going to throw out names of Ugandan towns like you should know where they are, and you SHOULD. Get a map.)
I arrived in Entebbe at 1am, waiting an additional 30 minutes for my one bag to slowly tip off the conveyor belt. Good news, friends: Uganda has reduced its visa price back to 50USD! Last time I was here it was 100USD. I didn’t know it was possible to reduce visa prices, but I am ALL for it. I shuffled off to the hotel that I usually stay in and slept for a few hours. Later that morning, I headed to Kampala, where I would meet up with Asiki and bus it to Koboko (about a 7.5 hour drive).
|With Asiki on the bus,|
eye bags courtesy of
Adventures in Uganda started out with a bang. Though we arrived at the station on time, we couldn’t get a hold of Asiki, and we watched our bus slowly glide out of the station before we saw Asiki, standing right there, not answering his phone to tell us that he was there. We’d already looked for him and couldn’t find him. So as we are hugging and greeting each other, our bus is driving away, and he is totally unconcerned about it. It turns out, he had no reason worry.
Apparently, enterprising young men on motorcycles (we call them boda-bodas here in Uganda and South Sudan) hang around bus stations for just such cases as this. “Hop on,” they said, “We’ll catch the bus.” So we did. I tried to get on side-saddle because I have a slight aversion to straddling a man that I don’t know, but they said, “Ride like a man!”, which turned out the be the right call as we sped through town, trying to catch up. Spoiler alert: we did.
|Goat bike bag. So handy.|
Get one in Uganda.
We smushed into our seats on the bus (Asiki is a large man), and settled in for the long, slightly sweaty trip. Besides getting to catch up with Asiki, the highlights were seeing a large bull elephant lumbering by the roadside (no photos because my phone was buried deep), and hearing Toto blared over the bus loudspeaker. I mean, it is important to realize that there are some African radio stations that will play that song, though it wasn’t actually raining down in our part of Africa at the time.
|Yup, we are Family.|
The next few days were fairly filled with work, and I’ll attach some of the photos. We were mostly in a town called Yumbe, as well as Koboko. Our partners are doing assessments of the water and sanitation situation in Yumbe, and I went to visit some local officials and see a bit of the area. Truthfully, I found myself on the verge of tears for much of the time. I spent some time just with Repent at the beginning of my time there and heard his stories of escaping South Sudan. The time his car was hijacked on the Juba-Yei road (where I traveled a few months earlier to the great concern of my boss), and the man in their group who did not have any money to give was shot in the head right in front of them, his blood splashing on Repent. Later, as Repent realized that the situation was too dangerous for him and his family to stay, he used the rest of his money to hire a car to take his family and their main belongings to Uganda. As they were leaving, they were caught in an ambush by Dinka soldiers who have been on the war path for Equatorians (including Repent and his family). Repent said that he made eye-contact with one of the soldiers, but somehow they let them pass. The cars in front and behind them weren’t so lucky. If you were praying for his family during this time (I may have hassled some people to do this), he thanks you, and believes that God chose to protect his family because of the prayers of the Church.
|Home school in Uganda|
As I heard Repent’s stories, my heart ached for what he had been through, but I’m also fiercely proud of the decisions that he has made for his family throughout all of this. When he decided to leave, his neighbors suggested for him to just run to the jungles with them, but knowing that he was not familiar with those jungles, as he was with the ones around Mundri, he decided to leave. Sadly, when the UNHCR brought them into the camp, they refused to transfer the things that they had brought with them, requiring them to leave them in a designated area where they could return for them later. Those things were all stolen. Another brave decision he made was while waiting in the camp, where they stayed for a little over a month. He realized that he was really struggling with witnessing the brutal murder of the man in the car hijacking. Knowing that he needed help, he went to a pastor, also staying in the camp and asked for prayer. That helped him to heal, and he is doing much better now. Finally, he decided to use his salary to move his family out of the camp. He moved to Arua, where our biosand filter partner, Loguya, helped him find an affordable house. Before leaving the camp, he informed the director of his decision, so he is still eligible to receive help as a refugee, even though he is now living in town. If he had just disappeared, he might have lost this benefit. He also set up classes for his children and his wife to help them learn English so that they can join the school system in 2017. He’s pretty great.
|Camp--look way back and you can see tents all the way to|
the horizon. Grass in front is being mowed to fit in more tents.
Driving around Yumbe and Koboko, some places are filled with tents, as far as you can see. These tents are filled with South Sudanese refugees, who left behind everything they know just for a chance to survive. They are surviving in these camps, but camp-life is interminably boring. There is no work. There is no way to get work. There are lines to wait in for daily food rations that aren’t enough to fill up hungry bellies or medicines that aren’t enough to fully heal recurring illnesses like malaria or water borne diseases, likely contracted from poor sanitation. Lucky people might be near one of the hastily-constructed water points, but most are not. In these cases, they might spend their days searching for water, which might be enough to drink but not to bathe. NGOs are working to set up schools, and some are up and running, but there is not much else for people to look forward to.
|Chairperson Aziz Aluma. This is a leader-|
working hard for his people, generous
to neighbors in need, not in it for the glory.
If we had politicians like this, I might actually
try to find my voter's registration card.
Other places are being razed to make room for more tents and shelters that are coming soon to meet the needs of people that keep pouring in. It turns out, according to the chairperson of Keruwa Sub-county, the local population agreed to give this land to the South Sudanese refugees. Just to GIVE it to them. For FREE. Pretty impressive, huh? In his words, “They let us come in back in 1986 when there was fighting in our country. And many of us stayed for around 6 years or so. We want to do the same for them.” He also admitted that they are hopeful that NGO presence in their area will bring more infrastructure to their region, which is not as developed as other parts of the country. Apparently, most of their current hand pumps and many of their government buildings were built back in 1993 and 2007 during previous refugee relief programs. For this part of the country, where only 3 out of 10 families have access to clean water, there is need for some outside help. As NGOs prepare to help thousands of refugees, locals hope that their needs won’t be overlooked.
After spending a few days driving around refugee camps and local host communities, I went back to Koboko with Repent and Loguya to visit the biosand filter project. This project helps to provide filters to refugees and host communities. And I always enjoy hanging out with Repent and Loguya. We come from a breed that doesn’t worry too much about safety standards. Last we were together in Morobo, we squished 3 to a motorcycle to drive around to project sites. We did that again in Koboko, but mixed things up a bit riding in the back of a truck with the filters. Some people run 10k races on Thanskgiving, I rode in a truck and then walked around for two hours from house to house installing filters. Got a nice little chacos tan on my feet. Then, in true Thanksgiving fashion, I ate too much for dinner. It differed in that I ate mangos instead of turkey and pie, but that stuffed feeling was there without the background noise of a football game that I don’t care much about. So basically a win.
|Riding in the truck.|
|Repent and Loguya joined me.|
|Robin and Victor installing filters.|
Robin really liked it when I told him the
story of Robin Hood.
|The first house where we installed a filter.|
Beautiful view, lovely South Sudanese refugee family.
|Thanksgiving pre-feast walk. Somewhere around here|
Repent told me he was hungry, and we tried to finish up
so he could get some food...
|About half of the family who will drink from this filter.|
|The family dog came with this family all the way from Yei.|
That is loyalty.
|Hey-I stopped working and just played with the kids.|
|3 on a motorcycle. Just like old times in SS.|
|Thanksgiving meal in Uganda with Family.|
Good food. Especially Repent liked it because he was really hungry.
|After I had almost finished the meal, I saw this bug.|
And the thing is, I had not ordered bugs for dinner--
you could, but I had ordered chicken.
I push this guy off to the side and ate the food that I ordered.
|I also avoid the monotony of safety,|
if at all possible.
|This one, I got down though.|
Check mark for me.
My last day in the north, I decided to spend with Loguya and Repent’s families. I got to meet Loguya’s wife and adorable mischievous youngest child and forget to take photos. Then I spent the rest of the day with Repent and Joy. They were so excited to make lunch for me. Joy made my very favorite South Sudanese dishes—peanut butter greens and beef stewed in a tomato sauce served with the blob, aka aseeda aka posho aka ugali aka linya. I stuffed myself again, and it was a nice Thanksgiving 2, even though there were no leftovers. It was especially great to see where Repent is living and hang out with his kids again.
|Me and Halina.|
Still BFF and E and E and E.
|Joy's amazing cooking. So good.|
|Oliver had an earache and he kept moaning.|
But he let me rock him to sleep. Sweet boy.
|Family photo sans Oliver.|
I had just got him to sleep!
|I carried Halina most of the way to the store,|
and I nearly died. Glad she was a lot smaller
last year in May.
After lunch, I took them to a nearby supermarket with the idea that I would buy them whatever they wanted. My nephews and nieces love it when they get to choose, but I think this overwhelmed them a bit. I was just thinking that it would be nice to for them to have some toys, as they lost all of that when their stuff was stolen. Repent told me that Halina was crying for her doll that I’d bought her before so he had gotten her one of those terrifying plastic white girl dolls (no wonder children are afraid of me after seeing those things), but it broke into pieces a few days later. I wouldn’t blame the boys if they helped it along. (If anyone wants to make another little cloth doll for her, let me know. Shameless begging but I really think sewing people could make one for way cheaper than I bought it in the airport in Addis.) Anyway, this time Halina chose a large green car for her toy. You can pull back on the tires and it will roll by itself. Awesome. And no worries about gender-stereotypical toys for this girl.
|With her car.|
My time with the Repents was too short, but good anyway. Next day back to Kampala via bus, and I saw two giraffes just wandering by the road looking all cool. I was unfortunately too far away from the bus driver to yell at him to stop so I could take a photo.