Wednesday, October 3, 2007

how to use a pit latrine and other stories from the field

I'm here with quick greetings during my 12 hour sleepover back in Kampala. The past three days have been jammed full of good things. It would have been great to stay in each place so much longer, but it was good to get to go to them at all.

Layton and I felt more like "normal journalists" than we like because our tight schedule didn't allow nearly as much time as we had during last week's visit to the islands for sitting and talking with people. Instead we had to focus on getting the info and pictures we needed and had little time for much more than that.

Kalongo and Patongo are villages that became huge IDP (internally displaced persons) camps over the past few years during the height of the LRA's (Lord's Resistance Army) brutal terrorizing of people in northern Uganda. Peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government commenced last year. The talks aren't completely over, but things are much on the mend for northern Ugandans for the time being.

People who lived out in less congested areas moved into these villages because that's where government soldiers were posted to provide protection. Many of the people who moved were farmers who owned land. When they arrived in the IDP camps, they had no land to farm and it wasn't safe to go out of the camp to the ample farmland anyway because of the roving LRA soldiers. That's why you've heard stories about the lack of food in IDP camps.

These days people are starting to move out of the crowded large camps. Many people haven't moved all the way back to their original villages--where they own land--but have begun to move to new camps/villages part way home. It helps folks to spread out of the tight quarters of the original IDP camps. Things are also calm enough for people to begin farming again. From the air you can see many cultivated fields throughout the area. We learned that people are now growing enough food during the growing season to last them for about 9 months. Before (during the fighting) they were only able to grow 2-3 months worth of food.

Layton and I visited Kalongo Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Kalongo that had to close for a couple years during the worst of the fighting in the area, and GOAL, an Irish? ngo (humanitarian organization) working in Kalongo. Yesterday we headed to Patongo. Fortunately, the road between Kalongo and Patongo that had been closed down by the recent flooding in northern Uganda was passable, though we drove through several yards of knee-deep water outside Patongo. In Patongo, we were hosted by Medair, a Swiss humanitarian org. We went along with them yesterday when they distributed tarps and household supplies to an IDP camp affected by the flooding and today when they distributed school supplies to students at three schools.

It's been terribly interesting to taste life in the international ngo community where people from all sorts of nationalities work together. On our flight from Kampala to Kalongo, there were 9 people on the plane with 5-6 different nationalities represented (British, American, Colombian, Danish, Ugandan and maybe South African). It was also interesting to help distribute notebooks to kids at one of the schools today. The kids lined up and we handed the notebooks and pens and pencils to them as quickly as possible and then they went back to their classrooms. Out of the two groups of students I handed notebooks to, I probably had real human interaction (eye to eye contact and exchanged smiles) with fewer than 10 of them. With the rest, our eyes never met, whether because I was counting out their 5 notebooks or because they were looking away or because their eyes were on the notebooks. It was interesting to see that side of aid work and the sometimes challenge--and impossibility?--there is to really connecting when you're passing out materials to large numbers of people.

On the flight back I was struck again by the beauty of creation. The sky and clouds here are so beautiful. The big wide sky on so many days has offered such a perfect color of blue for providing striking contrast with the white, white clouds that vary in shape, number and type from day to day. And below the land is green and full of varied types of vegetation. The area we were flying over was fairly sparcely populated, but the glimpses of small huts and of larger tin-roofed buildings pointed back to the connection between creation and the people God's given it to. Viewing these things from the small plane we were flying in helped their grandeur show through better than it usually does when you're flying so much higher in jets. Such beauty can't help but elicit a prayer of praise and thanks to God for His creation! (If only I hadn't been so tired, I might have been able to keep my eyes open more and do even more praising. ;-) )

Both last week at the islands and this week in the camps by the second day of the stay I hit my wall of info-gathering and people-interacting energy. By the afternoon/evening of that second day of pretty intensive immersion, I've found my curiosity, my ability to establish a social/emotional connection and my desire to absorb everything possible from the experience overloaded. It's an exhaustion that turns physical. When I'm able I'm trying to give into that exhaustion by pulling out of the experience into my tent or guestroom for even an hour alone. It's so hard to do that, though, when you know your time in a place is limited and want to take in as much as possible before you have to move on to the next place. Today when I arrived back in Kampala, I did have a feeling of wishing I could "take a vacation" by going back home for just a couple days to be surrounded by things that are familiar and require less constant processing. Since that's not possible, I guess I should instead wrap up this post and head to bed in my home-for-the-month. :-)

p.s. In reference to the title, I'm excited that if there were a girl scout badge for good pit latrine usage, which requires the ability to keep yourself and the floor around you clean and dry without grumbling about it, I think I would have finally earned it these past few days. :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You sure didn't learn your pit latrine skills from me. I am amazed at what you are doing. Mom