A Travellerspoint blog

Cross Country Runs

and a dusty cross-cultural setting

semi-overcast 34 °C

The pastel yellow dust billows behind the truck as it careers towards me like charging rhino, taking over the marram road. I get out the way by running into the ditch, being careful I don't trip on the rough surface. The cloud makes me disappear for a few seconds and I try not to inhale. Still, I feel the grains of dirt in my mouth and taste the earth. My puffy hair makes a good dust catcher as I will discover in the shower later on.
Running on the dirt road

Running on the dirt road


In the UK, I feel quite proud of myself when I pound the streets. As I race down the Edinburgh pavements, I feel part of something bigger, a culture of health and fitness. As I jog along Portobello beach, struggle up Arthur's seat or disappear down one of the network of cycle tracks criss-crossing the town, I am one of the thousands trying to push their bodies to get a little fitter. It is popular wisdom that running is an excellent lifestyle choice. There are races up and down the country of varying distances, running magazines giving advice on training schedules and specialised running shops.
Running in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10km 2016

Running in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10km 2016


Running in Africa, though, is a very different experience.

In Africa, I feel like a TV show, an entertainment for whole villages as I run by. People turn their heads towards the strange sight. I feel the eyes of everyone following me, the ghost moves by, panting and sweating in the 30 degree temperatures. Little kids with ripped t-shirts and dirty faces pause while collecting firewood to shout 'Mundu' as I pass, cheering and waving. Often, the shouts turn to chants of 'Mundu, how are you, I am fine' repeated over and over and over. I am convinced they are taught this chanting at school to practice if they are ever lucky enough to encounter any strange 'whites'. As I near the kids, some will dart away into the long yellow grass, holding up their shorts with terrified faces, scared that I might eat them. If I have the extra energy, I will chase the scared kids further into the bush and act like I am going to catch them. This gives me morbid pleasure and some brief relief on the hot run.

At other times, though, I feel like I'm a hero in a marathon as peoples' faces light up, broad smiles on their faces and they shout 'Well done'! Recently, one lady wearing a scarf and selling vegetables at the road-side started clapping loudly.

Most of the time, I try to keep focused on keeping a good rhythm on the run, rather than get distracted by the innumerable staring faces or laughing youth. On one run, I counted how many times I greeted people and it was over 200 times! Otherwise, though, I am very thankful for my iPod dance tunes that insulates me from the crowding in of others. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be my 'leisure' or 'escape' time, even if it doesn't feel like it. Before coming to live cross-culturally, the missions training encouraged us to consider what hobby or activity you would do to keep yourself healthy. In a stressful environment, it is very important to practice self-care spiritually, emotionally and physically. Running and exercise is part of that self-care for me, but is more challenging to practice here.

It feels weird running here as it is so counter-cultural. What is the point of expending that extra energy? Most people, especially the women, are doing plenty of physical labour just to survive, digging in the fields, carrying 30kg bags of charcoal on their heads or fetching water. By necessity, most people often walk miles and miles and have dirty cracked feet to show for it. I sense pangs of guilt thinking that I am privileged enough to have to work off my extra calories from the chocolate cake Emma made, in an environment where some people might only eat one meal a day and their calorie intake might barely be enough to sustain themselves. This is a context where over 10.9 million people are food insecure across Uganda this year due to poor rains and poor harvests last season. It is also in a context where South Sudan, only 2 hours drive away is suffering from war-induced famine in some areas and critical food insecurity otherwise. It is sobering thought that is a privilege to be a leisure runner and know I have some responsibility with God's help to support others who are not so privileged. This is a burden that is always in the background of life here in Arua, even while I am running along dirt tracks.
Ladies walking 10km to sell bananas

Ladies walking 10km to sell bananas

These ladies carry 30kg bags of charcoal for sale

These ladies carry 30kg bags of charcoal for sale

Fetching water

Fetching water

Contemplating Life's Issues

Contemplating Life's Issues

Posted by africraigs 01:52 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

In a Sun Scorched Land

sunny 35 °C

“This is the worst year”.
“This is my first time to see this”.

These are exclamations when talking to friends and colleagues about the current dry spell in Arua.

Of course, it is ‘dry season’ when rains aren’t expected till sometime in March and when the weather is especially hot and dry. Inside the house last night, the temperature didn’t drop below 29 degrees and it was stifling lying in bed and hard to sleep. Some local friends have told me they have been sleeping on the ground or outside. Of course, our fan couldn’t be on as the power was off. The water level in the dams are too low to produce much hydro-electricity, so load-shedding is the order. We are very thankful for our 3 solar panels that provide us some power. Daytime temperatures are 35 degrees plus.

But, this hot weather isn’t out of the ordinary. What is less common is that the normal ‘long rains’ from July to November of last year, didn’t arrive as expected and there was a lot less rainfall than normal. Crops like beans or maize that were planted dried out in the fields. Groundnuts that do especially well here, died. This has happened to vulnerable people living a subsistence lifestyle in a highly fragile environment. For these people, few buffers exist except the social networks which allow people to help each other in difficulty.

Friends and colleagues have shared their experience of what the drought has meant for them. Kevin (a woman!), who helps us with washing clothes explains that people have been sleeping on her compound to make sure they are early to the borehole near her as so many people are competing for the water. Lilian, our other helper tells us that she pays a boy about 10p to stand in line at the borehole to fill up her jerrycans as the queue is so long. Abdu, my colleague at Lifestitches says that he gets up at midnight or 1am to pump water because it is too busy at other times. Our security guard, John walks 5km to take a bath in the river since the borehole water is only used for drinking now.
Pumping water at a local borehole

Pumping water at a local borehole

A long line of jerry cans waiting for the borehole.

A long line of jerry cans waiting for the borehole.

Collecting water is an all-day process

Collecting water is an all-day process


As usual in East Africa, there is scant attention given to the plight of common people and subsequently poor media coverage of the situation so it is difficult to know what is going on, however, it seems that La Nina may have played a role in the changed weather pattern. Of course, poor land management such as denuding the land of trees surely has a big effect on the rainfall.

Although town water was a bit haphazard before December, coming only at night, piped water suddenly completely dried up all over Arua. Water levels in the river were too low for the water company to pump from. Lucky for us, we had water in our rainwater tanks which gave us a buffer for a time, but after a short while, even those ran empty.

For the first time, we had to phone a water truck to come and fill up the rainwater tanks. This would allow me to pump water into the house to let us use the indoor plumbing.
Water being transported on the back of the pick-up

Water being transported on the back of the pick-up


Thankfully, we have access to these water trucks that became very busy, sometimes making trips at 10pm to desperate customers like us!

What is remarkable to us about our friends and colleagues in Arua is how well people take these difficult circumstances. In the UK, any similar situation is unthinkable. There, we expect things to work well, or we will complain, write to the newspapers or even sue!

I am always impressed by the levels of difficulty and suffering that people endure and still manage to have a smile and laugh easily. People have an incredible attitude in the midst of suffering. It is common for friends to let you know that a family member has died in awful circumstances in a very matter-of-fact manner. On Wednesday, for example, one Lifestitches lady greeted me and then shared with me that her brother had died in a motorbike accident the day before. She wasn’t too fazed and got on with her work at the workshop. Here, death seems so common, but is an accepted part of life.

A negative consequence of this attitude of acceptance is that people have very low expectations and don’t hold organisations or the government to account for poor services. People are used to fending for themselves in all aspects of life. There is no expectation of change and little vision for a different world. This fatalistic attitude is said to hold development back. However, it could also be a ‘survival’ mentality borne out of experience of constantly being let down by systems like the health service or electricity board or corruption generally.

As someone with a Western perspective, it is incredible to appreciate that Arua’s water problem exists in a context of a nation with a significant portion of the world’s 2nd largest freshwater lake (Lake Victoria) and the source of the world’s longest river within its borders. Sadly, drought in a developing nation like Uganda is so acute because farmers rely so heavily on the rain. Less than 1% of agricultural land is irrigated. Farmers tell me how worried they are about this year’s rains as they couldn’t cope with another yield loss like last years.
Visiting the source of the longest river in the world, Jinja

Visiting the source of the longest river in the world, Jinja


Collecting water with cups from a drying stream

Collecting water with cups from a drying stream


Despite the intensity of African life such as the water problems, power issues and poverty, it is a privilege for our family to live here. I often complain about the problems, but I also realise that it helps us have a perspective on what are the most important things in life, such as faith, hope, health or clean water.

These days, signs are good that the rains are already on the way, earlier than normal. There has been rain in Kampala and winds have been picking up. Today, there is even some cloud, thunder and a few drops of rain.

All promising signs, and a reminder of peoples’ fragile dependence and smallness in a big universe.

A little girl collects water from a spring near the Congo border in better weather

A little girl collects water from a spring near the Congo border in better weather

Posted by africraigs 12:50 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

Tis the Season to be Hot, Sticky and Dusty

sunny 32 °C

Christmas in Arua is different to a picture perfect Christmas scene.

Leaves change colour and fall from some of the trees as though it were autumn, but it is dry season, so instead it is sunny and hot. The land is turning a dusty yellow colour as the plants suffer without rain.

Just before Christmas, I was listening to the local radio station, Arua 1 in the car as the presenters were warning parents to keep a look-out for their children. They were telling parents that many children get lost during the Christmas period as they are left on their own for hours or even days. They are at risk of being defiled, robbed or even killed. The Christmas period is known as a risky time for robberies, people stealing because they also want to enjoy their Christmas period by eating meat or buying new clothes. The Lifestitches manager, Charles, was woken up at 3am last week because his goats and pigs were stolen. He took his dogs and chased the thieves until he was able to recover the animals. Obviously, he came in late for work in the morning.
Christmas tree shopping in Arua

Christmas tree shopping in Arua

Christmas trees for sale in Chinese shop

Christmas trees for sale in Chinese shop


A crazy WhatsApp message featuring a naked beheaded woman lying on the ground warns people to be careful who they mix with over Christmas. The lady had supposedly been hanging out with her boyfriend who turned out to be a witchdoctor. Weird, and very different to the cute Christmas messages we are used to seeing on adverts and TV.

Frustratingly, people here also have an expectation of being given something at Christmas and ‘Give me my Christmas’ is a phrase I despair to hear. On Christmas Eve at 8am, a charcoal seller called Rose knocked very persistently and loudly at the gate wanting some money for her Christmas because ‘madam Emma is my customer’.

Being out here, we miss the beauty of the town Christmas lights, the diversity of foods, or the cosiness of having a hot chocolate in a café when it is dark and cold outside. It is lovely to be share the festive season with friends and family and enjoy special places like winter wonderland in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

But, we don’t miss the pressure and expectation of the season in the UK where it feels like a commercial frenzy. Christmas is synonymous with frenetic shoppers, hectic shops and the pressure to have a ‘magical Christmas’ where the food, the setting and occasion needs to be perfect. It is a highly stressful time and hard to find a sense of ‘peace on earth’.

There is an intensity to the heat, dust and chaos of Christmas here too, but I am sure it is much closer to what the real Christmas story would have been like in the Middle East.

Christmas in Arua is different because it is simple.

We appreciate this as it helps us to concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas. It also helps us teach our children that truth without all the consumerist distractions. We are thankful for the slower pace of this time to be able to have more time to spend with friends. The highlight of the season and the year for ex-pats in Arua is the Christmas carol singing on the compound of a Catholic radio station, Radio Pacis on Christmas Eve and then digging into 25 flavours of ice cream organised and made by Sherry, the American director.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all...

Tucking in to ice cream

Tucking in to ice cream

Christmas Eve at Radio Pacis underneath their big Christmas tree

Christmas Eve at Radio Pacis underneath their big Christmas tree

Amelie being held aloft by a teacher at a Sunday school Christmas event

Amelie being held aloft by a teacher at a Sunday school Christmas event

Dancing old women in church on Christmas day

Dancing old women in church on Christmas day

Opening presents on Christmas Day

Opening presents on Christmas Day

Friends came over for pork on Boxing Day

Friends came over for pork on Boxing Day

Taking our workers out for Christmas meal

Taking our workers out for Christmas meal

Kids on a random zebra at the Christmas meal

Kids on a random zebra at the Christmas meal

ORA children this year get bars of soap, sugar and rice for Christmas

ORA children this year get bars of soap, sugar and rice for Christmas


Arua Christmas trade fair selling 2nd hand toys

Arua Christmas trade fair selling 2nd hand toys

Kids got their faces painted at the Arua Christmas trade fair

Kids got their faces painted at the Arua Christmas trade fair

Posted by africraigs 09:24 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Happy Birthday to You-ganda!

54 years old as a nation and what really is independence anyway?

sunny 32 °C

Ugandan Independence Day 1962

Ugandan Independence Day 1962

Uganda as a nation is only 54 years old, celebrating its birthday on Independence day on October 9th*. The British administration handed over the running of the Ugandan people to the Ugandan government in 1962. 'Uhuru' (Swahili for freedom) here is a national holiday celebrated through marches, brass bands and choirs. Uhuru is one of the few days where some people will eat meat like chicken or goat.
Ugandan baby at the celebrations

Ugandan baby at the celebrations

Marches on the football field

Marches on the football field


We went round to our friends Richard and Eunice to eat beef, rice, cabbage and 'enyasa', the Lugbara staple made from cassava flour. (Lugbaras say that if you haven't eaten enyasa, you've haven't had anything to eat'). It was special to spend the day with some Ugandan friends.
Celebrating Ugandan Independence Day with Friends

Celebrating Ugandan Independence Day with Friends


Being Scottish, the concept of 'Independence' always makes me think deeply... and it is also a very current concept following the UK's Brexit vote.

One Ugandan friend called Stephen, one of the brightest people I know in Arua, told me he thinks that the British should still rule Uganda as it would be better off and more organised. When the British handed Uganda over, the country had a similar level of development as Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. Since, then, however, Uganda has struggled developmentally. Currently, it sits as one of the poorest countries globally. It's Human Development Index rank, which measures health, education and standard of living, is 163 compared to Singapore's rank of 11th, South Korea's 17th position and Malaysia at 62. As such, in Uganda, many aspects of life can be a slog.

However, although the African borders are mainly a European construct, very few would say Uganda or another African nation should not be independent, despite hardships. Independence is something that is celebrated and highly prized. However, the problems Uganda has faced since Independence does pose questions as to what 'freedom' should actually look like. Is national freedom but high infant mortality rate a good trade-off? In any case, what does independence look like in a globalised world, is it 'real'?

Additionally, with 52 tribal groups in Uganda bunched together as one nation, how do each of these tribal groups consider their self-expression? Historically, the dominant Buganda people have vied for more power. Today, Uganda is in the international news because armed guards of Rwenzururu kingdom were bloodily subdued recently. The King was supposedly agitating for the creation of a separate state straddling Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. What does independence as part of a bigger 'nation' mean for these smaller, historically independent people groups?

Ugandan Independence day makes me consider what real human freedom really means. One of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, is a poignant example of how despite his imprisonment, he remained a 'free' person. He stayed free in his mind despite his circumstances. In prison, he earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of London and became a leader for fellow- prisoners. That is pretty impressive.

Conversely, the physical freedom we prize so highly in the West can often trap us. When I worked for Bethany Christian Trust in the drug and alcohol rehab, one of the things I was told was that the UK is an addictive society. We are shopaholics, workaholics, sex addicts, drug addicts, food addicts, image addicts. This seems to be getting worse with the advent of social media. We are facing a 'loneliness epidemic', a growth in depression and social breakdown. We get trapped doing the very things that are supposed to give us freedom. It doesn't often seem that our 'freedom' makes us happy. Instead, much of what we do has the potential to imprison us.
Loneliness

Loneliness


Ugandan independence is important, but there are other issues which are needed for real freedom. In Uganda, many people may still be imprisoned in terrible material poverty whereas materialism might be the problem in the UK.

Real freedom comes from something much different. I feel I have experienced what Jesus said "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed". Addicts I worked with in the rehab I already mentioned, for example, have seen their lives completely changed because of their faith in God.

What I hope for, and work for in Uganda through Lifestitches or Life-skills training at YWAM is for people to know their worth, to reach their potential and to be liberated in their mind and heart whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

*This blog was meant to be posted much earlier!

Posted by africraigs 11:41 Archived in Uganda Comments (4)

Blessed are the poor...

semi-overcast

Since coming back from the UK at the end of July, I (David) have been much more involved with Lifestitches, a project that helps economically empower and provide practical skills to mothers who are unfortunate enough to be living with HIV. The Lifestitches project began in 2001 when a pediatric doctor from the States got involved supporting a group of HIV+ mothers who met under a mango tree at the Arua government hospital.
Mothers learn how to sew through the Lifestitches programme

Mothers learn how to sew through the Lifestitches programme


The ladies have many tragic stories. One of the Lifestitches’ ladies called Angela, is a 45-year old woman. Through the project, she hopes to set up as a tailor in her village, which she believes will allow her to earn a small income to help her with basic needs at home like buying food for some of her 10 children still living with her. She had 15, but 5 others died. 4 of the kids are in school, although she never made it to school herself, so at Lifestitches, she is also learning to write her name in the dirt under the shade of a mango tree.
Angela

Angela

Angela write her name under the mango tree

Angela write her name under the mango tree


Culturally, Lugbara girls can marry early and Angela was around 13 when she married her husband. Her husband is now dead after contracting HIV/AIDS, most likely picked up when he was in the capital, Kampala for long periods earning some money by doing manual labour. Although the husband and his relatives knew he was HIV+, it was never mentioned to Angela herself until after her husband died. She was angry at her husband, but could do nothing about it since he had already died having passed on his illness to her.

Thankfully, Lifestitches is providing some hope and support for Angela in the struggle of daily life, but sadly, this is only one of the many stories of unjust and unnecessary suffering surrounding us.

However, for Angela and so many others like her, the spiritual realm is a crucial component that gives them hope and thankfully so. Many of the mothers are Catholic and wear long beaded chains with a metal or plastic cross hanging on their chests.

In the African mindset, there is no discussion that there is a spiritual dimension to life. In Uganda, 85% of the population claim to be Christian and there are high proportions of believers all over sub-Saharan Africa. I have heard people say that “If God is not real, we have nothing”. Belief provides hope and an explanation for the incomprehensible.

I have only ever met one atheist in Africa…when I was buying a Bible in a bookstore in Kenya! The spiritual realm is very real to Africans and is intimately connected with everyday life. In the African Traditional Religion, which is still important within the culture, spirits inhabit nature and especially lakes and forests. Witchdoctors are still visited for healing. Curses cause sickness and death. Every death has a spiritual explanation and physical life whether it is the rainfall or an accident is connected with what happens in the spirit-world.

The Bible says that it is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to know God. Unlike in Africa, in the West, our ‘stuff’ gets in the way of our spirituality. It seems that because we have all that we need and so much more, we don’t think we need God or anyone else, for that matter. We can solve all our problems using our own ingenuity, creativity and intelligence. We don’t need to believe in a higher power having an influence and impacting our lives in the here and now.

One danger in this (non)-belief comes across in pride and all the too common judgemental attitude we have in the West towards Africa which suggests that Africans must be less developed (an attitude which I am not immune too as well). The narrative is that as more people are educated and learn modern ways, religion will become less important. 'Religion is the opiate for the (uneducated) masses'. However, despite the 'advanced' state of the 'developed' nations, there is increasing moral confusion in the West, the increasing problems of depression and loneliness, environmental problems, addictions, relationship breakdown and social problems.
FCAA89B9CF260B70B3B39E1C3338FDD2.jpg
Despite her simplicity, or because of it, unschooled Angela challenges our educated beliefs. She challenges us through her dignified suffering despite the incredible difficulties of her life. She challenges me specifically because despite all my ‘stuff’ to help me enjoy life and be comfortable, she has learned secrets to dealing with difficulties that I will never comprehend. She can cope with whatever life throws at her. People get on with their lives, continuing with smiles on their faces and the infectious ability to laugh easily. In the West, where we may need counseling because our pet dog has died, Africans have a depth and strength that I can only dream of having. If that is what Angela's spiritual nature gives her, we have a lot of catching up to do in the West.

For a daily update on what we are up to, follow us @africraigs
E-mail us: africraigs@gmail.com

Posted by africraigs 02:55 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

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