A Travellerspoint blog

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.
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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)

Arran James Carlton Craig!

Our newest family addition!

overcast 14 °C

It's been so long since blogging, I feel a bit out of the loop, combined with any inspiration and creativity which seem to have temporarily gone on holiday (along with patience)..
I'm writing this in the newborn fog, where night time hours blur, and daytime hours seem in a weird slow motion, and the to-do list changes from 10 things to get done to 2, which give immense pride if completed...

We are delighted that Arran James Carlton Craig made his arrival a week early at 2.33am on 12th May, in a birth centre in Edinburgh, Scotland, weighing in at 7.7lbs or 3.3 kgs. Without going into the gory details, it was the most straight-forward of the three deliveries, and the dimly lit, calm birthing suite (equipped with birthing pool, en-suite and flatscreen TV) and matter-of- fact, sensible midwife, was a far cry from 5 years ago in Kenya giving birth to Amelie!
Amelie and Kenyan midwife

Amelie and Kenyan midwife

I'll take the liberty of using my post-birth hormones as a scapegoat, but being back in the newborn zone has made me feel quite nostalgic, as memories come flooding back about Amelie and Asher's births, one in Kenya, one in England..

Amelie

Amelie


Asher

Asher


Meeting Asher in Reading 2013

Meeting Asher in Reading 2013


Arran

Arran

and the reminder of how much the UK offers in terms of healthcare, freebies, aftercare, and what a privilege it was to extend our Home Assignment time in order to benefit from the healthcare system, and a wonderful support network here. I think about our Ugandan friends who are expecting babies at the moment, and feel a wave of fear thinking about their upcoming delivery and recovery and the need to pray for them, when the facts and figures of child and mother mortality are shocking and real, and are the names of people we've known.

We feel quite indebted to friends and family who have shown such kindness and generosity, and made the 'early blur' so much clearer than it could have been.

The other thing I've felt nostalgic about recently is thinking about my big brother Ian, whose anniversary of his tragic climbing accident was just a couple of days after Arran's birth. When you look at a scrunched up tiny newborn who literally just eats, sleeps and poops, it is hard to imagine and remember that they are a bundle of potential, to change their world, to make a difference, to make good/ bad choices, to influence others and stand up for their convictions. Ian was a remarkable person who never felt the need to comply with what society expected of him, and in his quirky, sometimes awkward manner, shone brightly wherever he was with his balding head and big smile and awful dress sense.

2 baldies! Ian, David and a friend Mike back in 2006..

2 baldies! Ian, David and a friend Mike back in 2006..

Arran is named after the Scottish island of Arran; meaning 'strong'

James is David's great-grandfather's name and has strong family connections

and Carlton is David's Jamaican Grandpa's name- he turns 91 today, and has been another inspiring person who has gone against the odds throughout his life, coming from a background of slavery to make his mark on the Scottish education system as the first black headteacher, and it
seems fitting that Carlton means Freedom

Great Grandpa Carlton amidst the commotion

Great Grandpa Carlton amidst the commotion

So, for scrunched up, little sleeping Arran, our hope and prayer is that he will remain strong to his convictions, and find freedom in following God's ways, and stand up for those who are oppressed, fight for their freedom, and make his mark on the world.

Amelie and Asher are thrilled with their 'live dolly', and the novelty of Arran's slightly boring schedule hasn't worn off yet..

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I am looking forward to all being settled in our home in Uganda in a couple of months time, but the thought of all the goodbyes, especially after this extra time to reconnect with people, is a hard and emotional thought, and the thought of packing and stocking up for the next couple of years in Uganda is something my mind can barely comprehend in the season of fog..

so for now, I'll take today as it comes, and try to get through the embarrassingly short 'to-do' list...

Lots of love, xxxxx

First family pic as 5 in the Birthing Suite!

First family pic as 5 in the Birthing Suite!

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Posted by africraigs 02:04 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

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