A Travellerspoint blog

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)

'Do you speak African..?'

and other specialities of Home Assignment...

rain 13 °C

We've been on our UK Home Assignment for a good 2 months now, (and yes, it's been a pretty good 2 months, thanks). After the excitement of my sister's Reading Wedding, sleeping in various beds, numerous visits, hunting for items like socks and hair mousse as we pack and re-pack… we are very pleased to settle into a lovely flat (way too lovely, and dangerously cream-coloured for toddlers!). It is a flat in a nice part of Edinburgh, very kindly sorted out by someone in the church...

and life almost feels normal.

Almost.

But then there are a few things which still make us very excited (or just put us in a good mood)... like...

1. for us all to be anonymous, not people to be stared at, not a 'mzungu' or a 'mundu', but instead to blend in and feel like a fairly normal, frizzy- haired family
2. not needing to use complex maths skills to convert pounds or dollars into thousands and millions of Ugandan shillings
3. drinkable tap water and instant hot water!
4. the NHS, NHS 24, check ups, tests and caring Doctors
5. home-baking (there is an obvious downside to this), fresh milk and reasonably priced, non- stale cereal.. the kids could glug milk till the cows come home…and keep asking for more bowls of cereal.
6. thought- provoking, good, meaty sermons... WHILST the kids are being safely entertained in creche or Sunday school
7. the choice and variety in supermarkets
8. TV... it has been a treat to enjoy Downton Abbey, Bake-Off, Match of the Day and CBeebies
9. and of course it sounds clichéd, but The People... it has been so encouraging to see childhood friends, old school friends, friends from summer mission trips, church friends, work friends, uni pals, brother, sisters, and for our kids to meet and play with their cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents. My parents have lost several of their good friends this year, and it has been a sobering reminder of the fragility of life, and the need to cherish special times together and take lots of photos, and (most of the time!) it feels like a privilege to have these few intense people-packed months...

However, to give a more balanced picture of Home Assignment, it's not been all cheesy photos and tray bakes…

1. Kids and long car journeys are not a particularly fun combination
2. Kids and lack of routine= another lousy combo. I especially think it must be very confusing for little Asher who has no idea where he being taken to or who he is visiting. He sometimes seems to think he is in Arua...
3. Being in a hospitable culture where cake and/ or biscuits are automatically brought out with a hot drink is tempting at the best of times... which can be problematic when we are visiting people...a lot…we might need to check the extra baggage allowance on the return flights (!) and prepare ourselves for the blunt Ugandan response 'eh, you are now very fat'.. We have missed foods like 'Tunnocks teacakes' or caramel shortcakes so it’s time to catch up! :-)
4. Our nearly-5 year old is missing her friends in Uganda, and if we properly lived in the UK, would have just started school, which I'm sure she would be enjoying and seems ready for… so attempting to home school in this short season is not the easiest role
5. Trying to explain such a different life back in Uganda to people can be difficult, especially when asked questions like 'do you speak African?'..

6. Although it is lovely to be back in the UK for this visit, we are definitely not settled here, with the normal rhythms and roots of work, school etc, and it can sometime feel like living in a parallel life to ‘normal’ people.

That all said... I'm sure in a few years time when we have moved back to the UK permanently, and will have the alarm clock, school run, swimming lessons and juggling childcare with work, there will be fleeting moments when we look longingly back on this season of time; the season when water and milk are still a novelty, and where we are relatively free to meet up with friends at the drop of a hat… :-)

Zoe and Jamie's Reading Wedding...

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DSC_0027

burnell clan

burnell clan

running wild at the Reading wedding

running wild at the Reading wedding

wedding poppets

wedding poppets

Catching up with friends

Asher happily surrounded by sweet girls

Asher happily surrounded by sweet girls

3 yearly catch up with old friends

3 yearly catch up with old friends

beach and rockpools

beach and rockpools

time with the great grandies

time with the great grandies

childhood friend

childhood friend

mission trip friends

mission trip friends


Enjoying Edinburgh and different seasons..

enjoying autumn

enjoying autumn

Amelie's first summit! Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Amelie's first summit! Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

Posted by africraigs 12:38 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

treading water & feeling a bit out of the loop..

(First week back in the UK)

overcast 14 °C

We’ve been back in the UK a week

.. and already ticked- off some of the essentials; deep, hot bubble baths, play parks, my sister’s hen do, bridesmaid dress fittings, cheese, wine and nice brown bread consumed. David says that coming back on 'Home Assignment' is like getting a vehicle MOT since there is the dentist to visit, a de-brief planned, doctor's appointments and even physio to get done.

Beautiful Turkey

Beautiful Turkey


Turkey

Turkey

Last week on our delightful (!) Turkish holiday en-route to the UK, Amelie learned to swim. Turkey was a great stop-over for a rest after the intensity of Uganda but before the appointments and catch-ups of the UK. There was a pool next to the apartment, which meant we were in the water every day, and one day she saw a 3-year old jump in and swim, that was it… Armbands were off and replaced with a feisty determination. It was a bit daunting to watch as she frantically doggy-paddled through the water, her face mainly under the water, and the visible relief as the felt the security of the wall.

Proud swimmer

Proud swimmer

Coming back to the UK this time round has felt a bit like Amelie’s swimming- I feel and probably look like I’m flailing and drowning, but hope and trust I am slowly getting to the other side.

It’s not that anything is massively different or difficult than what we remember, but it is the seemingly inconsequential things that I need to consciously remember again; like how the ticketing queuing system works to buy kids shoes in a crowded shoe shop just before term starts, or how to drive in a polite British manner, observing the rules not the assertive Ugandan way, not needing to greet people, nor say ‘sorry sorry sorry’ if someone drops something, and realising that I urgently need to get a phone, as phonebooths seem to be a dying a death...

So many things seem to jump out everywhere that just seem so different to the 'normal' we’re now used to…

  • Charity shops- after several months of clearing out and de-cluttering our home in Uganda, and even the tattiest/ broken item being taken and used by someone, poor David was in for an embarrassing shock when he and the kids struggled to the local OXFAM with bags of stuff from me and my almost-married sister.. an old lady grumbled that they didn’t need or want anymore products and he should take it elsewhere. A more sympathetic lady saw David’s face, the over-laden buggy and the whining munchkins and took the bags from him. To David’s mortification, he heard the less sympathetic lady mutter ‘I wish you’d told that man to take his bags, it’s a load of junk, I’ll have to give my hands a good wash now…’
  • Garden Centres- places where plants and tools are for beauty and enjoyment rather than just for survival.
  • Fathers attentively playing and tending to their babies.
  • Middle- aged couples holding hands.
  • Having gluten free’ snack options for kids in the church crèche.
  • Having child protection policies, ratios, training for volunteers, lesson plans even for Sunday school teachers.
  • Not needing mozzie nets nor worrying about a life -threatening illness when the kids have a slight fever. Having the peace of mind of highly trained medical personnel close at hand in case anything goes wrong anyway...
  • Drinking from the tap!
  • Trying to get rid of small change rather than trying to accumulate it.

We are staying with my parents for the next few weeks and we were amazed at the polite letter from the council warning they would be doing roadworks for the next few days and were very sorry for the disruption. After spending the last year with the dirt roads all over Arua being dug up by huge Chinese trucks, mounds of mud being dumped on the road and diggers and rollers steaming towards me with no warnings, it all feels quite neat and organized.

It is good to be back in the UK, and of course so special to reconnect with family and friends over the next few weeks and to be here for all the
‘dynamics’ of the wedding prep, but it is also much more overwhelming than I expected, and so if you see me making awkward Uganglish cultural blunders and looking like I’m drowning, I probably feel like I am, so please help me out xxx

sisters

sisters


Most of my family together again

Most of my family together again


bake-off Hen soon to be MRS

bake-off Hen soon to be MRS

Posted by africraigs 23:47 Archived in England Tagged home family transition confusion support_network Comments (7)

'Meat' the wife

Negotiating the bride price

semi-overcast 27 °C

It’s a Saturday and it is a momentous day for Richard. In his words, he is going to buy a wife…!

I have turned up in the car at Richard’s village home to pick up a group of men who are either family or close friends chosen by Richard to represent him in negotiations over the bride price for Eunice, Richard’s girlfriend. As the only non-Ugandan, I help make the team ‘international’ and feel particularly privileged to have the opportunity for an insight into Lughbara cultural practice.

The group meet for some pre-negotiating preparations in a head-teacher’s small living room near where Idi Amin’s family still owns land. Eunice’s clan from their village have sent through their itemised ‘price list’ which includes numbers of cows, goats, chickens, welly boots and blankets. The ‘reserve price’ of each item is discussed which is the maximum price that Richard’s group feel willing to reach. It is hoped that negotiations between the 2 clans will bring agreement on the final bride price or dowry. Sitting there in the dark living room, it felt to me like a football team discussing tactics on how to beat the other team.
The team of negotiators

The team of negotiators


Soon, we are on our way to remote Terego.

Since we are in Africa, 10 guys, including me, are squashed into the car, and I am thankful that it is a strong 4wd vehicle used to difficult conditions but I am hoping no police stop us en route.

The road out of Arua passes the airstrip and starts of smoothly on tarmac that the Chinese have recently laid. Quickly, though, we hit the dirt road and as we head towards Eunice’s village, the road progressively gets smaller and rougher until we are driving on footpaths through fields. As we get closer, a tall old lady welcomes the car singing and smiling, her teeth showing as she enthusiastically shakes a gourd like maracas.

Outside a mud hut smeared dark with cow dung and next to 2 small tamarind trees, Eunice’s clans people are waiting and have erected a temporary structure from tarpaulin under which the 2 groups sit facing each other shaded from the hot sun.
Mud hud with blue solar radio

Mud hud with blue solar radio

The 2 clans 'face off'

The 2 clans 'face off'

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Although the village welcomes Richard and his team, I sense a tension and certain weightiness in the occasion. Richard looks nervous in his dark suit and white shirt at the back. He really wants to marry but wants to do it properly according to the preferred customs of Eunice’s clans people. In today’s world, things are changing as more young people begin to live together, have children and skip the longer and more expensive process of negotiating bridal price. This is a risk, however, since the women’s family will still lay claim to any children subsequently produced and take them away from the father. If the wife dies, her clans people may even take up arms to fight if the man has not paid anything for her dowry.

This ‘traditional’ wedding process is expensive, but separate from the church wedding that seems to copy the ‘Western’ model. Most people never have a church wedding because the cost is insurmountable.

Despite growing up as a missionary kid in the very heart of Africa, African culture and customs have always been a mystery to me. I have desired to better understand the African mindset and behaviour and I am sure this is partly behind the reason for my return to Africa as an adult. However, sitting there in the middle of discussions for acquiring a bride for Richard, I feel very foreign, an outsider, something I often feel living in Uganda. Here, customs and behaviour are so very different to what takes place in the West.

As the 2 groups debate the number of cows, goats, chickens and other items that will be eventually handed over by Richard for Eunice, I realise how much value Africans place in these type of group discussions. There is a gamesmanship in haggling and negotiating, like playing an oral game of chess. Part of the expectation seems to be trying to ‘trick’ or outwit the opponent and getting as much benefit as possible. People seem to enjoy debate and listening to one another. Other villagers watch the proceedings from the sidelines, it seems to be entertainment for them, like watching live theatre. The debate will take as long as is necessary for both groups come to an agreement. Sometimes, negotiations will take longer than a day and a group will need to stay the night. Sometimes, negotiations will fail altogether.
Other villagers enjoy the discussions

Other villagers enjoy the discussions

A skinny dog looks like he has been drinking

A skinny dog looks like he has been drinking


During this afternoon, though, discussions seem to be proceeding quite quickly, so it doesn’t seem like we will get home before dark. On a few occasions, Richard’s team (my team) disappear behind some huts for consultation together deciding how to respond to Eunice’s family’s suggestions.
Tactics being discussed

Tactics being discussed

Checking the price list

Checking the price list


After almost 6 hours of debate, both groups of people seem to come to a conclusion and seem satisfied. Instead of 12 cows, Richard will need to find 8. The number of goats has been reduced to 20. 26 chickens have come down to 12. In total, Eunice will ‘cost’ Richard about £2300, almost half of the previous figure. Richard’s people are happy as they have reduced the debt that Richard will feel towards his future wife’s family, however they have done it in a way which shows the family respect. Showing respect seems to be the reason for this exchange. Still, £2300 is a huge sum for Richard (though he is very lucky and works with an international NGO, earning just under £200 per month). For others, such a debt to the woman’s family can even be carried forward to Richard’s children when Richard passes away one day.

Although negotiating for a wife is often seen very negatively back in the West, I could see real benefits of 2 families meeting together to come to an arrangement. In our highly individualistic culture, joint decision-making is something that we have lost, or we have left to the MPs in Parliament. In this culture, once a decision is reached between the 2 families, there is a strong bond and understanding that seems to occur.

In the Lughbara language, a girl is called ‘zamva’, which translates as ‘meat-child’ as she represents value to her family as she can be bartered to her husband for food and money. The more educated the girl, the more value she would have, but on the flip-side, if the girl is sickly with HIV, as happens, she will suddenly offer little value to the family and be a big disappointment.

In this very hierarchical culture where men are higher up the social ladder and women are often treated very poorly and have far less opportunities, it is very easy to understand why Western countries want to change such customs and cultures. Western countries feel they have the moral authority to influence and change developing nations and do so by giving or withholding aid, but the Christian beliefs that once guided the values of the Western nations are now being completely eroded. In the West, who can say what is right and wrong anymore as there is no one and nothing to guide decisions? As a Christian, I believe that the Bible says a lot about women and their value in God’s eyes. It tells us that male and females are equal in the eyes of God and for there to be love and respect between husbands and wives. It can help guide a community like the Lughbara people to consider whether the practice of ‘buying’ women is a good one or whether some changes are needed. In my own opinion, although there is a lot of good about 2 families coming together to discuss and support a couple joining together, there are also huge pitfalls in thinking about a woman as an object to be negotiated over, and ultimately ‘bought’.

In the end, though, I can only offer my support and encouragement to my great friends Richard and Eunice as they begin their journey as a couple. Together, they will have to figure out how to negotiate the cultural maze of community expectations and behaviours. I hope they also think for themselves what the Bible says and how God expects them to behave within their cultural contexts. It won’t be easy for them to forge a different path.
Richard and Eunice were around only briefly

Richard and Eunice were around only briefly

Richard and Eunice share a laugh

Richard and Eunice share a laugh

Posted by africraigs 12:02 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

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