visiting lobanya

this past saturday, (which was now last saturday not the one we just had) in what can only be described as  true ‘green-hipster’ fashion, i took a community-group day-trip to a local garden. (i know, right?) however this experience was Truly Ugandan in many ways: housemate and i did not know if we were going or not until we were in the vehicle–packed like sardines in the back of a land-cruiser–we had no idea geographically where we were going–never having been to lobanya neither of us knew if we were headed north, east, south or west–and we had no idea when we would be home (we were even prepared to sleep in the bush if we got stuck).

as is my habit, i did not fret about these things, but sat where i was told to sit and literally went along for the ride–waiting to be told what to do next.

rather than tell you all about it, i shall show you a bit about my fantastic day-trip to the gardens of mama (rose), mercy, mary’s gardens and the up-and-coming village of lobanya. lets go!

"local transport"

along the way we found these  cows pulling this grainy along the road. even the karimajong in the car said they’d never seen this sort of “local transport.”

bishop james

bishop james taking photos out of the front of the vehicle.


our driver, israel. who did an awesome  job  driving .

sola bishop

we got very stuck in the mud and bishop was the only one with enough…optimism to try to push the car. we still didn’t budge. this issue was semi-rectified as we all climbed out and left israel to struggle with the car while we walked the rest of the way to the garden.


the very stuck vehicle and passers-by considering helping , helped for a moment, then continued on along their way.


mama rose’s onion garden!


mama mercy with some of mama rose’s onion leaves. apparently pruning the leaves away from the onion makes the onions bigger. it also makes for a tasty addition to whatever one is having for lunch. also, mercy is awesome.

bishop and mama rose discussing our plans for the afternoon. (these consisted of a walk through jean-mark’s garden, a “tour” of the village (basically just wandering through) and then lunch back at mama’s place before heading back to kotido.

at mercy and mark’s place we found the sourghum (left) and green grams (right) drying on different siesel sacks. i found the color contrast stunning.

perhaps the longest thorn i have ever seen, even more beautiful against a beautiful karamoja afternoon sky.

a woman, whose name i never learned, finishing up the preperations for our lunch. she was mingling (mixing) the atap (a sticky bread made of sorghum flour sometimes mixed with cassava flour.) we ate it with beans, greens (pasted bor) and tasty chicken.

fresh. honey. so. amazingly. delicious.
i chewed on this honeycomb until only the wax was left.
housemate and i learned that there is a bird in the bush that will practically tell you to follow it through the bush–singing and flapping at you until you follow it. it leaps from branch to branch, tree to tree leading you to one of the following things: 1) an enemy or 2) fresh honey. so, when following this bird one is taking a leap of faith and generally moves with caution. but if you tasted this honey, you’d know why people take the risk!


a bouquet of wild flowers i collected and arranged. its dried now and waiting to be pressed in a book of my choosing. a little wilted, but full of happy memories of a truly lovely afternoon.


a view of mama’s lobanya home from the open-air hut we lounged in, ate lunch in, and i may have taken a small nap in. i hope to camp here sometime next month!

this last shot of this tour was taken by housemate, this pumpkin is from mercy’s garden (we also had one from mama’s garden),  i’m eating maize from someone’s garden roasted over someone’s fire (one of my favorite snacks…i was eating it even though i  was totally full-to-the-brim on atap, posho, beans, pasted bor and chicken). we were packed back in the vehicle ready to head back to kotido!

and epic-tale: from lodwar to kotido

prepare thyself with mead and roasted meat, for below thou shalt find a truly epic tale of journey and patience/woe…

this tale should begin with me telling you that the journey from kotido to lodwar on friday took maybe about 6 hours. we actually drove out of kotido town around 7:30 a.m. and arrived in lodwar after a short stop in moroto around 2:00 in the afternoon.

i’ve told you that to tell you this:

the journey from lodwar back to kotido on monday technically started (as in we were in a vehicle and literally moving) around 2:00 p.m. and i walked in the door of my house close to midnight. let me help you with that math: 10 hours. however, if you take into account that we were up and ready to go by around 8:30 and sat around waiting in a place that wasn’t the most comfortable of waiting spaces, this means one can actually add 5.5 hours more to this journey time. making it 15.5 hours. 15.5 hours of sitting and waiting, eating, sitting and waiting, being hot and sweaty, not knowing whats going on etc etc etc.

and from the beginning:

the morning began with me pouring myself out of bed directly onto the cool white tile floor of our hotel in lodwar. the room was hot. even with the ceiling fan cranked at full blast all night long i woke up wet with sweat and kind of wishing i was dead. the direct move from the bed, out from under the mosquito net [yes, they do keep heat inside the net, if you didn’t know, only making the heat worse] and flopping onto the floor was a survival move. next to the bed, on the floor i was directly underneath said ceiling fan where i could actually begin to benefit from the moving air. that and the miracle of tiles being almost perpetually cool i think merits a patron saint of tiles.

whilst laying on the floor i remembered that i had woken up in the night unable to find my nose-ring. something about being SO HOT all night long has made me flop around enough in bed (sorry, housemate!) enough that my nose-ring fell out both of our last nights in lodwar. the first night it was just on my pillow, no problem. but this night i was searching for it semi-frantically in bed with my phone flashlight (again, sorry housemate!) because i thought that after almost 2.5 years of having it pierced it would close up overnight. i’m happy to report, it will not.

to make a long story about a nose-ring shorter, i found it while i was laying on the floor praying for snow to fall directly onto my body. it was about 5 feet away from my side of the bed, on the miracle tiles. mystery of mysteries. but at least it was found!

as i began to return to semi-consciousness/sanity i searched for my bottle of water to rehydrate from yet another freakishly hot night. its amazing how one feels much more like a human being after re-hydrating. everyone else was still asleep so i held off on furthering the cooling off process by standing under the cold shower. (see, community really is important to me!) to fill the time and not think about how hot and potentially stressful the day was going to be (oh, i should mention that we were out of kenya shillings at this point…) i decided to journal about the previous two days of lazing at lake turkana, sleeping under the stars on the beach, eating really tasty fish, getting a suntan, swimming and SEEING FLAMINGOS IN THE DESERT [pictures to follow in a different post].

once everyone was awake and slightly recovered from the heat, we all cleaned up and prepared for our day of travel back home.

other key facts to know before we continue:

* as previously mentioned, we’re out of kenya shillings and are mildly illegally in kenya (visas are for the weak.)
* the 4-wheel drive and diff-lock are “finished” on my land cruiser [that is to say: they work about as well as my ability to
suffer-fools…]
* did i mention that we’re out of money?
* we are relying on the kindness of a local NGO in turkana to help us out * to leave turkana (this region of kenya) and return to karamoja (this region of uganda) we have to climb a fairly steep escarpment/mountain. * things tend to not move at a quick pace in east africa. unless of course you don’t want them too, then its break-neck speeds. (not unlike the driver who helped us out. madre. it was fast.)

so, there we were. moneyless (okay i had plenty of uganda shillings in my purse but that’s kind of like trying to buy bread in zimbabwe with zimbabwean money (OKAY not that bad, but still.)) and not in control of much going on around us. the local NGO that was helping us out had to come from kakuma that morning so they instructed us to go to lodwar lodge and have breakfast–they would loan us kenya shillings until we could pay them back. (bless them.)

caveat: the fact that LOKADO was helping us out of the goodness of their peace-building hearts and the jesus’ love that apparently hides out in my heart is what probably kept me from imploding yesterday on this journey. its amazing what learning to accept charity (as in christ-like-love not hand-outs) and the knowledge of the power of the holy spirit (she’s crazy) can do in one’s life. seriously. there were several moments when i wanted to interject MY thoughts and MY ideas into the mix but it wasn’t appropriate culturally and, more
importantly, i know nothing about the turkana desert or the way that things in turkana and lodwar work. i kept my mouth shut and practiced accepting help. end caveat.

we went to the lodwar lodge, as directed by our friends from LOKADO and ordered a breakfast of an orange slice, a banana,
super-greasy-fried-omelet, 2 mandazi (fried bready doughnut-type triangle breads. also very greasy), a box of juice and chai (tea but not chai tea). thinking this would probably be the only meal of the day i actually ate one of the room-temperature greasy mandazi and had 2 of the juice boxes (annali didn’t want hers. freak).

the information we had was that the fellows from LOKADO would be arriving from kakuma around 10 (nope more like 11) and that then we would fuel up their vehicle (this is us borrowing money from them) and they would deliver us to kotido by evening. my vehicle was going to stay behind in lodwar to have the 4×4 and diff lock fixed and the driver we hired from KOPEIN in kotido would bring it back fixed.

then housemate received a phone call from her supervisor, the head of KOPEIN, saying that The Minister (of what, we never found out) was also coming to help us out. confusion abounded.

a representative of LOKADO arrived with his youngish (between 9 and 11) nephew. they settled in at our table, ordered cokes and waited with us. annali taught us an interesting time-wasting game involving bottle-caps that was something like a cross between table-rubgy (if ever there was such a thing) and paper-football. this passed the time until The Minister appeared with an entourage of many.

this finally gave housemate and i the opportunity to voice that, if at all possible, we’d really love to get gertie the land-cruiser back to uganda with us so that we can a) get it fixed here where we have local currency and b) we actually need it thursday for a journey to kampala. The Minister, his entourage and the people of LOKADO (i think there were 4 of them. hard to differentiate between them and the entourage) said “ah, yes! of course!”

as we three americans are just “girls” (regardless of the fact that i’m 28, i will always be a “girl” and not woman here until i’m married. OR even until that unlikely day that i produce a child out of my very own womb. please don’t hold your breath on that one.) the Big Men excused themselves from the table and away from our tender ears to discuss our future.

we were left watching some track & field events being held in russia. this actually turned out to be a great mode of distraction, the kenyan runners in the distance events were winning everything and we got to cheer along with the filling restaurant/pub. i was fascinated to the responses of east-africans to anyone who, to them, looked african but turned out to be from the united states, france and the UK (these are the ones i remember). they were SHOCKED that someone “that black” would not be african. “they must have immigrated recently.” was one statement we heard. none of we three americans had the energy to delve into the messy history of slave-trade (which i’m SURE they know about) or try to explain that yes, people of every colour live in every part of the world. no, really. they do.)

The Minister returned to tell us the decision that was made on our behalf: the LOKADO vehicle would carry us over the escarpment into uganda with my land cruiser following behind. the LOKADO vehicle was there to tow my car if it got stuck without having the 4×4
functioning. we found out that he had become involved in the mess because the head of KOPEIN had phoned him–so he and LOKADO were splitting the loan that we now were using.

we also learned in this setting that we were not going to be leaving until after lunch, so we should order lunch. silly me, i tried to protest saying that i wasn’t going to be hungry for lunch because i ate too much at breakfast, and that it was too hot for me to want to eat rice. and, as i should have expected, i was scoffed at and told, “but you never know what is going to happen! you should always eat if you have a chance, regardless of hunger!” i kept my “but its really unhealthy! i’ll just want to vomit! I DON’T WANT TO!” comments to myself and daydreamed about a beautiful leafy salad that i knew i wasn’t going to get.

i asked for cabbage “salads”, usually this consists of raw (or mostly raw because people here think i’m insane for eating totally raw foods) cabbage, onion and tomato with olive oil/vinegar/sugar mixture poured on top. keep this mind when lunch actually arrives…

we sat watching the track & field events for a few hours and randomly cheered for random countries in the high jump, pole vaulting, woman’s javelin throw, 400m hurdles and triple jump. when my anxiousness was about to drive me nuts our driver came and said that we should go to the hotel to pick our things.

thinking this meant we were going to walk the 1/4 of a mile and put them in my vehicle already at the hotel housemate and i said we’d go, only to find out that a vehicle was waiting to drive us literally around the corner (like the distance between natalie’s house and the school when the prime minister comes to tell her he’s in love with her in “love actually.”) no, really. it took longer for me to climb into and out of the vehicle than it did to reach the hotel. i digress.

we picked our things from the room, and were walking toward my vehicle when the driver corrected us to put it in the LOKADO vehicle as that is where we’d be riding. this was news to us, but as housemate and i have been here for three years we were (mostly) un-phased by this seemingly sudden change in plan. after loading up we were driven the millimeter back to the other lodge, squeezed out of the back of the LOKADO land cruiser and returned to our just-opened sodas and waters, waiting for lunch.

[an aside: kenya is awesome in that they have 500ml stoney. stoney is the most amazing ginger beer everontheplanet. uganda only has 250ml bottles of stoney. it was EPIC WIN to have many 500ml stoney experiences in kenya.]

lunch arrived. remember how i asked for “salads”? what arrived were four heaping piles of rice. at first i thought this was it and was resigning myself to eating plain rice (no problem)when a family-sized platter of chicken and sauce arrived on our table. we tried. really hard. i ate all of my rice, taking solace in the fact that ginger is really good for tummy problems (another reason that stoney is so awesome= natural magical properties of ginger).

we were then, FINALLY given the ‘nod’ to load into the LOKADO vehicle.

if you are a consistent reader of this blog you may remember a while ago when i posted about taking the bus from kampala to kotido, and that i do not allow myself to get excited about actually being “on the way” until totally clear of all kampala suburbs. this is the same for riding in someone’s vehicle. you aren’t really “on the way” until you’ve left town. this proved to be true in this journey as we had been moving for about a minute when we stopped for 10. then moving for another 30 when we stopped for about 10 minutes. then moving for about a minute before stopping for 10 more minutes. AWESOME.

at these stops these were the things that were happening: “putting pressure for the tyres”, buying milk (milk? really? on a hot day? no, thank you, i’ll stick with water.) and buying mira/chat. (mira/chat is a plant. chewing the leaves of this plant acts as a natural stimulant. it is quite popular for drivers and others who have to do things for long periods of time into the night to chew to keep themselves awake. its also just a popular and totally legal stimulant that, in my experience, falls somewhere between major caffeine rush and what i assume being on speed would feel like. i HATE it. its bitter and makes my body feel out of control. so imagine my displeasure that the man driving the vehicle i was riding in was chewing it like it was his job.)

finally finally finally we were on our way and outside of the moderate-sized-village of lodwar.the driver and our friend zamzam (friend, cultural and language interpreter, mother of 2 beautiful kids, colleague of housemate, joke-ster with an awesome laugh, and all around awesome lady) almost immediately began chewing mira. there was a marked difference between the speed of driving before and post mira chewing. here are two haiku poems to describe the differences in pace:

a haiku for pre-mira chewing:

finally we go
we are driving really fast
driver chews mira

2 haiku for post-mira chewing:

ohmygod much speed!
sliding on sand, bumpy bumps!
pretend its not real

play music real loud
imagine its a roller coaster
this is really quite fast!

as alluded to in the above haiku, my defense mechanism for things that are mildly terrifying (yet totally normal at this juncture in my life) is to put on some delightful music and focus on that and the scenery (but not the rate at which it is speeding past).

[what i can remember of the play list for this journey: MGMT (oracular spectacular & congratulations), MSTRKRFT (the looks), nathan (jimson weed), ani di franco (not a pretty girl, red letter year), the avette brothers (all albums), iron and wine (kiss each other clean, woman king ep), fleet foxes (helplessness blues), old crow medicine show (big iron world, o.c.m.s.) and hem (rabbit songs)]

driving through turkana made me realize that i really love the semi-arid and outright arid landscape. the desert is just so beautiful. i love the scrub trees, and the few brave tall trees. in turkana there are the most massive ant-hills i’ve ever seen…camels! grazing and roaming, the turkana people who are the kind of tall and lean that living in this harsh landscape lends itself to–women’s necks adorned with beads they wear for their entire lives and the lanky men with their stool/head rests and walking sticks, little shepherd boys running around in packs tending their sheep and goats wearing less than their herds–the vibrant desert birds soaring and flitting around, tiny little deer bounding across the road. the patterns the wind makes in the sand, the harshness of the sun. all so beautiful. so welcoming yet skeptical of outsiders…

the LOKADO vehicle we were riding in went out ahead of my vehicle–we would stop after completing a task that may have “caught” my vehicle without 4×4. the driver would park the car in whatever shade he could find and we would all crane our necks around to watch for
gertie-the-green-land-cruiser to come barreling around a corner. (we couldn’t just phone someone else in that vehicle because, of course, there was no network coverage in the turkana bush.) once we would see gertie (who NEVER got stuck, thank you) the LOKADO driver would gun our vehicle as to stay ahead. invariably this meant that we were smooshed against the back of our seat and would all make “HUMPH” noises as the air was semi-knocked out of us.

we stopped like this after each dry(ish) river bed we crossed (there were 4 or 5 of these) and at the last village before leaving kenya. then the real fun began in climbing up the escarpment into uganda. the LOKADO vehicle was in great shape and made the climb with no problem. there was on rather steep spot where the 3 people from LOKADO riding in my vehicle jumped into the back of the LOKADO truck to make gertie lighter.

when i looked back at M (the driver we’d hired) before this portion of the escarpment he had a cigarette in his mouth and a crazy look in his eye. we climbed this portion of the escarpment in the LOKADO car and waited for him to come up and around the corner. while we were waiting those in the back and jumped out to try and see if he’d been “caught” or if he was really coming. all of a sudden there was gertie, BLAZING around the corner kicking up dust and not slowing down. there was a lot of yelling as the men jumped back into the truck leaving while the driver also jumped back in, gunning it so as to not be hit head on by gertie. this was done with enough haste that the back door was left open. we were all yelling and laughing and cheering that M had made it up pretty much under his own power.

upon reaching a more level place the community of men who had joined M in my car (we assume mostly for moral support as he was quite nervous) jumped out and rejoined him–when i caught a glance of him then he had a stick of mira in his mouth and was grinning. i couldn’t tell if it was an ‘ohmygod i just DID that’ grin or a ‘ohmygod its not over yet’ grimace-grin. there’s just no way of knowing.

we were so. very. close. to reaching moroto, perhaps about 30 minutes or less outside of moroto town) when we reached what was once a culvert-bridge. these are pretty common around here: in places where the road is prone to seasonal flooding a concrete culvert will be placed and then buried in soil creating a “bridge” of sorts over these sometimes-flooded areas. this particular culvert-bridge had a really huge culvert in the ground (maybe about 5 feet tall and about 15-20 feet across) and was very fine when we passed over it 5 days earlier.

but after some rain at some point in these 5 days a huge rift had been created all the way from one side to the other. the rift was maybe 4 feet wide (a real guess as i never got out of the car to inspect it). the rushing of the water must have been a flash-flood as there was no standing water anywhere around. people had clearly been passing to the east of this bridge in the was-river-bed. however, just before we got there a medium sized lorrie got totally stuck. leaving us stranded on the other side.

the two drivers got out to investigate and see if we could pass on the western side. nope, it was an even more intense drop-off that would probably tear up the undercarriage of both cars. M and my gertie reversed back to see if there was another way to pass through the rocky and semi-mountainous bush on the eastern side. one of the other LOKADO fellows stayed behind with us and perched on top of the truck to watch their progress. once we saw that they were passing up near the mountains, in the direction we were in fact heading we too went in search of this trail.

meanwhile, trying to make the best of things, i ate an orange and took photos of the stunning dusk landscape.

there were a number of people moving up and down the roads from what looked to have been a food distribution so we were asking people along the way where the other “motoka” had passed. we were about to try one rather muddy looking track when a boy of about 12–who had a bucked slung across his back making him resemble a funny turtle–said he knew where they would have passed, and it wasn’t this track. driver asked him to show us, so he started running a head as we turned around, bucket bouncing on his back. when we reached the correct track he continued to run in front of us to show the way. yes, i did take a video.

after a bit he pointed the way but we still had to stop and look for the tire-tracks. my better-than20/20-vision-eyes spotted the 1-foot-long mark in the sand, and we bounced our way over spiky scrub brush back to the road. when we reached the other vehicle the group of people who had gathered around waiting to see if we’d make it started yelling and clapping in congratulations. yay community!

we finally reached moroto around 6pm. thinking that the hard part was over, and still under the impression that LOKADO was going to spend the night in moroto then return to turkana the next day we three americans started to disentangle ourselves from the truck and were considering moving our luggage from that truck to gertie only to learn that there had been “a development.”

a phone call had been received from the head of KOPEIN saying that there had been rain, so that the 2 “bridges” between moroto and kotido were probably flooded. he advised LOKADO to continue on with us in case gertie couldn’t forge these places. the LOKADO vehicle is a true bush-NGO-vehicle equipped with a snorkel, a shovel strapped to the top, properly functioning four-wheel-drive and a wench. gertie has none of those things (well, except a normal shovel (not a
fancy-sand-shovel) bouncing around in the back seat).

we grimaced at this news, loaded back into the LOKADO vehicle to wait for another hour (just for funsies, apparently) during which i reminded myself that i was thankful for LOKADO helping us, and that i should accept this assistance with gratitude and grace.

two false-starts later (one for ‘short-call’ one for boxes of juice and bottles of water) we started the bumpiest portion of the journey. typically, driving between moroto and kotido supposedly takes about an hour. i have never experienced this magical 1-hour-ride…in my experience as a driver and as a passenger it takes around 2. in this epic-journey it took 6. yes, six.

as it was nearing 7p, it was soon dark, that ‘its sort of cloudy and the moon is still new-ish & there is no ambient light in the bush’ dark. we bumped along without incident for a bit before reaching the first of the two “bridges”.

“bridge” because they are in places where seasonal rivers quickly form and concrete is involved. but rather than go UP over the water as one would assume a bridge does, these “bridges” are paved v-shaped creations that actually dip LOWER into the ground rather than attempting to rise above it. while i understand and appreciate that driving through water on a paved road is much more preferable to random stones or just mud, i still don’t get the dipping down aspect of this “bridge”.

M, gertie and occupants had already forged the first one, which when we passed through our headlights were under the water, before stopping on the moroto side of the second one. where we sat for maybe an hour. what i could understand from the conversation going on outside the vehicle (in 2 if not 3 languages none of which were english, hence slight-gleaning not total-understanding) was that they were assuming this place was deeper than the first and that the kotido-side embankment looked steep and really muddy–perfect for getting “caught”.

at least 3 of the men took turns throwing rocks into the water toward the middle (lowest point) and far sides of the wide-ish river. i have no idea how to tell the depth of water by throwing a stone into it, but attempted to assume that they did. apparently, they didn’t, as M decided to just wade in and see first hand. much to everyone’s surprise it was only knee deep at the deepest point. excellent!

we forged ahead, LOKADO first, then we craned our necks around to watch gertie (who is apparently a cyclops at this point. what happened? no idea) make her way through the stream/river. she made it! M stopped beside us to check the air-filter and make sure that gertie didn’t take on any water in the crossing and said that it was fine. so, we were off again.

except. then we stopped 4 minutes later for a short call.
and then we stopped 5 minutes after that because M wanted to change the bulb in the working light to the other side of gertie. epic fail. now neither of the head lights work. cool.

we experimented with us driving behind M & co. lighting their path, which didn’t really work because the road is really potholed and rough in this area. so then we tried to drive in front of them–they were then navigating off of hazard lights and our tail-lights. i managed this stress and unknown by falling asleep.

i awoke who knows how much later when we stopped. the driver was informing us that gertie and M were going to sleep at the military protected kraal (where the karimajong people keep their livestock so it [ostensibly] will not be raided). progress was too slow and its not terrible safe to move at a snail’s pace through the bush after dark.

housemate and i needed a few things from gertie to make it through the night (my blankets, her mosquito net) so we folded ourselves out of the truck and into the cool of a karamoja night. i was past caring to be cranky and truly just accepting whatever was happening and therefore able to notice the wonderful coolness of the night, the beauty of the stars against the karamoja landscape, the familiar smells of livestock in the karamoja bush and the faint sounds of people singing and dancing traditional songs.

i welcomed the fresh and cool air as not only familiar but as a welcome change from the hot nights in turkana–i smiled at the sounds of dancing and singing as they are symbols of peace and trust that no one is going to come and raid them in the night. sometimes, it really is the tiny-little things that make a difference.

we walked to the soldier’s camp where the car was parked, collected our things, greeted one of the soldiers and thanked him for letting our vehicle stay, thanked M for staying with the car and saying “sorry” for its sorry state. he just smiled and said, “no problem. see you tomorrow.”

i was thankful to find my fleece in the bag with my blankets and promptly put it on, wrapping my scarf tightly around my neck for the rest of the journey home. with all the people from two cars now in one it was an interesting mixture of too much body heat and too much cool air coming through the windows. i quickly found some new music to listen to that was soothing enough for my soul and yet loud enough to drown out the conversation being yelled over my head from the very back of the truck to the front. (it was hem’s “rabbit songs” by the bye.)

soon i was asleep again and only awoke when we were pulling into kotido–it was the tight left turn a little too fast around the round about that did the trick. within 5 minutes i was out of the truck and in my very own yard wondering why my living room light was on. (apparently we just forgot to turn it off when we left. oops.) the LOKADO vehicle was gone by the time housemate and i made our way inside and through the cobwebs that take over the house after just one empty day.

i sat with the dog, freddie mercury, as she flipped out on the veranda until she was satisfied that we were really home and ran off into the yard to play after being chained up in our absence.

wash face.
wash feet.
brush teeth.
sleep.

“…in the likeness of Mentor and with Mentor’s voice, made peace between both parties and ended the strife for ever.”

“God,” says the king, “how wearisome my life!” He weeps and pulls at his white beard. Thus ends the poem that Turoldus declines.”

“They said that he was of earthly kings the kindest of men, and the gentlest, the gentlest to his people and most eager for praise.”†

†if you can name these three famous epic tales WITHOUT the aid of the internet OR hard copy books you will win a prize. to be determined by me after seeing how many smarty-pants are reading my blog.

c25k: running in kotido again

people, “road running” in kotido is a lot harder than running on a lovely treadmill at the garden city mall. seriously. there is this whole WIND thing to deal with, and being stared at and/or followed by children and adults alike… there are people yelling “WHITE PERSON!” in my direction. the sand radiates heat after a long day of taking a beating of the ever-present sun.

however. i ran underneath the “echamit ekisil” (we want peace) billboard on the panyara side of town towards toror–that beautiful mountain adding something other than flat-flat-flat to the horizon. i have had to change my route so as to not run through people’s sorghum fields which means that people may have food soon, and that the hunger-season will not be as hungry as the last one.

sometimes the kids who come to run alongside me giggle and lighten my heart (okay sometimes they just annoy me, but sometimes i can pretend to like children!). the old mzees (old men) stop and greet me, “TOYAI!” (“you be there!”) and i respond, “toyai!” and am met with “EJOK! EJOK NOOI!” (“it is good! very good!”) and sometimes we smile, and sometimes they laugh at me. and sometimes, when i’m feeling exceptionally good, i also laugh.

yesterday was the first Real run i’ve made in kotido in several months. (there were some Real walks and one Fake run–several months due to travel, mostly, but also some lethargy.) it was nice to get back out there, but it was also hard. i’m not doing intervals right now because i don’t want to take the time/bandwidth to download the podcasts at the moment. (i’m using that to upload videos to youtube these days.) this means that i’m running to whatever music i want, which is nice and also a new challenge.

i made 2 playlists each of about 20 minutes. (2 so i would know when to turn around…when the first one ended!) i plodded along alright, walked some but also pushed myself to run more at the end when i really didn’t want to. (i read somewhere that doing a sprint or extra running at the end when your body is really tired teaches the body that it CAN power through exhaustion and use those reserve bits of energy. this will make me stronger and, hopefully, leaner!)

that being said: here are my warm up songs, two ~20 minute play-lists that i’m pretty fond/proud of and cool down songs:

warm up:
“camp out”
“postcards”
“company”
all by an horse from ‘rearrange beds’

play-list 1:

1- “the distance” by cake from ‘fashion nugget’
2- “oya” by k-16
3- “single ladies” by beyoncé from ‘i am…sasha fierce
4- “the perfect me” by deerhoof from ‘friend opportunity’
5- “she owns the night (ft. mohombi) by far east movement from ‘free wired’ 6- “screaming at the wailing wall” by flogging molly from ‘within a mile of home

plat-list 2:
1- “it’s working” by MGMT from ‘congratulations’
2- “superstar” by tegan and sara from ‘this business of art’ 3- “run” by vampire weekend from ‘contra’
4- “genesis” by justice from ‘✞ ‘
5- “dj got us fallin in love (feat. pitbull) by usher from ‘raymond v. raymond’

cool down:
“dala”
“djiguene
“issa”
all by dobet gnahore from ‘na afriki’*

*HT to katie for introducing me to dobet gnahore’s music, and joel for the music files–i think of both of you when i listen to the album, which is rather frequently!

“what are you bringing us?”

this question, “what are you bringing me/us?” is one that has been posed to me very infrequently in all of my travels. (for this i am extremely grateful, for what that’s worth.) but recently it was asked of me in a much more profound way than someone suggesting that they wanted a little trinket or bobble from some ‘exotic’ place. the one asking the question was a part of my district committee in texas–that group of people who interview, pray and discern with those seeking ordination in the united methodist church. he didn’t mean t-shirts.

in the moment i was caught off guard, this was not a question that i had prepared an answer to. (unlike when i was asked “what can we do for you?” and i had thought about it, but still had no answer other than “um? pray.”) i floundered. i said, “humm…” and then offered an answer that i do not remember several months later.

not remembering has nothing to do with if the answer was honest or not, but more to do with the laborious pondering that has gone into this question since that first asking. at first i found myself slightly offended by the question and reported as such to my friend A. being the good friend that she is, she pushed back and asked why i would be offended–suggesting that maybe i felt offended because i didn’t want to think about the end of my contract and going back to The States–that perhaps i was not really “offended” but trying not to engage.

as A tends to be: she was right. after this conversation the decision was made to truly ponder what it is i am bringing “home” (“home” in quotes as it is another subject for another day).

here i want to reflect on a few of the gifts/insights/learnings i am bringing home to share. this is not an all encompassing list, there are still rather large things to suss-out–an inner pilgrimage of reflection that will continue far longer than the visible “transition time” between uganda and the united states–but this is the foundation. the foundation for more discerning and discovering, for bigger dreams and holy-spirit-movings.

there are 5 broad topics that i am going to touch on in 5 blog posts. the aim is to post one every week for five weeks. this could be the plan that is adhered to or not. (there really is just no way of knowing.) all 5 will go up, in this order probably with other things inbetween (like the post i’m working on about visiting the garden and those posts i never finished from ethiopia annnnd that whole independance of south sudan i attended. those too…)

the 5 will be easily spotted with their themed pre-moniker : foundations

1) foundations: living simply & in community
2) foundations: working with and within limited resources (stoking creativity)
3) foundations: meeting people where they are
4) foundations: being an ex-pat/living outside my home culture
5) foundations: development-living in an area highly populated with ngo/cbos/helping organizations

on choosing one’s battles

it is not only my work to decide when to question something different from my culture while living in someone else’s home culture. those i am living and working with also question my home culture or my interaction with their home culture.

for example:

on my way to the office this morning i ran into tim, who commented on my gradual yet recent weight-loss as if he’s just noticing. he said, “oh! you have lost weight!” this was not a excited exclamation, but one of concern. i laughed and said, “yes! i have been running, so it is only natural that i will become more slim and more fit.”

“EH.” he said. (the noise one makes in these parts when one is disgusted) “you want to be like THAT?”

i laughed again and said, “yes! it is more healthy for me to be like this than like i was.”
he squinted his eyes at me, pondering–perhaps–if i am totally mad or if this is just some western-madness that he’ll never understand.

“well. okay.” he conceded, clearly coming to the conclusion that this is some western-induced madness that he just won’t understand, and there is no need to try to attempt to tell me otherwise.

tim chose to not battle me on weight loss/size as beauty or health. by my best supposition he supposes that this is just something cultural that he’ll never understand about where i am from. i’m curious what the next thing i do that is odd that he will call into question…

i fear

sometimes when i’m just waking up, in those moments before the as-close-to-lucidity-i-can-be-without-coffee begins i wonder where i am waking up. this, i believe, stems from a fear of one morning waking up in my old bed in my hometown (where i haven’t lived since high school years) and this whole adventure of college, grad school and moving to uganda will have been just one long, vivid and fantastic dream.

this fear is more pronounced that i am about two months away from moving back to the united states (for now), as my house is slowly purged and packed and as i begin the process of saying goodbye to the people and places of uganda (for now) and allowing myself to get excited about or fear the people, places and things that i will soon encounter in the united states.

the latest in running news

lets work backwards, shall we?

yes, i have been running. i think that it is fair to say that running is my new favorite obsession (but i do still love yoga best) and that it has a permanent place in my life for the moment, even if sometimes my actual going-running can be sporadic.

most recently i had three fantastic treadmill and elliptical workouts at the gym in the garden city mall (kampala). three sessions of 60 minutes of moving. i didn’t count kilometers/miles but just pushed hard. i did discover that running while feeling the angst feels better than when sad, but i actually went farther and pushed harder when i was running sad. this surprised me.

before that i had my first road-run with another person. as in we were actually running together, not just running in the same direction around the same time like housemate and i do in kotido. i was nervous that i wouldn’t be able to keep up as elizabeth has been a distance runner for, like, forever. but! i DID keep up and did just fine. the slight hills of gulu were a beast for this desert-flats runner, but i was still quite proud of myself.

this also lead me to do some major inclines while on the treadmill and elliptical.rock.

i do want to finish the c25k program as i think that finishing out those set intervals will help me push through that last mile that i’m struggling with and help prepare me for working up to the 8k. i’m no longer on a time frame for that as my leaving uganda is looming in the next 10ish weeks and i’ve decided that fewer commitments to stress me out is better. i will run when i want to and need to, and i’ll probably tell you about it here. but, no unnecessary stress!

one of my favorite things about running is that it allows me to shut off my critical bran and i can just sink into whatever music i’m listening to at the moment. the following is just a list of some personal favorites of the past four runs:

*MGMT’s albums “congratuations” and “oracular spectacular”
*the avette brothers album “emotionalism”
*united states of electronica’s album “u.s.e.”
*the propellerheads album “decksdrumsandrockandroll”

and the following playlist that i’ve had on shuffle for about a month now, it is simply called “what i’m currently obsessed with” (it was created as an OnTheGo playlist in the back of the truck between the south sudan border and gulu)

the presence of guns

one morning last week while on the way to the gym [in kampala, the capital. no, kotido does not have a gym] i noticed the large presence of guns in my everyday life and (re)realized that this isn’t necessarily ‘normal’ for a lot of people. 

there are numerous, almost countless, security guard companies in uganda. if you have the cash you can hire your very own security guard(s) to protect whatever it is you deem needing protection. many compounds (be they single home/business or multiple home/business compounds) within and outside of kampala have their own security guard that comes with his or her very own gun.

they do not have small handguns, no no. these security guards generally come with lightweight shot guns that tend to be lazily slung over their shoulders, sometimes dragging the ground when they walk.

the bank next to the gym in the garden city mall  has anywhere from three to five guards sitting out front, all with sleek, black lightweight machine guns that clash with their navy and orange uniforms.

while using the elliptical at the gym i was gazing out over the golf course below and noticed another security guard, wandering between the greens with his (her?) short-handled shot gun lazily flopped over his (her?) shoulder.

an interesting time of day in kampala is early morning or early in the evenign when the shifts change, and lorrys-full of uniform clad guards are schlepped around the city for the daily “changing of the guard” which, i can say from experience, is not as exciting as the changing of the guard in england.

the ever-present UPDF (army) has been spotted around kotido with non-lightweight machine guns harkening back to at least WWII, with one man carrying the gun and another the extra rounds of ammunition. in the market. no, i don’t know why.

and then there are the police, in their mismatched and varying uniforms with their ak-47s or aging kalashnikovs stationed everywhere around the country. from your neighborhood grocery store, the atm and haphazardly on the street one is bound to see a gun-toting individual most times of the day.

not seeing guns all the time, everywhere will be a welcome change when i return to the united states. fair-thee-well, mr. kalashnikov, i shall not miss you.

on taking the long way

as a fan of the "scenic route" and "the road less traveled" i tend to not really mind taking the long way.

sometimes what one expects to be "the short way" can turn out to be much longer than "the long way."

this–i think–justifies my inclination to just go ahead and take the long way. let me explain.

yesterday i made the journey from kampala to kotido in two separate and not quiet equal parts. the first consisted of rising from bed at 5:30 in the morning to leave a friend’s flat by 6:00, walk a quarter of a mile (maybe more? no idea.) from almost-ggaba to bunga, to find a boda driver who a) had been awake longer than i had, and b) who was sober. this interaction consists of trading at least two greetings and then negotiating the price. as it was still quite early in the morning the traffic was light so the journey to the bus-park in the city-centre was shorter than usual. albeit it a bit chilly.

upon arrival to the bus-park i let myself be led to a bus going to lira, but refused to let anyone help me carry my things. (i’m stubborn, its fine.) there was one bus that was already full and leaving now-now. people were trying to cram themselves into the aisles and i was very willing to take the next one over that would probably have filled with these extra people but the staff of this particular bus saw a business venture and sold their two seats to myself and another woman traveling on her own. she and i elbowed our way to the seats and tried to settle in.

meanwhile, the conductor of the bus is trying to remove my daypack that is on my back. he was trying to be helpful, and was also saying that they wanted to put it in the boot, as the overheads were already full and it was too much for us to have the seat. i must tell you that while i know he was trying to help and to speed up the process he really just made my life harder/more frustrating for those 2 minutes. i had a regular rucksack on my front, these straps were over the straps of the daypack that was on my back and my purse was over a shoulder. not to mention that i had buckled the daypack around my waist for more comfortable carrying on the boda.

as you can deduce, it would have been much more enjoyable to "take the long way" in this situation. it would have been easier if i’d been able to board the bus and squeeze into the seat before undoing all of my luggage and handing it over to him. instead i had to elbow-squeeze-apologize-push and attempt to explain that the bag is attached to my body, please stop pulling on it, you’re hurting me/hindering me from getting out of the way! (i have a nice little bruise on my hipbone to prove it. poor me.)

we sorted ourselves out and my bag was put in the boot. happily, we were on our way out of the bus-park within a few minutes, which is almost unprecedented. (typically one must wait for the bus to fill. there may be a scheduled departure time, but it is amazingly rare for this to be kept.) i don’t let myself think that we are really on our way until we have cleared all of kampala’s suburbs. this particular bus stopped just north of bwaise (very much still in kampala) at the safari petrol station for a short-call (bathroom break). we had maybe been moving for 15 minutes, but many of the people on the bus could have been waiting from as early as 4:00 that morning.

thankfully, there is really only one way directly north from kampala to lira so there is no surprise-detour on the way. we did, however, stop just south of the masindi junction for a 20 minute breakfast break that drove me a little crazy. i did, however, procure some tasty gonja [roasted sweet bananas] and a stick of roasted meat for my breakfast. so i can’t really complain about that little delay.

there was a long line of semis/lorrys/transfer trucks at the nile crossing–all of which were struggling up the hill just north of the nile. i didn’t mind this delay as it meant that our bus sat on the bridge and crawled along at a really slow speed, giving me much more time to contemplate the karuma falls of the nile than i think i’ve had before. this was quite nice: the bus is high so i had a great view (pictures are not allowed, sadly) and we sat for a few minutes which is enough time to be fully hypnotized by the tumbling and rushing beast that is the nile.

when journeying to lira, i consider the top of the hill just north of the nile to be the "homeward stretch" and start letting my body realize that it can do something other than sit very soon. there was no delay at kamdini and within 45 minutes i was pushing my way off the bus and into the crowded taxi park. again, leading with my elbows, i procured my daypack from the boot from the already-quite-drunk "attendant" and muscled my way out of the park. hurrah. part one, check. not too bad as far as bus travels go.

but then.

well, before the but then, housemate and a driver had come from kotido that morning to pick me and some supplies/groceries from lira. i had a private vehicle to look forward to riding in (not driving!) the second half of the way home. we had a lovely lunch at anya (butter chicken and garlic naan, ftw) and made our purchases before loading up to head home. i was full of good food, and happy to have some juice, carrots and apples to be taking home.

but then. driver asked which way we should return to kotido.
i prefer to take "the long way" through patongo and pader. the road is consistently in better shape than the olilim road. yes, the patongo/pader route is longer as far as kilometers are concerned, but when the tarmac runs out the dirt road is closer to smooth, meaning one can travel faster. driver wanted to take the olilim route as he knows it better and seems to not want to take my direction (no, i will not be hiring him again. strike. three.) oh and he did say that it is fewer kilometers.

my prefefred "long" way usually takes just 4 hours, if not a tiny bit less sometimes. it is a beautiful drive and it includes the now-famous "diversion" from the chain roller incident. (see also: the flying tyre incident.) driver’s "shorter" way took about 5.5 hours. another hour and a half may not seem like that big of a deal, and wouldn’t really be on a lovely tarmac road or a highway. but on this potholes-the-size-of-rwanda-muddy-rainy-mess-of-a-road that extra hour and a half probably took three years off of my life-expectancy.

so yes, i do prefer to take the long way and i think i prefer to do the driving myself as well. sometimes i think "i’ll treat myself and get a driver" and then end up "driving" the whole way in my mind and regretting hiring someone who, lets be honest, doesn’t drive as carefully or well as i do. i’m a good driver (no, really). one who takes my passengers lives and car-sickness seriously, will stop for photo opportunities and who enjoys the journey as well as the destination. so, yea, lets take the long way next time, eh?

[photo credit goes to lizzie whose original was a much higher quality. this much lower quality version is brought to you by mtn-mobile-internet-slowness.]

a wedding homily

saturday i had the pleasure of delivering my very first wedding homily right here in uganda. it was such a Joy and privileged to be a part of A&A’s union–may your joined life be deeply, deeply blessed!

the text is below.

our scripture for today is found in the gospel according to john 15:1-8
i am the true vine, and my father is the vine-grower. he removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. you have already been cleansed by the word that i have spoken to you. abide in me as i abide in you. just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. i am the vine, you are the branches. those who abide in me and i in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch that withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish. and it will be done for you. my father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

would you please pray with me: gracious and holy god we thank you for being here with us today. we thank you for the gift of scripture and the gift of marriage. may the words my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord our rock and redeemer. amen.

recently my housemate and i hired a new gardner to tend our compound. on his first day asked if he could prune our guava tree. we said that “yes, of course” he could prune the fruit tree, knowing that this would help it to bear more and higher quality fruit. what we did not expect was the extremely drastic pruning he was going to undertake. basically he cut the tree down to the trunk not leaving one remnant of green. i was convinced that he had killed our guava tree.

every single day, for weeks following this drastic trimming, i checked for signs of life. finally, one afternoon i spotted one tiny green shoot. and then another. and yet another. several months later my guava tree is looking beautiful and lush–much more full and vivid than before The Great Pruning. the pruning allowed the tree to create more fruit. what appeared to be complete destruction turned out to be an act of loving gardening and an act of creativity.

in our scripture today jesus tells us that we are the branches, he the vine, and god the gardner; the source of the power and life that flows through jesus the vine into us the branches. we, the branches, cannot bear life unless we are connected to the source of life, of creation and creativity.  it is the connection of the vine to the source that provides the life necessary for the branches to produce fruit.

god is the source of love, like the ground is the source of life to this tree. and when we are connected to the the source, when our roots go deep into the life giving soil and we allow that love to flow up through us it makes it possible to make such seemingly-crazy commitments like the vows that A&A are making to each other today.

when connected to jesus, with the holy spirit and god; we grow, bear fruit, are given and give life.  a branch not connected to the vine withers and dies. does not bear fruit. left to its own devices a vine will not bear fruit–or not yield as much fruit as it is possible or capable of bearing. when we are connected to the vine, jesus; and tended by the gardner, god; we submit to and accept the gifts and talents that god has given us.

when jesus speaks the word “you” in this text he does not use the singular form of “you” but the plural. jesus is speaking to all people–directly to you. A&A, this day symbolizes your public commitment to one another, to partnership and faithful pruning. a commitment to love more deeply than you thought possible, to work together to build the kingdom of god. a commitment to grow in faith and to accept the radical transformation that comes with faithfully lived lives in faithful community.

jesus speaks of removing branches,  pruning; and cleansing. for a vine to flourish and produce good fruit it must be not only connected to the source of power,  but also pruned or cut back. in many senses this seems to be rather counter productive and foolish. remember my guava tree? when i came home that evening after the pruning i may have panicked a bit. the pruning of the tree looked completely destructive. it looked painful.

but it is when we allow god to cleanse or prune us we are allowing ourselves to be molded into a more cruciform way of life…meaning that our lives are shaped into the the form of christ and the example of his life–the one who gifted us with our gifts and talents. the choices we make and our desires begin to resemble the choices and desires of christ.

back to the text, verse 7 says “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” when you continue to submit to the pruning of god and bear more and more fruit through the use of your god-given creativity and love, your desires will become even more faithful and what you want will be a faithful request tinted the hues of christ.

to you, the family and friends who make up this international community of faith–i challenge you to stay connected to the source–to god–and help A&A stay connected so that they can love each other with such extreme self-giving and devotion. so that their relationship may take on the shape and form of the life of christ.

A&A–i have the great pleasure of knowing something of your creativity–of your gifts of deep love for those you work with, for, alongside and each other. i have heard and observed your deep faith and desire to be faithful to the god we serve and to love one another, and it is my prayer that you will continue to submit to to the pruning and cleansing that god provides, and that your love and life together will become like this tree–tall and strong and able to weather any storm.

i urge you to continue to seek after jesus, who was grounded in the spirit, to be connected to the vine who leads you to the source and to abide in his love. to abide in the gifts of creativity, true love, compassion and laughter that you have been given. when you are weary and weak comfort one another in the way that god comforts and tends the fruits of the vine. for it is in being connected to jesus and therefore to god, that makes it possible to take on this huge undertaking of making these marriage vows and the dreams for a shared life together that you share. this connection gives the strength and ability to honor these vows. for a plant to flourish it must be loved and pruned. do not fear to prune one another in the name of christ–but do so lovingly and with earnest. for it is in this pruning and radical love that you will find a deeper well of creativity, of love, compassion and the wherewithal to continue on stronger than you once were.

may you flourish like this tree. may your gifts and talents shine, and your depth of love for one another and your work multiply over and over again. may the pruning not be too painful and may your joined life bear much fruit in all of your years to come.

amen

The Tree