Friday, February 24, 2012

The Journey to Karamoja

Karamojong Gentleman
Typical Mud Hut Houses
I was surprised to see Pastor Joshua at church. He was supposed to be gone and his wife was supposed to preach that morning. Upon seeing me, he immediately asked if I was ready to go to Nakapiripirit District, which is where the Karamojong live. We were leaving that same day! Of course, I said "Yes!" The first lady of Ugandan, who is also a member of parliament and who is the Minister over  Karamoja would be dedicating the Housing Project that Pastor Joshua and his church, Grace Assemblies,  had partnered with our church in Colorado, Church For All Nations and Pastor Mark Cowart. 

Powerless Power Lines
Mooove Out of the Way!
This is Africa, so it encompasses a lot of hurry up and waits, but that's OK. I'm used to that cultural aspect (it's only Americans and the west that have a real hang up with time). They finally found someone who could take me home so I could pack and come back. I grabbed sun screen, bug spray, my suit and a change of clothes, water, camera and rushed out the door to get back to church.

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon by the time we left.  They set me up front, so I could take in the journey and snap some pics. Soon we were passing through the crowded streets of Kampala and on our way.

We were headed to the town of Nakapiripirit, but we couldn't travel the whole way that night, so we headed to Mbale, the last city before the end of the paved road and Nakapiripirit.  We passed east through Jinja, where 6 years earlier Marjorie and I stayed at a good family friends of Marji's who have been missionaries in East Africa for 27 years. Jinja is also where the source of the Nile River is, and the major electric dams that provide power to Uganda and much of Kenya.

Detour- Washed Out Bridge Ahead!
We also passed through the largest forest in Uganda, which surprisingly I remembered from my previous trip. Tall beautiful trees, surrounded by dense tropical plants. The sun sets at 7:06 PM at this latitude, this time of year, so we kept going past dark, finally arriving in Mbale around 8:30 or so.

Praise God for A/C
We scouted for a hotel that had a private parking lot, but found none, so we stayed at the first hotel we found and parked on the sidewalk! My room was small, but had fan, which I was thankful for, because there was no mosquito net and I didn't want to take a chance of opening the small window and letting in bugs. We went out for diner and ate at an Indian/Ugandan restaurant. I ordered chips (french fries) but Pastor Joshua told me I should eat Ugandan food, so I had some kind of spicy chicken. Yep, it was spicy.

We left early the next morning after a breakfast of banana and pineapple. Before leaving, we picked up Phillip, who is a friend of Joshua's and an adviser on the Karamojong people. We also needed to get the trim fixed above the van's window, so we went to what I call the Ugandan Engineer Row. Think a total 3rd world street, filled with "shade tree" mechanics on the sides of the dirt road, with manual drills, gas welders, and people fixing all manner of things mechanical. There was a transmission pulled out, sitting on the dirt being worked on, with a puddle of transmission fluid in front of it, and everything else imaginable. I think if I needed a car built from scratch, these people could do it.
Caution - Goat Crossing Next 100 Miles
Early Model Toyota Pickup- Early!
Carrying Roofing Material

With the car fixed, we headed out again, in a northerly direction. Mbale sits directly west of Mount Elgon, a tall mountain which is split in two by the Ugandan and Kenyan border. I looked at a map, and saw that the city of Kitale sits on the eastern side in Kenya. I had been there three years earlier, teaching in a Bible School there for a few days.
Soon the paved road crumbled, and we had about 100 miles left to go on dirt roads. 

It was about this here that the countryside changed to much more arid- what you would see in the movie "Out of Africa". We began to enter the district of Nakapiripirit, and so the people of Karamoja. We swerved and slowed down to miss potholes, rocks, herds of goats, and cattle. The people are much darker skinned, and wear their traditional checkered fabric wraps, carrying long stick-whips. We followed brand new electric lines, that carried no electricity yet. We detoured around the washed out bridge that had hampered construction efforts for the housing project many months earlier.

Pink Colored Housing Estates

Backside of the Houses

By noon, we arrived at the pink painted, 6 unit housing structure. Skilled workers from Kampala and local day laborers were frantically working, putting the finishing touches on everything. To say the wind blows there would be an understatement. Anytime someone would pass by on the road, the dust and dirt would waft over us. We went to the only hotel around for many miles. I stayed in a tiny bungalow, that had mosquitoes all through it and it was in the middle of the day! Yikes! Thankfully there was a mosquito net for the bed! But, there was no way I was going to take a splash bath/shower and open my body up to the little blood sucking things- LOL. There was no running water, but only 2 large buckets of water, which is what kept the mosquitoes in there in the first place.

The Wind Never Stops!
We went back to the Housing project about 6 PM that evening. I thought we'd be there until dark, as there is no electricity and then return to the hotel, so, I didn't have the chance to get bug spray or a sweater as the temperature drops a little at night. We finally got back to the hotel about 11 that night, after getting organized and setup for the next day. Grace Assemblies had sent their choir, dance and prayer intercessor teams, so they were busy setting up the stage, generator, sound system, chairs, clearing the land for the shade tents, etc. The truck they drove has sides that fold down which create a stage- pretty cool!

1st Lady in Green, Pastor Joshua in dark suit to left
Early the next morning, Joshua and I returned to the housing area to make sure everything was getting setup. Then the Army and secret service arrived and made us rearrange everything. Joshua had a schedule of events for the 2-hour ceremony, which got totally rearranged too. 

Police and Army Officials plus Karamojong
I was in a suit and tie for the event, so I was already getting hot. Then, I had to leave my bag, which had my sun block in it, at the hotel because of the security concerns for the first lady. I was told that I would have to register any electronic devices with the security and they went through everything with fine detail. The Army deployed in a large perimeter around the whole area, and then everybody had to leave the area while the secret service went through everything to make sure it was all secure. The police showed up in force too, setting up road blocks and checking everybody that entered.
1st Lady and Pastor Joshua

Finally, the first Lady arrived around noon, and the ceremony commenced. It was filled with dignitaries making speeches, prayers of dedication, the choir singing worship songs and such. Pastor Joshua spoke, and everybody listened intently as did the first lady. The audience was filled with Army officers and generals, governmental officials, police chiefs of varying levels, governmental staff, and the Karamojong.

Grace Assemblies Dancers
In the middle of this all, the Grace Assemblies Dance team danced traditional Buganda dances, which is a tribe from around the Kampala area. Think hula dancing. Then, Karamojong dancers would come from the crows and dance with them, 1 or 2 at a time, showing a sense of acceptance and unity. The crowd went wild with laughter and delight.

Anglican Girls Choir with Karamonjong Dancer
Next, it was the local Anglican Girls Choir (the girls didn't sing though) came and danced. This time, more of the Karamojong dancers came also and danced with their sisters. They were dressed in conservative denim colored shirts and skirts, with closely shaven hair, which is common for girls under the age of 18.

Finally, the Karamojong dancers came out in their traditional brightly colored clothes and checkered patterns. They performed a couple of dances, the last of which was very different. They formed a circle and then 1 or 2 would enter the middle and jump very high in the air.

Grace Assemblies Choir
Colourful Karamojong Dancers - Jumping
In each case, there was a person who would do the singing during the dancing, and it reminded me of the caller in square dancing, although I don't think they were actually calling out the dance steps per se.

Colourful Karamojong Dancers - Jumping
At last the two and a half hour ceremony came to a conclusion. By this time, I hadn't had access to my water and I knew I was dehydrated. Also, I didn't have any sunblock, and due to the suit and tie, no hat was appropriate. Even though I tried to remain in the shade, I was very burned on the top of my head and forehead! I finally discovered who had the keys to the van and I retrieved my water, which was probably 90 degrees by then!  I gulped it down eagerly anyways. We had a quick bite to eat of traditional chicken and Irish potatoes and a soda. They gave my a Schwepps "Novida" which is a non-alcoholic, Pineapple flavored malt beverage (to quote the label) which is quite tasty! We returned to the hotel to change and check out and then head back to Kampala. We stopped again at the Housing Project on the way home, where we picked up 4 more people (in addition to the 4 of us) and I endured a bumpy, long, tiring ride back home. LOL

Through the whole adventure, I was amazed at technology. I had my iPhone, which gave me access to the Internet, Google maps, which would pinpoint exactly where we were and how much further we had to go, text messaging, and able to call anyone in the world. I could take a picture and immediately post it on Facebook. Wow! On my first long-term mission trip 25+ years earlier, I would send a letter and it would take a month + to get to the recipient, and that was just from Mexico City! Here I was half-way around the world and instantly connected to anyone anywhere!

It was a good trip. God is good and moving amongst the Karamojong


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