Sunday, February 13, 2011

Karamojong Relief

It is the dry season and the area of Karamoja is already suffering with low food supplies as their crops had a poor yield. The area is semi-arid and is savanna in nature. They are learning to farm but as the rains only come 2 months out of the year their growing season is short and crops often fail.

The Karamojong have a rich history. Cousins to the Masai of Kenya, they resemble them in many ways. They are known as the cowboys of Uganda and have a reputation for raiding other villages, rustling cattle and have a long history of violence. Originally nomadic in nature they have started farming and putting up more permanent residents trying to survive in the environment that has long passed them by as they seem to be stuck in the 19th century.

Fires are common during the dry season and this year the dry season has dealt a heavy blow to some of the villages as fires have gutted 6 villages that we know of, leaving the people with nothing but their cattle.

Minister Ecweru sent a request to the church asking for support for these people in the way of blankets, plates, pots and pans and sickles with which to cut thatch to rebuild their homes.

Karamoja is in the North East corner of Uganda, a long way from Kampala where we live. After Ssimbwa, our mentor, took care of the logistics of the supplies and had them trucked to Soroti we headed out to do the distribution.

The drive to Soroti takes four hours and is a beautiful drive as you see much of Uganda on the way. There are a lot of wetlands and each wetland will have men and women fishing among the papyrus reeds and swamp grass..

fishing with nets
fishing with baskets - note the gourd tied around the neck which is used to put the small silver fish found but are lost in a net or basket.

A night in Soroti at the Landmark Hotel (very spartan) and we are ready to load up first thing in the morning.

Ssimbwa had arranged for everything to be secured in a store next to the hotel so loading was not a difficult task especially when you can pay a crew the equivalent of $3 to load everything. At least $3 dollars is what was negotiated but when they saw the muzungus (white people) they were not happy they had settled for so little as muzungus always have a lot of money.

A market! Right across the street from where we were loading. (really, there is a market down there with lots of treasures.)
The alley opens up to booths of produce, fast food, shoes, clothes - you name it it is there. I found a treasure without any effort. A tote bag made of thatch for 75 cents each. I bought 5 so I could share with all my sisters back in Kampala.

In the market these bags are used like grocery sacks to tote home the produce that you buy.
Spontaneous fires could be seen on the hills and several fires are set to burn of the dry grass to promote the growth of new grass in many areas.
After a four hour drive we had reached one of the villages - dusty - dry -very little vegetation to support cattle.
We were greeted by an interesting site - is this what you call an oxymoron?
First an inspection of the fire damage.
Where once stood a thatch roofed mud hut all that was left was a circle of ash.
The people had cut and bundled thatch and the government had furnished trucks to haul the thatch back to the village.
Nothing left but charred pots and piles of ash.
The villagers were staying in other villages while they rebuilt their homes.

Rebuilding the huts is women's work.
Minister Ecweru with Elder Barlow crawled into one of the huts under construction to show how small the living area really is.
The small doorway does not reflect the size of the Karamojong as they are all fairly tall.
Above the living area of the hut, in the dome is a storage area where their food storage is kept which includes, sorghum, millet, and maize. The food storage was also a total loss in the fire.

Once the roof is finished the lattice work of the walls will be plastered with a mixture of mud and cow dung. None of the huts had progressed that far during our visit.

Each village is surrounded by a thorny bush fence. The bushes are cut and hauled to the fence site with "twig pitch forks". The thorns are 4 inches long and the fence requires construction from a distance.
Minister Ecweru and Elder Barlow tried their hand at the construction
Elder Barlow felt like he had done a fairly good job at such a precarious task.
The gate through the thorny bush fence into the village compound.

Each family has a hut for each wife and this group of huts is enclosed in another stick fence. These small compounds may be several within the thorny bush fence with the middle of the compound being left open so at night the cattle and goats can be brought into the center of the village for security. This central corral is the source of the mud dung for plastering the walls of the huts.
After visiting the village we were able to understand how one hut catching fire could destroy a whole village as the village is constructed of all dried natural materials which are easily burned

After the inspection it was time to meet with the people we had come to help. We all sat under the only tree in the vicinity of the village and discussed the problems they were facing.

A Karamojong herdsman. In his right hand is a stool he sits on when he is tending his cattle.
The stool ended up in our truck as we left. Seems Ssimbwa had struck a bargain for the stool.
The leader of the village told of their plight and said they had been very peaceful as they hadn't raided their neighboring village for over two years. We hardly acknowledged the speeches as our thoughts were on the people as we looked around us and saw the many emotions of the people.

Protocol finished it was time to dispense the relief that we had brought. Minister Ecweru organized the people and asked them to form lines one for women, one for elderly women, one for children and one for elderly men.

Everyone got a plate, it was the favorite item given out. Imagine not having a plate to eat from.

Wool blankets for the elderly women first, then the mothers of small children.
The children all got blankets also along with the elderly men.
The cooking pots were purchased as a set of 8 nestled inside each other. As we passed them out the women would choose if they wanted a large pot or a small pot.
One small boy ended up crying when all the pots were given out as he had been given a small pot and someone had taken it away from him. We were able to secure another pot for him although a muzungu coming to his rescue was pretty scary and the tears continued to flow.
One mother came and asked me for a blanket for her baby. I happened to have 2 newborn kits in the truck which I got out and gave her one. She showed me her baby that was under her wrap - a new born, very tiny nursing at a breast that had no milk. It was heart wrenching. Another young girl very close to delivering got the other newborn kit. She was quite pleased. I wondered if either of these mothers would know what to do with diaper pins. (the kits had been given to us by some BYU students who had spend the summer in Uganda and had brought the kits form the Sedona Ward Relief Society.- thank you Sedona Ward R.S.)

So many mixed emotions but no time to think them through - they would have to be sorted out later
Pain and suffering
Hope for a better tomorrow
Laughter when your minister cheers you on
Concern yet anticipation of what lies ahead
Life moving on
As we headed back to Soroti the sun was setting. It had taken all day to reach two villages and dispense the relief items we had brought. Although all the things we brought from the church were greatly needed it was obvious the people needed more - they neede medical attention and most of all they needed food.

The government had brought food to them 3 different times and they had received the first two shipments but they told the Minister they did not receive the third shipment as it was waylayed by their leaders and they suspected it had been sold on the market. The minister promised he would send more food.
The ride back in total darkness over rutted dirt roads with no light but the headlights of the truck..

The end of a day of mixed emotions, an experience so unsettleing that it may never be forgotten - and, all those emotions - well, we are not sure if they can be sorted out.

Emergency relief is difficult - it is never enough.