October 12, 2011
Woke up to a beautiful morning in Entebbe. Enjoyed a brief walk along Lake Victoria and the garden areas just outside our hotel. Everything is green and warm. Ate a breakfast of roasted vegetables, croissant, a tamarillo (tree tomato), and coffee. Also read the local English paper. It was all about anti-corruption in politics. Seems to be a universal problem.
Wanted to tell my family that I had arrived safely but the Blackberry system had crashed in Europe and Africa so I resorted to finding a nearby business center that charged me 2 dollars for 30 minutes of internet access. I’m reminded how fast our net speed is here in the states.
By 1 pm we were in the air in a 10 passenger Cessna operated by Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I got to sit right behind the pilot and had a great view of the landscape below. The short videos I took do not do the landscape justice. But what I saw looked like Savannah (grasslands with stands of palm and other trees) bisected by dirt trails/roads and dotted with small villages and neat terraced farmland. Some abodes had metal roofs whole others were clearly thatch. Throughout our trip we saw small fires being used to clear land for farming.
Our flight took us from Entebbe, Uganda northwest to Bunia, DRC, across the southern end of Lake Albert. Bunia was the site of terrible fighting in 2003-4 between warring tribes, renegade militias, and both Ugandan and Rwandan military. From my seat behind the pilot I got a great view of the runway and the significant presence of UN peacekeepers around the airport. One of the reasons this area has so much UN presence is that it is rich in gold, diamonds, and other important natural resources. Prominent at the airport are rusting and cannibalized UN aircraft.
On the ground, we were met by DRC bible society staff who helped us through the customs. Though we had already secured visas, we were still asked to fill out all the same information and demanded that we present additional passport photos (that we did not have). Our handlers spoke both in French and Swahili and at some point the officials relented. DRC is known for the reality of bribes. However, I did not see money exchange hands. To us US folks, bribes only represent individual corruption. But, I’ve come to understand that many officials in the DRC do not get paid and thus the bribe becomes one way to make some money.
Without much delay we were on our way to Shalom University where we met with faculty and administration to discuss the needs around trauma counseling. The University has a great research department and is having students do field survey work to understand the extent of rape and other traumas as well as the problem of literacy. They spoke of a couple of trauma trainings that had been brought to campus and how they were helpful but not yet enough. One of the key problems was the fact that many good students are still struggle with war/conflict related trauma and are not doing as well as they could. They would like training for their faculty to address the needs of students in all departments.
After the meeting, we were shown around the campus where we saw the chapel, the new library building, some student housing and the house of a top administrator. As we passed the student housing–cinder block 2 room abodes that might have had electricity but surely no other amenities as the outhouses were about 15 feet from the front doors and the “stove” was an outdoor fire pit–I was reminded just how blessed we are in the US. Many of us would think that this housing was traumatizing when I suspect these students are quite thankful for the opportunity to study and live in a relatively safe environment. Each house had a small garden of beans and other veggies for their food.
Once our meetings were done we then followed Bagu (our ABS host/guide) to the church he planted and had built here while a student at the university. We met a couple of the pastors there who showed us the grounds. This is a burgeoning church with English, French, and Swahili congregations. While there we ran into a choir practice–teens practicing their English singing. In the dusk of the night and in the cramped quarters of a side shack outside the church we were treated with one of their songs. What I am struck with is how much activity, growth, and excitement there is around this church where if it were in the US would be seen as squalor. Also, I’m struck with just how much Bagu is a rock star here. People keep coming up and being amazed at seeing him again after not being here for 15 years (I’m vague on this number but I know it has been a long time!).
As dusk turns to full darkness we walk the dirt streets back to the Hotel, still teeming with people walking here and there, passing shanties filled with people buying various items such as cds, SIM cards, alcohol, photocopies, food and whatever else you might want to buy. At the hotel, I find the room consists of a bed with a mosquito net, a TV! that gets 2 stations when the electricity is on, and running water. The toilet works great and the shower is in the opposite corner with a drain but no enclosure.
Just before turning in we had a dinner of beef skewers and pomme frites–you need to love potatoes if you live in this part of the world. I think I ate them at every single meal.
As I doze off (or try to in spite of getting used to the net over me, the fighting dogs in the alley below, and later a person who must have screamed for at least 1 hour) I am reminded that I am more blessed than I deserve. I recognize that some of my stress these next 11 days will be the result of the strangeness of my surroundings, my lack of personal comfort, and my missing my family. However, I also recognize that I will be able to rectify these stresses by leaving and that those I will interact with do not have the luxury to leave the difficulties behind. We Americans view suffering as something to get through and not something to live with in this life.