Friday, May 05, 2006

Lui Craft Fair! (Wednesday, 1 March 2006)

All through our week in Lui, Deborah had told us that the Mother’s Union had been working very, very hard to make crafts that we might buy. They had been preparing various crafts – sewing, pottery, and basketry – to sell to us.

Operating on “East Africa Time” as we were, we had remained very relaxed about when we would have that “market opportunity.” That's the reason we took our Lui "walk-about," which I have already described.

As the day wore on, we kept asking when the craft fair would begin, for we were eager to see the crafts the Lui women had prepared. We were eager to see their crafts, mostly because this would be one of our few opportunities to support what is emerging as their “economy.” It was clear to us that the Mother’s Union was looking forward to that opportunity. I never did get complete clarity about where the proceeds of that market would go. I gather it would fund schools (which the Mother’s Union supports) and support of the Cathedral. I’m not sure what else it would support.

We were trying to remain relaxed as we were operating on “East Africa Time” and did not want to rush the Mothers' Union. It was pretty funny. We kept asking, “When??” And again and again we were told, “Soon.”

Finally, though, we were told that they were ready, and the craft market was open.

We did not knock each other down. But we certainly were eager to outrun and outbid and outbuy each other. It was like a competition for who could spend the most money in support of our Lui friends.

It’s not like they had hundreds of items for us. There weren’t hundreds; maybe there were 5 dozen items. But it was clear to me that the items they offered were made with careful craftsmanship.

This photo probably requires some explanation. I’m a fool for pottery, and I love this photo. As soon as I arrived at their craft fair, I was drawn to this lovely bowl. I loved it for its own aesthetic qualities, but also asked Varina how the Moru would use this bowl. She explained that you would fill it with food, then drink the juices. We took this photo. She said I should put food in it, and "chow down" -- and to illustrate the point, she rubbed my belly while I demonstrated the "chow-down" purpose of the bowl. At the moment – when the photo was taken – it was just funny.

Now, I have that bowl sitting in my house. And it always humbles me. Every time I look at it, I am reminded that I have more food than I need, and that this Moru woman -- who took such delight in imagining how I would use it back home -- is still hungry. She may be among the many people in Lui who are starving today. All of a sudden, this memory is not so amusing.

Thanks to the work Deborah has done with the Moru women – and introducing them to the sewing machine – there were also some nice dresses and skirts.

Sandy was happy to get one of their prize creations. And the Lui women showed her how to tie the headdress.

Varina had made a skirt that caught my eye.
She and I talked, and I wanted to take that skirt home to my priest. Varina was very excited that I had a woman as my priest, and was happy to send that skirt home with me to the U.S.

They had prepared many woven goods – especially baskets. All of us wanted to take a basket home.

Most of the baskets were woven of palm or sorghum grass. The craftsmanship there was impressive. I think all of us came away with at least one basket.

One item that particularly caught our attention was a woven mat, made of the materials and in the pattern that the Moru used at church when they knelt at the Eucharist. Here it is, displayed at Rick's right.
We quickly decided we wanted to buy it for Deborah, who has been living in Lui for several months with a hard-packed dirt floor in her tukal. We loved the idea that Deborah would finally get to have a palm floor for her tukel instead of the dirt floor.

I expect that when someone has lived among the Moru for as long as Deborah did, you probably get used to the fact that there are no "floors" as we think of them. But at that time and in that place, if felt to us like a special gift to give Deborah a "floor" to stand upon.

So we bought it, and had great fun presenting it to Deborah that evening, on our last night in Lui.

And here it is in Deborah’s tukal.

Not too long after we got home, I saw one of Deborah’s blog entries, which told us what became of that palm mat. A group of women and children had been victimized by tribal warfare, and needed a warm, dry place to rest. Deborah gave them that palm mat to sleep on and give them protection from the hard ground. I cannot express how happy I am to learn of the use Deborah made of that simple mat. I could not have been more happy about the mat’s use!

And it made me realize: When we gave that mat to Deborah, we thought it would be a nice “creature-comfort” for her – to give her some protection against the hard-packed dirt floor. But it turned out that it gave some women and children some comfort against death and violence. I am glad it was useful.

The next day -- after the "craft fair" -- Deborah announced to all the village elders and diocesan leaders how much we had contributed to Lui through that craft fair. If memory serves, we had contributed over 400,000 Ugandan dollars. That’s enough to send more than 50 children to school for a semester!
More Tips for Travellers

A reminder to you blog-readers. The primary reason for this blog is to help folks understand what life is like in Lui, and what insights some travelers gained by spending with our friends in Lui. A secondary reason is for us to inform future travelers to Lui about what they might want to do, take, observe, etc. when they go to Lui.

Only after I had been in Lui did I realize there were a couple more things that I’d take to Lui if I get the chance to return.

Because there is no electricity in Lui, we had been forewarned to take our own light sources to Lui. The wind-up flashlights were very useful. (The ones now for sale at Walgreen's for about $15 had an incredibly long life.) I also took one of those “miner-type” flashlights that you wear on your head if you're caving; it was especially useful when I used the latrine at night and needed my hands free. But best of all, for some reason I had thought to take taper candles. They were wonderful in the tukal at night. They gave off much gentler light than the lanterns and flashlights did. I would put water or sand in the bottom of a water-bottle, then stick the candle in the opening of that bottle. This was my most satisfactory way to keep my tukal illuminated – much better than the flashlights that use toxic batteries.

And I would take a washcloth! When I was packing, I was trying to “minimalize” everything – to take as few items and as few ounces as I could. Consequently, I took a bar of low-sudsing soap I could use both for my hair and for my body. (I got a bar of Dr. Brawner's.) I certainly did not take a washcloth or body-sponge, because I thought those would be indulgences. Big mistake! With the dry, dusty, red soil that was everywhere in Lui – in my body and in my mouth and nose -- I got so filthy that just having my hand and a bar of soap did not get me as clean as I would have wished. If I ever return, I’ll take something that will help me to abrasively clean-off the red Lui dirt – especially from my hands and feet.

And let’s talk about chairs … or seats. In many places in Lui, the only seat is a tree-trunk. In most places there are hideous WalMart-type plastic chairs. Given those options, after hours and hours of sitting, the better option often (for me, at least) was the ground. If I were going back to Lui, I would make for myself one of those “sit-upons” that I used in Girl Scouts those many decades ago. I don’t have a lot of padding on my backside, and the hours on the barely-padded truck seats and the not-at-all-padded plastic chairs sitting around in Lui had my backside quite sore. Many times, I eschewed the plastic chairs and just sat on the bare earth. Next time, a “sit-upon-style” cushion will be going with me to Lui.

Your mileage may vary, of course!
Ironing … and Alex’s Story

On this last full day in Lui, I was surely paying more attention to some of the little details of “life in Lui.” One point that struck me was the laundry. I have already written about how the Moru (apparently gladly) do our washing, and I have documented how they dry clothes by tossing them over their bamboo fences.

But what shocked me even more was the fact that they not only wash our clothes – they iron them, too. They even iron things we would not consider ironing, like t-shirts or polo shirts.

The iron they use is probably about like one my great-grandmother would have used in the early 20th century. It’s made of iron, and is very heavy. Where our irons now have an electrically-heated plate, they have a “reservoir” in which they put hot coals from the fires they used to cook our food and heat our water.

And the ironing is done by the young men who cared for us in the compound. I never saw a woman ironing. That was a surprising cultural/gender-role difference to me.

The young man I saw ironing most of the time was Alex, probably in his late teens or early 20s. He was very quiet and reserved. Deborah told us his story. Apparently his mother died in childbirth. Alex was very fragile, and it was uncertain whether he would survive. But also, for reasons I do not understand, his father also fell quite ill about the time of Alex’s birth, and both Alex and his father were in the hospital in Lui. Sosten (one of the Lui priests) was visiting Alex and his father, and the father – recognizing he was about to die – placed the baby Alex in Sosten’s hands, and said, “I give this baby to the Church.” And the father died shortly thereafter. Ever since then, Alex has worked for the church and has been cared-for by the church.

This story was another that took my breath away! We dedicate our children to the Lord, especially when we baptize them. But what an experience, to be dying, and to place your one and only child in the hands of the Church! And what a ministry – for the Church in Lui to have raised this boy as its own ever since.

What wondrous love is this? ….

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this. There have been no schools operating in Lui for more than two decades. Because the civil war closed them down.

When the Khartoum government from the north began attacking the southern regions like Lui, they attacked the schools and churches first. I gather they were trying to destroy the fundamental structures of the life in the south.

So … for over two decades … no schools have been able to operate.

Now that a provisional peace has come in to Lui, they are trying to restore schooling. This is one of the schools that Lui had established.

The children throng into these schools. They are very eager to attend school.

But here’s one thing that was heart-breaking to us. When we were there, the drought was devastating. It was so devastating that they had to close the schools, because there was no water for the children. Think of how we have to close school here when there’s a bad snow- or ice-storm. But in Lui, it’s because of a lack of water.

On February 27, we visited the village of Kedibah, which was one of the villages that was burned-out by the Dinka last fall. The burned many buildings in the village, including the school. This picture was captured by Archdeacon Robert. In the background is the burned-out school building. When we came to the village and Archdeacon Robert walked across to the school, these children gathered in front of the school remnants. They are so eager to see another school built here! And they believe we are going to rebuild schools here.

Will we build them? The children are waiting.