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Two Miracle Babies

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Life in Atiak is still buzzing! We totaled 77 births for the month of February. Everyone was born happy and healthy, besides one very unfortunate case of anencephaly (another rare condition where the baby’s brain fails to grow and are not able to survive). Life becomes so vivid when in close focus with such incredible loss and sadness.

And then the joy!…

 

Two weeks ago we had twins, the first a footling breech and a birth where the baby was born face first (there’s a 1 in 600 chance that this is the case). Both were smooth as butter- everyone healthy and easy as can be. Then this past Monday we had two miracle babies- Prosy is seventeen and she had a seventy-two hour hard labor…she was strong throughout! When her baby was finally born at 4:07pm on Monday afternoon it was not breathing and very limp. This can be quite common and babies will recover within minutes on their own with gentle stimulation. This baby was not able to do that for herself. Jessica and I used airbag to inflate her lungs and help her clear the fluid blocking her breaths for about 40 minutes before she finally, miraculously, started breathing on her own. We were pulling out every trick in the book, putting her skin to skin with mom, having mom talk to the baby, warming her with sheep skins- we even tried a trick credited to Mexican midwives of putting a dab of honey under the baby’s lip every few minutes-we all know the warnings against it. Soon after the third dose of honey baby started gasping and then soon after that breathing gently on her own- she never cried until the next morning. If that wasn’t enough of a rush of joy, a few hours later a very special mom gave birth. Gifty lost her first baby at one week mysteriously after it was delivered by c-section and then had two more late miscarriages in the next two years. She decided she wanted to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean section) with us at the birth center despite the health center’s warning against it. She had a fast and uncomplicated labor that started in early morning and had her baby girl in her arms by sunset. It was a beautiful, wonderful, heartwarming sight to see!

 

Pictures coming soon!

 

 

Best,

 

Lila

 

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Back in ATTIAK!Changes BIG, changes small

 

Happy 2016! Hannah and I rang in the New Year together in Kampala and then headed straight up North to our old home in Attiak!

We were met with many smiling faces- new and old, including the footless chicken, Baby Jesus (the prolific kitten having cat), Peace (the new translator) and her two children Cynthia 4 and Noel 2, Zilla, a new, fabulous cook and all the Local midwives still tirelessly catching babies!

I am very happy to report that the birth center is thriving. They are averaging 3 births a day and we have seen 44 babies safely born as of the 15th of this month. The new manager is a young woman named Christine, a midwife who was herself trained at Motherhealth International.

My first night at the clinic I had a very small baby born with an umphalocele (this is a rare birth defect where the baby’s intestines form on the outside of it abdomen). Thankfully, we stabilized the baby and made it to the hospital in time to be treated. The road to Gulu is now PAVED! We can get there in only 45 minutes now as opposed to two hours it took before (thank you Chinese contractors). There is a new motorcycle with medical sidecar to pick up ladies in labor and a spiffy new van with the words Yala Yala written on the back; this Acholi phrase is used to describe the hurried scramble made when baby is coming!

The pharmacy is much better stocked and well organized. We are now equipped to test for and treat malaria (case load is high this season-we treat multiple mothers every day). We also have comprehensive HIV birth treatment plans and testing if needed- though most mothers have been tested at the Attiak health center upon their first visit. Our postpartum care program is more comprehensive. Most moms come for follow-up care, which helps us track babies and make sure everyone is off to a healthy start.

All placenta’s have delayed clamping due to evidence that the placenta can infuse baby with oxygen rich blood during its tranformation into and air breather. We also now cut all the babies cords in the traditional manner, using the inner pieces of sharp grass or bamboo which is fun!

The teaching program for local midwives and village outreach programs are alive and well with many participants. Last week I visited a village about 20 minutes away on boda-boda (motorcycle) and did 6 antenatal appointments and 3 postpartum check-ups. We saw women in a local midwives hut and ate sweet potatoes and cowpeas for lunch under the banana trees for lunch after the appointments. Last Saturday more than 10 local midwives came to the center for a lesson that Jess, the other volunteer midwife who hails from the UK and I taught about life saving skills for cord prolapse (when the mom’s water breaks and the cord drops down before the child’s head causing it to compress its oxygen source unless emergency precautions are taken). This week we taught about feeling bellies to determine baby’s position. One midwife shared a story about a breech presentation where the feet were stuck and she had no idea what to do and the child was left helpless…next week we will teach breech delivery!

In addition to the new road and improvements in the clinic we also have a new picnic table so the chickens can no longer pick at our dinner plates We have fruit and vegetables served every day along with the usual beans and rice, and eggs in addition to the fried bread for breakfast; a huge improvement from 2012. In town center there is a new Internet café (really just a shipping container with one computer and wifi). I have been helping Tura set up his new laptop there and start searching for jobs. He will get his final test results from school later this month.

Hannah returned to the States on the 6th. I find much comfort in the warm Earth Birth Community. I feel like I left a space in my heart in this place and I feel so happy that I really did come back. Friends seem slightly surprised and extremely pleased. Though there are dark moments (mostly riding with hard cases in the night to Lacor hospital where staff move in slow motion and hope is scant and air sour), life here is mostly bright and full. I am rejoicing in the positive changes and cherishing the easy rhythm of life in Northern Uganda.

Thank you for all of your support…its making good things happen!

 

Here are some pictures for your enjoyment:

Lacolos (local midwives) learning palpation for baby’s position

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!Babies are in some funky New Years Style- these hats were donated by some fab euro-grannie knitters

2.4 kilo baby

This is the New Volunteer Midwife JessJess

Cynthia, Brigette (one of the midwife on duty’s grandaughters) and Cynthia’s little bro Noel (who dresses in her clothes.

Cynthia, Brigette and Noel

Peace, the new translator, mother of Cynthia and Noel, with Lacolos

Peace and MidwivesHappy 2016! Hannah and I rang in the New Year together in Kampala and then headed straight up North to our old home in Attiak!

 

We were met with many smiling faces- new and old, including the footless chicken, Baby Jesus (the prolific kitten having cat), Peace (the new translator) and her two children Cynthia 4 and Noel 2, Zilla, a new fabulous cook and all the Local midwives still tirelessly catching babies!

 

I am very happy to report that the birth center is thriving. They are averaging 3 births a day and we have seen 44 babies safely born as of the 15th of this month. The new manager is a young woman named Christine, a midwife who was herself trained at Motherhealth International.

My first night at the clinic I had a very small baby born with an umphalocele (this is a rare birth defect where the baby’s intestines form on the outside of it abdomen). Thankfully, we stabilized the baby and made it to the hospital in time to be treated. The road to Gulu is now PAVED! We can get there in only 45 minutes now as opposed to two hours it took before (thank you Chinese contractors). There is a new motorcycle with medical sidecar to pick up ladies in labor and a spiffy new van with the words Yala Yala written on the back; this acholi phrase is used to describe the hurried scramble made when baby is coming!

The pharmacy is much better stocked and well organized. We are now equipped to test for and treat malaria (case load is very high this season-we treat multiple mothers every day). We also have comprehensive HIV birth treatment plans and testing if needed- though most mothers have been tested at the Attiak health center upon their first visit. Our postpartum care program is more comprehensive and most moms come for follow-up care, which helps us track babies and make sure everyone is off to a healthy start.

The teaching program for local midwives and village outreach programs are alive and well with many participants. Last week I visited a village about 20 minutes away on boda-boda (motorcycle) and did 6 antenatal appointments and 3 postpartum check-ups. We saw women in a local midwives hut and ate sweet potatoes and cowpeas for lunch under the banana trees for lunch after the appointments. Last Saturday more than 10 local midwives came to the center for a lesson that Jess, the other volunteer midwife who hails from the UK and I taught about life saving skills for cord prolapse (when the mom’s water breaks and the cord drops down before the child’s head causing it to compress its oxygen source unless emergency precautions are taken). This week we taught about feeling bellies to determine baby’s position. One midwife shared a story about a breech presentation where the feet were stuck and she had no idea what to do and the child was left helpless…next week we will teach breech delivery!

In addition to the new road and improvements in the clinic we also have a new picnic table so the chickens can no longer pick at our dinner plates We have fruit and vegetables served every day along with the usual beans and rice, and eggs in addition to the fried bread for breakfast; a huge improvement from 2012. In town center there is a new Internet café (really just a shipping container with one computer and wifi). I have been helping Tura set up his new laptop there and start searching for jobs. He will get his final test results from school later this month.

Hannah returned to the States on the 6th. I find much comfort in the warm Earth Birth Community. I feel like I left a space in my heart in this place and I feel so happy that I really did come back. Friends seem slightly surprised and extremely pleased. Though there are dark moments (mostly riding with hard cases in the night to Lacor hospital where staff move in slow motion and hope is scant and air sour), life here is mostly bright and full. I am rejoicing in the positive changes and cherishing the easy rhythm of life in Northern Uganda.

 

Thank you for all of your support…its making good things happen!

 

 

Highlighting Hope

BLESSED WATOTO COMMUNITY SCHOOL BUILDS PERMANENT CLASSROOMS

Hannah and Lila thrive in their new Oakland Community

Local Women Global Mission continues to nurture partnerships in Uganda and the United States

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Hannah here:

What do trendy techy San Francisco and rural post-conflict Northern Uganda have in common?

Well, it turns out, quite a bit…

I moved to the Bay Area last fall (along with Lila, we like to be in the same place!) and have been discovering an atmosphere of progress and change, not unlike the one I was a part of in Uganda. Hope is around every corner, hiding in a locally grown bundles of kale or in a high school drama class, in an “earthen” brick or in a fried chicken sandwich from Bake Sale Betty’s . Hope, yup, its around.

As I engage more in my new community here, tutoring/mentoring “high risk” high school students with Youth Uprising (http://www.youthuprising.org/) and helping refugee families transition to American life with Refugee Transitions (http://www.reftrans.org/), I am often reminded of the Ugandan community I left behind but continue to hold in my heart and mind.

As I watch Oakland high school students writing scripts about violence in their community, I think back to our girl’s group and the girls role playing situations of violence and mistreatment and how to respond to them. As I head out to get lunch at Bake Sale Betty’s, opened by a graduate of the women initiative’s education and small business loan program (http://www.womensinitiative.org/index.htm – Heidi Sistare works here), I think of the women in Atiak opening their first small business. When Komakech sent the photos above of the construction at Blessed Watoto Community School our dear friend Kate Hubbell, a natural builder and permiculturist, declared, “they are using natural building techniques, that is mud mortar, that is just like what we are doing here.”

It’s inspiring. Wherever there are hardships and inequalities, there are people doing something about it. It might not be happening as fast as we would like, but it’s happening… everywhere, at the same time, and it’s all connected. Hope, I feel like I’m practically tripping over it, yet if one’s not careful a sandwich can start to look just like a plain old sandwich and a moody teenager can start to look like just another headache.

Blessed Watoto is constructing a school building so kids will be able to learn even in the rainy season, Vineyard children are eating local healthy food for school lunch, Tura is excelling in nursing school, Women of Atiak are starting businesses and so are women of Oakland, Refugees are settling into safety and babies are being born safely. Hope, it’s delicious, have some!

 

Ok, my turn, this is Lila:  

Community: Such a potent flavor of life on a small island.  I remember talking with a staff member at the Vineyard Healthcare Access program about how much she liked her job on the Vineyard because she felt like it was possible to make sure that EVERYONE on the island had access to health insurance. Islands create a finite sense of community. Living in harmony with your community makes your heart sing. Alternatively, striking an off note in a small community or being out of tune creates an uncomfortable discord that can cause you to want to bury your head in the sand. It is even more of a challenge to be in concert when we tune into larger communities and venture to think globally. Walking around in Oakland California I hear hopeful melodies, like those I feel in my work with Local Women Global Mission, on the Vineyard and how I felt at Earth Birth in Attiak. We each play out on our unique instruments improvising  in this millennial global jam session. Here are some links to just a few of the bright notes of Oakland!

*Being in a state where midwifery is legal is a beautiful thing! There are more midwives, busy thriving practices and because midwives can now accept Medi-cal coverage, low-income women can choose the option of a home birth.

http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201401101630/b

*Phat Beats Farmer’s Market is a wonderful place to spend my Saturday morning volunteering. My best friend Kate Hubbell who has been living out here on the West coast for the past few years introduced me to this lively group of activists. They are working to provide excess to healthy food in so called “food deserts” in the city of Oakland.

http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/

*This multi-media exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts exposed the workings of individuals forging a peaceful life in the complicated political landscape of South Africa.

http://www.ybca.org/public-intimacy

 

A Gift To You

Happy Holidays!

We want to express to you our deepest gratitude for your continued support!
Let this be our gift to you:

Your support and contributions are helping to truly transform a community…

  • TURA THOMAS OCHOLA – Tura is in his second semester of college working toward his degree in nursing. He is working hard and is so happy to be in school. Please receive his thanks and the thanks from his family:

I don`t know which best word I should use to thank all of you for the wonderful Heart you have for me. – Tura Thomas Ochola

We send our sincere greetings to you all and we are so happy for what you have done to Thomas and we ask God to Bless all of you and reward you so much. So all the family members of Thomas with great pleasure Wishes all of you and all your Family members A MERRY X-MAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR. Thank you so much. – Bernard and the Family Members of Thomas

  • BLESSED WATOTO SCHOOL – This fall Local Women Global Mission partnered with the Oak Bluffs and the Chilmark school to engage their fourth and fifth grade classes in hands on cultural exchange. The Chilmark school put their Halloween fundraising efforts towards support for the Blessed Watoto Community School. They raised $3742.44!

 http://chilmarkschool.mvyps.org/Chilmark_School/Photos/Pages/ATIAK.html#grid


The Chilmark students experience daily activities of Atiak – carrying water and sweeping the compound.

Below is the collapsed roof of the Blessed Watoto School caused by heavy rain. Thanks to the help of the Chilmark School’s fundraising efforts renovations, including a tin roof and brick walls, begin this February .


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  • BLESSED WOMEN LOAN OFFICE (Women’s Microfinace Initiative WMI) – Less than a decade ago the plot below was unsafe to walk through. Soon it will be a meeting place for women to plan their financial futures. This is the foundation for the WMI loan office in Atiak. Thanks to all of you that attended the panel and movie screenings this past August!

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  • EARTH BIRTH (Mother Health International) – Nicole White, a resident of Detroit Michigan and former classmate of Lila’s at Maternidad La Luz, is currently serving as the international midwife at Earth Birth Atiak. She was able to screen the short film that was made about the center while we were there. http://theafricachannel.com/shows/first-time-africa/ Staff members had the joy of viewing themselves on the big screen! What fun! New babies of Atiak continue to be born in a safe, compassionate and colorful environment.

*South Sudan, only 20 km from Atiak, you are in our thoughts. Wishes of peace*

Word Painting: Heartbreaking Beauty

Dispersing mist and emerging sunshine intermingle below in the many green valleys. I look carefully at the green hillside next to me and see that there are also fine tall grasses of a burnt red hue, a variety of tiny white flowers and even a few yolk-orange blossoms. I realize that the green I see far off in all directions is subtly made up of many colors.

 

A woman approaches, her bare feet so sure of the small dirt path that she does not need to look down. She wears a long skirt and a button down short-sleeved blouse with one button missing and a small tear along the bottom hem. A small round “cushion” weaved of banana leaves helps to carry an enormous bundle of collected firewood on her head. As she gets closer an easy smile emerges. She greets me and continues down the hill. I look on. “How beautiful,” I think.

 

I just finished Alain De Botton’s book, The Art of Travel, in which he spoke of human kind’s desire to possess beauty, to capture it and save it. He argues that more effective than the camera, the best way to preserve beauty is to paint or “word paint” the scene. For when you try to paint the green hill or describe the passing woman you see details that make up the whole, which helps you to understand the beauty, which helps you to internalize it.

 

But on that particular morning, as the woman passed me on the hillside, beauty was not the only thing I saw. I also saw hardship. I saw poverty. I saw struggle. Amongst all these possible negative impressions I was surprised that beauty was the first to reveal itself. I decided to try, as suggested, to understand the parts in order to better understand the beauty at hand.

 

The bundle was tied with a banana fiber rope. Hands and feet were sufficient in attaining and transporting and using this daily necessity. It would be done the same way the following day and the day after that. I was seeing simplicity; something I yearn for but cannot always attain as I also yearn for variety and newness and ever-increased productivity.

 

The load was clearly very heavy, but the woman carried on as if it was not there. Under great physical strain, she was attending to her needs (and the needs of her family) with grace, assurance and poise. I was seeing independence, strength, physical capacity… Has our reliance on washing machines and cars and dishwashers and computers subconsciously (or consciously) made us question our own capacity, our own force, or own ability?

 

On that early morning that firewood would provide a cooking fire that would allow her to make breakfast for her children before sending them to school. This woman knew what her family needed and she was providing it successfully. I was seeing dignity. Sometimes I see almost the same scene and only feel empathy or concern because the subject seems beaten down instead of subtly victorious. But this beauty was definitely made up of dignity. Sometimes I feel our devotion to ambition mixed with our broad knowledge and contradicting ideas confuses our definitions of purpose and success and value. Part of me longs to have those things clearly defined for me and to feel the satisfaction of following them. Though I also revel in the freedom and ability to make my own definitions.

 

I saw beauty because I saw qualities that I value and am perhaps continuously struggling with. I saw beauty because I saw some of the subtly colors that made up the whole.

 

Please don’t confuse these images of beauty on this particular morning to be a general glorification of poverty or a condemnation of comfort and modern technologies. Though the text is black and white, the words are not meant to be read that way. Our organization empowers women, giving them opportunities to develop and grow outside of their domestic role. Some of our coordinators dream of learning how to drive and that excites me.

 

I have not chosen to live my life out in Africa. I will go back to a life in America with its washing machines and schedules based on progress and efficiency. Today I hope only to internalize the beauty I saw and carry it with me. This is but one of my attempts to make sense of the collection of daily contradictions I come face to face with and the many subsequent contradicting emotions.

Savoring Success, Gaining Strength

To all those who contributed to Local Women Global Mission (Lila and I), to all those who encouraged us and supported us, to all those that have been sending well wishes and prayers let us savor together some recent victories.

I just got back from a trip to our first African home of Atiak and left overflowing with pride and encouragement. You, me, her, them, WE have initiated some meaningful changes in an area that was only recently ignored by the world, as rebels/soldiers abducted children and tortured civilians.

Loans and leadership:

The first group of borrowers just finished their first six-month loan cycle. Every single borrower paid back her loan in full and on time! They have been attending support group meetings; re-creating important social bonds like trust, bolstering their self-confidence, and discussing local business. They have been saving! Not part of Ugandan culture, but a big part of WMI culture, saving is seen as an important factor in getting people and keeping people out of poverty. Sylvia has been an excellent leader. She is dedicated and determined. She has been encouraging and guiding these borrowers on their path to success!

Meet some of the borrowers from the first group of WMI ladies:

Aromarach Paska has finished her first 6-month cycle with WMI. She is 32, married, with 6 children plus a dependent. Dependents are very common in the north of Uganda due to the violence during the “Kony wars”. Paska always paid her loan on time and was one of the top 3 savers in her group. She says she saves in case of emergencies. She was awarded with a new lamp and much praise from the rest of the group! Since getting the loan Paska has expanded her fish business to also sell produce such as tomatoes and onions. She has seen her profits increase and aside from saving that increased profit, she has also used part of it to pay school fees and make small home improvements. She wants to remain with WMI so that she can continue to expand her business and make sure that all her 7 children finish their studies!

Atim Grace is 33, married, with 6 children. When she first started the program her face was hollow and she often wore a strained, tense expression. This trip I didn’t recognize her (6 months in the program). I actually asked our coordinator her name and when we had added a new member! Grace now looks healthy and dons a beaming smile. She has expanded her fish business to include produce. She thanks WMI training for her increased profits. “I have gained business skills. I now know how to welcome my costumers. I also can re-pay my loan and save.” All her children are now attending school. She is cooking more nutritious food at home and she has bought some basic furniture. She has big goals for the future! She first wants all her children to finish schooling, she wants to buy livestock, and eventually she wants to build a permanent house. She feels that continuing with WMI will help her achieve these goals.

Grace

 

A third group of Atiak borrowers were trained and given loans as well, amongst them our first disabled member. It is encouraging to think we are truly reaching the most vulnerable.

School Fees and Simsim:

I had a wonderful visit with Tura. He made me fresh squeezed passion fruit juice and peas with simsim (sesame) paste. He is busy studying hard to pass his final exams of this year. He has decided to specialize in nursing as he continues his education. I have no doubt his patient manner and broad smile will serve him well in that role.

Emergency Vehicles and Everyday Births:

Earth Birth was a buzz of activity when I arrived. Stewart greeted me with a big enthusiastic hug dripping in sticky guava. Midwives and staff all emphasized how busy it has been, with up to 7 births in a day! The emergency vehicle is still in good working order and had left that morning to carry two women to the hospital in town (Lacor).

_________

Congratulations Local Women Global Mission team!

Thank-you for all the various types of support, it was all needed to get to this point…

Forward in all directions

_________

Amongst all the success, there were also two baby boys to cherish:

Molly’s baby, Isaak, is now 5 months. After a hard delivery (which Lila and I were present for) both mom and baby are happy and healthy!

Sylvia gave birth last month (from Earth Birth). Getting to hangout with baby Desmond was the best!

A Prayer

This is taken for the book Child, Victim, Soldier. I had read it in the North as I was trying to learn more about the past atrocities and current effects of Kony and the LRA. I adapted it just slightly. Lila and I used to read it together in Atiak and now we continue to read it separately, Lila from Martha’s Vineyard and I from Mbale. We thought you might like to share your voices from your perspective parts of the world. 

 

To you, creator of nature and humanity, of truth and beauty, I pray

Hear my voice, for it is the voice of victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations

Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war

Hear my voice, when I beg you to instill into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice and the joy of fellowship

Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country who are ready to walk the road of peace

Hear my voice, and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with sharing of self, to war with peace

Hear my voice, and assist us in creating a world of everlasting peace

 

Balance

 

 

How can a people, a place, a continent that is so good at balancing things be so off balance? Today as I trailed behind a woman balancing, on her head, a bulging sack of potatoes topped by a balancing hoe, I lamented over just this question.

 

Off balance, off kilter, outta whack…

So much hard work, So little financial security

So much food, So much malnutrition

So much beautiful cloth, So many children dressed in rags

Strong communities, No national unity

Joyous songs, Somber celebrations

An abundance of forgiveness, Deep jealousies and mistrust

So much respect for visitors, So little respect for women…

Books are filled with the reasons why Africa is so off balance. Many internal reasons yes, but I would argue mostly external ones. Many of the factors are still around today while some of the reasons are old and long gone, but their impact has remained. I hope our generation’s impact will also remain. I hope that we will provide the resources and training needed to steady the scales a bit. But, ultimately, I hope our generation will give Africa the opportunity to balance itself, because even if we do not know how to balance things on our heads, it doesn’t mean it is the wrong way to do it.

Repulsion and Admiration: Village Circumcision Ceremony

After the large opening day celebration (described below) circumcision season continued, with surgeons moving to each individual village throughout the Bugisu area. Last week they came to Buyobo.

The boys get council before the ceremony begins

Spewing millet beer on boys

The boys and their relatives were draped in leaves and vines. They ran the same path as their ancestors to a holy tree where ancestral spirits can be called upon. Community members, myself amongst them, followed in tow. I was told that in the early morning the spirits had appeared as a large black snake emerging from the tree.

After some dancing the group continued along the mountain paths, weaving through the village center and finally to the home of the first four boys to be circumcised. They positioned me right next to the surgeon. I was surrounded by men holding sticks above their heads, ready to strike at the first hint of weakness. The first boy came running over and stopped at the stone indicating his spot. He stood absolutely still with a blank expression on his face. I watched as the surgeon cut off a very substantial amount of skin. The boy’s face did not register the immense pain inflicted upon him, only through his split second hesitation did I see his panic, but then virtually immediately he was jumping to show his bravery. He ran down the hill to the village center with his wound exposed to further show his strength. He would later return for his second cut.

THE CUT… look for the knife is in the bottom right hand corner.

The face of a boy mid-cut

My emotions overwhelmed me… repulsion and admiration… I couldn’t actually process or make sense of what I just saw… and then there were the sticks waving and all the noise and pushing… and then another boy ran up to take his position. This one also assumed the stoic stance, but after the first cut he did not jump. It seemed it took all his will power to remain standing. His lips refused to grimace, but his eyes practically exploded, bulging out to expose the pain that his lips repressed. Deep sympathy was now added to my shaken state. My instinct was to run over and hug the boy, to put my jacket on the ground so he could lie down and be treated. Boys three and four followed. The first boy ran up the hill and took his second cut with the same fierceness as before. The all the surgeries were complete. The four successful circumcisions brought about a lot of joyous ululations and grass skirt shaking. It left me confused, awe struck and sickened.

Today I saw the four boys walking together down the road, all in sarongs (the tell tale sign of post-circumcision) walking slowly. I wanted to run over to them and tell them how incredibly tough I thought they were. I also wanted to tell them how sorry I was for them (I am told healing is a month of pain, worst than the actual cutting). I was also hit with some embarrassment and wondered if they felt uncomfortable at all . We had shared something that seemed to me very personal and we didn’t even know each other’s names, should I introduce myself? But, yet again, I had been amongst countless other community members that also did not know these boys. The day had passed. Life had resumed its normalcy. I just nodded at the boys and greeted them as I would anybody, with a simple “mulembe.” I hoped the even tone and the slow nod would be enough to show my respect, to acknowledge that we had been through something together, to show my appreciation for their accepting me on the other side of the cultural threshold.

The Power of The Drum

“If they want order they have to stop that drumming,” Erik, shouted over the noise. I was happy my co-worker had insisted on coming. I needed a little Ugandan explanation to make sense of what I was seeing. For the last two hours the police had been trying to move a large crowd that had already been partying for six days, out of the party, only to stand in a long line and be let back in again through a security checkpoint. The group consisted mostly of already drunk men, there to celebrate the commencement of circumcision season. This happens every two years and is extremely important to the Bugishu people. If you are Bugishu and you die uncircumcised, they will circumcise you before they bury you. It is your test of manliness and your introduction to manhood. Traditionally upon completion you are given land, cows, goats, and the blessing from your family and clan leader to start your own life. This year the president of Uganda, Museveni, was supposed to attend the event, so the weeklong party was interrupted by his Excellency’s need for people to pass through a security checkpoint. People were not happy. They shouted their political views. They complained that their food would get cold. They claimed the land as their own and not that of the president. But finally they gave in and had started to form a massive line behind a single portable metal detector, set up on a stretch of dirt road leading into the celebration. All was going surprisingly well when a truck of to-be-circumcised boys arrived armed with a big drum. The rhythm instantly infected the crowd. The line became a horde, hands in the arm, hips jerking, feet moving. The foreign machine was knocked over, dragged a bit, as the drum continued and the crowd continued toward the entrance. There was nothing left for the police to do. The people flooded in. Circumcision Day had officially begun. “That’s the power of the drum” Erik exclaimed, grinning.

For this entry I have to shed a bit of the anthropological, introspective tone; let me be real, this shit was crazy! (ok, ok, as well as culturally fascinating)

Boys and men were finding all kinds of ways to show their fierceness and strength. One man walked around with a giant log on this head. Another waved a hoof with raw meat still hanging off. More raw meat was displayed as a man carried it, high above his head, hanging off of a wooden spear. Men carried gourds filled with a warm thick millet brew that they share amongst themselves. The boys dance and dress as warriors. Their steps must shake the ground to prove their menacing might. They were draped in beads and decorated with cowry shells and animal hide. But, some boys had an additional accoutrement: a headdress. Going along with the traditional theme, you could suppose this headdress was made out of other natural materials. No, this headdress was a crown of dollar store rubble (of course there are no actual dollar stores here): Christmas tinsel, cheap plastic baby dolls, light bulbs. A mane of goat hair completed the glory.

Erik and I, as if spit out of a tornado, tumbled into the first seats available as we entered the relative calm of the gated ceremony area. This area was for government officials and special guests. I hate to admit it, but I was able to use my “WP” (white privilege) to walk in uninvited and remained unbothered. As we sat awaiting the string of government speeches, the men around us started, one by one, to unsheathe their knives. Photographers rushed over. I quickly started to feel out of place. A man, clearly agitated, quickly motioned us to a new seating section labeled “Invited Guests”. As I looked back to where we had been sitting I saw the sign “Traditional Surgeons”. Err… oops!

I was later able to speak with one of the traditional surgeons in depth. He informed me that traditional surgeons usually do most of their initial practice on the necks of chickens. He told me that they sterilize the knife if they are circumcising a Muslim, but it is Bugishu tradition not to sterilize the knife. So the knives used in the ceremony are intentionally not sterilized. A traditional surgeon carries many knives because a new one is used on each new boy. He also explained that most of the surgeons are called upon by spirits. Ancestors usually come to you in your dreams. He elaborated “it doesn’t matter if you are in London or California, the spirits of your ancestors will find you and they won’t let you rest until you do as they wish and become a traditional surgeon.” He told me that a man that becomes a surgeon without the blessing of the spirits is dangerous because he is working alone. This surgeon assured me that he could drink gourds of millet beer and when he went to “operate” he would be perfectly sober and controlled because it would be the spirits with him guiding his movements. I also learned that the spirit of wanting to become a circumciser could possess women. But women are not allowed to become circumcisers and this condition must be treated. Thankful this spirit has stayed far away from me; being a circumciser looks terrifying, but of course not as terrifying as being circumcised in public.

The circumciser has throngs of people pushing closer to see the action while they are making their delicate cuts. The boy being circumcised must remain perfectly stoic; they cannot grimace, flinch, shy-away or yell. If they do, they bring shame to their family and a bad omen to the clan. They can be beaten for this offense. They cover their wound with a cloth and wait there in the midst of everyone for the major bleeding to stop. The party continues, the drum beats on…

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