Friday to Sunday, 15th – 17th November: Ococia to Oditel to Soroti
We spent a little time at the school before leaving with Emma at about 10.00 on Friday and stopped at the weekly market, which is where Emma sometimes takes the children. At first, people used to say, “Why are you bringing those mad children here? Take them away.” Emma patiently explained that they weren’t mad but were like any other children except that they have a disability. They are now accepted.
We drove for about twenty minutes to get to Emma’s village home where his mother lives. I last saw her in a camp in Soroti about fifteen years ago – she still has two of the photos I took then of the family. Emma told her very firmly that we couldn’t stay for more than about an hour, so there wouldn’t be time for her to cook a meal. She was very disappointed, so cooked sweet potatoes and isuk, which I have never eaten, or even heard of before. They are related to groundnuts and had been boiled in their shells, so were soft to eat and tasted similar to boiled groundnuts. His old grandmother and another brother also came to see us.
We managed to leave at about midday and drove on to Oditel which is where hundreds of unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave as and when their remains were found in the surrounding bushes after the LRA invasion in 2003. There is now a memorial to them.
Jane Adongo (Emma’s sister who was sponsored through TESS) is now the Clinical Officer at Oditel Health Centre III. We were shown around while Jane finished treating a baby. They have two small wards, where some people were on drips for malaria, and a delivery room. It was lovely to see Jane at work and she was so excited to see us. She then took us back to her accommodation where her 18 month old boy was being looked after.
Two girls who came to the Health Centre were in the same class as the triplets I wanted to meet, so went to the nearby school to fetch them while Robert and Emma went off to find their father Elwoku David in the village. Josephine, their first born, now married with two children, heard I had come and arrived first, riding a motorbike which she had borrowed.
Josephine was 11 when I first met the family by chance in one of the IDP (refugee) camps in Wera in 2004. I had been walking around the camp in 2004 on my own whilst waiting for someone, and saw Elizabeth holding triplets which she had recently delivered in their only overcrowded hut, without any help. Suddenly, their family had increased from four children to seven. The triplets were surprisingly big but already showing signs of lack of food because Elizabeth couldn’t produce enough milk for three when eating only one miserable meal a day. So I had asked if they would like me to take them to Soroti Hospital for help. Sadly, the doctor in the hospital refused to even check them, not even uncover their faces which were wrapped as usual, because they weren’t actually sick! The Nutrition Ward couldn’t help because their special milk was only suitable for babies over six months. The family stayed with me that night – and I saw why Elizabeth was exhausted. Because she didn’t have enough milk, and only two breasts, one baby was always screaming from hunger – I took each baby in turn into bed with me so that she could sleep with two babies feeding until I couldn’t pacify the one I had any longer and swapped with one of the others! After discussion with Ruth Obaikol, a newly qualified doctor, and her father Bishop Charles, we bought bottles and formula milk and I taught her how to sterilise and make up the milk (not easy to do in the camp, and therefore a risk) and suggested she gave them a bottle only once a day, last thing at night, to fill them up so that she could get some sleep. Charles and I also went shopping in the market before taking them back to the camp and bought enough nutritious food to last the whole family for a month so that Elizabeth would be able to produce more milk. I left money with Charles to buy food every month for a few months. Amazingly, all three of them survived and the family later moved to the camp in Oditel, near their original home, where I visited them again the following year. I last saw them when they were five. When Joseph was a toddler, he was seriously scalded on his right arm, his back and buttocks, with boiling milk. The scalds weren’t properly treated, so became infected and took a long time to heal, leaving terrible scars. Fortunately, he doesn’t remember anything about it. I last saw them ten years ago, when they were five.
The triplets arrived from school, after Josephine, followed by their mother and later by their father who came on a bicycle. They now have nine children. The older four all dropped out of school during Senior 1 or before, because of no money for fees. Their father, David, is an alcoholic, although he has had one or two periods when he has stopped drinking. But he has a reputation in the area of being a drunkard. Robert and Emma saw their home – only three poor grass-thatched huts and four “gardens” for cultivating. He should have managed better by now, especially as he has some education and speaks English quite well.
Joseph’s burn scars have made him very shy and he has been bullied a lot, so fell behind a bit at school and is now just finishing P5 while the other two, Mary and Julius, are finishing P6. They are obviously all very bright, coming 10th, 13th and 7th respectively in their end of year exams out of about 140 children in each class. They deserve to go on to secondary school in a year’s time, and told me they want to be a pilot, a teacher and a nurse. I asked the father if he intended to keep them at school, considering all the others have dropped out of school – he said he didn’t know. I told him if he doesn’t look after them now and educate them, they won’t be able to look after him when is old and needs help. Robert and Emma still hadn’t come back, so I decided to tackle him about his drinking. Jane translated when necessary so that they could all understand. He assured me he doesn’t drink every day and that he only has one drink when he does. His children’s reactions to such statements showed he clearly wasn’t telling the truth! I asked, “If that is true, then why do you have such a reputation in the community? And it isn’t your family who have told me.” No answer – but he did say he would stop drinking! But it isn’t that easy, especially when it’s part of his life and culture and there is no help here for alcoholics.
When Robert and Emma returned, I quickly filled them in on the conversation so far and they happily took over from me, speaking very firmly about paying school fees and telling him the importance of planning how to cultivate his gardens and ‘invest’ any surplus so that he can’t use the money for the wrong things. They agreed it was appropriate for me to give them 50,000 (about £11) as a contribution to next term’s fees: but we found that the father still owes 25,000 for this last term – such a small amount that Robert was disgusted he hadn’t paid it. We gave the money to Jane and told Mary (who is clearly very responsible) to bring the bill from school on Monday. The children have a problem studying at home as it is dark, and they have no light, by the time they have come back from school and finished the chores, so I gave them my little solar lamp which gives a very good light. When we got up and moved around to take photos, Elizabeth managed to tell Robert that she has had enough of David regularly beating her when he comes home from drinking.
We talked a lot about the situation as we drove onwards to Soroti. I was worried that I shouldn’t have challenged the father about his drinking and paying school fees – it is certainly not something I would have done in the UK! But things are a bit different here, especially where there are no statutory services to sort out such problems. They were adamant it was the right thing to do, which is why they happily took over from me. We talked about what on-going support there might be. They are Catholics, as is Emma who knows the Catholic priest very well and said he is a really good pastor, so he will talk to him about the family and see what support he can give them. Emma said he will also come back when term has finished and talk to all the family, together and individually, and keep an eye on things. And Jane is also there all the time. The tragedy is that this is not an isolated case.
We dropped Emma at his Soroti home on Friday evening and came to Ben’s house where he was already waiting for us, having come back from Kampala the previous day to see me. However, he had been involved in an accident, as a passenger on a “boda-boda” (“taxi”) motorbicycle, just as they were leaving Soroti to go back to the village to see how his sister, Margaret, was. Fortunately, his only injury was to his right hand, which was badly grazed, bruised and swollen.
Saturday, 16th: Ben was very unwell during the night, so Robert took him into town to be tested for malaria – which turned out to be negative. While they were out, one of Robert’s sister’s older girls told me that things were much worse in the village. The previous day, Margaret’s husband had come to the home and beaten up the two children aged about 10 and 12, even stamping on the head of the older one. He had a lot of chest pain and started vomiting blood, so was admitted at the nearby Health Centre. The father refused to pay for his treatment, so Margaret said that she would go with all the children to report to the police and each child would be able to tell exactly what was going on. He then ‘found’ some money. The baby had been discharged from Soroti a week ago, but his face and eyes were swelling – they wondered if it was due to the medicine he had been given to take at home, but Ruth didn’t know what it was. I called Robert to come back to hear what she had told me. We discussed the need to report the violence to the police and go to the village to help Margaret. But that’s when Robert started to get severe pain in his neck which spread to his back, making it impossible for him to travel, and Ben had already gone to bed.
By the afternoon, Ben was recovered sufficiently for us to spend several hours working on his tour business, Homestead Tours and Safaris. But Robert was at his home in bed – with the car parked nearby. He did manage to get out of bed and take me to the other side of Soroti at about 7.00pm to stay with Naphtali and Gaudesia for five nights, and then went back home with the car. He later went to a clinic where he also tested negative for malaria. He had a very bad night and sounded very unwell on the phone. As I was praying in bed, it dawned on me that Ben’s accident and both their unidentified illnesses, which confined them to bed and prevented them going to the village, were not just a coincidence but due to a spiritual attack. This is something which appears to be much more common here than at home. Margaret’s co-wife practices witchcraft against her already. I realised it was necessary to pray against this very specifically and for protection for the whole family in this terrible time of suffering and violence.
Sunday, 17th: Naphtali, who is Vicar of the Cathedral, was keen that I should come to the 11.30 English service. He actually has four services, running from 6.30am to about 1.30pm (although he didn’t get home until 2.30)! Robert, who was still very unwell and in a lot of pain, came up with the car before 11.00 and we prayed together before I took him home and then went to the Cathedral with Susan, one of Naphtali’s daughters.
After a late lunch, I went to the home of Sam and Olivia Ediau and their five children. Margaret, the second one, is my Goddaughter. Sam was out all day, but the children were, as always, so excited to see me and it was lovely to catch up with Olivia. I had brought various little presents for the children, so spent time playing with them and making them up. Little Samuel (five) loved making the cardboard kit car. We had another meal, at about 4.30. At 7.00, we cut the cake Olivia had made as Blessing (first) and Faith (fourth) have their birthdays in November. They are all still in primary school, but Blessing has just finished taking her PLE exams and will go into S1 in February. Favour (the third) takes after Olivia’s father and is taller than Margaret and even Blessing!
We recalled when Faith was born in Soroti Hospital eight years ago. Olivia had been sent out in the dark to walk around the filthy compound next to the main road because the midwife said she was nowhere near ready to deliver. We struggled to help her in when the urge to start pushing overtook her. I literally caught little Faith, preventing her falling headfirst onto the concrete floor as she slipped out while Olivia was still standing, unable to get up onto the high delivery bed and the midwives were still messing about.
Sadly, I forgot to take my camera or iPhone with me, so didn’t get any photos. I got back to Naphtali at about 8.00pm and phoned Robert. He was so much better and said our prayers had been answered although he couldn’t actually get through to anyone in the village by phone.