And gravity and depravity have once again taken their toll.
With all these thoughts and ideas of international aid filling my head, my heart was wrenched back down to earth by the gravity of our shared depravity and Karamoja’s need for so much more…
The World Food Program came to Nakaale.
The Karamojong call it Ewogua. Relief.
We call it chaos.
Relief and TWFP have not been to Nakaale in many months because there was an issue with one of the soldiers guarding the trucks getting shot during the last distribution many months ago. The culprit was chased, beaten bloody, and then taken to the hospital in Tokora, where he healed and then escaped before the police could do anything. Since then TWFP has hesitated in returning to this place, and the villagers have blamed their hunger on the absence of aid.
Tuesday afternoon, Dad and I walked down to observe the chaos of relief, Ur had rained the night before (its rained ever day since Christmas) and the thick greasy mud clung to the soles of our shoes in heavy clumps as we crossed the culvert and walked past the clinic to where the road was blocked off by the sheer number of men and women around TWFP trucks.
The women sat in congregations on the ground, eyeing each other carefully while the men milled among the mass, holding spears and sticks. Every man held something, be it a tree branch or a discarded length of rebar. “It is only for threatening,” Sam told someone later, “just in case…”
We met Lokwii on the outskirts of the mob and he told us that things were pretty quiet thus far. The WFP workers were still unloading the sacks of grain and piling them in great white heaps in the field nearby. The only drama yet was that for unknown reasons a woman had had four of her fingers bitten (off?) in a scuffle. “No soldiers are here for guarding today,” Lokwii said, “Last time in Kakamongole a soldier shot a woman and killed her. TWFP is trying to manage without using the army this time. But you know, soon they will need them. Just wait. The soldiers will be called. And they will come.”
Children followed Dad and I as we entered the thickness of the crowd, smiling ad laughing, pointing to my blonde hair and his grey beard…touching my white skin when I looked in the other direction. They were true village children…those whose homes were hidden or the hills or across the river. They’d ventured out for Ewogua, and unlike the children of Nakaale were not accustomed to seeing wazungu. Boys in torn shirts sold bags of Sunny Gin to the crowd for a cheap price. There is nothing better than hard alcohol in the empty stomachs of a desperate throng already on edge.
There were hundreds of people crowding the road.
We met many people who we knew along the way, and we stopped to talk to them, pausing and taking time to watch and wait. Most of our workers were there; they’d all been allowed to work half day and the instant noon struck, our compound was empty. Kosmas was running as he left. “My wife, she is there, and I am fearing that she will become hurt.”
I stood by one of the trucks talking to Joyce, when the first fight broke out. Sticks and fists were flying. I recognized some of the men in the center of the fray. A woman stood off the the side, her right hand bandages and her fingers bloody. “Perhaps she is the one,” I thought.
The fight was broken up, but then suddenly with no warning at all, the chaos began in earnest…the scene before us unfolds.
A man in a grey t-shirt steals some grain and begins to run. The crowd is livid and quickly follows him. The rush of stomping bare feet and loud cried. A stampede of souls too angry to think rationally. They dash past us and we are caught up in the dust they leave behind.
“It is better if you are not here,” Joyce tells me, “There will be much fighting. Go.”
And so we go.
We walk back down the road toward the clinic, our backs turned on TWFP trucks and the hungry mass before them. Glancing back, I see the driver of the truck hunched over in the cab, doors locked and cell phone pressed urgently to his ear. The soldiers are being called to come.
A woman a few paces in front of us begins to wail. The shrill notes and shrieking that I have only before heard at village funerals. Blood curdling screams and hands waving in the air. A man stands, picking himself up from the dust. She is holding his arm, and I catch my breath. This is what comes from “relief.”
The man was a relative of the person who bit the fingers of the woman. In the rush after the thief, her relative, angered and bent on revenge, spotted this man and hit him on the head with a club. He hit his twice. Two gashes that happened to meet at one end. A “V” for Vendetta.
Blood poured forth from the wounds, covering half his face in a thick stream of red. War paint for one who hadn’t been fighting. His shirt was already soaking, and his screaming wife removed it and gave it to her young son who was following close behind, crying loudly at the sight of his father’s face. Dark rivults and wide channels of red already streamed down the man’s chest and his trousers were speckled like all the Jackson Polluck paintings I saw while in
We urged him to go to the clinic and together we walked that direction.
But as soon as the man arrived at the clinic, he left.
“Why is he leaving?” I asked
“Because if he gets cleaned up before her goes to the police they will not believe him. He must file a report first. Then we can help him.”
“And where is the nearest police station?”
“Namalu. He says he will borrow a bicycle. But he will still not make it all the way to Namalu.”
We all knew that the adrenaline required to pump the pedals of a bike would only make his heart beat faster and more blood leave the wounds on his head. Already his pace was slowing…
Leaving the clinic, we met with Lokwii on the road once more,
“the army has been sent for,” he said.
And so they came. But the chaos of relief was only prolonged when TWFP realized that they did not have enough food too feed all the people gathered. “Tomorrow,” they told the Karimojong, “Tomorrow we will give you food.” And while the trucks returned to town for more supplies, men were posted to guard the 30,000 kilos of maize already piled in the field. We were all certain that the food would be completely gone before daylight dawned. Raided in the middle of the night. But rain poured incessantly all night long and the maize was still there the next morning when TWFP returned with 16,000 pounds of more relief. Ewogua.
Again all of our workers were gone, and the Wrights invited us over for tea and we sat on their blue roof, watching the chaos from a distance. Binoculars and zoomed camera lenses pressed to our squinting eyes. The air was full of humidity form the rain and the roads and paths were filled with the quick steps of nervous people.
We watched. We watched both the “helping” and the hurt.
The food was distributed. Ambushes were set up everywhere. When relief comes, it is more difficult to transport your relief home than it is to actually receive it from TWFP. They say five people were shot in the process but only one woman died; the others escaped. They also say that the soldiers were selling sacks to anyone who had enough money. Even those who had no need of food. They say the bloodied man collapsed three times on his way to Namalu. He managed to file a complaint with the police, but he never returned to the clinic
This is what happens when helping hurts.