Friday, September 9, 2011

Raining in Karamoja

Me in Karamoja during dry season, January 2011
Last week I saw rain. Amazing. Gabriel told me that I would see it—so much of it that I might get flooded. But for me, I wasn’t going to believe it until I saw it for myself. Rain in Uganda is not unusual, especially now during rainy season. But Karamoja, the northern region I visited last week with Henry, has been plagued with drought for decades.

Dry Season in Karamoja

I moved to Uganda in January 2010. My first week in this country, I drove up to Karamoja with Laura (Mercy Uganda’s executive director), Gabriel, and Henry. This was a needs assessment trip to see how our new organization could assist the people there. I had never visited such a harsh looking landscape in my life. I saw many riverbeds, but they were all dry. There was nothing green. Nothing but massive thorn bushes could survive the oppressive heat. The Karamajong people were as poor as the land was desolate. There was no water. When a family managed to fetch well water, they weren’t likely to bathe, or even cook food. There was no food. But they might boil some old cow hides from their homes and eat those. The land in Karamoja was fertile, but it had not rained at all in Karamoja for four years.
The only plants that survive in drought are these thorn bushes

 By the end of 2010, however, it was raining again in the Karamoja Sub-Region. From my home in central Uganda, I heard reports of flooding, farming, and food. But by the time I made it back to Karamoja in January of this year, it was dry again. There was absolutely no evidence that it had ever rained, and I had to wonder—was this “rain” like those reports of “snow” I would hear when I was growing up in Florida?
Karamoja in Rainy Season
But on this trip I saw green fields and mountains. I saw mud! (The mud turned out to be dangerous on the way home—but I’ll save that story for another time.) We drove out on motorcycles to the village of Kayepas to check the progress of a well that Mercy Uganda drilled, and rain clouds chased us as we passed by acres and acres of sunflower fields. 

We saw this rainstorm in the distance from the village of Kayepas.

Even though this particular drought has ended, Karamoja has a very short rainy season every year. The rest of the time, the Karamajong are left to manage through the long dry spells. Still, this area is not without its resources, and its people are not without hope. Henry often says that the hardest part of helping people who live in poverty is getting them to change their mindset of helplessness—getting them “to use the little they have in order to get what they don’t have.” Mercy Uganda has a few projects in Karamoja with that very purpose. I’ll share more about those soon.
People from the village of Kokorio

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