I don’t get out much. I don’t own a vehicle here and public transport is questionable. The fastest most direct way to get places is on the back of a motorcycle. We are not yet letting our 11 month old and toddler ride those! When we go down country for supplies or airport trips, we are borrowing a mission vehicle. So, while in Karamoja I walk or bum a ride off of others already en route. I have gone months without getting more than 2 miles from our house. Therefore, my recent opportunity to drive a team member to Nakapiripirit was a real treat!
Nakapiripirit is the head of our local district in Uganda under the same name. In order to get there you drive north on the main road past Tokora, rising into the foothills of Mount Kadam, up a rocky switchback road about forty minutes. You’re spit out onto a beautiful four lane paved highway that runs through town and north to Moroto. We’re hoping one day the tarmac will reach us too! Since it is the official headquarters, it has numerous official buildings like the Ministry of Health (Christopher goes here to meet the District Health Officer on a regular basis), the Ministry of Education and the police station, which was our first stop.
Leah needed a criminal background check for her work permit application and apparently Canada was unwilling to give her one since she hasn’t lived there for many years. She was told to go to the police head quarters in Nakaps (local slang for Nakapiritpirit, you can’t blame them right?!) to get an official letter which would help her get the proper report down country. We weren’t sure what to expect. You never know if you’re going to be kept waiting for hours and leave empty handed, if the person you need to see will even be there or what you were told is true. Upon arrival we were told that the man we needed to see had just gone out. After a bit of discussion, some selfies of my white babies by a staff member and a visit with a friendly older policeman who held Zion, we were told to return after two hours to pick up the paperwork. We thought we could dally for two hours, so left the vehicle there to wander through town.
At first we had no destination in mind, except the other end of town about ¼ mile away. We were thrilled to be out and about. We spotted the little produce market where a handful of women sold tomatoes and cabbage. We passed the hardware and cellphone stores. We chatted with an old blind woman from our church who had made her way to Nakaps to beg for food.
It didn’t take long for us to collect a tail. Children gathered behind us pointing and giggling at the white children. Men stopped what they were doing and looked out from the shade of restaurants and storefronts. A woman ran up to us, grabbed Zion from Leah and couldn’t stop laughing as she insisted that Zion was Leah’s daughter. I think the laughter was merely nervous incredulity at holding a white baby, but my motherly instinct was offended. As politely as I could, I extricated Zion from the woman’s arms and looked for a place to get out of the public eye. With a little direction we found our way to the Hillview Hotel, a place we had visited before, off the main road, with a restaurant. I silently thanked God that we were the only patrons.
We ordered sodas and attempted to sip them slowly. Leah read scripture, Carmel and I played peek-a-boo and tag, Zion cleaned the floor with the belly of her onesie. Before we knew it, it was time to return to the police station.
As we walked back through town, this time with purpose, I mused about the different kinds of interactions we had already experienced that day. Although no less strangers and no less enthusiastic about white children, the staff and cop at the police station had been courteous and polite. The policeman had even offered to walk through town with us carrying Zion. While the gaggle of children who had followed us made rude gestures, pointed and laughed. The strange woman had not even asked if she could hold Zion. Before having children, I was still a spectacle. People would still follow me through town, stare in through restaurant windows while we ate lunch, want to touch my hair and arms, but then I could laugh it off and even ham it up sometimes. Now, when we’re the butt of antics I want to protect my children. I also want to be an example for them. How do we respond to rudeness and offending curiosity with the gospel? I still struggle to answer that question. May the Lord have mercy upon me, may He give me strength to proclaim His goodness even in the face of offense.