Missionaries are not immune from the temptation to try to keep up with the Joneses. Increasingly, we have been unable to ignore the very popular trend of owning a vacation home. And while it may seem to you, our supporters, that such an expense is overly spendy for humble missionaries, we consider it as a necessary element in our lives that will allow us to continue being relatable in conversation when we are on furlough—just as someone else might say “We scooted off to the Poconos for the weekend.” Since land is so expensive in Uganda compared to Southern California, we could not afford to purchase a plot outright, and instead had to accept the largesse of our good friend, Lomilo Paul, who allowed us to build on land that he already owns. The construction was finished earlier this year, and last week, we were finally able to christen the new abode.
Our neighbours and hosts laboured graciously to furnish and decorate the house ahead of our arrival, and we found it ready having been painted outside with a two-toned pattern of different types of mud, and furnished inside with an oversized sofa set and a lovely curtained divider for the sleeping and sitting areas. A brand new outdoor bathing shelter built from old sorghum canes completed our personal facilities (though the pit latrine, already a sumptuous touch in a village home, had also been remodelled to be almost of standing height).
The compound is located in the meaty part of Karamoja, where, in a wilder time, the Karimojong pastoralists used to graze their cattle in the dry season, and where large cross-tribe cattle raids were the order of the day. The pastor at the church Lomilo attends there recalled to us the common site of bodies dead from raiding and banditry just down the road in the recent past. The raiding, while a traditional practice among the pastoralist tribes of Uganda, exploded with the widespread introduction of firearms to the area following the fall of Idi Amin’s government in 1979. The pastor, nicknamed Radio Yesu, explained that during the worst years, many people who had lived in the area fled to other regions and that when he followed suit, he never thought he would be able to return home. In God’s providence, seasons have changed to the extent that peace has prevailed, people are now returning, and cattle are even kraaled without a protective boma. For Lomilo, the place has become an attractive place to homestead, and for us, an ideal vacation destination.
Our weeklong sojourn began last Wednesday. We arrived via one of the two taxis that ply the route from Soroti to Apeitolim. Having never lived in the village, we were unsure what to bring. Again, Lomilo came to the rescue. “You must bring mosquito nets,” we were told, as well as, “some drugs as there is no reliable health centre nearby, and something special for the children.” This being the extent our our instruction, we remained with obvious gaps in our packing list. Lomilo and his family were anxious to put us up in fine style. I convinced him that we should be allowed to cook for his family one meal, but beyond that, he was dedicated to hosting us on a full-board basis, and he managed it to such an extent that even the ginger biscuits we had brought to snack on went unused. Zion went about all week lifting up her shirt, proclaiming “Look how big my tummy is.”
As with any good vacation, we spent time seeing the area’s notable sights—the dam, the village borehole, the outdoor schoolhouse. When we weren’t busy jetting around to these various points of interest, we mostly sat around talking and corralling the children as they played together, greeted the occasional visitor wary about what these unexpected outsiders were doing in their neighbourhood, and negotiated the bride price of a distant family member—in other words, normal vacation stuff.
The house itself provided a handy place to take our morning meal, a cool afternoon respite from the fierce sun (as evidence of the high regard for shade among our neighbours, Apeitolim literally means “one shade” and is named after a particularly important shade tree standing where the town centre grew up), and a highly desirable roost for one of Lomilo’s chickens. But most importantly, our vacation home confirms a sense that we have at last arrived at la belle vie and can now be taken seriously both by our own tribe and by denizens of our adopted home.