Thursday, February 12, 2009

The future of the Tepez, Karamojong?

We passed through two Tepez villages above Moroto, at the base of the mountain rise.

The children greeted us with great enthusiasm...well most of them.

We headed on up out of the second village as we were told a couple recent stories from the losses of these people.

Two days prior to our arrival, a young man was shot at the edge of the school compound. School was not in session at the time, and the area that it is nestled in serves as a dumping off point for several mountain trails. There is plenty of cover, outside of the clearing where the school and outbuildings are located.

The reason for the shooting was unclear. The Matheniko tribe of the Karamojong were people who lived loosely adjacent to the Tepez. Among the Karamojong, you go to war with your next door neighbor and are friends with the tribe just on the other side of your neighbor.

Perhaps the shooting was retaliation for a severe tragedy that had happened before it.

Among the Karamojong, getting drunk is part of their culture. It seems to happen daily.

Three Matheniko young men, 15 to 16 years old, had gotten drunk and were out on a trail. They encountered three even younger Tepez girls. Whatever reasons motivate dark souls who are under the influence, two of these young men took their AK-47's and shot the girls, killing them.

The outrage among the Tepez was understandable. The desires of their hearts were based on rage and centuries of tradition. They wanted revenge. They wanted blood.

The difference now, from even a couple of years ago, is that the Army has a presence here. Somehow, these young men ended up in their custody.

The Tepez tribe went to them to take these three.

They battled with words and their grief was overwhelming. The pressure mounted on the soldiers. Surely they could understand the need for retribution. The ranking officer, called his superior back in Kampala, the capital city. After some discussion, the top commander told his subordinate to release the young men to the Tepez.

It was done.

The tribe seized these young men. They were taken from the army, and the two who had done the shooting, were shot and killed. When the Karamojong kill, they leave the body where it falls.

The third young man who was present but had not participated, was swarmed by the women of the tribe, they carried with them utensils used in cooking...forks, knives, etc. These became their weapons of opportunity. They thrust them into the third boy until he fell. Then they took large rocks and stoned him, and used boulders to crush his skull.

Sadness, deep sadness coarsed quickly through my body.

This was all so senseless.

We stood in the center of the clearing. All was quiet. The story repeating in my mind. I took photos of the clearing, and of the surrounding landscapes. We had lingered quite a while.

Lopeyok suddenly said, "There is someone over there."

Our party at this point was comprised of the four of us...Larry, Micheal, Lopeyok, and me. Plus Locike (who had been shot through the leg years back and walks with a limp...the first Karamojong believer) and a couple of boys from the village.

We all snapped to attention. Our senses heightened by the telling of the recent events.

"I saw someone over there," came Lopeyok's next phrase.

Someone said, "let's get out of here," and we turned to go. As we began, Lopeyok said, "Don't run, wait."

He knew if we turned tail and headed out, that if those present intended harm, we would be seen as cowards, and shot.

We reformed around Lopeyok. Larry said get the natives behind us (his implication was that the Matheniko had no quarrel with us Americans, and we could shield our friends).

As we did, we saw lying in the grass about 50 yards away, partially obscured by a tree, a man wearing bright orange. He seemed to have his machine gun pointed at us!

What to do?

We talked a bit wildly for moments, while trying to remain calm!

Lopeyok (who is at least 6'9") had a better vantage point than us dwarfs. He said, "I heard more people!"

This was a time for prayer, for Holy Spirit speak on my behalf cause words fail me, prayer.

We kept an eye on the supine man. We scanned the horizon and the many rock outcroppings for others. We saw none. Lopeyok seemed to have a sixth sense that the rest of us did not possess. Probably because he grew up here...and oh yeah, he was Matheniko.

What was that going to do in our current situation? He was known by all in this region. He saw people in every Ugandan city he knew. He is gregarious, tall and quite the talker.

If these were Matheniko, would they see him as a threat since he was basically alienated from his tribe and we were standing in Tepez territory? If these were Tepez, would they see him and Larry and realize we were not a threat?

Tension was thick. Expectation and eyes racing along visible hiding places kept us busy.

Suddenly, Lopeyok spoke again.

"I know them!"

Peering around the corner of the school, seemingly as alarmed as we were, were several more natives. They were Tepez.

Lopeyok called out to them.

Within moments, our tension had turned to a minor euphoria.

We all met midway and began to talk, laugh, shoot photos, and...this moment had just turned on a dime.

Intense fear had given way to overwhelming peace.

The man with laying in the grass was the last to join us.

In this photo, he is standing to my left.

We spent quite a bit of time here, getting to know these people and mostly I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I thanked the Lord over and over, for not allowing the moment to get out of hand. It could have so easily.

Praise God who has all authority in heaven and earth!

When we parted with them a teaching moment began.

Larry told Lopeyok that of the three young men in the former story who had killed the three girls, that the one who did not participate paid the ultimate price, because he did not separate from the evil that was transpiring.

Lopeyok had recently been kicked off of a basketball team because of the same reason. He had been hanging out with a crowd that made poor choices. He saw the lesson in this as clearly as the rest of us.

I got an education this day. We all did.

Mostly, I saw the peace and grace of Almighty God overcome my fear.

He is in control!

Tomorrow will be my last writing for a week. I leave for the mountains of the State of Veracruz, Mexico (not the city) on Sunday and will be doing a set up trip. I will return on Friday evening of next week (Lord willing). I will be working with my contacts from Nuevo Laredo in some Indian villages, away from civilization.

Tomorrow...the return to Kampala.



At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my Gosh that was a close call I am sure i would have fainted ! i have been in situations like that before but not so up close and personal brent you had a tough trip and I lived there eight years and you experienced my whole time there in 10 days man. i love all your stories.

At 12:53 AM, Blogger christy said...

wow! sounds like karamoja. make sure my mom doesnt read this ;)

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Praise God!


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