On Tuesday, several of us needed some things, so we decided to take a drive. We do most of our local shopping in Namalu, the nearby trading center; but it was market day over in Naturum, and we wanted to see what was available there.
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After driving 10 minutes or so, we arrive in Naturum and drive down into the market scene. There are two clusters of trees where the main activity is happening.
We get out of the vehicle and are quickly surrounded. M, the young son of one of our workers, is there. He asks for a ride back to Nakaale; I agree. Another person requests a ride, but I don’t know them, and express doubt. We need to shop first, anyway.
I walk toward the crowd. Most vendors are seated on the ground, and other people are milling about. I get a little way into the tangle, far enough to see large pots of cooked cassava and a few piles of sad-looking tomatoes – and to wonder whether the produce I came to buy is even here – when one of our mission workers, A, greets me. She says she is hungry; her children are hungry. I say we must pray to God.
I walk on. A clothing vendor calls out, “Hey, white man!” I tell him I would rather be called by my name, and introduce myself. I glance at his goods, but they don’t interest me today, and I move toward the further cluster of trees. Maybe the produce will be there.
It is not, but a veritable hive of people (250?) is gathered under the trees, humming with conversation and drinking the local “brew.” Turning back, I encounter and greet F, who is slashing for us. He does not know if there is cabbage; maybe back on the main road – he will go and look.
Back under first group of trees, I’m eager to leave, but I meet J. His situation is difficult, and we’ve been trying to discern how we can help him. He speaks some English, but I always struggle to understand what is being said. He wants to tell me about his recent visit to our clinic and the medications that were given to him. He tells me once again that his children are hungry and have nothing to eat.
The others are now back at the Land Cruiser waiting for me. But as J is talking, an old man with a hat and a walking stick comes and interrupts. He is obviously happy to meet me, shaking my hand and lifting it high. He asks my age and I ask him his. He says he is hungry and wants snuff. (All the while, J is attempting to translate.) I say that I don’t help people get snuff, and mention that if he wants to live longer, snuff won’t help him with that. This semi-humorous interaction goes on for a while. I pray for the man and his needs, and we finally part.
We must go to Namalu to look for the missing produce. J asks for a ride; I agree. He runs ahead to do something. I arrive back at the car and find we have another passenger, A.
We drive back up onto the road and pass a school. We wave at the kids who are looking at us, and sitting in the school window I see D, a young man I’ve befriended. He runs out, and I pull over to greet him. I ask where he was this past Lord’s Day; we missed him. He says he was busy but doesn’t explain. He says his head teacher is now asking for 1,000 shillings for his end-of-term exam. They want more? I tell him to have the teacher call me. A group of students is now gathered all around the vehicle. I urge D to come to church and to invite all his school friends to come with him. (Later, I hope he doesn’t think we’re inviting all of them to dinner.)
Driving toward the main road, we encounter J. I open the back of the vehicle and he gets in. Still hopeful, we drive up the main road; there are lots of people, but no produce, and no sign of F, our friend who was looking for the cabbages. Disappointed again, we turn around and make for Namalu.
In Namalu, I park right next to the matoke (plantain) vendors. I get out to open the back so our passengers can exit. J asks again for food for his family. Before I can close the back, a woman comes and tells me her son has a bad wound; would I come pray? I follow her past the market and through a narrow passage between mud buildings with low roofs. At the back, there is her son, A. He is probably about 11 years old. In 2011, he was in a bad accident. Now he defecates through his side and urinates where he should defecate. I can see a thin stream of fluid running under his shirt and down his pants. She lifts his ragged jersey and I see a portion of his intestines sticking out. He is not bleeding and does not seem to be infected, but it does not look good. I am amazed that he is alive and seemingly able to function, albeit not normally. The mother says he needs to be taken to a hospital in Kampala, but she is a single mother, struggling to get by, and does not have the money. It is terrible. We pray. She asks for nothing, but in my heart, I ask: What can be done, Lord? I learn that she attends a local church, and determine to investigate. J comes up while I am there.
Back in the market, J asks again for food for his family. I ask him to wait and begin to shop. The cabbages are tiny and awful, so that’s not a good option today. I look for other items. M helps me with my list; J attempts to help, telling me what I should buy and from where, but I have different ideas. The conversation is awkward as he tries to help and I try to do things my way.
I buy something and receive the balance, a 500 shilling coin. A man I have seen before comes up and demands it of me. He almost takes it out of my hand. I tell him I don’t give money – I try very hard to abide by that rule. Something is not quite right with this one. He indicates that he wants food and snuff. I say I’m sorry he is hungry, and I don’t help people get snuff. I manage to detach myself, but he hangs around, gets into a quarrel with a vendor, screams furiously, and almost throws a large rock at him. I am thankful when he leaves.
Still shopping, I meet another pastor. I tell him about our plans for another conference in May; he says he will come. I am slowly getting through my list with J and M in tow, and we take a heavy basket back to the vehicle. While loading it, a man, apparently drunk, comes up and begins yelling at J. I try to understand what’s going on, but don’t really want to get in the middle of it. I see rain coming and hurry off to get the final items. My patient passengers are waiting for me again.
Everything is purchased now. Well, almost. I go back for an item I forgot to buy. J asks again for help; now is the time. We get him some dry beans, 5,000 worth. The bean sellers squabble over who should get the business, but J is firm in his decision for some brown beans. It will not be enough; he is caring for his mother and some others. I buy three bags of posho. He says his family will be happy. I pray for him right there at the entrance of the store. The vendor joins us.
Time to load up. I get to the back of the vehicle, and three more people are there: an old man and two younger people. They want the old man to go with us back to Nakaale. There is room; I agree. As they help him get in, they argue with him, but when the hatch is closed, they are all smiles and thank me.
Back at Nakaale, our passengers unload by the side of the road. We return to the compound. The skies continue to threaten rain. We pile out of the vehicle and take shelter.
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All of this in the space of around two hours.
All this for a few fruits and vegetables.
It’s not always so hectic. But this experience isn’t far from normal, either.
It is overwhelming; sometimes exhausting. I’m not used to it.
But can you get accustomed to such need? It is constant, sometimes horrific. We cry out to God: What should we do? Most of all, we plead: O God, open blind eyes and deaf ears! Let the Christ who is our greatest need, who can alone meet our every need, be heard and known, loved and followed, glorified and worshiped! In mercy, save your people from their sins, and give them comfort!
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We go to town again this afternoon.
Maybe there will be cabbages.