Under stress

The latter half of 2010 and most of 2011 were spent just living life in Ikland. In early 2010, we had a break Stateside, and when we returned, we were very eager to get to work and fulfill the mission we had come for. It was an intense period in our lives, full of unforgettable adventures, heartwarming graces, and terrible stresses. All that had come before had been preparation, and now we were actually there – in the land of the Ik.

As I reread my journaling from this time period, I find comparatively little reflection on spiritual and religious matters. Instead, the pages of my journal are full of accounts of language learning, interactions with our neighbors, cultural events, hosting visitors, and my psychological experience of extreme chronic stress. Although I don’t want to focus unduly on the negative and difficult aspects of our story, the reality is that our life in Uganda was mostly stressful with occasional episodes of rest and relaxation – instead of the other way around, the natural condition of living beings in which ‘normal’ life is rather mundane with only occasional highly stressful or traumatic situations.

The following five journal excerpts give a pretty good sample of the kinds of difficulties we dealt with as we tried to gain some traction in our new environment.

August 22, 2010:

Yesterday felt like one of the worst days I’ve ever had in Uganda. Even if objectively it wasn’t too terrible, it felt that way in the condition of my body, mind, and emotions. It started the moment I stepped outside and had 30 pairs of eyes on me [torture for a highly-sensitive person (HPS)!]. We wanted and needed to just get down to Kaabong ASAP to meet the lorry driver. But as usual, a bunch of people came with last-minute requests for this and that. The more they pressured, the more I hurried. Then, someone opened the car’s back door and put a sack of maize in it. It’s Nachem. I get out, tell her to remove it, and create a big scene full of cultural blunders [on my part], I’m sure. It just went downhill from there. Kaabong was full of running here and there and half-drunk beggars badgering me for rides. Just as we were loading sand on the lorry, it started to rain, and the rain kept up the rest of the day until we finally got back over the last incline around 5 p.m.

The worst part of the day was how I felt inside. Actually I still feel it. It’s hard to describe, but it’s mostly like a tightness. I’m all tight and filled with tension. A low-grade headache grips my entire head. My neck and back are taut. I feel irritable. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. When the truck finally left, I told my wife I needed a break. I took off to a private spot overlooking Uganda, had a smoke, a piece of chocolate, and tried to relax. It helped a little, maybe. What about today?

August 24, 2010:

I had another near breakdown today yesterday morning. Clinic ran way late because people kept sneaking in as the door was opened for wheelbarrows. Even at 12:30 we had to turn away about four people. Amber and I were sitting in the house, me with tension building inside. Then I heard a vehicle approaching. The tension grew stronger. As Karamojong voices sounded outside – “Are these people here? Oh, they’re in the house?” – I just buried my face in my hands. I need a break from being needed or wanted and definitely from being a spectacle.

September 7, 2010:

We didn’t sleep too well because of those dormice having a wrestling competition up in the attic [words can’t describe my hatred of those rodents!]. I got up and drove Isa into town. While grabbing breakfast at Riverside, Mombasa, the owner, starting hassling me again: “What did you bring me?” Fuck you. I didn’t bring you anything you corrupt businessman, and why should I? Then Isa informs me that he forgot his phone at our place. Somewhere in there I realize I forgot to take into account the advance we had given him ten days earlier. So, the money in the envelope I had given him was an over-payment. I felt I couldn’t ask for it back. I gave him my phone and told him to call me when his ride approached Lomusian [where we stayed]. Meanwhile, I ran home and made the mistake of telling Amber about my mistake. She reacted like I thought she would and said we should get that money back. Isa called, and I took off down the road. Already upset, I also forgot his phone. So I had to come back AGAIN. By this time I was embarrassed and annoyed. I caught up with Isa, gave him his phone, and told him we had overpaid him. Then, in front of twenty poor Karimojongs, we had an argument. Let me summarize by saying that Isa wasn’t about to give the money back. Disgusted and hurt, I told him to keep the money and go. The rest of the day I was in a psychosomatic funk. I was depressed. I felt tired.

September 11, 2010:

Last night around 9 p.m., I got a call from Lojore. In a dispassionate tone he told me he had just killed his wife, Nachem. I asked several questions to clarify. Yes, she’s dead, he said. Then his talk-time ran out. I told Amber we don’t know how to handle situations like this! We got up and walked over to their homestead only to find Nachem sitting, alive, on the ground, blood running down her head and face. The stream of blood in the dust on the ground suggested she had been lying on the ground, which is why Lojore thought she was dead. She had a gash about an inch long on the top of her head. I didn’t know what to do, so we tried to carry her to our place to fix her up, but she didn’t cooperate. She was drunk and confused. So instead we went back to get supplies. Coming back we cleaned her head up a little and bandaged her wound. Loiki and Lokolor helped us get her into her hut. The kids were observing the whole fiasco which lasted about 30-40 minutes…

September 17, 2010:

Yesterday was a terrible day…Though my external circumstances weren’t favorable, the terribleness of the day was my spiritual-emotional condition, which exaggerated and exacerbated everything else…

First thing, I noticed the grinding mill [that we had gone to great lengths to donate to the community] wasn’t running even though a sizeable crowd had gathered there. I went up to investigate: the machine won’t start. It worked for less than a full day. So in quiet desperation, I worked for the next two hours trying to figure out what went wrong. It was unsuccessful. I left feeling defeated and discouraged. That set the tone.

Later in the evening I was getting that now very familiar trapped feeling and headed to my rock. But boys followed me. I just turned around in resignation and went home, again defeated. The we got an email saying that we no longer had accommodations nor a meal-plan [for a conference we planned to attend]. That upset me greatly; I don’t even want to go now. I need to sort these feelings out.

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