Spark of recognition

February 2, 2016 (Timu):

I woke up before 3:00 a.m. this morning, and thoughts flooded my mind. My body is tired, my gut wracked with pain. I feel like shit.

One of the things that came to mind was what I want to say to my three old men – Iuda, Gabriel, and Simon – who have been helping me with dictionary research. Tomorrow will be my last day working with them, and I expect it to be bittersweet.

The older, Iuda, came into our life several years ago when Apaaleese (his son) asked me a couple times to go to Lotinyam to pick up his aged father whom his mother was failing to take care of. So one day we did. Iuda was mostly blind and had to be led by someone. He was very tall and thin as a rail.

Gabriel was a quiet, very polite, and also mostly blind man who only came to visit us a couple of times a year. He usually had one specific thing he needed but was extremely polite and almost apologetic for asking – a rare trait among the Ik, one that left a big impression on me.

Simon was a tiny, funny, and rather rodential-looking old guy we rarely saw. Much later I hired him because of his persistent attempts to show me how many rare Ik words he knew. At last I believed him, and since then he has consistently proven his worth as a source of lexical richness.

These three men are amazing guys. Within them they bear the suffering and survival of many deplorable hardships. I wish I had more time with them. I wish I could have heard their life stories. But our move to Kampala sneaked up on me fast. I can only hope that I will see them again….

One of the most regrettable things about our experience with the Ik is how the immense gulf in our mutual understanding dehumanizes all of us. It has become such that when I see an Ik I don’t know approaching me, I see a potential threat, some kind of alien being other than what I am.

Only in the few relationships that we have made where we’ve got past that level do I see the Ik – an Iceam – as a person with a personality, a being with the innate and inalienable dignity of human divinity.

Only then does that moment of mutual recognition spark.

And it’s happened with these three men. They are not just three representatives of a type of creature I can’t identify with. They are me, and I am them. I’ve seen them look at me that way, too. They know me and love me, not merely as a rich foreigner to be exploited, but as a son in whom they see themselves. Likewise, they are fathers to me in whom I see myself.

This is a precious thing, and I thank God for it.

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L-R: Iuda, Simon, Gabriel, and Clement (our translator)

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