Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week 47

In the Jungle  

(Pam) All around the world, the church does a marvelous job providing safe havens for its missionaries.  Gulu is no exception.  We live in a secure, clean compound that is guarded (no guns – not needed) around the clock.  We live next door to two homes of missionaries, a kind doctor from Serbia and a few other pleasant neighbors, who are all truly “neighborly”.  Our house is not the quality of one in America, but it is far better than we had imagined.  It lies the furthest point from the compound’s gate, with an open space on the far side that last year yielded a nice raised-bed garden, as well as some pretty fruit and shade trees.  Elder and Sister Woods and our dear friend Isaac were its caretakers and kept this area fruitful and looking nice.  We benefited from all the crops Isaac planted before he left on his mission, but by August the garden was finished, he was gone, and with our many projects, that area was left neglected.

On Dec 9, Big Momma (a tiny stray cat) had another small (two) litter delivery at our house.  She was determined to raise her babies inside. After a week of relatively patient persuasions, she got the message to keep them outside, but the kittens were no longer seen.  When over a month had gone by, I was anxious to do some serious searching, not knowing if they were dead or alive. 

No sign of them when searching bushes around our homes, but I noticed Big Momma came occasionally from under a large, low-lying tree in the furthest back corner of the garden area.  For the first time in months, I was shocked to realize what a jungle had encompassed this entire area.   So many months of heavy rains had produced bounteous growth – just of the noxious variety.  Navigating through meter high prickly weeds and entangling vines was challenging and cumbersome.  I started to clear out the growth, but the more I pulled up or out, the more I realized how long this process was going to take.  Finally, a pathway was cleared to the tree, but the growth under and behind the tree was also very thick.  (Thinking as a cat, what a perfect hiding place for a litter of kittens!)

Stooping down to inch my way through and under the foliage, I was aghast to feel a very sticky web on my face and arms.  Looking up there were big black and yellow spiders.  I am not afraid of spiders, but walking into a spider nest with spiders 1-2 inches long excluding the legspan, is very creepy.  I then noticed these big webs in many places on the tree, the wall vines and other bushes.  With a long pole I was able to get one of the spiders to take to the guards and our African missionaries to find out what it was.  None of them knew but the guards thought they were poisonous.  I did a search online and concluded they were/are golden orb weavers or banana spider. Brooks and the missionaries took a number of pictures but none of them focused well: they don’t show the detail of the spider’s body.  There are a number of varieties but the ones here have a large yellow body and their sides and stomach have an incredible black geometric design.  Their legs are like long black spindles.  There webs are super strong and can catch small rodents and birds.  Their  venom is similar to black widow's but not as potent and they aren't agressivel. Still, I can’t say I am fond of being around them.  The spider episode ended that day’s search for the kittens.  Every time I closed my eyes that night, I felt as if I was getting entangled in a new web with spiders crawling on me.

A couple days later concern for the kittens took precedence over arachnophobia.  After clearing out all the webs in and around the tree, I gritted my teeth and foraged through the undergrowth.  Within a couple feet of the back corner of the compound, a little kitten suddenly scampered out and away!  If there was one still alive, the other probably was also, so I kept digging my way back into the corner.  Soon I was hearing kitten screeching – like a cornered mountain lion – but I couldn’t see a thing.  Since this area had very thick undergrowth and the disturbing noises sounded nearly “killer” to me, I went back in the house to get two pair of heavy insulated rubber gloves and a towel.  I didn’t want to be mauled to death on this backyard safari. 

Finally, I was able to see the other kitten.  In the corner was a small opening into a little “room” that allowed momma and babies to rest in seclusion between the brick wall of our compound and the parallel brick wall of the adjacent compound.  It was like this 3 foot enclosure was built just for them!  It wasn’t at all visible; even up close I would have never seen it because of rotted wood in front of it – had it not been for the screeching cat.  How in the world did Big Momma find this unique spot? 

When I finally had enough nerve to pick up the little man-eater, she went as limp as a dishrag!

It’s now been about 10 days.  They both learned to drink milk from a dish last week.  They are still a little skiddish, but they play now in front of the house and are adjusting to human presence  rapidly.  They both have homes awaiting them and will likely become good mousers for their new owners, which is a priority for most Gulugans.

Lessons learned.

1.       The weeds!  Geesh, they become so prolific in no time.  What a powerful lesson this was regarding the need for us to constantly weed out the little noxious things that are part of our character.  If we neglect those things, not putting any effort into cleaning up our character, or personal property, we can in short order be entangled in all kinds of things that will hurt us.  Daily weeding – or repentance – will keep our personal homes clean and free from all of life’s entrapments that can hurt us or even poison us.

2.      The animal kingdom is so amazing!  We humans often think we have all the answers and all the solutions, but God has blessed every kind of creature with natural abilities to survive, to protect themselves and their kind.  We can learn a lot from watching nature around us.  I’m grateful for the bounteous opportunities to observe here in Amazing Africa.  

It is the dry season in Gulu now.  We haven't had rain in weeks.  Highs in upper 90's.  The power often goes out but we have a back-up battery system in the apt that allows us to run fans which keep us quite comfortable.  During the rainy season, the truck would not stay clean for one day as we sloshed over and through muddy roads.  In the dry season, a clean truck is good for about a day as well.  There is so much dust in the air from what used to be muddy roads.  It settles on the running boards, bumpers, hood and roof of the truck.  To look nice the truck needs washing every day.  It does give me an opportunity to pay some of our prospective missionaries to clean the truck as they earn money for their missions. They do such a thorough job it takes nearly 2 hours for two of them to detail the truck inside and out.  The dust, in the meantime, causes respiratory illness for many of our acquaintances.

 "Clumped".  You look it up and tell me what you think it means.

I keep sending  pics of fish because I just can't get enough of these tasty treats.

A convoy of Ugandan tanks heading north, approaching Gulu district.  I read  in the newspaper a couple days after taking the pics that Uganda has sent troops into South Sudan which borders Uganda on the north...a few hours north of us.  I don't know how much you are picking up on the civil war taking place in South Sudan.  I see little, if anything on-line on Fox, CNN, ABC, etc.  It's estimated that 10,000 civilians have been killed since latter Dec. and hundreds of thousand have been displaced, some spilling over into Northern Uganda.  The Church is shipping blankets and clothing as quickly as it can to many of the refugee camps.  We recently hosted a senior couple who were hauling a truck of supplies to the Northern Uganda camp.  They had with them a young member of the Church who barely escaped the war with his life.  He witnessed a lot of the mayhem that occurred just before Christmas as fighting broke out, including the killing his cousin and other relatives. His relatives thought our friend had also been killed.  When our senior missionary couple returned from the camp (of 35,000+)to spend the night with us on their way home to Kampala, their driver said, "before you enter into the camp, you must leave your heart outside."  It is just too much to bear.
Poor Victoria...she works at the Church Distribution Center in Kampala....she can hardly move around for all the boxes she has to constantly sort through.  It is such a tiny space with stuff piled everywhere, but she is used to it and she knows her stuff.  However, it makes it impossible for those visiting to browse around for things that might be useful.

This is what you get when you are diverted off the main highway (turned over truck).  We are trying to head one direction when an untold number of vehicles come at us from the opposite direction.  This is not a one way street.  More like a one way walking path.  I can see I'm half way off the path hoping the oncoming traffic can get by without hitting me.  A good Samaritan, seeing our predicament ran ahead of us and blocked the oncoming traffic so we could eventually pass through and around the wrecked truck tractor rig that was blocking both lanes of the main Gulu to Kampala highway.

Back on the highway...these are the trucks behind the overturned truck who aren't going anywhere for a few hours.  Too large to manuever the walking trail we were re-routed onto.

    • Elder Richard G. Scott shared his feelings about Christ’s mercy in paying our debts: “Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other child of Heavenly Father could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem. His Father not only gave Him His spirit body, but Jesus was His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. Our Master lived a perfect, sinless life and therefore was free from the demands of justice. He was and is perfect in every attribute, including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility. His mercy pays our debt to justice when we repent and obey Him” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1997, 77–78; or Ensign, May 1997, 53).


  1. Pam, this is fascinating! And you are a great writer! Thanks for sharing.