The enthralling exhilaration of the unknown…

Maranatha Health in Kamwenge has received a gob-smacking, hideously ridiculous, completely unexpected setback, and by way of association, so have I. Before I share my thoughts about it all, here is a link to a letter we sent to our supporters recently posted on FB on the MH page, to give you some context and information into the issue that has arisen. If you haven’t read this, the rest of the blog probably won’t make much sense. In summary, a maize mill factory has been constructed next to our health centre, and now chugs out noise and dust 24/7, forcing us to close the health centre and move off-site.

So, less than ideal, obviously. Frustrating. Unjust. Corrupt. I could think of some less-creative, four letter words as well, but will spare my readership the full brunt of my frustration.

To be honest, I don’t really feel like writing today. In fact, today I feel like crawling up into the foetal position, eating copious amounts of chocolate, lamenting the world and my place within it, and reading some of the more sinister of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

But alas, I write. Partly for therapy, partly to let everyone know that my world continues to spin, and partly to share this journey with all of you because the fate of Maranatha affects so many inside and outside of Kamwenge.

Once again, for the millionth time since being involved in this Organisation, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed into the enthralling exhilaration of the unknown.

Once again, I am reminded that I am a teeny-tiny person in this very big, very wide world and my comforting illusion of control has again been mocked and exposed by that same afore mentioned world.

Despite the dramatic dialogue in this blog, we are feeling quite positive, generally. Things are really looking up. We have had some extremely positive developments in the past few days. In addition, media is now splashing the story (albeit slightly inaccurate, tabloid-esque versions) around Ugandan newspapers and TV news.

I’m just having a bad day.

The first few weeks, when we discovered that yes, it was definitely a factory next door, and yes, they were running their machines 24/7 – things were tough. At that point we knew very little about Ugandan law, about industrial and residential zones, about environmental acts, and so had very little understanding of how we could challenge such a situation. We lacked voice and a platform. At least now we know what we are dealing with and the channels for redress. Of course, on a day-to-day level, that knowledge doesn’t make it much easier to manage the constantly oscillating situation and our parallel emotional response; one day we feel we are close to winning the battle and will be reopening the clinic in no time, and the next day we wander around our home listlessly wondering if we should start packing our bags for Australia.

Michael and I have prayed in the last month more than I think either of us has ever prayed before. Not that it’s a very noble prayer these days – most of my prayers consist of a repeated request to finish my season of ‘character building’ and a demand for life to get easier, speckled with a less selfish appeal for justice for the poor of Kamwenge.  But I have never before been so aware of how frustrating it must be, for God to continue calling people to love, when the world is so interested in other sinister motivations and agendas.

Every time we think we are moving closer to a solution, we face serious set-backs and suffocating scenarios, reminding us again of the complexity of Ugandan concepts of justice. In a conversation with our Ugandan father, we discussed concepts of justice in Africa, and how the law is applied. Justice here is tangled and twisted with power and relationships, with desires for peace and amicability, with political and business motivations confusing responsibilities. Often it feels as if justice is a negotiation process between parties towards a resolution, rather than a direct application of law. The problem with this, of course, is that unless someone wise and fair is mediating this negotiation, those with more bargaining power and a louder voice will always win. The poor, thus, will always lose*.

Since this issue has arisen, we have found so few people outside Maranatha in a place of authority – a leader, an MP, a government technical worker – who immediately recognises or assumes the position of the law. Time and time again, we are required to remind those involved in resolving this issue exactly what Ugandan law states about residential vs industrial zones, about factories and Environmental Impact Assessments, and the simple ethical and legal realities of our case. More likely, they are interested in what the district leadership ‘thinks’ about the issue, the identity of the investor behind the factory, the size of the two investments for comparison, and what the political ramifications are.

Instead of the acknowledgement that I crave – that we did all the right things, that this project is necessary for the community, and through no fault of our own we are experiencing a grand injustice – many leaders patronisingly explain that this situation is ‘complex’ and ‘politically sensitive’.

It doesn’t FEEL politically sensitive to construct/approve a massive maize mill factory that pumps out dust and noise 24/7 next to the only decent health-centre-soon-to-be-hospital in Kamwenge district. To me, it just FEELS really, really, really stupid. Politically. Ethically. Environmentally. Legally. Everything-ly.

Of course, we have come across many compassionate Ugandans over the past 2 months who hear the story and immediately get behind our plight – who have offered so much of their own knowledge, networks and resources to help us fight this. Our Ugandan family have been a core support to us (we joke that we are currently Kamwenge refugees seeking asylum from the noise, residing in their home in Kampala), and our father, as the chairperson of our board, has wisely led us through the decisions we have had to make.

A few weeks ago I was sitting with some of our staff, after we called a meeting with all of them to discuss the issue. Annet, our receptionist and a compassionate woman who has grown up in Kamwenge, was sharing with me that she was called to help a relative in town. The relative’s child had severe malaria, and needed a blood transfusion. Since we have been closed to patients, the only way to get such a transfusion is to travel 1.5 hours in a vehicle to the next district. The 2 ambulances, owned privately by the churches, both charge fees of $40+ to transport people out of Kamwenge. The average wage per month in Kamwenge would be below this figure. Annet shared how she had to find the money immediately, to save the child. But she clicked her tongue and sadly asked “what do others do, those who can’t manage to pay?” then shook her head and quietly ushered to no one in particular “they take the child home to die”.

We have experienced some really tough stuff in Uganda to date. Some big challenges. But this one is a doozy. This one feels like one of those life-defining-moments, where until you see it resolved, there aren’t many answers to life’s questions, and the future looks like a blank canvas.

I honestly wish I could write a blog that stated that I know 100% that Maranatha Health will still be in Kamwenge in 1 year. I wish I could write that the district will fight long and hard to keep us here, since they know we are essential for this community.  I wish I could write that despite the corruption in Uganda, I still believe in the Ugandan legal system enough to say that we would win such a black and white case. I wish I could write that I am sure God will magically and miraculously end this problem.

I try to convince myself of those things every day.

But I don’t know.

All I CAN write is that we will give 100% to fighting for the poor of Kamwenge and their right to access quality health services– until we have won or lost.

And that God WILL be cheering us on, just like he has cheered on those who have challenged injustice throughout history, calling on those in this country that know him well, to act justly and righteously.

*On re-reading my description of justice in Africa, it occurred to me that this concept is more of a description of justice everywhere, at least at an international and corporate level.

5 responses to “The enthralling exhilaration of the unknown…

  1. That is terrifically frustrating to hear, but you speak out your anger much more eloquently than I would Kim. Corruption and idiocy drive me up the wall, but I’m sure you have been conditioned to some of that while you’ve been there (though I’m sure it still eats away at you guys).

    One thing you said made me realise that maybe your answer to all this is in your own comment that you have been “squeezed into the enthralling exhilaration of the unknown.” To me this sounds kind of exciting! Since you guys live a fairly unconventional life, I would assume that these sorts of bumps make for interesting challenges if looked at in a different way. The rest of us always see roadblocks like these as hindrances in our goal to whatever (“getting ahead in life” or “becoming successful”, etc.) but to me, (and forgive me if I’m wrong) I see the point of your existence as to just cozy up into that community and “be”. Do what you can to help and be there as you’ve been called by God to do. The mess of what is some elements of Uganda seems to be something that just comes with the territory.

    That said, you’ve just only got things rolling a bit more smoothly there of late, so I hope this isn’t a major shut-down of any sort. However, hopefully with a slight change of how you look at these problems, you can go into the battle with an air of excitement and a twinkle in your eye which might do you well in your negotiations with your foes 🙂

    Best of luck!!

  2. Okay Kim, I operate and work on the practical so here’s a few things ….. Please give yourself permission to scream out aloud those four letter words and release the anger.
    Please give yourself permission to curl up in the foetal position even if for 5 minutes.
    Please give yourself permission to eat chocolate chocolate and more chocolate if it is available in the quantity you need/crave. DO IT!

    Yes, I’m known as the Bossy Boots….. you’ve been warned.

    The next thing I’d like to say to you:

    I have been praying the Taize prayer over and over again – do you know this: “Oh Lord Hear Our Prayer, Oh Lord Hear Our Prayer, When We Call, Answer Us, Oh Lord Hear Our Prayer, Oh Lord Hear Our Prayer, Come and Listen to Us! Whilst praying this, I visualise you and Michael smiling hugely at MH which has been reopened.

    Sometimes words aren’t sufficient however circular prayers if you like such as this Taize prayer says it all because God knows and hears our thoughts and knows our desires. We CAN claim His promises and must do so.

    Okay, that’s the end of the “lecture” if you like.

    As I said, I’m practical. As a non-member of Amnesty International I write letters and emails and support petitions etc. I would like to and will write a letter “To Whom It May Concern” that you can do as you wish with. Basically, my thought is that letters should be written to those in power expressing what has happened, the changes MH has made and so on. Your YouTube has heaps of powerful information that can be used as well as your own and your staff experiences. Maybe you’ve done this already however you may also be so caught up in seeing those in power that there’s been no time to rally written support to back up what you and Michael are saying.

    If you read this, do send me a message on your thoughts if you’ve time. robyn.barrett@gmail.com

    YOU and MICHAEL are in the palm of HIS HANDS. May His Love Surround you both and Uphold you, Keeping you Strong in His Love.

    God bless you both. Robxxxxx

  3. Thanks for sharing so honestly Kim. I don’t know how you are holding it together. I hope that sometimes you aren’t.

    I wish I could come right over and sit with you, eat some of that chocolate & have a bit of fun in the midst of all the battling and waiting.

    I know God will bring something beautiful out of this, even if it’s not what we expect or hope for at the moment. That’s the thing that always keeps me convinced of God’s reality and her/his love – death/injustice/brokenness NEVER has the last word. It’s something God built into the fabric of this universe, that death ALWAYS leads to life in some way, at some point. I can’t wait to see what beauty will ultimately come out of this situation (and I know you know there are already beautiful things – the commitment of many of your staff members, the support of much of the local community etc.) And maybe as Mike implied, one of those beautiful things will be a sense of true solidarity with your fellow Kamwenge-ans…

    Love much, Skype soon?

    (BTW I’ve started a blog about my making of things…pickles, soap, underwear…)

  4. Margaret Reed

    I too believe that God is with you in this drastic situation and that whether the battle is won or lost He still has the last say and remember that He has you in the palm of His hand and all things work together for good to those who love Him…hard for you to take and easy for me to say ….we will continue to love and pray for you.

  5. I have heard of this big issue while at school. At first it was had to believe. It appears the majority poor may keep disadvantaged at the expense of the rich. A kilogram of maize raised from 300= to 800=. If the factory was located in the industrial area ,this would be useful money for development but due to the unreasonable selfish desires individual have ,even the little people get will be spent on transport of the sick to the far located better health facility in Ibanda,Kabarole,Mbarara. What went wrong with the Kamwenge district leadership? Are they for the people or against the people? For example most of the sick in need of emergency health services will die. Unfortunately, the poor will die but the rich will live since they have vehicles or even can influence the health service provision to their own family. It appears the district leaders do no want the health facilty in Kamwenge town. I wish this unit was brought to Katagwenda where the health services are needed.

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