Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Atiak


We waited on the side of the road for half the day, it seemed. I laid out a tarp and mothers and babies sat with toys and a tin of cookies. The sun hit the horizon and faded away, leaving darkness and mosquitos. When our rescue arrived, we determined that the best course was to force the damn spare into place and return to Gulu for a proper survey of the equipment. I drove alone on the way back, listening only to the metal scrape of an ill-sized rim on the rear hub. When we returned, I walked to our quarters under moonlight so bright that it cast my shadow in the grass. Not yet full though. Perhaps tomorrow night.

Replacing the bad tire and searching for a proper spare rim was tedious and partially unsuccessful. The rim could not be found and we were forced back out on to the road with equipment that had shown itself to suck. Still, we had two new front tires. 

I have never travelled this road without getting a headache. Olivia got the biggest jar  of ibuprofen I have ever seen and the pills got popped. After more than three hours of bumpy horror, we rolled up on the scene.

The Earth Birth site is impressive. More than that, it is the architectural manifestation of good ideas concerning development and connection. 

Across from Earth birth lies the beginnings of a school for girls. The school is made with materials that cannot be gotten in Atiak. Cement and metal frames and glass windows. Its construction, then, did not really support the economy of the town it intends to serve. Nor do its walls reflect the culture or its  practices. In contrast, Rachel and Olivia have constructed their future home from the same materials that the Acholi use to make theirs: mud, cow dung and thatch. The shelving inside is made from wood cut from a nearby fallen tree. They have made adjustments to the traditional Acholi model that have shown to be instructive and inspirational to cats who are building huts in the area. The architecture presents the comfort of the cultural style; it does not appear as an imposition on the landscape. Well, except for the roof of the clinic; that shit is made of tin. Scope exceeded knowledge on that one, which is how things often go for NGOs.

We set up as best we could before night fell, then sat beneath the tree by the kitchen. The chickens returned to their roosts as we munched on rice and beans. Life is slow in Atiak. There is no plumbing, no power and no rush. When night falls, the game is over. The light of a lantern is no cure for this darkness.

The moon was full, and we waited for the clouds to drift away so we could behold the majesty of it all. But when the clouds had gone, we saw that the moon was still obstructed. Um, what? Olivia peeped some astrology book and we learned that, yo, this was the onset of a total lunar eclipse. We were on just the right side of the world to see it. 

When a shadow is cast across a full moon, one cannot help but feel that what lies above is a celestial event. As though some giant from beyond time and space has stepped into the moon’s light and the poor rock is powerless to do anything about it. Our most fundamental sense of reference in this verse is darkened by our own cosmic home. It is a metaphor that I don’t care to pursue. 

At each gradation of darkness, more stars appeared. Until the moon was the faintest disk and the sky was a million points of light. The dust of the milky way. Saturn, perched upon the arm of the maiden virgo. The tail of the scorpion flickering by the bow of Sagittarius. Galaxy clusters so far away they seemed to just be a single star. We stared upward until we could no longer hold our eyes open. But we knew when the moon returned, because the roosters announced it with their call. 

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