FINE. I’ll Post an Update.

To all my avid readers: sorry I’ve been slacking on my blogging responsibilities lately. Since Rwanda, we’ve been pretty busy, but mostly with mundane things that you probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing…but I’ll tell you about them anyways!

For the last month of the program, we have to do independent research projects, which basically means we are on our own trying to be real people in Gulu for 4 weeks. We all rented a house together which is actually very nice and very cheap (~60 bucks for the month per person) and includes a kitchen, running water (most of the time) and a generator for when the power is out at night (which is almost always). It even has a TV that used to have cable, but I think we broke that somehow…

Since moving in I have been coordinating interviews with local people to help build my research. My project is focusing on determining the ways different generations perceive peace and peacebuilding in Gulu, and is also kind of evolving to look at the tensions which exist between the two main generations here. I’ve talked with some NGO/UN workers, as well as some children from a local high school. I haven’t yet sat down to start bringing all my research together, but I think it will turn out to be pretty interesting once I start compiling everything.

Besides doing research, we also have to do normal people things…like go shopping and cook for ourselves. Cooking is much easier said than done–I don’t think I’ve ever missed microwaves so much–but I’m also turning out to be a much better chef than I thought I was. I guess the best/most hilarious example of our African cooking experience was Thanksgiving:

Our house consists of a gas camping-style stove with one burner and two charcoal stoves. We also had an oven which we thought worked when we got the house, but turns out it doesn’t. So we woke up early Thursday morning and got cookin’. I made sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, beans, rice, gravy and helped out with some of the other dishes as well. Everything was going pretty smoothly, until about 2 hours into the cooking when our house ran out of water, meaning we had to rely on borehole/rain water and jerry cans for cooking which is inconvenient at best. Then, when we were ready to start cooking the turkey (which we had killed at our house the day before) we discovered that the oven didn’t work. This was very sad because we had planned on baking quite a few things (mac and cheese, green bean casserole, and peach pie). So, to remedy the situation, two of the people in our group took bodas across town to a café that has an oven. The employees there were trying to make Thanksgiving food for all the Americans in town but, being Ugandan, they weren’t quite sure how to go about doing that, so they let our friends use their oven in exchange for some cooking lessons. The turkey situation didn’t quite work out however, so we ended up having turkey stew instead of roasted turkey–close enough.

We invited a bunch of our Ugandan friends over to have dinner with us and it turned out to be a very nice evening. We had PLENTY of food…even enough to have traditional Thanksgiving leftovers Friday morning.

Even though cooking had totally tired me out, I woke up early on Friday morning to visit an outlying village with a girl named Eliza who is with the Peace Corps. The village she lives in was having a sort of peace celebration, which she thought we would enjoy given the focus of our program. My friend Charlotte and I met Eliza at Coffee Hut, and then started walking ‘south’ until we found a car/taxi type thing which could drive us part of the way. We got dropped off at a gas station and then took bodas the rest of the way to her village. Eliza showed us around the medical center where she works, and made us some coffee and oatmeal.

From her house, we left to go to the celebration which was AWESOME. Eliza is the only foreigner who lives in the village, so they were pretty excited that she was bringing along two more mzungus (white people). When we reached the school where the celebration was being held, we were greeted by a huge crowd of people singing and dancing. They grabbed our hands and marched/danced us over to the main area where we were seated as the guests of honor. Once everyone else had arrived (there were about 200 people there) all the guests including Charlotte and me had to stand up and say a little bit about ourselves. We had people of all ages coming up to us to shake our hands…the children were absolutely adorable and very noticeably nervous to see 3 white girls at their school.

The celebration consisted of groups of people from all the surrounding villages singing, dancing, and performing skits about why peace is important. They were all performed in Luo, but luckily one of Eliza’s friends was there to translate for us. The school where the event was held was actually on the site of a former IDP camp, which made the messages the people were conveying even more relevant.

All in all, it was probably one of the best days I’ve had here so far. The people were so genuinely nice, and happy to see us, and it was also really cool to see so many people so dedicated to promoting peace. And, to top it all of, Charlotte and I got to have a nice cuddly (read: squished) two-person boda ride back to Gulu, which took about an hour and a half. Riding through Ugandan countryside on the back of a motorcycle is pretty awesome.

So there ya go…that’s my update. It will also probably be one of the last, seeing as we only have 3 weeks left before heading back to the States! AH!

On the Road.

After leaving Kampala last week, we headed to Mbarara in Western Uganda for two nights. While we were there we went to visit the Nakevale Refugee Camp, which is home to about 50,000 people from all over Africa and the world at large who have been displaced from their countries of origin. It was a strange situation to go into; I felt a little bit like we were going to a zoo, just to observe how people lived in such situations. Our program directors warned us that the people in the camp may very well be bitter and somewhat aggressive towards us for just this reason–I know I wouldn’t want 13 foreigners coming to see how ‘terrible’ my life is. However, while it was awkward at times, it actually ended up being a really valuable experience.

We were split into two discussion groups: one group spoke with Rwandan refugees, while the group I was in spoke with refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There ended up being about 25 people of all different ages speaking with us. For the most part, we had to use a translator because they spoke either Kinyrwanda, French, or Swahili, but we still managed to have a relatively productive conversation.

We learned about the various reasons why people were displaced from the DRC. Their stories were quite graphic and saddening at times, and the fact that they now were forced to spend their lives in the refugee camp only made it harder for us to hear. It was also difficult when they started asking us questions, because we had no way of answering them that would not sound ignorant or patronizing. One of the main issues that came up was why the U.S. had recently agreed to take 5,000 Somalian refugees, but was not extending the offer to any members of the other countries which were represented in the camp. We often get asked questions like this, where people seem to assume that we have some sort of huge pull over the U.S. government, or sometimes even over the Ugandan government.

We were also posed this question by a young man: “Many of us were in school when we were forced to leave the DRC, but now that we are in the camp, there are hardly any classes taught in French, and the ones that are are overcrowded and expensive once we get past primary school. What advice do you have to those of us who wish to continue our education?” There was really nothing we could offer.

The next day, we made our way to Rwanda: the land of a thousand hills. That might be an underestimation. It really is a beautiful country. We spent Sunday exploring kigali–which is HUGE by the way and incredibly clean and organized–and went on a hike up a eucalyptus-covered hill which had some spectacular views of the city and the valley.

It turned out to be good that we spent the weekend relaxing, because Monday was anything but that. We visited three genocide memorial sites which got increasingly more and more draining.

The first site we visited was the national memorial museum in Kigali. It was a walk-through type of exhibit with informational posters, photos, and video interviews with survivors telling stories of the genocide. There was also a room full of photos which family members had brought in to memorialize their loved ones.

The upper level of the exhibit was dedicated to the children who had been killed, which was heartbreaking. In the genocide, children were not merely seen as collateral damage, but rather they were specifically targeted by the Hutu militia in an attempt to wipe out all future generations of Tutsis. The exhibit consisted of large pictures of children who had been murdered, with placques beneath which gave small pieces of information about the child pictured such as: ‘name’, ‘age at death’, ‘favorite food’, ‘favorite toy’, and ’cause of death.’ As I’m sure you can imagine, it was incredibly difficult to get through the entire exhibit.

Unfortunately, walking outside did not offer the kind of relief I was hoping for afterwards, because the exhibit opens up into the gardens, which are actually the site of a mass grave. There were a few demarcations which indicated that the ground was actually a grave, not just a park, but I don’t think anything could have really conveyed the number of people which were buried there–I’m not sure the people in charge of the memorial even knew the exact number.

But the day wasn’t over yet, we still had two more sites to visit.

First, we went to the Nyamata memorial site, which was formerly a Catholic church. The building, and the surrounding area, was the place where 11,000 people made a final effort to fight back the Hutu militia, ultimately costing them their lives. We stood outside the church for a few minutes, listening to our guide tell us the history. I know people always talk about how, in places where such atrocities have occurred, the air feels heavier and there is just a general feeling of uneasiness. I always believed people when they told me that, but I still never expected to experience it so acutely. I felt lightheaded and anxious even just standing outside the building, and I think I would have been able to feel it even if I hadn’t known what had happened inside–there was a clear sadness present in the area.

After our guide showed us the marks in the gate and the ground where the Hutu militia had used grenades to blast into the building, he took us inside. There were several rows of low benches that used to serve as pews, which are now covered in heaps of clothing belonging to the people who died there. The clothes had clearly been undisturbed for years, with layers of dust and cobwebs covering them. The rest of the church remained untouched as well–the priest’s table still had a white cloth covering it, except the cloth is now stained with blood. There was a small display on the table which contained some personal items from the victims, as well as the instruments which had been used to kill them: machetes, hoes, bullets, etc. No one spoke except for our guide while we wandered through the pews.

Once again, walking outside offered little respite, in fact it was quite the opposite. As we walked around to the back of the church we found that here, too, like at the first site, there was a mass grave. The difference here being that it was actually more of a catacomb which you could walk down into, like a cellar. Once underground, we found ourselves in an extremely confined space, with barely enough room to turn around. If that wasn’t bad enough for the claustrophobes amongst us (luckily I’m not one of them, although this experience definitely challenged that) we were not surrounded merely by coffins or commemorative placques, but rather by shelves and shelves of skulls and bones. There were hundreds of them, and they weren’t behind any sort of protective glass, we were face to face with them. Our guide told us that the Rwandans had decided to leave it this way so that people like us could come and see the evidence of the genocide–so that no one could deny the fact that so many people had been killed. You could even tell by looking at the skulls if the person had died from a bullet, bludgeoning, or a machete.

After recovering slightly, we loaded onto the bus again to head to yet another site. This second church had a similar history, being the place where 5,000 people hid for shelter. Inside there were more piles of clothes, and also some supplies like mattresses and jerrycans which people had brought, hoping that they would be able to live out the attack. One of the most disturbing parts, for me at least, was seeing items like digital watches and ballpoint pens. It is a really stark reminder of how recently this tragedy occurred when you find yourself looking at items that could have belonged to you, and aren’t merely something of an era long gone. There were also more shelves of bones and a few coffins. At the front of the room there was a coffin draped in a cloth which had a phrase our guide translated for us sewn onto it: “If you really knew me, and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.”

We were brought to two small adjacent buildings. The first one had piles of school books which the children had brought, hoping to keep up with their studies while they waited out the attack. The second building was perhaps the most difficult out of any we visited that day. It was formerly used for Sunday school classes, but during the raid it is where all the small children were put in an attempt to keep them safe, since it is located behind the main building. However, these attempts were in vain, and the Hutu militia reached the building with little effort. Our guide directed our gaze to a far wall with a large, dark stain on it, and informed us that that is where the soldiers had flung the children one by one to kill them.

Of course, on top of all of this, yesterday was Halloween. We all obviously have a lot of processing to do (which is the main reason for why this post is so long), so I’m sorry to leave it on such a depressing note, but hopefully (if you’ve made it this far) you at least found this post somehow enlightening. I knew what I was getting myself into with this program, and I am glad that I get to have these experiences…they’re definitely things which I would never experience back home in New Hampshire, which makes them all the more valuable.

Country Hopping

Last week, we travelled to a memorial site in Northern Uganda in the town of Atiak. The memorial marked the place where hundreds of people were captured, forced to march to the banks of a river, and either shot or taken captive by the LRA.

While I was definitely interested in hearing the story about the site, I was more excited for what we were doing afterwards. From Atiak, we drove to the Ugandan/South Sudanese border. South Sudan has only been a country since July 9th of this year, and during the few months before I left to come here, I was very involved in keeping up with what was going on in this country’s infancy. I was worried that we wouldn’t get the chance to cross the border during our trip, even though past groups have done so, because of the rather delicate political situation that has emerged since the south seceded. However, we were allowed.

The town we crossed over into is called Nimule. There was a lot of construction and development going on literally right at the border, which I took as a good sign. Despite Sudan’s terrible history of human rights abuses, their economic situation is actually rather good right now, because the government as well as the international community has tried to distribute stipends and relief packages to people who have been effected. This is good both for the South Sudanese, and the Northern Ugandans, because lots of the South Sudanese people travel across the border with their money to buy the cheaper products which Uganda provides. However, despite this great business opportunity, the government of Uganda has rather blatantly disregarded the upkeep of the ‘Road to Juba’ (there’s pretty much only one road to any main city in these countries). Skeptics claim this is because the government, which is based in the south, doesn’t want to allow the north the opportunity to develop any faster, and making it easier for South Sudanese to import and export goods and services would more directly benefit the north of Uganda than the south. Whether or not this is true remains up for debate, but regardless, the road was terrible. I think I’m going to have to hire a private chiropractor for when I get back to the states.

When we got to the border, we weren’t allowed to drive our car over the bridge which separates the two countries. Instead, we were only permitted to walk about 2 feet into South Sudan, stand around for about 3 minutes going “this is so cool we’re in the newest country in the world!” and then walk back into Uganda and sneak some photos–don’t tell. I’m still wicked pumped that we got to go into South Sudan, even if it only was for such a short time.

The week after that, we wrapped up our homestays in Gulu. I was surprised at how sad I felt leaving, and I realized that I really had enjoyed feeling like I had a home in Gulu, not just a hotel room. The goodbyes weren’t all that bad though, because we will still have another month when we return from Rwanda to spend time with our families. We’re planning on cooking them all a big American Thanksgiving dinner!

From Gulu, we headed to Kampala, which is where we are now. The week has mostly consisted of free time for us to explore the city and work on some assignments. We got to go to a MALL, which was so westernized and fancy it was completely overwhelming. I think I might actually have a panic attack when I land back in Boston.

Also, Kampala is crazy. It is huge, and ridiculously crowded. While we were walking to dinner last night (a walk which ended up taking about an hour because we had no idea where we were going) we almost got hit by several cars and bodas, not because we were walking in the road, but because the vehicles drive on the sidewalks in an attempt to get around traffic jams. I guess it’s a learning experience, but I’m definitely glad we’re only here for a week.

On Saturday we got to take a boat ride to the source of the Nile! As someone who has spent years fascinated by, among other things, ancient Egyptian culture, I was so excited to get to be on this infamous river. The Nile is fed by Lake Victoria, but there is also an underground spring which bubbles up and forms a sort of whirlpool which is considered the official ‘source of the Nile.’ After that, we went to see some waterfalls further down the river which were gorgeous AND there was a mini golf course right along the river, which of course I jumped all over.

Tomorrow we leave for Western Uganda for two days and then to Rwanda, where we will be staying for two weeks. From looking at our schedule, it seems like we’re going to be seeding a lot of memorial sites. We got to talk to and SIT group that is based in Rwanda, and they told us that the sites are not only disturbing, but completely emotionally draining. I’m sure it will be rough, but I’m looking forward to it.

I hope everyone has a great Halloween! I’m debating being either one of the characters from Mean Girls, or a Zebra. Maybe a combo?

Let’s Play Catch Up!

I’ve done a lot of things this past week, but blogging was not one of them. This is going to be a long one…it’s even going to be categorized by event, because I’m just that organized. So here goes:

LOTS OF KONY:

Last Wednesday, we went on an excursion to visit a former IDP camp, as well as the home town of Joseph Kony. Our guide for the day was Jared Kony, who is Joseph Kony’s uncle. Apparently, Joseph’s parents actually tried to name him after his uncle, Jared, but they couldn’t pronounce his name correctly so it eventually morphed from Jared to Joseph.

Jared was a very nice man, who seemed rather un-phased at having such a notorious nephew. Granted, the two didn’t have a great amount of interaction before the war…but he still told us of his memories of Joseph coming for his mother’s funeral, riding a bike and carrying a batch of local brew.

The former IDP camp we visited was, for the most part, abandoned. Since the war officially ended in 2006, people have slowly been moving out of the camps and back to their land. Many of the huts have been torn down, but there were still a few scattered throughout the area, and we even met a few people who were still living in them. At the height of the violence, there were 7,000-8,000 people inhabiting the camp. I’m not sure as to the milage, but I can assure you that it is not large; people were living in very close proximity with one another for many years. The few people we met who did still live there were a man and his elderly mother, as well as about a dozen orphans. We were told that they had plans to move back to their land, but it seemed that those plans may be rather hypothetical.

After the camp, we drove to Odek, which is Joseph Kony’s home town. It also contains the giant rock/hill on which Kony supposedly had a spiritual revelation which led him to found the LRA movement. We hiked up to the site, and practically scaled the rock face to reach the top. For those of you from the Monadnock region, the top was reminiscent of the top of Mount Monadnock, except instead of scanning the sky for the Boston skyline, we were looking out over the vast expansion of Ugandan countryside. It really was awe-inspiring, and I can see how Kony could have been so influenced by being there.

But my Kony stories don’t stop there. I also spent some quality time talking with my wego (dad) Bosco last week, learning about his experiences during and after the war. He was in secondary school during the height of the war…so while I was complaining about how I had to go to high school in the freezing cold at 7 am everyday, he was telling me about how he had to go to prayers at 5 am, and hope he wouldn’t get abducted like so many of the other boys in his school. But I mean….it was REALLY cold in January in New Hampshire…

Since he is the director of Caritas, Bosco also played a big role in the charity and peacemaking efforts towards the end of the war. He showed me some pictures from when he spent 2 years in the bush in South Sudan, corresponding with the LRA rebels who were based there during the peace talks. He has met Joseph Kony, and also had a few pictures of him eating dinner with Vincent Otti, who was Kony’s commander.

 

LOTS OF STUDENTS:

On Friday, we went to visit Pope John Paul II College. “College” means “high school” here, so most of the students were our age or a little younger. However, since people’s schooling years are often fractured, there were also some who were in their twenties and still finishing up their secondary education. We had the opportunity to talk with students one-on-one and in groups. They had a lot of questions ranging from American family planning methods to whether or not Osama Bin Laden had supernatural powers which allowed him to shift into animal form….apparently that is a prevalent rumor around here, which I find fascinating.

After talking for a while, my group showed me around their campus, which is quite nice. Afterwards, they performed a cultural dance for us and then it started to rain so we had to head back to town. I exchanged a lot of email addresses though, so I don’t expect this to be the last time we see each other.

 

LOTS OF INDEPENDENCE:

Sunday was the 49th anniversary of Uganda’s independence. The day’s festivities were pretty similar to what one would expect on the 4th of July in America: plenty to eat and drink, spending time with friends and family, etc. Oh, except I started the day by doing some washing, which takes about 2 hours (it would take much longer if I didn’t have our house girl, Teddy, to help me) and results in blistered fingers, but surprisingly clean clothes. I think they have some sort of magic soap here that I may need to transport back to the U.S.

In the evening, I went into town with my host brother, some family friends, and our two house girls, Alice and Teddy. Apparently the girls had not been into town in the two years since they’ve started working for Rose and Bosco, because they have to spend so much time at home with the children, and just in our neighborhood in general. Needless to say, they were quite excited, so we all had a great time. We went to Amigos, which is a bar that mainly locals go to; it was great because, since it was independence day, people were really happy and talkative…even though the Uganda Cranes soccer team at lost out on making it to the African Cup of Nations just the day before (some people were still upset about that though…it was pretty sad).

 

LOTS OF RELAXING:

On Monday, we trekked to Mbale, which is in Eastern Uganda. It was about a 7 hour drive, however, it was so much more pleasant than our previous excursions because the road was paved! After over a month of practically driving on craters, it felt like we were gliding. Also, there were median lines painted, speed bumps, and road signs…and when we got to Mbale there were sidewalks. We were all a little stunned/pumped.

Eastern Uganda has never really been effected by any of the conflicts or violence in the country, which means it has had time to develop in relative peace, and it shows. It felt almost like Europe compared to Gulu.

On Tuesday we drove up Mount Elgon to Sipi Falls. The drive was breathtaking, and hiking up to the waterfall and standing underneath it was even more so. We got to see some native coffee plants too!

After returning from our hike, we were taken to the Mbale Resort Hotel. Usually when things in Uganda have names like this, it is very misleading (ie, we passed a ‘Hilton Hotel’ on the way that I’m sure Paris Hilton would laugh and/or cry at the thought of staying in) but this was quite the exception. It was like paradise. We all opted to indulge in different activities…I went for a swedish massage and a piña colada by the pool (real mixed drinks are a huge novelty here). I don’t think I could have thought up a more perfect way to spend a day if I tried.

LOTS MORE TO COME!

Kitgum Really Knows How to Party

We spent this past week in Kitgum, which is a town about three hours north of Gulu. It is smaller, hotter, and was even more effected by the LRA war. Traveling there was a nice break from our routine; we all got to stay together in the Silicon Valley Guest House rather than in homestays, so of course much fun ensued…and some learning I guess.

Every time I hear someone’s war story I still get a little thrown off. Yesterday, we heard from one of our Acholi professors whom we affectionately have named Fro-yo, since none of us can seem to remember his real name. After having 3 weeks of lessons with him, you might imagine the surprise we had when we learned that he was at one time a top soldier in Alice Lakwena’s army (Alice was a sort of precursor to Kony/theLRA). Apparently Fro-yo was in line to be her personal assistant, but was passed over for someone else who didn’t have glasses. He was also shot 6 times (with the scars to prove it) and eventually captured by the government army and taken out of the fighting.

Every few days or so I hear a new story of this sort, and it just serves to constantly remind me that it is impossible to go a day here without interacting with someone who was not intimately involved with the war. I’ve tried picturing how American society would deal with this sort of  dilemma–I can’t imagine that everyone would be so willing and able to work forward as most people seem to be here. That’s not to say that there aren’t still plenty of issues involving peacebuilding and reconciliation, but for the most part, it seems that Ugandans have been able to reaccept one another at a rather impressive rate. I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact that they really don’t have many other options–they could continue to fan the flames and hold old grudges, or they could learn to move forward in such a way that proves more productive for themselves and the country in general.

While in Kitgum, we also visited the newly-created district of Lamwo, which is right on the border with South Sudan. We got to speak with some of the district representatives, and then went to a memorial site. The site commemorated the lives of 417 people who were murdered there by Amin in 1971. We were all a little taken aback when the car stopped for us to get out, because it seemed that we were looking at nothing but an empty field of tall grass. However, our guides began stomping down an area of grass and soon revealed the small memorial which had been hidden by the overgrowth. Our initial reaction to the state of the memorial was one of confusion–it seemed strange that such a tragic event would be essentially forgotten and left unkept. However, after thinking about it for a while, I guess the concept of memorials here is not really the same as in America. First of all, this is a memorial for something which occurred under Amin’s rule, and since then there has also been a 25 year-long war, which is hardly a time to be concerned with the state of a memorial. Secondly, as pessimistic as it may sound, this country has had so many tragic things happen, I can’t imagine it would be easy to keep up with all of them. That being said, the district commissioner did tell us that there are plans to revamp the area and make it into more of a typical memorial site.

So there has obviously been a lot of devastation in Kitgum, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had. Wednesday night we went to the Acholi Pub. It was ladies night, so all of the girls got in for free, while the boys had to pay a heft 2,000 UGS (which equals less than $1). There was lots of loud music and dancing, and we were able to request some American songs so of course we all had quite a time losing our voices singing along to “Party in the USA.” Last night, our program director organized a dinner at our guest house with some of Kitgum’s community leaders; we all got to eat, drink, and dance together for quite a while. A bunch of locals attended as well and there were some pretty adorable children who totally showed us all up when it came to dancing skills.

We arrived back in Gulu this afternoon, and will be heading to our homestays shortly. It was a little surprising, and I guess comforting, how much Gulu felt like home when we arrived back.

Hope you all are well, thanks for keeping up with my babble!

Get Your Photo Fix Here

I have some time to kill this afternoon, and the internet in Café Larem seems to be working pretty well, so I’m crossing my fingers that I will be able to upload some pictures (if you’re reading this, it means that it worked, so be happy!)

Some sugar cane our program assistant bought us to chew on during the insane traffic jam heading out of Kampala

Great action shot of a baboon out the bus window. My photog skills are amazing, I know.

Apparently, people are very jaunty while crossing streets in Uganda. Or at least that is what this sign would lead one to believe

This is at a local bar which is notoriously ‘expat’ friendly, meaning it’s a good place for us to ease into the Ugandan nightlife. The guy with the scarf is called ‘Fabulous Patrick.’ He is a local comedian/radio personality and we love him. He is both fabulous and Patrick.

Bridget, Marinda, and Michelle…my adorable homestay sisters

A traditional Acholi dance performance

Excursions and More

Since my last post, we have been filling our days with lectures, Acholi  language classes, home life, and excursions. I feel like I’m really getting to know the city, which is comforting. I finally figured out how to get home–it’s about a 30-45 minute walk from downtown, which isn’t so bad. Sometimes though, it’s nice to have an alternate mode of transportation available rather than just walking, so I took my first boda-boda ride home a few days ago. Bodas are two-seater moped/motorcycle taxis. The crazy nature of pretty much every driver here, combined with the ridiculously deep potholes that are scattered every few meters, made me rather apprehensive, but it turned out to be completely fine; my driver was nice and slowed down for all the bumps–I’m sure he could tell I was hardly a seasoned boda passenger. It was also a good experience in cultural immersion, seeing as I had to direct him to my home when he couldn’t understand exactly where I wanted to go.

Last friday, we went on a group excursion to the Acholi Cultural Institute headquarters in Gulu. We had the opportunity to speak with the the Chief of the Patiko region (which includes Gulu) and see some traditional Acholi dances–we even joined in! It was a lot of fun, I’ll upload pictures if the internet speed ever makes that possible.

Today, we went to Sir Samuel Baker’s Fort. It was about an hour’s drive through the beautiful Ugandan countryside (again, pictures to follow at some point). Baker’s Fort was formerly the hub of the East African slave trade. People from all over central and eastern Africa were captured and brought there to be distributed to the slave-seeking countries. Most of the slaves brought there eventually ended up in Asia, rather than Europe or the United States. The fort is now part-tourist attraction, part-park (for lack of a better term). There were several children running around and playing while we were there, but other than that we were pretty much on our own. The location was chosen by the Arab slave traders because it has a natural outcrop of huge rocks which provided excellent protection from attackers and, subsequently, allowed them to easily contain all of the slaves they brought in. Dr. William showed us around and told us about the gruesome history the place holds. We saw the areas which had been designated for beheading ‘unfit’ slaves, as well as the ‘prisons’ (which were really just tiny rock overhangs) where they would fit as many people as possible in at a time.

To go along with the somber side of things, our group seems to be particularly prone to illness. Sam was in the hospital with tonsillitis last week (better now) and two members of our group, David and Joe, had typhoid last week! I know, crazy right? Before you start asking: yes, all of us had to get the typhoid vaccination before coming and, yes: it is still possible to get typhoid even if you’ve had the vaccine. They both have made nearly-full recoveries. However, sadly, Joe decided to head home to the US after getting out of the hospital. He had already been in Africa for 3 months when he met up with us in Uganda, and during that time he had been seriously ill 3 times–including two bouts of malaria–and after consulting with his doctors and parents he decided it was safer for him to return home, rather than risk getting sick again. We were all very sad to see him go, he was already a well-loved member of our group, even only after 2 weeks.

BUT, to end on a positive note, we have also been getting out and exploring the city a lot more. We have tried out a few local bars and cafés, and yesterday a few of us went to the in-ground pool at the Acholi Inn, which was glorious. We plan on spending a lot of time there this weekend–you know, working on our equatorial tans and such. Jealous? 🙂

In Africa, You Are a Guest for One Day.

This week we began doing real-student things. We started Saturday by going on what SIT calls a ‘drop-off’, where we were divided into groups and sent into the city to explore certain aspects of Ugandan life. My group’s mission was to learn about the marketplace, and Gulu business in general. We talked to 7 different vendors whose mastery of english varied greatly. We learned some interesting things; like the backpack vendor who told us that his business was actually better during the war because there was less competition.

That afternoon, our host families began to filter in to pick us up. We all stood around nervously, feeling a little like puppies jumping around in a cardboard box trying to look the cutest so that we’d get adopted first. Of course, SIT would never allow for such a selection process, and our families had actually already been determined. I was assigned to the family of Bosco Komakech, who happens to be the homestay coordinator for the program. He lives a little ways out of town, in a very nice house. I have the luxury of a bathroom with a toilet, while many of my colleagues are stuck with a pit latrine–if you don’t know what that is, you probably don’t want to know anyways.

Bosco is the director of Caritas, which is the Ugandan branch of Catholic Relief Services. He does a lot of interesting work with resettlement communities, and areas effected by the war–I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more over the time I spend at his house.

Rose, his wife, works with a trauma and healing NGO, and she is planning to start her own NGO soon to help children whose lives have been severely effected by the war. She is very committed to the idea of creating a community support system for what she calls a ‘lost generation’ of children.

Together, Rose and Bosco have three adorable daughters: Bridget, who is 6, and Michelle and Marinda who are 3 year old twins. They all seemed a little wary of me for the first day or so, but they have been warming up to the idea of a stranger in their house.

There are also two house girls named Teddy and Alice who help with the cooking and cleaning, and a boy named Brian who is part-adopted family member/part-house boy. Finally, as for animals, there are two guard dogs, a cat, a goat, and some chickens.

The title of this post is something that Rose said to me my first night when I offered to help clear the table. Now that I have spent more than one day in their house, I am no longer considered a guest, and more considered part of the family, and share in the responsibilities. I’m pretty excited to learn how to cook traditional Ugandan meals like matoke!

As I said before, their house is pretty far out of town, but there are a few other people from the program nearby. I get a ride in the morning from Rose because she has to drop Bridget off for school, but we have to find our way back in the afternoon. I really have no idea how long it will take, but I’m about to find out as soon as I finish this entry and leave the Coffee Hut–more info coming soon!

I’m Here!

After three days in Uganda, a few of the members of my group and I decided to venture out to find the internet café a few blocks from our hotel–we were all experiencing slight facebook withdrawal. So here I am, sitting in the Coffee Hut, sipping some ‘house’ Ugandan coffee and listening to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on the radio (she seems to be pretty popular here).

These past few days have definitely long, but in a good way. I was lucky enough to have people from my program on both my flight from Boston and my flight from London, so we all were able to navigate Entebbe Airport together. We were met by Dr. William–our Academic Director, Winny–our program assistant, and Morgan–an SIT Uganda alum who is going to be helping us out for the first few weeks of the program.

From the airport, we had about an hour drive to Kampala, the capital city. All of us in the car were pretty quiet, due both to the fact that we had just stepped off an 8 hour overnight flight, and that there were SO many new surroundings to take in through the window. Our driver tuned into a radio station that was playing American 80’s hits, so there was definitely a strange/hilarious clash of cultures going on.

Also, drivers here are crazy. For all intents and purposes, there are no traffic rules. I was sure we were going to side-swipe someone, or that a motorcyclist would get rear-ended within the first 5 minutes of being on the road. However, we managed to make it to our hotel in Kampala (which was on Col. Muammar Gaddafi Road) safely before noon.

A view from near our hotel in Kampala

We spent the rest of the day getting to know one another, eating some of the local food for lunch and dinner, and going into the city to purchase cell phones. By the time 9 pm rolled around, most of us were struggling to fight off sever jet lag (Uganda is 7 hours ahead of the East Coast, and it’s pretty difficult to get any sleep on planes as I’m sure you all know) so we had an early night.

The next morning, we all loaded onto a private bus to ship off to Gulu, in Northern Uganda. We were told the trip should only take about 4-5 hours, with an hour in the middle to stop for lunch. An hour or two in, we were stopped by some soldiers who were running some sort of checkpoint. They told us that it looked like there was something wrong with our bus, and that it probably wouldn’t make it to Gulu. Our program directors figured that this was merely an attempt from the police to get some money from us. However, a few hours later our bus lurched to an unpleasant halt, and we had to roll it to the side of the road. Luckily, we were in a town (for much of the drive we were not anywhere near one) so we all got off and waited while some of our coordinators went to talk to a mechanic.

It turned out, our bus was non-reparable–or at least not quickly repairable–but we were able to find two taxi buses that were willing to take us the rest of the way. We had to pile all of our luggage on the roofs (several hundred pounds worth) and strap it down with bungee cords. Of course, when we were still about 45 minutes away from Gulu, it started to rain. Fortunately, no one’s luggage was severely effected, and we all made it to the hotel in relatively good shape. We also got to see lots of baboons on the road, and cross the Nile, so I guess that made up for the rain.

 

This morning, we began orientation and have had the afternoon free to explore the town. A few other people and I walked around Gulu for a bit and made friends with some adorable children–all of whom seem very curious and excited to get to interact with us, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

So that brings me here, to the Coffee Hut. We have orientation for the rest of the week, and then we move in with our homestay families on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll be able to update this blog again within a week or so, with even more adventures to report..I also have already started taking pictures (of course) but it is taking too long to upload them here, so I guess you’ll all have to wait a little longer…sorry!

Before I Leave…

Hello all,

I figured I’d leave a quick pre-departure post since I’m not sure how long it will be before I can post an update once I’m in Uganda.

First of all, I wanted to give some explanation behind the title/subtitle I chose for my blog. At first glance, it may sound a little pessimistic, but if you’re a die-hard Bill Watterson fan like I am, you may recognize it from this strip:

I’ve always loved the internal struggles Calvin undergoes when he finds out what he is doing actually isn’t fun at all, because it builds character. While my endless-summer frolicking days may be behind me, I can definitely still relate to Calvin’s free spirit and frequent feelings of revulsion towards life’s responsibilities–can’t we all? However, I am proud to say that I think I have reached a point in my life where–unlike Calvin–I can also appreciate experiences which build character, and find the fun in them. This is exactly why I decided to travel and study in Uganda.

So now that I’ve brought you up to speed on my oh-so-clever blog theme, I guess I can fill you in on some quick logistics of my trip:

I leave Logan at 8:15 Sunday morning and fly to London where I have about an hour and a half layover (should be an interesting/frantic 90 minutes making sure I find my connecting flight). From London, I fly direct to Entebbe International Airport in Kampala, Uganda. I arrive at 7:45 am Sunday, local Ugandan time which, if my calculations are correct, puts me at about midnight:45 Keene NH time.

We have a weeklong orientation in Kampala and Gulu (norther Uganda) before beginning the homestay portion of the program, so hopefully I will find time to update you all during that time. Until then, I guess you’ll just have to survive imagining all the character building I’m being forced to endure, and I leave you with this (shout out B1N1):