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? 🙂