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!