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!