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?


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