Archive for October, 2010
As I reflect on my time in this beautiful country with these incredible people, I can’t help but get just a wee bit misty. Â My Ugandan family has taught me so much in such a short amount of time, and I am forever in their debt. Â I have come to love them very truly, and I will be more than a little upset to leave them. Â They’ve invited me to stay with them and work at an NGO for the education of girls after my graduation in May, and I am ecstatic…but I also know that life changes, responsibilities get in the way, and student loans need to be repaid. Â I hope against all odds that I will be able to come back here and add something to this community…but I sometimes get caught up in the thought that perhaps I won’t ever make it back. Â I wonder what my family’s lives will be like. Â I wonder if my sister will always have to kneel, or if one day she will stand with the dignity that she deserves. Â I wonder if they will always live in peace, or if this country will not always afford them that ability. Â I wonder if they will ever know how much they have truly moved me, how they’ve changed me. Â All I can do as I leave this place tomorrow is pray that they experience only the good things life has to offer and that our paths will one day cross again.
To catch you up on the last few days, we left Gulu in the North, crossed the Nile to the part of the country which has been less affected by the war, and returned to Kampala. Â Although I’m excited to soon be starting the next leg of the trip in Rwanda, there remains even now so much to learn and see in Uganda. Â Today was spent our day seeing the beginning of the Nile River at Lake Victoria in the town of Jinja. Â Literally, the mouth of the Nile, like the visible current. Â It was actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Â I’ll try to get some pics up when I have some more time. Â Until then, you’ll have to revel in the recesses of your own imagination. Â Some imagery to assist your creative process: dark blue water that flows down triumphant rapids Â to a calm bayou where skilled men standing in long canoes net fish as storks and egrets fly overhead and cormorants bob up and down with the current. Â The answer is yes, you should see this yourself. Â The trip was a really excellent way to begin our Uganda sign-off, and I cannot wait to get to Rwanda early next week.
For those of you whose acquaintance I have yet to make, the Rwandan genocide has, for some time now, touched a part of my heart that nothing else has been able to affect. Â A few years ago I began reading everything I could get my hands on about the events of that fateful 100ish days in 1994, and the interest never subsided. Â In all honesty, the prospect of seeing Rwanda with my own eyes was my primary reason for signing up for this trip. Â I was always fascinated and horrified at the way people were convinced to kill their neighbors, as well as at the fact that many of those who died were convinced that this was just what needed to happen, even months before the killing actually started. Â For anyone who wants a fantastic perspective on this conflict and on the people involved, I strongly urge you to reach Philip Gourevich’s book, “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.” Â My biggest struggle with this conflict (and part of the reason I am here) is my inability to imagine 800,000 dead people (some say as many as 1,000,000) without just making them statistics. Â These were people similar to the ones I know. Â They had interests, they had favorite soda flavors, they cherished real joys, and they experienced real terror. Â Gourevich helps one step past this mental windbreaker and get to the living, breathing soul of these people. Â I hope that you, my friend, will not judge my desire to “catastrophe tour” – but I need to see this. Â And so do you, if not in person than in your heart. Â We need to stand among our fallen brothers and sisters and realize that we are part of this grand scheme. Â These lives were lost, and so are we unless we take care to never let this happen again. Â How do we ensure this? Â We never let ourselves forget the events that these human beings lived, and we in turn never let ourselves define these people solely by their traumas. Â I know it’s been said, but these people are more than the genocide they suffered through. Â Instead, let’s see one another for who we are today…because we really are in this together.
Until my next post, wish me luck. Â There’s been some tension as a result of threats by the terrorist group Al-Shabbab, which was behind the July 11th terrorist attacks here in the lovely Kampala. Â They have threatened another attack like the first which killed 79 people, and these jerks are obviously taken quite seriously. Â Uganda’s Independence Day is tomorrow, complete with parades and demonstrations which have already been worked into a pretty thick lather by the upcoming elections. Â I’ll be avoiding all of the fun places tomorrow, but I’ll be in touch again soon.
It is amazing how much one can be desensitized to suffering through constant exposure. Â Living here in Gulu has afforded me many opportunities to see some things which really pull you kicking and screaming from your comfort zone, but after living here for a few weeks, I forget that I am living in a city that was war-torn and saturated in fear until less than 5 years ago.
Excursions help to remind us why we are here and that the suffering of which we learn is real, is ongoing, and is relevant. Â The other day we spent the entire day at a place called Attiak, then went to the no man’s land between Sudan and Uganda. Â There was an incident there in 1995 when the LRA killed between 250 and 300 people in a single morning. Â They were brutally slaughtered, and having seen this very small community, that must have been absolutely devastating. Â Itâ€™s so weird that my initial reaction to the news of 250 people dying somehow feels like not that big of a deal after so many people have died in the war altogether. Â How would an incident like that be received in America? Â We would consider going to war over something like that. Â All these people can do is bury their sons and daughters in a mass grave and hope for foreign funding for a modest memorial because everyone else is too busy fighting their own battles and burying their own dead to help them. Â I cannot imagine how hopeless that must have felt- your siblings or your kids or your friends dying and having no one to help you seek justice. Â Fifteen years later, they are just now placing the tiles on the concrete steps of the memorial which is about 6 feet tall and will eventually have all of the names of those who died on it, though the list of names is still being compiled. Â The mass grave is located about 4 miles from town and is inaccessible. Â I wonder if the parents and siblings of all of those people can access itâ€¦or if they ever want to.
It is strange to live in such a dichotomy between seeing the beauty in these people and in their land, and still remembering that these tragedies are part of who these people as a nation have become. Â Above all else, I find myself having to make a conscious effort to remember that the Ugandans are not only what they have seen and how they have suffered – they are people who live in hope and who strive to look beyond the pain they have experienced. Â They want a peaceful world and are working hard to achieve that for their children. Â I hope that the conflicts arising around Uganda will not inhibit their efforts for development and peace, but it seems that Sudan’s impending conflict and Rwanda’s issues with the DRC are going to have an impact.
The gift and curse of East Africa is that it is so connected within itself – each country is so intertwined with the next that conflicts overlap borders and follow along tribal lines rather than national borders. Â It will be interesting to see how the East African Union plays out with the different levels of conflict that are rearing their ugly heads. Â For those who are not aware, Sudan is enjoying what most Ugandans and those in the international community believe to be the calm before the storm. Â A vote in January will most likely divide Sudan into two separate nations, splitting them into Northern and Southern halves. Â This will cause conflict because of the fact that almost all of the natural resources are in the Southern half, but the Northern half has most of the conflict. Â A resource/land war is on the horizon, and there is definite concern here in Northern Uganda that this will cause problems once again. Â Though the conflict with Joseph Kony and his LRA has migrated to the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the most part, people here do not believe that the conflict is totally over. Â For them, this peace is tenuous.
One wonders whether or not a permanent solution to the conflicts arising from the LRA war will be reached in our lifetime. Â In the meantime, kids go to school, youth play football, people get married, parents go to work, and the world continues to turn. Â I hope that by understanding this conflict and the people affected by it, we can eventually develop some theories to help their world to turn more peacefully.