"Uganda is a fairy tale. You climb up a railway instead of a beanstalk and at the top there is a wonderful new world. The scenery is different and most of all the people are different from anywhere else in Africa." -- Winston Churchill 1908
I think Mr. Churchill would have approved of the name Alicia and I have given the Forest Hill Cottages where we live: Fairyland
It has been one of my longest, most difficult weeks in Africa. One kink in my neat plan called life quickly reminded me that there are many things my life in Uganda lacks. Namely, the support system that keeps you going in trying times like last week. However, Alicia pulled more than her own weight and kept me going until I was able to stand on my feet again. Such a week also makes America a desirable place to be, something I haven't felt in a very long time. For the past several months I have been dreading July when I am returning to the USA. While I love Africa like it is my continent (and I take great pride when my African friends say "my friend, you are proper African") I am finally confident that I will survive the transition to the land that truly is my home.
A friend from Vanderbilt, Meredith Bates, arrives in Kampala late this evening. I am looking forward to her arrival. Another friend who I can relate to and at the same time share this amazing country with. She will be completing her HOD internship with my friend, Dennis Matanda who runs a consulting and PR firm. Alicia's research assistant, Lindsey who is a recent Emory graduate, is also arriving this week. We are excited about the new blood and the owner of "fairyland" is very excited that we are filling up the cottages. However, you can image that we are a very strange group to cater to. You can tell that we intrigue them and they haven't figured out our strange ways yet. For example, we were given microwaves this weekend! We couldn't believe our eyes - when we woke up they were just sitting outside our doors. The only place to plug the microwave was being occupied by an electric kettle, and the plug from the kettle wouldn't budge. I got one of the workers to help me pry it out. An hour later my cottage was full of about 15 workers who eventually got the kettle unplugged. I explained that I didn't use the kettle so they didn't need to get a two-plug adaptor. They could not fathom the idea of not using the electric kettle. "You mean, no tea for you?" I was asked over and over again. All fifteen walked out just shaking their head. I heard one of them ask what I would use the microwave for.
They are not the only ones trying to figure things out. I don't follow their thought process as well and it drives me crazy! For instance, this morning when I was inspecting Meredith's cottage I noticed that I had the pillowcases that matched her comforter. I took her plain white pillowcases and swapped them with the ones that matched her comforter. This seemed very logical to me. Especially since they had just been washed, so both sets were clean. Two of the workers, and Rahaima (you might remember her from last week) came knocking at my door. They asked me what I was doing. They couldn't believe that I was going to have Meredith sleep on my pillowcases. They insisted that they be thrown away if I no longer wanted them. I insisted that Meredith would want them and then they asked if we were sisters (as if that somehow made her using my clean pillowcases ok). I continued to try to figure this out asking questions like, "At the hotels in Uganda do they throw out the pillowcases after each guest?" I finally came to the conclusion that some things have no answers.
On Friday I met with Angela, the woman who runs a home for street children. You can find a detailed description of Angela and the Mercy Home in my January entries on the webpage. Since the last time I met with Angela she has successfully found funding not only to build a new home for her orphans, but also to open another orphanage in Kenya. She and sixteen of her orphans will be traveling to nowhere but Indiana to perform at churches to raise more money for their projects. Angela has become a friend of mine, and greatly inspires me. Angela is only 25 years old and was a street child herself. When she was a teenager she would collect the younger street children and they would move from church to church every night. This is how her orphanage started. She is also opening a school for her street children. Although Angela is strong and has an amazing spirit you can see her pain when she talks about the problems the children face. The war in the north, HIV, malnutrition, lack of education, and rape are only a few of the problems she mentioned. I asked her if she knew how many of the 36 girls currently staying at the orphanage had been raped. She looked at me with empty eyes and said bluntly that rape was part of the life of a street child. There was no way around it. This coming Friday I am going to help Angela make a documentary about her experience and how the orphanage was built. She explained that several of the people who helped her are old and sick and she wants to get them on tape before they are gone. Then on Saturday I am taking a movie for the kids to watch.
The taxi wars have remained calm. However I did have a somewhat funny experience on Saturday. I hopped into the front seat of a taxi next to a man in his twenties. We had been in the taxi for about 15 minutes when he tapped my shoulder. He said, "I am sorry to inform you but I had a haircut this morning. Now on your arm is what you might call an afro." I looked down and all the hair that was recently cut from his head was stuck to my arm. I had just put lotion on as I walked out the door and his hair had transformed my one arm into a very scary site. To make matters worse, his shirt was full of static and the hair stood on end. It freaked me out and I quickly began brushing it off, but with no avail. We both ended up laughing. It was with me till I hoped in the shower later that day.
Another strange incident happened at the grocery store that is across the street from fairyland. I am a good customer there and buy water, a coke, or airtime for my phone nearly everyday. Thus, on Sunday when one of the workers chased me across the street and asked me to come back to the store I was a little confused. Someone had accused me of stealing a newspaper. I am still unsure of who it was or how it happened. The store was packed and when I returned I could hear the Ugandans talking about the mzungu (white person). I knew they were all talking about me. I was embarrassed and offended and approached the register asking the woman working if I paid for the newspaper. She confirmed that I did and I walked out. No one apologized or anything. Alicia informed them that their mistake had embarrassed me greatly and as a peace offering they gave us four bags of Arabic chips - haha. I am sure it gave the Ugandans something to talk about over Sunday dinner.
However, the newspaper certainly provided me with more entertainment. Apparently, the World Bank named Uganda as the country who has made the most progress in gender equality. I could hardly believe what I was reading. In a country where women are forced into marriage so their fathers can make money collecting bride price, I found this proclamation hard to believe. I was also somewhat discouraged when the main on article on one of the pages was about a man who died eating a chapatti while riding his motorbike. Next to this article there was an article that contained two sentences: An eleven year-old girl was found raped and murdered this weekend. The police are looking for suspects. Disgusting that such a horrific crime raised no alarm. And finally, the domestic relations bill, which would finally make domestic violence illegal, was thrown out once again by parliament saying that it needed further revision. This deserves an entire email itself!
Finally, I try to read a different book every week. It is usually non-fiction and has to do with my work but every once in awhile I throw in a fiction book. This week I read The Power of One, by Bryce Courtney for the third time. It is a great book about a little boy who learns to deal with racism in South Africa. In the book Peekay, the little boy in the novel, spoke of photos of the South African President being distributed among stores and businesses. It was mandatory that the owners display the pictures to show their support of the President. Suddenly I realized that the pictures of Uganda's President Museveni were not hung by choice. The government distributed them. It always seemed strange to me that every store and business had a nicely framed picture of the President. Initially, I thought that he was just hugely popular. Which I guess is just what the government wants you to think. Then, I wondered what would happen if the Bush administration forced stores and businesses to hang his picture. Haha - I imagine there would be a few protests.
"We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other's children." - Former US President Jimmy Carter
It's Tuesday evening and I just finished cooking my lunch for the rest of the week. The usual - rice with peas, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. I returned from my weekend trip to Gulu on Sunday and I am still trying to process everything that I saw. It is strange how my body can become physically tired when I am emotionally exhausted. It is like my emotions have control over the power switch and when there is an overload I shut down. Last night when I returned from the city I was so tired I could barely make it down the stairs. I ended up crawling under the mosquito net by 7:30pm and staying there until 7:00am! I could barely believe it.
Now, after sleeping for 12 hours, I find myself with enough energy to begin processing the atrocities that I saw firsthand in Northern Uganda. I am a person who works well when there is stuff going on around me. I have always studied for exams listening to music and I am one of those people who prefer to go to sleep with the television on. Today I feel differently. My brain was thrown into chaos this weekend and I am still trying to find peace in my thoughts. I began typing with the television on but my mind continued to jump around - I think my soul was trying to avoid the pain that accompanies the human suffering I witnessed. Now the television and the lights are off. The computer screen glows. I hear the crickets chirping and the frogs croaking. The dogs are barking in the distance. Within a minute my mind has settled and somehow I find peace. The noises remind me of camping. Camping with my uncle and siblings as a child. Camping in South Africa while doing archaeology. In this peace I recognize an important lesson I have learned traveling alone in Africa: It's good to stop analyzing my feelings and just feel sometimes. Opening my heart to the universe isn't a horrible thing. And when I do open my heart and take in the pain of the world I feel as if I am taking some of the pain away from someone, somewhere. I suddenly realize I am accomplishing something I have been unable to do before now. My heart is bursting open with the pain but my mind is still able to find peace.
I have looked at the photos and video interviews from Gulu over and over again. I believe that the next time I view them I will learn something that will help me find answers. But there are no answers. Looking in the eyes of the women and children that I met takes me back to Gulu and back to their pain and suffering. Looking deep into the children's eyes I wonder what those eyes have seen. Certainly many things no human being should ever see. Their eyes tell their story; the children are empty. Their bodies' just shells filled with pain. The killings, the rapes, the emotional manipulation, and the starvation had taken their souls long ago.
I joined a group of women sitting at the World Vision reception. We began to talk and I asked one woman how long she had been in the bush. She said that she had been there for four days. And then she quickly added that four days in the bush was equivalent to four years. It was as if she had to justify the pain and sorrow she felt knowing that she was surrounded by women who had been there for up to twelve years. Why did she feel that she needed to give this justification? Maybe it would be easy to feel like four days isn't too long when the government of Uganda and the rest of the world is allowing this war to rage for over 20 years.
I am still trying to comprehend the contrasting images that just don't add up to the truth. Upon arriving in Gulu I realized that the road from Kampala to the North was the nicest road I had traveled on in Uganda. Far nicer than the more frequently used road to the International Airport. And the Bank of Uganda, which deals with all international donors, has built a new state of the art building in the center of the city. The building is clearly out of place when seeing the neighboring IDP camps or the field where 30,000 street children are forced to sleep. And what about the Acholi Inn? A profitable hotel owned by a top UPDF general who fills his rooms with LRA rebels who have defected and promises foreign visitors security his military can't promise the Ugandans. And why, as a visitor, can I sleep peacefully, without fear in the city while only 24 kilometers away twenty Ugandans are slaughtered in an IDP camp? To me the pieces don't complete the puzzle.
Museveni has shown little resolve to win, or even fight this war. As illustrated above, someone is gaining something and Museveni and the rest of the Ugandan government aren't opposed to reaping the profits. It may seem that as an American, I have little room to judge. My country not only fought, but also initiated a war to gain ground in the oil industry (and say we were spreading democracy along the way). But I judge the leaders of my country as well. Presently, I am living in Uganda and have grown to love Ugandans. I am indebted to the people of this country who welcomed me and shared their lives. As a "Ugandan" local I feel responsible for the well-being of the community I live in. This community, not only being the southern region that I inhabit, but the entirety of the country including the war torn areas of the North.
When comparing the war that is being fought by the USA and the war that is being fought in Uganda I find an interesting difference (although neither war is justified). Museveni has sat back and watched a war within his own country - Ugandans slaughtering and mutilating one another. On the other hand President Bush initiated the killing of thousands of Iraqi people to protect his country from what he believed to be a nuclear threat. I don't support the decisions of either leader. But what I truly don't understand is why the Ugandan people have reelected Museveni and are trying to change the constitution in order for him to serve a third term when he isn't protecting or promoting their well being. As a global citizen I didn't support the reelection of President Bush but at least ethnocentric Americans who voted for President Bush can argue that he is representing their wellbeing and protecting America.
Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA is pursuing an atrocious war against his own people. He is a member of the Acholi tribe and he targets the Acholi in his attacks reportedly punishing them for their sins. The main sin being their lack of support for his movement - but also for their poverty and supposed low status amongst the other Ugandan tribes. His strange tactic of annihilating his own people has worked and allows this war to continue. Because the ethnic groups of Uganda are geographically divided the rest of the country continues to develop while Kony has left the North paralyzed. How does he hope to achieve his ultimate goal of overthrowing Museveni and establishing a government based on the Ten Commandments if he only attacks the Acholi in the North while the government is based in the southern capital city of Kampala?
Returning to Kampala from Gulu my bus crossed the Nile River and I wondered how many Ugandans had recently crossed the Nile to experience what their fellow Ugandans in the North were facing. I looked at the awe inspiring view with mixed emotions. How could such a beautiful creation represent the suffering this country has faced? During Amin's dictatorship the bridge that we crossed was used as a stage to easily dispose of bodies by tossing them into the raging rapids where the Nile Crocodiles quickly eliminated all evidence. Now the very same location serves as a geographical separation between the thriving south and the dismal north. When will Ugandans and the international community decide to use this bridge to connect the country rather than avoid the rough waters that divide it?
The Ugandan government has been fighting a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since the mid 1980's. The LRA mainly carries out attacks in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. The LRA has little platform but is able to continue its horrific attacks by receiving protection from the Sudanese government and abducting children to fight for the LRA military. Over 30,000 children have been abducted by the LRA to date.
I was nervous about traveling to a conflict area but I felt safe the entire weekend and I am glad I made the decision to go. We arrived in Gulu on Friday afternoon. Raphael, the Gulu University Librarian and his wife, Christine who works for the UN, were our hosts for the weekend. We stayed in a hotel that is owned by a General for the government military. The LRA rebels who surrender are brought to this hotel to stay because it has such high security. We saw the previous number 2 commander for the LRA on several occasions.
We began our tour just after arriving on Friday afternoon. We visited multiple IDP Camps (internally displaced persons camp - like refugee camps but for Ugandan people), The Peace and Conflict Resolution Center, and the World Vision Reception Center for rescued women and children who were abducted by the LRA. There are nearly 1.6 million people in Northern Uganda that have been displaced from their homes and live in camps. Raphael explained that it is just too dangerous for the people to remain at their homes in the villages so they are forced to move into the camps. There are very few villages left in the North. The children that still live in the surrounding areas are forced to walk to Gulu every evening. Some walk as far as 10 miles in one direction. We stood in the street at 8pm one evening and the street was packed with small children carrying their younger siblings on their backs and sleeping mats on their heads. An estimated 30,000 children walk to Gulu every evening in order to avoid being abducted by the LRA. These children are spending their entire childhood walking from their village to the city - there is no time to play.
While we were driving to the IDP camp Christine told us to be observant of the people on the streets. If we saw someone running it meant the LRA had been sited and we should move in the same direction that they were running. The roads we were traveling on were very secure but traveling North of Gulu is a different story. Over the weekend twenty people were killed in Gulu by the LRA. All of these attacks were in outlying areas and not within the city. This is part of the problem with this war. The violence and atrocities are confined to a very specific area of the country and the rest of the country is able to continue to function normally. Because of this, the war is largely ignored by the rest of the country. We were welcomed into Bobi, an IDP camp. The camp leaders asked us to enter on the far side of the camp because it was more secure. We arrived just after the community had finished holding a security briefing. They were not allowed to travel into their gardens on this day because many rebels had been sited in the area. Most often the families are massacred and abducted in their gardens as the rebels come to fetch food and water. Abductions also increase during this time of year because it is the rainy season and the grass has grown high. The LRA rebels are able to move in the grass more freely without being spotted. Because of the security threat the cattle had been herded and were being held in a small barbwire pin. I was surprised at how close the homes are to one another. The camp was very clean despite having no running water or pit toilet; they collect their drinking water from a muddy stream and their toilets are just small huts you enter. The homes are small huts that are empty; they are a roof to sleep under. Most of the huts hold an entire family of 8-10 people (see photo album of IDP Camp on webpage). Many of the doors of the huts were decorated with American flags and USA stickers. This bothered me. The conflict in Uganda was been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world during a US Senate session. Yet we have failed to do anything - and these people still support the American Dream. As a matter of fact I had numerous people in the camp ask me when America would help them. Several presented a strong argument that their conditions are worse than the conditions were in Iraq before the US invasion.
The people were so friendly and grateful to have visitors. When we arrived we were greeted by many children interested in our cameras. It was polio vaccination day so most of the children were dressed in their nicest clothes to go and see the doctors. They carried their vaccination cards with them - many proudly showed up their de-worming stamp. We had the chance to visit a group of HIV positive women. A quick survey of the group revealed that half of the 30 women were widowed, one quarter had children abducted by the LRA, and nearly all of them had encountered violence upon disclosure of their HIV status. The women who hadn't disclosed said they didn't because they knew they would be killed. HIV within the IDP camps is a major issue. It's not a surprise that the government doesn't even survey the camps, thus the HIV rates within the camp are not included in the country statistics. There are several other diseases that cause death within the camps. One of the women we talked to had given birth to 14 children but only 6 of them had survived. All of the others died of disease at a young age. Some of the women have been living in IDP camps since 1996.
The organization that had the most impact on me was the World Vision War rehabilitation project. This is a camp where children and mothers are brought after they are rescued from the LRA. Some of the children have been in the bush for days others have been there for 12 years. Imagine a 7 year-old who is abducted and spends 12 years in the bush killing his own people and watching his friends who are soldiers be killed. When this child arrives at the center all he wants to do is head back to the bush. This is all he knows. He has no gun to use for protection and feels extremely vulnerable. The LRA instills fear in the children telling them that if they escape they will be taken to the World Vision Center where they will put poison in their food and kill them. So they come to the center more apprehensive and scared than they were in the bush. Many of the children have amputated limbs, machete slashes, and bullet wounds from fighting. A bullet had grazed the top of one young girl's head and she had a two inch scar down the middle of her head where no hair grew (see world vision photo album on my webpage).
Upon arriving at the camp the children may meet the child soldiers who abducted them and killed their families. After becoming part of the LRA they usually understand that the other children had no choice but it takes time to work through the resentment and become friends with someone you saw murder your mother and force you into captivity. Boys as young as eight years-old are abducted and then trained to fight. After being "initiated" into the LRA they are often sent back to their villages to kill their families; this is supposed to prove their loyalty to the group. One of the boys we met was forced to kill his father. He told the rebels he couldn't do it. The rebels said they would kill him if he didn't and then they tied the father up to the tree and handed the 10 year-old rocks and told him to throw them at his father until he died. When looking in the eyes of the young boys it is difficult to comprehend that they were killing machines. As we were leaving World Vision there were several children sitting in the reception watching cartoons on a Saturday afternoon. How could these young children be soldiers, killers, fighters, and mothers? This was an eerie picture. They are still children. They didn't want to kill or fight. They would rather be watching cartoons on a Saturday afternoon.
The young girls are also forced to fight but many of them are married off to the soldiers. Girls as young as 10 years become the wives of the generals. If they refuse to become a wife or refuse sex they are killed. I was able to interview a woman who was one of the wives to the second in command. She had been in the bush for 10 years and she was abducted when she was 10. She was the daughter of a general for the Ugandan Government Military. When the LRA learned of this she was guarded and never had the chance to escape. You can imagine how difficult the father's job was. He was forced to raid and fire at LRA rebels and camps, never knowing if he would be killing his own daughter who was being forced to fight.
She told the story of the night she was abducted. She was home from a school holiday and the rebels stormed her village in the middle of the night. All of the other children she was abducted with were murdered, she somehow survived. They were given three days to trek from Gulu to Sudan - a trek most grown adults would not be able to make. They were not allowed to sleep, eat, or drink, and if they walked too slowly they were killed. At one point she grabbed a handful of soil and put it in her mouth to suck the water out of it. She finally had the chance to escape and knew that she would be killed if she was caught. She collected her children during a gun battle and began the long trek back to Uganda from Sudan. During her two years in the bush she gave birth to two children. One of the children was poisoned on the trek home by someone she was traveling with. Her youngest child is alive and well. She believed the reason she didn't have more children was because the level of nutrition was so poor. Several meals a week would be crumbled up tree leaves mixed with water from a muddy stream.
The man who impregnated her has surrendered and joined the government forces. Ugandan law gives him the right to her children. He has not yet tried to take her son but she says that she will fight for him. She made a chilling statement when she was asked if she wanted him to be a part of her life. She said, "It's the same gun."
I spoke to two other women who had just returned from the bush. One had been there for eight years and the other had been there for ten years. They both left the bush when they were pregnant with their first child and gave birth soon after they arrived at the World Vision Reception. After speaking to them I learned that they were co-wives to a top general in the LRA. Their children were actually half-brothers! The one woman who had been in the bush for 8 years was 18 years old. When she returned the local radio station announced her name on the radio. Her mother heard her name and came to see her daughter for the first time in 8 years! You could still see the pain in her mother's eyes as she held her new grandchild who was fathered by a terrorist. These women said the LRA kills many of the girls after they turn 18 years-old because they are no longer young enough to be the wife of a rebel. If they survive they are forced to be porters. The troops believe that if they keep young women as wives they will not get HIV. Apparently, Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the LRA keeps very young wives. At one point the government suspected that Kony was HIV positive but all of his wives who have been rescued have tested negative for the virus.
Most of the women accept their children but every once in awhile they have a mother who doesn't want to have anything to do with her child. There is too much pain. There were also two children currently at the World Vision Center who didn't have mothers. The government troops picked them up after battles with the LRA. Their mothers had been killed fighting in the battles. The women said that it is not uncommon to see a woman with a baby strapped to her back shooting a machine gun during a fight. One of the motherless children sat alone. He was probably about a year old. His face showed no emotion. He had no tears, no smiles, he seemed frozen. He was dirty and sick but we knew he needed love so we held him. Still, he seemed empty. This broke my heart. Despite so much heartbreak I am always amazed at the energy, smiles, and hope these women and children have. They are unbelievably strong.
Please visit the photo page and look at the new photo albums from this trip. I left Gulu feeling helpless. However, the strength of the women and children helped me make it through the weekend. Now that I am back in Kampala life is normal again and I am reminded that the rest of the country continues life without recognizing the atrocities that are occurring among their own people. However, most Ugandans don't consider the people in the North as "their people". The North is populated by a different ethnic group and until this war affects the ruling parties group, the government and President Museveni will continue to ignore what is happening.
Please email me if you have additional questions about the history of the LRA or Uganda. I tried to make this email as concise as possible while providing the details to adequately convey the enormity of the problem.
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller
Uganda remains in the rainy season. Usually the storms are short and intense. However, this week we had a strong storm that lasted all day long. When I arrived home after a full day of work I was surprised to find my floor completely covered in water. My cottage (that is a cross between a tree house and a log cabin) had not held up so well in the storm! Purely out of luck, I decided to take my computer into town with me otherwise it would have been covered in water.
My days in Kampala continue to be eventful and fulfilling. The week started out on an unpleasant note Monday morning. I boarded a full taxi heading into town. It was immediately apparent that the conductor and driver were both having a bad day. As we got closer to the city several passengers began fighting with the conductor. He was charging 200 shillings more than the normal price. Several of the passengers only brought exact change for the ride. As the situation within the taxi got more hostile the driver decided that he was not going to let anyone out of the taxi. We approached my stop and I called out "stage" several times but to no avail. The driver continued to drive. Initially I was unsure of where we were going, but he made a quick turn and I realized we were headed to the taxi park. But the taxi park came and went. At this point the other passengers were getting angry. Unfortunately I was sitting next to the conductor. The man sitting to my right had enough of the nonsense and swung at the conductor. His elbow accidentally connected with my jaw. In the midst of this a passenger in the row behind mine opened the door and several of us managed to hop out. I intended to get the license plate number but I was too upset. I am not sure if it was the fact that it was a Monday morning and I wasn't quite awake or if I had had enough of the taxi war, but I stood on the street corner and cried. It was the first time I had let them have the best of me. I seem to be in every taxi where a fight happens to break out. My friends have bad experiences but not at the rate that I do. The security guard told me that I needed to stand under a tree and wait for a crane to "drop (poop) on your head". Apparently this is good luck. And he went on to inform me that if it happens twice in one day I am going to have twins! Ugandans find a way to put a positive spin on everything.
Apparently gas prices are going up around the world - not just in the USA. In the paper Tuesday morning there was an article about taxi passengers who were caught off guard Monday morning when the conductors began charging more. I laughed when I read the article. I wouldn't have been caught off guard had I not been taken hostage! Tuesday I made it into the city - but not without incident. Every Tuesday Alicia and I go to the "student fare" movie. On the way into the city we began coughing and then sneezing and then wheezing. Although we had both been tear gassed before it didn't occur to us that this was happening because we were driving through a quiet suburb of Kampala. But as our conditioned worsened we knew what was going on. Apparently students at Makerere University were protesting the results of their guild elections. The elections are much different than student government elections in the USA. The candidates are backed by national political parties and the parties pump substantial amounts of money into the campus campaigns. Two candidates were accusing each other of rigging votes and the police came in and used tear gas. We eventually made it into the city with scratchy throats and tearing eyes. As we walked down towards the theatre Alicia grabbed my hand and began running. She whispered under her breath that a man who has seriously harassed her in the past was standing only a few feet away. In her fear it didn't occur to her that two white women running down the street would attract attention. As we ran several Ugandans began chasing after us, trying to find out what was wrong and if we were ok. It was reassuring to know that they wanted to help us. We made it to the theatre but we were out of breath and missed the start of "Be Cool".
The following day Alicia and I headed into the city together. We both had lost our patience with the taxi drivers and we wanted each others support. Things were going smoothly besides a few skirmishes with passengers along the way. Finally when we reached our destination Alicia call out, "stage". The driver kept driving and the conductor said nothing. A few of the other passengers began yelling for us. But nothing happened. A few blocks after we had passed our destination the driver stopped but the conductor didn't open the door. Alicia had enough. She began yelling "Police" out the window at the top of her lungs. The entire taxi broke into laughter. The driver walked around to the passenger side door and opened the door. We aren't sure if the door was jammed or what had happened. We just knew that the driver had no intention of stopping when we asked. I had been held hostage for the second time in one week.
The attitudes of the conductors and drivers are not the only negative aspects of riding in a taxi. On Thursday a man boarded the taxi and sat next to me. He carried a smell that I had never encountered before. I tried to open the window next to me but it was jammed. We drove on for about one minute and then I began gagging. I tried to stay calm and breathe threw my mouth but I began sweating. I knew in seconds I was going to get sick. I quickly asked the conductor to stop and hopped out without waiting for my change. As the taxi drove away I began vomiting on the side of the road. I am not sure what the locals thought! Just as I was about to lose all faith in the taxi system I had a good experience! I boarded a taxi that made all of the passengers get off before I reached my destination. I told the driver that I was tired and it was dark and asked him jokingly if he would drive me further. He pulled away leaving all of the other passengers in the dust and proceed to take me all the way to the gate of my complex!
The week continued to get more interesting. I use an internet caf that is situated just next to the Grand Imperial Hotel where I workout. The past two weeks there has been a young man who comes in and uses the internet for a few minutes then sits next to me and tries to talk to me as he reads my emails over my shoulder. On Tuesday I spoke to the owner and he agreed to take care of the problem. So, on Wednesday when I arrived and a different man sat next to me I was relievedÓat first. He was in his early thirties, nicely dressed and I am certain that he was not Ugandan. He had a very British accent. However, he also began a conversation and wouldn't stop. I started to pack up my computer to head home. I noticed that he began packing his stuff as well. So, I stopped and began using the internet again and he did the same. I waited ten minutes and began packing up again, he did the same. So I looked at him curiously and he asked if he could come with me. I said no and continued to pack. He said he would come with me and we could have a nice afternoon together. I began to get annoyed. I walked out and he stayed seated but I had a bad feeling in my gut. I knew that if I got in a taxi he could easily follow me without me knowing and quickly find out where I lived. So, I came up with a plan. I decided to get on a boda-boda. I could get on a taxi in a few blocks if I felt he was nowhere in sight. As the boda took off, I turned and saw the man getting on a boda as well. My instinct was right. I asked the boda-boda driver to drop me off at the Central Police Station (CPS). As I was standing in front of the station paying the driver, my "friend" pulled up next to me on a boda and acted surprised to see me there. He greeted me and asked what I was doing. I told him I had some business to take care of at CPS and he said he did too. We walked into CPS together and the policewoman at the desk asked if she could help me. I said, "Yes, this man is following me and I asked him not too." If only I had a camera to take a picture of his face at this moment. He wasn't angry - just in complete shock. He told me I was a feisty one. I wrote a statement and he stayed behind at CPS while I headed safely home.
For the past several months I have been keeping a newspaper journal of sorts. I collect at least two articles from the paper daily that deal with women or children. This has been a challenging assignment. I find it more frustrating and depressing than visiting orphanages. In orphanages you see hope and dedication to change. The papers report the same story day after day - a story of inequality and violence. There are the fairly harmless stories that just anger me. For instance this week a feature article was titled, "Teach the discipline of clean underwear". This seems amusing at first glance but in the end it angered me. It was written to young girls who need to keep their children's and husbands' underwear white if they are to excel at their job. This is a waste of space. More important, are the articles that blatantly disregard a women's right to equality. For example, this week there was a small article that reported a speech given by a female MP who told her constituents to, "fight empowerment, stay home and be good mothers and wives. This is what I do when I am not in Parliament."
There were two particular articles printed side by side this week that revealed much about the legal system in Uganda. One article was a feature article. A man in a village outside of Kampala was sentenced to death this week for stealing his neighbor's goat. The judge said the damage was substantial enough to enforce the death penalty. A small article shoved in the bottom left hand corner, next to the feature article was titled, "Man Sentenced". It reported that a 56 year-old man had been sentenced to six months in prison for defiling a 10 year-old girl and an eight year-old girl. I sat and stared at the paper. The man sentenced to death had not killed the goat, it was returned to the owner unharmed. However, what was taken from the two young girls who were raped could never be given back. How could the justice system be so imbalanced?
The newspaper also continues to do minimal reporting on the condom crisis in Uganda. The government supply of condoms that was to last throughout 2005 has already been distributed. However, there is never discussion of a solution or what is being done to confront the problem. There was a special article this week focusing on family planning in Uganda which is nearly non-existent. Apparently, Uganda has the third highest total fertility rate (TFR) in the world (the TFR is the average number a female Ugandan produces). The TFR for Uganda is seven. I have previously written about the absence of oral contraceptives and condoms in this country. The article reported that women do not like using oral contraceptives because they produce body weakness and abdominal pain. They also stated that condoms cause abdominal pain. The article accepted both of these complaints as facts and didn't proceed to mention the issue of using condoms to stop the spread of HIV. Such irresponsible reporting is extremely detrimental to a population where books and information outside of the newspaper is not readily available.
". . . from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web . . . We must pick out what is good for us where we can find it." - Pablo Picasso
Hello everyone! Sorry I was unable to write last week. I was in Nairobi and unable to find time to write or a computer with a CD drive. However, the past two weeks have been action packed! I am back in Kampala and enjoying completing my Sunday afternoon rituals. These rituals include hand washing clothes for several hours and cooking my dinner for the upcoming week. Ninety percent of the time I prepare rice, peas, carrots, onions, and tomatoes creating a stew of sorts. There is one grocery store in Kampala that carries a small quantity of the pre-packaged processed foods we are accustom to, but they cost almost five times what they cost at home. Thus, most of my foods are bought at the local market where I am forced to negotiate prices and speak Luganda.
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed my time in Nairobi (a city most refer to as "Nairobbery", with an emphasis on the robbery). I was nervous and apprehensive before arriving due to the reputation the city holds. Several of my Ugandan and American friends had told me horror stories and I was prepared for the worst. When I travel I become more attentive and correspondingly realize how I have become acclimatized to the African way. For example, I arrived at the Entebbe airport exactly two hours prior to departure just as my ticket had stated (like an American who is used to hours of security checks). Just as I entered the airport I received a phone call from Ethiopian Airlines informing me that my flight would be delayed for at least four hours. When I told them I was already at the airport, they laughed and asked why! The delay didn't surprise me so I pulled out my laptop and began working for the next several hours. When I finally began boarding the plane I saw the pilot sticking his head out the front window of the plane (who knew these opened!). He was splashing the windshield with water from a bottle of drinking water and using the sleeve of his uniform to clean the glass. Only in Africa. My 4:00 flight left at 9:30!
The following is graphic and may make you sick- read at your own risk:
The most important thing that happened during these five hours at the airport was the birth of a mango fly maggot from my left hip. Last week I hired one of the women from the complex where I live to wash and iron my clothes. Iron is a key word in the previous sentence. In Uganda, and many subtropical countries, it is essential to iron your clothes. Because there are no dryers, clothes are hung outside on lines to dry. There is a pesky insect called a mango fly. These flies lay eggs in wet clothes before they dry. Ironing the clothes before wearing them kills the eggs and you have nothing to fear. If you don't iron the clothes the eggs can successfully continue their lifecycle by crawling into your skin. The eggs grow under your skin for about one week. During this time you develop an extraordinarily painful sore the size of a dime (for each egg). After the maggot has developed enough it is able to "hatch" out of your skin. Occasionally you can force them out by putting Vaseline on the sore which suffocates them or if you are terribly impatient you can cut them out (not always a good idea because they break into pieces). Since I had some free time on my hands, and I could barely sit due to pain, I retreated to the airport bathroom and performed surgery on myself! The body of the maggot is as thick as two to three pencils combined. They are not long, but because they are so fat, they do no come without lots of pain. I successfully birthed a live maggot. And a few days later I gave birth to my second maggot. I am happy to be maggot free today! Needless to say my helper no longer has her job and I have never enjoyed washing and ironing clothes as much as I have today!
When I finally arrived in Nairobi I had an interesting experience going through customs. I was the only person who needed to buy a visa on arrival. Everyone else was either a citizen of Kenya or had pre-purchased a visa at a Kenyan Embassy. I went to the correct customs officer and asked where I could find an entry form. He asked for my passport and I handed it to him. He then asked for $50, the price of a single entry visa to Kenya. I handed him the money and he stamped my passport and handed it back to me. I asked him if I should fill out the entry form or if he should scan my passport into the computer. He told me not to worry about it- if I had any problems my passport had a stamp and that should be good enough. I imagined this happening in the USA and laughed to myself as I walked away. It is even more difficult then that for me to get back into my home country! Later I realized that if I lost my passport I had no proof of legal entry! Oopps!
A taste of Africa:
Nairobi is a much larger city than Kampala and it reminded me a lot of Johannesburg. I spent the week with Conor and his sister Bridget. Conor is currently working for the Carter Center in Southern Sudan and Bridget just finished several months of AIDS research in Western Zambia. They are both living in areas that are far less developed than Kampala (especially Conor) and it was refreshing to share frustrations and success stories with one another. Bridget told an amusing story about an American missionary family she is friends with in Zambia. After a short Easter holiday the family returned to their home in rural Zambia with a pet hamster for their children. Sadly, the family dog ended up capturing the hamster. The mother saw this happen and caught the dog and successfully removed the hamster from its mouth and returned it to its cage hoping for a recovery. Needless to say the hamster had taken his last breath. One of the family's helpers asked to take the hamster for his family to eat- and later that evening they cooked and ate the pet hamster. Conor had several stories from Sudan- a country that has been unable to develop because of a civil war that has been raging for years. One day he realized that he always saw donkeys carrying large amounts of sorghum between villages. He also noticed that many men, women, and children carried large, extraordinarily heavy jugs of water from the water sources back to their villages (this can be miles). He asked one of locals why they didn't have the donkey's carry the water as well as the sorghum. The man looked at him and said, "Because donkeys have never carried water they have always carried sorghum." I think Conor attempted to explain his suggestion but the men insisted that donkeys must carry sorghum only because they have never carried water before. Initially this story is funny but it illustrates a common frustration that many aid workers have in underdeveloped areas.
And a final story for all my female friends who are dieting. The beauty image of an Africa woman is vastly different then that of an American or any Caucasian woman. Conor's Sudanese counterpart is preparing to marry his fourth bride. Conor engaged him in a conversation about bride price and he had some interesting insights. He explained to Conor that his sister was preparing to marry within the next year. In order to raise her bride price her father had sent her to a tokul (a hut of sorts) to eat for an entire year. During this year all she would do is eat until she was very large. The larger the woman, the higher the bride price. Interestingly, African woman distinguish between the Caucasian and African concept of beauty. They shun white women for eating to much or being too large. I just imagined all of my engaged friends sitting at home eating to prepare for their weddings!
While Nairobi reminded me of Johannesburg, there was one significant difference I noticed. Both cities have enormous crime problems. If Johannesburg is known as the crime capital of the world Nairobi comes in a close second. However, all the warnings I received about Nairobi were about muggings and petty robbery. Johannesburg is a different story. Crimes are much more violent and any woman going to Johannesburg will be warned about the high rate of sexual assault. When I spoke to some of the women at the University of Nairobi they weren't overly worried about sexual assault. They were petrified of being mugged (the latest stat shows over half of Nairobi residents being mugged in the past year!). Nearly all women that I discussed my research with in Johannesburg mentioned their overwhelming fear of being raped (some stats show 50% of South Africa women being sexually assaulted). This brought me to wonder why violent crime, especially rape is more prevalent in South Africa. Even when compared to countries that are close in distance and have similar crime issues. Some suggest apartheid created an environment where violence was accepted but this doesn't fully answer the question.
Our week in Nairobi consisted of tourist activities. We went to the local snake park, the massive Masaii Craft Market, and the local movie theatre. We ate western food that none of our tummies had consumed in a long time. We even found an authentic Italian restaurant. Our most exciting day was the day we went to the Giraffe Park. When Conor was five the Hartman family visited this very Giraffe Park in Nairobi. Unfortunately something very traumatic occurred. He was the only person in the history of the giraffe park to be bitten by a giraffe. He was taken to the Nairobi ER and the park considered putting the giraffe to sleep to test it for rabies. We had a fabulous time reenacting this event that occurred 17 years ago! He was relieved to learn that none of the giraffes living at the park were old enough to be the one that bit him. I think Conor has finally conquered his fear of giraffes! Haha.
Finally, after an amazing week in Nairobi I returned to Kampala very sad to be leaving Conor and Bridget. Fortunately, I had a busy weekend and was able to keep my separation anxiety at bay. One benefit of being in Nairobi was having a break from the Taxi system in Uganda! However, on arrival at the airport I was immediately thrown back into Ugandan life. I picked up a newspaper at the airport and was semi-surprised to learn that two Ugandan MP's (parliament members) were arrested for a murder that occurred two years ago. There is much speculation that the arrests are politically motivated. Corruption in most African countries isn't a question, it's a fact and this is unfortunately the case in Uganda. On Saturday, I attended my first Seder ever. Yes, I attended my first Seder in Uganda. The entire experience was amazing. Most in attendance were American Aid workers. The stories we shared were emotional and reaffirmed my love for Africa and my work. There were also a few Ugandans present who were clients at the various NGOs we worked at. They were all HIV positive. Their hope and strength was inspiring.
The upcoming week is full of promises. I am certain I won't be lonely this week as two mice moved into my cottage while I was in Nairobi. I also have been sharing my kitchen with several enormous snails, about the size of my foot. They somehow find their way inside during the night. In the morning I prop open my kitchen door and they happily leave on their own. Last week one man who works on the property where I live asked if everyone in America was rich. I explained to him that we are very fortunate people but there are many homeless shelters, etc. He had trouble understanding the concept of a homeless shelter. The following day he saw the snail migration occurring in the morning and I explained to him that they sleep in my kitchen every night. He laughed and told me they obviously think my home is a homeless shelter for snails.
Also, a few of my problems were solved this weekend. There has been a "milk crisis" of sorts and it has been impossible to get skim milk and the price of whole milk has more than doubled in the past two months. The small shop at the end of the street was fortunate this weekend and received a truck full of healthy food. The sales people said it was a truck of "mzungu food". (Mzungu= white person) Not only did it have skim milk it also had coke light in cans. This was the first coke light sighting in Uganda. Tears came to my eyes! The truck also had Trixs cereal and fresh mushrooms. It was as if someone had sent a care package to me! I thought I was dreaming!
I look forward to hearing from all of you. I am currently planning a trip to Gulu to visit the IDP camps and street children. There are thousands of children who travel to Gulu every night to sleep. They seek protection from the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) who has abducted over 30,000 children to serve in their rebel forces. I am sure I will have much to share about this experience. There will be new photo albums posted on the webpage this week- check them out! Have a great week!
Much Love from Africa,
PS. I have received many emails regarding my expected arrival date. I am currently planning to return to the States during the last week of July.
PSS Congrats to Meredith Bates, another Vandy student who will be doing an internship in Kampala this summer. And Congrats to Siobhan Hogan, the new Vanderbilt Traveling fellow!
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Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part II (January-April 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part I (January 2005)
Read entries from December 2004
Read entries from November 2004
Read entries from October 2004
Read entries from September 2004
Read entries from August 2004