The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities. - Lord Acton
Happy 4th of July! I can't believe that it is the 4th of July and I am not home celebrating my Dad's birthday, watching fireworks, eating watermelon and chowing on some of my Uncle Mike's fresh corn! I hoped to spend last week wrapping up my work and preparing for my mother's arrival. Not surprisingly I had another bout of food poisoning. My stomach will be in heaven when I arrive in the USA!
This week I fittingly pulled out my tethered copy of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution that I brought with me to Africa. Uganda is in the process of changing their constitution. I was curious to compare our constitution with theirs. The comparison made me grateful that I am a citizen of the USA and made me reevaluate my sour attitude about my upcoming return to America. This week the Ugandan parliament voted on "the referendum" which would eliminate the presidential term limit that is currently two, five year terms. The referendum debate has been lively and things only got more heated this week when the Parliament voted in favor of the referendum. The vote that occurred this week was not the final vote it merely passes the referendum on to the parliament committees to be discussed. If the referendum is passed President Museveni will serve a third time, a move that many people fear will label him a dictator. The country has had a tumultuous past and it is understandable that they want to re-elect a President they trust. However, after 10 years of Museveni's rule change might be good. I pray that the next President focuses on the humanitarian crisis in the North and brings the Acholi (the ethnic group in the North) people the assistance they need.
Due to the referendum vote tensions are high amongst the Ugandan people. After the first vote that occurred this week there was an MP arrested and several gatherings were dispersed by the police with tear gas. Once again I was in the wrong place at the wrong time! I was stuck in traffic in a taxi when my throat started to burn - it felt like it was on fire. I immediately knew that it was tear gas. However, this time it was different. It was so strong I felt like it had been sprayed directly in my face. I coughed, wheezed, cried, and sneezed. When I read the paper the following morning I learned that the tear gas that was used was toxic! It was old tear gas from the Apartheid in South Africa and had expired many years ago!
With the upcoming presidential election the local papers are saturated with pieces about the referendum, Museveni, the change to a multi-party political system, etc. This past week The New Vision published a speech that President Museveni recently gave when he visited Northern Uganda. Museveni began the speech by saying, "Greetings from the people of Uganda." This sentence illustrates one of the fundamental problems in ending the war - the people in Northern Uganda aren't considered Ugandans - they are from the North. This belief fosters inaction and negligent behavior by government officials and the rest of Uganda. It would be similar to President Bush coming to Indiana and saying, "Greeting from the people of the United States of America." Museveni's salutation is revealing of the division that exists between Northern Uganda and the rest of the country.
Museveni's speech went on to highlight six factors that contribute to the ongoing war in the North. In his speech Museveni took little to no responsibility for the war. One of the reasons Museveni gave for the continuance of the war was "Poor leadership in Acholi". The Acholi is the ethnic group that occupies Northern Uganda. This statement would be similar to President Bush suggesting that 9/11 occurred due to poor leadership in NYC. He never once mentioned poor government or military leadership as a factor. Victim blaming will do nothing to end this war! Other factors he gave included the Afro-Arab conflict in Sudan, and the Acholi peoples' belief in mysticism. Still, he took no responsibility and didn't provide any solutions. He ended the speech by saying that the Movement and the UPDF have stood by the Acholi people and will continue to do so. However, standing by someone is much different than uniting with them.
While the newspaper prints some articles that are informative to the public, such as Museveni's speech in the North, it also prints articles with no informational value. One in particular made my temperature rise. Last Friday the New Vision introduced a "Shopping Guide" as a new section in the paper. This is not an advertisement section; the writers are New Vision employees and the articles don't necessarily promote certain businesses or products. The section included this article:
Happy homes: A reward for buying genuine electronics
Today it is not strange to encounter domestic fights or rows that emanate from the use of substandard domestic appliances. If a man isn't beating the wife to a pulp for 'blowing' his treasured second hand TV set, he is admonishing her for not ironing his clothes neatly; not knowing the source of his woes most likely lies in purchasing substandard home electronic appliances from places other than the recognized and authorized dealers.
Trying to confront deeply engrained cultural norms is frustrating and exhausting. I emailed a letter to the author of the article as well as the editor but I am yet to receive responses.
The newspaper also released several interesting statistics this week. Namely, that Uganda has the highest adult mortality rate in Africa. Furthermore, the country finally released some statistics on the HIV infection rate in the IDP camps. The IDP camp population is not included in many Ugandan statistics because it would be difficult to get accurate numbers (and the numbers would reveal that Uganda isn't the HIV success story that many international aid groups and donors believe). However, several research studies have recently been completed and an estimated 35% of people living in the IDP camps in the North are HIV positive; compare this to an estimated 4-6% for the rest of the population. The country in Africa with the highest HIV infection rate is Swaziland where 25% of people are infected. I am glad that the infection rate in IDP camps is finally being researched and the information is being made public. It amazes me that the government doesn't even include the people in the North (who mostly live in IDP camps) in their statistics!
Last week several people mentioned that the Ugandan government is most likely monitoring my webpage. I had thought about it before but never seriously considered it a possibility or really cared if they were interested in reading what I was writing. Earlier this week I was doing internet research for a letter I am writing to Human Rights Watch about Northern Uganda. I was using Google to search and I was surprised to find that my first three searches brought my webpage up as one of the top three matches! They were fairly general searches. For example, I searched for "Acholi Inn", the hotel I stay at in Gulu. The hotel has a deep political history and I was considering including its peculiar past in the letter. Surprisingly my webpage was the second match! As I am writing this update I am bearing in mind that I may possibly have a broader viewing audience than I had suspected!
While it has been a hectic week I did learn something that brought a HUGE smile to my face. Last November, when I was leaving Johannesburg and moving to Cape Town I decided to mail several boxes back to the USA, otherwise I would have to pay several hundred dollars for overweight luggage. The weight allowance is much lower when you are flying domestically. I sent much of my winter clothes home since the season had changed and it was summer is South Africa. But my luggage was still way over the limit. The only way I could possibly be close to the weight allowance would be to ship most of my books and research material home. I was hesitant to do this because I hate shipping things that aren't replaceable, especially internationally. After months of waiting, I had almost given up on the package and was racking my brain at ways to salvage the lost information on my upcoming trip to Johannesburg. But alas, the package arrived albeit 8 months later! What a relief!
My mother arrives this evening and I am so excited. I have exactly one week left in Uganda. I have mixed emotions about leaving but I know being with my mother will make the departure easier. Wednesday we will travel to Northern Uganda to visit the World Vision camp where I have been working. Then next Monday we head to Nairobi, Kenya. Conor has a week off and we will spend two days with him before heading to South Africa for two weeks. Then back to the USA!
I couldn't fit the details of my trip in the update so I decided to continue with another journal entry touching on all of the things I wasn't able to include.
Meredith and I left the house at 6:40am Tuesday morning. Ugandans begin lining up for Post Bus tickets around 7am and we wanted to ensure that we would be on the Post Bus and not one of the other, less safe bus lines. At 6:40 all of the taxis were full and we were just getting on a boda-boda with of our luggage when a taxi stopped with two spots. We hopped on and made it into town in fairly good time. Of course when we were exiting the taxi and young boy in a school uniform told us that he was always interested in making friends, especially white friends because he had none. He asked for our contact details. Meredith stopped and gave him her info. I used to give out my info but after being here for 6 months and realizing that being white makes you a prospective friend to EVERYONE (good and bad people) I am not too fond of passing my information around. It is always uncomfortable - you don't want the person to think you have anything against them, but you also don't know them. It will be nice to be in the USA and walk down the street without having to deal with such uncomfortable encounters.
While Meredith and I were waiting in line for tickets Lindsey decided to visit the ATM. Unfortunately all of the ATM's in Uganda were not going to be working until 10am. Our bus was leaving at 8am so this didn't help us much. We were slightly nervous because once you leave Kampala there is no access to ATM's that will take foreign ATM cards. We began budgeting and decided that we would all be on a serious diet that week! The Post Bus is an interesting concept. The government has found a way to successfully profit while collecting and delivering post between villages. There is very little mail in circulation in Uganda. Thus, the Post Bus is filled with people and the little mail that is collected is stored under the bus. The buses run routes over all main roads in Uganda. It is one of the safest forms of cross-country travel.
After getting our tickets Lindsey boarded the bus and saved three seats at the front, all by windows. The window is key on a bus ride - it usually prevents car sickness and when it doesn't you at least have a place to get sick! The bus ride was fairly uneventful. One thing I will miss about Ugandan road trips are the roadside vendors. Because there aren't gas stations every few miles there are roadside vendors who run up to the bus and sell you food and drinks through the windows. They sell many types of snacks including chapattis (fried bread), several kinds of cooked banana, cooked liver and beef on a stick, grilled maize, mangos, limes, etc. I encouraged Meredith and Lindsey to sample the different Ugandan foods. My favorites are the chapattis and a grilled sweet banana called goneja. And of course maize always reminds me of Indiana! They also sell live chickens that you can buy and store under your bus seat for the rest of the trip. I had abstained from drinking water all morning in order to avoid the side of the road pee. I had also worn a skirt so if I did have to go it would be discreet. Meredith was unable to make it without the roadside stop. I went and shielded her as she dropped her pants and Lindsey stayed on the bus to watch our bags. When we retuned Lindsey reported that the men on the back of the bus were very interested in seeing the Mzungus squat on the side of the road. Oh the joys of traveling as a white female in rural Africa!
Lindsey brought her MP3 player along to keep her occupied on the trip. The conductor was fascinated with the little computer. We tried explaining how it can store 10,000 songs and how you get them onto the device. He just couldn't believe it and wondered when Uganda would be getting these. The scenery on the trip to Gulu is amazing. Uganda is such a beautiful country, especially during rainy season when the flora is lush and green. My favorite part of the trip is crossing the Nile which separates Uganda into the North and the South. The bridge that separates the North from the South has great political significance to the country. The bridge was used as a point to dispose of bodies during Amin and Obote's dictatorships. What a perfect way to eliminate any evidence of the atrocities they committed. The bodies would be tossed in and the crocodiles would immediately cause them to disappear. Because of this the area surrounding the bridge that crosses the Nile is well protected with military forces and there are several security points you must go through. The security points are uneventful. A member of the Ugandan military steps on the bus and looks around at all of the passengers, says a few words to the driver and conductor and steps back off the bus while waving us through. However, this may be oversimplified since both times I have gone through these checkpoints I have been on the Post Bus, which is an official government vehicle. Thus, I imagine other vehicles go through more rigorous checks. Once you make it through the security checks you must prepare yourself for the magnificent view of the Nile. The bridge crosses a particularly powerful section of the river and the sight is phenomenal.
Just after passing the Nile you go through a very lush area with large trees - it almost reminds me of what the state parks in Indiana look like in the summer. However, this stretch of the road is full of baboon troops who tempt their fate by running in front of the large vehicles passing on the road. Ironically, just as we were passing the baboon troops I received a text message on my phone from Conor. He was in the middle of Sudan and the text read:
EVER HAD 2 GUYS HOP OUT THE BACK OF THE LAND CRUISER WITH AK-47s AND TRY TO HUNT BABOONS? FUN DAY TRULY IN THE BUSH.
I found it hilarious that we were having strange baboon experiences at the exact same moment! Only when you are living in Africa!
The terrain surrounding the city of Gulu illustrates how the LRA rebels are able to move freely without being detected. When the countryside is lush the grass can be 10 feet high. Most of the grass around the large gardens being grown by the World Food Program and other international aid groups is cut to make the areas more secure. I am unsure if the security n Gulu has decreased significantly since I visited in May but on the way into the city I counted over 40 armed officers walking the roads. There are always armed officers but they were significantly more visible on this journey than they were on the last.
When we arrived in Gulu my friend Raphael picked us up at the bus station and took us to the Acholi Inn to check in. On the way to the Inn Raphael told me that he looked at my webpage. He thought it was great but he asked that if I had any pictures of him or his wife that he would appreciate it if I didn't post them. I agreed and asked if there was a particular reason he didn't want them to be posted. He told me that the government doesn't want people (especially foreigners) to know what the IDP camps and World Vision receptions look like. He was worried he would get in trouble for giving us access to the IDP camp, the World Vision reception, TASO, etc. I was a little shocked but extremely grateful that he had given me such an amazing experience. This wasn't the first time someone had suggested that the government is probably monitoring my webpage.
Raphael dropped us at the Acholi Inn and we began the check in process. I believe I could do an entire research project on the Acholi Inn! As I reported earlier, the Inn is owned by a member of the UPDF (Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces). Ironically the government has all captured and surrendered LRA commanders live at the Inn. Furthermore, the Inn is constantly hosting important political figures. For example, you can usually find Ugandan peace negotiator Betty Bigombe chatting with the former rebels in the restaurant. Just this past week a large group of individuals form the ICC was staying at the Inn. Eating three meals a day in the restaurant at the Inn provides an education on the politics of Uganda that most university professors couldn't cover in a semester!
After checking in we went straight to the World Vision Mothers with Children Reception Center. I had made several contacts with the organization but as luck would have it none of the people I had been in contact with were in Gulu that week. I was a little nervous because I knew that it might be difficult to convince the people working at the center that I was supposed to be working with them for one week - especially if they had never heard of me before. Fortunately, Christine, the acting director, was extremely accommodating and interested in having us at the center. She immediately organized a group counseling session and fifteen minutes after our arrival we were sitting in the midst of the women who were taking turns learning to write their names, count, and say the ABC's in English. The group counseling they do at the center is much different than what we call group counseling in the USA. It is more educational. The aim is to equip the women with skills to reintegrate into a society they haven't been in for years. There is one woman named Monica who is working at the center for three months. She is a student at a university in Kampala but decided to do her internship in Gulu because she knew the language that is spoken in the North. She was an invaluable asset throughout the week. She became our translator for interviews and counseling sessions. I began to recognize some of the women from the last time I had visited the center. I pulled out my laptop and began to show them pictures from my last visit. The mothers began to squeal when they saw themselves or their child on the screen of my computer. It was a great introduction.
After we had been at the center for a few hours Lindsey began to feel very sick. We decided it would be best to take her to get a malaria test. We left the center and walked to the local private hospital. Walking down the streets of Gulu was a bit surreal. The last time I visited I hadn't been out on the streets at all. Raphael had driven us everywhere. To walk around in Gulu and feel so safe was great but also frustrating. How could we feel so safe in the city center and only a few miles away families were in great danger of being abducted or killed? And we were not feeling a false sense of security. The town is a very safe place to be, hence the 40,000 children who walk into town from the villages every night to sleep.
We arrived at the private hospital and Lindsey had to fill out a file. She handed it back to the women without answering the question of religion. The woman handed it back to her and asked her to fill it in. Lindsey refused and told the women she was just needing a malaria test and not knowing her religion would have no effect on her treatment. The woman said, "Ok, I will just put catholic." Lindsey said no and tried to explain that it wasn't that she didn't have a religion she just didn't want to share that information. The woman was unable to understand Lindsey's request. I found this to be an interesting cultural difference; privacy is highly valued in the United States. We walked back to the examination area with Lindsey where she would see a doctor. On the wall there was a sign notifying diabetic patients about a "new" type of insulin they should be switching to. The health care system is so behind here, that when I was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago even the "new" type of insulin they were switching their patients to wasn't being used. It is times like these when I recognize how fortunate I am to be an American. Lindsey was able to convince the doctor that she only needed a malaria test and not a full lab panel. By only getting the malaria test she was able to avoid giving blood from a vein and only needed to have a finger prick. She used one of my lancets from my blood sugar tester so she didn't have to use one of their needles. Fortunately, the results came back negative and we decided to walk back to the Inn before the rain hit.
We spent Tuesday evening on couches in the Acholi Inn restaurant. We ordered dinner and reflected on the experiences of the day while we were waiting for our food to arrive. Lindsey and Meredith were enjoying their time in Gulu and seemed to be sucking up all of the information they could. It doesn't matter if you are an expert on the war or if you are just learning about the atrocities that occur, there is no good way to conceptualize, justify, or understand such a senseless war. And staying at the Acholi Inn adds an interesting angle. When staying at the Inn it doesn't feel like you are in a conflict zone at all. It is very comfortable, the food is great, and the rooms are nice. How could we be so safe while Ugandans a few miles away are in grave danger? When the food finally arrived we were all starving and tired. We decided to watch Bridget Jones Diary on my laptop while we had our dinner. We needed something funny to lighten our mood. I imagined what we looked like - 3 mzungus sitting on the comfy couch in the Acholi Inn watching a movie and eating pizza and soup. Yet 40,000 children were crowded in the city less tan a mile away seeking protection from the rebels who roam freely just outside the city. I was having great difficulty processing this - even as it was not my first visit.
It rained every night we were in Gulu. And they were great storms. Once I heard a Ugandan describe a good storm as one where "you fear that Kony is marching into the city with the troops - the thunder is just like the bombs and gunfire that you would hear." What an appropriate description, especially when you are experiencing a storm this intense in Gulu. After a long emotionally exhausting day I was able to sleep through most of the storm and awoke Wednesday morning feeling refreshed and ready to spend the day with the women and children.
We arrived at the center just past 9am and everyone was finishing up their breakfasts and preparing for the group counseling session. The session they had prepared was on Love and Monica led the discussion. The session consisted of Monica standing in front of the group talking while the women listened. The women didn't participate very much and we weren't even sure how much they were listening. It is possible that this is a cultural difference and that the women weren't used to being asked to speak out in a group. This session lasted for nearly 2 hours. Throughout the session many women had to leave to change nappies or console a screaming child. All of the women with small babies spent most of the session breastfeeding and tending to their young child's needs.
However, listening to the few comments the women made was insightful. The theme of the session was love and Monica asked the women why they loved, how they showed love, who they loved, etc. Throughout the session it became evident that the women make no association between love and sex. This is understandable considering their life experiences. They all have children who were produced through rape and violence. But even so, the love they described for their children was not the same uncontrollable, passionate feeling that most Americans would identify as love. They spoke of love for their children because the children will assist them when they are older. The loved their mothers for teaching them how to be women. They loved each other for being supportive. This made me sad. Love is such a powerful emotion. There is nothing like passionate love and all the feelings associated with it to remind you that you are alive. I hope through counseling the women can expand their definition of love and open their hearts to all types of love.
I conducted two personal interviews on Wednesday. They were eye-opening, sad, inspiring, and exhausting all at the same time. The women are so brave and it is so difficult for them to tell their stories. However, no matter how difficult it is they all want to talk. They want someone from "the outside" to know what is happening in Uganda. We were so honored that they felt comfortable sharing their stories with us. The interviews revealed that each abducted persons' experience is very different. The "bails", or individual LRA groups are vastly different. The violence, social atmosphere (some groups don't allow the abducted civilians to speak at all), and work load all depends on which group you are given to. The LRA divides into many bails because their force is not in numbers. In small groups they can attack at different locations and move easily without being detected. Thus, each woman that I interviewed lived by a different set of rules and had a different experience. This explains how siblings who are abducted together and split into different bails can be fighting for the LRA for 10 years without seeing each other.
Another thing that all of the women discussed is the difference between the abducted civilians and the rebels. Within the camps there is not a lot of communication between the two groups. All of the women reported that they eat at different times and socialize in different groups. Two of them reported that they rebels usually have some sort of fatigues they wear as shirts and pants. The civilians either do not have fatigues or they only wear a shirt or pants but never the whole uniform. The lack of visual distinction between the two groups makes it difficult for the UPDF to distinguish who the abducted civilians are and who the rebels are. This means that civilians are frequently killed in crossfire. This is how Beatrice's sever year-old son was killed.
Thursday was also a productive day at the center. I completed one additional interview and led a group counseling session on family. Much of the afternoon was spent teaching the women songs and dances. They did several traditional songs and dances for us and they wanted to see what our traditional songs and dances were like. We taught them the hokey pokey and the electric slide. We also sang several songs with them. They had a fabulous time.
Just as we were leaving we passed out several items that I had brought for the women. It was fun showing them how to throw a baseball and blow bubbles. I also brought hair ties, nail polish, lotion, bug spray, spray-on Band-Aid, etc. I had brought sanitary napkins and tampons. Showing the women how to use tampons was an educational experience all by itself. They were so embarrassed to even discuss menstruation with us. They laughed and then put their head in their hands and refused to watch our demonstration. However, I passed around the insert from inside the box and they took time looking at the illustrations.
Throughout the time I have lived in Uganda I have been surprised by how little the Ugandan people and other aid workers know about the war in the north. Monica, who was working at the World Vision Center, is originally from the North but now lives in Kampala. She had never heard of the "night commuters" in Gulu. Every evening 40,000 children walk into the city to sleep because they are less likely to be abducted there than if they sleep in the villages. A USAID worker that I spoke with said that when the regional officers of his organization came to visit Northern Uganda they knew very little about the war and had never heard of the night commuters either. If the aid community doesn't know about the problems how do we expect to get international involvement in this war! It is so frustrating.
I left Friday morning with a much more positive outlook than I did the first time I visited. Although significant improvements haven't been made it is evident that many people are working towards this. Without the assistance of the government it will be very difficult to end the war but bringing in outside help (like the ICC) is one way to circumvent the government or force them to participate. It will be horribly difficult to leave Gulu next week. However, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back again and hopefully when I return I will be shocked with the positive changes that have been made.
I just returned from Gulu, one of the largest towns in Northern Uganda. I visited Gulu for the first time in May and had such a memorable experience that I planned a return trip. You can find information on the war in Northern Uganda, the LRA, and the World Vision Reception Center in my May 9th journal entry. In summary, a war has been raging for the past 19 years in Northern Uganda between the Ugandan government and a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Over 1.6 million Ugandans have been displaced, thousands have been killed and over 40,000 children have been abducted and forced to fight for the LRA. After being abducted the children are often forced to return to their villages and attack and kill family members to prove their allegiance to the LRA. In my earlier journal entries I explain the government's position on the war, the LRA's philosophy, and the politics behind the war. This email provides more information on the atrocities that are occurring in Northern Uganda and highlights the lives of three women I interviewed at the World Vision Center who were abducted as young children and just returned form the bush.
During my last trip to Gulu I was able to visit the World Vision Reception Center for mothers and children who have been rescued from the LRA. I was so impressed with the organization that I sought and got approval from the main World Vision office to work at the camp. When Meredith and Lindsey arrived from the USA I thought this would be a great chance to take them to the North. Despite some concern from their families they both agreed to travel to the "conflict zone" with me. We departed from Kampala on Tuesday morning taking the Post Office Bus which left at 8:00am. This is one of the few buses I will travel on in Uganda because it is much safer than the large buses. For some reason the drivers feel compelled to drive slower and less recklessly since they are carrying mail (the people don't matter). Ironically the ATM's all over Uganda decided to stop working on Tuesday. Thus, we left the city knowing that we were going to be on a very tight budget (there is no access to ATM'S or banks once you leave Kampala).
Our bus ride was uneventful (minus the men on the bus who enjoyed watching the Mzungus pee in the bushes!) and we arrived in Gulu Tuesday afternoon. We chose to stay in the Acholi Inn which was within walking distance to the World Vision camp. The Acholi Inn is an interesting place to people watch. You see all of the big political players in Uganda if you sit in the restaurant long enough. The government has the LRA commanders who have surrendered or been captured stay at the Acholi Inn. The Ugandan government has an amnesty policy for all rebels whether they surrender or are captured. It is ironic to pass the police station just outside the Acholi Inn and know that they have arrested someone for stealing a goat or milk to feed a baby; yet just across the street the government is paying for a hotel room and food at the nicest hotel in Gulu for a commander who has killed and raped hundreds of people.
Even more ironic is the fact that one LRA commander who was captured and is now staying at the Acholi Inn has been accepted in the Ugandan military and been put in charge of a government project just north of Gulu. The government has opened a farm where former rebels (abducted civilians) are able to work. Initially it was seen as a positive step towards providing some sort of reparation. However, looking at the project in more depth reveals that it is much more complicated. The farm was placed on the land of families who have been forced to move to Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) Camps. Thus, the government cannot protect their citizens but they are able to secure the same land these civilians were living on for one of their own projects. The government also did not purchase this land for use - they simply took it over. Furthermore, the captured LRA commander who is in charge of the project is a known serial child rapist. I have difficulty understanding why the government is giving captured rebels amnesty but then giving these same rebels leadership positions in the Ugandan government is unbelievable. Now, the former child rapist is running a camp of former rebels in the middle of no where in Northern Uganda. Are the "former" rebels living a life that is different from their lives as rebels with the LRA? It doens't seem like it. It is unclear if the workers at the farm are forced to stay against their will. It is also unclear what type of work they do and what access the former LRA commander has to children. No matter what, the similarities that exist between the government farm and the LRA camps are uncanny.
We began our work Tuesday afternoon. We went to the World Vision camp for mothers with children. This camp is for mothers who have been rescued from the bush and their children. Many of the mothers have been in the bush with the rebels for over 10 years and were captured when they were just children themselves. All of the mothers' children were born in the bush. The children's fathers are LRA commanders who raped and impregnated young girls and women who were forced to be the commanders wives. We worked at the center for the rest of the week and began to develop intimate relationships with the women. It was much different than the last time I visited teh center when I was only there for a few hours. They were very appreciative of the time investment we were making at the center; we weren't like many of the other visitors who walk through and give a donation on the way out. Throughout the week we did different activities with the women including a group counseling session. We also did a few songs and dances with the women. It is amazing how something like the hokey pokey or electric slide can lift spirits and create laughter. The women loved to "shake it all about". I learned so much about the women's lives and the culture in which they live.
I made a promise to three women I interviewed at the camp. I promised that I would share their stories with the best and brightest people I know. I promised I would educate my friends about their lives and the atrocities that are occurring in Uganda. Through this email I begin the first step in keeping this promise. And this promise will be honored if all of you share their stories with a few of your friends. Here are their stories:
Mary is 20 years-old. She was abducted when she was ten. She has been in the bush with the rebels for half of her life. When she was ten years-old she was "given" to a 60 year-old commander. She immediately became his wife and would be beaten or killed if she refused to have sex with him. She remained his wife until she was able to escape 10 years later. The 60 year-old commander had five wives - none of his wives ever had children so Mary assumed he was unable to reproduce. He was a harsh commander and beat her almost daily. Her group of rebels stayed near the LRA headquarters in Sudan. The house of Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, was described as being similar to the American White House but it was in the bush (I am unclear of the similarities). Kony's "White House" is about four kilometers from Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. The Sudanese government provides security forces to protect Kony and Mary believes his home is better protected than President Museveni's home (the President of Uganda). Mary was afraid to come to World Vision because Kony tells the rebels that they will be fed food laced with poison and it will kill them. Mary escaped when the Ugandan military attacked her group of rebels. She was able to live through the attack and separate herself from the group. She then walked for three days until she ran into more government troops and they took her to the barracks and then to the World Vision Camp.
Evelyn is 18 years-old. She was abducted when she was 12 years-old. When she was abducted the rebels forced her to guide them to her uncle's house where they kidnapped more children and beat her uncle and cousin to death - right in front of her. She has been at World Vision for five months. During her first week at World Vision she gave birth to her five month-old child, Stephen. The father of the child, an LRA commander, was captured and is now out of the bush and working for the Ugandan military. He came by the World Vision camp to see his child. She doesn't want this man to be a part of her life. She was trained with the boys to be a fighter. This was very brutal training. She nearly died once when she was left to uproot cassava and the Ugandan military began firing on her and some of the other abducted children. Most of the other children in her group died during this attack. She traveled to Sudan soon after she was captured. It took her rebel group six days to walk to Sudan. Once in Sudan life was very hard because there was no food. They were only allowed to eat between 6pm and 6am. Often they were just eating leaves and grass. Evelyn tried to escape because she was pregnant but was captured by another rebel group after escaping from her own group. They released her without killing her because they thought would die anyway - she was very pregnant. She needs help finding a place to live - her parents died while she was in the bush and she has no place to take her child. She wants to be a tailor. In my eyes Evelyn is still a child. She is my little sister's age. Her eyes, her scarred feet, her mothering skills show that she has grown up much too quickly. She should be preparing for university not dealing with rebels and learning to be a mother. After the interview I imagine my little sister meeting Evelyn. They would both learn a lot from one another. My sister would share her funny but contagious laugh with Evelyn. Evelyn would share her heartache with my sister. They would be best friends.
Beatrice is 24 years-old. She was abducted when she was thirteen. She was abducted at night. It was raining very hard. Her parents resisted the rebels but they promised they would bring her back; they only needed her to guide them to more children. After being abducted she lived for 5 months in Ugandan (without the Ugandan military finding them) with many other abducted children. Then several hundred abducted children boarded large freight vehicles and were taken to Sudan. She received harsh military training when she arrived in Sudan. She and three friends attempted to escape once but were caught and beaten so horribly they couldn't sit down for days. Life in Sudan was worse than Uganda because there was no food. They were starving and still had to walk and work many hours a day. In Sudan Beatrice was "given" to an LRA officer. She was his only wife at the time. His previous wife had tried to escape and she was killed. Beatrice had two children with this man. One of her children was killed when he was seven years-old in crossfire with the Ugandan military. They were crossing a river to escape the Ugandan military and she lifted her son onto the riverbank as she was trying to climb out of the river. He was on high ground and was shot to death by the Ugandan military. They had to leave his body in order to flee the gunfire. Beatrice has a little girl named Sharon who is four years-old. Sharon has enough life and energy for all of the women and children at the center. Many of the children are empty and drained of life and emotion. Sharon has a vibrant and contagious attitude, and it is evident that Beatrice feeds off of Sharon's energy. Funny how gifts come in the strangest packages. Beatrice escaped when the Ugandan military attacked her rebel group. She walked for three days with Sharon until she was picked up by the police force and taken to Gulu. Beatrice shared that she had never killed anyone. She had witnessed many people being stoned or beaten to death. Beatrice kept strong because she had faith that she would escape. She knew that she never did anything wrong. Beatrice finishes her story after shedding many tears. Then, as if the storm had passed a smile crosses her face and the twinkle in her eye returns. She walks outside to find Sharon.
I have shared part of these women's stories with you. Please share their stories, share their strength, and share their will for a better life. I learned so much about the love between a mother and child from these women. Most of the women claim they look after their children because they will need them for support in the future (this is a sentiment shared by many in the developing world). But their children have provided love when no one else was there to provide it. These mothers are able to see the future through their children. I fed off of these women's strength. After all they have lived through they never once mentioned being depressed - the thought of suicide has never crossed their minds. They are grateful for making it out of the bush alive and look forward to starting a new life. I am looking forward to visiting the women and children again in one week with my own mother. They thought it was funny when I told them I would be bringing my mother to meet them. I think the idea of having a mother who is still an integral part of my life as a 23 year-old was unimaginable. They also couldn't compose themselves when I told them I hoped to have five children someday - a white women, with five children! Just recalling the memories from last week makes me miss them!
The first time I visited Gulu I left with heartache. I saw too many horrific things and didn't stay long enough to see if the problems were being addressed effectively. After spending the week with one organization I have hope in the future of Uganda. They will not be able to win the war alone - this is why educating friends and family about such an unknown problem is important. However, I still do feel some heartache. Not the uncontrollable type of heartache that I felt last time I was in Gulu. If I didn't feel heartache I wouldn't be honoring the stories the women shared with me. I wouldn't really be listening to what they were sharing. My heartache is the heartache felt by a friend not a researcher or reporter. I have resisted this sort of feeling in much of my work in the past year. It can be paralyzing. But combined with hope it can be one of the most empowering feelings you can feel.
Blessed are those who can give without remembering, and take without forgetting. - Princess Elizabeth Asquith Bibesco
I just returned from an excellent trip to Rwanda. I have tried to convey the enormity of the emotions I felt on this trip. There are some feelings and sites that just don't translate. However, I have done my best to take you to Kigali, Rwanda and help you remember the genocide. Help you remember so we can never let something this horrible happen again . . .
I remember when the genocide in Rwanda happened. I was twelve. At the time my English teacher involved the newspaper in many of our assignments and I remember seeing small blurbs about Rwanda and wondering where Rwanda was and why so many people were dying. I was disappointed because my teacher didn't want me to summarize the article about the genocide. Now I know she was probably scared. She had no explanation to why or how such violence could occur. 11 years later there is still no explanation. When I was 17 I remember watching a documentary in my Ethnic Studies course about the genocide. A month ago I watched Hotel Rwanda, a Hollywood depiction of the genocide. In the last few weeks I have read several books about the genocide and newspaper articles about post-genocide development. Thus, when I arrived at the Genocide Memorial I felt prepared for what I would see. I thought it would put faces and names with the story that my mind refused to believe was real. It did much more than that.
The entire purpose of my visit to Rwanda was to see the memorial. I didn't have time to roam into the countryside and see the gorillas which is said to be an experience of a lifetime. However, I refused to leave East Africa without learning more about this tragedy that had been haunting my brain since I was twelve. I ended up taking a 45 minute flight from Entebbe to Kigali. I was surprised to see that the Ugandan airport had installed new devises to check passports; it was all done by hand previously. Alicia and Lindsey took the much less expensive and more adventurous route, the bus. It isn't uncommon for buses on this route to crash because of the mountainous terrain and just last week a bus heading to Kampala crashed and over 40 people were killed. I received several emails after last week's update suggesting that I need to be less risky so I took that as permission to fly rather than take the bus. However their travel story was much more interesting than mine. For example, they were stopped by the Rwandan Revenue Authority (RRA) who searched the entire bus and all of the passengers' bags. Apparently the RRA confiscated Rwandan opposition newspapers that had been printed in Uganda. The government didn't want them distributed in the country. They also took some pornographic pictures!
After arriving Friday afternoon we settled in and familiarized ourselves with Kigali. Fortunately a friend in Kampala has family in Kigali so we had free transportation, accommodation, and food! However the mattress I slept on was so horrible that I have circular bruises on my back from the springs that dug into my skin! I look like an alien. For some reason the water was only working in the kitchen sink. So we went the whole weekend without showers and used the "bucket flush" to dispose of the waste in the toilet. This is an interesting tool that can be handy in many situations. If you can't get a toilet to flush you simply need a bucket of water. You quickly poor the water into the toilet bowl and the pressure of the water automatically causes a flush. All evidence you left in the toilet bowl disappears! Amazing!
We were all exhausted Friday night and headed home after dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant. I was sure that my head would hit the pillow and I would be asleep. But I am not used to the silence I was encountering. In Kampala there are always cars honking or mosques making calls to prayer. As I sat in bed I heard nothing. I tried to recall the last time I had heard such silence. Then I began to think that this is what is must have sounded like during the genocide. Whole villages, neighborhoods, and suburbs were eliminated. They killed until there was no one left to kill. Until they encountered the complete silence I was encountering. What had stood on the plot of land where we were staying? What had happened here 11 years ago? Was Kigali this quiet before the genocide?
On Saturday morning we were able to see a more complete picture of the city because when we arrived the night before it was nearly dark. Rwanda is a beautiful country with rolling hills and mountains. We were amazed by the development that has taken place in the last ten years. The roads are newly paved and as wide as boulevards in America (this is not common in Africa)! Most of the roads have paved sidewalks and they also have a trash collection service so the streets are as clean if not cleaner than many cities in the USA. One thing I have had difficulty adjusting to in Africa is the pollution. The governments don't have the budget to spend on maintaining or improving the environment. There are more pressing things to focus on like HIV. This is especially true in Uganda. There is trash everywhere and when the trash is collected it is burnt. The pollution in Kampala is so horrible that I have trouble breathing at times. In Rwanda the government has gone so far as banning plastic bags (only paper bags are used at stores). This is amazing foresight for a country that is just rebuilding and doesn't have a large budget.
All of the structures are newly built because nearly everything was destroyed during the genocide. We stayed in a neighborhood that looked just like any neighborhood you would find in the USA. This is definitely something that you wouldn't find in Kampala. To our American eyes, Kigali seemed much "nicer" than Kampala. However, after speaking to our African friends they all disagreed. Kampala has more to do, is more developed (larger), etc. They are so used to the trash and polluted air they don't see the clean air and streets as a benefit of living in Kigali. The newly built structures reminded Alicia, Lindsey and me of home. The architecture is also new and unfamiliar for most Africans making it difficult for them to feel at home in Kigali. Even though I was excited about the development that had occurred it was unsettling to comprehend that this development only took place because the town and people living here were annihilated. No wonder the Rwandans have difficulty celebrating and enjoying the "improvements". Ironically, as I was flying in I was able to see the geography of the country and it was clear that there isn't similar development occurring outside of Kigali, the capital. There were very few roads. In this regard, Uganda is much more developed.
After having breakfast Saturday morning at our hosts' home we headed straight to the Memorial. The genocide in Rwanda occurred in April of 1994. The conflict occurred between the Hutu's and Tutsi's. Ironically the designation of Hutu or Tutsi is less ethnic than economic. When Europeans ruled Rwanda they separated the population into these two groups based on how many cows they owned. This caused much resentment in the Hutu people who were less wealthy. The conflict between the two groups began in 1959 and only ended after the 1994 genocide. The Hutu leaders planned the genocide meticulously. They even practiced the killings in chosen villages prior to the April attack. The Hutu's had guns and bullets but chose to kill the Tutsi's with machetes and clubs. The pre-genocide population of Rwanda was about 7.5 million. Close to 1 million people were killed in 100 days. The genocide in Rwanda was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bomb, even more efficient than the holocaust.
The building was beautiful and the technology was shocking! In each room they had videos that you could listen to in French, English, and their local language. The walls were covered with pictures and filled with information on Rwanda before during and after the genocide. The entire memorial had an amazing impact on me but there were several parts that stand out in my mind as particularly influential. There was a video screen at the beginning of the self-guided tour that showed several pictures of children who had been hacked with machetes, piles of bodies, and other horrific pictures of people who had been mutilated but survived. Then after seeing all of these pictures there was footage of the killings taking place on a street in Kigali. You could see people scattered all over the ground. The perpetrators had machetes, hammers, and all sorts of other blunt but deadly objects. The video footage showed several attackers swinging these objects and killing people. It made everything that I had heard and read believable. There are some things that are too horrible to believe but seeing the killings with my own eyes forced me to accept reality.
One room towards the end of the tour had cases of skulls and stacks of other bones that had been retrieved from mass graves. In between each case of bones family members hung pictures of the loved ones they lost. However, many people will never be remembered or properly buried because their whole families were killed. In the following room they had hung clothes that they had taken off skeletons in the mass graves. This was chilling. One whole case was full of children's clothes. The final room in the tour inside the museum is a memorial to the children who were killed. Women and children were particular targets of the killings because the Hutus wanted to ensure that the Tutsis would not have a future generation. This room contained poster sized photos of children who were killed. Plaques by the photos listed the child's favorite food, best friend, favorite hobby, how they were killed and often times their last words. Many children were killed by machete as they were nursing.
The next part of the tour is visiting the mass graves that are outside the museum. The graves are surrounded by beautiful gardens. Each grave is filled and then sealed shut with a concrete lid. The grave that is currently being filled was still open and you could look down into the grave and see coffins piled on top of each other. Our host attended a funeral on Sunday for someone who was killed in the genocide 11 years ago. The government is encouraging Hutus who killed to go to the families of the people they killed and tell them where they buried the body or where the killing took place. The family then retrieves the bones and holds a service where the killer usually tells how they killed the person. You must remember that many of the killers knew the people they were killing. They were their families (Hutus and Tutsis intermarried), their neighbors, and their friends. Then the coffin is taken to a memorial site with a mass grave and the coffin is buried in the mass grave. Each district has a memorial site and mass grave. It is amazing how the people have been able to forgive and learn to trust again. They will never forget. Everything is Rwanda reminds Rwandans of the loved ones they lost and the brutality that occurred.
The Rwandan government is beginning to prosecute the leaders of the genocide. If they prosecuted everyone who was involved and everyone who killed they would be eliminating the Hutu population. That isn't their goal - they want to learn from what happened. I continue to ask myself why no one did anything about this atrocity until it was too late. The number of UN soldiers sent to Rwanda to evacuate the expats at the Embassy's and NGOs would have been enough to stop the rebellion. However, the UN sent the peace keepers in to rescue the Westerners and then left the Tutsis to die. The UN, the USA, and other world powers say that not invading was a major mistake but they obviously haven't learned from this mistake. Similar genocides are occurring in Sudan and a horrific war is taking place in Northern Uganda and nothing is happening.
I had trouble having fun on Sunday in Rwanda. My mind couldn't leave the images I had seen in the museum behind. We did some shopping at a local market and spent time with the people who were hosting us. The husband and wife were both from Rwanda but their families had fled to Uganda during one of the conflicts prior to the 1994 genocide. They had both been raised and educated in Uganda. We were fortunate to have such great hosts who were willing to speak to us about the genocide. Sometimes you learn more from looking into a person's eyes and listening to them speak than you can learn from any memorial site or museum. I asked one Rwandan man working at the museum what he remembered about the genocide. He said that he was very young but he remembered that he didn't sleep for the entire month of April. And by the end of the month no one cared if they lived they just wanted to die quickly.
I returned to Kampala safely on Sunday night only to battle another bout of food poisoning. It's Monday morning and I am preparing for my 7am departure on Tuesday for Northern Uganda.
I try to keep up with my journaling but it is very difficult to write after a full day at the orphanage. I am exhausted and my brain doesn't seem to work very well. I am not sure how I will ever manage to have children. These kids just wear me out! I have been taking notes on specific things I would like to focus on and I will be discussing these topics in this entry.
One of the most important aspects of working at NGOs with women and children is making a connection with them. If you are able to create that connection they begin to trust you. However, without a connection interactions are fake and you can never meet your objectives. The past few times I have felt different at the Mercy Home. The kids know me and are always excited to see me and find out what activity or song I have brought for them to learn. Creating this connection is extraordinarily difficult when only a few of the children out of 120 speak English.
One day at the orphanage I showed them a video recording that I had done at their new orphanage. They were moving to the new home in one month and none of them had seen it or had any idea of what it looked like. My video was basically a tour. It was difficult to decipher exactly what everything was because it was still under construction. I had an interpreter speak to the kids as I told them what they were seeing. When I told them that there would only be 12 children sleeping in each room they didn't believe me. Their eyes were huge and they were trying to discover if I was playing a mean joke on them. Then I told them that they would all have their own bed! Currently they are sleeping 3-4 in a single bed. They were most excited to learn that they would no longer be using squat pots but they would have toilets that flushed! Some of them didn't understand what this meant. They will have to learn to flush once they arrive! Whenever I speak to the kids or show them videos they always clap and cheer. They are so grateful and love sharing their excitement.
Another day I took several bottles of bubbles to the kids. I knew that they had never seen bubbles before and I thought it would be an interesting experience. It is also easy for them to make their own bottles of bubbles by mixing soap and water. I don't remember the first time I blew bubbles but I don't remember it being such a difficult learning experience. The kids were so excited that they were blowing much too hard and too fast to create any bubbles. It was also windy. So the activity became a competition. Some of the children were able to produce multiple bubbles on each try and others weren't able to make one bubble! Either way they were amazed by what they were seeing - round bubbles floating through the air.
One afternoon I left my backpack on the ground with all the zippers open. I had traveled from the gym to orphanage and had my boxing gloves with me. Several of the boys came and asked me to teach them a few kickboxing moves. I wasn't sure if this was a good idea at first because I was afraid that I would be promoting violence but in the end I decided that it would be fun and I could stop them if I started to lost control. I had anticipated teaching several boys but they were all embarrassed after I agreed to do the lesson. Only one boy decided he wanted to participate. He was an older boy, probably in his late teens and he was an excellent kickboxer. He had received instruction from somewhere. I went through all of the kicks with him and then taught him some of the combinations that I do during my lessons. We had a huge crowd and he was taking the lesson very seriously. I let him put my gloves on and I could see his spirit fly into the sky. He told me he had never worn gloves before. I am currently trying to arrange a lesson for the children at the home with my boxing instructor, Anzuo. The kids cheered and clapped when I told them he would be coming to work with them. Sports can be beneficial in many situations. The kids have to work together if they are on the same team and exercising will rid their bodies of stress and frustration like nothing else! Now we just have to make sure they have enough food to produce the energy they need to box!
The first time I visited the Mercy Home I met Meady. We had a brief conversation and I learned that she was a missionary from Indiana! We had both arrived at the same time and were having a difficult time adjusting. Such a difficult time that the thought of exchanging numbers and being friends didn't even cross our minds! When I began spending more time at the Mercy Home I learned about Meady and what she is doing in Uganda. Her father has been doing missionary work in Uganda for years. He sent her here to work on one of his sponsorship programs. However during her first week in Uganda, the missionary she was living with who was an older woman from the USA kicked her of her house! She had met Angela at a seminar and decided to go to her for help since Angela helped orphans! When Meady arrived Angela was very sick with Malaria and had just learned that her grandmother had died. Meady volunteered to travel to a village several hours away with Angela and help her through her illness and grief. Don't forget that she had only known Angela for a day or two. When they returned from the village they began a relationship that would change both of their lives.
The connection between the two women is amazing and they make a great team. Since they have started working together they have built a new orphanage and are planning to open an orphanage in Kenya within a year and then one in Rwanda in the near future. They are also raising money to send the Mercy Home choir to the USA to perform at churches in order to raise money for their cause. Angela is actually traveling to the USA with Meady in September and will be promoting her orphanage at churches for 6 months! I couldn't think of a better person to have this opportunity. Angela knew that I had a video camera and asked me to come and video the old and new orphanage, the children performing, her working with the children, etc. She will be taking these DVD's to the USA to show at the churches! I hope I was a good videographer. Meady plans to make copies of the DVD's when she gets back to the States so I will eventually have copies of the DVD's as well. Before I will video the street children in Kampala who are still living on the street and show them interacting with Angela. She is a hero to them. If they see her they run to her and try to convince her to let them come to the Mercy Home. When we are in the car driving by they wave and she always stops to speak to them. It is evident that the children respect Angela. When they greet her they all go to their knees and grab her hands. This is a tradition in Uganda and is done to show respect.
Meady and I discuss how funny we were when we first met and how different we are now. We were both so miserable and didn't even have enough energy to speak to one another-even after we found out we were both from the same state! A few weeks ago when I was at the orphanage I noticed that Meady was very quiet. I asked her what was wrong and she said she wasn't feeling well. She slept in one of the rooms at the orphanage for the rest of the day. When I was packing my bags and getting ready to leave Angela asked me if I knew of a place they could take Meady to see a doctor. I called Dr. David, Dennis's friend who helped me when I thought I was going to die of food poisoning. It was Saturday at 6pm and he answered his cell phone! He asked if we could be at his office by 7pm. I told him that we would do our best - although I knew we were at least an hour away and traffic on a Saturday night wouldn't be good. Once we loaded the car I could see how sick Meady was I began to get scared. She could barely walk and didn't have enough strength to talk at all. She took her temperature and it was almost 104 degrees! I don't think that Meady arrived at Dr. David's office until 8pm but he was there waiting for her. Talk about a different type of service than what we receive in the USA! David is a Ugandan doctor. He knows that I am accustom to much better healthcare than what Uganda has to offer and because of this he has always gone out of his way to help me. He is very thorough and probably the only Ugandan doctor I would go to (especially after the stitches I received in the market).
Dr. David told Meady that she had both Typhoid and Malaria. This was the third time that she had malaria and the second time she had typhoid. I began to consider all of my bouts of food poisoning less serious! Fortunately Meady recovered. I was surprised to learn that she is on anti-malarial medicine and has been vaccinated against typhoid. Even when you do everything right things can still go wrong. This week when I was at the orphanage Meady told me that she had been feeling sick again. This time she decided to go to a clinic that was close to her house. The doctor did a blood test and came back a few minutes later telling her that she had malaria and typhoid. Angela was suspicious because the test had come back so quickly and decided to take Meady elsewhere. She took her to another clinic and this clinic said that she had malaria. Meady still didn't think she was getting good care and went to yet another clinic. This doctor did an examination and a blood test. They waited for awhile and he returned saying, "There is nothing wrong with you. Maybe you have a stomach bug." Turns out that the other doctors just wanted to make some money off of the white person. This is the type of thing that makes me very angry. Other types of racism I can deal with - like being charged more at a market or on a taxi. But when doctors are purposely misdiagnosing and administering unneeded drugs I begin to have a serious problem.
When I traveled with Angela and Meady last week I became much more aware of racism. We stopped one afternoon to check on the beds that were being made for the new orphanage. We were instructed to stay in the car because if they see white people they raise the prices. Apparently the guys working on the beds saw Meady in Angela's car last week and when she went into the store they had raised the prices so much that the beds were no longer affordable. The pastor that works with the Mercy Home went in to try to work things out. But even as we were sitting outside in the car one of the men told us to park down the street so they wouldn't see us!
Later the same day Angela was trying to pay her electric bill. She had been in the office for over 45 minutes so Meady decided to go in and check on her. Angela had all the bills with her but they hadn't gone to the home to do a meter reading so they weren't able to accept her money. She was just working things out when Meady arrived in the office. The government owned company insisted on sending someone to the property to do a meter reading. Angela is certain that they will never be able to verify the reading because they saw Meady and will raise the price substantially.
Another incident dealing with race occurred last week. Angela has a car and a driver who takes her to her appointments and to her house from the orphanage. They came to Kampala one afternoon to pick me up. I had invited Lindsey to come to the orphanage with me and Angela had said that there was room for both of us in the car. When we arrived they had picked up another man and there was no longer room for all of us. Lindsey and I offered to sit in the very back of the station wagon. Neither of us had on nice clothes and we could squish in. Angela agreed and opened the back of the station wagon to let us in. The driver got out of the car to figure out what was going on. He told Angela that he couldn't let us sit in the back of the wagon because the police would stop him for letting "black people" sit in the back. It would just be to rude for them to have "black people" not in proper seats and the police would give him a ticket. First of all we couldn't believe that it would be ok for a Ugandan to sit in the back but not for a white person. And secondly, we couldn't figure out why he kept calling us "black people". I asked Angela because I was confused. Angela explained that he didn't want to call us Mzungus or white people because that seemed wrong or racist. How ironic considering the conversation we were having! I must remind you that Ugandan adults and children ride in the back of huge trucks and the police have no problem with this. One time I saw probably 200 hundred small children packed into the back of a transport truck bed. What a disaster if it didn't reach its destination safely. The sad thing is that often there aren't any safer options.
On Monday the children successfully moved from the old orphanage to the new one. I was there for the beginning of the moving process. Unfortunately I wasn't around to see the kids' reactions when they arrived. I can't imagine how happy and grateful these children are. They have all lived on the street and most of them have never had a home. Now they not only have a home but they have a new home, their own bed, toilets that flush, and showers. I worked at the old orphanage in the morning helping the kids prepare for the move. They performed their songs and dances for the last time at the old orphanage. You could feel the excitement in the air. It was like a house full of young children on Christmas Eve! As I was leaving I was passing a stack of boxes and bags that were to be moved to the new house. I had to take a double-take when I saw a plastic Pacesetter bag. Pacesetters is the local sporting goods store in Terre Haute. It didn't occur to me that my dad had been to the Mercy Home and brought candy in the bag. For a moment it was nice to see something so familiar - even though it was just a plastic bag! Haha. I couldn't get over how excited I was.
Lindsey and I helped move some of the furniture outside and then began cleaning the inside of the house. You can't imagine how dirty the place was. Not only were there up to 140 children living in a house with about 5 rooms but they also had to deal with the dust in Uganda. The dust here is horrible and it is impossible to keep any place clean. At one point I was helping one of the children sweep the dust out of the main room. I looked up and I couldn't see the other side of the room there was so much dust in the air. Lindsey came in the room to tell me that we were getting ready to leave and she had to leave because she couldn't breath. After we left I was on the way to the gym and felt too dirty to even exercise. I decided to shower before boxing. I showered, lathered my entire body up with soap and then dried off - I was amazed to see the towel still turn brown! I got a new towel and got back in the shower and scrubbed harder - my clean towel still turned a light brown color. I gave up! The following day Rahaima washed my clothes and when she returned them she asked where I had been - she said the water turned black. She had to change the water three times!
I really enjoy the kids and I am always amazed at how much I learn from there. I was especially amazed during the Q&A session I had with them (Read Update #1). When I traveled to Nairobi last week I had difficulty dealing with the street children. There are so many street children in Nairobi. It is impossible to walk from one block to the next without getting harassed. They grab your clothes, bags, and hands begging for money. It is horrible having your personal space violated especially when you are trying to keep track of all of your money, bags, sunglasses, etc. I usually feel my temperature rise and I begin to walk quickly when one of the children grabs me. And the children are dirty and smell. But last week was different. I thought about all of the children at the Mercy Home. I thought about how I would hold them and they would sit on my lap and hug me. They are a little cleaner and I know that they aren't stealing from me but I still felt guilty. All of my friends at the Mercy Home had been in a similar situation before they met Angela. I didn't want to give them money because they would probably use it for drugs. I feel better giving them food but it still promotes their behavior and the belief that they can live off of other people for the rest of their lives. I wished that I could sit down and talk to the children, to hear their stories, to figure out what would help them. I ended up dropping some food with a few kids on my last morning in Nairobi. But I realized how much my friends had changed me and my perception of the world I live in.
The past few weeks I have spent a lot of time working with the Mercy Home for Children. The Mercy Home is a place I learned about when I arrived in Uganda. I respect, Angela the director, more than anyone else in Uganda and I desperately want her to achieve her goals.
A few weeks ago I went to the Mercy Home intending to interview the children. A friend from Vanderbilt who is teaching in London this summer was interested in sharing Africa with the children she was teaching. The children from the UK came up with a list of questions they wanted the Ugandan children to answer. The questions were similar to:
I took my camcorder and interviewed many children. I was astounded at their answers. I had expected that they would be much different than how children in the USA or UK might answer the questions. On the contrary it seemed as if we were interviewing children in Indiana or Tennessee. Except for one question: What are you most scared of? Most of the children said they were afraid of lions and snakes!
A few days after I conducted multiple small group interviews I decided to go back and interview all of the children together because some of them hadn't been taped yet and felt left out. During this session I asked the same questions I asked in the small group and added some additional questions in order to illustrate some differences in how they live. Some of the questions I added were:
I think their answers to these questions adequately illustrated how different their lives are. I think it is great that the initial questions made the children more alike than different. This will help the kids in the UK realize that children all around the world play sports, go to school, and want to be doctors, pilots, and teachers when they grow up.
After interviewing all 120 children I allowed them to ask us questions. This was the most eye opening part of the day for me. The children's questions were so intelligent and revealing. I was out of battery on my camera, but it would have been extremely beneficial for the UK children to hear the questions the Ugandan children were asking. Most of the initial questions were about the USA. For example:
I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of questions and genuine interest. The children finally shifted away from questions about the USA and began asking general questions. Their questions brought to light many differences between the USA and Uganda that I would have never thought of. Children are so innocent and willing to question anything. Many of their questions were difficult if not impossible to answer. For example:
There are a few children at the Mercy Home who are capable of interpreting for me. Joan is the one the most frequently helps me. She is one of the brightest young women I have worked with. She is 12 and speaks excellent English. When the children didn't understand one of the questions we were asking she would sometimes spend up to five minutes explaining to them exactly what we were saying. They are very quiet when she is speaking and it is evident she is a special person and a leader at the home. I plan to interview her in the future to learn more about her life, her education, her family, etc.
The same day that we interviewed the small group of children I met a fourteen year-old girl who was pregnant. The children were giving her a very hard time and it was obvious that she was miserable. Apparently she had lived at the Mercy Home before and went back onto the streets. Angela had warned her of the hazards on the streets and told her that if she got pregnant she would not be welcome back. After returning to the streets she got pregnant and showed up at the Mercy Home. Angela has very strict policies about behavior at the Mercy Home. This is one reason the home is so successful. It is great to visit the home and leave my bag and purse without concern with 120 children who have had to steal most of their lives to survive. The Mercy Home is a Christian based organization and all of the children are born again Christians.
Thus, when this young girl returned to the Mercy Home pregnant Angela could not allow her to stay and she was sent back to the streets. This week when I learned that the girl was back on the streets alone I was devastated. The young girl says that the sex was consensual but I think that is an absurd statement to believe when she is so young and living on the streets. Ugandan women who are married and have jobs have no control over their sexual lives let alone a 14 year-old street child. However, I agree that Angela needs to stick by her rules. This is the only way her home has been so successful. Otherwise any child could seek refuge and there would be no control. Angela doesn't want to provide food and shelter. She wants to provide a home. The Mercy Home isn't the appropriate place for this girl but it is horrible to think that their really isn't any place for her. After doing a thorough investigation of the NGOs who offer services to women in children I know that there is no place that offers what she needs.
There are people who one loves immediately and forever. Even to know they are alive in the world with one is quite enough. -- Nancy Spain
I have been so busy I haven't been able to write like I would like to. But I have kept running notes and I intend to make this entry a hodge-podge of things I don't want to forget. I will begin with all of the crazy things that have been happening this week.
On Sunday afternoon Meredith and I were returning from town and I wanted to stop at the grocery shop across the street from where I live to buy a newspaper. On our way into the shop a man began walking towards us with his arms open. I looked at Meredith to see if her face showed any sign of recognition and it didn't. As he got closer to us it became evident that he was intoxicated and wasn't sure what he was doing. We both tried to sidestep him as he approached. Meredith made it past him but as I was trying to get out of the way he stretched his arm further and "accidentally" grabbed my breast. I was furious. I walked into the store and asked the cashier to ask him to leave. I explained the story to her and expected some sort of action but she just looked at me. All four of the women who work there and know me on a first name basis just looked at me and said, "he's drunk", as if that made his behavior tolerable. I was furious. I explained to them what happened once more and they just looked at me. They had no idea what to do. As I was trying to rationalize their behavior in my head I realized that they had probably never been in a situation such as this one where they would have to order a man to do something. I am nearly certain that if a male manager or cashier would have been present the man would have been escorted off the property. But the females knew that their status made such an action not only culturally inappropriate but also useless. It was like I had been assaulted once more. Not only had the male touched me inappropriately but the cultural norms had kept the women from doing anything that even acknowledged that what happened was wrong.
On Sunday Meredith went to the Walk against Hunger that was hosted by the World Food Program. The walk was a worldwide event that was occurring on Sunday at 10am in every time zone. Thus, people around the world would be walking for 24 hours. Apparently there were free t-shirts to be distributed to all walkers. Meredith said that the truck that distributed the shirts was surrounded by men with machine guns. There was a mad rush to the shirts and people were fighting and pushing. This illustrates how poor many Ugandan people are. So many people needed and wanted a shirt that the people distributing them had to be protected with machine guns!
On Saturday afternoon Meredith, Alicia, Lindsey and I went to the Blue Mango to meet Emily and her sister who is visiting from the States. There ended up being a large, interesting crowd of people who gathered and it made me realize how the random people you meet mold your experience. Emily's group of friends in Uganda is vastly different than mine and I am sure this has made her life experience here much different. I also realized that my friends in Uganda are vastly different from the friends I created in South Africa making my experiences in each country almost incomparable. The four of us girls had to leave the "get together" early because Jagg was having her own Blue Mango party at Fairyland. On the way out I was passing under a wooden arch that has ivy and all sorts of plants growing all over it. Just as I was about to plant my foot down I saw something on the ground move out of the corner of my eye. When I tried to investigate the situation the animal had scurried into a hole. But I was interested in this animal because I had no idea what it was and I had nearly stepped on it. After taking the African flora and fauna class with Dr. Churchill in South Africa (where we had to memorize most African mammals and their scientific names) I was annoyed that I didn't know what this large animal was. I told the gals to come check out this animal. Just as I was pointing to the hole the animal escaped into, a grey head popped out and then submerged back into the hole. It did this several times and then courageously came out of the hole that was surrounded by four screaming women. It was an enormous rat. The tale was two feet long by itself and it weighed over 20 pounds. Two long teeth stuck out the front of its mouth and it just looked at us for a few seconds before scurrying off into the bushes. It was larger than the cats that live on the Blue Mango premises - no wondered it had survived! We all left with chills down our spines. I had just nearly stepped on a rat that was the size of a dog - and not even a small dog!
Emily also invited Meredith, Lindsey, Alicia, and I for dinner at her house. She cooked several homemade pizzas. We were so excited. The food was great and the night was awesome. Sitting around a table with five girls, eating pizza and talking for hours felt so great. It had been a long time since I had been surrounded by so many American women. As the others were talking I looked around the table and realized how normal things seemed to be. Yes, our conversation included topics such as witchcraft, child soldiers, and anti-retrovirals but otherwise you would have never known we were in a third world country in East Africa.
I don't have many crazy stories to tell about my trip to Nairobi besides the shootout on the way to the airport which I already covered in my June 12th update. However, I had the most fabulous time. Traveling for the past year has made it much easier for me to feel comfortable and at home in a new place. This was only my second time to Nairobi and the trip seemed easy and relaxed. Also, being with Conor makes a huge difference. I try to imagine how much easier and different my experience abroad would be if he were with me and I can't even imagine. There are some things you have to figure out on your own but after being alone for an entire year it is nice to have someone to eat with at restaurants, go to movies with, and simply reflect on work and life with. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to travel solo and now I have someone like Conor to share these experiences with. I am also learning a lot from him about his travels in Sudan. We are living in countries that border each other but our lives are vastly different.
We had an awesome week in Nairobi. We were both exhausted from working hard and needed a break. I do want to promote the Carnivore restaurant. If you are ever in visiting South Africa or Kenya it is a must. The original Carnivore is in Nairobi and they have a fantastic menu, bar, coffee bar, dance floor. On certain nights it becomes a huge party and there are sausage stands where you can just buy sausages. On these nights there are also bar tenders that walk to the different tables and dance floors serving alcohol! It is similar to hot dog or beer vendors at baseball games with the trey hanging from their neck. Conor was malnourished from lack of food on some of his trips in the field and from being sick on multiple occasions. The answer to this problem was the Carnivore. The first night we went he ordered a half-kilo of food for two (except it was more than a half-kilo and it was only for him!) The order came with camel, crocodile, pork, beef, ostrich, etc. It also came with two baked potatoes, some fries and other trimmings. I had a fantastic hamburger that actually tasted like it was from the USA. The waiter thought it was funny that I was eating two meals. He didn't seem to understand that Conor was planning on eating the entire two person meal by himself - he continued to bring two plates for us to share! Needless to say Conor came to Nairobi using the fifth hole in his belt and left using the second!
The Carnivore in South Africa is an experience in itself. South Africa doesn't have the same laws against serving game meat that Kenya does. Thus, the South African Carnivore serves 10-15 different game meats each night and you have the opportunity to try them all. During my four visits to the Carnivore I have tried Impala, Kudu, Wildebeest, Camel, Crocodile, ostrich, Eland, Springbok and many more. And when I was in Krueger we bought our groceries at the canteen where the park sells the animal meat from the population control hunts in the park. We ended up eating giraffe in a fabulous stew. However, impala is always my favorite.
Conor and I also had a fabulous three year anniversary. We decided to cook. I had traveled to Nairobi with several American foods that had been sent to me from the USA including Stove Top Stuffing, Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese, muffin mix, etc. We ended up cooking a chicken and flavoring it with sauted onions. We also made the Stove Top and somehow found fresh broccoli. Broccoli is very hard to find in Uganda because the sun wilts it and by the time it gets to the vendors it doesn't even look like broccoli (same with all leafy vegetables which means there is basically no lettuce here!). We planned to go to a movie but stayed in and watched Man on Fire from my 5 in 1 Denzel DVD. It is impossible to get "real" DVD's in Uganda and other countries in Africa. So they sell DVD's that usually have 5 movies on them. Many of the DVD's have themes like: Denzel's greatest hits, scary movies, romantic comedies, or new releases. Last week I bought a DVD with five 007 movies on it. The DVD's with 5 movies on them cost a little over $5.
One of the few frustrations I experience on my trip to Nairobi was the realization that NO ONE knows about what is going on in Northern Uganda. We had dinner with several well educated people working in Sudan and Kenya and they knew very little about the war in the North. Northern Uganda is presently the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Thus, the whole world should know about it. The aid workers who are working on the border of Northern Uganda and in Southern Sudan where the LRA (Northern Ugandan rebel group) lives and are protected didn't know anything about the crisis. There are so many wars and problems in Africa that it is easy to be consumed by one country or region and be unaware of what is going on a few hours away. However, in the depths of my heart I felt a tinge of hopelessness.
When I returned to Uganda I found Meredith and Lindsey adjusting well to life in Uganda. Watching them figure things out reminded me how unhappy I was when I arrived in January. I had such a difficult transition. Meredith is consumed by work and has little time to think about adjusting. Lindsey is having a slightly more difficult time. It is her first time to live abroad - and Kampala isn't the easiest first city to live in! She is very positive and I admire both her and Meredith for their strength. Remembering how I felt in January brings many unpleasant thoughts to mind. Meredith and Lindsey both experienced their first round of Kampala food poisoning which has been ever present in my life for the past 6 months. Fortunately they experienced it together. Lindsey makes me laugh. She isn't embarrassed to ask questions or share how she is feeling - I think this is fabulous. She always says, "This is the first time I . . . " For example, Alicia and Emily believe in the witchcraft that is "present" in most Ugandans lives. The other night at dinner Alicia and Emily were discussing their fear of becoming infertile through witchcraft. Lindsey just sat there with huge eyes and at the end of the conversation said, "This is the first time I have had this conversation." It is great.
Meredith has been extraordinarily beneficial to my work. She has done similar work and as an HOD major we process many of our thoughts and experiences in the same way. Having someone to discuss the emotional ups and downs of my project and women's rights in Africa has made my life easier. I have also realized that my thinking is sometimes skewed. Doing the same work for the past year causes me to make automatic assumptions. It is nice to hear Meredith's opinion and learn how she sees the same situation from a very different angle. Meredith is also the most positive, happy person I know. This is extremely beneficial at this point in my travels. I love Africa and I could live here for the rest of my life. However, dealing with taxis, men, and being a white person in a black culture becomes exhausting after a year. She keeps me positive when I am about to fall out of line. One interesting thing about being a white person is Uganda is that you are a potential friend to everyone. Most Ugandans want to have a Mzungu friend because there are so few of us. For some reason we are a valued commodity. This is nice because you have the opportunity to meet so many people but it is also frustrating because you can't take one taxi ride without someone asking you for your phone number. Or you can't get any work done without one of the people you gave your phone number to calling 50 times in an hour (this is not an exaggeration).
The random daily issues that I have been writing about continue. For example, Rahaima the cleaning woman that I have written about at great length still does interesting things that boggle my mind. For example, after washing my clothes one day I found several of the things she had just washed thrown in my laundry basket to be washed again. She really had no explanation for this. Alicia's towels were missing last week so she asked Rahaima where they were and she said, "I am trying to get the color out." Alicia was a bit confused and asked her again what she was doing. She said, "They weren't quite white so I am bleaching them and then will wash them." Alicia explained that that was actually the color of her towels were suppose to be - in the USA we call it cream, eggshell, off white, etc. This gave us a good laugh.
I continue to read the papers daily and cut out the articles that relate to my project. This is very frustrating but I learn so much from what I read. For example, last week a man beat his wife to death over losing a few coins that amounted to less than fifty cents. There have also been reports that the street children in the North continue to increase significantly. There is an estimated 40,000 street children in Northern Uganda. It is sad and difficult to understand how living on the streets could be safer than living at home.
Since the last update I have spent most of my time at the Mercy Home for Children. A friend of mine from Vanderbilt is teaching in London this summer and her children were interested in becoming "global citizens". The children in London came up with a list of questions they had for the children in Uganda. I then went to the Mercy Home and interviewed the children recording it all on my camcorder. The children at the Mercy Home also sang African music and danced on the video. The children from London will also be sending my kids information about their lives and cultures. I will be adding a journal entry this week describing the interview process and the great questions the Ugandan children asked (For example, why do your hair and eyes come in many different colors?).
I also took my computer so the kids could watch DVDs. Last week they decided to watch A Bug's Life. In one of the initial scenes in the movie the grasshoppers invade the ant colony. The head grasshopper threatens the ants and grabs one of the young ants. The kids' eyes grew so large and they were gasping. I asked the girl who always translates for me what the other kids were reacting to. She said that the kids saw the grasshoppers as the LRA rebels in the North. They were identifying with the grasshoppers' threat the kidnap the young ant. Additional scenes throughout the movie caused a similar uproar. I never imagined I could learn so much from watching an animated movie with children. I will discuss this experience in more detail in a journal entry that will be posted in the near future.
The hectic experiences that are an all too familiar part of my Ugandan life have continued in full force. Two weeks ago my friend, Meredith Bates, arrived from the USA to start an internship with one of my Ugandan friends, Dennis Matanda. Her plane arrived at 11pm and I took a taxi driver that I use frequently to pick her up at the airport. After dealing with lost luggage and customs we ended up leaving the airport just before 1am. I must preface this story by saying that just after I arrived in Uganda in January I received an email from the US Embassy advising US citizens not to travel on the road between Kampala and the airport after dark. Apparently, some road blocks and subsequent theft has occurred because the overseas flights come in every night at 11pm and it is a well known fact that the flights are full of white people who carry lots of money and luggage. This would mean a hotel stay in Entebbe, only 30 minutes from my home in Kampala. Most US citizens in Uganda (and the rest of the world) agree that the Embassy alerts are overly protective (for a good reason). After discussing this email with several other US citizens as well as many Ugandans who were familiar with the road I decided it was safe to pass after dark. I remembered one of my most traveled friends saying that if you want to ruin a holiday check the US Consular page before leaving.
To get to the point - I was a little nervous and very aware of my surroundings on the ride home. After we had been driving for about 15 minutes a "police officer" stepped into the road and motioned my driver to the side of the road. I put police officer in quotes because it was unclear if he really was an officer. He had a long khaki jacket over what we assumed was a uniform. All we could see was a machine gun hanging out from the bottom of the jacket. I had just read an article in the paper about robbers who were using police uniforms as a decoy to get vehicles to stop. Shortly after we stopped two other men dressed in the same attire appeared. One appeared next to me on the passenger side and the other was on the driver's side. Initially I considered asking for identification but I reasoned that this could make a sour situation even worse. I immediately began speaking to the man on my side of the car. General conversation - I told him we were all tired, that my friend sitting in the backseat had only been in Uganda for a few minutes. I told him that her luggage didn't arrive (actually she had only lost one bag but I figured this would deter them from continuing with the stop if they were planning to rob us). They asked Paul, the driver, for his vehicle registration and he didn't have it with him! I knew that the car wasn't stolen because Paul has been driving me since January and we had never had this problem before.
This is when the situation started to go bad. The officer on Paul's side of the car looked through the window at me and told me to get out of the car and find another ride to Kampala. You must remember that it is almost 1am. I explained the security warning to the cop and told him that I would not leave the car and it was absurd for him to suggest I do so. Paul didn't know what to do so he decided to not talk. I took this is a sign that it was my turn. I greeted the officers in Luganda and then explained to them that Paul had been driving me for six months. I told them about the US Embassy security warning. I told them I wasn't a tourist but lived in Uganda. They asked for my address and what I was doing here. I told that I was working at an orphanage. They asked for the address of the orphanage. At this point I was nearly convinced that they were police officers because if they were going to steal anything they would have already done it. Then I saw a man about 100 yards away walking toward to vehicle carrying an AK-47 - he didn't have on the uniform, just jeans and a t-shirt. I continued talking to the officers in a more forceful manner. I decided to tell them that I had worked for the Kira Rd. Police Station when I arrived in Uganda. This finally seemed to get their attention. The rest of the conversation went like this. . .
PO: "What did you do there?"
ME: "I was working with the Family Protection Unit."
Silence from the officers. . .
ME: Oola was my boss, actually I have his cell number in my phone, let's call him (I began flipping through the numbers in my cell phone.)
PO: "No, no. It's very late we don't want to wake him."
ME: "No, I am certain he is awake, he works long hours, there is always work for him to do in the Family Protection Unit.
The officer on my side of the car began speaking to the officer on Paul's side trying to convince him to let us go. Just as the random man with the AK-47 was approaching he told us to go in Luganda. I stuck my hand out the window to shake his and said "Kale, Webele Ssebo." (Ok, Thank you Sir in Luganda) They thought this was hilarious and they all began laughing. We aren't certain if they were officers or not but the idea of me calling another police officer didn't make them comfortable. I was happy because we left without giving them a bribe of any sort. I asked Paul what would have happened had I not been with him and he told me that he would have been arrested and taken to jail for not having his papers. We took off quickly and made it home safely.
I had another interesting ride to the airport a week later in Nairobi when I was returning to Kampala from Kenya. Nairobi is infamous for crime and I had been fortunate enough to visit twice without incident. Then on the way to the airport last week I was sitting in stopped traffic in the city and heard gunshots. Instinctually I put my head between my legs. The taxi driver informed me that a police officer had just shot a robber. I sat up and began to look around. Just behind our car a crowd had begun to develop and there was a body on the ground. I couldn't believe it! How could an officer take a shot at a robber in the middle of a traffic jam in the city? It was unbelievable. It was 12pm in the afternoon - the streets were packed - what if he had missed? The traffic began moving again and an unmarked station wagon picked the robber off the street and drove off.
I ended up making it to Kampala safely. However, I had my doubts if I would ever reach Uganda. My plane decided to take off and fly through a huge storm. I have never experienced turbulence like I did on this flight. It was as if the pilots had lost control of the nose of the plane and it was whipping from right to left. Then the plane would drop, for 7-8 seconds. The entire plane was screaming. I am not a nervous flier but this was horrible. Then I began to vomit. . . Fortunately the skies in Kampala were clear and we had an uneventful landing in Uganda.
When I returned from Nairobi I attended a social gathering at my neighbors' home. It turned out to be a gathering of the social elite of Uganda. I began speaking to the South African Ambassador. I told him about my experience there and how much I loved his country. Then I began to ask him about the work he was doing in Uganda. He primarily discussed the South African economy. This was the perfect opportunity to ask him how the HIV pandemic would effect the RSA economy. There have been numerous reports and research studies showing the difficulties the country will face in ten to fifteen years. For example there will not be enough educated workers to replace the dying ones, the country lacks the foreign investment they need because of this fear, etc. The commissioner explained that their unemployment was so high they could simply replace the workers who will die. He was suggesting the uneducated laborers as the predominant group with HIV and they are expendable. I told him about a research study done in South Africa that showed CEO's and company President's have the same rate of HIV as the uneducated laborers. The only group who has lower levels is the management. The assumption being made is that company heads have money to hire prostitutes. Whereas, managers are too busy and lack the finances to have prostitutes or frequently participate in unprotected sex. The uneducated laborers don't have good AIDS education and many don't have access to free condoms. He didn't become defensive he just continued to claim that it wouldn't be a problem. After living in South Africa I knew that this was a battle I couldn't win. I continued the conversation hoping to understand why he had this opinion rather than try to change his mind. But I left the part a bit disillusioned and frustrated. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa doesn't totally "believe" HIV exists. Even though he has seen many close colleagues and friends die from the disease. And now the country is hiring Ambassadors who don't see HIV as a monumental problem the country is facing - it is merely affecting the lower classes. This is a country I love. I want them to succeed. But with the leadership that is currently in place I am unsure if it's possible.
The days continue to pass quickly and I will be returning to the USA soon. Just as I am about to leave Africa I am learning to deal with the frustrations that previously slowed me down. Walking over a 20 pound 18 inch rat, having my breast grabbed by a drunk man at the food shop, and learning that a man beat his wife to death over fifty cents is all in a days work.
back to the Journal homepage
Read Uganda Journal, Part IV (June 2005)
Read Uganda Journal, Part III (April-May 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