Thursday, June 03, 2010
Not sure if the blogging idea is going to work out due lack of internet and the business of the life here that I want to experience every minute of. Anyway our first week has involved 2 nights in Kampala, 3 in Gulu and 1 in Lira. We’re back in Gulu now to stay, which is great. Feel more alive here than I have in a long time.
This is my 6th trip to Africa but the first to work. I had always dreamed that the first time I came here to work it would be with a my beautiful wife that would be admired by all the africans....Instead I'm with this red-headed lad from Dublin! He's great craic and smarter than me so all good.
We're staying at Jojo’s palace which is far from a palace but is cheap. I'm becoming an expert at showering from a jerry can. We’re right in the middle of the town and hence the people here which is amazing. Living close, traveling, eating and shopping like the locals has already resulted in conversations and relationships both with the Acholi and the plethora of NGOs that are based here.
Pastor Felix (proudly sporting his norn iron top) has joined forces with us and is determined to be our guide/spokesman/story-teller/pastor/friend. This week has involved meetings and conversations with people in schools, lecturer at the university, UNICEF, the district officer and others.
We have decided on the place (Laroo Boarding School for war-affected children) and the aspects of our research. This week will be spent building relationships in the school as well as forming focus groups to discuss and translate our questionnaires and gain cultural validity and reliability. This involves a great deal of ‘psychobabble’ which is not of much interest to anyone reading this but will hopefully be of help to the children and the school.
It isn’t difficult to find people here that have been affected by the war….everyone has. These people have seen, been afflicted by and at times become the worst of humanity. Murder, rape, mutilation, slavery, sacrifice and child abuse were once daily threats. However the best of the human spirit can be found here also. Everyone here who has not been war-affected seems to be working with the war-affected. There are so many charities and NGOs doing great work at great cost but there seems to be frustration at the lack of cohesion and the fact that things are not really improving.
In a month you could write a book of stories about the situation here that would be stranger and more graphic that the imagination of any fiction writer. As with Palestine, living with the people reveals a story which is so different than its portrayal in the media and the safety of other parts of the country. The situation is full of such deep spiritual, political and tribal complexities that it cannot be explained by the simple notion of the madman Joseph Kony and an army of child soldiers. The vitriol of most people is reserved not for Kony and the LRA but for Museveni and his government’s army who have persecuted these people, inflicted many of the same atrocities as the LRA and forced 1.8 million people to live in squalor and dependency in the disease and death-infested IDP camps.
The spiritual pervades every aspect of life here. A curious blend of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Islam and traditional beliefs pervade every aspect of life. Spirits ('jok') are lie underneath the surface of every story. Kony isn't seen as mad or bad by many but simply being involuntarily controlled by spirits. Pastor Felix speaks of bones and trees talking to people as normally as talking about his family or church. He is amused by our surprise.
No war is simple but this one is particularly complex with roots stretching back from British colonialism, through the brutality of Idi Amin, Museveni and Kony, to the current status quo. The very fabric of this society has been torn to shreds and stitched back together so many times it is hard to determine how any clothes can ever fit. But the people are tired of war and suffering. There is no frame of reference in the western world for the resilience of the people here. They are the survivors. While we came to look for trauma, depression, anxiety our early observations and conversations have been infused with perseverance, resiliance and hope.