Tuesday, November 18, 2008

18 Nov 2008

Okay. This is what happened. My hard drive up-and-died! Like, I mean, completely, utterly died. And we have been living in an old KICWA return center, in crowded huts, with no computers. So I have not been able to write anything.

This is what else has been happening:

...The celebration (by nearly the entire ex-pat community) of Cheese Day at Madam's shop!!!

...Gambian bracelets being given away

...Plagiarism, shunning, and conflict transformation

...Gulu with Amanda

...Coins with Oscar ("What a Saturday!")

...OCHA humanitarian briefing

Etc, etc, etc. (This is a reminder to myself to write more about these issues when I find time.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Here is me, listening to Obama's victory speech...

... on a shortwave radio in a soap shop this morning.

(Or at least, listening to approximately two minutes of it before the signal cut out.)

Sigh... he has SUCH a handsome voice....

Monday, November 3, 2008


Here in Kitgum, I am my only American friend.

This means, despite the fact that everyone’s eyes are on this upcoming election, I am the only one who is able to vote, and I am the one whom the results will impact the most.

Sometimes I really wish everyone else here would stop speculating on it. It makes me nervous and frustrated. Especially because most people assume that McCain will win for the simple reason that they expect Americans as a whole to still be too racist to elect a black president. At least, that is what people tell me.

One of my housemates is a Kenyan Luo man, like Obama. His name is Oscar. My other housemate is a Dutch woman named Floor. The three of us get along swimmingly. This morning, we had coffee together, discussed the election, and I read aloud some Lewis Carroll nonsense poems (“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!”) and recited the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. As I am a huge dork (obviously), this means it was a great morning for me.

“Calloo! Callay! O frabjous day!”

Massai traders are coming to Bomah grounds (a soccer field towards the middle of town) today. Because they are from Kenya, and because they are fabulous artists and craftsmen, I am expecting them to have leather key chains onto which they have painted Obama’s face. Ooh, I hope I hope I hope!!!

My other close friends here are, obviously, several Acholi (Janet, JP, Mark, Monica, Sam, other Sam, Akello, etc.) and two Swedish girls (Lisa and Hilda). Recently, I’ve met and befriended a Grecian/Yemenite woman named Sara who is quite sweet. I have many good Acholi acquaintances throughout the town, whom I greet almost daily and exchange pleasantries with (Grace, Pasca, Lawrence, John, both Margaret’s, and, obviously, Madame Flora, my grocer). There are the children I love (Julian, Flavia, Gloria, Hope, Passion, Jojo, Joanna, Dearie, Sharon and Nero). There’s my friend Amanda in Kampala, my friend Kristen in Gulu, and my friend Steve, I forget quite where. And, lastly, there are far more people here who know me than whom I know.

“Rockellay! Affoyo!” I hear from every direction as I walk through town.

“Affoyo ba!” I respond.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


This evening was another one of the evenings that I love it here. Walking home from work, I was greeted by child after lovely little child, screaming-giggling-calling “Rockelay! Bye!” Halfway home, a woman motioned me over to the fire by her hut where she and other women were working and had me try some of the fresh, hot vodka they had just brewed. It was amazing and delicious. They were so friendly and greeted me kindly and – just to make clear – they weren’t asking for money or anything. They were just being hospitable to the stranger/visitor in their midst!

Yesterday, I also loved it here. Wandering through town in the middle of the day (no power + no generator fuel = no work), I came across a random assemblage of traditional dancers and musicians. It was great and amazing! At first I watched – a group of women in a makeshift hair saloon (iron sheets and UNHCR plastic drapery) offered me a stool. Then I ululated with the women – uh, kind of. I TRIED to ululate. Then, eventually, I danced!!! The dancers were incredible, and the drummers, and, my favorite, the homemade violins that the violinists bowed were amazing. I’m a pretty horrible dancer, but I’m energetic and a clown, so I always have fun, and the dancers and musicians always love me.

Ugh. I can hear the generator humming now at the home of the rich people cattycorner to ours.

We no longer talk about whether there is or is not electricity (just as we stopped long ago talking about whether there was or was not running water). Now, we talk about whether there is any fuel in the district to power our generator at work. At home, we talk about whether we have enough kerosene for the oil lamps, and whose turn it is to wash the globes. We talk about whether the bridge between Gulu and Kitgum will flood, and how we will be totally cut off from the world if (when) that happens.


Today was one of the days that I LOVE it here.

But now I'm too tired to write why. I'm exhausted!!! More later.

Monday, October 27, 2008


My cough is worse today but the rest of me feels better. On the walk to work, the morning mist felt cool against my hot skin.

It serves me right to be sick. I kiss too many children without washing my hands enough.

I learned more about Monica while at her house yesterday. (It was a good time, by the way!)

For example, Monica’s Acholi name is “Lamono” as in, “The White Person”. According to her husband, this is because “She was especially beautiful when she was born”. That explanation made me shudder a bit, obviously, but – still – it is very fun to now call her “Lamonobye!” and “Lamazungo!”

(In West Africa, I was giving an “African” name – Fatima Bintu Kanotay; Fateem, for short – but here, it’s the opposite, and all my African friends have “Western” names – like Monica, Janet, Jimmy, Mark, Patricia, Lisa, Joyce, Kevin… Sometimes the Western names seem to have been given amidst a bit of confusion – Kevin, for example, is a girl.)

I also learned more about the situation two days ago with the men prone by the side of the road. Apparently, the first man whom Monica found, surrounded by the crowd of children? Who’d crashed his bike? Apparently (I hadn’t seen this) he was bleeding badly, and also trashed-drunk.

“Where are you coming from?” asked Monica.
“The ginnery!” the man slurred.

Monica got him water and tried to get him to wash his cut before he stumbled off, bike in tow, chain dangling.

But she couldn’t help him much. He was too drunk-delusional.

So of course, when she saw the second man, totally passed out drunk/dead and half hidden in the brush, of course she laughed. And of course she kept walking. I would have, too.

(Anyway, we walk past drunken, passed out, homeless people every day in DC, only calling for help rarely. That’s the same thing – or worse.)


I tried to talk to J about using rainwater for cleaning and showering, and leaving the borehole water for drinking.

“You drink that water?” asked J, incredulous.
“You don’t?” I asked, confused.
“No, I can’t drink that!” said J. “I can’t drink that water! I buy my water.”

We buy, in actual fact, the borehole water, but it’s much, much, much cheaper. J has never pitched in. I don’t think he knows that we buy it. Maybe he thinks it magically appears on the doorstep, just for him.

J paused, and thought. “Do you boil that water at least?”
“Yes. Of course. We boil it,” I said, although we don’t always.



I’m planning a party for Halloween.


The housemates are coming home from Gulu today, where they’ve been since last Thursday, so I’ve been performing the typical chores to get the house ready for their return. I cleaned and straightened up the living room. I hauled in rainwater to the dishes. I carried the trash out back, doused it with kerosene, and then tossed matches at it till fire burst forth. (That is a great chore for a pyro like me.) All this I’ve done while attempting to contain nausea. I don’t feel well. I hope I don’t have Hepatitis E…

Last night I had dinner with Hilda and Lisa; today I’m going to Monica’s house for an early lunch.

I was wondering through town yesterday, searching for a cheap box of red wine, when I can across a group of people staring at something on the side of the road. Among this group was Monica. I asked what was going on – Monica said a biker had fallen and they were checking on him. Most of the people in the group were children, but this wasn’t really a surprise, since 50% of the population here is younger than 15 years old. Monica and I began walking down the street. “Oh look! There’s another one!” Monica giggled. She pointed at the side of the road to the tall grasses that had grown in the drainage ditch. I sidled over and there was a body of a man, face up, eyes closed, mouth open.

“Oh my god,” I said. “Is he alive?”
Monica just laughed.
“Is he… drunk?” I asked.
“Yes, drunk,” said Monica. “Probably.”

Contrary to what you may think, this just made me decide I reeeaaally needed a glass of wine… I left Monica soon after to continue my search for my cheap box alcohol.

I don’t know what I should bring to Monica’s for lunch today. I don’t know what the custom is in Acholiland. I barely have any food in the house. My stomach hurts. I feel so sick. Ugh. What I’d love is a nice warm shower. Or better still – a bath. A bubble bath. And clean linens. Fluffy towels and soft sheets. Room service. A grilled cheese sandwich. An apple. Mozzarella sticks. Chocolate mousse. A vanilla milkshake. My mum to make me her French toast with Vermont maple syrup. Mm. Instead, I’m drinking ORS, which always makes me feel nauseous anyway, but which is (theoretically) healthy for me when I don’t feel well. Instead, I’m putting on red lipstick, black eyeliner and blush, so I feel sort of alive while I’m being social at Monica’s for lunch.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


We have no power again. And no running water. Except – except for the kitchen sink. Which hasn’t worked in an entire year (according to Oscar, who’s lived here that long). Until now. And which obviously should be using the same water tank as the rest of the faucets (one would assume). But! It’s working. Yup. Kitgum is SO weird.
You know what they call the tour of Evangelical speakers who travel throughout Africa to minister? The Crusades. Yup. Without any sense of irony, either. The Crusades. It makes you shudder!
My friend Sam told me such fantastic stories the other day. Apparently, he was born and raised in a village very near to where Kony “started”. In fact, Sam spent his boyhood playing with his brothers on the rock (which is about the size of a football pitch) from which Kony “gets his powers”. They carved their names on a ledge by the rock (Sam did not; he couldn’t manage to carve the ‘o’ in his Acholi name). They bathed in the crevice of the rock where rainwater gets collected. (Kony says the water is “magical”). Sam’s sister, his sibling who is closest in age to him, was kidnapped in Kony’s first round of mass kidnappings. Luckily, she was let go after only a few days. One of Sam’s nephews was kidnapped when he was only ten years old. That was in 1994. After several years, the family grew resigned to the boy’s death, and mourned him. And then, very recently, they were listening to a broadcast by the LRA, and whom did they hear greeting them, but this boy? He is not a boy, anymore; he must by now be a young man of twenty-four. Sam just wants him to come home, he says. The whole family does. They can help him out, Sam says. Since he left school so early, Sam imagines that he will need some vocational training to get himself on his feet again, and reintegrated into his community.

Listening to the radio that day is not the only time Sam has been surprised by the mass media. A few years ago he was watching the news, when what did he see but a CNN reporter standing on that same rock near his home, reporting about Kony’s “powers”. The reporter motioned his cameraman over and instructed him to zoom in on some names carved into the rock. “And these are the names of Kony’s top commanders!” the reporter announced. The names were, of course, in actuality, Sam’s brother’s names. Sam called his brothers, giggling wildly.

Sam wants to open up a tourist spot near the rock, so tourists can flock to where this evil man claimed his spiritual powers originated. He’s talked to the local communities about this; they’re in favor. And after all, why shouldn’t they benefit, if they can? If he built it, I can sure imagine some idiotic tourists going. Flocking there. Getting spa treatments and facials from the rainwater in the crevice. It’s so gruesome. But why, I guess, shouldn’t the local community earn some money off of it?
I randomly came across a man selling “ice cream” on the streets of Kitgum last week. It was pink. It wasn’t very creamy. But it was cooooooold and perfect.
For the second week in a row, our crazy professor praised my work and ripped apart everyone else’s. I’m worried that deep within their hearts-of-hearts the rest of my team may secretly hate me.
The most convincing explanation I’ve read recently for Joseph Kony – what makes the psycho-man tick – is that Kony sees himself as a modern-day Moses. He’s set out on this weird conquest (can we call it a crusade? Or maybe ‘genocide’ is the more appropriate word…) against the Acholi people (despite the fact that he is one of them) in order to cleanse them. He kidnaps children to train them in his “nouveux-Acholi” ways, and he kidnaps girls to “marry” off by the handful to his top commanders so as to birth a “purified” race of Acholis. Unfortunately, Moses never reached the Promised Land himself – he only led his people towards it. It was thus speculated by this article that Kony believes that he too will never reach the Promised Land. And so, Kony may not (MAY not???) be taking any peace deals or treaties seriously. Backing up this theory is the fact that Kony has been known to remark, when questioned about his actions in the name of Christianity, that “Even Moses had to kill, sometimes”. (All the first-born boys of Egypt may agree).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And now, a break from our regular scheduled programing...

How to Make Chapati, starring Monica:

* 1 cup flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1/2 cup water
* vegetable oilMix all ingredients in a large bowl, knead well.
Form dough into balls and then roll.
Fry on first side for 3-5 minutes, and then flip! (You don’t need much oil at all, only a thimble full for each.)



I think I will hang up cloves of garlic in my room to protect me from bloodsuckers.

(…Namely mosquitoes).

(Is THAT where Bram Stoker got his inspiration? Because it’s true! Mosquitoes HATE garlic.)

Jimmy and Mark told lots of stories yesterday about the times they were almost kidnapped by the LRA. (They grew up here in Kitgum.)

I wish that my skin were made of something whereby every time a mosquito alighted upon it, the mosquito would turn into a butterfly. Or die. Either one, really.

STILL no power. And the water is gone again. And yesterday we didn’t have phone network coverage. But Flor and I have been staying up late at night, cooking pasta on the gas stove and alternatively talking and reading in the living room, by the light of an oil lamp. And each evening the sunset out back has been more and more spectacular, and each night the stars (“gliss-ee-ay” in Acholi Luo) have shined down upon us, the Milky Way a deep slash across the sky.


Mark says the power’s coming back tomorrow evening. He talked to a worker to get the lowdown. Yesterday they couldn’t work because they had no gasoline for their cars. The rain has knocked down so, so many poles. Ugh! I. Want. Power!!!


We haven’t had power, in several days, which has been, needless to say, rather frustrating. But we have had running water, and as such I was able to taken my first real, non-basin, non-bucket shower in over a month. Yes, it was cold, but whatever. WhatEVER. Running bloody water.

The house and the guard’s shack had an infestation of mosquitoes this evening. It was awful and so bizarre and trippy. Because there’s no power, light is scarse and you could barely see the little bugs by oil lantern. But could you ever hear them. You know how you can be woken from the deepest sleep by the buzzing of one mosquito too close to you ear? Yes – now imagine millions of those little tiny wings beating the air. It was the most dreadful, awful sound. Like nails on a chalkboard. We covered our bodies with deet and sprayed “Doom” in every dark corner and spent the rest of the night coughing and sneezing from the fumes, did I and Akello and Flor. But it was so much better than that grating whiney sound.


What I learned today: Apparently some people in the IDP camp purposefully got themselves infected with HIV/AIDS in order to access the higher quantity of food that the WFP gave to them.


Today was a wretched day at work (except for my dear colleague S and his stories! – more later) but upon leaving, who is waiting for me but a ton of children who accost me, craving love, in the pitch-black that is 7:30 p.m. in Kitgum. I doled out kisses and felt marginally better. And then when I got here, Akello, our guard, had brought oranges for me! I love her. And she taught me more Acholi words, including the word for teacher, which shall be my new nickname for her. “Laphone”.

And red-haired Amanda lives here now!!! In Kampala, but still…! So we have been calling or texting every day. It’s lovely to have an old friend living in the same country as you, even if you never see her…!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Frogs sneak into our house every time it rains.

I just rescued two from our kitchen.


I learned how to say “I love you” in Acholi today so I could say it to the little children who live on my street. “Amar oo!” (It’s like Latin, huh!?)

Based on the definition of love as deep respect, enjoyment, and adoration, I do love them, the silly little brilliant darlings, who now refer to me “Pey-Mono-Rockellay” or “Rockellay-Pey-Mono”, like it’s all one name.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything here. I know.

The problem is that so much has happened.

Power’s out. Wind’s picking up. There’s a storm brewing, for sure.


Oh my God. Today is one of the days that I hate it here. I hate the heat, I hate the violence, I hate the fact that I can’t understand the language, and I hate the fact that I’m viewed as such an “outsider” with my white skin. I hate the misogyny, and I hate the humidity in the air. I hate the nepotism. I hate the politics.

J lost it today. His form of “losing it” was to let go of his temper with me when we disagreed with something related to the project, in the office. He lost it to the point that he was standing across the room, screaming that I should “Go f* myself” and that I am a “Mother f*er”. Another man stepped out to hold him back but he kept yelling. Yup. After I’d started crying, he said: “If you’re so f*ing sensitive, you should have f*cking stayed in DC.”

He then told our boss that he wanted “to strangle me”. He told OUR BOSS this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Two babies have “blessed” me in the last two days. (That means they’ve peed on me.)

Yes, for the past two days, I’ve smelled of stale ammonia, baby-pee.

But it so doesn’t matter, because the babies are just so freaking cuddle-able. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to not hold them. And since most African babies whom I’ve met don’t wear diapers, one (ergo) gets peed on.


There is one shop (and only one shop) in Kitgum Town that sells socks. This shop only sells socks. (It’s a specialty sock shop.)

However, no two socks in the sock shop match each other. Nope. There are no pairs. Just singular socks. They’ve clearly been used, too, and then donated to Goodwill or somewhere, and then rejected by Goodwill or wherever, and so shipped to Africa.

Does it answer the question as to where that other sock went when the washing machine ate it? Or is it simply a display, beautiful in its simplicity, of how fucked up the wealth distribution of this world is? You decide!


I went to church this morning for the second time in two weeks. I really enjoy attending church here. I’m not going to become one of those clichés who eschew religion in their teens and early twenties only to return to it in their later twenties; no way, no how. But it’s a really nice gathering of community. And this music is lovely. And a man, during the period when you are asked to offer us your own prayers, a man prayed out loud for the peace talks to continue. It’s the first time I’ve heard an Acholi mention the peace talks without me first bringing them up and probing for questions. It was nice. He said his piece, we said Amen, and we moved on.


I jury-rigged our drains! To catch the rainwater! When nobody else could! It’s awesome! I’m awesome!!! Now we will have lots of water (as long as it rains!) Wow. I’m like Macgiver. I used plastic bags and the strings I pulled off one of my dresses.

A UN report came out today saying that the worst place in the world to be a child right now is Karamaja. (I don’t know why the UN is calling it Karamaja, because while that’s still the popular name, in actuality the district name changed in 1980.) It’s the district next to Kitgum, 8 kilometers from where we were yesterday in Orom. Flor says child sacrifices go on there. We (Flor & Kristin & I) are planning to go through there in November to a national park! It will be my first ever African national park.

A froggy-frog snuck under the door into our house tonight and then freaked out and just sat still, stunned. I rescued him and he was so darling, so sweet. He hopped happily away.


(By the way, has J ever helped us to collect water? No, not once. He just uses it. I'm sure he thinks that collecting water is a "woman's job".)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Today we’re in Orom Sub-County & I’m EXHAUSTED. Oram is 75 km from KTC, which is a really far distance on these dirt “roads”. (Sometimes maize grows or streams flow right across the road, or the road simply disappears into the wild tall grasses of the bush.)

I’ve been working about 15 hour days this week. I’ve spent 11 or 12 hours in the field & then 4 hours transcribing our notes. I’m so tired –

Orom borders the Karamajo region. There’s a big conflict on the border. Ask any Acholi & they’ll tell you that the Karamajo are backwards cattle-rustlers. I haven’t been able to ask a Karamajong, so I can’t tell you the other side of the coin. Apparently, according to some Acholi, the Karamajong believe that God endowed all the cattle of Northern Uganda to them. Instead of rustling, then, they are just taking back what is rightfully theirs. Repo men.

We couldn’t go to the first parish at which we’d planned a focus group because the road was – literally – just gone. There was no way to pass. We all got out to test the strength of the mud beneath the stream and to see if we could lay any branches across the area – we couldn’t – (all of us except Miss Priss, of course).

We chose Orom to come to because it’s a little different from the rest of Kitgum District. For one thing, bordering as it does Karamajo, it’s legal for adults and children to carry guns. On the way here, we passed a wide field that looked like all other fields to me, but Mark pointed at it and said it is a mass grave. We passed a village and Mark talked about the day he’d delivered food there with the WFP and that night the village had been raided and the LRA had taken all the food. The survivors were rushed to the IDP camp where they needed more food, not to mention tents, water, clothes….

Jimmy talked about the stream that borders Orom and Karamajong Land, and how in some places it’s less than an arm’s length deep, but still the Karamajong can’t pass, because if they attempt it, they get stuck. He said that there are certain mango trees near the border, where if you cut into a mango, it bleeds human blood.


I got myself a package of biscuits meant to make you gain weight, so they’re loaded with glucose. I ate them all. I feel much better. Patricia got herself a chicken. It’s alive. It’ll be traveling in the car with us.


It is spectacular here – really gorgeous –


“Men are evil,” Lisa whispered to me after one of our focus group discussions. “How can a grown man cut a young girl like that?”

It took me a few minutes to realize that by “cut” she meant, “rape and impregnate”. “Cut” works pretty well as a verb in that sense, actually.

Sometimes Lisa’s alright.

2-Oct-08 (Dad’s Birthday)

Today we are in Palabek Kal Sub-County. There used to just be one big Sub-County called Palabek; now there are three. In 1997, the weeklong mass murder of civilians by the LRA across what was Palabek sparked the mass exodus across Kitgum District into the IDP camps. Some 350 people were massacred. What happened is, a hunter was out in the bush when he spied some members of the LRA stashing arms in a cave on the side of a mountain. The hunter high-tailed it to a UPDF encampment. Several days later, the UPDF was hauling away 2 huge trucks full of guns and the hunter was 5 million shillings richer. The hunter was also given a house in Kampala, which was lucky for him and his family, because in revenge for losing their artillery the LRA took a week to slaughter everyone who they could find in Palabek. Even the hunter, if he came back here now, Mark told me, would probably be killed by his own people, them saying “Look what you have brought down upon us!”

Lisa’s in the back of the car right now telling J how rich her family would be “If it wasn’t for this war… They took everything! The goats, the sheep, the cows…”.

The war is not over yet. Whether it will return and be fought once more on this soil is anyone’s guess.


Jim and M say that recovery, in terms of food security, for Northern Uganda will be very easy, because the soil is so fertile. That’s nice to hear.

There’s a child mother in this focus group, a baby tied to her back, who looks like she’s about 12 years old –


One of the satellite camps that we stopped at this morning was spectacularly beautiful – so clean, adolescent mango trees in a little grove, pumpkins spilling from the garden onto the footpath, piglets in their pens – and clean, strong huts decorated with flowers – it could have been Eden, I swear. So lovely. The children weren’t covered in snot and sores and everything was in its place.

If this satellite camp is like what villages were like before the war, then the people of Northern Uganda have lost even more than I realized. It was idyllic.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


We’re in the field, at our first focus group interview of the day. It’s late already, past two. We’ve had a big problem with the mobilization today. It’s because the WFP is here for their one day a month when they distribute food. Everyone in the camp is just thinking about food, food, food, today.

We’re sitting in our first focus group, in our first parish of the day, and Jimmy is moderating and Lisa is writing. I’m sitting here in a little bit of shock. M just told me how his father was killed, murdered, actually, in the insurgency.



I eat a lot of chocolate here.

Driving to our IDP camp today, we passed an area thick with bamboo. Mark and Jimmy told us that it used to be a very dangerous spot. Then they said that, if the rebels return, it will be a dangerous spot, again.

Behind the area thick with bamboo was a hill covered in trees. Behind that was The Sudan. The rebels camped on the hill and attacked anyone who traveled through. Many people died there. Jimmy said that if you traveled this road two years ago and you made it to the other side, you felt like a very brave, big man.

When Jimmy tells stories about the rebels, he laughs. It’s strange to me.

The stories he told were, like, about how the LRA would send their newest, untrained captives to the front of the battlefield, like human shields. He told us about how the children of the LRA were (are) fearless fighters, of course – how they would be tied together, so no one could escape – or so if their were helicopter attacks by the UPFD against the rebels, the rebels could tie the children out in a clearing, in the open, to be killed, little sacrificial lambs, while the real rebels hid. How if their wasn’t enough rope, all the children who could manage to get themselves tied on to the rope would scurry to do so, and all the rest would be killed. How they would trade clothes with the newest abductees, so the newly kidnapped children would be dressed in rebel clothes and the rebels would be dressed in civilian clothes, so in battle, the UPDF would massacre the children and not the rebels.

And Jimmy laughs.

It’s not a bitter laugh, but it’s not humorous, either. I don’t really know why he is laughing. It is because he finds the stories funny, I guess, but at the same time I guess I know that he doesn’t find them funny at all.

It’s awkward, because you don’t know what to do in response. Laugh, too? Surely not. But when a friend tells an anecdote and chuckles at it, you laugh too, out of camaraderie.

J gave a sort of strangled laugh. I solved the social dilemma by pretending that I wasn’t listening. But sitting, bouncing along in the car a row ahead of Jimmy, I was listening intently.


We’re in a Key Informant Interview, now. There’s a gold plastic clock on the wall, with fake roses around it. A yellow plastic butterfly is attached to the second hand and it is slowly spinning (this clock works.) Cheap Chinese crap is everywhere here.

Jimmy is moderating and Lisa is taking her tiny, perfect notes. Lisa’s not talking to us today, though. She’s angry with all of us because J embarrassed her in the car yesterday. J demanded that she sit in the bumpy, crowded back with the rest of us, while Patricia get the lovely shot-gun seat. Lisa didn’t understand why. She didn’t get that she should let someone five years older than her with a limp from childhood polio get the more comfortable seat.

For her part, though, Patricia never mentions her disability. She walks slower than the rest of us but she works hard. Patricia didn’t even want the front seat; she was embarrassed by the attention. She didn’t take it today. (Mark’s up there in the front seat today).

Today, Lisa was so angry that she didn’t even come to work. It was pouring, pouring rain when we left. We picked her up at home once we figured out that was where she was (MTN cell phone network was down, too). As her excuse, Lisa said, “God molded me from clay and I melt in the rain”. (“Get an umbrella, my dear,” sighed Patricia.)

Patricia told me today that her biggest dream is to earn enough money to open a nursery school in her ancestral village.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Today is Eid, the end of Ramadan. Happy Eid! The population here is mainly Christian, but there’s some Muslims, and it’s a totally religiously tolerant society, from what I can tell. Eid is even a public holiday. The Muslim men in town, 50 or 75 or more, were kneeling facing Mecca in front of the mosque, which is a colorful, prominent building downtown. Schoolchildren were gathered in front of the mosque, watching and listening to the call-to-prayer, tolerant and tolerated. It was nice.

In the car, Patricia suddenly spoke up with a story. There was a crazy man in Gulu Town who one Friday stole one of every pair of shoes of everyone praying inside the mosque (cuz you can’t wear your shoes inside a mosque, so people slip them off outside the entrance.) I don’t know if he stole all the left shoes, or all the right shoes, or a mixture, but he stole one of each pair. He ran away and dumped them. When the angry mob finally caught up with him, he was beaten soundly. “I’m all for non-violence,” I said, “but he kind of deserved that.”

One of the CDs in the car is called “Bill Clinton” and has an Afro-Reggae man on the cover. “Us Ugandans like to associate ourselves with the Clintons,” said Patricia. “And also with, oh, what-is-his-name, um, Osama. Osama bin Laden.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Even my landlord’s son, his name is Osama,” continued Patricia. “Oh, look at that bird!” she said.


When we stopped at Kitgum Matidi center, there were huge tall trees stretching to the sky outside of the government offices, far taller than African trees usually grow. “When you see trees like that,” said Patricia, “it means that the spot was a governing post for the British colonialists. They chose their spots well,” she mused, “very intelligently. And they always planted huge trees, like this.” Today, there was a bunch of people resting on the roots of the tree, clearly waiting to talk to an official in a suit about being allotted more school materials or drugs for the health center or other basic needs.

One of our colleagues, Lisa, is, like, not speaking to any of the rest of us today. She’s playing the martyr because she wanted to sit shotgun in the car this morning and J insisted that Patricia take the front seat instead. The rest of us were, as always, crammed into the less-than-ideal back, but none of the rest of us was complaining. It’s not really J’s business who sits where, if you ask me, and I think Patricia was just as uncomfortable with the dictum as Lisa was mad – yet, at the same time, I can sort of see J’s point. At 35, he is by far the eldest of our team, and he is attempting to take care of us. Lisa, at 22, is the baby of the group (and she acts it). Patricia had polio (or the like) as a child and has a bad limp now. So. Patricia really SHOULD have the front seat and Lisa really SHOULD just suck it up. And anyway, I really hope this doesn’t affect her work.


In another focus group. The little girl next to me, seated on the ground with the dust and the ants, doesn’t have any toes on her bare right foot. I wonder if she was born without five of her ten toes or if someone cut them off for her. She’s a lovely, tiny thing, who says she is thirteen, but I don’t believe her – I can’t imagine she’s older than ten, and I’d guess she’s about eight. My second night in Kitgum, I met a man who was kidnapped for three days by the LRA and they asked him if he wanted short sleeves or long sleeves. He said long sleeves, so they just gut off his fingers, not his arms.

One of the babies of one of the child mothers in this focus group has the most brilliant, baby-teeth-filled smile.


29- Sept-2008
Mucwini Sub-County, Kitgum District, Uganda

Today we’re in Mucwini sub-county to do four focus group interviews and two key-informant interviews. We chose Mucwini because of the horrible massacre that took place in Pajong, one of the parishes in Mucwini, in 2004 (courtesy, of course, of the LRA). I don’t know any details about the massacre but it was shocking and it stuck in people’s collective memory as a standout point in this 20-some year war.

As I write this, Jimmy & Lisa are conducting an interview in Acholi. Jimmy asks the questions and Lisa transcribes the answers. We are in a little concrete block office with a plastic silver clock on the wall that no longer is ticking. There are flies everywhere: in the air, on me… There are multiple wasp hives hanging from the ceiling. There are wasps buzzing too close to comfort to my head.

In the car on the way here, we were all smushed together. A little ways outside of Kitgum Town Council, Jimmy and Mark, who grew up together, pointed out tall trees that they played beneath as children. Past that, they pointed out the spot where three elderly women were stoned to death by villagers, who thought they were witches. The villagers had called the police on the women, accusing them of killing their neighbors with spells and herbs, but then, as they were being dragged off to jail, a mob had caught up to them, overpowered the police, and murdered the women.

“I watched it happen,” said Jimmy.

“Did you participate?” asked Patricia.

“No, I was just a child,” said Jimmy. “It was way back in 1997 or 1998.”

“I found one of them,” said Mark, “still breathing. They’d just left them there.”

I didn’t ask any more details. I didn’t ask Jimmy or Mark if they’d known the women before. I didn’t ask if the women were mothers, grandmothers, or beloved aunts. Jimmy laughed as he told the story, as if it didn’t matter. But I guess the fact that it happened over a decade ago, and he was still telling the story today, means that it did stick in his mind, that it did matter to him. One thing, though. Jimmy and Mark were not children in 1997. They were 14 or 15 years old.

We’ve heard nothing about the LRA since last week. So. There’s that.

Outside of this concrete square office, some soldiers have gathered. There’s a fancy pump-shotgun leaning against the wall. One of the soldiers keeps picking it up and loading and unloading the chambers. I’m grateful that my dad taught me to go skeet shooting so I am relatively comfortable around guns. It helps. Because there are a lot of them here. I even saw a soldier carrying a grenade launcher the other day.

There’s another soldier out there fondling his billy club like it’s his dick.

From my seat in the office, I can see out the open door, past the soldiers, to the purple mountains of South Sudan. They loom huge against the crystal blue sky. The sorghum is spectacularly green. It hasn’t rained in three days. I really, really want rain. Free water. There’s still no water from the taps.


We’re in our first focus group, now, in Pajong, the site of the massacre. One of the little boys in our group had polio, it looks like. His right foot is twisted around backwards so the toes point behind him. He can still walk. One of our teammates, Patricia, had polio as a child (I think). She limps now. Polio was cured when my mother was in elementary school. She passed out after getting her inoculation. When she blinked his eyes open, she was prone on the floor and Dr. Jonas Salk himself was leaning over her. He smiled and said to a nurse, “She’ll be fine.” Approximately half a century separates the birth of my mother from the birth of this little boy with his foot twisted backwards. What the fuck, governments of the world?!?! You’ve had FIFTY YEARS to disseminate this vaccine. Way to fail.

In these IDP camps, both the girls and the boys, both the women and the men, shave their heads. In town, only the boys and men do. The girls and women get hair extensions.

The children in this group are barely talking. We had a brief conference and decided that we’re not going to ask them anything about the massacre. We don’t want to traumatize these kids further.

I asked Mark more about finding the dying witch, but then we got interrupted.

There is a tiny child in this focus group wearing a stained & ripped up Disney Princess Dress, with gold sequins and gold trimming. It’s some American child’s thrown-away Halloween costume and this little girl’s daily dress. She looks about 8. The princess costume is too large for her.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I got shocked from an electric socket last night. The real surprise is that it’s taken this long. Like in The Gambia, Uganda uses those ridiculous British plugs, where half the time you have to shove a pen into the socket at the same time as the plug to get it to fit. So it’s not a surprise that I got shocked. But still. Ouch. Good news is, we’ve got our electricity back!

Last night was Saturday night. After a day spent in the office (there is so. Much. Work. To be done), I came home and sat in the gloaming with our night guard, Akello Kevin. The sky above us was deep purple and the grass was cool beneath our legs. Akello and I went through my Primary School Acholi Reader, she telling the pronunciation of the words and me echoing her and practicing.

This morning, there isn’t a cloud in the sky today. It’s gorgeous. But I wish it would rain. I want to bathe.

Janet came by with her darling, darling baby Julian (whom I call my nephew) at 8 a.m. and we went to Catholic mass. It was really fantastic. I’m not religious, but I was raised Catholic, so I know all the correct chants, songs, prayers, and responses. They’re the same here as they are in the rest of the world. The incense smells the same. The Bible verses are the same. Today’s gospel was about how actions are more important than words. Today’s homily was about humility. The priest talked about the lack of humility of African leaders like Robert Mugabe who don’t step down when they should. He spoke a little about the war. Julian was such a good baby through out the whole mass, giggling and cooing sometimes, but never crying.

The women in church were wearing their Sunday Best, which often meant African fabrics sewn in African patterns. Usually people here wear Western clothes. There isn’t much visible “culture”. People don’t dance. They don’t play music. They don’t perform plays. They cart their WFP donations for kilometers back to their homes; they sit around; they drink. They worry about how to feed their children tomorrow; they don’t sing. They stumble; of all communities in the entire world, Northern Uganda has the highest proportion per capita of alcohol drunk each year. It was lovely to see people in bright African clothes in church, even if they were praying beneath the giant statue of a crucified (white) Jesus. (That was weird for me: to be the only Caucasian in the packed church other than the statue dripping fake blood from its hands and feet). Before church, admiring the clothes, I asked Janet if the reason people don’t dance traditional dances in Kitgum anymore is because of the war. “Of course,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing ever, which I guess it is. She told me about the traditional dances that she could remember attending as a very young child. Janet is two weeks younger than me. We were barely five years old when the war began.

There are other signs that this is a war-affected society, besides the dearth of culture. There are the children who have found landmines and have lost limbs; but there aren’t many, at least not in town. In town, most of the signs of war are beneath the surface, but like with icebergs (shout out to SITers!), beneath the surface is the largest part. If you see someone who is injured, you don’t help him here. This has happened more than once that I’ve seen. My friend Kristen got thrown from a buda-buda (a motorcycle taxi) and was by the side of the road sobbing – no one stopped to help. That would never have happened anywhere else I’ve ever been (or anywhere else that she’d ever been, which made her cry harder). The security guard at another friend’s office fell and sliced his head opened – no one could be bothered to drive him to the hospital. It’s not that people here aren’t kind; they are sweet, and empathetic. I would diagnose these instances as symptoms of a war-traumatized society. When everyone around you knows children who have been kidnapped and forced to kill, when everybody has lost friends and family to these child warriors, you’re used to blood and sobbing. It fazes you less, and you are able to go on your way, to try and find food to feed your children for another day, without helping the injured on the roadside.

Other items of note:
➢ My friend Patricia has promised to take me to a Mato Oput ceremony. Oh my God. I can’t wait.
➢ I miss searching for sand dollars on the beach, like I did in 2007 in The Gambia, for hours and hours each week.
➢ The kids on my street ran at me calling “Rock-el-ay, Rockelay” last night! Only three or four called me “Muzungo” or “Mwono”! Victory!

Friday, September 26, 2008


My new Acholi words:

....Ngea Rock-el-ay, pey "Mwuna"!

Which means:

....My name is Rachel, not "Hey, White Person"!

I've been saying it to the children in the nearby streets all morning. (They spend all day every day hunting me down and shouting "Mwuna! Mwunabye!") About four (or so) of the children have since said my name (and I've given them big kisses). I will prevail! They will ALL know my name! Eventually!



Not much new has been going on! We lost power through the whole town again, and we haven’t had access to the inter-web in over 48 hours (I’m writing this off-line). We’ve still got no water. But life is lovely.

No water? I don’t have to wait in line at the well for hours; our day security guard does it for us. He fills up our jerry-cans and bikes the heavy load home. No power? I bat my eyes at my bosses and they turn on the generator at work; I charge my laptop and can use it in the evenings at home, by the light of my oil lantern. No internet? Oh please. 95% of the world isn’t addicted to their e-mail like I am.

Look at the way the lighting jags across the entire sky! Hear the thunder rolling off of the mountains of South Sudan! See the rainbow arc through the clouds as the earth prepares for the storm! Life is lovely.

J showed me a new shortcut home last night (from the office to our compound), which he discovered a while ago. (I’d been wondering how J often left for work after me yet arrived at work before me!) It was a great path, through backfields and dirt roads. I got to greet many new toddlers and children.

As we drove past an IDP camp two days ago, Patricia told us a story. There were chronic fires in a couple of the camps several years ago, all beginning on the thatch roofs of the same few people. These people were accused as arsonists and persecuted as witches until the common denominator between them all was discovered: they were all near-sighted. When their eyes got tired, they would lay their glasses on the roofs of their huts, where things are often put to rest. Unfortunately, these lenses would magnify the sunlight into a super-hot pinprick on the dried-grass roofs. In the close proximity of life in the camps, a fire on one roof means a fire on many. Thus, people were sensitized to not rest their reading glasses on roofs anymore, and the persecution, as well as the fires, stopped.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Yesterday was our pre-test of questions. I can talk more about it, but a lot was in Acholi so I am only now getting the complete translations from my lovely & committed teammates. But one thing happened that horrifies me and that can never, never, never happen again, which is that I, as the token white member of the group, was also the one who passed out the candies that we gave to the children as a "Thank you for sitting still in this heat and speaking your mind; it was nice to meet you" treat.

First of all, from now on we will give out soap. I'm the one who chose the candies and apparently I chose all wrong, haha; everyone laughed at me for my choice, my teammates AND the participants.

Secondly -- and this is the real problem with what happened -- I can never, never, never be the only one passing things out. It makes my skin crawl to think of that in light of the historical truths and memories in this section of the world. Me, the visiting white girl, handing out candies to the Africans in the IDP camp. Oh my god. Oh my god.

I talked to my team about that and they of course were sweet and calming and said that I shouldn't blame myself, it just happened like that, we were disorganized is all; also, moreover, it was the pre-test! So we were SUPPOSED to make mistakes, and to see them, recognize them, and change our behaviors accordingly.


As I was walking to market last night to buy a bottle of wine, an Acholi woman walking the other way along the path greeted me by saying "How are you, my daughter?" She was gone as quickly as she came, barely before I could choke out my response, which was "Thank you". I could have cried for love of her, for her kindness.


J (whom I have appreciated much in the last two days) went to a briefing this morning and reports back a rumor that the LRA is traveling back in this direction. WTF. The last news I heard was that Kony is killing people in Sudan and abducting children in the DRC, where he is also, "they" say, elbow-deep in diamond mines. Why would he come back here? He (and others) have decimated this society. What more does he want from here? Really. What more can he gain?

He keeps dragging out the peace talks in a farcical manner, getting more food aid and health aid for each and every week he stalls. Eventually, he'll sign the document; and what will that mean? When he breaks the peace treaty, what will happen to him? He'll get in trouble with the ICC? Oh, wait.... (Been there, done that.)

I guess -- though -- to be positive -- that the continued hope of the peace talks might be that, in a show of good faith, maybe Kony will release some abducted children and child-brides.

Why don't they just kill him? Oh. Right. Military industrialism. And power gained through war.

Monday, September 22, 2008


How foolish, to worry so much about what I’m going to wear. Of course, I was visiting people who never have that luxury, who are wearing Goodwill rejects full of holes, because the economics of the world are so screwed up.

It was fun, though. Everyone was super-welcoming and kind and I got to play with tons of beautiful babies. It was crowded there. I met formerly abducted youths who’d been forced to serve as child-soldiers.

Tonight it rained. When it thunders here, you can watch the licks of lightening from their nativity in the clouds to their touchdown on the earth, because the sky is so large and the horizon so deep.


My favorite new ritual is making tea for Akello Kevin, our night guard. I brew it for her every night, dark and hot, boiling the water first so it’s okay to drink. She likes about four tablespoons of sugar it in. Then I decide on what snack she may want. Some evenings I make her bread with heavily spread peanut butter. One night I gave her potato chips. Tonight I gave her two oranges; one orange was whole in the center of the plate, and the other orange I cut into eighths and lay around the edges. The entire result looked like an orange sunshine! It’s so much fun to have somebody to make tea for.

In return, Akello tirelessly tells me the names of things in Acholi Luo. I love her. She paces our compound all night with a big rifle. She would never, never let anything happen to us. I feel completely safe in her hands.

I’m worrying about what I should wear tomorrow. In Senegal, I was told that one doesn’t wear clothes to express oneself; one wears clothes to express one’s respect (or lack thereof) for the company one is in. So I think I should attempt to dress myself well tomorrow, since it will be my first day ever at an IDP camp and I want to show respect. I think I’ll wear my old, but lovely, aqua-green long skirt with black patterned flowers and small gold sequins around the bottom. And maybe a polo shirt. Maybe I’ll wear my old Tostan-The Gambia polo shirt, to give me courage! Or a nice, light blouse.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


As of tonight, I will have been in Uganda for ten days, and there are 89 days till I go home. It's such a short, short, short time that I have here! It's crazy...

We no longer have an indoor toilet. Because we haven’t had running water in five days or so, we can’t use the indoor toilet anymore. There’s a concrete hole in the backyard, though, that we can share. We have to go collect our water from the “Bore Hole” which I assume is a community-wide well? I’m not sure; I’ve never been there. Kristen and I are going to go there today, though, because we’re completely out of water. Once we get water, we’ll be able to shower and wash the dishes and wash some of our clothes, maybe. And we can boil some of it to drink, too. But we still won’t be able to use the indoor toilet, because that just takes too much water. When I stayed at my friend Ava’s house in a village in Eastern Gambia, we didn’t even have a concrete hole. That was rough. The concrete hole is fine.

Oh dear. The local bore hole is "broken" (I'm not sure how?) but luckily it poured this afternoon, so we put basins outside and now have plenty of water! Yay!

19-sep-08 part 2

Oh my. We had a pre-pre-test of our research questions today with two groups of local children. Upon meeting them, J freaked out. “They have nothing,” he said. He convinced [the group] to give them 2,000 shillings each (1.50 USD) as an allowance. Of course, [the group] hadn’t planned for this, but they were sort of bullied into it. Anyway, the children were told about the money before everyone was consulted, and so A had to pulled me aside and borrow money, because there wasn’t enough in petty-cash. Do the children now think we called them to come, not so that we could listen to their ideas, opinions, and experiences, but because we felt sorry for them and wanted to give them $1.50? What happens the next time these kids come to the NGO for counseling, or games, or another research team – and there’s no money?

When I first moved to Senegal, I would carry candies around to give to the child-beggars on the street. But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t want to add anymore to any power imbalance. Now I shake the hand of any child who comes up to me, and if s/he seems to need more attention I’ll give her a kiss on her hand or her head. I’ll practice my Acholi and let her practice her English. I’ll wipe her nose if it’s snotty. If I’m walking down the street and a child says “Buy me a candy!” I’ll stop and say, “No, no, you buy me a candy!” and then we’ll laugh, and shake hands, and move on. This is why, this is what I think: Laughter’s better than candy. I try to stop and talk to any child who stops to talk to me. Because I want children to think that they are worth talking to and listening to. So they grow up confident and strong. I don’t want to toss a few coins at them (degrading, dehumanizing) and pretend that that’s enough.

On Monday afternoon we’re going to an IDP camp.

Friday, September 19, 2008


My Northern Ugandan bosses and colleagues here are so wonderful. I have great respect for them. They are smart and committed and I want to gather them together and give them flowers and big hugs and stuff like that. I appreciate them so much. They save our project on a day-to-day basis by telling us, not only about correct cultural etiquette, but also their own ideas as to what our research should be based around. They are all, all, all brilliant. How were we so lucky to find them?

I don’t feel well at all today. Not for any parasitic reasons (knock on wood) but because I’m female and the moon has run its 28-day course. Headache! Inability to concentrate! Tiredness! Oooh.


 Q: Eee-chee-oh!
 A: Aaa-chee-oh, ma bear!
That means Good Morning in Acholi. Or, really, it means: “So you have woken up?” “Yes, I woke up well!” I said it to everybody on my walk to work this morning. Most people laughed at me. Or, as I prefer to think, laughed WITH me. Either way, it’s fun to make people laugh. It was so misty this morning that it was almost raining.

We have power back! Kristen says that if we have power, water can’t be far behind! Last night I went out with Kristen (Bostonian housemate) and Oscar (Kenyan housemate) and ate Acholi bread with sugar and avocado (no, that’s not normal here, either). It was delicious. We met two Ugandan friends, Bill and Jeff, and had fun running around Kitgum Town Council at night! And then Jeff started hitting on me, which I hate. Because I don’t need a boyfriend, I need friends. As of last night, I had been in Uganda exactly one week. As of tonight, I will have been in Kitgum for one week. It is friends that I need to be cultivating now, not make-out partners. Stupid sexist men. So after Jeff started hitting on me, I had Oscar call one of his buddies who is a Buda-Buda driver (a bike or motorcycle taxi driver). I took the Buda-Buda home, balancing side-saddle on the back of the motorcycle, bouncing down the bumpy dirt roads, beneath a huge orange moon.

Now I am thinking about writing a series of individual case studies on at-risk children for my thesis? One of my colleagues, P, says she thinks that would be valuable to the children. But what I really want to do is, I really want to write about military industrialism. But.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Okay, um, J is like, having a breakdown. I’m not sure what to do about it. He’s not eating, his voice is rough like with tears, and he keeps saying that he’s not sure he can live without running water.
Difficulties are relative. There are things that I have trouble with that other people have no trouble what-so-ever with. And so I’m trying not to judge him too harshly for this. But my god, we are living in such comparative luxury! We have space! Our own beds! Our own bedrooms! A kitchen with a gas burner! (Eventually, we will have a STOVE.) Mosquito nets. Security guards. People who are looking out for us. I feel really safe and secure here. I wish I could somehow pass some of my feeling of safety onto him.

16 Sep 08

Right now I’m in the office waiting for the others to arrive. There’s been a whirl of activity. We’ve moved into our new house. I love my room. There isn’t any electricity or water in town. I still don’t have a phone. I’m going to run out of computer battery soon, and I’m going to have to beg the office to turn on the generator. I hope there’s enough fuel. There is another American girl living in our house, one Kenyan man, one Ugandan man, J, and me. The other American girl is 33 years old and was living in Kenya this winter when the riots broke out. She heard machine gun fire each night as she fell asleep, but she didn’t want to leave, even though she could have been evacuated to Tanzania on a special plane for those holding American passports. So she didn’t leave. She talked to me a lot last night; I think I’m the first Westerner she’s seen in a while. Somebody’s looking for Nescafe for our kitchen. I need my Nescafe. Some things are really frustrating here.

Our team had a great day today, and got so much accomplished.

It’s raining now, and cold. I put a basin outside to catch up the water in (so I can wash my hair later), and took a hot tea to Kevin, our (female) night security guard. She walks around our compound with a big shotgun. I like her. She’s cool.

I thought of two things I would like to write my graduate thesis on. One is [redacted], but my Ugandan friends say that I cannot write about that because [redacted]. The other is the Karamojong conflict. Ho-hum, we shall see.

Even Later

In some ways it can be a problem living with other people! I spent all night talking about everything with my Kenyan housemate and my Bostonian housemate. They are so interesting. Now there is no more time to get work accomplished tonight, though!

J showered with STORE-BOUGHT DRINKING WATER today. SERIOUSLY. He stood outside and poured it over himself and scrubbed. Because he didn’t know how else to bathe. Oh my god. He’s having a REALLY hard time adjusting to the inconveniences of life here. He barely ate all day, and once he decided to cook his own food, he was too afraid to enter into the vegetable market to buy onions. It was muddy and crowded. He was also afraid to eat bananas that he bought off of the street, because “Sometimes fruits are unsafe”. He asked me if he should wash them before he ate them. BANANAS. Bananas, which you peel yourself! Oh my god. The poor kid. I wish I knew how to help him adjust. We aren’t telling him some things; like, that last year at this time, both the electricity and the water stayed off in Kitgum Town Council for a month; and, that fuel for our stove may take months to get here, because Kampala is not shipping gas to the North (no reason, just because). (Oh, yeah, Kampala REALLY cares about the North.)


I am just. One. Big. Itchy. Mosquito bite.

I went for a wander-around-town today, got totally lost, got myself shoes (handmade, just for me, from recycled tires), got caught in the pouring rain, and had an all-around lovely time.

It started to rain just as I left the Internet café to look for the Kitgum Youth Center. I kept looking. But then it started to pour. I ran underneath a nearby awning. The two men & one woman there were very welcoming and gave me a chair to sit on. I think it was the porch to a pharmacy; the people were clearly educated, and through the window of the building, I saw a man staring into a microscope.

The woman saw my new shoes and laughed. She told a story – once, she was on a bus, and armed bandits stopped the bus and – took the tires. They just wanted the tires, which were new, to make shoes. The woman said: “It’s better to drive around with dirty tires, so the bandits don’t take them! Never clean your tires!” There was a pause. The woman stopped laughing. She shook her head. “I admire their solidarity,” she mused. I didn’t ask, and I still have no idea who she was talking about. The bandits? The shoemakers? The bus drivers?

Kitgum is spectacularly beautiful, even in the pouring rain.

J and I are affable again. It happened the way it always happens with us, by which I mean, nothing happened. I came home today after making friends and having adventures, and J & I talked about how beautiful the sunset was. That’s all.

J, my friend. How difficult we can make our lives.

The power is out and the generator isn’t running. It’s wicked dark in here. All I’ve got is the glow of the computer screen. I KNEW I should have bought myself that oil lamp the other day. I knew it, I knew it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


This morning I made myself two Nescafe espressos with Lido in my Steripen water bottle. They were delicious! I had a granola bar for breakfast. I need to start rationing them or I’ll run out of them in a week. Tomorrow, I think we get to move out of the motel into our new home, so we’ll get a little gas cooker and I can make myself food.

I'm indulging myself, by coming here to the internet cafe for the 2nd time in two days, and by buying myself 5 liters of bottled water instead of sterilizing my own. But it's only my 3rd day in Kitgum! Starting next week, no more pampering of myself. I'll have my own room in my own home and will get seriously to work!

13-Sep-08 continued


Okay. I’ve calmed down a bit about the “J” issue. Partly, because today was a really great day. Our professor who is guiding our research is really smart and so knowledgeable. The other students seem okay. I’m excited to get to know them better.

And this is why I think J is making those comments about women and distancing himself from me: (And this is just what I think. I may not be right. I don’t know. But--) I think he’s having a hard time finding his place here, too. He was mistaken for a black American man by one of our colleagues and I think that really upset him. He’s trying to make sure he’s defined in peoples' minds as an African man and not as an American, like me. So he’s trying to distance himself from me. That’s what I think is going on. But what do I know?

I’m sure I’m not showing the best side of myself, either, because I’m shy & nervous about rediscovering a sense of equilibrium and I really want people to like & respect me and not hurt me.

It wasn’t nice of me to stomp into my room two nights ago, and it wasn’t nice of J to leave without me in the morning, so maybe we’re even.


Stupid idiot J didn’t knock on my door this morning before he left for the office. Which is really crazy. Because it’s only our 2nd day here. And the office is far away; like, a half-an-hour walk at least. So he walked there all alone. And left me here all alone. When I woke up, I looked for him. And then I asked the “front desk” (it’s not really a front desk, but it’s the same idea). When I finally got to the office, everyone was really worried that I’d gotten lost. So I felt like an idiot. J was already there and didn’t even glance up. Well. So much for him “having my back”. He doesn’t. Which is a shame.


When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know where I was. Or what country I was in. The USA? France? The Gambia? Uganda?

The water from my hotel has little things floating in it. Well, I mean, I assume they were floating in it last night when I drank it. This morning, they’d settled to the bottom. Ugh. At least I know that none of the little specks had DNA. I killed all that with UV rays last night.

The view from our hotel – on the top of a hill – is beautiful. Green, rolling hills. J says it reminds him of Vermont! It’s so lovely here. Wide blue skies. Fluffy marshmallow clouds. It’s hard to imagine war.

At the office, I felt like the new kid during my first day at a strange school. I had toast with butter and sugar for breakfast, bread sprinkled with sugar for mid-morning snack, Acholi bread (which is delish, like na’an) with sugar for lunch, and semi-sweet French chocolate, a granola bar, and multi-vitamin Emergen-C drink for dinner. Also, a banana.

I didn’t pull down my mosquito net last night because of the heat. I got bit half to death.

J’s chosen way of bonding with our new male colleagues is by making terrible masochistic-pig jokes. I’d copy some of them down here, but it makes my want to puke. It made me stomp into my motel room tonight without saying “Good Night” to him.

11-Sep-08 (I forgot all day that it was 9/11)

Kampala, Uganda. 7 a.m. Driving to Kitgum.

It’s way hillier here than in The Gambia. (It’s like Pennsylvania!) There’s the same plastic Chinese import crap everywhere. There are way more guns everywhere, and more people dressed in “Western” clothes. Cows have ridiculously long horns! Like, three feet long! Babies are everywhere. People drive on the left side of the road! It’s lush and verdant. The bananas that I had for breakfast were small and really sweet and delicious.

When we crossed the Nile, the border into the North, T (who’s driving us) said that, “Before, you needed an escort to drive past here – but it’s over a year now that it’s safe”. He says that the rebels got a lot of their funding from The Sudan and Somalia, and that the rebels used to be everywhere.

It’s illegal to photograph the bridge across The Nile. Used to be, this was because of safety issues, so that the rebels couldn’t blow it up or something. Now, it’s still illegal, but there’s no sign up. So the cops wait till the tourists stop and photograph the bridge, and then they get bribes. Government soldiers benefited from the war, too. From the allocation of funds.

We passed one village where the whole population seemed to be waiting out on the street, and a “Wildlife Authority” truck was parked nearby. T said that their may have been a lion spotted or something.

T says that “Culturally, in the North, the girls and women do all the work and the men just sit around and drink”. J’s response to that: “I should move here, then!”

My new Acholi words:
· Co-pang-oh: How are you?
· Co-pay: I’m okay!

I keep spying all these little faces through the windows of this van. Are they “children” or are they “War-Affected Children”?

We’ve passed a few IDP camps. I’ve used my first pit latrine of the trip. It’s funny how words like “Claustrophobia” pop into my head here with the same frequency as words like “Savannah” and “Vista”. There’s no in between, though.

10-Sep-08 continued

Later in the Flight

We’ve crossed through Italian and Libyan airspace and are now over The Sudan. I can see the sun setting over the Darfur Mountains. They (KLM) brought us coffee with Bailey’s in it, and ice-cream. I’ve watched Iron Man and episodes of 30 Rock on our personal TVs. And I’m in the back of the bus! Oh my god, KLM rocks, man.

Alright, and now we’ve made it into Ugandan airspace. The pilot (Captain Bleak) made an announcement to say that it’s illegal to take photos of the Entebbe airport, which is sad, because one of my rituals upon landing is to take that first step out onto the tarmac, breath in the new-country air, and take a photos of the “Welcome to Where-ever” sign. 19 minutes remaining in our flight time. I hope that somebody will be there to recognize and greet me at the airport.

Landed. First step off airplane. Air smells heavenly, heavily of incense.


Seeing all the perfumes around the duty free shops made me nostalgic for University and my days of wearing Stila Crème Blossom and Chanel Chance. Mosquitoes love flowery scents. Instead of shopping, I entertained myself around CDG by collecting fashion magazines that other travelers had left behind. I can give them to whatever tailors I may befriend in Kitgum.
It was nice to hear all the American accents around CDG. I don’t know when the next time I’ll hear American accents will be. Siiiiiiigh. (I’m nervous.)

KLM names its airplanes after famous authors. The one that transported me from Paris to Amsterdam was named Ernest Hemingway. I’m on the airplane to Entebbe now. It’s an AirBus 330. I didn’t see its name. It began boarding in Amsterdam at 9:55 a.m. My flight from CDG didn’t land until 10:15 a.m. It was a race to get here. But! Now I don’t have a seat mate! Life is good.

Wheee! I just realized that there are exactly 10 months until my 28th birthday!

Huh. The pilot says that we have a “slight technical problem”. He says that we must start one of the engines while we are still at the gate. To make sure that it works. Humph. Maybe the missionaries on this flight (there’s a few – I hear them talking) will pray it all better.

The pilot’s just told us that the flight time will be approximately 7 hours and 40 minutes. I suppose that means that the engine started okay?

Whoops! I spoke too soon. The first test run of the engine was “unsatisfactory”, says the pilot. But “the idea is that the problem will settle itself if we have a second test run”. Um… hmm. Uh-oh. The pilot’s gonna get back to us about it. Oh. By the way. The pilot’s name is “Captain Bleak”. No joke.

Apparently the engine was (and this is a direct quote from a flight attendant) “dripping oil or something”. But. Apparently we’re leaving now, anyway. So saith Captain Bleak.


Elizabeth says they slaughtered over 200 chickens (and 22 rabbits) this morning.
This is what I said to that: “You’re telling me that there are now over 200 lost little chicken souls scampering around our feet?”
This is what Elizabeth responded: “That must be why it’s raining.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

9 Settembre 2008

I smell like blood from the slaughter house.

I took all of these beautiful photos of the slaughter this morning, but I don't think I should put them online for all my friends to see. It might destory my image as an 'innocente' just a little bit. They're pretty gruesome. But they're gorgeous, too.

I spent a while speaking to some clients (in French!) while they waited for their chickens to be killed and their bunnies cleaned. They avowed their support of Obama and then asked me if I was married. Then, with a wrinkle of their noses, they cautioned me against [redacted].

Monday, September 8, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

8 September

My nerves are fraying.

I'm afraid of:
  • Hepititis
  • Landmines
  • Kids with guns
  • Joseph Kony
  • Etc.
My baby cousins have about a dozen toy guns.

"Pew! Pew pew!" they say.

Why is war such a tempting game? But that's a naive question to which I know the answer. Power. And feeling alive in the face of death. And feeling like a controller of death. And other reasons that I don't know.

I stole a stubbed-out cigarette from G's ashtray. It's got remnants of her lipstick and, I assume, caught in the filter, her spit & DNA. I did this because [redacted].

G's so impressive. She's raised four lovely, strong boys; she runs the whole, huge farm.

Earlier, perhaps intuiting the slight fraying of my nerves, Elizabeth offered me the hacked-off foot of a rabbit for good luck.

"Oh," I said. "No, thank you."

There are a bunch of bunnies in tiny crates behind the slaughter house awaiting their innevitable demise. Their fur is soft. I toyed with the idea of letting them free ("Run, little bunnies! Scatter & prosper!") and I thought of the book WATERSHIP DOWN. But of course I won't.

We had a really fun dinner tonight. Before dinner, Nico took me out to drive the tracteur. So cool! He's amazing at manouvering that thing. It's crazy that I'm legally allowed to drive cars and he's not.

We all teased and played at dinner. The boys grabbed my eau chaud and stuck ice-cubes into it. We chatted and laughed and it was lovely. I love them so much my heart hurts. I love them!

Giz is outside right now chosing which chickens will live & which will die in the morning slaughter.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

7th September 2008

As I've said before, my cousin, in what is (to me) an astonishing act of [redacted]; and so I must remember to [redacted]. [Okay -- I know it may be strange for me to include segments from these redacted sections of my diary, but here is why I'm doing it: They're my secrets, my hidden cards, my laundry, so I'm not going to expose them -- BUT aren't everybody's secrets more or less the same? Where ever I've redacted one of my secrets, you should be able to fill in your own hidden thoughts and/or memories and keep reading smoothly.]

We're heading to a farm festival today. Racing harvesters! & mud! & tractors!

The harvester race was awesome. Harvesters are the size of small houses. They are bigger than West African huts. It was HILARIOUS to see them race. (Although all the smog i saw produced today probably sped up global warming by a good decade or so.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

6th -- Pissy-Poville/Rouen

Edouard & Jean cuddled up together watching Saturday morning Tom&Jerry --

I met my old friend Gwen in Rouen today for lunch. Gwen's mum lives in Portugal now & she & Gwen are road-tripping it up to the Netherlands to buy special fertilizers and seeds for her organic gardens, so they stopped off to see me. What perfect timing!

I hadn't seen Gwen in 2 years. She was in London when I was in The Gambia, in Liberia when I was in Vermont, & she's been in Portugal this summer since I've been in DC. We had a great time catching up, discussing West Africa as experienced by white girls, talking American politics and world economics. (We didn't quite have time to make it to the subject of boys, which is a pity!) We laughed about old times in DC. Some of my most relaxing memories are from when Gwen & I inhabited our old 'flat' (as Gwen says) at 5th & U NW. I'd come home from work as she was preparing for work, and we'd drink wine and watch Ali G or play Katamari on her PlayStation.

Gwen worked as a bouncer some nights at the Velvet Lounge. I'd join her for a few hours some nights to keep her comfortable &, just to mess with her, would show up wearing frilly pink skirts and lacy shirts. It's fun to be a bouncer in pink.

I got charged 51€ for something that in the States would have been $15. Merde. & I froze up and just paid it without question or protest. I can blame it on my nerves surrounding my upcoming voyqge, but I need to get tougher. And fast.

I'm sitting at a cafe now & they've just brought me a decaf cap absolutely COVERED in whipped creme.... I'm exhasted. Gwen, Gwen's mum, and I downed a bottle of wine at lunch (as well as a pizza each!)

Here in Rouen, the streets are cobbled and crowded. The houses are wooden & worn, with flower boxes at every window. The cathedrals are grand; one is still covered in pock-marks from WWII shelling.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

5th September 2008

Spent last night hanging out with the little ones. Well -- Lulu's 16, but -- he'll always be 'little' to me, just as I am, I suppose, 'little' to Giz. Lucien's a cutie. Very sweet, very grown up, he cooked dinner for his small brothers and got them into bed.

Lulu & I discussed [redacted]. It was the first time he's been old enough to talk about that family drama with me. It was nice.

The boys climb all over me. Nico showed a special interest in all of my beaded Gambian bracelets, which made me really nervous, because [redacted]. It made it into a kind of a dance. He kept counting them (the bracelets) in French, and up to 10 in English.

I stayed awake way too long last night reading THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT. It's a hardback, and I'm trying to leave as many of those behind as I can. I've already unloaded many books, while still in DC. I couldn't even make it one block from my home towards the metro with them. When I stopped at the first cross-walk, my bags full of books didn't stop with me. They kept going. I ended up doing a front flip onto one of my suitcases. People stopped to help me. I burst into tears and hailed a cab.

[Long redacted section]. In conclusion, there are ways of making things invisible if you just don't acknowledge them. But it doesn't work forever. Look at Elizabeth's mother, my aunt Connie, and her cough.

Ha!!! I probably embarrised poor shy Lulu tonight photographing him as he played field hockey on the men's team of Rouen. But I don't apoligize. He's really good. And he's my little cousin. He's cute.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

Dunno what the date is -- the 4th? September? I guess? At Pissy-Poville.

I slept 15 hrs last night & I'm still tired. If there was a sleeping event in the Olympics, I'd take gold. I slept on the airplanes. I even slept on the train to Rouen. It's just total chance that I woke up as we were pulling into the station.

"Ou est?" I asked.

Lucky I asked.

I finished the book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. It was great.

The boys are at school and Elizabeth and Arnold are looking to buy a new chicken de-featherer in Central France, so I'm alone on the farm today!

Drove Giz's car to Carrefor on the way to pick up les garçons from ecole. Had forgotten a bit how to drive a stick shift, but muscle memory returned quick enough.

Carrefor inside a big mall. Entered Sephora. Sephora calms me. Is the same the world over and is more pleasant than McDonald's.

I seem to be way shyer about speaking French than I've EVER been before. I bought myself socks and stud earrings (2 things I forgot to pack) & a sweater (it's COLD here!!!) & when I asked the cashier "Quel heur et il?" my knees went weak. I had to repeat myself a second time so that she could hear me.

That said, since everybody was out this afternoon, I did have to sell some chickens tout seule, & I had a long chat with the buyer in French about the merits of Obama in the upcoming US elections.... (Then he offered to sleep with me. SIGH.)

(At least it was all in French.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

3rd. 6 am -ish. (Paris time.)

Slept most of the way. Landed at CDG. Sun still not up.

9:30 am. Gare St. Lazare.

Missed my train to Rouen. By about 2 seconds. Litterally. I watched it...--

Sitting on bags on station floor. Drenched in sweat and freezing cold. Contemplating Judeo-Christian theory of body/soul seperation. My body does not feel very seperated from my soul at the moment. All I feel like is jello, a tired, tired mass of jello.

To Pissy-Poville. With the cousins and the chickens.

Hung out in the slaughter house. Got a lesson in chicken anatomy from Giz as we verbally dissected familial dramas. Helped Jean feed the chicks. Chirp chirp.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Excerpts from My Diary & E-mails, Pissy-Poville, France

2nd September 2008

The taxi driver who drove me to the airport asked me how long i'd been in DC.

"3 months," i said.
"so where's your home, then?" he said.
"...," I said. "DC, I guess."

My taxi driver also [redacted].

Late Afternoon, Minneapolis Airport

I had a caramel apple with chopped pecans & a small bag of cheez-its for dinner.

Mmm... yum.

This is what annoys me: People who stand still on moving walkways & on escalators.

This is what I read on my flight to the twin cities: BORN STANDING UP by Steve Martin. It was great.

On the Flight to France

The fat-free airplane brownie they gave me tasted like cigarettes.

My flight route is so funny. DC-Minniapolis-Paris-Amsterdam-Kampala. Zig-zag. Zig-zag. Zig-zagging across the ocean!

I don't suppose they sell [redacted] in the Amsterdam airport, do they?

Friday, August 29, 2008


The clock is ticking down very, very quickly. I still have a lot to do.
  1. Find a duffel bag to pack my stuff in (erm... yeah... that's a little bit vitally important)
  2. Figure out medical insurance junk
  3. Buy film & AA batteries
  4. Get myself an absentee ballet for the voting in November
  5. Visit my bank and let them know that ATM action in Kitgum is a-ok
  6. Say goodbye to all of my friends
  7. Pack
  8. Pack
  9. Pack, pack, pack
I've started having nightmares about packing. In one, I packed five or six of my old favorite stuffed animals and no water purification devices. (There's a pretty bad Hep-E outbreak in Kitgum at the moment).

On the sunny side of things, my Mauritanian colleague finally got his passport AND managed to run to the Ugandan embassy & get himself a visa -- so we're all set on that front.

The photo is a view from my DC Summer bedroom window.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

T minus Seven Days

Oh my gosh. Seven days???!!!

I have so. Much. To. Do.

In the meantime, this weekend, I organized (with quite a bit of help) a birthday party AND a bachelorette party. And BOTH were successful. Hurrah!


Oh god, now where the hell have I stashed my passport this time???

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

City Girl

I'd forgotten how fun it is to be a young woman living in the city. There's cocktails and friends and diversity and dates and museums and politics and outdoor movies and jazz in the sculpture garden for free.

Small town USA does not do it for me.

The only small town I've lived in and really loved is Basse Santa Su, but hey, it's a market town, so people are always coming and going -- Banjul always felt small after the wonders of Basse.

Here in DC, there's loud music and dinner parties and new friends and laughter and camaraderie and neon lights and grassy knolls and I am so much happier than in Vermont.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yesterday the world got up on the wrong side of the bed.

...Our computers kept crashing.

...The government of my colleagues' homeland was overthrown in a coup.

...My friend received a letter from grad school debt collectors.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Coups & Bueracracy

Well. I went on CNN this morning and saw a headline reading "Coup d'Etat in [my colleague's home country]". So I said, "Hey, check this out" and he said "Whaaa...?" and long story short there was a coup in his country.

This is my one&only colleague who will be in Kitgum with me. Assuming his country manages to issue him a passport. They've been "working on it" for two months now. And now there was a coup. So there's no official government. I wonder if this will break the red tape holding up his passport, or if it will solidify it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I took the bus North yesterday...

and picked up my visa from the Ugandan Embassy!

And then I took the bus South and continued my correspondence and studies to prepare me for my trip.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

On the bus today, I muuuused about how I...

... love the anonymity of this mid-sized city. I didn't know anyone on the bus & they didn't know me. But we're all DCers and so respectful enough of one another. There were a bunch of children giggling and laughing and guffawing as their caretaker tickled them in the rear of the bus. I should have taped the sound of the laughters & stuck it on my iPod or something. It was terrific.

... remember tape decks & travelers' checks & other long-gone things that used to be absolutely de rigueur to pack for trips across the ocean.

... really really really dislike my new visa photos.

I was on the bus returning from the Ugandan Embassy. I get to pick up my passport next Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I sleep deeply when I'm tired.

Tonight I fell asleep beneath the flicker of a gigantic outdoor movie screen and the flicker of the stars... beneath the watchful gaze of Cary Grant... on the National Mall, in front of the Capital (Capitol?) Building in Washington, DC.... So romantic, huh? Luckily, two of my friends were with me and able to wake me up once Arsenic & Old Lace was ended, 'else I probably would have been trampled by the masses pouring out into the city and down into the metro at midnight....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plane Rides

I'll be leaving DC on the 2nd of September, spending a week in Normandy visiting my cousins, and flying onto Kampala via Amsterdam on the 10th (which is also my 27-years-two-months birthday).

And that's the plan.

Tomorrow: Going in the morning to the Ugandan Embassy to apply for a business visa.