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!

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