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 clich├ęs 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.