Sunday, October 5, 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.