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.

No comments: