Northern Uganda

This started as the on-line journal of Africa Anonymous while she was an Graduate Fellow researching and working in Northern Uganda. You gotta be good. You gotta be strong. You gotta be 2,000 places at once.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Ugandan Personals

Thanks to the overwhelming number of you who thought of me on Thanksgiving. I was certainly feeling the long-distance love as my email was overflowing. I did indeed do my pre-Thanksgiving curry with my British friend and enjoyed the meatless chicken for Thanksgiving Day (many of you have inquired what I mean by meatless chicken and I literally mean that the chicken lacks meat, it’s just skin and bones).

Today’s paper had a particularly eye-catching spread for the personal ads and I thought it would be interesting to share a few. Some say quite a bit about the state of social affairs in Uganda, especially with regard regionalism/ethnicity and the incidence of HIV/AIDS:

I am 31, HIV positive and not yet on ARV’s. I am looking for a nice working lady of same status, who is ready to stay with me. She should be age between 23-32.

I am 32 and would like to get in touch with a single Ugandan male for a serious and mature relationship. I am a university graduate with one child. I would prefer a person from either central or western Uganda and educated at least up to university level. He should be ready to have an HIV test.

I am 28 and a single mother of one. I am HIV positive and I need a man to marry me. He should be of similar status, born again Christian or Catholic aged between 28-40, educated.

I am in need of a sponsor to help me get my diploma in law. Both men and women of goodwill are welcome. For women who may need to help me at the same time need to be loved, they are welcome because I am still single and searching.

I am 30 and HIV positive. I would like to get in touch with a sugar mummy for a serious relationship. It should be secretive.

I am 28, unemployed, looking for a financially stable sugar mummy who is sexually starved. [THIS GUY IS A REAL CATCH]

I am 35 and HIV positive searching for any serious soulmate of similar status who should be working, understanding and a good Christian ready for long-term relationship leading to marriage. Most preferably a Westerner, Rwandese, or Muganda aged around 28.

I am 29, born again and looking for a short, brown and beautiful Munyankole lady…

I am again back in Kampala so that I can catch a bus to Kigali on Monday (also good timing, as I was much too frustrated with work in Gulu this week). It’s been almost a year since I left Rwanda and I can’t believe I am finally going to return. It is an interesting time for me to go, as Rwanda is once again in the news – today’s paper reported their intention to once again attack former genocidaires in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and accusations by the Ugandan government that the Rwandans are supporting Museveni opposition in western Uganda. I will be there on World AIDS Day, so I hope I will be able to partake in whatever events are planned. I have also been attempting to get some more pictures flowing, but I have yet to find an internet cafe in Kampala for my camera, so hopefully soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Kicking it in Kampala

I have really got this Kampala gig down: sun, lattes, Indian food, gym, pool…I am refining my routine the more I travel down south. This weekend I discovered a local bar that shakes up margaritas – but nothing compared with what Mom Fish can brew up in her Boulder kitchen. As my mother’s daughter, I had to send back the bartender’s first attempt and kindly request to increase the tequila. And finally, I have found true chicken vindaloo at a posh Indian restaurant that a friend introduced me to. You would think that would be enough for me, but it gets better. Steffi, the German woman nice enough to allow me to crash with her, has her very own pool. Not only that, but her house is on Makindye Hill, with beautiful views of Lake Victoria on one side and downtown Kampala on the other. Need I say more?

So the weekend has been incredibly relaxing and I got a taste of the Kampala nightlife - no knees flying out the sockets, so a success! This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6 to catch the post bus back to Gulu – I can’t reiterate enough how much I hate travel in Uganda. It is exhausting, frustrating, and incredibly turbulent. I do have to admit that I miss Gulu when I am gone, especially since I am feeling out of the loop with all of the latest ceasefire/peace developments. Betty Bigombe is still engaged with the top LRA commanders, and it appears that Kony is requesting that the ceasefire be extended from 7 to 100 days. There have still been attacks and abductions by the LRA (one incident took place just south of Gulu on the road to Kampala), but both sides seem to be moving forward with the ceasefire. I must get back to the Acholi Inn to do some reconnaissance.

What else? I have been asked to be among a team of four facilitators for a reconciliation conference between the government and stakeholders in December. I feel a bit out of league with my colleagues, especially as the only mzungu (and a blonde, 25 year old one at that), but I think it will be a great experience. If everything goes according to plan, and I can manage to avoid parasites, giardia, and other nuisances, I shall head to Rwanda on the bus for a few days next week and ideally join my old colleagues at the Kigali AIDS Commission for World AIDS Day. I was yet again reminded last week of how intimately intertwined Uganda and Rwanda are. A friend of mine in the Ugandan army was relaying to me how he joined Museveni’s rebel movement in the 80s as a child (he refused to tell me exactly how old he was, but probably not older than 10 is my guess) to oust the Obote II regime. Many Rwandans living as refugees in Uganda supported Museveni and fought alongside him. After Museveni succeeded, he provided support to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which launched its invasion into Rwanda from Uganda on October 1, 1990. My friend also fought with the RPF for four years until they reached Kigali. Then as war descended in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), this friend again took up arms on behalf of the Ugandan army, and now he is stationed in Northern Uganda. That’s a whole lotta war.

I am trying not to think about the fact that I will be missing Turkey Day for the second year in a row. I heard that the US Ambassador does a big dinner at his residence, but that doesn’t do much for me in Gulu. I don’t know any other Americans in Gulu, so I will to go it alone. Last year I had a nice tilapia fillet in Kigali, but this year I will have to settle for the Gulu specialty: meatless chicken. Yes folks, the chickens are hungry too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It all goes down at the Acholi Inn

Gulu is buzzing this week, with a ceasefire called by the government and rumors of impending peace talks between the government and the LRA to be held in Canada, Norway, or some other peace-loving country. The most posh hotel (by Gulu standards), the Acholi Inn, appears to be where both decisions and rumors are made between personnel of the United Nations, diplomats, civil servants, and other interested parties. Last night, as I was sitting with colleagues/friends who are working on the conflict, we watched as various individuals moved among the groups, whispering, pointing, receiving cell phone calls...I was almost starstruck when I was informed that even Betty Bigombe was in the mix. Bigombe is THE only individual who has had any success in negotiating for peace between the government and the LRA. She maintains the trust of both sides and moves fluidly from the State House to the bush. She was almost successful in the early 1990s but was undermined by the government and the war intensified with impunity. Bigombe is now a consultant in DC, but she is back here to hopefully play the critical role that only she can.

I am personally not so optimistic, as I cannot pinpoint motivations on either side for ending a conflict that is so clearly beneficial to both sides. I will try to give a better update as events unfold.

Otherwise, I shall be heading to Kampala on Friday to stay with my friend Steffi who has a nice little pool. I am sorry if I appear to have a superficial fixation on pools, but it is officially dry season and is hotter than hell!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

“Save Us the Hosehold Chores”

This was the title of an article published Saturday in The Monitor, the local, so-called independent Ugandan newspaper – and yes, the spellchecker must be the same used by the Daily Camera of Boulder. This article appeared as a part of a regular series on the battle of the sexes, a battle that may be on the backburner for you back home, but that is still quite controversial here in Uganda. In Gulu, in particular, I am regularly breaking the rules of female conduct, wearing jeans (associated with prostitutes in Kampala), riding on boda bodas without going sidesaddle, and enjoying a beer at the local cafes. Really, you almost never see Gulu women at a restaurant or bar at night, but men gather regularly. I am told that if a woman went and had tea with her friends at night that it would reflect poorly on the husband, as though he had lost control over his loose wife.

So let me give you a taste of what the writer of the “hosehold” had to say:
These days, men live in virtual fear because feminists are essentially eroding all that used to make a man feel like a man. The fires of women emancipation and feminism are burning far and wide and the resultant independent woman syndrome is wrecking havoc, breaking apart all that men stood for. The latest offensive by the women is the home. They are now demanding that men should partake of the daily household chores like preparing dinner, bathing the children, doing the dishes and laundry blah, blah. The women argue that since we all work we should share in the household chores…women should know that gender complementing and not equality is the in thing. Ladies should know that after the man has been up all day earning the bread and ensuring that there is shelter over the family’s heads, he should not come back home to do the dishes. I should be freed to watch CNN’s Business International…I must come home to a warm meal and not cold shoulder. For order to prevail there must be the leader and the led. This is what I call the bull and cow principle. In every relationship, there has to be a bull and cow. Two bulls break the kraal open.

The counter-argument by a woman: “Stop Grumbling, Do Some Housework”:
…I am saddened that this is 2004 and we are unfortunately still wailing about non-issues like doing the dishes, washing underwear, flushing the toilet…I know this male behavioral problem has a lot to do with the way we are brought up. But we should be willing to learn, so that we do not treat our spouses the way our parents treated each other, especially if we know the treatment was not fair. This means that although your mother, who was not employed, virtually did all the housework, it does not make your wife like her. If your father succeeded in turning your poor mother into a robot, you do not have to do the same with your wife…Unless you belong to the 12th Century or are actually a Neanderthal, you cannot look at your wife as a cook…or even a dishwasher.

I am always entertained/concerned when reading social commentary in Uganda, especially as my own research and work concentrates on how gender roles have been altered by the conflict in Northern Uganda. While communities broadly recognize the extreme burdens shouldered by women throughout the conflict (essentially holding families together, developing their entrepreneurial skills to sustain their children, taking on “male roles,” exposure to gender-based violence, etc.), I find that the Acholi are not broadly receptive to the idea of women maintaining or attaining status beyond their “traditional” roles. Attributes traditionally prized in Acholi women include loyalty, submissiveness, extremely hard working, and accepting of co-wives. My feel is that women are still largely regarded as property, perhaps on the same or slightly higher level to cattle. To say the least, this has presented an interesting challenge to me, as I work toward the integration of women in peace building. I will save my digression on this issue for another time, but thought some of you may find it interesting to get a feel for the type of current editorial issues here in Uganda. Any and all commentary is welcome. You guys are too quiet out there.

P.S. The pool is too algae-contaminated to swim after just one week of being operational. Resorted to frisbee at a British friend’s house, where the Ugandan woman who helps him out demonstrated an amazing propensity towards the sport. Maybe we initiate the first Gulu frisbee team?

P.P.S. I think I have mastered the art of hunting huge, creepy, mutant flying grasshopper thingees and preventing them from entering my room all together.

P.P.P.S. There has been power for a record 8 straight days in Gulu. Wowza.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Hidden Treasure

There isn’t anything too exciting for me to report this week, yet I feel compelled to drop a quick update.

One rumor is true: there is indeed a pool in Gulu. I was initially weary of getting my hopes up, but after journeying out to Lacor Hospital, on the outskirts of town, and finding a nice little hole filled with water, I was pleased. Concerns for the condition of the water were far from my mind (giarida, schmiardia), and the same went for my other wazungu counterparts. The only weary soul was little Arthur, the son of a friend’s colleague, who accompanied us – but that might have been due to the novelty of leaving his mom to hang out with wazungu adults for an afternoon at a hospital pool. He was careful to follow my lead, applying my mzungu sunscreen to protect his African skin from the harsh sun.

It’s been another week of traveling to camps, researching, meeting people, and keeping on the move. This has been one of those weeks where I catch myself staring at the sky, my surroundings, and really letting it sink in where I have been living. I am in Gulu, Uganda for crying out loud! How in the world did I ever end up here? Ugandans have been gracious hosts. Another bonus to the experience of living in Africa are the people you meet from other regions (many European), going through the same experiences as you. There is an instant bond of common understanding, it seems.

This week will be packed with interviews and hopefully a trip to Kampala since I can catch a ride with some friends. I find the need to leave Gulu every few weeks to at least get a decent shower and meal.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

These are children from Unyama displaced persons camp.
The children followed us all around the camp and were more than happy to have their pictures taken.
This picture was taken yesterday when I went to visit
an IDP camp (internally displaced persons camp), not
too far outside of Gulu town.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Life After Night?

I have to say that I am pleased with how much more I have been able to do these past few weeks, with trips to IDP camps and visits with various folks in Gulu. On Thursday I traveled with the head of the ACORD office and some other colleagues to within just a few kilometers of the Sudanese border to visit Atiak displaced persons camp. When we arrived en route at Pabbo camp, the largest camp in Northern Uganda with 60,000+ displaced persons, we picked up several heavily armed soldiers to escort us further north to Atiak. While I know these men were there for our security, it is still unsettling to require machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to escort us for our work. The purpose of the trip was to discuss rural electrification with the camp leadership – yes, this means that most of Northern Uganda has never had electricity. ACORD is initiating a project for electricity in Northern Uganda, both for environmental concerns (people are cutting down all the trees for cooking wood) and for poverty alleviation (they would be able to use machines and better technology for cultivation and what not). I am still ignorant of the Luo language, so the meeting was pretty much over my head. But I do have to admit to concerns about bringing electricity to the camps – namely that these camps are likely to become townships and impede people from returning to their lands. I regret that I didn’t have the chance to really explore the camp and speak with people because we had to get right back on the road to ensure we avoided nightfall. But the landscape is just breathtaking – mango trees, dense savannah, rocky hills in the distance (not mountains, as Ugandans would have me believe). I didn’t exactly get to stop for pictures, as we had to keep moving to avoid any chance of an LRA ambush. It is surreal, really, and I continue to be so impressed by all of these Ugandans who have been risking their lives for the past 18 years to do their work and serve their people.

On Friday I met with my friend Lucie, the Acholi woman from Sweden, at World Vision to learn about their programs. They have rehabilitation centers (food, counseling, etc.) for former combatants and abductees: one for children and child mothers and another for adults, which is mostly men who were commanders in the LRA. The visit gave me more insight into the dynamics of this conflict and the challenges for reintegrating these children and young people who were abducted. What is so impressive is the love that all the children have for each other: they really take such care with each other, as they came to depend on each other while they were in captivity. Despite the fact that these children were exposed to such cruelty and violence, they never display violence toward one another – even those who are more educated and can speak English usually stick to Luo in order to maintain equality among the children. These children really have to be the strongest and most resilient in the world. While child soldiers in Liberia and elsewhere were often drugged, these children never smoke, drink, or take drugs. Most are very religious and well disciplined. There was one little boy that I was especially struck by: he decided to change his name from Vincent to Calvin because he didn’t want to be associated with his LRA father. This boy couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old. Also of interest are the child mothers in the camps (remember that abducted girls became the forced wives of LRA commanders and bore children). I met one of the wives of Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and she still struggles to maintain her rank above other women even while at the center. The women/girls who shared an LRA husband also maintain a surprising camaraderie or sisterhood, taking care of one another’s babies. I am told that a significant number of these girls would like to still be married to their forced husbands, with the other wives. This surprised me, as so many of these forced marriages were consummated through rape and violence. Really, I feel I could write a book on this one visit alone.

Believe it or not (and I had to indeed experience it for myself), there actually is nightlife in Gulu, aside from the hundreds of children who commute to the town to sleep each night. It mostly revolves around the Corner Café, less than a block from where I stay, which is your basic African bar with neon lights, cheesy American music, a few brave souls dancing, that serves up Ugandan Waragi (gin) and local beers. I even stayed out until midnight on Friday night. While this may not seem impressive, come to Gulu and see for yourself - my hotel was already locked up when I returned, if that is any indication. There is even a dance club, though I haven’t yet indulged - and we are well aware of the danger I pose to my own knee health when I dance. Last night I was among the largest mzungu contingent yet in Gulu, as 6 of us gathered to go eat dinner at a friend’s house – one that included those elusive green things called vegetables! I didn’t know there were 6 mzungus (actually the proper Swahili for more than one mzungu is wazungu) in Gulu, though we certainly drew quite a crowd as we drove through town. Having Dutch flat mates in Rwanda turned me onto Nutella (or Jempy, as was the available brand in Rwanda), and last night my British host had me try the British version of Vegemite (think “I’m from a land down under” from the 80s). I can safely say that this will not become apart of my international food repertoire, or at least no more than matooke.

The rumor on the Gulu streets - ok, actually according to my new wazungu friends - is that there is a pool at a hospital outside of town and that there is even a small gym in town where there just might be exercise classes. You cannot even imagine the joy that truth to either rumor will bring me, and you can bet that I will seek out both options ASAP.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Mixed feelings

I am travel tired, so promise to be brief. I had a very therapeutic trip to Kampala, which included lounging at the lakeside Speke Resort, working out at a modern gym overlooking the Kampala Golf Course, Ugandan kickboxing for mzungu women (which by the way includes drinking beer immediately following the class), and good food. Oh, and I did some work in between too!

After a sleepless night of election anxiety, I caught the post bus (more spacious than normal buses but also much slower) from Kampala back to Gulu this morning. I was sitting next to a German guy who is working at a hospital in Gulu and of course most discussion focused around the election results. We were swapping text messages from our respective informants throughout the ride. I must share that he received one from an individual at a European embassy (I will not mention which one), who declared that "those stupid Americans have voted for Bush to bomb for four more years." And what happened to our Congress? At least we got Salazar...

Kitgum is off the agenda because the road is just too insecure. Tomorrow I am suppose to visit Atiak camp, close to the Sudanese border, with the head of ACORD. Details will follow, of course.