Thursday, June 26, 2008

10 mins 20 secs left

That's how much time I have to tell you what's been going on in Gulu and elsewhere since the previous dispatch.

Gulu is boring. There are lots of banks, plenty of general stores and market stands and dozens of bars and clubs. At night the town is dark and all there is to do is drink. Needless to say, we've been drinking and watching soccer a lot lately. There are countless expats here and they are good people to pass the time with.

[30/6/08 I absentmindedly failed to include an important component of the Gulu town late-night lifestyle: dancing. The other night I met Stella, a student at Makerere University, and we danced late into the night. All of the negative energy and stress boiling inside of me seeped out out of me, like rum escaping the skin of an alcoholic. Acholi music at breakneck speed is ideal, but I also loved the dancehall cover of "Fast Car." You win 500 shillings if you can guess why.]

I'm getting used to taking bucket showers.

The other day a team from a local NGO called Caritas took us out to the Olwal IDP camp in Amuru district. The Olwal camp is composed of mud-brick huts with doors bearing the USAID logo. We interviewed about a dozen people who lived in the camp. Their faces and bodies are worn, their skin thick, their features pronounced. An 11-year old boy, his eyes soft and his expression vulnerable, sat with his arms limply hanging between his legs. None of them smiled.

Only when I asked about Joseph Kony did a few of them chuckle, because it is so difficult and disturbing to talk about Joseph Kony that asking about him is almost ridiculous.

There are so many reasons that the residents of Olwal will not or cannot return home - conflicts over land ownership, lack of money and food, lack of infrastructure in their old villages, the carnage that these places have seen, the fear of Joseph Kony and the LRA's return.

Problems of alcohol abuse and domestic violence also haunt the camp. "The ladies have become now the breadwinners," explained Aciro Agnes, a counselor for the Psychosocial Support Progrm of Caritas. "The men have become helpless."

[A man with a thick film of sweat on his face, wearing a sportcoat over his bare chest, walked up to me and gestured at his hungry stomach. The driver of the Caritas truck sauntered over, eating from a bag of tiny sesame seeds, nearly smirking. I assumed that he would pour the man some seeds, but he just kept on eating. You see, the driver explained, this man spent the whole morning drinking alcohol - and now he is hungry. Two Caritas counsellors walked over. This happens all the time, they told me, gesturing at the man. Speaking in Luo, the three of them told the hungry man off. He ambled away.]

All of this is very difficult and complicated to explain. I'm not taking anything for granted anymore. Hannah and I have got some articles in the works, though, so keep your eyes peeled.

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