Typed the 25th of June at Sankofa.

Today I went out to Ogur Sub-County.  Ogur is a small village north of Lira a ways. The road is narrow and bumpy to say the least, and it takes about 40 minutes on a motorcycle. And by the way, travel in Uganda means you get dirty.  Just check this handkerchief out- the left side is after the ride there and the right is after the ride back. Nasty.

The reason we were in Ogur was because NACWOLA facilitates community dialogs on different topics.  This discussion was about the local council court and whether or not it allowed women to access justice.  The room was pretty full and predominantly men (much to Jeoffrey’s dismay).  First, we introduced the topic and split the room into groups – those were thought the court was doing its job and those that thought it withheld women’s rights (it’s worth noting that all of the women present were in the latter).  One group left to deliberate in another room while one remained.  After some chatting and going over points, they reconvened and engaged in a loose version of a debate.  Basically, one person from Group A spoke and Group B could respond, and then Group B spoke and Group A could respond.  About an hour into it, a guy from Radio Unity began recording using a tape recorder and got a good sum of the debate recorded – it will be played on the radio as part of an informational talk show sort of thing which is pretty cool.

Unfortunately for me, the entire four hours of debate was in Luo, but Stephen explained the gist afterwards, although this is just a smattering of details:

  • If a man dies, any land he owns goes to his parents, regardless of the wife. Widows were complaining that not only is this wrong, but that the local court will not hear claims to get the land back.
  • Some men argued that women were gaining ground in the public sphere and cited the example of a woman who recently made a power grab and ousted a MP.
  • Some argued that women were enjoying a freer justice system, but several on the other side countered that free in rights didn’t matter if it wasn’t affordable financially.
  • In the home, many women argued, they were overworked and still denied representation. If something went wrong in the home, it was seen as the woman’s fault since it was in her domain even if it was a result of the man’s decision-making.
  • The legality of polygamy in the face of a prohibition on polyandry gained mention.
  • In the education system, boys are often given priority at full schools based on the notion that the girls will grow up to work in the house anyways.
  • The marriage of a couple’s daughter is arranged completely by the father – from deciding on a dowry to deciding on the right man.  The mother has no say in this and some were complaining that courts would not hear motions to have a stake in these decisions.

Well That’s Africa

Typed on the 26th of June at Sankofa.

A few months ago when I put together this post about Toms Shoes and Ethos Water – well I almost didn’t. I originally intended to rant about a different topic that proved a little too daunting. The stereotypes of an entire continent (or at least a region of that continent). But I recently read an article about the DRC which made me want to attempt this post one more time.

My primary grievance is people’s response to hearing about things going on around the world.  My favorite response after telling people about what’s happening in central-east Africa is the tendency to say “that’s terrible, but that sort of thing is always happening in Africa,” or the terse version of “well that’s Africa.”  In the op-ed article, the author addresses the assumption, or should I say excuse, that the use of mass rape as a weapon in the DR Congo is “cultural.”  But I’ll get to that in a second.

It’s true that many of the states in sub-Saharan Africa have faced a lot of problems. It’s true that not all of it is a direct result of colonization – sometimes people fight and tragedies occur.  But what makes the genocide in Darfur different than that in Cambodia?  What makes the atrocities carried out by the LRA any different than those by Hamas?  Well, for one thing, they happen in Africa.

Yes, I oversimplified it.  Things are very different between each conflict.  But still, there is nothing about Africa that says “a majority of states must be consumed in war and mass atrocity,” except a foreign and uninterested outside culture that wants to assume that.  If you’re tired of hearing me rant about abductions or you simply don’t know how to respond to me explaining the plight of the Acholi, just tell me so.  Or just cut me short by saying “oh, that’s awful.”  You don’t need to say “well, that’s Africa,” because all that says is “well, this is the best excuse I can come up with to let it happen.”  I know a lot of people don’t understand the cultures of other societies – I know I don’t.  But what makes one think that something as horrible as rape might be a tradition of the culture?  One thing that I thought was particularly important from the article was this:

Any Congolese will tell you rape is not “traditional.” It did occur in Congo before the war, as it does everywhere. But the proliferation of sexual violence came with the war. Militias and Congolese soldiers alike now use sexual violence as a weapon. Left unchecked, sexual violence has festered in Congo’s war-ravaged east. This does not make rape cultural. It makes it easy to commit. There is a difference.

And this type of thinking can be lethal.  Troubles arise when people on the ground in these areas, those who should know better than any others, think this way.  To assume that something like rape or abduction is normal will effectively change your perspective in dealing with the very people who are targeted by these actions.  It’d be like telling blacks in 1920s New England that it was safe to go back to the South because you were convinced that lynching was just a part of the culture there.  That doesn’t make any sense, so why should aid workers tell women it’s safe to go home to a village where rape is rampant?

I encourage you to read the article.  It’s short, but strong, and it gives more details as to the implications of such thinking.  And I’d like to add a short note in response to her call for charging electronics companies an extra penny per product: Congress recently voted to include anti-conflict mineral language in the financial reform overhaul – hopefully it passes and our favorite electronics will not longer fund perpetrators of things so horrible that they just can’t be called cultural.

The Land of a Thousand Hills

So, after sitting on a still bus for about 2 hours and then riding from Gulu to Kampala in 5 and then sitting at the Jaguar bus station for 4, I made my way to Kigali!  I signed up for the 1am bus and there was also a 3am bus, and I ended up leaving at 2 so I don’t know if mine was late or if it didn’t exist and I took the 3 early?  Whatever.

The bus rolled out of Kampala and I fell asleep soon after.  I woke up around 4.30 in the morning to a really cold wind.  Apparently my window had a chunk missing from it, and wind was whipping in at me.  After freezing for a while, I grabbed both of my bags and my second shirt and tried to keep myself as warm as possible.  Starting then I had a very on-and-off sleep schedule until we got to the border.

The border crossing went like this: everyone got off and went to check out of Uganda. Then everyone walked a ways to the Rwandan immigration office to get stamped. The bus arrived after getting checked, then unloaded everything to get inspected. Then we all got back on, bus reloaded, and we were on our way.  I continued to sleep on-and-off, until I realized that the bus had broken down. We were at some obscure intersection in northern Rwanda for at least an hour I think, and then suddenly we started moving without any announcement so I don’t know.  When we finally arrived at the bus park one of the staff apologized to me for it being late.

From there I embarked on a trip oddly reminiscent of that Monday in Kampala.  Apparently, even the main branch of the Banque de Kigali doesn’t take traveler’s checks.  I was hoping to finish mine off on this trip, so I didn’t bring as much cash as I had planned on having.  In the end I withdrew some from my debit card which was kinda lame, but now I have some Rwandan franks to run around with for a couple of days.  Rounded out the evening getting a bite to eat and some internet from Bourbon’s Coffee Shop at the Union Trade Center.  From there I booked a room at the Auberge le Caverne, a hotel tucked away on a major road.  The room’s okay – has good points (two beds and a table, with a 3-channel TV, and breakfast is included!) and some bad (smelly bathroom and some more bugs than I’d like).

Tomorrow I’m going to do as much as I can and then I’m trying to decide if I’ll hurry back to Uganda then or spend another night in town here.  The to-do list isn’t that long, but I really want to see the genocide memorial in Kigali and maybe try to see the ones in Nyamata or Natarama.  Other than that there are some little things to do but I’m not sure if it’s enough to warrant another day or not, plus I don’t know when the buses leave for Kabale or Kisoro.  Things to look into, for sure!

A Dog’s Introduction

Typed on the 24th of June with pictures from Kim!

So, now that you know about all of the animals at the house here in Lira, you should know another animal.  After having a heck of a time looking for a great dane before I left, Kim and I decided to expand the search and keep it going.  We looked at a few before I left, and a little while ago we welcomed an adorable dog to our home.

Meet our dog!  She’s tentatively named Cindy, and she’s a real cutie.  She is really gentle and well-trained, and she always carries around this turtle squeak toy like it’s her baby (until she tore it up, but that’s not relevant to how cute she is).  I am so, so excited to meet her when I get back, but until then you can see these pictures that Kim has sent me.

Eying her turtle

Apparently she likes to sleep in this corner

This is her on her bed

And this is her close-up

Bleats and Clucks

Typed on June 23rd at home.  Pictures uploaded on June 29th at Kope Cafe in Gulu, the Jaguar Bus Station in Kampala, and Bourbon Coffee Shop in Kigali.  These pictures have traveled!

So, I thought I’d share some animals with you.  Rambo, who I thought was named Rumble but I’m getting used to the accents, has since left the house when Erik moved to the ACF house for his work.  But the compound is still alive with animals and I thought I’d share them with you.  First, is Amacha – our lovely little goat.  She’s pretty adorable and gentle, but she’s on a leash because she likes to eat flowers more than she likes to eat grass.  Also she tried to eat my pants the other day.

Our other companions in the compound are chickens.  The rooster is named Martin and one hen is named Annett, after Martin and Annett since they provided the first two birds. Another hen is named Adelheid after Monica’s mom (Martin is her dad’s name so it’s a two-for-one name), this hen’s busy sitting on eggs and I don’t see her too much.  The brown one is named Bora Bora after the village it came from.  And last but not least is the Other One.  This one looks like Annett and before they named her people got confused so she just evolved into the Other One.

Bora Bora, Martin, Annett, and the Other One

UPDATE: While waiting for good enough internet to post pictures on here, Adelheid has emerged with four chicks!  They are oh so adorable and they chirp a lot.  Unfortunately, after just two days of wandering the compound, the little white one was kidnapped by a bird of prey.  Hopefully the others stay safe, and I’ll keep you updated on the growing up process.

Adelheid and her chicks!

North to South

So, the passed day or so since my last post has gone more or less as planned, though with some delay.  Last night, almost immediately after I updated this blog, I met JACOB.  That’s right, I met Jacob.  For those of you not as intrinsically hopped up on Invisible Children, Jacob was one of the four boys that the IC crew met on their very first trip.  He had escaped Kony’s ranks and was in hiding in Gulu with his brother.  His story and his resilience are a huge inspiration, and meeting him was really exciting.  I didn’t want to be one of those starstruck types (like I was in San Diego in 2007) so I quickly went back to my own thing at the cafe.  But when I got ready to leave, Jacob offered to walk with me to the office the next morning!

Spent the night in a small but decent room.  Woke up really early to get things ready and headed out to Kope Cafe to meet up with Jacob.  We walked for a while before Richard rode by us on a bike!  Richard is an IC mentor and, specifically, Tony’s mentor.  Tony (another boy from the first film) and Richard came to Arizona this passed spring as a part of the Legacy Tour.  After we made it to the office, I met up with Jessica, my contact, and we had a long sit-down talking about the different programs and going into some of the specifics about the way they work.  After talking for a while, I had a look at the local IC store and nabbed myself a messenger bag! Totally awesome. I also got one of the famed yellow bracelets which you can only get at the office here.  Awesome.

From there, I went and checked out of JoJo’s before heading back to Kope Cafe for a bit.  I made a little bit of progress uploading pictures, but was ultimately foiled in updating anything.  But!  As I was getting ready to pack up and thinking about finding the bus park, Alison texted me that she’d be in Gulu.  Happy to join a friend, I agreed to head to her favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the country.  Said goodbye to Jacob and walked with Alison to Abyssinia and had Ethiopian food for the first time (that I can remember).  It was actually pretty good!  The injera takes some getting used to, but all in all it was pretty good and I’ll have to make it a point to visit the one by ASU when I get home.

From there, Alison and I walked to the bus park where she met up with her ILF crew and I found a bus to Kampala.  A very empty bus.  Buses usually don’t leave until they’re full, and I ended up waiting for almost two hours for the bus to get moving.  Part of this time I passed reading, and part of this time I spent outside (I saw the ILF truck pull over nearby so I went to chat with Alison and her co-workers [both of whom had tried teaching me to dance at the ILF party] after getting some biscuits).  Then!  We moved!  And five hours later we arrived in Kampala and I had no idea where I was.  I made it to the Jaguar bus station and now I’m waiting for the 1:00am bus to Kigali.  I should make it to Rwanda around 6 or 7 I think, and arrive in Kigali at 9.  But that’s if I believe them.  I’ve heard it usually takes at least a couple of hours longer than that, so we’ll see.


So, adventure week has begun.  It’s off to a rough start but it’s on.  This morning I packed up and headed to ACF (where Erik works) and met up with his coworker Maxwell.  There was a huge mix-up with cars and we ended up having to wait a lot longer than I would have liked.  Originally we were supposed to take the Lira car to Gulu while the Gulu car went to Kampala, but for some fun reason the Lira car went to Kampala so the Gulu car had to drive over and pick us up and then turn right ’round and head back.

Needless to say, we got to Gulu a bit late.  Invisible Children had just closed, so I talked to my contact there and I’ll be going to the office in the morning.  I wandered a little before making my way to a hotel that I found in my travel book and got the last room.  It’s not bad, except I’m sharing a bathroom, but that’s not a problem for a $12 room.  From there, I headed to a cafe I had heard about and that’s where I’m hunkered down for now.

Tomorrow morning after visiting the IC office, I’ll probably head out soon after.  I figure Gulu is an easy trip for a weekend in the future, so I want to move forwards (i.e. south or southeast) as soon as possible.  Since I’ll be en route home next weekend, I’m also debating visiting the U.S. embassy for the 4th of July!  I’ll keep you updated.

P.S. – I have quite a few posts in the queue to be posted, but I want to add pictures and my internet connection just isn’t letting that happen.  Hopefully I’ll get those up for you to read and see soon enough.  Sorry!


So, tomorrow Stephen and I are going into the field with Jeoffrey to oversee a program in one of Lira’s sub-counties.  It’ll probably be an all-day affair and it’ll be nice to get involved in the community doing…. anything.  However, immediately afterwards I will be faced with a huge decision.  Hope told me that there will be nothing to do next week and that, if I had other things to do, I should.  So I’m looking into how many hours I want to try to clock in at Nadja’s orphanage and I’m looking into just how many kilometers I can cover in seeing Uganda.

For the last week and a a half I’ve been thinking about going to Gulu with Alison (and recently going to Murchison Falls with Alison). Things got a little shuffled around and she’s going to Murchison tomorrow while I’ll be in the field.  Kind of a bummer, but I think I’ll be alright.  For the passed month I’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive list of what I’d like to see if I had the means and the time.  This week I will be trying to cross a few things off the proverbial Ugandan bucket list.

Now, even some of those who know me might not realize how dependent I am on other people.  I’m not very good at being alone, and I’ve been struggling with this idea of being the only one in my group doing what I’m doing.  I kinda clung to the Penn girls while I was in Kampala (I was going to try to go rafting with them, if you recall) and after Monica and Nadja left I veered right at Alison for company.  I’m not uncomfortable traveling alone, as marked by my hours of walking around Lira alone immediately after arriving, but there’s something undeniably nice about being with someone who is at least a teeny, tiny bit like you.  I knew going into this that I’d be going solo a lot.  Heidi reassured me that going on a trip by myself would be empowering (and I believe it).

So the point of this post is this: I’ll be moving around next week.  I’m trying to arrange some time to go the Invisible Children office.  Part of me wishes I could have gone sooner, due to that desire to be with others and the fact that the S4S winners and some staff were in town (I’m hoping there are some stragglers still in Gulu).  But last night I also came across a realization via Erik and Alison: I could do more than go to Gulu.  I could go to the southwest.  I could go to Rwanda.

If I had to decide right now, I’d probably go to Gulu, then to Kigali by way of Kampala, then back through Kisoro and Lake Bunyonyi and find my way on up.  But I have some thinking to do.  There’s also an Eastern Uganda trip with Sipi Falls staring me in the face. Or I could cut Rwanda out and spend more time at Lake Bunyonyi. And a nice trip would take me northwest to Arua and Hoima and maybe to the Rwenzori Mountains. Lots of thinking.

Owner of a Lonely House

So, I’ve been hanging tight in this house alone for about six days.  Monica and Nadja left on Friday morning to Kigali and Kampala, respectively.  That evening I met up with Alison at Sankofa for some yummy pizza and a good amount of chatting.  All in all a good night.  That night, as you know, I had my big white ant encounter, which was a heck of a lot of fun.

On Saturday I shaved for the first time in about four weeks, so I’m looking a little cleaner but a little less-traveled. We’ll see whether I decide to keep clean.  Then I headed over to the ILF House and hung out with Alison all day.  She let me take a bunch of movies and we watched Definitely, Maybe and Hotel Rwanda between lunch.  That night I reheated a bunch of leftovers on the stove for a decent dinner.  It rained on me pretty bad on my way home, which made me wonder if white ants would return – they did (but in lesser numbers).  Sunday I got to talk to people on the internet a lot in the morning while making scrambled eggs.  Headed to Sankofa for a bit and hung out with Alison/watched TV before going to dinner at Aanya.

Monday was a pretty slow day at work.  Had a lot of “fun” trying to find maize seeds for the chickens – got the wrong bag and didn’t know it until I had hauled it all the way home! But the crisis was averted eventually.  Tried hopelessly to make Alpen macaroni (Nadja made it on Sound of Music night and it was delicious!) but it came up lacking.  Yesterday Lucas came by and spent the night in town, so we teamed up on a pasta with onions, garlic, and tomatoes and all in all I think it came out pretty well!  And as I type, Nadja and Erik are on their way back from Kampala.

All in all, I spent a hefty sum of my week passing time with Alison, which was really nice.  Plus I was able to use the internet and talk to more people back home.  I ate in town quite a few times, but also tried – with moderate success – to make food at home.  Today after work I’m going to finish preparing some dumplings, but I’m not sure when they’ll be cooked.  Now that people are on their way back to Lira town, I’ll find some much-needed partners in cooking.

Along with the Rain

So, as I type, I can hear a particular noise. I’ve heard this noise before, but never so loud as 4 o’clock this morning. It’s a buzzing, flapping sound, and when I woke up at 4 and turned on the light, I found out that it’s also the sound of white ants.

White ants are these little black bugs with long white wings. They tend to crawl around, but in the light they sometimes fly and sometimes lose their wings.  They’re a delicacy in Uganda, and after a big rain people tend to round them up for snacks.

In my drowsy, half-awake state last night, I didn’t notice them at first. And when I did I was bewildered. There were dozens of white ants in my room, crawling all over the floor and zig-zagging the air. The first thing I did was walk the house to assess the situation: all over the hallway outside my room, a couple dozen in the living room.  I went outside and called Fred, our night guard. He explained that they were white ants (all I knew at this point was that they were big bugs) and we spent the next hour or so sweeping hundreds of ants and collecting them in a bucket.

After everything was said and done I went back to sleep, but when I got up there were tons of wings on the patio outside, so I spent the morning sweeping them. This afternoon I went to the ILF House and hung out with Alison for a bit, and they had quite a few wings scattered outside too. It was a busy night for white ants! And right now, as I’m typing, there are about a dozen in my room and another dozen in the hallway. I should go gather them up, wings and all.