Under Brutality, The Best Never Return...But Life Provides Hope

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June 7th 2010
Published: June 8th 2010
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This entry takes place in Vanguard, Pece, Gulu, Northern Uganda

Today we assembled at the hotel for a field assignment. My group was told to research the Acholi language in order to better prepare all 27 of us for our homestays which would begin at night. I immediately scheduled lunch with Steven Olanyi, the town councilor I met the night before at the bar. We set out walking aimlessly through Gulu since we weren't too familiar with the town.

We spoke what little Acholi we knew. Ko'pongo meaning How are you? Everyone replies by saying cope which means good. If you say fine, something is wrong. Through a marketplace we learned more and more. Eventually we returned with about 50 words and phrases which would be useful. I never got too good at speaking French, but I have taken to Acholi pretty well. I find the language much easier.

To get to my homestay family's home I had to ride a boda-boda for the first time. A boda is a motorcycle taxi. They are a popular form of transportation throughout Uganda. I was a bit tense at first, but decided to relax and have fun. It is now one of my favorite parts of being here. My host mother is an assistant pastor at a local born again church. The pastor lives right next door. He introduced himself to me by saying his name then exclaiming that he is born again. I wasn't quite sure what an appropriate response to that was because he just looked at me. He asked about my religion and I explained to him that I do not practice a faith. The best way to tell the Acholi was by saying it is not right for me at the current moment or that no faith speaks to my beliefs.

My home consists of a small living room, my mother's room, a room shared by my two sisters, Henrietta 4 and Irene 19, and my room. Ironically my brother is also named Bob. We share bunk beds. The house also has a small room with a few shelves. This is the kitchen. The Acholi cook using a small charcoal pot designed to balance a pot or pan on. The toilet is a pit latrine located outside. Around the corner from the latrine is the area where we take showers. We shower by filling a basin with water and lifting it out with our hands in order to bathe. Try it! Bucket showers are great and also save water.

I explained to my host mother that I would love to learn to cook Acholi food. I set to work with Irene, my sister, to prepare dinner. It consisted of millet porridge, a green called bor mixed with sesame paste, and quan, a dense white bread used to pick up the food. The Acholi, and now me, eat with their hands. The first thing my sister told me while cooking was that she wants to marry a white man. She has aspirations to attend culinary school here or to be trained in computing. She would also like to go to America. Her mother is responsible for 10 children total. Many families have adopted children orphaned by the war or those who were made to kill their own families when abducted by the LRA as child soldiers.

I asked Irene about the conflict. A value of the Acholi society must be that the past cannot be changed, but should not be avoided. Everyone I have talked to has mentioned the fact that the past is the past. She does seem distant while discussing it though. She had two friends taken by the rebels. One returned a few weeks after and entered rehabilitation. The other has never returned. She told me she has no idea if she is alive or dead and misses her very much. If these girls escaped the horrors of rape in the bush, they are but a small percentage. I asked about her, or our, father. He enlisted in the army to fight against the rebels, the LRA. He fell sick from malaria and another disease and died 10 years ago. His body was shipped to Gulu and arrived the next day.

I am eager to learn more from my family. It is wonderful to spend time with them away from the rest of the SIT group. I have been learning a whole lot from them, especially the language. It is odd to return to the group every day for classes. I adjust to Acholi life and the pace of my family. I then return to the setting with Muzungus (Swahili for traveler or white person). The toughest part is adjusting back and forth for both my family and the other people I am traveling here with.


8th June 2010

You: Trekking halfway across the globe, meeting new people, trying new things Me: Sitting in an office, closing accounts, writing journal entries Fuck it, I'm switching majors.
8th June 2010

Muzungus etc
It's amazing how much you can learn in a few days. This experience you're having seems quite stimulating. I know what you mean about the difficult adjustment between spending time with Muzungus vs. spending time with Africans--it's easy to forget where you are when you're engrossed in some English-language conversation about familiar things. But remember: if you'd wanted to spend your summer with Muzungus you could have stayed in Wilkes-Barre! Oh, and it sounds like Irene is sending you signals, be sure you don't say or do things she might misconstrue. Although it might be interesting to know what it is about the White Man that appeals to her. Is it about the chance of living a different kind of life, having more opportunities, avoiding certain forms of patriarchy?
9th June 2010

cultural differences
Hey Bob, Glad to hear your trip is going well and you remain healthy and safe. Your blog is fascinating to read, its very interesting to get first person insights into a different region of the world. How does it feel being an American outsider in the country? Do you notice any major differences of how your treated or how you expected to be treated? What kind of stuff do they do in their free time? I would be interested to see what the people's take is on the major issues being discussed in the U.S. such as the oil spill, war on terror, environmental efforts etc. Keep the posts coming and stay safe.

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