After arriving in the dark, our drive from Entebbe to Lira provided the first glimpses of this incredibly beautiful country. Joseph, our driver, met us at the hotel in the morning (7 am) despite being in the midst of recovering from typhoid and malaria. It really puts into perspective the times having a cold and going to school feels hard. Joseph took us as far as Kampala, blasting country music the entire way. Once in Kampala we met Joffrey (yes, just like in Game of Thrones) who drove us the remaining six hours to Lira. Kampala is a beautiful city, with a lot of history. Each of the six hills in Kampala has a mission on the top of it from different religions. The first, and largest, is a mosque.
The traffic in Kampala is intense, and we saw it on a good day. As far as I can tell, there are not really traffic laws. The drivers have their own language, communicating through the chaos via hand signals and honking to alert other cars, bikes, pedestrians, cows, goats, and chickens of their arrival. The scent on the road is potent- kerosene mixed with gasoline from stations owned by Somali Pirates. In an attempt to combat the inevitable car sickness that would come from such a journey I took “less drowsy” Dramamine and proceeded to fall asleep for the first two hours of the trip from Kampala to Lira. I woke up suddenly to fifteen street meat kabobs in my face held by street vendors eager to make a sale. Needless to say, I had to pass. The road to Lira was paved in the last year, but the villages that surround the road are filled with the mud huts that come to mind for most people when they hear “Uganda”. The expansive forest is incredible, the hills are green and go on as far as can be seen. Around the Queen Elizabeth National Park the bushes began to shake and dozens of baboons appeared. The baboons ran towards the car in hopes of food. I was incredibly thankful to have the car between myself and them as they charged the car with intense ferocity and I know I would not stand between them and food. We crossed a large river with many Class V rapids on it. Further upstream a Chinese company is building a dam for hydroelectric power.
Six hours later, we arrived and finally met the incredible Jane Ekayu. She is a truly a mother to all as she helped us set up our apartment (installing light bulbs and mosquito nets). She also took us to the market to get additional supplies and we met several of her co-workers.
In Uganda, June 3rd is a national holiday. It is a day to remember and celebrate the Christian Martyrs. It is also our first full day in Lira. We have spent the day wondering about the town, picking up supplies at the local market, and meeting dozens (not an exaggeration) of friendly people. Now we must go set up the apartment for three students from Wisconsin. They are taking the bus from Kampala but it broke down and they had to wait four hours for a new one so they will not get in until very late.
Today was incredible. The first day the provided a glimpse into the work we will be doing, who we will be able to help, and why we have worked hard to get here. As I type this blog post there are dozens of tiny ants running between the keys on the keyboard. Much like the dirt and dust, they are everywhere and appear in the oddest of places. This morning Max and I went to Children of Peace Uganda where we met Joffrey (another Joffrey) and Doreen to go conduct field work. Max went with Doreen and I went with Joffrey to separate villages. We rode a motorcycle that looked very similar to a dirt bike, which proved to be a necessary feature. As we sped out of Lira town and through villages decreasing in size the road went from pavement, to dirt, to dirt so bumpy that my teeth chattered together, to dirt eroded with pits the entire width of the road. The roads were unpleasant but the scenery was remarkable. Small huts grouped together in villages and dense, lush forests dominated the landscape. There were also multiple sunflower fields! After about an hour and a half we arrived at the first village we were to have a “Peace Club”. Unfortunately, Africa is not a land of punctuality. The children were not there yet so we moved in to the next village. Thirty minutes later… we arrived in Ogot, Otara, Aromo, Lira District.
The village consists of huts and empty cement buildings, very similar to the building structure from Zanzibar. I walked across a vast field with several of the girls from the village, all giggling at me as I tried to speak Lango with them. They lead me to under a mango tree where we sat as more children started to arrive. Once about thirty children were there they started singing welcome songs to me. After three songs, all from church about Jesus, the Peace Club meeting started with a prayer. Because this is a new village for Jane’s organization, we began working on interviews with each of the children. They only have ten sponsorships available and they want to make sure the funds go to the children who truly need the help the most. We asked questions about their economic situation, source of income, health conditions or concerns, living conditions, if they are currently in school, how they were impacted by the war (if they were orphaned, abducted, or born in captivity), and what their hopes for the future are. Previously smiling, giggling, joyful children looked like adults during these interviews as the harsh realities of their daily life became apparent. Tears would run down their face but they continued to speak honestly about their situation at home. For many students it took quite a long time to get them to discuss what was truly bothering them. I found out later, that word has spread about the sponsorships Children of Peace provides and as a result families instruct children to lie about their living conditions in hope of receiving sponsorship. Now, their homes are visited to verifying what they say. That is not to say that all, or even a majority, of the children were lying. Their pain was real and it felt wrong to have to move onto the next child after such a short time. I cannot fathom how they are able to choose between the children for sponsorships. Each has a unique aspect of their story that stays with you and makes me question how they make it through their day. Unfortunately, I was without a camera so I was unable to take photos from my incredible past few days. But Max’s blog has a few photos and at a later day (sometime next week) I will post the incredible stories of these children I spoke with and have photos as well.
Today is June 5th and we are waiting (a very common occurrence in Africa) to go to another village with Frank, a friend of Jane and a local journalist writing a story about Jane’s organization and the current life of former child soldiers. More soon!