My Northern Ugandan Adventure

I had my first trip this past week really out into the field, not just to other parts of Kampala but to the northern parts of the country, getting close at one point to the border of Sudan.  Joining me on the trip were Sabine, Terra and Humphrey, and our driver was Simon.

In this first post on the trip, I’ll give a broad outline of the itinerary and some of the scenery and items of interest along the way.  The next few posts will go into more detail about the different visits we made.  Hopefully I’ll get some photos uploaded soon as well.

Our trip went from Kampala on Tuesday morning, stopping first in Minakulu and then on to Gulu.  According to my map of Uganda, Minaklu is in the district of Apac near the border with the Gulu district.  We stayed two nights in Gulu, then drove to Kitgum, in the Kitgum district although we had to go through the Pader district.  Later around mid-day we left Kitgum for Lira and Boro-Boro, both in the Lira district and traveling across the Pader district again.  After spending the night outside Lira, we returned to Kampala on Friday, visiting Loro along the way.

Most of the road to and from Kampala was pretty good, but the other roads, although labeled as highways on my map are also referred to as “unsurfaced”.  I can certainly vouch for the fact that they were very rough.  Indeed, I understand the label unsurfaced far more than I can understand what makes it a highway.  I shudder to think what the secondary roads and car tracks on my map are like.  I made the mistake of dosing off for a brief time on one leg of the journey, and I think I woke Terra up when my head smacked against the window.  I made sure I stayed awake after that.  It was a couple of hours each between Gulu and Kitgum and then on to Lira, all on these rough roads.  If I were a martini, I would certainly have been shaken enough for James Bond’s purposes.

We spent our first night at the BOMA Guest House in Gulu, just down the street from the UNICEF Zonal Office in Gulu.  Our original intent was to spend the second night in Kitgum but rains (a reasonably short but pretty hard downpour) and over-running meetings meant that we couldn’t make it to Kitgum in time, and travel after dark requires all kinds of special clearances.  Thus, we spent a second night at BOMA Guest House.  We left fairly early Thursday morning for Kitgum, eating lunch there at another branch of the BOMA Guest House chain, and then proceeding on to Lira.

We saw a couple of places in Lira and then began the great search for a place to stay.  Apparently Lira is a really happening place, since we got turned away from several places.  While they all seemed to have one single or double room available, there were four of us, since the driver slept elsewhere.  One place did have room but it was on an incredibly noisy street in the heart of town and had no real security.  Since Lira is known for the alcohol consumption of its people, among other things I am sure, we decided that perhaps something a bit further out would be more appropriate.  We finally found a place, a Christian Guest House, that was close enough so that we could walk to town and get dinner with alcohol but far enough away that we wouldn’t have the overwhelming noise from town.  According to my fellow travelers, there was a huge thunderstorm that night, sufficient to even flood Terra’s and Sabine’s rooms.  My room was not flooded, and I had to admit at the breakfast table that I had managed to sleep right through the storm.

Highlights of the drive included the family of baboons on the road to and from Kampala, including a baby baboon initially trying to scare us, or at least that’s what it looked like, and then getting worried and returning to his mama for a ride clinging to her and hanging under her stomach as she walked; crossing an impressive stretch of the Nile; the vast number of abandoned structures, which are apparently the remains of some of the IDP Camps (Internally Displaced Persons, since apparently one can not be a refugee in one’s own country); large numbers of cows and goats, with just a few pigs in and around the road;  chickens mostly heard but occasionally seen as well; and the strange appearance of an upholstered sofa and two chairs on the side of the road in what looked like the middle of nowhere.  I saw no houses or huts or anything nearby.  I wondered if perhaps I had hit my head too hard on the window while napping but Sabine confirmed its existence.  I also wondered where it had been, how it had gotten there, and who would buy it, presuming it was there for sale.  I then wondered how the new owner would transport it, since the standard mode of transportation in that part of the country seems to be foot or bicycle.

I did see someone riding a bike with approximately 8 feet of pipe (and not the thin or narrow stuff) balanced on the back and tied down;  placing that load right at its balance point was crucial I believe.  Of course, there are the trucks that take people, cattle, chicken and general merchandise, for lack of a more specific term, all together in the back, so perhaps that was the plan.   Farm animals are also sometimes tied down on the racks on the back of bicycles.  The goat we saw traveling that way didn’t look terribly pleased, but the pig I saw was making a real racket; he was decidedly unhappy with traveling in economy class.

The visits themselves were in many ways overwhelming, but they also represented much of why I chose to do my sabbatical this way.  I saw again in stark terms how privileged and lucky I am in my life, as indeed many of us in the “west’ are.  I was truly humbled to be in the presence of some of these individuals who have endured so much and are still living life, learning and growing, bettering themselves, trying to reintegrate into their society and even evolving that society to reflect the past, the present and their hopes for the future.  I will talk about the visits and the stories of some of the people I met in the subsequent posts.  I only hope I can do their stories justice.

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