Book Report: Greed and Grievance — Economic Agendas in Civil Wars

Greed and Grievance – Economic Agenda in Civil Wars, edited by Mats Berdal and David M. Malone, copyright 2000.

This book wasn’t on my initial to-read list for my sabbatical, but Sean, one of my colleagues here at UNICEF, suggested it.  The book itself is a collection of papers/essays by individuals who attended a workshop in London on the topic in 1999.  After reading the first few chapters, I wished the book had been written post 9/11, with the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While I suspect much of the analysis holds true still, the world in many ways is a very different place.

This book is not a “popcorn/beach” book.  It requires thought and concentration to read.  It is also in many ways a disturbing book, when one is faced with evidence pointing to the culpability of corporations and countries in funding the continuation of wars that devastate countries, economies and communities.  It is easier to think of some crazy despot responsible for all the tragedy, but the situation is often far more complex.

As a collection of essays, this book works remarkably well, as the various authors cross-reference other works, providing a sense of cohesion that is not always present in such collections.  The authors also shared the same general understanding of the issues at hand, although their focus and their methodology differed.

The chapter by Paul Collier particularly impressed me, leading me to add his more recent book “The Bottom Billion” to my to-read pile.  He uses a statistical/quantitative approach to explore the question of whether “greed” or “grievance” (either with other “tribes” or with the government) is the primary indicator for civil war.  His evidence points quite strongly to the greed position.  One particularly strong indicator for the likelihood of civil war is the presence of extractive natural resources, that provide for a ready stream of cash.  While the reviews of his more recent work indicate he is taking a more nuanced position, his essay is compelling in making his case.

Some particular startling quotes:  From page 81: .

“Conflict linked to transborder trade is different.  Such wars are not necessarily about winning or securing a comprehensive settlement.  Indeed, the suspension of legality due to insecurity is often a necessary precondition of asset realization through parallel and transborder means.”

It is hard to imagine that the parties to a war might not actually want it to end.  Page 84:

“Today’s so-called warlords or failed states may act locally, but to survive they have to think globally.  In this respect, a high level of complicity among international companies, offshore banking facilities, and Northern governments has assisted the development of war economies.  There is a growing symbiotic relationship between zones of stability and instability within the global political economy.”

From Page 97: :

“Inequality, whether measured in terms of income or landownership, has no effect on the risk of conflict according to the data.  This is, of course, surprising given the attention inequality has received as an explanation of conflict.  “

Ah yes, the pesky data.  It would be nice for the world to be the way we want it to be, rather than the way it is.

Some prescriptions for action include, for example, from Page 106:

“If only the international community can change the economic incentives for conflict, it can help substantially reduce their incidence, even in societies riven by long-standing hatreds.”

And finally, and perhaps of even more relevance today as Africa becomes more and more noticed by western businesses (although this particular quote is specific to Angola), from page 170:

“It may be very easy for companies to respond that it is not possible to alter the way in which they do business, but this response, especially when set against the scale of recurring tragedies across the African continent, is no longer acceptable.  In the end any company should determine for itself if it can do business in Angola and remain in accordance with its own policies and ethical code of conduct. “

I find ample support that this sentiment should apply just as much today and to the entire continent.

While a bit challenging to read, I found this book to be well-written, with the conclusions clearly supported by references, clear arguments and sound reasoning, and with the assumptions properly established and noted.  I learned a great deal, even though I found much of the material depressing.  My biggest concern is the extent to which the conclusions either no longer hold (while possibly true in the details, the general theme quite likely still applies) or can be dismissed as being out of date.  Perhaps Collier’s newer work can reassure me on both these points.

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What passes for my normal life in Kampala

What’s normal here in Kampala for my sabbatical?  I thought about doing “a day in my life” but that seemed to be rather limiting, and likely to be rather boring as well.  Instead, I’ll summarize what seems to be normal here in terms of sights, sounds, and activities.  I’ll close with a bit about what “having fun” in the normal course of life means as well.

I think the sound that will stick with me the longest from my time here is simply the sound of sweeping.  It seems like people are almost constantly sweeping the drives and the parking lots in my apartment complex, and you’ll also see people on the roads in the city doing the same thing.  The women lean down from the waist with straight legs; this isn’t the natural position for we muzumgus (white people) but apparently the center of gravity for Ugandans (and I believe more generally for native Africans) is different and this position puts the least strain on the body.  Intellectually knowing that it is better that way (I heard it from one of the medical doctors here in the UNICEF offices) doesn’t make it easier to watch.

Other sounds are the wildlife.  While I don’t hear the same symphony of wildlife at my new place as I did at Terra’s, the bird calls are still quite common.  Then of course there are also the roosters, who seem to have a very poor grasp on the concept of dawn, or perhaps it is only Midwestern US roosters that only crow at dawn.

Finally, I am getting used to hearing “muzumgu” as a greeting, as a name, possibly as a curse, or to see if I need a ride.  I’ve actually seen some people wearing t-shirts saying “My Name is NOT Muzumgu”.  It doesn’t bother me that much, now that I am aware enough of the various possible meanings.

Unlike at Terra’s, I don’t here the calls from the mosques as much, although I still here them from time to time throughout the city.  I have seen estimates that Muslims represent between 12 and 30 percent of the population of Uganda, with at least 6,700 mosques.  Since much of the country’s population is in the Kampala area, it isn’t surprising that there are a significant number of mosques.

Then, of course, there are the city sounds.  Everywhere I walk, I am constantly hearing “taxi taxi” or “boda boda” and I am constantly saying no to these offers of transport.  Then, of course, there is the traffic noise. Bodas, matatus, and taxis use their horns to get your attention, and of course there are the people who seem to need to be reminded not to walk out in front of the motorcycles and cars.  There is also just the sheer volume of cars and trucks, and truck mufflers seem to be rather ineffective in my experience to date.

As for the sights, first it is just the sheer number of people on the move.  In the mornings, I see lots of kids walking in the area in their school uniforms, women walking carrying things on their head, and lots of police and security guards pretty much everywhere, mostly armed with what looks to me to be older rifles.  The police uniforms were changed shortly after the bombings to camouflage uniforms, making some folks concerned about military deployments.  Using a bike as a cart, walking beside it with goods piled high, seems to be quite common as well.  Some of the things I’ve seen people carrying on bikes and motorcycles include two brooms and a mop, a lamp standard, twin mattress (fortunately the mattresses here aren’t all that thick), huge rolls of firewood, and over a dozen jerry cans.  These trump my former winner of the weird things people carry on bicycles award, from Houston Texas, which was the now rather pedestrian entrant of an upright vacuum cleaner (although that image still makes me chuckle).

Even with all the people walking, the traffic gets horrible.  The ever-present potholes, that don’t seem to get fixed in a timely manner, don’t help traffic flow at all, although it does make crossing certain streets easier. My sense of fair play was at least pleased to see that even in the ambassadorial and other rich people’s area, the roads still have very real problems.

Then of course, there are the storks, or more precisely the Marabou storks.  I saw these creatures close up near Lake Victoria in the Munyonyo area of Kampala.  I had unfortunately forgotten my camera that day, but I am hoping to get some of Sean’s pictures.  These birds look prehistoric.  They are huge, quite ugly, and they are toxic to eat, presumably because of their poor diet.  I will try to get a picture posted, hopefully of one wandering around in the outdoor restaurant hoping to get people to throw him their fish bones.  With me sitting down, he was about as tall as I am.

So, what’s day-to-day life like?  In some ways, it reminds me of London, with the smaller fridges, and having to walk home with the groceries, meaning shopping about every couple of days, walking a lot, getting bags searched, going through metal detectors and/or getting wanded on the way into many complexes, being hailed by bodas and riding in swerving cars, usually to avoid the pot-holes, but sometimes because the driver is just impatient.  Although I do walk a lot here, I also use official taxis a fair amount, always calling the driver.  I inherited many of Terra’s number, and our tastes for driving adventure seem compatible.  I rode with a driver Seth uses a lot and let’s just say I spent most of the time with my eyes closed.  Many men say all bad drivers are women, but I have at least an existence proof of the falsehood of that assertion.  In addition, there’s the extreme street crossing, which perhaps should be added to the X-games.  It is even possible I will be able to cross Airport Road in Bangalore the next time I go there (without cheating and latching on to someone else who is crossing).

Some items are packaged quite differently and “grocery stores” don’t seem to have the same variety of things you’d expect.  Milk comes in plastic bags and/or in boxes; yogurt also comes in similar plastic bags.  I even saw a “gin bag” on the ground on a walk I did on Sunday morning.  The stores themselves seem more like superstores, but then are missing things like coffee pots (thanks to Sabine, I have a French press pot for coffee in the morning).  One store had dish towels, while the other only had bath towels.  I must admit I’m just happy I brought most of the things with me I needed. Apparently, ziploc bags are a treasure. I’m bringing some more back when I return from my trip back to the US (I leave this weekend for a week).

Very few people are out on the roads running for exercise, although I’m seeing a few more since the Kampala Marathon is coming up soon.  I also rarely see street beggars, although the spot between the Oasis shopping center (which contains the grocery store I usually use) and Garden City shopping center (which contains an ATM that actually accepts MasterCard, a rare thing) usually has one or two.

Given the prevalence of mosquitoes, inset repellant is popular.  I’ve not had to use much sunscreen (and no, I don’t currently look lobster-esque).  Malaria is apparently relatively rare in central Kampala, but I am spending enough time out in the field that I am taking the anti-malaria pills and using bug spray, as well as sleeping under a mosquito net.

So, what kinds of things do we do on weekends?  There’s actually a fair number of team dinners (Annie is a fantastic cook) and TGIF parties (caipirinhas are a new favorite cocktail).  There are trips to “The Belgian Place”, also known as “La Petite Village”, or at least that’s what the sign says, which contains a patisserie, a deli and a wine shop.  There’s dining or drinks at Emin Pasha, one of the nice hotels here in town.  There are trips to Kabira, a hotel and country club, to use their pool and gym.  We had a volleyball party this past Sunday at Terra’s.  My volleyball skills haven’t deserted me completely apparently and a good time was had by all.

Let’s also not forget the Royal Ascot Goat Races, but that’s the subject of a post all its own.

So, that’s what passes for normal here for me in Kampala.  (And yes, I will try to get some pictures up).

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Essay: Social forces impacting gender based violence in Uganda

This post presents all kinds of questions, issues, angst and speculation on the problem of Gender Based Violence (GBV).  GBV is one of the major focus issues for Sabine, the Communications for Development (C4D) person I have been traveling with, along with Terra, on my trips outside of Kampala so far.  As a result, we’ve had several conversations on issues of GBV with men and women leaders in various NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), government, FBOs (Faith Based Organizations), and UNICEF offices.  BTW, I have learned that the development community loves TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) perhaps even more than the technology community does. They don’t even stop at TLAs, but move on to MLAs (Multi-Letter Acronyms).

I do not claim to present any answers here, but I do want to present some thoughts and observations from my time here.  As I have expressed elsewhere, it is far too easy to default to a western solution to solve whatever problems I encounter.  I don’t presume to understand the cultural traditions, the societal norms and the pressures that impact these individuals in their daily lives, let alone the historical context.  However, the forces influencing this particular issue struck me.  So, enough caveats. Although there is controversy associated with this position, this post/essay will explore the following idea:  Effective male empowerment programs are essential to address GBV, even though GBV is seen as an issue of the disempowerment of women.

To me, the following exchange forcefully demonstrates a basis for this position.  An (female) aid worker visited one of the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camps about mid-morning.  She found all the women out collecting food and water and otherwise working to provide for their families.  She found the men all collected around the camp drinking (actually drunk), even that early in the day.  She asked one of the men why he wasn’t out trying to provide for his family.  His response was “I have been reduced to the status of a dog.  What else can I do but drink?”  This exchange began her thinking about the issue of male empowerment and GBV.  However, when she started speaking to some of her female counterparts in other agencies working on GBV, she met with harsh resistance, with the primary message being that “Men are clearly empowered enough if they feel they can beat their wives with impunity”, and therefore that any resources directed towards male empowerment were not only unnecessarily but potentially even counter-productive.

Now, I am not condoning violence against women as an acceptable outcome from male disempowerment.  Nor am I in any way condoning a traditional structure that relegates women to the status of property, and thus likely contributes to a cultural norm that somehow makes GBV an acceptable expression of a man’s frustration. However, simply providing support and empowerment to women in a context where men feel useless does not remove the pressure that can, and often does, result in GBV. This issue has to be more complex or it would have been solved long ago.

The conditions within camps and forced settlements are not like “normal” communities.  The inherently transient nature (in theory, anyway) of the camps do not provide the conditions for the creation and sustainment of a traditional economy, allowing for reliable revenue generating activities, and a traditional job that a man can have to provide for his family.  In some of these settings, the social structure of the community before the camps and settlements were nomadic in nature, and thus the expectations of men had nothing to do with providing for his family in a stationary context. Adding to these difficulties is the cultural traditions surrounding what it means to be a man in this culture.  In this culture, a man must pay for a wife with, for example, 60 or 80 cows (at 300 USD a head, that’s either a lot of money or a lot of stolen cattle).  What does this say then about the relative status of the man and the woman in a marriage?

Yet, it is also perhaps too simplistic to focus on things like the bride price as the root of the problem.  Some groups in the Acholi region, for example, are working to get the elders to abolish the bride price.  Acholi women, at least according to some conversations, have mixed feelings about this.  While it does eliminate the justification for an “I paid for you therefore I own you” attitude, some women also feel that the price helps them establish value in the household. A bride price (which is how they refer to it, not as a dowry) might seem strange to our modern western notions of marriage but it isn’t historically that foreign a concept.  Certainly the plight of women in the Acholi region can’t solely be blamed on the bride price.  Just as certainly, simply abolishing the bride price can not remedy the issues of GBV.

A colleague forwarded me a link recently from the Atlantic, entitled “The End of Man” (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/1/).  While the article itself includes no references to back up the statistics, there’s a thread in that article about how the recession in the US is differentially disempowering lower-middle class men.  The growth job sectors as currently projected do not tend to favor the skills that such men have typically been able to use to earn a living wage.  This article also raises the possibility of women just deciding they don’t need to keep men around, as they are more often the major financial support for the household.  While it is hard to imagine that happening in Uganda, to me there are some interesting parallels, which I will try to explore in a later post.

I also have begun to wonder about how the culture of the Acholi would have to change to support more empowered women.  There is the added pressure in that region of establishing or re-establishing communities and industry that have been disrupted or even destroyed by the LRA.  The path to stability and “a normal life” is a long one for this region.  One can hope that principles like fairness for women can be woven into the construction of their new culture and society.

As I said at the beginning, this post does not attempt to provide answers.  I can’t even say that I provided any clarity to the problem.  Expect more on this line as my thinking evolves.  As I spend time here, I find a society that has tremendous problems of health, violence, drought, starvation, corruption, instability, education, justice and exploitation.  I also see efforts, both sensible and misguided, attempting to alleviate at least some of the suffering and address some of the issues.  Finally, I see an incredible resource represented by the skills and talents of the people of this country.  The world is not so rich that we can so readily discard people. It feels sometimes that loss of life is readily accepted here; I hope this doesn’t translate into a feeling that the lives here are worthless.  They are not.

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I never thought I would have to wear a flak jacket

Updated to add a picture and fix the spelling of Karamojong.

My first flak Jacket experience

Donning the Karamoja flak Jacket and helmet

The morning of 6 September we left on the flak jacket journey.  Actually, we donned both bulletproof vests and helmets about an hour or so outside of Moroto, so at least most of the journey was armor free.  As a relatively short-waisted person with long legs, I spent much of the time in the car feeling like a turtle, since the bulletproof vest was longer than my torso.  Between that and the helmet sliding down, I am sure I made quite a vision of metallic glory.  Our driver estimated that each vest weighed about 30 kilos (approximately 66 pounds).  I am not sure it was quite that heavy, but it wasn’t far from it.

The reason for the armor, and the armed escort vehicle, is the presence of cattle raiders in this region.  The Karamojong consider themselves an independent kingdom, and thus feel they should not be considered part of Uganda.  They raid cattle in the Acholi region of Uganda, in Kenya, and yet they also raid across groups of Karamojong.  The raiders are very well armed, and they do get in firefights.  Attacks on UN vehicles aren’t expected; the risk is getting caught in the crossfire.  I must admit I felt quite silly sitting in the big UN vehicle, wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet, while the locals strolled down the street.  We did see one cattle herder with two soldiers escorting him, but the vast majority of the locals just went about their business.  Apparently, this means that the soldiers helped this herder recover his raided cattle, as the soldiers escort the herder back to his village in that case.

Moroto is the major city in the northern sub-region of Karamoja.  Karamoja itself is composed of several districts, of which we will be visiting at three – Moroto district, Kotido, and Abim. The drive from Kampala was about nine hours, including a 30-minute stop for lunch in Soroti, which also seems like a fairly good-sized town.  I had an avocado salad for lunch.  I had no idea how prevalent avocado was here.  I think I’ve had more avocados since arriving in Uganda than I have the rest of the year.  It’s helpful that they have to be peeled, making it a safe food substance.

We stayed at a compound called C&D, which is run by an Italian NGO.  The good news is that this meant we got real coffee for breakfast, not Nescafe, which is an abomination if I must say so myself.  We also ate very well for dinner, albeit with a bit more pasta than I am accustomed to.  The ice cold showers due to the lack of hot water we’ll just not discuss anymore.

The area itself reminds me strongly of Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the city nestled in the mountains, the terrain, and in particular the light.  Sunset and dusk are gorgeous times in this area.  Apparently the local staff members at the UNICEF office here climb the mountain.  We in fact had a closing celebration of “sundowners” about 7 minutes or so up the mountain to a nice plateau overlooking Moroto and the valley.  We could barely see Kenya from there.  The sunset was spectacular.  I am hopeful some of the pictures turned out.

The drive up was made more interesting with the two sets of trucks that were stuck in the mud.  Apparently, there’s been a lot of rain in this area recently.  Indeed, the region is coming off of approximately four years of drought. We had the benefit of four-wheel drive, so we just went around the problem, fortunately. The road itself was quite rough; I’d estimate about 6 or more hours were over rutted roads.

We saw quite a large variety of livestock along the way, including donkey, goat, cattle, chickens, and even camel, although this was rare.  This trip we will be focusing on youth centers more so than teacher colleges and schools.  We also will try to see some NGOs that deal in the agricultural sector, since this region relies so heavily on cattle and the effects of the cattle raiding are so devastating to many aspects of life in Karamoja.

Other posts from this visit will include a discussion of the economics of cattle raiding, an exploration of life in a village, and why folks might care less about cholera and other diseases than we’d like them to.  At least those are the topics I can think of at the moment. Thanks for all your comments.

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A legacy of brutality and a fight for a return to a normal life

The very first stop we made on our trip to northern Uganda (except for the roadside banana and cassava stop that is) was at a place called Empowering Hands.  This group supports the returning victims of abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  The LRA is a group of rebels that operated for several years in the late 1980, the 1990’s and early 2000’s in the Acholi territory of Uganda in the north.  Recent news reports describe activity by the LRA in continuing their campaign of abduction and lootings, as well as maiming and murdering civilians, although this activity is currently taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Central Africa Republic and parts of Sudan.  Some reports indicate that the group may be preparing to re-enter Uganda.

The LRA apparently maintains its capacity primarily through kidnapping children and turning them into soldiers, through a campaign of terror and intimidation.  Female children are kept as concubines or presented as sex slaves to cooperating groups.  I have read in some of the research I’ve done since the trip that children as young as ten (one reported a child of five) are being forced to be soldiers by the LRA.  Not surprisingly, the death toll among the child soldiers is thought to be quite large, although some children do escape and return or some are released when they become too ill to be useful (in this case having to make their way back home, somehow, while dealing with their illness).

Once these individuals return, the work of groups like Empowering Hands begins.  The returnees face many challenges.  Clearly there are the impacts deriving directly from their ordeal, including the trauma itself, health issues arising from the conditions under which they lived and from injuries sustained while fighting, and the interruption of their education and development.  However, these individuals also often face rejection by their villages and families.  Women who have fathered children by the rebels at times are accepted back but their children are rejected.  Given the indoctrination the children undergo while held captive, the people are afraid that the returnees will harm or even kill them, since many of these individuals have been forced to kill while in captivity. In the aftermath of such horrendous treatment, these individuals must then deal with the rejection of their family and former neighbors, and they must find a different way to re-enter society to establish a new life for themselves.

Empowering Hands currently works with about 30-50 individuals, although the estimate we heard was that there were approximately 200 returnees in this particular sub-county alone.  Some returned home as recently as two years ago.  No one mentioned, and I was not going to ask, about how long they endured captivity.  We also did not hear individual stories so much as we heard more general issues.  Two things struck me when we first encountered the group.  The first was how warmly we were greeted.  The group greeted us with a traditional song with all the members participating.  It sounded joyful as a song, but I could not understand the words.  The second thing that struck me was how young so many of the people were.  Abductions and enslavement are completely wrong, but somehow the violation seems all the worse when it is inflicted on children

The group’s initial focus has been on psycho-social counseling for the returnees.  However, the focus for the individuals in the group has turned towards education and vocational training.  Since their education has been interrupted, these individuals need some form of remedial education to re-enter the educational system in any meaningful way.  There are also issues for the children born to the returning women, as there is no source of support for these children to attend school at all.  Some efforts have been made to provide vocational training, but the areas of training haven’t been considered particularly useful.  Another issue for the group is, not surprisingly, medical care.  Some individuals are still suffering with bullet fragments, for example.

Sitting down and speaking to these individuals (both through an interpreter and in English with the group leaders), I was struck by the contrasts I had seen in my own life over such a short time.  Indeed, less than a month prior to this visit, I was on holiday in Germany with my father, my sister and a group of people. The stories about life behind the wall in East Berlin seemed foreign enough to me then.  This reality is even further removed from my own life experience. I was humbled at the thought of what kind of strength these individuals demonstrate each and every day as they focus on rebuilding their lives and finding a way to re-enter society.  Their focus was not on restitution or revenge but on tangible things that would help them return to something of a normal life.

There are some issues around a proper understanding of the rights granted to Ugandan citizens by their constitution, which apparently hasn’t been translated into the local languages and English isn’t widely understood by this group, not surprisingly.  In particular, without proper explanations and understanding, it is hard to grasp the implications of a right in a constitution for daily life and how those rights also often imply responsibilities.  Even though English is the official language of Uganda, making such crucial documents accessible would to me seem to be an important undertaking.

The raids of the LRA also resulted in a huge number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in camps across the region.  One estimate placed a peak number of IDPs at approximately 1.8 million people.  In Northern Uganda, that number is declining significantly, to about 295,000 as of June 2010, although this number does not include individuals in urban areas outside the Acholi, West Nile, Lango and Teso regions or those in Karamojo.  Life in the IDP camps was quite difficult, and many people who have returned to their homes have trouble with reclaiming land and making a living again.  These issues will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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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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It was bound to happen eventually…

Well, it’s been incredibly hectic the past several days.  Terra had a friend come for her R&R for a long weekend.  Juliet is based in Somaliland, which internally functions as a country but is not recognized as one by the international community who view it as an autonomous region of Somalia.  Given the security situation in most of Somalia, UN workers like Juliet have to operate under some pretty stringent restrictions, giving rise to the need for frequent R&R breaks.  With her visit, we did a fair amount of shopping (those who know me know how high this generally ranks in my list of pastimes, but I did manage to get gifts for folks).  We also ate Chinese, Mexican and Indian food, all of which was good (for the most part – I’ll get to that next). I still haven’t had Ugandan food yet, as we’ve been eating sandwiches, fish and chips, pasta, fried chicken, and the cuisines mentioned above.  Terra has promised to get me some real Ugandan food this coming week.

As was bound to happen eventually, I finally came down with what I will euphemistically refer to as “travelers’ digestion”.  I think it was something in the Indian food that didn’t agree with me, although, given all my travels to India, I would have thought that should be fine.  As Terra and Juliet and I shared all the dishes, I can’t even blame the food.  So, rather than leaving for our trip to the northern part of Uganda on Monday as planned, we had to wait until Tuesday.  I slept until 2pm on Monday, ate the Ugandan version of Raman noodles with some leftover bok choy from the Chinese dinner on Friday and all was right with the world.

I must say that, although I was expecting some intestinal distress, the botfly was a surprise.  Also called the mango fly here, this little creature lays eggs on laundry and if you do not thoroughly iron your clothing after drying it outside or at least let it sit for a few days, these eggs implant themselves beneath the skin and gestate new flies, which then do bad things that I would rather not contemplate.  For those interested in videos, googling “botfly Uganda ironing” will bring up some videos.  I have not looked at any, figuring it was safer to wait until I am far away from these creatures.  Fortunately, most furnished apartments here come with laundry and ironing services, so I should hopefully continue to avoid experiencing this malady first hand.  I did so hope it was exhaustion, jet lag and perhaps even hallucination when I first remembered Terra mentioning this.  Alas, I was not so lucky, so it is ironed clothes for me!  Wearing ironed blue jeans takes some getting used to.

Coming up next, posts on my tour of Northern Uganda and some thoughts arising out of that experience,  and an experience it truly was.

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