June 12th: Dirt Tans

12:03 AM

June 12th: 

It seems that all the traveling that I have done in the last few weeks have led me to this place. I am madly in love with Gulu, it has a small town type feel with just enough busy to keep things exciting. The first thing that I noticed about the town is how many NGO’s are present here. We ran into a lady outside of Sankofa Cafe and sat and talked with her for a little while. She was telling us that Gulu is peaceful now, but that it has been a journey of rebuilding from the war. Drew’s apartment is right down the street from Sankofa Cafe. The Cafe has a brilliant courtyard area with free wi-fi. If that wasn’t enough to sell you, they have african milk tea with bay leaves, and ALL DAY BREAKFAST. If you know me, you know that I am passionate about breakfast so Sankofa is quickly becoming my home away from home. We had a pleasant morning of talking history, Luo and other important things. It was refreshing to sit and not have to think about what needed to happen next or how long I had to eat. I realize that I have become a slave to the act of constantly moving, Uganda is teaching me to take a step back and breathe, I’m on Ugandan time now. 

Right outside of Sankofa, we sparked a conversation with a few ladies, one of which was from Amani, an organization taking women affected by the LRA and giving them resources to recover amongst the making and selling of products. Keven, the woman from Amani, as well as the shopkeeper were honest and open with us. I do think that the people of the Acholi tribe might just be the sweetest humans that I know. One lady invited us to her house after knowing us for less than an hour. A line I heard repeatedly today was this: “you are welcome”. In America, we say this after being thanked but here it means please come. I have felt so welcomed in Gulu.

Good news, my bag turned up in Gulu and Boni woke up early in the morning to go pick it up from the bus. I was told that the bus line I took was the best decision that I could have made, any other bus line and I’m afraid my bag wouldn’t have been so lucky. 

Drew decided to take us to Fort Piteko (I’m unsure of the spelling). The Fort was the site of the Arab Slave Trade as well as Sir Samuel Baker’s Fort. A guide from the village came to show us around and explain the spots to us. What looked like a pile of rocks and some old brick buildings was a place of severe human violation back in the day. The guide showed us thin caves where women and men were taken before being evaluated. And then he showed us marks on the rocks from where the slaves were beheaded if they did not meet the standard. There was a rock that overlooked the courtyard called “The Seat of Judgment”. A man would sit on the seat of judgment and determine whether the person was worthy of being a slave. The pains of judgment span  further back in history than we even realize, if only we could learn from the mistakes of others.

(photos courtesy of Lindsey Platt!)

After the guide showed us around, we took some time to take in the incredible view from the Fort. Our boda boda drivers came along for the tour and along the way found a fruit that nobody present could identify. It looked like an orange, tasted like a mango and had small pits inside. Despite the mystery, we ate it and it was delicious. In America, we rarely eat fruit straight from the earth. We feel the need to process, and wash and modify. Here, they take what nature gives them and they trust in it.

On the road to Fort Piteka was the memorial and the site of the 2004 Lukodi massacres. The Lukodi massacres were carried out by the LRA. The LRA burned their way through the village and slaughtered innocent Acholi people. This was one massacre of many committed by the LRA. In order to view the memorial, we had to walk through a secondary school and talk to one of the administrators. The administrator took us into his office and after signing in, we walked past brush to the memorial. We said a prayer and he explained to us the path that the LRA took and the effect that the massacre still has today. In Uganda, a body is not buried at the area that it died, instead it is taken back to his home village after undergoing a proper ceremony and a slaughtering of a goat. During the war, many of these bodies never made it back home, causing a lot of despair for the families. Many NGO’s present are working on moving the burials back to the homes. This is happening 9 years later. This war, that I have studied for so long, the effects of it are right in front of my eyes. There are remnants of the war everywhere that I go even though the LRA left Uganda in 2006. As we rode bodas through the streets, I had a bone chilling realization that I was walking in a path that Joseph Kony had used to take advantage of such a vulnerable community. On our boda ride, children were walking on the streets, smiling and waving. What type of evil would exploit that type of innocence? These are still questions I find myself asking.

Speaking of boda’s, I realize that this is my favorite form of transportation. Flying through the streets of Gulu, I swear I have never been more alive. So alive in fact that I failed to see the great amount of dirt that was painting my face. I’ve heard that dirt is the new spray tan? On our way back to town, we got stuck in the rain. We sought out shelter at a community of huts on the side of the road. A woman saw us and invited us into her hut. We found out that she was a local teacher and we engaged in conversation until the rain had passed. I wish that in America, we were more quick to usher people into our homes.

That night we went into town and ate at a traditional acholi restaurant. I had boo (pronounced bo), a spinach like peanut sauce over rice. While we were there, we ran into Vicky, a Ugandan roadie from our tour. It was a wonderful surprise. She invited us over to her house on Sunday, again I am blown away by the hospitality. I think another reason that I love Gulu is that my Invisible Children family is everywhere. Hanging out with Jacob, Boni, Pepito, all these Ugandans that have talked to me about their culture for so long. Now the culture is in front of me and I couldn’t be more blessed.

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