Christine Marie Carlson

Christine Carlson (Gulu Disabled Persons Union): Christine received her BA from The Evergreen State College. She went on to work for Planned Parenthood in Seattle, advocating for reproductive health strategies; co-manage a project on HIV-AIDS with PATH (the Northwest Microbicides Campaign Bill) funded by the Gates Foundation; and worked as an associate producer for Bill Nye’s series “The Eyes of Nye.” Christine was pursuing a Master’s in International Public Administration at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at the time of her fellowship. After her fellowship, Christine wrote: “I was extremely lucky to have such a wonderful group of people to work with. They are highly social and welcomed me eagerly. They tried to put my desk in an outside office, but I insisted on being put in the main office. I often bought sodas and fruit for the whole office, took photos constantly (which they loved) and was always available to lend a hand or an ear.”

Bittersweet goodbye.

22 Aug

This is will be my last post from Gulu, Uganda. It has been a great honor to work with GDPU and I am very grateful to AP for the opportunity.  hello

My overall academic goal is to understand the relationship between social service delivery systems and government in developing countries. GDPU was a golden case study. I will continue my research during my last year in graduate school and will definitely return to Africa to learn more and hopefully contribute.

A few weeks ago everything that I assumed about Gulu seemed to expand and shift. I began to glimpse the worlds within worlds. I’ve faced a lot of complexity here. My local friends agreed when I observed that Acholi’s seem to have happy faces and sad hearts. I have one friend here who after two years, calls it “post-conflict Disneyland.”  Implying that there is this sort of free-for-all hysteria of outsiders coming here for a story, adventure, fulfillment of some vision, art experiment, career move etc. (Though I’m pained to admit it, I’m included.) And despite all this there are still tragedies occurring every 5 minutes.  And then there is another layer of finger pointers, another layer of swindlers and another layer of hard working war-traumatized Acholis.

Playing with the children at St. Judes Orphanage for the disabled.

Playing with the children at St. Judes Orphanage for the disabled.

I have had the sweetest moments and possibly learned the most when I just let go of my agenda and spent time with people. One day in particular I sat on a large mat under GDPU’s mango tree with the ladies from the Landmine Survivors Beauty School.  They braided my hair and laughed as I put on my first tiko (five strands of beads tied around the waist-the beautiful secret of African women.) We used the extra beads to make necklaces for everyone while they told me stories of their lives and the courage it took to recover from their injuries and start their lives over.  These lazy bittersweet moments have crept in to me and have revived tenderness to some weary corners of my soul.

I have tremendous respect and love for the staff and board of GDPU. Their stories and passion were overwhelming.

Fred Semakula discusses GDPU with Disability Rights Fund.

Fred Semakula discusses GDPU with Disability Rights Fund.

Mr. Fred Semakula is an incredible leader, who very patiently taught me about the nuances of disability politics and etiquette.  Fred’s spinal cord injury was caused when he fell out of a mango tree as a boy.  His tenderness with clients is amazing. His disability does not stop him from raising the four orphans of his deceased brother, playing a mean game of pool and making all the ladies very happy to see him. He still loves mangos.

Mr. Simon Ojok was my closest friend in Gulu. (Pictured several times through out this blog.) We were either laughing, having very serious conversations about the war, disabilities or business often during our sessions “opening our minds” with a few bottles of beer.  Despite his visual impairment caused by the LRA he is the only person in his village to go to University.  Besides his full time work training PWDs on their rights he raises two children of his own with his visually impaired wife and raises four orphaned children of his brother.

Beautiful Patricia Okwir at GDPU.

Beautiful Patricia Okwir at GDPU.

Ms. Patricia Okwir is truly the most graceful woman I have ever met.  With sweetness, strength and great eloquence she empowers the disabled community. She shared incredible insights with me about Uganda and in particular the Acholi culture and history of the war.  She is also raising two children and completing her Masters degree. She truly taught me the special strength that is unique to African women.

Santos Oryema, the best driver in Uganda.

Santos Oryema, the best driver in Uganda.

Santos Oryema is the best driver in Uganda and the most handsome man in Gulu. He uses his skills learned from being a driver during the war for Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to drive the staff to the remotest parts of Gulu on the worst roads I’ve ever seen.  He took very good care of me and shared incredible stories about spending his childhood sleeping every night with hundreds of children on the veranda of the hospital to escape the LRA. Even when he describes how he survived being attacked twice during his driving career or how his father was killed by the LRA he will only knit is brow for a moment and then he pulls from his incredible strength and his sparkling smile returns.

John Aluma is the most committed intern I’ve ever seen.(pictured in the previous post with his quilt piece) He is the first one at the office and the last one to leave.  I was amazed how quickly he got around with only one leg.  When he wasn’t busy finalizing proposals, completing research or running errands he and I would laugh at the hilarious romantic music he was always downloading. John, your heart is as big as Africa.

I leave  GDPU with a new website. I hope that it will bring much deserved attention and support from agencies in Uganda and internationally for their work. After spending three months here I have become a big fan of the agency. Of course they have their challenges, but I believe at times they demonstrate the model of what a Ugandan run agency for Uganda’s most vulnerable should look like.

I did many other things in Uganda besides work at GDPU: I tracked gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest.  Winner of the MJ Dance Contest in Gulu.I attended a traditional wedding, a Michael Jackson Dance contest, a break dance contest for youth. I rode motorcycle taxis  (boda) side saddle all over Kampala and Gulu, I supported Gulu’s only female boda driver (call Aber at 0788242258), attended mass at the beautiful Camboni Cathedral in Gulu, and I was a judge in contest for “Miss Karuma Falls” a talent/beauty contest for Acholi women. 
This blog rarely recorded the loneliness and sadness I felt after long days seeing such tragedy or just from feeling like such an outsider. I was so grateful for the staff at Hotel Kakanyero who gave me a deal for the summer, took care of me when I had dysentery and treated me like family.

Thank you Gulu for a bittersweet adventure and teaching me lessons that I will never forget.

Thank you to my friends and family back home who helped me spiritually and financially.

My sweet Father- You are my best friend, my councilor and my mentor. Thank you for everything.

Lisa- I could not have done this trip without your support. Thank you for the hours of insightful conversations.  Keep up the good work at the Gates Foundation!

Kathy-  Thank you for all your wisdom, advice and sweetness.

Leen and Sam-  My Belgian angels. Thank you for being my family in Africa.

Iain and Erin- Thank you again for your guidance, practical advice and for pushing me to go beyond myself.  You opened the door for me to have a life changing experience. AP is truly an incredible organization doing amazing work around the world.

Sunset in Gulu.

Sunset in Gulu.

Posted By Christine Marie Carlson

Posted Aug 22nd, 2010

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