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.”

Gulu Sunday Blues.

03 Aug

Last Sunday I had an intense dose of life in Gulu. In the morning I witnessed what it is like for the deaf to access healthcare and in the evening my host related stories about the history of Gulu that provided an important context to understanding development in the area.     

 In the morning I returned to the hospital to see another patient.  Due to many circumstances I was asked to deliver some money for surgery from a friend to a deaf patient. Charles Arum, GDPU’s most experienced deaf interpreter escorted my new Belgian researcher friends and I to the hospital. We arrived to find Atim Scovia lying in a room with eight occupied beds, her husband and friend by her side.      

Skovia Atim waits in bed at Lacor Hospitol for her results.

Skovia Atim waits in bed at Lacor Hospitol for her results.

She was very grateful for the mango juice, groundnut butter (peanut butter) and bread that we brought.  She put it aside and lifted her shirt and showed her distended belly then invited us to touch it.  The deformity was terrible. I used my remedial sign language to tell her that I was happy to see her and that I hoped that she would recover. Despite her pain she smiled widely the whole time.  I was even more amazed at her positive demeanor when I learned that her eleven month old baby had died three weeks earlier because she was not able to feed her. At 24 she also had two other children, but her husband’s two other wives  care for them.     

 We waited for a few hours for the doctor so we could find out her diagnosis. I held her hand, sponged her body and gave her mango juice as we watched the other patients in the room.      

An old woman next to her attempted to get comfortable tossing around in her bed, the sheets and loosely tied nightgown falling from her body and the bed. It was difficult for her to maneuver due to a tube hanging from her side that drained puss into a large bottle next to the bed. When finally the covers fell from her buttocks, I arose and recovered her with a blanket.     

Skovia may have received care earlier if she wasn’t deaf.  The deaf community is incredibly isolated. Although Gulu does have two schools for the deaf, the majority are left without access to education. Therefore they are unable to write but somehow band together and teach each other sign language. They often marry each other and somehow scrape together enough to feed and shelter themselves. When there is an emergency they are completely reliant on sign language interpreters.      

After several hours of waiting, the nurse invited us to a counseling room to tell us what Skovia was suffering from an abscess in the liver.  The nurse said she did not know if the abscess was due to the fact the Skovia has Hepatitis B, or possibly from liver cancer. They also suspect that she has tuberculosis. We must wait two weeks for the results.     

When we found out that she probably has TB it was the first time during my visit I recoiled in fear:  my non-immunized friends could be at great risk.  In an effort to do something after the hours that we had been sitting with and touching Skovia we ran to the bathroom and vigorously washed our hands and faces. (I later found out that this attempt to protect ourselves was quite ridiculous.)     

 I was also shocked that despite the fact that the hospital knows she may have TB Skovia was not isolated- one more incidence when a situation that would be intolerable in the West is taken as not a big deal here.  According to USAID Uganda ranks 16 the on the list of 22 high-burden tuberculosis (TB) countries in the world. (    

Charles at Pece Stadium awaiting to see if his candidacy made it through the primary vote.

Charles at Pece Stadium awaiting to see if his candidacy made it through the primary vote.

Lacor Hospitol doesn’t employ sign-language interpretors despite Uganda’s laws that supposedly enforce equal access.  Charles believes that in time these policies will change. He believes that if he shows that he is already in the field they will find what he does valuable and pay him for his work.  So whenever he is needed he takes an expensive taxi all the way to the hospital and spends hours waiting for the doctor to make sure the deaf patient can communicate.  He is truly a noble man and deserves support for what he does. 

Me in my Kitenge made by Vicky.

Me in my Kitenge made by Vicky.

I was so glad that I decided to choose his partner, Vicky amongst the many dress makers to make me a “kitenge!” I’ve sent other friends to her shop as well. I hope that the support helps their family.

Charles is also running for office. I really hope he wins.

Charles Arum and Vicky at her shop.

Charles Arum and Vicky at her shop.

In the evening Vicky, Charles, Sam and Leen, my two Belgian friends and I ate Chinese (which is really Ugandan food with a dash of pepper) by candle light under a full moon.We wanted to hear more about his work, but eventually the conversation turned to the war.
He recounted story after story of the brutality  inflicted by Lord’s Resistance Army during the recently ended 20 years civil war. (The following is graphic and disturbing.)  


Many children had been abducted for the purpose of carrying goods for the LRA along the road north. If they made it their reward, was to turn them into soldiers. The children were not given food, water or rest. If they complained the soldier would ask who else was tired, then they would all be untied from the line of the children and “put to rest forever” with one slash across the chest from a machete. 
I later heard that if you complained you were hungry they would use an equally repulsive practice. The complainers would be offered copious amounts of food. Then the soldiers would sew their anus’ closed and wait for them to die an excruciating death as their bowels exploded.
Charles’ has a brother who was abducted. One day he was so sick that the LRA just left him in field to die. Some hours later soldiers from Uganda People Defense Forces’ (UPDF) saved him. Charles says even to this day his brother is “disturbed.”
In Charles’ village the LRA arrived one day and started to cut people up. They put the people into pots and boiled them, some still alive. Just as they began to force the villagers to eat the bodies UPDF airplanes flew by, requiring the LRA soldiers to stop and leave.
At night everyone slept in Internally Displaced Camps.  There were very few latrines and food was scarce. The situation was even harder for persons with disabilities, and many died.  If a UPDF soldier saw you outside the camp after 7pm they would shoot you on sight assuming that you must be LRA.  In very dangerous areas whole villages were moved to the camps to live day and night. 
After the war many had made the camps into their homes. If they returned to their homes they would find only graves: parents and children killed.  Before the war villages were vibrant.  Now they are empty and now the town of Gulu is full of people without family trying to rebuild their lives and redefine their sense of order. 
We asked Charles why; How is it possible that soldiers of the LRA could do such things? “They blame it on the evil spirits.” If “jok,” tells you to go and kill ten villagers you have no choice, you must go and kill them. 


Graffiti in Gulu asking for LRA Soldiers to return.

Graffiti in Gulu asking for LRA Soldiers to return.

 Many Acholi today are able to forgive their friends and neighbors because they believe that they were full of evil spirits which are now gone.  Others say they can forgive because of Jesus. 

Under the moon light we sat exhausted and overwhelmed as we contemplated the events of day. With such a violent heritage perhaps Gulu is actually doing quite well. I wish the deaf and particarly after this day that Skovia had better care, but given the circumstances the care that is available is actually pretty incredible.

Posted By Christine Marie Carlson

Posted Aug 3rd, 2010

1 Comment

  • Erin

    August 4, 2010


    Testing comment please delete

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