In Northern Uganda, just when you think you can’t hear a more depressing tale, or a more tragic turn of events, all you have to do is turn to the next person and ask them their story. It is almost like I am living in a twisted game where everyone is trying to one-up each other with tales of death, destruction and despair.
I generally try to keep things fairly light here, because I think there is enough sensationalizing of the violence in Central Africa these days, but it has gotten to the point where I need to comment. In the last couple of weeks I have met a woman who got shot in the hand, was refused medical care, and subsequently had her arm amputated a month later because a severe infection had reached almost to her shoulder. Then, I met a guy who was tortured in his own home because he didn’t have enough food to give the rebels when they came and demanded everything he had. They beat him until he fell, and then they jumped up and down on him, trying to crush him to death. Then I met a boy who was kidnapped when he was 9 years old, taken into the bush and given an gun. He killed four people, then escaped, then had six of his family members murdered as a reprisal for his escape. Then I met a woman who was abducted by the LRA, shot in the groin, blasted with shrapnel, and left for dead. She got home just in time to witness the LRA murdering her husband in the garden. Then I met a woman whose father was hacked to death with machetes. Then I met a guy who was kidnapped by the LRA when he was 12 and was forced to walk through the jungles of Northern Uganda for three years carrying supplies for the rebels. He estimates he walked more than a thousand miles in that time. Then I met a man who had five siblings kidnapped by the rebels, and two of his brothers are still missing. Then I met a man who…
You can fill in the blank. And whatever you come up with, I bet I can just ask whoever is closest to me now to tell me a story about the mid 1990s and they will make your story sound like Disneyland. This is not that surprising to me, honestly. Not because I am immune to the suffering, but because I was prepared to hear these things. The thing that has really thrown me, that has really confused me, the thing that I can’t tell if it really scares me or that it really makes me sad is that I have not seen one tear being shed. I have never seen a Ugandan person cry when telling these stories. People who have lost mothers and fathers, people who have lost wives and husbands, people who have lost sons and daughters will not cry when they remember them. Why? I have asked myself that the whole time I have been here and I don’t have an answer.
Maybe it’s because it seems like wasted energy. After all, tears don’t get you out of an IDP camp. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t seem so tragic when it has happened to everyone around you. Maybe it’s because it all seems so surreal that they physically can’t cry. I don’t know. The disconnect between what I am being told in words and what I observe in body language is truly disconcerting. It makes it hard for me to find an appropriate response. If someone has a blank stare, what good is it for you to lose your composure?
I think, though, that I am getting some insight into this phenomena. What I am starting to realize is that Ugandans know that outside of their country, even outside of their region, the war is long gone. In fact, it may have never existed. How many people in the US know that Uganda was fighting a civil war for 20 years? When you have that kind of self-perception, you are not going to spend much time in pity for yourself, it doesn’t seem worth it. After all, if no one is crying for you, you’re certainly not going to waste your time crying for yourself.
Posted By Bryan Lupton
Posted Jul 6th, 2009