As per my modus operandi, I somewhat spontaneously decided to head up to Gulu for the weekend as I have felt slightly removed from the reports which filter through Kampala. Buses to the north only run during day light hours due to the potential for attack. However, the security threats on the road from Kampala to Gulu town have been significantly reduced over the past two years. The cease-fire has resulted in relatively few incidents, with the majority occurring in the regions of Lira, Kitgum and Pader. The man (a professor who visits Gulu to teach on occasion) sitting beside me on the four hour bus journey volunteered his opinions about the security situation on the roads and in the town itself (all echoing the reports and news).
Arriving in the early evening, I quickly dropped my things at the hotel to go for a walk in the town. Ironically enough, I felt safer then than I did moving around certain parts of Kampala by myself at night. But actually given the small town feel of Gulu (wall to wall NGOs), this was not surprising. As I was consistently warmly greeted by the locals who passed me in the street, I felt the hard layer which had built up around me while living in the urban center of Kampala melt away. Repeatedly I had to remind myself of where I was (in a conflict zone) because I found the relaxed atmosphere and friendly smiles to be disarming. I don’t think I have smiled so much thus far during my time in Uganda, how strange given the gravity of the circumstances. But the people of Gulu town seemingly do not question the feeling of security (in contrast to the areas outside). Whether justified or not, the bubble exists. Even the laughter emanating from the children I saw walking to the night commuter centers belied the enormity of the fundamental change in their lifestyle.
The next morning on the advice of an aid worker I met that first night I attempted to go out to an IDP camp. With some luck, I found myself hitching a ride with an armed convoy for food distribution through the World Food Program. With 120 soldiers and 80 or so volunteers, the daunting procession drove out for hours on muddy (very muddy) roads (stopping and slowing down periodically for the even the most minor difficulty by any one of the vehicles). The workers in the vehicle would periodically point out important landmarks as we drove past including the former home of the LRA leader Kony. Hours later we descended upon the site, and I greedily snapped pictures of the process of unloading, coupon allocation and food distribution as it unfolded. In general, I was quite impressed at the efficiency and organization. I hope the pictures I have captured do it justice. I had some incredible interactions with the children I encountered, many of whom were initially frightened by my unusual appearance. I will refrain from describing the conditions of the IDP camp itself as I believe the pictures speak volumes. By the time we returned to Gulu town late that evening, my attachment to this country had significantly increased, and my energy for the work of RLP was once again invigorated.
Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)
Posted Jul 12th, 2005