Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's not Good-bye, but Come Again

Over the past weeks we have made friends that have invited us to their houses, eating their foods, hearing their stories, and most importantly, we have become a part of their lives. It is that bonding that we have created that leaves no space for noticing time.  

These five weeks have given us an experience of a lifetime. These are the moments that will be most highlighted and remarkable in our college experience. We are wondering how life will be like as we return to the States and continue our regular college classes. Our perspectives have changed, our eyes have been opened. With this experience, our canvases of life have been redefined. We have added deep profound colors and unique strokes of experience. Gulu has been forever etched in the hearts and lives of ourselves and those we have met.

Below are words of farewell from some of the members of GSSAP 2013.

Kelsey Landis – “Gulu was fantastic and the community is so open and welcoming. They treated us like we were at home. I hope that everyone stays positive and wonderful. Much love to you. Apoyo.”
Kelsey Baker – “Good-bye, Gulu town. Thank you for making me feel like I was at home. And thank you for allowing me to learn so much about myself and all of you.”

Hannah Johnson – “My time in Gulu was unforgettable. I’m so grateful for all the many friendships I have built. Maybe one day I will be able to come back and reunite with my new friends.”
Anna-Claire Daniels – “I have found my second home. It is hard to leave- the miles are so many. But I know I will be back again one day. And until then, my heart is always with these wonderful people in Gulu.”

Michaela Moore – “I have had a wonderful experience and time here in Gulu. There is no such thing as good-byes. See you later.”
Hajie Sesay – “It’s been a great experience. And great experiences need to be revisited. So I will be back sometime in the future.”

Co-Authored by Stephanie Ader and Hajie Sesay

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My African Family

      There are so many memories that I will keep close to my heart from our trip.  One of the most memorable is working with and getting to know the social welfare officer from the Gulu Main Prison, Jolly, and her family.  I interned at PACTA, which is an alcohol awareness organization, and they provided an alcohol treatment program in the prison.  As a social work major myself, there are not words to describe how meaningful it was to me to get to interact with a social worker in Uganda.  I think we bonded right away due to the fact that she is and I will be a social worker. I found out through our conversations that she had not been paid her salary in two months from the government because they ‘did not have enough funds’ to pay her.  This put huge monetary stress on her.  She not only has a son of her own, but has adopted two girls that were orphaned during the war.  I would have never have known this by her actions.  She went to work everyday, worked through lunch, and ran errands for her clients after hours.    
Jolly has a huge passion for her job and takes it very seriously.  She also has a great love for people, especially her clients.  She took me under her wing and treated me like family.  Stephanie and I were invited to her house for dinner one afternoon.  We traveled with her after work to the market to buy dinner.  Buying dinner included purchasing the chicken we were going to cook!  She and her son, Timothy, guided us through the process of slaughtering, plucking, and cooking the chicken.  Timothy, who is three, actually did the killing.  I “chickened out” at the last moment!  We also prepared vegetables, rice, and other Ugandan dishes.  The entire process took about five hours and tasted delicious.  I ate two plates, which was the most I had eaten at one sitting since I had arrived in Africa.  
  Not only did I gain knowledge from her, but was shown how a friendship can be formed in a short amount of time, and can last a lifetime.  Jolly and Timothy attended the farewell party Thursday night and she showed me how to do some Ugandan dancing!  Timothy fell asleep early, so Stephanie and I took turns holding him.  Jolly later told me how grateful she was for an invitation to the event and how much fun she had.  It was a chance for her to relax and have fun.  I will always cherish our memories and one day will return to Gulu!

Friday, August 9, 2013

It's So Hard to Say GoodBye

From being nervous walking into our internships for the first time to crying the last day, it is so hard to say goodbye. Our going away party last night was such a bitter-sweet moment. Being able to see, eat, and party with the individuals we grew a very sturdy friendship with, under our internships, for the last night was a countless way to end our stay. Each and every one of us got to meet all of the internship directors and mentors. I could not believe the amount of people that showed up, it was the biggest parties that the study abroad has ever had. We all were dressed in our traditional attire and were very excited! Eating goat, dancing to a live performance from Jeff Korondo and B.S.G. Lobongo (two very known artist in northern Uganda), sharing smiles, laughs, and tears with each other really brought joy and happiness to each and every one that attended the party. I can truly say Monica, Brenda and all the young girls I met from Girls Kick It, Samuel and all the children from the St. Jude orphanage, the Kakanyero hotel staff, the few that I met from the prison, and the musicians and dance artists that I got to talk and interview with will most defiantly be missed. I have been with them throughout the entire study and service abroad program and it was truly hard to say good-bye. But as the Acholi say, “it’s not a good-bye, it’s a come again” and I most definitely will be coming back. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Visit to Steward's Village in Pabo

On Saturday, August 27, a few members of our team traveled to Pabo subdistrict in Amuru district. Pabo was the largest Internally Displaced Persons' (IDP) camps during the war, but is now dismantled. We went to Pabo to visit Steward Oyet and his family who recently moved back to this land that is owned by his great-aunt. Steward is a former employee of Kakanyero Hotel and friend to Dr. Rox and Dr. Trish. 

This is one of four huts in Steward's family's compound. Some of his family is standing in front.

Steward's mom made us fresh g-nut paste on a grinding stone. 

Some of his siblings giving the g-nut paste a taste test. 

Now it's our turn to give it a try, along with some sweet potatoes for dipping.

It was delicious!

Steward's family also taught us traditional dance. 

Dr. Rox brought some sweets to share with the kids. 

They loved it!

This is some of the supplies we brought as a gift to the family as a thank you for letting us visit. The supplies included sugar, salt, steel wool, soap, and more. 

They were so grateful for everything we brought.

After our gifts were given, they presented us with this goat as an appreciation for our visit. He will be part of our dinner tomorrow night at our farewell party.

Then it was time to eat again. They prepared us this feast of sweet potatoes, chicken stew, greens, g-nut paste, and millet bread. They were so kind to give us so much.

Our wonderful, fearless leaders: Dr. Rox and Jayanni.

This is the whole family with our team. It was such a great opportunity to be able to go to this village and meet Steward's wonderful family. This is a memory that I will always have!

Last Day at St. Jude's

It's Thursday afternoon and my last day in Gulu Town. Gulu Town, which has become my home for the last 5 weeks. I can't believe I'm packing to leave this incredible place and even more beautiful people. Yesterday was my last day at St. Jude's. By no surprise, saying goodbye to my children and new friends was one of the most difficult experiences of my life thus far. My fellow intern, Hannah, and I asked the teachers to translate some conversations with the children we became particularly close to. We had the teachers tell the kids we were so thankful to meet them, that we will miss them, and that we love them. Only some of them could actually grasp the concept of us not returning, but others (including my buddy Juliet, 2) didn't fully understand. Either way, Hannah and I left in tears holding on to our memories and photos of St. Jude's.
One of the orphanage "mamas" 

Some of the children who live at St. Jude's 

Painting hands for the newly added mural 

Beautiful new mural

Hannah with some of the St. Jude's children 

Moses, one of the children with special needs 

One of the little girls in the 3 year old class, K1

Nursery school children getting ready to march 

Ken in front of the nursery school 

Juliet, my best friend from St. Jude's 

Eman, an 8 year old girl with autism 

Face painting 

Regina with her freshly painted flower 

Hannah's best friend, Sunday 

Jovanna & Scovia, two girls from our class 

Barely surviving the everyday chaos 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


When I arrived excitedly in my hotel room again after a year’s absence, I rushed to the balcony to check out the wonderful view over the market below and beyond to the regional hospital, looking for changes in the landscape. My eyes alighted on a huge signboard by the side of Gulu’s main thoroughfare, telling us to LIVE FOR NOW. Only soft drink, alcohol, and phone companies can afford such mega-publicity, and in this case it was Pepsi.  Initially I was bothered by the fact that the faces in the advertisement were white and that the images of partying seemed out of place.  Then gradually I realized that it was the LIVE FOR NOW message that I found so objectionable.  For many people passing the signboard on foot or on boda-bodas or motorcycle taxis, the raw memories of an insecure existence in the camps or the bush during the conflict--when you didn’t know if you would make it through the day--put a very different spin on living in the present.

Now that there is peace in the region, the youth are trying to get back to school, go for further education or improve their vocational skills. The government vaunts its Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP).  Businesses are popping up and banks are urging their customers to save for the future. There is a rising middle class in Gulu (check out the new night clubs, bars and Internet caf├ęs), but the reality is that many more are eking out an existence hawking and doing menial work. As the hotel industry expands in the town, servicing the NGO community and company workshops, as well as people on their way to and from South Sudan, it creates jobs for the aspiring youth.  But the salaries are so low and the hours so long they can become trapped there, dreaming of ways to break out and move upwards. During the war (that ended in 2006), Gulu town was known as the largest unofficial IDP (internally displaced persons’) camp. Thatched huts still abound in many neighborhoods, offering low-cost rental accommodation, as well as places to live for those unwilling or unable to return to their villages.  

In the quest to “develop” and be part of the “Africa Rising” rather than the Africa-in-need narrative, some northern Ugandans look to faster ways of making money than traditional farming practices, such as (illicit) charcoal production. Born-again churches promising miracles and prosperity are on the increase. More worrying for many, notably the government, is the rising popularity with young males of drinking spots and sports betting shops.  A musician friend explained to me that such behavior is an expression of the newfound freedom of the youth in the “post-conflict” phase.  That notwithstanding, gambling or drinking away one’s limited earnings provides a telling example of how living for now, rather than tomorrow, might be because of the past.   

Monday, August 5, 2013

One More Week is Bittersweet

After returning from our fantastic Murchison Falls journey this past weekend, one of our favorite hotel employees invited a few of us over for dinner at her home. Birwinyo Grace has been like a second mother to all of us in the GSSAP group while staying at Hotel Kakanyero, so even though we were absolutely exhausted, we were excited to spend some quality time with her. Her home was very humble, consisting of one room with a bed, some shelves, and mats to sit on. She shares a traditional grass-hut kitchen in the back with her neighbor. She cooked us one of the best local meals we've had in Gulu, (especially for me as a vegetarian!). It consisted of homemade chapati bread, cow peas, vegetable stew, and a delicious potato, egg, and veggie scramble. We were absolutely stuffed afterwards, but of course had room for fresh pineapple. She also took us to see some of her friends in the community. There were a ton of kids playing nearby, who Grace said (and we could tell) were all very happy to see us. Hannah made a new friend with an adorable young boy, Trevor, who Grace invited inside to come inside with us. He cannot speak, but is incredibly bright. He loved our cameras and picked up the touch screen quicker than I ever did. As bittersweet as it is to be leaving this incredible place, it is amazing to have met so many beautiful people, especially people like Grace who we plan to continue contact with. Knowing how much our group means to people like Grace has been one of the most rewarding parts of this trip.

With love from Gulu,