Sunday, July 28, 2013

Christ Church

Last Sunday a few of us went to fellowship with Grace, a good friend of the program and a staff member at the hotel, at her church. The service was not in English but fortunately we had members of the choir to translate for us. Here are a few pictures and a video that shows how the members fellowship and served at the end of the service. It was a great experienced and I would love to go again.

The choir dancing.

The Choir singing.

Here is the leader of the choir, Jennifer. She picks the songs as well as lead them. The outfits that they, the choir, are wearing is all because of her.

Dr. Rox and Grace dancing.

This precious little girl at church. 

Bishop of the Church.

Why are you killing us?

AIDS is a huge epidemic in Africa. Furthermore, Uganda has the 10th highest occurrence in the world, with more than 6% of adults having been identified with AIDS. AIDS is a killer!

AIDS can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, through sexual intercourse, and by blood transfusion. Fortunately, there are several preventative measures that can be made. Currently, in many African countries, an HIV/AIDS test is required before a marriage can take place. The simple act of using protection during intercourse can also prevent the spread of the infection. Ultimately, awareness of the severity and prevalence of the infection will be the most effective measure.

Why are you killing us day and night?
You are leaving orphans all over the world.
Because of you, people drop out of school.
Because of you, families are separated.
Why will you not let us free?

The poem above was being taught to a K2 classroom at St. Jude Orphanage and Nursery School, where I have been interning. The students in this class are all four or five years old. In my opinion, AIDS is a very heavy topic to be teaching to such young children. However, as previously mentioned, it is very important to educate the Ugandan population on the severity of AIDS as a way of prevention. This means starting at the very young age of four. At four, the awareness will only include hearing the name of the infection and understanding that it is bad. As the child grows older, they will begin to learn more about the effects of AIDS, how it is spread, and how it can be prevented.
While many of the children in this class are from the surrounding community, some are also orphans. Many of these orphans may have lost their parents to AIDS, making this awareness even more prominent. 

Facts have been derived from the World Health Organization via a lecture by Justin Hendrix and Amanda Reinke as well as from

Village Visit

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to a near by village along with my roommate, Kelsey Landis. Kelsey is interning at TAKS Art Center where she has gotten to know her co-worker, Concy along with her boss, David. Concy currently lives in one of the upstairs apartments of TAKS but claims the village as her home.

After about a 25-minute ride out of Gulu town we finally arrived at Concy’s village. She immediately gave us a tour of the entire site. She described each of the trees and plants and even allowed us to a few huts, one of which 17 goats have claimed as their own.

During our tour we met an older man who they called Uncle. He invited us into his hut to be able to see the structure. Afterwards, he showed us a small pen where he kept 3 small pigs. Although he did not speak English I remember thinking how kind of him to invite us as strangers into his home.

After our tour we walked up a short trail to another side of the village where the children greeted us. Ranging from ages 5-15, the group of boys and girls performed traditional dances for us. The girls started while the boys played drums. After a few different pieces Kelsey and I were encouraged by the older women to join the children in dance. We both wanted to show our appreciation to our hosts so we decided to try a few of the dances. Everyone burst in to laughter while watching us try to maneuver our bodies in the same manner. I couldn’t keep from laughing myself. Although I felt silly I tried to let it sink in that here I am, dancing with children in a small village in Uganda. I will probably never have this experience again.

Once we had received our dose of traditional African dance for the day Concy invited the children to gather around us so we may thank them. We offered them our proper devote of thanks and encouraged them to ask us a few questions. I think my favorite question was them asking if Kelsey and I were twins because we have the same name. They all giggled when we told them no.

Being able to experience just an afternoon in this village has been one of my most emotional moments on this trip. Having people be so hospitable and inviting to complete strangers still baffles me. I felt more welcomed at times in Uganda with new friends than I have felt at many homes in the US. I truly appreciate these people and their love for us.
"Uncle" & his 3 little pigs

Trevor, Concy's son, & I walking to the dancing area

Kelsey Landis and Concy's niece, Macke 

Children dancing for us 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Surprise Visit

We were able to have the unexpected time to visit with the Honorable Betty Ocan, a member of Parliament, Gulu District.
It was a great Sunday afternoon visit. She was very open with different issues; including, but not limited to orphans, sexual and gender based violence, public health, etc.

She is a very friendly, influential and committed politician.
The biggest surprise: She is the founder of Laroo Pece Women's Association (LAPEWA) where I am an intern!! That was fantastic to be able to meet her and listen to her for the afternoon.
Thank you for visiting with us, Honorable Betty!! 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gulu Dining

            I am quite sure all my fellow GSSAP members can vouch for me when I say that I love food.  It has almost become a formal tradition that everyone passes me their leftovers after each meal to finish off, an undertaking I am more than happy to complete.  The food in Uganda is absolutely wonderful.  Every meal here is an experience and you never know for certain what surprises await you.  Just by enjoying the local cuisine, we get to see a wonderful, exciting part of Gulu culture. 

            Since it occurs before most meals, I think I should talk about it first.  The wait time.  Food can take a very long to come.  Our first dinner in Gulu was at a Muzungu (white-person) hot-spot, Sankofa.  It took approximately 2 hours for all the food to come.  While everywhere does not take this long, I normally just assume my food will take at least an hour.  It is not just the food that is slow-paced: no one here in Gulu ever seems to be in a rush anywhere.  Several days ago, Dr. Hackett pointed out how we walk so much faster than all the locals and how we were going to wear ourselves in the heat.  Time is just so much more flexible.  My first day of interning at ARLPI (Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative), the transportation was 20 minutes late.  The next day it was 5 minutes early.  It just goes to show how people have adapted to dealing with uncertainty in daily life.  Roads might be impassable, vehicles might break down, it might start to rain (when it rains here it pours!), or who-knows-what could happen; however, the people just deal with the issue and life keeps moving along.

Don’t let that long wait time scare you away from Ugandan dining, though.  Just last week I made a remarkable discovery: the smaller, local bar/hotel/restaurants are absolutely amazing!  At Boma’s restaurant (Boma is a big, super-swanky hotel), a bowl of curry with rice costs about 20,000 shillings.  At Amigo’s (currently my favorite my place to eat, and no, it’s not Mexican food), I can get a giant plate of rice, bowl of beans, and chicken stew for 5000 shillings (about 2 dollars.)  Not only is the food cheap, it is really delicious.  But wait, there’s more!  With a smaller menu, the food can be cooked beforehand and it comes in under 5 minutes.  The first time this happened to me I was in shock but loving every second of it.  And I can’t leave out interacting with the locals.  One of my favorite events this entire trip was talking with a very chatty man enjoying a local drink.  He talked about his work, his family in Gulu and his brother sitting in the seat next to him.  The conversation ended with him getting a serious expression on his face and telling me “enjoy Uganda, my brother.”  Well, I’m doing my best and can’t wait to see what else Uganda holds for me in the coming weeks.

Getting Settled

During one of our last few classes, the group enjoyed a "Survivors Speak" panel, during which we were able to experience personal accounts of both tragedy and endurance during the 22 year war and after.

During the first few days of my internship I became an apprentice for a day (although not of my my own accord) to this lovely woman, Rebecca. She sorts and distributes large quantities of fish, yes- stinky fish- in the market. 
Although it's not what I had imagined I would be doing as an intern at a community arts center (and as a vegetarian) I certainly still enjoyed getting to know the women.
The ladies in the market have a remarkable process and work extremely hard every day in order to make a living for themselves and their families.
At the end of distribution, we finished the day off by crunching numbers manually to make sure everything added up correctly... It reminded me of how long it's been since I've had to do that much math in my head.
Also as a part of my internship, I had the chance to visit a friend's local village. Everyone there was incredibly welcoming and kind.
They even taught me how to grind "sim sim," a type of grain, into flour using their traditional method of stone on stone grinding.

I also got to see how they finish their huts in order to keep the clay floor from breaking up; a process which requires smearing cow dung on the floor. Too much info? Surprisingly, it didn't smell!
On the way home from the village I was given the opportunity to see a professional pot maker during her process from start to finish.
She is able to create these incredible pots from natural clay from the ground, which she mixes with water and pounds until it is the consistency she prefers. 

Then, without even a wheel or kiln, these immaculate pots are formed with effortless precision.

It has been so amazing to experience life as it is here, to get out of the city and be welcomed into someone's home that you've only just met. That is the simplicity of life here. Although complex below the surface, these local families consistently show effortless happiness and hospitality to newcomers like us. With love from Gulu, Apwoyo!

Lukodi Village

Stephanie and I were given an opportunity to travel to Lukodi village with the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP).  Lukodi village was the sight of a massive massacre in 2004.  JRP is working with the community to document their history. 

Lukodi Village is located about 20 minutes outside of Gulu town.  The community and JRP are working to build a memorial site.  

They are working hard to document Lukodi’s history.  This is where the committee meets to work on their storyboards about once a week.   

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Kennedy,  a committee member who met the GSSAP members from last year and received a t-shirt from them.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Support the Locals

Whenever people hear about areas in war, natural disasters, or just bad economic times, they want to help. Most people throw money at organizations that claim to help people in the area. Others send clothes, food supplies, and many other items those areas might be lacking. And although it is very beneficial to get those things, it can also be detrimental. Don’t forget that these non-profit organizations are advocacy based and have employees with salaries, so please do research about where the money goes (i.e. whether it goes toward direct services on the ground or towards media campaigns and employee kickbacks).
As we have recently discussed in class, those who give aid during war times need to remember that it can also aid those who are perpetuating the conflict or causing violence. The aid resources can be stolen by soldiers and used to feed or arm them in highly insecure areas.  Rebels tend to control roadways and may require some sort of payment from the trucks who are carrying goods to those affected. Often times non-governmental or non-profit organization are complicit in keeping these informal networks of trade, money and resources going to provide relief. Other times those who receive the aid may be required to pay tax on the goods they’ve received.
Aid also affects the markets. Employment, trade, goods and services all then shift toward war related activities and patterns. Price of everything escalates and the rich get richer, where the poor get poorer.
Recently Ben Affleck wrote an article titled, “
Westerners Are Not And WillNever Be The 'Saviors' Of Africa”.  As he said, “Westerners are not and will never be the 'saviors' of Africa. That idea has been tried and found wanting. It is ineffectual at best and deadly at worst.” It’s always nice to have good intentions and to do things that help people. But we have to be aware of the consequences of our actions. As the saying goes, you can give someone a fish, but that will only feed them for a meal (aka cause dependency issues and reinforce already complex and unequal power dynamics). Teach them to fish and you can feed them forever. Or rather find out whether they want to fish or not or if they prefer to grow food or raise chickens. Ben also had another great statement: “The next step after awareness is action. There are many steps that we can take to end this nightmare. Among the most important is funding remarkable local organizations.” Local organizations are hard to find, especially when so far from the area, but they are the greatest way to help an area in hard times because often times they provide direct services in a way that larger, Western-based organizations cannot.

Listed below are some great local organizations that are doing good things for the Northern region.

Refugee Law Project

Justice and Reconciliation Project

Center for Reparation and Rehabilitation

Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative


I also intern at LAPEWA. They don’t have an actual website, but they can be contacted at the following:
+256 0773 390857  or +256 0772 529 188

There are various means of getting money to these organizations, i.e. Western Union.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Entebbe Botanical Gardens

GSSAP 2013 team at Entebbe Botanical Garden viewing Lake Victoria!

“The only people who respect nature are those without money, once they get money their hearts change,” said Kim, our tour guide at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Since I made it to Uganda, I have been in a constant state of awareness of everything around me. So when I found out that I am first on the list to blog I was a little confused on where to start. We have gained so much knowledge about Uganda just this first week, and since coming to Gulu, we are learning everyday about the conflict, peace building and the dynamic complexities of the country as a whole. I chose to write about the first issue that got me contemplating about the environment during our first excursion trip to the Entebbe Botanical Gardens. 

Located along the shore of the great lake Victoria, in Entebbe, the Botanical Gardens is home to different species of plants from around the world. These plants are native to many different countries and serve many purposes for conservation and researching. However there are challenges that the gardens face, especially for preservatory purposes. The Ugandan climate and rich soil makes the country a hub for experimenting with different types of species of plants that are beneficial for global consumptions and bio-diverse purpose.  Many of the plants have a lot of purposes and benefits, including medicinal. 

Our graceful tour guide, Kim presented many species of plants and told us about the medicinal purpose it serves. He elaborated on the ways some trees, plants and roots were used traditionally to treat various illness. He was very vocal about traditional methods of processing medicine and the need to revive those practices. This theme of preserving these traditions of living from and with the land and environment has been resonating with me since I have been here. Did the older generations of Ugandans understand the purpose of preserving the environment more? The argument about preserving the environment has been mostly a 21st century phenomenon in the West, especially with climate change, but it seems like the older generations of Ugandans were, to some extent, very aware of the tremendous benefit they got from maintaining and preserving the species of plants and animals in our environment. 

Reflecting on what Kim said about the poor respecting nature, along the shores of Lake Victoria, I was informed that many fishing companies are operating along the coast. Even a European flower planting industry can be found along the coast. While these companies are not polluting as much as the ones in Beijing and other industrial cities,  it shows that profit is being put ahead of sustainable practices. I am hopeful because of  people like Kim and other friends of GSSAP that we have met so far that solutions are being implemented to tackle environmental issues. Winston Churchill called Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa” in 1908. Uganda is indeed a beautiful country with a spectacular landscape and rich fertile soil. Since there is an understanding about the environmental concerns, there is hope. To former, future, and present GSSAP members let’s continue to advocate for the betterment of this beautiful country.  

Journey to Gulu: On the Road!

Most of our merry band started out in Knoxville, but the trip truly began on  Ethiopian Airlines Flight  501 from Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Just a short 14.5 hours!
Arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Just in time for some seriously
cold and rainy weather
After a delayed boarding, and an even more
delayed takeoff, we arrived in sunny Entebbe!

Poor Stephen, along with the wonderful staff from Backpackers' Inn, had been waiting for us for hours.
The next day, we all gathered to take a trip to Entebbe's Botanical Gardens. We might have been a little jet-lagged when I took this picture.
The Botanical Gardens were an oasis in bustling Entebbe, with the beautiful Lake Victoria as a backdrop.

After our visit to the gardens, we headed over to Gorretti's Beachside Pizzeria. In addition to pizza, we chowed down on some excellent fish.
Obviously, it proved to be pretty popular. Not to brag, but I was the only one brave enough to eat the eye for luck.
Then it was time to head down to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. With a population of over 2 million, Kampala is a bustling metropolis. From our hotel, we had a view of Kampala's Ugandan National Mosque, gifted to the city by the former leader of Libya,  Colonel Muammer Gaddafi.

While in Kampala, we visited Miracle Center Cathedral  a Pentecostal Church with a huge (and lively) congregation. We were also honored with an invitation to visit with female members of Parliament. 

On our last night in Kampala, we went to a Cultural dance/music performance and class by the Mizizi Ensemble led by Sam Okello at Shell Club. Hajie (far right) won the pot dance above!

Then it was time for a  ride six hours north to Gulu. The scenery was a good distraction from  the bumpy road. Excuse the thumb! We also got a view of the Nile, but it was too dark for pictures, sadly. Hopefully on the way back down.
Though it was too dark to take pictures when we arrived, I was able to snap this from  my balcony the next morning. Our first ten days in Uganda have been amazing, and already I am finding Gulu to be a wonderfully warm and friendly town. I can easily see why so many former GSSAPers have elected to return to Uganda. I'm so looking forward to seeing what the next month brings.

Friday, July 5, 2013


"Third time's a charm," as someone said, not just once, but all too often. Team 2013 departed without a hitch from Knoxville airport yesterday at 5:25 AM, Uganda-bound. Perhaps it was the smaller numbers traveling together this year, the way kinks seem to work themselves out over time, or the all-female factor (sorry, guys!) but somehow things seemed smoother than ever. The 3:30 AM gathering at the airport, the weighing and shuffling of luggage, and group check-in were calm and easy.

For me, however, things were anything but. The third time has not been a charm, or at least not the charm I expected. As co-director and co-founder of GSSAP with my dear friend Dr. Rosalind Hackett, I plan and work all year long to make these five weeks in Gulu a success. The work is paid off by the sheer joy of traveling with the students. It is the highlight of my year, among the most rewarding elements of my life and my job as a professor and anthropologist.

But this year I found myself in the position of the undoubtedly anxious and sometimes tearful parents, relatives, and friends who came to see their beloved young women off to Uganda. An unexpected personal turn of events meant that I could not accompany the group this year. And so I was left behind, hugging each student in turn, suppressing tears (unsuccessfully), saying goodbyes and wishing them health, safety, and adventure. I was suddenly hit with the realization of how much GSSAP means to me as I watched the students walk away.

I have spent the last 36 hours marking time as it passes, imagining where their plane must be at any given moment. I awoke this morning and thought first thing how the group must have landed in Entebbe. I imagined the distinctive sweet, musty smell of the sodden Lake Victoria air that hits the senses at once, the smoky dust of woodfires and red clay earth, the thousands of tiny flames that electrify the often electricless night, the sound of traffic horns and rumbling trucks and the voices of workers, traders, mothers, children, and boda boda men as they go about their days and nights. I imagine how these sights and smells appear to fresh eyes, and I revel in the feeling of how my eyes, too, are freshened by those of the students. I imagine Uganda, and I feel at once heartbroken to be left behind and exhilarated for the nine young people whose lives will never be the same after this summer, for the lives they will touch in turn.

I will not be there to witness it personally, nor to come to know each and every one - Stephanie, Anna-Claire, Hannah, Madison, Michaela, Stephen, Kelsey B., Hajie, and Kelsey L. - with the intimacy and closeness that is among the greatest rewards of GSSAP. But I will follow it every moment of the day. Having made the painstaking plans, I know where the students are at nearly every moment of every day. I can picture what they are seeing, doing, and experiencing. This blog will be a window to their experience, to our shared experience. Regular emails from Rosalind and Jayanni Webster, who has stepped in for me, will keep me abreast of all the goings on.

While my body may be here in East Tennessee, my heart and soul are tethered to Uganda, just as this year's t-shirt design, created by Team 2013, captures so simply and beautifully.

My heart and soul are in Gulu. My heart and soul are with GSSAP.