Thursday, November 30, 2006

Splitting the White Ants

By Holly

For a long time I've had the idea of this post in my mind. Probably since the time in March when flying white ants stormed our house for the first time and a rush of neighbors licking their lips came to collect them. People told us then how valued the white ants are. They are considered a precious and tasty morsel--rare and shared only among friends. Another way of describing a dear friend is to say "split the white ant at the waist." Even if you only had one ant you'd share half of it with your friend. Someone told me that if you have a "split the white ant" friend then you know that you have a true friend, someone you can depend on and who depends on you. It reminds me of chilly evening walk with Tina, Kimbal & Kellen in Boston. We went through the Holocaust memorial after consuming massive lobsters and yummy clam chowder. It's a glass hallway in a park with stories etched along the path. One of them was of a girl in a concentration camp who while doing work outside happened upon a raspberry. She hid it in her pocket and brought it back into the camp that night where she shared her now smooshy raspberry with her best friend. It made me cry when I read it--and since I was with very good friends--we teared up together--and promised that we would share the smooshy raspberries of life.

So my idea was to post some of the faces of our growing friendship here--people that we've shared white ants with. The problem is that friendships/relationships are not static. Every day is full of changes-of new closeness, new trust, but also of betrayals and disappointments--some big and some small. The largest blow to my white ant idea was when our closest friend confessed that he'd been stealing from us (see betrayal and reconciliation). Most of our relationships are not so dramatic, but as human beings I think we regularly give one another reason to doubt, reason to wonder about true motives, and reason for me to put off posting the faces of people that I sometimes ask myself, but are they really friends that I can share white ants with? Am I really the kind of friend that they'd share a white ant with? I don't know. I think that there just comes a point when we have to be ok with the fact that our friends will disappoint us, and we will disappoint them and we make conscious choices to continue to trust, hope and love in full knowledge that the human experience is broken and vulnerable.



Philip and Tonny





Sunday, November 26, 2006

3 Snapshots

Un-ordinary things happen all the time in Lira. I’m not sharing anything deep or meaningful, just giving you a snap-shot into our daily lives.

For our 2nd thanksgiving in Lira we invited 20 of our CPA colleagues and other friends over for a delicious meal. Holly spent the whole day cooking and baking all of our favorite thanksgiving dishes. I got to kill a massive turkey named Dr. Fred. As tradition goes, we all shared the things we were thankful for. I am always amazed at the strength and resilience of people who have seen 20 years of war. It was a great evening-some ate grapes for the first time in their lives, others cracked jokes, and an American visitor said that this was the most memorable thanksgiving he has ever had.

Yesterday, War Child (an INGO working with children through games and play-therapy) hosted a volleyball tournament for NGO teams in Lira. The all-day event was a huge success and almost all of us released pent-up stress. On the way to a game I passed by a tree where the surrounding soil had recently been dug up. I looked down and saw two empty AK 47 magazines. I picked one up to see if my eyes were fooling me. A friend on the team quickly advised me to drop it or I was going to be harassed…I followed his suggestion. Even though volleyballs were flying, music was playing, and people were eating BBQ, these empty magazines were a stark reminder that I was still in a war zone.

Today, Holly and I went looking for a Christmas tree. It is not exactly the way we do it in the States. We rode our bikes to a small tree nursery. They only had Christmas twigs (one foot tall seedlings). We told them that we were looking for a small Christmas tree for the holidays. They talked amongst themselves and one person said, “Let me ride my bicycle to the village and dig up a tree for you from our compound there.” The ride iss ten Kilometers and he said that the tree was simply a gift from him. Naturally, we will give him something for the tree, but the offer left Holly and I feeling blessed by his generosity.

Studies in Italy

Dear friends, I hope that you have all been well sustained since we last spoke. I just returned from Italy and wanted to share a few words with you about my time there. Going from Lira to Orvieto, Italy was a shocking experience. Our course in Italy was held in the mayor’s villa, we sat under beautiful frescos and listened to lectures given by leaders in the field of trauma mental health. Students included anthropologists, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and others.

We stayed in a monastery opposite the Duomo cathedral built in 1260 to host a piece of altar cloth said to have Jesus’ blood on it. Every year, citizens march the piece of cloth around the small town. Orvieto is known for its olive oil and wine.

The most meaningful aspect of the training has been the relationships we all developed while in Italy. The course will continue for another 6 months as we review the lectures, ask questions, and work through clinical and policy case studies on-line in small groups.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

How to Bend a Speer

I’ve found it surprisingly challenging to reconcile hope with critical thinking about current events. I told Ben earlier in the week (on our date night, which we do every week and it’s so great!) that I was having this struggle and as we talked about the dynamic of hope the thought occurred to us that perhaps it was so hard to reconcile the desire not to blindly wait for something that was not going to happen and not giving up on it because we had a wrong view of hope. Maybe hope isn’t convincing yourself to think that something good is actually the most probable outcome, but believing that it should happen and that the good thing you hope for is closer to what God intended—closer to original design. With this little shift in my thinking it’s been easier to reconcile my mind and heart while I achingly long for peace in Uganda and reason through the complexity of the ongoing peace process. People want it so much, I want it so much. The emotional investment in this process is deep. You can see it on people’s faces. After 20 years, God, let this be the end—if not now when? When you talk to most people and ask them about what they think about the process the answers are on the tip of every tongue “I just want to go home,” or “I just want my sister to come back from the bush, that’s all I want.” I’m often humbled and baffled by the unflinching hope that many in the north express—but I do wonder, everyone has their breaking point, if this process fails will they reach it?

I spent most of this week with a delegation from MCCs advocacy offices from DC, Ottawa, and the UN office in New York as well as from the Africa and Peace departments in Akron. It was refreshing to be with them, to experience Uganda with them, and to discuss how we can better support the peace process through advocacy. We had a series of meetings with people from the groups of cultural and religious leaders who have been supporting/observing, military, NGO community, people in IDP camps, people on the monitoring team for the cessation of hostilities agreement, observers of the process from Juba, and others. The views they had, the messages they wanted to send were diverse, and rather than give my own ideas I thought I’d capture a few from what I heard: (paraphrased)

Why is the international community silent? The West is too silent, not showing oneness with Africa. If this conflict was happening somewhere else there would have been more support from the US. (Religious leader)

The incidences of violence around Juba reported in the media are not UPDF and LRA. Most incidences that have taken place have been the result of misinformation. (Monitoring team member)

I think that the government is trying to save face and that the LRA are rebuilding. There is a lack of commitment to relieve the suffering of Acholi people on both sides. They need to build confidence: don’t discuss wounds, don’t praise yourself, the negotiation should include the suffering people because they are motivated to work for peace. Maybe the negotiating teams should visit a camp so that they can get motivated (community leader)

Are you really sure that peace and justice are friends? Who is the parent in this conflict? Parents take all the costs of their children’s misbehavior. Convince the ICC to bend the rules. (Community leader)

What’s needed for peace is restorative justice. This is not a tribal war but crimes against humanity by terrorists. The military method hasn’t succeeded for 20 years. This might work. It is the most hope we’ve had. In the past the LRA wouldn’t eat food provided by the government of Uganda. But now they are accepting food, so there is some trust. (Formerly abducted person)

We want a statement from the Secretary General of the United Nations not only Jan Egeland. Now the Secretary General is leaving, I hope the next one will at least say something. (Religious leader)

Why is Kony so difficult to capture? We have a saying in Acholi, a coward lives longer. But the fighters are there in the bush, for them this is about reorganization. The LRA negotiating team are people who have a power hangover and they are not fighters. They are waiting for it to fail and getting attention and money. If you think I’m lying time will tell. (Military)

Why is Kony so difficult to capture? Because he is surrounded by children. Children are his water. (Community leader)

When I met with Kony, he had 3 messages: 1. He is for peace. 2. Watch and witness who will spoil the process. 3. The suffering should stop and the war should end. He is willing to do Mato Oput (reconciliation ceremony, that means drinking bitter herb) with the community but is not sure how it could be done with the government, since the government is not a tribe. (religious leader)

What specific confidence building measures are needed? UN supportive statements and a visit from the Secretary General to Northern Uganda. The African Union to respond to the call to be on the monitoring team. “Tell off” the government of Uganda to withdraw all troops in Sudan. Media should send positive supportive messages. It should not be a hurried process—there is no hurry in Africa—we need community views and this takes time. LRA needs to listen to the community. Focus on the victims and the costs of more war. (group of cultural and religious leaders)

These all are not exact quotes, but they are the things I remember and scribbled down in my notebook while I listened to people. Someone said, knowledge speaks, and wisdom listens. Trying to be wise, I’m listening--to those who may have accurate information or may be confused and misinformed but who all have a reason behind their words. I have many questions, but one is at the forefront of my mind. In any negotiation, a party’s position is strengthened when their alternative to a negotiated agreement is good. Unfortunately, all the parties have pretty decent alternatives, which may be why we've seen so many walk-outs. As I see it, the degree to which those alternatives are weakened motivation to settle without violence will be strengthened. How do the Juba peace talks become the most attractive option, and how can the alternatives to a negotiated agreement be minimized?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pray & Fast for Hope

"Hope for the freedom of the children of God." That is the theme of the Commemoration Prayers tomorrow. It has been 10 years since the LRA abducted 139 girls from St. Mary Aboke Boarding School and the bereaved parents came together to form CPA. Every year on October 10th people return to the school to pray and fast for peace, for healing for this land and people, and for the return of the children who are still in captivity. We will be in Aboke tomorrow and invite you to join us in the prayer and fasting in the hope that freedom can come.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Senseless" Continued: by Ben

I was perusing through our blog when Holly's entry of "Senseless" caught my eye. It was a story of an unfortunate event ending in the mob killing of a brother to our friend. It caught my eye today because I was in a village listening to people give stories of difficult life events and how they persevered through them. An old woman said, "My daughter was hit by a car and killed. When I heard the news I ran to the roadside and found a large mob beating the driver who hit my daughter to death. I broke through the mob and stood in protection of him saying, 'don't kill this man over what he has done to my daughter.' The mob released him. Later, when my clan members demanded that some kind of payment be made, I said, 'let him go, I have forgiven him.' My clan said that if the very mother of this girl can forgive, then we should also try to forgive."

I road a motorcycle down a long, winding, red dust road to find the parent support group meeting today. I sat with my heart in my throat as they "testified" one after the other, as to painful life experiences they have endured and the miraculous ways they have shown resilience.

I'm writing this blog for the sake of the great hope that exists here. Too often we see the looming evil, and remember it, instead of recognizing and remembering the ubiquitous goodness and strength in humankind.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stress and Trauma Healing

Karl and Evelyn Bartsch came to Uganda to offer the fourth training module for the training of trainers project. The topic was stress management and trauma healing. I was fortunate to receive the training this time around. Normally, I am responsible for writing the manual, conducting the training, and coordinating logisitics, but to my great relief, I was nurtured by the caring support of Karl and Evelyn.
Karl and Evelyn have successful private practices in America, but they chose to leave their comforts behind to stay in a place without electricity, drinkable water, and thier usual diet, to give us a new and deep perspective on our work as caregivers. Karl and Evelyn have been married for 45 years.
In the picture above Karl and Evelyn are leading us in a song called, "Healing River". The participants loved it, and are translating it into Luo.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hopeful Skeptic

by Holly

Cautious optimism characterizes the mood around the peace process for Northern Uganda. That is how I feel anyway. In general, I consider myself a naturally hopeful person, but I want it so desperately for this place that it hurts to allow hope too much liberty—the obstacles to any meaningful peace mean a high risk of disappointment.

We all follow carefully the daily developments in newspapers that unreliably print shadows of truth. We listen to Kony and Otti on the radio. They both apologized “for everything” on two different days within the past weeks on an Acholi broadcast. And I dared to be thrilled at such watershed statements. At the same time, their voices sounded hollow and the words echoed off of so many atrocities. If they were sorry for the abductions, truly, than why do they still refuse to release the women and children?

Otti has said his “wife and children” are part of him and they will all go home together. The women and children are a shield, a bargaining chip, they are still useful—and they are evidence that though they might be “sorry” they aren’t willing to make things right, not yet.

The irony of having men who have committed some of the worst crimes against humanity raising issues that are actually of legitimate concern and are real political grievances of people in the North is sometimes overwhelming and borders on the absurd. A cartoon in the paper depicted new seats being added to Parliament and Kony sat in one of them with a bloodied machete. A nameplate on the table in front of him read: “Minister of Child Rights.”

I read an editorial this morning (by Charles Onyango-Obbo in the Daily Monitor) He says, “If you ask those of us, who support dialogue to end suffering, but are opposed to these pacts with the devil, what creative alternative there is to that, we don’t have an intelligent answer. That’s the real tragedy of Uganda.” I join him, and many others in the fear that, “sleeping with the devil” could produce some very ugly children.

When I passed through Gulu on the way home from Kitgum on Friday I had a drink with the Public Relations Officer for the UPDF in Northern Uganda. I got the party line, or the military line, instead of the medias interpretation of it. He told me the meeting went well with Dominic Ongwen, (one of the ICC indicted) he said Kony was lying when he said they’d been shot at after the cease-fire by the UPDF. He told me about the one abduction that has taken place since the cease-fire. I asked him if he was hopeful about peace. “Honestly,” he said, “It’s hard to tell, I say it’s still a fifty/fifty chance.” I’ve talked with him before—it’s his job to put the best foot of the military forward, and he does it well. So, I was disheartened by his prediction, if he says fifty/fifty, I’m guessing the UPDF is thinking and planning for thirty / seventy—or worse.

Still, hope finds ways of asserting itself. While we were in Kitgum there were hundreds of rebels walking, sitting under mango trees, waiting for others to join them and then continuing. Presumably they were going to the assembly points. They weren’t hostile. They weren’t causing trouble. They were “friendly.” I don’t know whether to let myself get excited or not. It is so delicate, fragile, and precarious. There are so many variables and so many unknowns.

Right now, Angelina, the Chairperson for CPA is moving with a team of others on a National Reconciliation team. The team is meeting with leaders all over the country and while they discuss and reconcile with each other they are gathering consensus around the messages they want to send to the government, the UPDF, and the LRA and to ordinary people in Uganda. She consulted me just before she left on the most recent leg of her journey to Bunyoro. We discussed the dangers of “unconditional forgiveness,” that can encourage impunity and conceal the truth. We discussed the need to convince the ICC that the crimes which have been committed against humanity—not only the people of Uganda--could somehow be redressed in a local context, in the interests of peace, through Roco Wot and Mato Oput. Angelina is admirably reckless with her optimism. While it strengthens my heart, my mind finds some safety in skepticism that guards me against the disappointment that may come.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I hesitate to write this blog because there are no words. Words are inadequate substitutes for the pain. They can’t describe the depth to which humanity has strayed from our design. I haven’t yet assigned any rational thought to what has deeply stirred me. I don’t know if I will either. It is somewhat freeing not to have to name the emotion. To release the need to make sense of it all. It just doesn’t make any sense.

This past week I went with Tina to Kitgum training a group on conflict transformation. My co-trainer and good friend Anthony was with us. He got a phone call just before breakfast that shattered us. His cousin-brother was driving home to Gulu from Kampala and two kids who were playing ran into the street in front of him. He hit them and they died. Knowing that mob violence is common, it is advisable to go to the police rather than stop if something like that happens. But his cousin decided to go back and apologize toe the family of the children. A mob formed, armed with machetes and hoes. They killed him. Mercilessly and brutally, a death that I don’t even want to describe it was so gruesome and unimaginable. He was 24. The father of the children led the mob. The lack of mercy is confounding. Was it this war that desensitized them to violence that allowed normal human beings to mutilate a young man who’s worst sin might have been speeding? Does it make them feel better? Does the grieved father sleep more soundly knowing that he caused another father and mother to lose their son? That two families are now bereaved instead of one? I just can’t understand and it continues to sicken and disturb my core.

8 years younger on my birthday

Being with Tina makes me feel 8 years younger. It’s fantastic, because I think I’m going through a quarter life crisis, so having her here gives me the freedom to indulge my desire for independence, adventure, and abandon. Since she came I haven’t been taking life or myself so seriously. I’m even behaving less responsibly. I’m sure everyone around me is happy that I have actually matured during the last 8 years, and that this is indeed atypical, but allow me just a few weeks of regression—I’m having fun.

We’ve been sucking the marrow out of life. Last night we went to a friends house for the evening and it started raining on the drive home. As soon as we go to our gate and opened the car door the rain intensified threefold and we were drenched as we dashed to the door and fumbled with the wet keys and lock in the dark. We just giggled, and Tina said, “I think God did it on purpose. He always does that. He thinks it’s funny.” I’d never imagined God in that way, waiting for me to open my car door and then laughing hysterically while He dumped extra water over my head.

Last weekend we took a sister adventure down to Jinja. I can’t write all about it, because there are some things that are just meant to stay between sisters.

Tina jumped 44 meters from a cliff above the Nile, “Nile High Bungee” dipped her to her chest into the water, she jumped with no fear and a scream that sounded more like laughter.

Yesterday we hiked up Ngetta hill. We sat on the massive boulder on the top and talked about life, theology, love and pain and watched clouds pass over the town that is my home. It's remarkable how alike we are. It is a rare blessing to be able to naturally connect to another person with so little effort, with so much understanding and with so much joy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Betrayal and Reconciliation

Over the past two months, Holly and I have had 5 break-ins. One of which left us feeling very vulnerable with the message of “You Must Die” written on our wall outside. Fortunately, Josh was staying with us and heard the thieves in our attic and was able to scare them away.

The mastermind behind all of these incidences turned out to be our very good friend and person responsible to watching our house when we’re away. For nine months we had developed a close relationship with him and considered him a trusted friend. The most recent break in was on the day that Holly’s sister Tina arrived. We came home to notice that some of the bricks above our window were a slightly different color of blue. I also noticed that some plaster on the wall was broken and dust remained on the chair below. Someone had removed bricks, repainted them, and cemented them back in place. I went to the back of the house where I found freshly washed clothes. However, on one piece of our friend’s clothing I found a spot of blue paint. My stomach dropped, I wanted to cry. How could our friend have done this? Later that night he called us and confessed what he had been doing, and wanted a chance to make things right between us. The Lango words for reconciliation are “Roco Wat” which means being in “right relationship”.

Although angry, hurt, and a bit fearful, we tried our best to put into practice what we teach; reconciliation. We extended grace toward our friend and forgave him. Holly went to the Scriptures and read Matthew chapter five. Toward the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he talks about turning your other check, not resisting your enemies; that if you cloak is stolen, also offer your tunic, that if forced to walk a mile, walk two. We wanted to put these words into practice.

When one considers the tremendous injustices that our friend faces, being born into an incredibly poor family, having been abducted and forced to kill, Holly and I wanted to be a part of giving him “a way out”, and we decided to pay for one year of his education at an agricultural school. We have come to love our friend, and see a wonderful heart in him. It seems as if this is a critical time in his life where he could continue to make bad decisions, or turn his life around and live out of his talents and loveliness.

I know that forgiving him and even seemingly rewarding him may sound strange. But our faith doesn’t ask us to judge our enemies, it asks us to love and forgive them, over and over.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Visit from Josh and Erin

Josh and Erin were with us for about 5 weeks. There was never a dull moment. If we weren't building something, then we were in a remote village dancing and recieving new names! The first thing Josh did when he arrived was install a hot water tank. I think about him every day as I appreciate the warm water. Erin was constantly busy in the kitchen teaching Sandra how to prepare something besides cabbage and beans. (I like cabbage and beans, but every day...) To this day we're eating foods that I thought I would never eat again, and I'm lovein it!
This is a picture of Josh and I at the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria. Having just been to the Nile's outlet in Egypt, Josh and Erin were particularly excited about seeing the other end.
Holly and I really wished that we could've spent more time with them, but work usually kept us late. However, our evenings were blessed.
I all, we had a great time with them and felt rejuveniated by having them with us.

This picture is of Erin and Holly, shortly after the vehicle we rented broke down, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Fortunately for Holly and Erin someone we knew was a short ways behind us. This is a picture of them leaving us. Unfortunately for Josh and I, we were stuck with figuring out what to do with the car. After hours of dealing with the car situation, Josh and I ended up on the last minibus going North. Because it was the last one, we got to ride with 28 others, 2 goats, some chickens, and I don't know what else. All of this in a vehicle licensed to carry 14 passengers!

The State fof Mental Health Services in Lira, By Ben

In the community, you will frequently here of the “community volunteer counselor” and of their efforts to provide “psychosocial support”. What isn’t clear is how they go about counseling those in need. These individuals are deemed counselors after a one or two day workshop (a week if they’re lucky). Crisis and trauma counselors in rehabilitation centers for formerly abducted children become qualified to do the work with a bachelor’s in social studies (or less) and no clinical experience. While the international community has recognized the great need for psychological recovery in conflict and post-conflict settings, actors seems satisfied with slapping a superficial, insufficient and unprofessional “band-aid” on the ubiquitous and complex psychological issues. This may be a result of the general absence of mental health practitioners in decision-making positions for programming strategies of INGOs.
I’ve been doing a bit of research on the state of mental health care in Lira and have come up with disheartening results. Here is an example of a short interview I had at the main hospital a week ago. The “mental health clinic” was three weeks old. It was staffed by one Psychiatric Clinical Officer (education equivalent: 2 years after high school) and two psychiatric nurses (one was still enrolled). For an office, they were given the tiny room that hosted the electrical breaker for the entire hospital; the room wasn’t painted and the ceiling was leaky.
Me: What do you use as a screening tool for diagnosis and treatment?
PCO: The ICD-10
Me: Okay, do you have a copy of the ICD-10?
Me: Any photocopies?
Me: So, how do you know if you’re asking the right questions?
PCO: I learned all the diagnosis in school.
Me: Do you make referrals for counseling services?
PCO: No, I learned how to do that in school too.
Me: How many clients do you see in one week?
PCO: Around 200.
This man was doing the best that he could, but it was obvious that he needed some help.
I will be going to Italy in Nov. to attend a “Masters Certificate Course” in Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery. It is a program run by Harvard University’s program for refugee trauma (since I am unpaid at the moment, they have graciously granted me a full-tuition scholarship!). It consists of two weeks of on-site training in Orvieto and 5 subsequent months of web-based learning. As a component of the program, we will be analyzing trauma clinics in a variety of international/conflict settings. The Concerned Parents Association and I are looking forward to new prospects in bringing a heightened level of mental health expertise into Lira and other Northern districts. Any volunteers? More later…

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Independence & Inequality

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from from the consent of the governed…”

This year, we celebrated the declaration of these words, by singing the National Anthem in harmony with Kimbal and Kellen in a swimming pool overlooking the Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. We raised our plastic glasses high, and toasted the independence we enjoy. It was the second official Porter / Kurtz family vacation, and if the first two are telling of those to come, they will be full of good conversation, therapeutic laughter, spiritual inspiration through nature's beauty, and wild animals.

After two weeks with TNL we took our first vacation. We stayed three days in the most luxurious and exotic place I’ve been in Uganda. Five hours after leaving Lira we pulled up in a rented beaten up old car that spewed lung-fulls of dust and exhaust into our faces at every bump—I was almost embarrassed. Then the doorman literally jumped toward us with a huge smile and greeted us with, “Welcome to paradise!” This was followed by cold washcloths for the dust and passion fruit for our dry throats--served on a silver tray. Then we were led to rooms with a classic safari flair with draping old fashioned mosquito nets and a sliding door that led to a patio two steps away from the pool with a swim up bar. Beyond that the Nile ran through a valley of exotic trees, flowers and grasses inhabited by the wildlife we were yet to see (lion, wildebeast, elephants, varieties of monkeys, hippoes, crocodiles, giraffes, kob, etc).

I could barely breathe it was so beautiful--and felt so far—so distant from the community I work with every day, not only the community, but even my colleagues. This place was of another world—out of reach by real Ugandan life and people, a gated protected phenomenon reserved…for who? We saw few African guests—and fewer Ugandans. It was full of short-term missionaries. Having been one of them on more than one occasion myself I had mixed feelings, but somewhat guiltily, I admit I cringed when I overheard most pool-side conversations and had to bite back stinging words and judgmental statements. Kellen, equally sensitive, reminded us that it is just ignorance and not malice. Likely, they had good intentions and good hearts. There is really only so much you can learn in a short time in a country and we all come with our own cultural lenses and assumptions. Ignorance is not so irksome as long as it is accompanied with humility. It’s when ignorance shows up for two weeks to teach the rest of the world the “right” way to do things that my blood starts boiling. (I heard one gray haired Southern Belle tell a Ugandan woman in a thick drawl, “We came over hiyar to teach y’all how to be leaders. Because if we don’t y’all do’ know haow.”)

I have a growing feeling of frustration and quiet outrage over the social assumptions made about black and white.

Besides the clientele, there was something else on our vacation that sparked this tension: the art. It fed a complex of inferiority/superiority. The art fit the overall ambience reminiscent of the early European Explorers on the African continent and depicted much historical drama surrounding the exploration of Murchison Falls, named after the President of the Geographical Society. Before Europeans, the name was derived from the evil spirits believed to be manifest in the Tse tse flies (which are vicious little biters, it’s no wonder they are thought malevolent). There were a series of ink drawings depicting white explorers, usually being hailed or served by scantily clad African men and sometimes shown observing while the Africans in their employment were paid to kill other Africans. One such picture had a caption underneath that referred to the men being killed as, “forest dwarfs.”

This is history. It shouldn’t be hidden. But this display glorified the racist treatment of Africans. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for such drawings to be accompanied with something acknowledging guilt or a memorial to the victims of the European Explorers ambitions—not framed on the walls of a lodge to make the latest waive of European (and American) Explorers think it is quaint to animalize the African people? In what ways did I participate in the continued exploitation between white and black by silently observing the art, enjoying the ambience, and not even voicing my discomfort to the management? It fed what I believe is a proper response of white woman’s guilt.

In Uganda, issues of race do not feature quite so prominently as they do in many places—even the U.S., in Denver, and in neighboring Kenya—the social divisions and assumptions of unequal power relationships are more on the forefront of social consciousness. It is more sensitive, or our radar is more in tune. In contrast, in Uganda it feels like most people assume the best intentions about their white American and European friends. I have never felt that my words or actions were being scrutinized to detect racism. But the divisions do surface, and I am taken off guard and surprised when they do—however small and seemingly insignificant. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who asked why I don’t dress in African wear and braid my hair. The simple answer is that I haven’t bought new clothes and my scalp is painfully white—I’m a white girl who can’t pull off the look very well. But my friend didn’t get it—if it’s good enough for African women why not for me? So I braided my hair and my Ugandan friends think it is wonderful. Kellen and I did it together. It took twelve hours.

When we picked up the TNL crew, a friend came to the airport with us. We owed him some money for putting gas in the car, so while we were waiting Ben pulled out some cash to pay him back. He got uncomfortable and said no, give it to me later, not here. Neither of us understood why and we thought it was a little strange. He explained that people would think he was doing a service for us. At the time, I was thinking, who cares what some random people in the airport think. But I missed it. I assume it is evident that he is my friend, my peer and my equal. That is what he wants people to see when we spend time with him. At that moment he was keenly aware of what had not crossed my mind—when we are out together people assume he must be working for me.

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” is it so evident? Equality and justice between people requires intentional action, it has to be explained, looked for, fought for. What are evident are relationships characterized by unequal power, choice and access. Governments are instituted to secure our rights but we choose whether to passively acquiesce to their unequal application or to participate in making things right. A friend emailed me recently and suggested that justice and hope were intricately intertwined. Maybe that is because we can’t work for justice without a vision of what it is and some sense that it is possible and we have a role to play. Despite trying to orient my occupation to the end of justice, on a daily basis I struggle to find ways to do justice and avoid perpetuating injustice.

Itchy Grass = Solidarity

by: Holly
For two weeks we were blessed with a group of 5 people—two old friends plus three new ones. We played with thousands of children in IDP camps in Lira and Gulu, painted a mural, participated in a “Solidarity Day” where the men worked in the fields and women cooked with the community one of the camps. We shared laughter and tears and meals—crammed into two weeks that went by too quickly. In honor of them I offer two Acholi sayings:

“Dako ngwal ki nyeke” A woman gives birth easily when she’s with another woman.

“Lagada yil ki wede,” The grass is itchy when there is a lot of it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Home Bakery

Holly and I are working in the fields of peacebuilding and psychosocial care. Both are fields that often yield slow results. In a country with urgent and pressing needs, I am constantly presented with opportunities to help in very practical ways. For my sanity, I try to contribute to small but tangible requests of an individual or family. This is a short story of Pastor Nicholas and his family. He is helping to start a church plant in Lira and has taken the voluntary position of "Church Coordinator". He is putting four children through school and makes a small income by preaching and translating. We sat together for a short time and decided that we should try to restart a small bakery business run by his wife. We looked at all the costs for baking supplies and reconstruction of his brick oven. One of our friends from the U.S. has generously sponsored this project. He has already established small contracts to sell his bread and cakes to shops nearby. Eventhough this bakery won't put his children through school, it is a significant contribution that will hopefully grow in the next serveral years. When we visited Pastor Nicholas his children sang worship songs and prayed for us.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Outdoor Classroom

This Week

This week Holly has been conducting a conflict resolution training in Apac, a district with virtually no infrastructure. Last week I was training in Gulu. On Tuesday night, while Holly was sitting in the dark (no electricity or candles), she heard someone yelling outside. While I would have encouraged her to stay inside, she peeked her head out to notice that the grass roof on the hut next to her was on fire. The security guard, the cleaner, and Holly were the only people around. While the cleaning woman pumped water from the well, Holly ran back and forth carrying jerry cans of water to the security guard on top of the hut… and they eventually succeeded in putting out the fire! On the same day, I killed two snakes in our yard. They were small but very poisonous.

Last night I woke up to a strange sound. I got out of bed to see what it was and noticed that our entire house was being stormed by giant flying ants (we have the only security lights in the neighborhood that function when electricity is off). In the morning I went outside to find that our gate and parts of our house were plastered with flying ants. I looked at the mess with disgust. Little did I know that all of my neighbors were enviously looking at our house. As soon as Sandra came over, she immediately set her bag down and started gathering the ants. “Wow, this is going to make a great dinner!” She said with incredible excitement. She invited others to come and collect—they even got to keep the ants that they found. Instantly our yard was full of people of all kinds, tearing up our grass to find the treasure. White ants are a delicacy here in Uganda. I’ll let you know what I think after tasting them.

Tonight we’re having a little welcome home party for Holly. This morning I also slaughtered two chickens, and yesterday we bought a small local grill (which consists of a warped wheel rim of a car on posts and strips of metal welded together for the grill). All of our guests will no doubt wish we had more ants to serve.

I spent most of the day today helping a 12 year old girl from an Urban IDP camp. When CPA found her, she couldn’t walk due to a serious infection on her thigh. The infection has become so bad that it has been attacking the bone. The infection has been getting worse for two years. Her family couldn’t afford to take her to a real doctor, so they found a “local” one in the camp. He basically drained the swelling, and most likely made things worse. By the time we found her and took her to the hospital, the doctors told us that she may lose the use of her right leg entirely. I drove her around from place to place getting her x-rays, medication, and blood work. The hospital is struggling so much that they needed me to pay for the envelop to store her x-rays. We scheduled her surgery for Thursday (which is a small miracle in itself). What 10 year old doesn’t get a scraps and bruises—but in the camps this kind of small injury may have life altering consequences. Let’s pray for her.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mangoes & Millet Flour

By: Ben & Holly
Notice anything about this photo? It might be hard to tell. We ride our bikes past this watering hole every day. There is always a line of women and children with large plastic jugs lined up to collect water. Yesterday there was a lively and colorful soccer game going on in the same field. Not one girl was playing soccer. Not one boy was collecting water.

Last week we were talking to some MCCers who are working in the field of education. They told us that female attendance in school is quite high. Unfortunately, the quality of education they receive is not on par with their male classmates. Girls are required to bring cooking knives to school to help in the kitchen while boys are given free time for studying. Principals have been heard making statements to the effect of, “Girl-child education is a waste of money. All they do is distract the boys from their studies.”

On the weekend I, (Holly) went to Gulu with a friend to see a traditional concert and dance. Apparently, it was meant to be celebrating and appreciating women. But the way women are celebrated and appreciated is as producers of children, cooks, and providers of sexual satisfaction. I wanted to appreciate the culture—and I do—I love so much of it, but there is a part of the culture that is unjust and needs to change. My inner cultural relativist cringes to write that, but really, cultural relativism has its limits and for me at least issues of gender fall outside the boundaries of prudent application. It felt awkward clapping and enjoying amazing dancers and musicians when what they were dancing to and singing about was perpetuating discrimination against women. The mentality that is nurtured is a breeding ground for the high prevalence of sexual and gender based violence.

There was one song about how "all women cook the same" which is code for all women are the same in bed. Apparently, that is supposed to be a song that encourages men to be faithful to their wives because if all women are the same than why bother having more than one. Then there was another one that was supposed to appreciate the work that women do but instead it sounded like a song that encourages women to stay in the kitchen. One line said something to the effect of: "be careful men when you try to do a woman's work, when you grind the millet flour you might get your testicles caught in the grinder."

During the concert something smacked me on the top of the head. I looked around to see who'd thrown something at me, and then I saw a mango had fallen out of the tree and my head happened to be in its path. One of my CPA friends said that is a blessing. Everyone around me insisted I should eat it to get the full benefit of the blessing. Since I’m a woman, I’m sure the blessing has something to do with producing children.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Labor Day and Military Men

Around Lira there are two amazing hills in an otherwise flat expanse. We hiked one of them with two friends (Jessica is taking the picture and Priscilla is in it) on Labor Day. At the base there is an entire village of people with chisels breaking up rock presumably for construction and landscaping in town. We saw a boy as young as seven chiseling away and a woman who must have been 8 months pregnant determined to show us the way up the "mountain" by running ahead in front of us. We marvelled at her strength. We met some unexpected military men on the top who enjoyed killing their apparent boredom by hastling us for arriving unannounced at an outpost. The view was incredible. Down from the summit, just out of sight from the outpost we stopped and enjoyed some refreshment we brought with us. It was a good Labor Day.

Easter BBQ

On Easter we went to visit other MCCers, Ben and Celesta and son Matthew in Hoima. It was beautiful and we enjoyed relaxing with them and in a totally different climate. The trees there are lush and jungly and they live surrounded by rolling hills--quite different from Lira. We spent the Saturday lounging by a an oasis in the middle of a sugar cane plantation. They have a pool and cold drinks and hot dogs. It felt very American--sort of. The highlight was inviting all their neighbor kids for their first Easter egg hunt ever. We then made deviled eggs. It is strange to try to explain our traditions to Ugandan friends. Celesta just told them that the eggs are called that because they tast so good it's almost sinful. The Bens and a friend BBQ 9 kilos of pork.

Monday, April 24, 2006

“Living your dream is a full-time job”

Our beautiful rock star friends—the Kents—were describing their tour schedule and Seth said something that struck me. “Just because you’re living your dream doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel like a full time-job.” The funny thing about living your dream is that you don’t morph into a superhero with superhuman powers. When I dreampt about the dream job I was my dream self while I worked it. Instead I have the same limitations and shortcomings that I had before.

The past few weeks I’ve been learning about empowering rather than taking power. I say learning because it sounds more positive than saying I’ve been making lots of mistakes--which is closer to the truth. I’ve acted way too American in several instances when I should have been more sensitive, should have been slower to speak and quicker to listen. My colleagues have been patient while I try to get my foot out of my mouth—a place--I’m afraid I put it too often. I’m learning to stay in my role as an advisor and support efforts of a multi-cultural team. At the moment I’m enjoying the freedom of holding work with open hands. I find that when I let go of the need to control everything my inability to do so isn’t nearly as frustrating. I did yoga during lunch, so we’ll see how long this moment lasts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Life In Captivity of the LRA

by: Dan

Dan is a dear friend who wanted to share his story. I (Holly) also wrote about him in an archived blog "Man Was Made to Broken". Lately we've been enjoying the rainy season with Dan as he's an awesome local gardening guide and we spend whatever daylight is left after the workday getting our hands dirty together. Yesterday we took some time out from "being farmers" to write Dan's story.

"This story is narrated by my own life experience, Dan Feego Omara Obua. I am one of the lucky survivors who escaped from the captivity of the Lord’s Resistance Army based in Northern Uganda.

When yet a child, I never imagined that I would be taken captive. Nonetheless, I was the first to have that experience in my village. Captivity is a situation in which a person lives without rights and without freedom in so many ways, a situation between death and life imposed on innocent people, young children, and foreign citizens who live and travel around the northern parts of Uganda.

According to my memory, on Sunday the 27th November, 2003 at exactly 3:17 in the afternoon, the weather was very cold and dry with total silence around our living environment. In our tradition, we believe the weather can try to tell you something before it happens. This day was unlike the other previous days but no one thought about the indication of the weather. Two hours previously, a well known “madman” by the name Yagayaga Sarapino Odero who always built his house and set it ablaze himself, made a loud ululation calling for people’s help. Very many people were scared because there had been rumors spreading about the rebels in the morning. To some people like me, I thought when he was yelling, he was just making his daily madness just to scare people. I found out later that it was true that it was the rebels beating his legs and elbows.

On that evening I and my younger brother Calvin were playing football at my first primary school, Iwal Primary 7 School. The rebels surrounded the field without our notice and captured us under the command of Ocan Bunia, called “Boxer.” They surrounded the field and entered inside. They told us to sit down at gunpoint and they tied us with rope in one single line and we started to go.

On our journey to Southern Sudan, we detoured places like Aloi in Lira district, Omot in Pader district, and Acek Ocot in Kitgum district where we had “training camp.” During this time many people lost their lives during training, especially those who were grouped to be trained as “Protective Mission Unit” like me, because of the heavy and deadly training where the trainees were forced to jump from a distance of 40-50 meters high to the ground level. They put the rope on the summit of a mountain and tie it to the other side of a cliff. You climb up there holding the rope and try to slide while holding the rope and then jump down from there. If you jump, like me, I jumped from there and I got a sprain in my knee and I couldn’t run so they came and grabbed me and took me for treatment. Other people who broke their legs or died were taken and buried. This had been done or commanded by an Egyptian commando fighter, Abdullah Omar, doing his contract with the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. Under his command, during the training people who are Muslim were the ones to be trained first, and then after they were given Muslim gowns for praying. While training other people, Muslims do prayers and bury the dead. Besides that, other people lost their lives during other “competitions” like laughing, crying and wrestling. They always do it in the evening where the rebels are going to sleep for that day. They choose a good number of people between five and eight to compete with laughing. They come in front and stand and then you wait for the order. If they say start you start laughing. After that they stop you and they have a judge to tell who laughed most. They choose three people, first, second and third place winners, the rest should be killed. The losers were cut into pieces and eaten by the trainees. Why do they do it like that? If they are going to sleep somewhere they have to kill people. It is an order from Kony. Kony doesn’t use his own reason, he gets it from the power that comes on him. I would call it a demon. It was an order from Kony’s demon. Why the losers were cut into pieces and eaten by the trainees is because it is supposed make the trainees to be more courageous in fighting. They call that one “Entertainment Shadow.” Another way which people lost their lives was during crossfire between government forces and the rebels because of the gunshots which makes them scared and scattered, especially along the Ugandan and Sudan border where we spent four days trying to enter Sudan after many clashes.

One day along the bridge that borders Uganda and Sudan, I experienced through action the phrase, “fighting for survival.” I had to fight for survival for myself and for my brother Calvin who was only seven years old. During my childhood I “called the smoke fire.” That is a saying here that means what I had seen when I was still a child was not a “fire” or real suffering, and that fighting was more terrible than anything I’d seen in the past. When I saw the real “fire” along the bridge I realized my mistake and I remembered what my father used to tell me, that “man dies in action.” This phrase means you should not sit and wait for what is coming to kill you, but you should stand up and try to stop rather than leaving it. From there I retook my responsibility as the firstborn in our family by carrying my younger brother, Calvin, on my back and grabbed a gun from a certain rebel who was trying to kill himself after a serious injury. I took an oath by urinating into the barrel of the gun while praying, “God, I am ready to die—for what? I don’t know, but I believe you will never forsake me in this war as You said in the scripture, because I and my entire family members are innocent. Amen.” From here I and my brother survived along with nine rebels. After the fighting stopped we go for charge, that is counting the dead. Forty-one government forces were killed. Twenty-nine rebels were also killed and forty-two captives were also killed.

The situation in Southern Sudan, or Jubba, was so hard to survive. This was because of serious starvation, lack of medical equipment and personnel, serious injuries and frequent attacks by the government forces from Uganda border. After a duration of two weeks the government forces from brigade 25 waged a serious attack on our rebel camps with a helicopter gunship and mobile troop and a lot of people were killed. Other people, like me and Calvin got separated towards the Ugandan border. From here I escaped with Calvin. I started to seek the way to Uganda. We walked for four days. During this walk we were surviving by eating raw leaves and roots and we suffered dehydration because there was no water since Southern Sudan is a desert area. We had nowhere to get water for drinking except at one oasis on the way with little water. We met a patrolling unit before we reached the border. It was commanded by Okello Bony. When we met them other soldiers were so suspicious that we were real rebels but because Bony was from Lira he welcomed us, but first they put us at gunpoint and asked us our ranks because they mistook us for real rebels. I had to explain everything to them, that I was a student from Amuca Seventh Day Adventist Secondary School in Lira and we were captured from our village and taken to Southern Sudan and we managed to escape because of the attack waged by the UPDF on the rebels camp and we were trying to find our way back home. Then they welcomed us and took us to their detach along the border and transported us to Kitgum town where we were handed to Captain Okori from Lira. He put us in his office truck and brought us back to Lira. He dropped us at Ngetta dispensary to get some medical treatment and he gave us some money for transport and recovery, about $50. We went back home. People were very happy and celebrating our coming back. During the celebration they do traditional things. Old men, like my grandfather wear animal skins and carry a shield and long speer. They point it at you but don’t touch you to symbolize that no harm should come to you. They slaughter a goat and smear something on your head and pray with traditional words. Then they put two eggs on the ground and you step on them and they slaughter a baby chicken and take a piece of the stomach and smear it on your neck and pray in traditional words. They do it so that we should be cleaned from the past and not be captured again. Two weeks after that I went back to school. Very many students were questioning me because they heard that I was captured and they were not happy. They wanted to find out what life was like in captivity. I narrated everything to them. They comforted me.

After going back to school I continued with my studies until I finished secondary school. I wanted to go to University but because of the insecurity my parents cannot raise enough money to send me. I’m trying on my own to earn money to go back to school. It is still hard because there is no way to get good money. If I can manage I will study agricultural course for a beginning. Then after I’d like to go for law. My family has good acres of land and I want to use them in a way that my people can benefit. Then my dream is to be a lawyer because I feel that I can stand up and advocate for justice in my country, freedom and the welfare of humanity.

The best thing was prayers during that time because without that I don’t think I would have been able to come back after that hard life. After coming back to school I went straight to the pastor and got saved because I wanted not to commit any sins the rest of my life and because I knew that God loves me. Without that I couldn’t come out of my captivity. I know that God loves me and I love God. But I feel that what I should do to let God know that I love Him is to love His creation—especially, human beings because He created them in His image. Whoever lives around the world and thinks that they love God should show it by loving God’s creation."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

How to Fight a Dragon: Advice anyone?

by Holly
Last night I sat watching a massive lightning storm from the fourth story balcony of my hotel room. It’s the tallest building in Gulu. The electricity was out as usual but nature lit the scene better than any street lamps: women with jugs of water on their heads, large horned cows grazing in what should be a park but is a de facto rubbish dump, street kids running barefoot through it while the town closes up shop and people make their way home. While I let the view and the breeze wash over me the scenes that flashed through my mind, were of the past days in Kitgum. The faces of the children. The desperation of the mothers. The drunkenness of fathers. I hesitate to describe in too much detail, because to do so would mean I’d have to keep thinking about it and to let those images continue to burn. And right now I want it all to stop and I feel so helpless. There is a dragon going about setting fires with its poisonous lungs. And I am torn. Confront the beast with a stick, or more accurately a toothpick and try to plunge it into its heart. Or follow in its tracks crying over the fires hoping my tears might quench the flames.

Anything, anything to make this stop. To make it better. But it is so big. And they say if the war ends tomorrow there will still be no peace. I believe it. I’ve seen the social ills that will remain for generations. My thinking is evolving and I even question what I wrote last week about the ICC. If the arrests of four people could even have a chance of alleviating the deplorable suffering of the eyes I looked into than by all means, somebody send in the special ops and make the arrests. It won’t kill the dragon but maybe it would keep it from lighting more fires and we could concentrate on extinguishing the flames.

Of course my analogy depicts a more lonely scenario than the reality. There are many of us here crying over the fires and wielding our little toothpicks as best we can—we’ve got SUVs galore to prove our valiant efforts: activities in night commuter centers to keep the children busy, income generating activities for returned abductees, dances and dramas to “sensitize” the community to issues of peace, educational support to “orphans and vulnerable children,” trainings and workshops on psycho social support, conflict management and sexual and gender based violence.

How many toothpicks does it take to kill a dragon?

How many tears to make the fire stop?

Today I feel quite small. I’m supposed to advise my organization. That’s what Technical Advisors do. And while I try to think of diplomatic sensitive ways of addressing issues of governance within CPA and how to improve our policies and activities—the dragon is still at work. I make suggestions that do have a small impact, and I feel I’m able to contribute something—more than I could before I came--but it is a pittance nonetheless and leaves one feeling utterly disempowered. My toothpick is charred and the fire has dried my eyes.

Kitgum in Pictures

CPA runs 8 night commuter centers in Kitgum. I spent an evening at one of them. These kids told riddles and stories and sang songs to pass the hours between arrival at dusk and their bedtime.

This is where they sleep. There is one oil lamp (a fire hazard) to provide light for 180 people--mostly children and a few mothers. They are given a blanket and they tie up any belongings in case of flooding in the tent when it rains. The women and children under five are in one side of the tent and boys on the other.

While in Kitgum I visited an MCC sponsored adult literacy program for night commuting women. This woman is in the beginning class.

The women in the adult literacy class sang a song of thanks. "Our fathers did not send us to school, but thank you, you have sent us to school. Now when we go to the bus stop we can see for ourselves, Does this bus go to Kampala or does this bus go to Gulu and how much does it cost? Now we can teach out children and have pride in our homes."

Monday, February 27, 2006

Protected Villages

by: Holly

Last week I spent time in 4 different Internally Displaced People (IDP) Camps. There are some who prefer to call them “Protected Villages.” The label is grossly inaccurate and derides the suffering of the people who live there. It implies permanence—which may be what is intended by those who use it, but is not accepted by anyone who lives there. They want to go home. On the way to the camps I drove over bumpy roads with abandoned fertile fields that fed thousands of hungry mouths before the war. My colleague, himself displaced, as 94% of all those who live in Gulu are, pointed to a mango tree and then another and said, “You see, wherever you see a mango tree, that is the place where peoples homes used to be.” There are no villages in Gulu. There is only Gulu town and 53 IDP camps. The residents must be within the camp between 4:30 and 6:00 every evening depending on the camp and a strict curfew is enforced. After that the roads will be blocked and any patrolling UPDF might mistake the resident for a rebel. The same applies if they venture further than 3 km from their camp to “dig” the fields. I spent time with CPAs parent groups, youth groups, child mothers who were formerly abducted, camp leaders, elders, and others.

One of these women described how they sometimes become so discouraged that they want to commit suicide. Then they come to their friends in the Parent Support Group and they remind each other that their children need to find them alive when they finally come out of the bush. They have to persevere. They can’t give up. They have to hang on to hope.

One woman said that she passed by a center for formerly abducted children the other day and there were three kids who were just arriving having just been rescued from the LRA. And she wept. She said, “It gave me courage, to see them, it means that there are still children returning and that next time it might even be my son coming home to me.”

This man just learned that he is a grandfather. His granddaughter was born in the bush and was rescued two weeks ago by the Ugandan army. His son was abducted ten years ago and is still in the bush. Now he and his wife will raise the granddaughter and hope that someday her parents will come home. I asked him what he would say to his president if he could have lunch with him. He said, “I would tell him two things. First, I would ask him to stop using guns—use dialogue. The gun does not select. Our children will die without even knowing what they are dying for. They are dying for nothing. Second I would ask for an extension of Amnesty. It should be open.” Amnesty has been offered to combatants who surrender but it is due to expire in March next month. Anyone surrendering after that date could ostensibly be prosecuted regardless of the circumstances of their “enlistment” in the LRA.

I asked this man the same question. Tired, he said, “I just want to go home.”

During a conversation with one of the camp leaders he pressed his heart and admitted the thing that weighs on him and other elders the most is the youth. “We have many concerns I could tell you, but more than anything we are worried for his coming generation. This is no way to grow up. All of our cultural values are being lost. The ways that we used to pass them on to the young we cannot do here in the camp. It is all disintegrating. And when we look at them we worry for the future.” I asked him what he as a camp leader is doing to meet that challenge. He said that they the main thing he would like to do is to encourage some of the traditional ways of passing on cultural values like the “Wango” a gathering of the clan around a fire at night for the elders to tell stories, for debates, for dancing, for the young to ask the old their questions, for the life of the clan. The curfew is prohibitive of doing things in just the same way—wango should be after dark when everyone is required to be in their huts. He is waiting and hoping for a government decision to provide security and an exception to curfew.

The Proof, The Trick & Restorative Justice

by Holly
Over a mug of coffee this morning I read the Sunday paper of one of the two most prominent Ugandan newspapers. The article that caught my attention was discussing how the political opposition uses the ongoing war to cast a shadow on the incumbent’s track record while addressing crowds of supporters in the North. It was an op-ed piece that was sharply criticizing the practice and setting the record straight: those who are responsible for the war are the LRA rebels—not the current government. The proof, the journalist opined, is that the International Criminal Court(ICC) has issued warrants for the top 5 in LRA command. I’ve been meaning to write a few thoughts about the hotly debated role of the ICC in Northern Uganda and this article is an excellent example of one of the many (unintended) byproducts of the international community’s attempt to administer justice. While I hold my own opinions on ICC involvement it seems most appropriate to focus on the perception and desires of those who are directly affected by it—the people in the North. While I can’t claim to speak for them, in my limited time here my conversations with colleagues, formerly abducted children, parents, camp leaders, religious leaders, and others have confirmed without exception empirical research that has been conducted that I’d read. (Justice & Peace Commission and Refugee Law Project are two main organizations). Three main beliefs about the ICC are reoccurring themes in conversations and research on the subject.

It is not seen to be objective. The case was referred to the court by the government of Uganda and by indicting only the top 5 in command of the LRA the perception (whether it is valid or not may be another story) is that the ICC has “chosen sides” in an ongoing conflict. Although virtually no one supports the LRA, many in the North don’t support the current government either and have been victims of human rights abuses committed by both warring parties. Most people believe that if there is to be accountability for injustices it should be comprehensive. The ICC has made statements indicating that the government would not be exempt from investigation. However, they only indicted top LRA and those statements seem to have only been read by a rare few who relish sifting through reports and not by your average (often illiterate) camp resident in Northern Uganda.

It undermines amnesty and therefore, many believe, the only shot at achieving sustainable peace. The government’s attitude towards the amnesty process is widely perceived to be at best ambiguous and at worst a trick to lure rebels out of the bush and then when peace is achieved to use the documentation of amnesty recipients as incriminating evidence to prosecute them—letting a thousand flowers bloom Ugandan style. In a strictly legal sense, if I understand it properly, it truly only undermines the amnesty of five individuals, however, it is NOT understood properly by the general population and even less so by those (children) who remain in the bush afraid of what will happen to them if they try to come out. The risks of escape are great. The stigmatization experienced while trying to reunite with a community and a family plagued with grievance is inevitable. The perceived liklihood of being prosecuted for crimes committed involuntarily does not provide the assurance that many need to even begin contemplation of surmounting the other hardships. Couple that with the fact that many of those trying to decide if they should risk escape and apply for amnesty are or were children when they were abducted and have undergone significant “mental conditioning” since then. The ICC has said that it would consider postponing the case “in the interests of justice.” If even one child is dissuaded from coming home to his/her family by confusion over the ICC is that in the interests of justice?

It imposes a western version of justice ignoring both the traditional way as well as the needs of the victims. Someone recently told me that they don’t want Kony sent to the Hague and then shipped to some comfortable jail somewhere. Nor do they want him tried by Ugandan courts where capitol punishment (by hanging) would be his likely sentence. No, they don’t want his blood on their hands, they want him to spend his life working in the fields. He should have to plow and sweat just like the rest of Northern Ugandans. While this scenario might not sound viable it reflects a widely held belief and practice of reintegrating perpetrators into their communities. If the victims do not believe the ICC is achieving justice—than who is the justice for? Does it only satisfy the international community’s desire to do something? It pours some water on our burning consciences as each day we continue to fail to effectively respond to the growing suffering of the people of Northern Uganda. While the crimes that the ICC deals with are those against humanity—we must not neglect the fact that the victims of those crimes have faces and names and many of them are still alive and thinking about their futures. One mother told me that there could be no meaningful restitution for what she has suffered—the injury is too great. For her, justice means that her daughter and the children that she bore in captivity receive the best possible education. Justice for Northern Uganda, will not be achieved by 5 arrest warrants. It will need to move beyond retributive and punitive justice and draw from the deep traditional well that the people of Northern Uganda have used for centuries—of restorative justice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

News Flash...

This morning Ben and I were watching BBC and sipping on instant coffee at our hotel here in Gulu. Across the bottom of the screen it read 'Ugandan elections unlikely to be free and fair--U.S. based Human Rights Watch reports.' They catch on quick. Check it out:

Elections are in a week and we're praying, hoping and working for peace.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Senate's Resolve

We heard about this the day after the prayer week was over. A good move in the right direction--there is still a chasm between the depth of suffering and the response, but I thought some of you might be interested to know what our government is saying about our place of work. -Holly



2d Session

S. RES. 366

Affirming the importance of increased international action and a
national week of prayer for the Ugandan victims of Joseph Kony's Lord's
Resistance Army, and expressing the sense of the Senate that Sudan,
Uganda, and the international community bring justice and humanitarian
assistance to Northern Uganda and that February 2 through 9, 2006,
should be designated as a national week of prayer and reflection for the
people of Uganda.


February 2, 2006

Mr. INHOFE (for himself, Mr. COLEMAN, Mr. SANTORUM, Mr. DEMINT, Mrs.
FEINGOLD, Mr. KENNEDY, and Mr. LAUTENBERG) submitted the following
resolution; which was considered and agreed to



Affirming the importance of increased international action and a
national week of prayer for the Ugandan victims of Joseph Kony's Lord's
Resistance Army, and expressing the sense of the Senate that Sudan,
Uganda, and the international community bring justice and humanitarian
assistance to Northern Uganda and that February 2 through 9, 2006,
should be designated as a national week of prayer and reflection for the
people of Uganda.

Whereas Joseph Kony has led the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since 1987,
terrorizing the region of Northern Uganda;

Whereas up to 200,000 people have been killed in violent conflict and
from disease and malnutrition;

Whereas 80 to 90 percent of Kony's fighters are enslaved
children--brutalized and brainwashed to kill;

Whereas sources estimate that between 20,000 and 50,000 children have
been abducted by the LRA since 1987;

Whereas these children are sexually abused, raped, beaten, taunted and
traumatized by older soldiers in the LRA;

Whereas these children are maliciously coerced to mutilate, rape, and
murder others, even their own family members and friends;

Whereas LRA leaders often force the friends and siblings of unsuccessful
escapees to carry out vicious punishments to further the LRA's culture
of fear, intimidation and guilt;

Whereas even those children who do manage to escape are unspeakably
traumatized, often infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and
stigmatized by society;

Whereas approximately 40,000 children in rural Uganda trek miles into
towns each night to sleep under the protection of soldiers and attempt
to avoid capture;

Whereas more than 1.6 million people have been forced to flee their

Whereas the conflict has slowed Uganda's development efforts, costing
the country at least $1.33 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP; and

Whereas, starting in October 2005, the Sudan government gave Joseph Kony
a three month grace period to surrender: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate--

(1) that the government of Sudan continue to prosecute LRA terrorists
within its borders and aid Uganda in ending the conflict;

(2) that Uganda use every available resource to end the atrocities of
the LRA and bring its members to justice;

(3) that the United States and international community recognize the
atrocities occurring daily in Uganda and provide necessary humanitarian
assistance; and

(4) that the week of February 2 through 9, 2006, should be designated as
a National Week of Prayer and Reflection for the people of Northern

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Light Bulbs

By Holly:
I love teaching. Actually, what it is that is so thrilling is not the actual teaching but watching people transform even in little doses—their minds, their attitudes, their behavior. I like watching them realize that they have power and decidedly set about using it to participate in creative processes. I facilitated my first training at CPA for 5 days on Conflict Resolution. It was intense. I could not have asked for a better group of participants—20 of the most committed members of CPA’s “youth” branch (all 20 and 30 somethings). They were excellent. Many of them were formerly abducted, some had lost parents or siblings, all of them were war affected.

I’m hopeful that the training was a beginning of a lot of things—as they work to apply new skills and ideas to their activities as an organization and in their lives I hope to continue being a resource to them. I think there were the beginning of some friendships, some mentoring relationships and a lot of potential that will need a little guidance and focus. We gave them certificates at the end. I was originally critical of the idea but it is an expected norm that has become part of educational culture put in place by the presence of so many NGOs. By the end I was fully convinced that they deserved certificates because of the great progress they made and I prepared a little speech for the “commencement.” I couldn’t get through it. I choked up when I got to the part when I noted that they had lived their whole lives never knowing peace but they were the ones who would insure that their children would grow up never knowing war.

In Northern Uganda watching the lights go on in the eyes of training participants is especially powerful as they shine it on some of the darkest deeds in human history. I really believe that. These “youth” have lived through things that those of us who haven’t can’t imagine—when we try we feel like if it had been us we’d have just stopped breathing or died under the crushing weight of the unspeakable evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on each other. But somehow they not only kept on breathing but they emerged activists that refuse to accept this unjust way of life as normal. They are wounded activists but they will not be stopped.

A Case Study

A group of Bodas waiting for their next customer.
By Holly:
Before the training I asked the participants to each write about two real conflicts that affected them. We used them as case studies during the training. As I read through a stack of 40 conflicts there was one that stuck out, not for its severity but as depressingly commonplace. It was about a participant’s neighbors. The breadwinner is a “Boda” someone who makes money by carrying people on the back of their bicycle. Income comes slow at about 15 cents per trip. The boda was supporting his wife and 8 kids on his meager and irregular income. All year he had been struggling to save enough money to buy his family meat for Christmas. Because of the Christmas rush he bought the meat one week before the expected feast. It would be the first time for most of the children to ever eat meat and in the novelty of it they would smell the meat and increase their anticipation. The family felt like the week “lasted for two years.” While the father was at work on the 23rd the smell and desire became so overwhelming that they cooked the meat and ate it. When the boda came home he found that most of the meat was gone and that the choicest pieces had been given to the children (in Ugandan culture it should be given to the man). In a rage the boda beat the woman and smashed her hand badly breaking it. The neighbors all heard the sounds of domestic violence and rushed to take her to the hospital.


Friday, January 27, 2006


We’re in the middle of the dry season here. The intense heat, dust and wind makes the people in the IDP camps even more vulnerable. Last week there were massive fires in 4 large camps. One camp, Amoro, saw 450 grass roofs burn, resulting in the death of 3 children. A friend of mine who was there said, “You can’t imagine, even if you saw it, you couldn’t believe it”. As we discussed this issue in a United Nations Working Group on Child Protection, an INGO representative said, “This is our fault, we are to blame. We knew this was coming, and yet we’re working with the aftermath of the fires without taking the proper preventative measures. Child-headed households are cooking meals with little to no concept of how to manage a fire for cooking. Look even now, we’re reacting to the catastrophe of the fires and making no plan for preparing the camps for the rainy season-which causes even more damage and claims more lives.” Everyone can become frustrated at the circumstances here. Some NGOs blame the camp residents for setting their own homes on fire so that they can receive non-food aid from the government or INGOs. I personally have a hard time believing that, and others I’ve talked to feel as though that response is given out of sheer frustration at the immense challenge of keeping the people in the camps safe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Peace is Like Glass

Officially, we started work last week. But the needs are great and I was getting restless, so before Christmas I assisted with a small part of an assessment and I learned so much. During that week I spoke with parents of young women who returned from the LRA last year. I met their daughters. Most of them were in captivity for about 8 years. I’m struggling to find the right words for my interactions with them. They may not exist—somehow I was inspired and heartbroken by the same conversations. Most of the girls who have returned came back with children. When I talked to the parents I noted that the moms seemed to have adjusted to that more easily than the dads. The dads all shared their struggle to accept and love the children that were a constant reminder of how they had failed to protect their daughters and how they had been repeatedly raped while in captivity. It's so heavy.

Angelina, the Chairperson of CPA, says that peace is like glass. You have to keep it carefully. If it breaks it shatters and you can only hold onto a few splintered shards. What we’re doing is trying to put the pieces back together. The conversations I had feel like splinters of peace. There was resilience. There was pain and hope.

Angelina is an amazing woman whose approach to suffering is profoundly spiritual. She shares her painful stories openly. She told me of how she used to pray lying on the concrete floor pleading with God for the release of her daughter. After 7 years of pleading she told me how one night she reminded God that the seventh year is the year of freeing those who are in captivity. “God, you do not break your promises—you are not a liar,” she told Him, “are you going to let this year pass without fulfilling your promise?” She told me that the same night her daughter had a dream where God told her that she was going home to her people. The next day in the middle of 4 guards and a convoy of rebels she felt that she should turn left at a fork in the road. In broad daylight she walked to the left holding the hand of her son while the LRA walked to the right. No one stopped her or asked where she was going. She was free. Then, Angelina asks, how can we not know that God is supreme? That He is faithful? She told me that once a white woman told her that if her God was faithful and supreme He wouldn’t have let the girls be taken from Aboke in the first place and the war would never have started. She told me that expecting me to be equally shocked that someone would say such a thing. But I confess, I identified with the other white woman. After hearing about the things her daughter went through during the 7 years before her miraculous escape I found myself questioning God’s timing. If God was going to intervene eventually anyway, than why did it take Him so long? Angelina asked a different question, “How can a WHITE woman who has so much not have the one most important thing--the knowledge that God is good?”