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.