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."