Mar 8

According to the large group of women and girls who just marched past our hotel, today is international women’s day. The beginning of the parade had a small band and several different women’s groups followed, with a total of several hundred marching. Great entertainment right at our door step!

We are now in Gulus and arrived Thursday evening. We were brought here by Sam, who is the director at the Ndere Cultural Center, and also a bit of a movie star. He was in ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and is now good friends with Forrest Whittiker (sp?)! In addition to being multi-talented, he also has quite a personal history. At the age of 14, he was abducted and made a child soldier. He later escaped and after he made his way to Kampala (all the way from Sudan), he started working with the Ndere Center. It took him 4 years from the time he was captured, to find his mother again at which point he moved her from Gulu to a safer location. Sometime later, he learned his younger brother had been abducted as well and later killed. When he learned of this, he became angry and distraught and knew he had to do something. He found some supporters and with their help, bought 40 acres of land in the middle of nowhere, hired some vans, and brought as many children from the north as he could in order to give them a safe place to live. This land began what is now called Hope north and now has around 180 secondary and vocational students combined. They started with nothing more than an empty field and now have dorms for each the girls and boys, living quarters for many of the teachers, a guest house, and even a bore hole for clean water. There are many plans in the works to improve the facilities even more, but already they’ve come a long way. If you want to look into this more, their website is: http://www.hopenorth.org.

Back to chronological order. Thursday we spent the night in Gulu, then Sam picked us up around noon on Friday (he told us he’d be there around 9, but 9, noon, what’s the difference really?) and acted as our ranger through Murchison Falls National Park. The park is beautiful and we saw so many animals really close! There are several different types of antelope which were everywhere and fun to watch. More exciting were the elephants who crossed right in from of Sam’s land cruiser, the giraffes who were right off the side of the road, the warthogs with their cute little babies, and the enormous hippo who was literally right next to our vehicle! had we not been inside the car, I would not have wanted to be so close to him. Apparently, hippos kill more humans than any other animal in Africa! Not the docile giants I thought they were!

During our mini safari, we got dirtier than we’d been during any other portion of our trip thus far. We stopped for a quick break at a hotel in the park (absolutely gorgeous hotel) to get drinks and use th toilets and Jon and I washed our hands and faces and turned the sinks brown. And keep in mind, we had been riding inside a car the whole day! It’s much drier in Gulu than in Kampala where the humidity makes us wilt. It’s hotter here as well, but somehow still more comfortable.

Friday night and Saturday day, we spent at Hope North. We didn’t do much besides sleep and eat, but did get to play with some of the young kids which was fun (there are a couple families who live on site as well who are refugees from the north). They mostly just laughed and copied whatever we did, but there was mutual entertainment provided.

We left Saturday evening and took a matatu to Gulu (about a 2 hour ride) where we went back to the same hotel (which has a nice fan, a tv, and a real shower). We went to sleep early, slept in late, and did some laundry.

Now that you’re caught up, I’ll tell you a bit about the area we’re in.

This is the area of the country where much of the war took place, and Gulu is the town Kony is from (the leader of the rebel army called the LRA or Lord’s Resistance Army). He is the man who caused the country so much terror and heartache. The rebels made it their practice to kidnap children and then turn them into soldiers. Many of these children, though now out of the army, no longer have anywhere they can call home and so they are refugees in their own country. The government also moved many of the people from the north to a sort of refugee camp set up and although it is safe for them to go back, so many of them have no family left in their home town and have lived in these camps for so long, they feel the camps are more home than the places they are actually from. Many of the camps are made up of mostly young people, so they often know only these camps as home. It has caused a huge economic problem as most of these people live in poverty.

As we were on our way to Murchison Falls, we saw many of these camps, which are called IDP camps (Internally Displaced Persons). There are literally hundreds of small round bandas, each one housing at least one family, and many different groups of these hundreds of homes. Many of the families have little or no income as they are used to being farmers and now have no land. The surrounding communities are quite small and I imagine offer little in terms of job opportunities.

Gulu itself is a medium sized town, but feels quite small. It’s much poorer appearing, though I don’t know if it actually is or not. Not many tourists come to this part of the country, so we are even more of a source of entertainment here! The people though are very friendly and don’t seem to be nearly as quiet as the people in Kampala.

So far, so good…we’ll keep you posted.

Katie

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