Thursday, March 20, 2008

Behold, a novel awaits you...

The Gulu tape worm reared its fugly head. Or maybe I shouldn't have eaten pepper steak and honey pancakes last night for dinner. Eh.


I really love taking you on this circular journey of my days, so thanks for reading these missives. It's truly a cathartic exercise for me – an outlet for the tumult of emotion that goes along with these trips – the constant up-and-down and up-and-down (sea-sick and slap-happy).


Speaking of circular, we are back to Thursday. I woke up feeling fugly (see above) and tried my best to shake it off. Kate and I had a 10 am meeting with IYEP (Information for Youth Empowerment Program). After stuffing my face with Patrick's lovely banana muffin x2, Kate and I hopped on bodas and headed out to the new IYEP office (see photo above) – adjacent to the GUSCO Resource Center.

In the split second it took to pass by GUSCO (Gulu Support the Children Organization), I couldn't help but think back to that day in June 2006, when something small came unhinged inside of me, triggering the landslide that has been my constant involvement with Northern Uganda. It goes back to an 11-year-old boy that had just arrived at GUSCO, which is a child soldier rehabilitation center – the first stop on a painful journey towards regaining his place in society. I'd made eye contact with the boy earlier as the Director explained their programs, noticing a vacancy in his eyes. As we sat together in silence, one of the nurses casually explained that he had escaped captivity the day before I arrived. Instead of words, we exchanged brief glances. I drew Bert the Jolly Mail-Bee and smiling flowers and suns. Gave him a pack of gum. Reached out, rubbed his back, and saw a smile sneak onto his face. A nice, wide smile, and a small glitter where all that emptiness had been. And so it goes. I offered him nothing, and I knew it. His smile set loose a tremor in my mind that would grow and torment me into returning and returning, trying to understand why I keep coming back to Uganda.

We paid our boda drivers and Moses stepped into the road to meet us, wearing metal-tipped cowboy boots. Big, huge hugs all around. It's not without meaning that we are working with IYEP and that its new office is adjacent to GUSCO. Moses is a formerly-abducted child soldier that, with a group of others in similar situations, started an organization targeted at restoring Acholi culture and breaking down the stigmas that the formerly-abducted and child mothers face upon returning to their communities. Kate and I sat down with the group in their office and explained our ideas for partnership.

IYEP is playing an increasingly large role in restoring peace and stability in the region, and they've expanded their reach to groups that have returned to their villages. These returnees (as they're called here in dev-talk) face a host of challenges (see this awesome BBC map/article for reference) as they leave the squalor of IDP camps and try to reclaim the rural lives they'd lived prior to this conflict. IYEP is easing the transition by providing agricultural assistance to returnees – namely livestock, pigs, goats and chickens.

So, in addition to buying recycled paper beads from IYEP's child mother groups and working with them to develop a line of Peace on Earth holiday cards, we'll be running a unique holiday campaign, similar to Heifer International and with the guarantee that every single penny gets to the ground – you'll be able to directly support returnees in Northern Uganda by purchasing the animals they need to jump-start their livelihoods. That's right, give a goat for Christmas this year…coming soon. Dear Santa….

Following our uplifting meeting with IYEP (and round three of group photos, which we do every time I visit their office), Kate and I headed to the market to see Lucy and take her to open a bank account at Barclay's. We've grown increasingly nervous about her moving about town when we pay her the large sums for each order, so the logical solution is to legitimize things a bit and open an account. Unlike many people in the north, Lucy does have a photo ID. We stopped off at the photo shop (specializing in passport photos, light bulbs, PVC tubing, and cell phone gadgets) and perpetually smiling Lucy put on her best solemn stare for the photographer. With one more step of getting the LC5's signature for a letter of recommendation, Lucy will have a bank account.

We parted ways in town and Kate and I headed to see Angwech Pamela at GWED-G (Gulu Women's Economic Development & Globalization) – our NGO partner for the Davis Project for Peace. We were both admittedly exhausted from the morning's activities, but seeing Pamela (more giant HUGS!) took our happiness to new heights. Pamela, like us, was beyond thrilled to hear about the grant, and immediately told us her plan for mobilizing GWED-G in the camps to get things started. We set up a meeting to introduce her to Lucy and align all of the important pieces. Pamela, after an amazing monologue about our partnership (and ever the teacher), sent Kate and I packing with the instructions to draft a study design – we're going to conduct research in line with the peace project this summer, surveying households before and after the project to better understand the grassroots impact of One Mango Tree's work.

A few hours later I ate some Chicken a la Cream Sauce and chips at Bomah and enjoyed an hour-long massage, a milky twilight-y sky, and a cup of African tea – and you, my friends, are now up-to-date.

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