We had a whirlwind last week in Gulu and a long trip home, so apologies for the lack of posts! We’re missing GROW a lot and slowly recovering from our long journey home, but here’s a quick recap of our last week in Gulu. More posts on project updates and GROW media collection coming soon!
Thursday, June 7th: Cultural Excursion
We visited the palace of the King of the Acholi people and the palace of the chief of a clan in beautiful Patiko. The chief talked to us about the role of culture and tradition in modern Uganda. Cultural leaders were instrumental in organizing the Juba Peace Talks during the war, and they are still involved in mediating conflict in communities. The most common source of conflict is land ownership as people displaced in IDP camps during the war return to their ancestral homes and find other people claiming to own their land. Elders with memory of inheritance and property lines are no longer alive to oversee resettlement, so traditional methods of settling land disputes are missing. The chief also talked about the cultural leaders’ decision to publicly state their disapproval of gender based violence. He said culture is always changing; some cultural institutions should be respected, while others should adapt. We were treated to a delicious meal in his palace. Geoffrey, a program officer from GWED-G, picked out the gizzard from the chicken and told us we should eat it because gizzards are reserved for the most honored guests. If you visit a home in Uganda and are served chicken without the gizzard, the host is saying you are not welcome. The gizzard looked a little extraterrestrial at first but tasted just like all the other parts of the chicken except a little chewier and more rubbery. Tradition also forbids visitors from leaving before the host allows them to do so, usually when the wife of the host finishes cooking and joins the meeting, so we got to spend a lot of quality time at the chief’s palace before heading home.
Friday, June 8th: Youth Groups and HOPE Project
After several postponements, we were finally able to go into the field with Jude and Naomi to see the youth group and HOPE programs in Awach. We visited a school and saw a traditional dance performance by war-affected youth, who receive art and dance lessons as therapy for trauma suffered during the war. We got to meet Walter, one of the beneficiaries of GWED-G’s physical rehabilitation program. When he was an infant, LRA rebels abducted him and beat him, while holding him by his testicles. He suffered severe physical and developmental damage from that incident, but after receiving surgery to correct the damage to his genitals, he can now attend school and dance with the other children in the group. We visited two women benefitting from the income-generating support GWED-G offers war victims under the HOPE project. One received support and training to start her own tailoring business, and another was able to start her own roadside restaurant. We visited a women’s group that practices VSLA, and we toured a youth group’s fish pond, sunflower garden, and pig farm. The youth group used their support from GWED-G to invest in those income-generating projects. They can sell the fish, sunflower seeds and oil, and pigs for profit, and all youth in the group help build the fish pond and tend the garden and pigs. On the way to the youth group, our car hit a rock and got a flat tire. We soon discovered our car jack was broken, and then our driver Robert, Jude, and approximately 10 kind strangers had to manually lift the car up and lodge a tree trunk under the car as a makeshift car jack.
It was another long day, but it was really great to see how all these different groups and individuals used GWED-G’s support to create sustainable income-generating projects for themselves. We’ve heard a lot about the ‘culture of dependency’ in Northern Uganda, but we’ve also heard repeatedly from the community that they’d rather be taught how to fish than given fish. Sustainability is an issue we’ve been grappling with in the income-generating component in our project next year, so it’s good to see the different ways the community is tackling that problem.
Saturday, June 9th: Game Ride
On Saturday, we made the long journey to Murchison Falls National Park for a game ride. The animals are most active in the morning before it gets too hot, so we left at the crack of dawn to get there early. The park is HUGE and is famous for a boat ride on the Nile that takes you to Murchison Falls. We were in a pick up truck lent to us by ACORD, and when we first got to the park, a baboon sprinted towards the truck, climbed in an open back window, then ran out clutching all of Katelyn’s food. Luckily, none of us were in the car when that happened. A lot of the other tour groups weren’t as lucky. We had a game ranger with a huge gun accompanying us (Pamela insisted) to tell us about the history of the park throughout Idi Amin’s reign (poachers almost wiped out the wildlife) to the present. It’s named after Roderick Murchison, former President of Britain’s Royal Geographic Society, but under Idi Amin it was called Kabarega Park after a King of Bunyoro. We saw tons of Ugandan Kob, giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, and, by the Nile, hippos. At one point, we went off-roading in the park to look for a lion or a leopard, but sadly, we didn’t find one. We got home in the late afternoon with enough time for a powernap before getting ready for our last night out in Gulu.
Sunday, June 10th: Ugandan American Fiesta
We woke up early to go to church with Pamela, and then we went grocery shopping for the dinner we wanted to cook Pamela and the GWED-G staff. We were fed really well during our trip, so we wanted to return the favor and have one last get together with everyone before we left. After weeks of thinking about what good American dinner we could make everyone, naturally, we decided on fajitas. We had really thin chapati as “tortillas,” spiced rice, beans, some delicious beef, sauteed peppers and onion, superb guacamole, tropical fruit salad, and virgin pina coladas from fresh pineapple juice and coconut milk.
Most of our recipes were a little bootleg but a lot delicious, and besides some initial confusion where we had to explain why and how to fold all the food up into the chapati/tortilla, everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. As an added success, no one (to our knowledge) got food poisoning!
Monday & Tuesday, June 11-12: Goodbyes
For our last two days in Gulu, we worked in the office — distracting everyone for one last time, finishing up our interviews with GWED-G staff and Pamela, discussing our plans for next year’s project — and walked around town for some last minute souvenir shopping. On Tuesday, the GROW team met with the GWED-G staff for a final reflection about the trip and goodbyes before our early morning departure on Wednesday.