Since Saturday, we’ve been kept quite busy going into the field, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Hopefully our posts so far have given you a sense of what we have done and what we have seen. Each of these past few days we have traveled with GWED-G staff to evaluate various projects deep in villages throughout this region. But the word “evaluation” is nowhere near sufficient to describe the magnitude of things we have learned, the experiences we have gained, the people we’ve met and the stories we have heard. In order to begin to understand these accounts we give of our fieldwork, to get a feeling about the contexts of the interviews you read, I think it’s important to walk you through what it’s like to travel the average 45 minutes from busy Gulu town, over dusty red highways and through the narrow, bumpy paths lined with tall grasses, goats and skeptical children, that take us to the villages. And I think it’s important to see and hear the reception we’re given by singing and dancing women as we walk into their communities. Hopefully this will help set the scene and give somewhat of an idea of what it’s been like going into villages these past few days!
To start, you have to begin with the car ride. Pamela resides in a fairly busy part of Gulu, just blocks away from the center of town. Motorcycles, known here as boda-bodas, swarm the streets, dodging, pedestrians, bicycles, cars and buses. And while I pride myself on my New York understanding of chaotic streets – with jaywalkers brushing passing taxi cabs, general aggressive road tendencies and a take-what’s-mine attitude – Gulu town gives New York a run for its money. So each morning we start here, filling up the land cruiser at the gas station before we set off for the villages.
The next stretches of road are dusty red highways which, we found out after the first day, end up turning your clothing and skin red if you don’t close your windows. Here also, the roads start getting bumpy. When it rains, holes form and deepen in these roads and driving requires a remarkable amount of dodging ability. Even with the most skilled driver, however, a great deal of bumping is unavoidable. Especially once we turn off these major roads onto the narrow paths that lead to the villages. More often than not, these paths are not wide enough for our car, but we plow through regardless, making wrong turns here and there, but eventually making our way to the correct village.
We had no idea what to expect when we went out the first day of fieldwork. About 10 minutes outside the first village, Conner asked Francis, our GWED-G companion for the day, how to say hello in Luo, the local language of this part of Northern Uganda. To our dismay, Francis told us we were out of luck – there is no way to say hello in Luo. Of course he gave us alternatives (are you well? Thank you, etc.) but needless to say, we were all a little nervous entering our first village in Jaka parish. But what we were greeted with completely undermined that nervousness.
Walking up to a group of banana trees positioned between a field of groundnuts and the village homes, the sound of women singing grew louder. As we reached the meeting place, the women of the village came up to us, singing, ululating and dancing around us. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve certainly never experienced anything like it.
Not only have we been greeted each time with song and dance and jubilation of all sorts, but we have been included as well – pulled into dance circles to make fools of ourselves, clumsily butchering the steps to these impressive dances. But what I learned, is that, even though we may not know how to appropriately greet people in Luo, even though we may feel uncomfortable in our obvious outsider-ness, even though the meanings to these songs and dances may be lost on us and we can’t possibly follow their steps and movements, what matters is that we embrace this discomfort. What matters is that we try to say hello, even if we don’t say it correctly, or join in on the dances and, yes, make fools of ourselves. It’s not about trying to fit in perfectly, for that’s not possible. It’s about trying to immerse ourselves, and it’s about laughing, even if it’s at yourself.
GROW team out.