Monday, June 11, 2007

24! (Tick tock, Tick tock)

I think I'm the first blogger to mention Skyler and Rebekah's engagement. Congrats kids! Rebekah will be a good addition to the fam, as will Bret.

Finally I’m 24! 23 was such a lame number. Yeah, Michael Jordan is 23, it was a great year and I just didn’t like being 23. Not all ages are created equal. So now I’m the age of one of the coolest TV shows ever, yes! It’s interesting, though, I was born at 5:03 PM in Provo on June 10th. 5:03 PM June 10th in Provo is 2:03 AM June 11th in Uganda. So actually my birthday here is June 11th, I guess that was the case on my mission too but I didn’t think about.

This has been an incredible week! I know I say that probably about every week but WOW! I went to Northern Uganda. The State Department says it’s one of the most dangerous places on earth…it’s not, at least I didn’t feel like it was. I’ve felt safer there than some parts of the US. When I first arrived I wasn’t planning on going to Northern Uganda because I’ve heard it’s really dangerous but I’ve been talking to lots of people and everyone has said it’s safe except the missionaries, but they’ve never been. I guess HELP’s board of directors were upset that we went spontaneously to Rwanda, cause supposedly that is a dangerous place too (it’s not). So they said we had to have an organization we would go with and still would have to have permission from the board of directors. At Parliament I made contacts with MP’s from Gulu. We talked with the Opposition Leader and the woman representative of the Gulu District, Honorable Betty. She arranged everything for us—hotel and organization contacts. I didn’t think they would let us go to kinda get back at us for going to Rwanda. We wanted to leave Wednesday but heard nothing from HELP. So around 7 Wednesday night they called and gave us permission, along with the “be safe, don’t do anything stupid” speech. Dave, April, April, and I were ecstatic that we were going. So we called Betty, confirmed, and were all set to go. We left early the next morning, met up with Hon. Betty in Kampala and went on the 6 hour bus ride with her husband. The ride was interesting, that’s probably the closest I’ve ever felt to getting in a car accident. This huge bus went so fast on this little road that had many pot holes; even when the bus drove on the shoulder it still went really fast and was tipping. I’ve never heard of police pulling over cars in other countries, but they pulled over our bus and told the driver to go slower. The bus’s horn was so loud, annoying, and long. It had different noises and could play a short annoying sound. I think it has that because there are so many villages around the road. The Nile separates the wealthier districts in the south and western regions from the underdeveloped districts in the northern and eastern regions. It was fun seeing the rapids on the Nile and monkeys all over. I loved seeing the countryside and the African savannah with tall grass and Africa-like trees. When we crossed the Nile, immediately you could see a difference in development. It was a night and day difference, I was so surprised. In the south people live mostly in real homes and even the grass huts are nicer, but in the north mostly everyone lives in a grass hut. Buildings for businesses are in worse shape as are the roads. During the war the LRA made it to the Nile and were stopped by the Ugandan forces. There was a standstill for a long time and as the LRA lost its northern support, they terrorized the people in the northern districts by killing, abducting, and placing landmines all over. They abducted kids from schools and their homes to fight as soldiers or be wives to soldiers, Joseph Kony, had over 50 wives and 200 kids. It was weird thinking that as we crossed the Nile. We also passed by several Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps.

We arrived in Gulu and dropped our stuff at our hotel- Hotel Kakanyero. We went to the district office where we met members of the local councils and a couple of MP’s. They’re having issues with NGO’s. I’ll talk about that later. We went to SOS Children’s Villages and talked with the director. Two major problems they have in the north are what to do with all the orphans and the child-led households. SOS trains “mothers” who will take in 10 orphans and make a family. SOS supports them financially, pays the school dues, etc. The only thing that bothers me is how the guy said that they don’t need fathers because their role is to provide money and that is taken care of through SOS. At the hotel we ate a pretty good dinner and met an American lady who took us to her hotel and we watched a really interesting documentary called Uganda Rising. It was really educational and really sad. Friday we got up early and went to two women’s organizations. One is about protecting vulnerable children and the other is a grassroots development organization. SOS didn’t need much help from us, but the other two places need financial help and things like cameras and computers. I’m going to see if I can get USAID to donate that or other places at home. They were so excited to see us at both places and got very excited when we mentioned possible projects like teaching them business and English. We went exploring and visited some neighborhoods near Gulu and then ate at a traditional restaurant. That very well could have been the most disgusting food I’ve ever had. The Acholi people seem taller and stronger than other tribes, their language has a lot of nasal, but their English is easier to understand than other tribes. I was disappointed to see generally more people smoked. I noticed they were kind of similar to Rwandans, more reserved and somber than Ugandans in the south, probably cause they’ve experienced so much.

Saturday we went to Unyama, an IDP camp. Nathan and a couple other guys showed us around. We walked all over the camp, talking to people, playing with kids, etc. The whole experience there was so overwhelming and one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. In the 90’s the government decided to relocate all Acholi into these camps to protect them. People were uprooted from their villages and forced to live in these congested communities. At the start they weren’t protected well which made it easier for the LRA to kill and abduct more people. The intentions were probably good but the IDP camps have deprived men of providing for their families, which has meant many just drink, causing all kinds of problems. Congested living has made AIDS and all kinds of disease more apparent. We saw so many drunk guys, at 10 in the morning, and kids with pot bellies and dirt and flies all over them. The situation is much safer now but they won’t go back to their villages until a peace treaty is signed. The major stumbling block to a treaty is the International Criminal Court charges against Joseph Kony and other top commanders. It has been several months since people have been attacked by remnants of the LRA. They showed us all over the camp, hardly anyone spoke good English. They thought we were doctors so they would come up to us and show us their injuries. The kids are kids of course, happy, full of life, though, there were some kids who were just terrified of us. Man, it was so sad knowing the story behind these camps and seeing that things are just as bad as their descriptions, but it hurts so much more seeing them. I pulled my hat down to cover my eyes a couple times, it was just too much.

Our American friend, Kathy, who we met Thursday, and who we had run into a couple more times invited us to a performance by the Acholi dancers. They are really good. It was really entertaining to see real African traditional dancing. Kathy is trying to get them to tour the US so they can raise school funds. She wanted to hear their stories, so we separated into 6 groups and they told us their stories. Three of the four guys in my group were abducted as kids and forced to kill. Several members of their families were killed. They showed me scars where they were beaten and told me how they escaped and their education ambitions. One guy mostly spoke for the others because he said that they would cry if they told their stories. I’ve done so much research on the war and heard so much, but seeing these people, talking to them personally makes everything come to life and hits me harder than expected. What amazes me the most, though, is how willing they are to forgive. Already, several members of the LRA have turned themselves in, and are accepted back into the community through a traditional reconciliation process. I asked them all if they would even forgive Kony, without hesitating they said that they were so ready to forgive. That is amazing, I’m not sure if I could even forgive Kony. It says a lot about them as individuals and as a people when they are willing to forgive the killers of their family members and their abductors and torturers. After eating we went to Noah’s Arc where night commuters used to go. Night commuters have stopped commuting every night but the places are still used by street kids. When we arrived it was really dark because the electricity was out so we couldn’t even see who we were talking with. I took a couple pictures with a flash they helped me see their faces. I talked to some kids who have lost their parents so they sleep at this place and do little chores to get food. School is out of the question because they don’t have money for the school fees and Uganda’s universal free education hasn’t really arrived in the North. It was good for us to talk with them, encourage them, and just be their friends. The whole day was really exhausting and overwhelming, but so educational, inspiring, humbling, and just what I needed. I’m really glad I went. I feel different. I feel like I have some actual goals to work for that I know will help. There’s so much I want to do when I get back. It was a good birthday present. I’ve had so many incredible experiences here in Southern Uganda, Rwanda, and now Gulu. I just don’t see how I could ever be the same again.

We have some really cool and interesting people in our group. We’ve started doing Yoga regularly. That stuff is hard but fun. A couple of the girls are going to massage therapy school when they get back, it’s been an extra relaxing bonus with them here. I didn’t really notice the stars here in Africa until the other day but you can see them so well here. They don’t really learn about stars here so it’s cool telling them about the constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion. Kids here don’t know what hugs are. People just don’t hug, it’s not part of their culture. So we go to teach at Sis. Haspher’s school on Mondays and Wednesdays. Last Wednesday we had waited around the corner for the others to show up. We tried to make sure they couldn’t see us, but when I peeked through a bush, they saw me! They started screaming and then as we walked to the school they all came running out. It’s such a funny routine we go through with them; they love seeing us! I’ve kind of adopted a family here. I’ve been going with the missionaries every week and we’ve been teaching this family, Br. Daniel and Sis. Grace. They are a very nice humble couple who are excited about the Gospel, excited about baptism, and just so eager to learn. I’ll miss their baptism, but I’ll stay in touch with them. I think one of the things I’ll miss most about being here is taking walks alone, waving to the kids, who are always screaming, “Mzungu!” (white person). We have a rule that you have to be with at least another person, but I’ve been able to side-step it by going with the missionaries and walking back. I have really enjoyed those times alone. I finished my fourth book, Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol. It’s about the South Bronx and how dangerous and impoverished it is there. It’s really sad reading about these things in America. The richest and poorest congressional districts in the US are very close to each other.

So this will be my last blog entry from Uganda. I’m not sure if I’ll type up entries in Holland because it’s expensive to use the internet there. Last week I was depressed about going back to normal life and having to focus on myself again. That’s bothered me since my mission. The mission is this incredible selfless time where your focus is helping others, but then you come home and it’s about your major, studying for your education, doing everything for yourself. It’s sad going from a selfless way of life to a selfish one. That’s how I was feeling, but now I just feel anxious about getting back and helping the people here through different ways. My three goals for the 7 weeks were: to understand international development better, personal growth, and make a difference. I feel like I’ve accomplished all three and am anxious to run with those goals. I’m going to miss it here but I also know that I’ll be back. I’m really excited about a teacher training program and think that things could really fall into place. I need to learn a ton more about development, but also feel like I want to do something different than what I originally wanted to go into. I’m sad to go because there are so many projects rolling and so much to be done here, but I’m more than satisfied with the experience it’s been and what I’ve been able to accomplish.

So I’m off to Holland from the 13th to the 25th and am super excited about seeing everyone there, biking the cities and countryside, and eating Indonesian, African, Suriname, Turkish, and Dutch food. I love thinking about Europe and all the food choices they have there. Food is definitely one of the reasons I love Europe so much. I’ll spend three days in Spain and a day in Aachen, Germany.

Life…is beyond good, it’s super good and there’s so much to get out of it.

1 comment:

Whitney said...

wow, i'm so proud of you Kasey, it sounds like you've had an amazing experience-one that will affect your entire life in positive ways! As for your selfless time in your mission-i'm so excited to dive in and wish I could go earlier than Aug 1st, but I guess there's a season for everything. Have fun in Europe!

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