Tag Archives: war

What’s in the Future?

Uganda as a Body:

Every one of us has a brain.

Profound words, off the bat.

Let’s say you walk into the industrial-sized freezer at Costco. You are looking for the largest bag of chicken patties you can find. Your 2 boys just hit puberty, and they are threatening to eat you into massive debt. Your brain knows you are having a hard time, and decides to help. When it sees – wow, that is a philosophically-loaded phrase – that you are approaching the freezer, it starts to warm you up even before you go in. You shiver, your blood vessels constrict, you experience piloerection. Don’t worry, that just means that you get goosebumps. All of these, signs of things to come. So too is it with Uganda.

Please know that what I am about to write makes me profoundly sad, and scared.

Listening to a handful of people so far, the question doesn’t seem to be if Uganda will fall back into violent strife, but when. Our professor shared that he thinks when Yoweri Museveni, the current president / dictator of Uganda, dies, things are going to get messy. Our wonderful guide, Herbert, agrees with our professor. Herbert grew up in Uganda, and still lives here. Father Kevin thinks that a larger war might be coming in the next thirty years. A war that involves tensions from Uganda claiming water rights in their section of the Nile, the Chinese building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile in Northern Uganda, and Egypt’s disdain for all of this. A war like this, Father Kevin says, might not even allow the United States to remain uninvolved.

Here is my point: These are our “people on the ground”. Between the three of them, they have decades of experience in the region. Just like your eyes communicate to the brain, these wonderful men are saying:

“Something is happening”

“Things are changing…”

“We must change”.

Whether or not Uganda will walk into the proverbial freezer or not, I do not know. From what I’ve read and heard, things don’t look good. If things don’t go well, Uganda will fall sick.

  • Political elites all show up to Museveni’s funeral, but are eyeing each other more than the service –
    • The microbes have invaded your body.
  • Museveni’s government persists, but is quickly fractured when elites peel off and start their own rebel movements –
    • General weariness sets in. You have felt this before, but desperately, more than anything, want to continue your work day. After all, you were making real progress on your project, and don’t want to stop.
  • The shell of the past era falls away, along with any fledgling social institutions that might have been nursing under its care –
    • You’re in trouble now. You have a fever.
  • Innocent bystanders, citizens of Uganda, die. Children are kidnapped. Families are rent apart. Refugees are displaced to neighboring countries who may be in a transient peace –
    • You have transient periods of consciousness as you struggle to discern between reality and fever-induced hallucination.
  • After years, one of the rebel groups takes decisive power, and sets up a government –
    • After what seems to be a lifetime, you emerge from your bed, spent. Angry. Due to your prolonged incapacitation in bed, your work project was scrapped, and all of your work was lost.

I really love the people I have met here already: Sam, Herbert, Kizaza. Lewi. I’, not going to think about what might happen to them if the body falls sick. It breaks my heart.

My Own Body:

I noticed that I felt a little strange during our bus ride today. I asked Herbert, our wonderful guide, what the air quality regulations were like in Kampala. He simply answered, “Not good”, and gave me this to read. The problem is largely caused by 1980s – 2000s diesels running unchecked – there are no emissions checks in Uganda – on the streets.

I am a little relieved we are leaving the city tomorrow. We will be on our way to Gulu, then Adjumani from there. I think I will be happy to retreat to Colorado for a few days shortly after our return to the United States; for respiratory recuperation ;). Other than a little lightheadedness from fumes, I am in great health. For now, I will go to sleep before my body decides to punish me for publicly celebrating my thus far lack of diarrhea ^-^.

 

Update on June 10th: Herbert recently said that he thinks that Museveni’s son might take power after Museveni dies. The son is currently a high-ranking military officer, giving him a prime position to keep the presidency “in the family”. Perhaps this will keep things stable after Museveni’s death.

Shattering

I don’t think you can understand good and evil exclusively. I think also that in some cases, you can see moments of pure goodness in the middle of the worst kind of evil.

Look at a man like Joseph Kony for instance. We learned in Abia, which is an Internally Displaced Person camp, that one of the ways Kony would “train” the children he kidnapped was by gathering all of the kids from the same town, choosing one of them, and ordering the others to kill him. This would ensure that these children’s connection to their home would be shattered, the emotional links to their parents would be shattered, and that they would never be able to return home.

This is one of those times where I can’t believe the absolutely insane amount of evil in the world. This man took these children, his own people, and turned them into complete monsters. In the wake of something like that, I start to believe that there is nothing, no amount of good that can combat that kind of evil.

At Radio Wa though, I think I found it.

Radio Wa is a radio station that is affiliated with the Catholic Church. During our visit to this station, we learned that Wa had a channel that broadcasted details about the war and those in “the bush” (people who had been taken by Kony).

In particular, one of these broadcasts was designed so that the families of the children that had been taken could communicate a message to those in “the bush” in the hopes that their children would hear it:

“We still love you. Come home.”

I think that that level of unwavering, unconditional love is something that no amount of evil or men like Kony have any hope of destroying. That kind of love is the kind that never weakens, even as one’s child has been transformed into a complete monster. That kind of love is the kind of love I think we can learn from, the kind that never dies or is even shaken. I find that that love, in this nation where I see fights in the street, poor people with no way out, and people whose lives have been shattered by war and poverty, is one of the purest forms of good I have ever seen.

Alberto, the man who runs Radio Wa, told us that there were many kids who made it out of the bush, and they said the reason they came back is because somewhere out in the wilderness, they heard these broadcasts. It’s no surprise then that during the peace talks, one of the conditions of peace was that that specific broadcast be shut down.

TL;DR: No evil is strong enough to shatter real love.

The circle of life

We went to Abia again today to get more interviews but ended up watching at least a dozen more performances before we finally got to do them. Both of the people we interviewed were teachers and talked about why they sing and dance. They also talked about the war.

The woman we interviewed today told us, in quite a good amount of detail, about how 17 members of her family were killed by the LRA. Hearing that she witnessed that event and narrowly escaped very different from reading about a victim’s recollection. You can see it in their eyes, you can see them remembering it as they tell you. It becomes so real.

But that’s why these people sing and dance and listen to music on the radio. It’s the best way they know how to deal with such traumatizing events.

It was more apparent today after the interviews how differently these people experience and deal with death. Americans see it as a loss, but Ugandans see it as God’s plan; and that being sad about it is like saying you don’t agree with God’s plan. They recognize that it happens and that death is just a part of life, so they sing, dance, celebrate and remember a life well-lived even though it is still painful for them.

Every February they have memory services for the people who were killed in the war or abducted and never seen again. I think it makes it easier for them to accept death since they experience it more often and have found a way to channel their grief in a more positive way.

Welcome to Abia.

Answers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “issues” (poverty, corruption, war, death). But more than that, I’m also trying to keep in mind not just the issues themselves, but what to do about them.

Up until a few months ago, I figured that one person can’t really do a whole lot on a large scale. One person can’t end poverty, or war, but one person CAN do what they are able to given their situation. Which I think is really the best thing to do. I thought that was the nature of “service,” that it’s a way of doing what one can to make the world a little bit better. One person can’t end poverty, but they CAN volunteer and help out at a homeless shelter. It’s not a lot, but it’s as much as they are able to.

Then the whole Kony 2012 thing happened, and with it came a shitstorm of attention, most of it bad. At some point, criticism started extending beyond just the video, or even Invisible Children, soon it started focusing on college-aged Americans and how their efforts to “make a difference” are both selfish and insulting. That their motivations to help out were a way to either validate their privileged life, or a way of exerting their role as being “a good person” or “savior.” Granted, I do believe there are those who fit this role. There are people who buy expensive clothing and think they’ve done their due diligence by donating $5 to charity. There are those that spend 6 days a week drinking and one night a week volunteering and make that their justification for living a debaucherous lifestyle. Even at Creighton I think there’s a “yay service” aspect, where it seems doing volunteer work is either a way of fitting in, or a way of beefing up one’s Resume.

And of course, these kinds of criticisms and questions are the kind I’ve asked myself lately. How can I be sure I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons? Today as we drove by certain slums, I saw people that looked like they were barely surviving, manning a small shop that no one went into, probably never making much profit. And I felt sorry for them. Being in that situation, to me, is one that I feel is akin to being imprisoned inside one’s own economic circumstance and lack of opportunity. I thought to myself, I wish I could help them. I wish I could help them out of that situation.

The problem with that line of thinking however is that it assumes several things: It assumes that said people never had opportunity because they run a shop, which is social prejudice. It assumes that they are unhappy with their life, which is based on nothing but mere observation. It assumes that said person is lesser than me, and that it is my job to “help” them ascend to my position of life, which is fitting that “savior” role that said critics accuse people like me of doing.

At the same time, there are those who ARE in that situation. There are those that, due to where or how they were born, can’t break free of economic or social limitations. There are people who simply aren’t in a position they can break out of on their own, and those people, it seems, require help.

So then what is the answer? Should I go home and never do what little I can to make the world a better place? Do I ignore the critics and do my best to “help” people, which violates their dignity? Or do I continue doing what I feel is right and necessary, regardless of what someone else may have to say about it? What is the right thing to do?

I’m interested in answers, not just in asking questions. Hopefully I’ll find the answers soon.