One of the most challenging experiences I had in Uganda happened in Abia.
Abia is a former Internally-Displaced Persons Camp in Northern Uganda. During the war, many villages and its inhabitants were displaced and forced to live in these camps. With the end of the war, these people struggle to find integration back into the rest of Uganda, suffering from unemployment, starvation, and over-population.
Traveling to Abia was initially a joyous experience. We were greeted in the same vein as we were at Ave Maria a day before (see here for my experience there) with singing, dancing and many people saying, “you are most welcome!” Unlike Ave Maria however, this smokescreen wore thinner and thinner the longer we spent there.
At some point, another student and I broke off from the rest of the group to go get B-roll (extra footage). This is when I started to see the reality of this place. I saw classrooms with five times as many kids as a classroom could fit crammed into it, buildings with giant holes that look like a bomb went off for doors, and most striking of all, children with distended bellies.
I learned a long time ago when I saw a presentation of children in impoverished countries that distended bellies was a sign of extreme starvation. The way it was described to me at the time was this: when the body is unable to get nourishment, it turns on itself and begins to devour itself from within.
I wrote something in my journal the day after we went to Abia, which simply read, “I wonder why it is we live in a devour to survive society?” Yet it wasn’t until I came back home, posted my pictures of Uganda to facebook, and read a comment my aunt made on the above photo that said, “do you know why the shirtless boy has a distended belly?” that I really started to consider the reality of Abia. It was then that I really came to understand the reality of this place, the reality of things I had only heard about before.
Abia, for all the dances and performances we shot for our video, for all the efforts to erect a smokescreen of well-being and survival, was the biggest smack of reality I had seen on the whole trip. There were people there, people who are STILL there, who struggle to survive, and most (including said shirtless boy), who aren’t succeeding at it. The reality is, not everyone survives, not everyone is in a position to survive, some will die. The shirtless boy may be dead already, and that’s the reality of these kinds of places.
Abia was the reality.