Africa was scary and enthralling at night. It was my favorite time to ride the bus and I secretly hoped that our day would last long enough that we would have to be out at night. One of our days in Lira, I went with Jason, Joe, Patrick and Sara to an outdoor concert downtown with Sybil, Tim, Herbert and Moses. I think that Tim was going with the hopes of getting some b-roll of some younger, modern musical performances, but the rest of us just wanted to get out and experience African night life. As we drove down the 5 minute long dirt path from the Farm View Hotel to the main road that lead into Lira, us 5 students talked about the LRA and how terrifying it must have been to have, as Patrick and Jason put it, “a boogey-man that was real.” We talked about the stark fear that must have dwelled in the children’s minds who were surrounded by nothing but a grass hut as they lay awake knowing that if someone with a gun came to take them, they would have to kill someone in their village and would be dragged out into the wilderness to kill more people. The conversation quickly transitioned to a lighter note when Jason told me to turn around and I literally jumped two feet at the sight of a man with a hand hoe about one foot from my window. But I think that the thoughts, and the concept stayed with us throughout the trip though. We compared it to the fear of the inevitable that you experience on a hayride or in a haunted house. It’s just simple fact that someone is going to jump out of the dark. The question is: when, where and in front of who?
Another more light-hearted example African darkness and its impact occurred at Murchison Falls. In the Safari Resort at the game park, the electricity always turned off at 10:00pm. There was no fence between our Resort and the game park that surrounded it, so there were warnings on our huts about the dangers of water buffalo and baboons. In short, the signs said that they did not wish to scare the guests, but rather to inform them. They continued to talk about the dangers of water buffalo (to quote our guide Herbert “they kill you because that is what they do. They smell you and charge to kill you”) and emphasized the preference to have resort staff escort you around after dark. Our last night in Murchison Falls, Chase and I were outside of Sara’s and my hut talking when all of a sudden the power shut off. Although our bedroom hut light was powered by a solar panel and would stay on for about another 45 minutes, outside was the darkest black I have ever seen other than the time I toured Crystal Caves in Southern Minnesota. We quite literally could not see our hand in front of our faces. I instantly felt bad for Chase and Jason remembering that they had a five minute walk back to their hut with nothing but a mini flashlight that allowed them to see about three feet in front of them. About ten minutes after they left our hut, Sara and I heard noises outside. I am used to hearing coyotes in Minnesota. But this was more of a low-pitched throat sound accompanied by heavy feet and grunting. The next morning the boys told me that they made it back to their place about five minutes before a pack of baboons and water buffalo strolled past their hut.
I love the phrase “moonlight butchery” because once past the layer of comedy that arises from the juxtaposition of such strange words, I think it perfectly grasps the combination of terrifying intrigue that African darkness superimposes on those that stay up past dusk. Despite fear, there is an undeniable wonder about what happens in the dark areas around the fires, in the houses that don’t overlook the road our bus travels along and in the wilderness that creeps right up to our huts.