Sunday, 15 April 2012

"Kony 2012" -The Showing in Gulu

The riot started because the police were taking the “peace candles” they were supposed to be handing out. Someone threw a rock at an officer, who in return fired shots, inevitably causing the crowd to wildly disperse. A child was trampled to death.

I was there at the beginning… The whole world had reacted to “Kony 2012.” I felt like I needed to see how the people it had actually affected reacted.  Even though we knew we probably shouldn’t be there, it felt too monumental to miss.

But when more and more people began entering the stadium, a combination of our common sense and fear took over, and we opted to watch from the balcony of a hotel across the street. From this view, we saw that the crowd easily collected over 20,000 people.

The movie started, and there was only silence. The stillness of the crowd was peaceful. And I watched them standing together-a people united, reliving the atrocities they had experienced just a few years earlier.
One of the international concerns about this video was that Invisible Children had given inaccurate information. Yes, those things had happened. But no, they are not still happening… at least not in Northern Uganda. The war has been over for over five years now. When the people of Gulu saw “Kony 2012” huddled together by the thousands in the stadium Friday night, they thought that they were being shown present-day footage. And a people who had feared for their lives, and for the lives of their children had been conned into believing that they were still in danger.
We left before the riot started. I was at a bar when I got a concerned phone call from my supervisor, who was calling to make sure that I wasn’t at the stadium when the shots rang out.
Ironically, the violence started with the distribution of peace candles. Inevitably, it was perpetuated by the police officers who provoked it. The peace vigil was interrupted but those claiming to protect the people. The ones who were there to prevent the violence, were the very ones who insinuated it.  And in the process, a child died. That pisses me off.

South Africa

As the plane approached the runway in Johannesburg, I felt an excitement I hadn’t felt in months... “I’m home!” was the expression that came to mind.

The last time I visited South Africa was in 1992. I was only seven years old, and I was there to witness/support the mayoral inauguration of my Grandfather (hero, icon, spirit guide). I had just lost very close friend, and was missing her funeral to be there.  An overwhelmed seven year old, there are only pieces of South Africa that I remember.
My parents emigrated from South Africa when I was just a baby. In fact, they had to delay their move because (surprise!) my Mom fell pregnant. So I was raised in America… By a very South African family who had a different set of values, and a different culture entirely than that of my American friends to whom I grew up with. I always felt confused. My South African upbringing made me feel somehow South African, though not being raised there, I didn’t feel as though I had the right to claim so. But I never felt American either… Always different. Somewhere in between.
So when I saw the landing strip 19 years later, I felt like this was my chance as a now adult to connect with the cultural identity I have always felt lost in.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Johannesburg was nothing like my young eyes had remembered it. My American accent was all too recognized, and my reunions with family members who said in some form or another “you were just a baby!” “We’ve never met!” “I don’t remember you!” made me feel even more disconnected.
I had the pleasure of spending this “homecoming” with my Dad and oldest brother, Paul. I loved seeing my brother’s face light up as we visited the old stomping grounds of his schools, but couldn’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy, as I myself, had no history in this land where I was born.

The first three days we spent in Johannesburg, visiting/meeting cousins and relatives from my Dad’s side of the family. This was great because I was able to see where my Dad came from, and put faces to the names I have always heard. The Wes’s were very funny people, and the conversations often went to our family history. I was delighted to learn that it is in the Wes blood to be a “Communist (or Anarchist) Revolutionary, and outspoken Jew.” Hmmm, maybe I DO belong in this family…
We also visited the house where my mom grew up, and the house to which I was born. There’s the dance studio attached to the house that mom taught in! Over the fence is the pool Paul almost drowned in. The puzzle pieces finally began to fit together, and I felt as though I was finally getting a sense of something I had always craved to know.
We stayed with my Auntie Hilary, another badass revolutionary activist, and her husband Tony. Boy was it nice to have running water… and cheese. I really enjoyed connecting to my Dad’s older sister who I’m in incredible awe of. She is now a psychologist, who started a nursery/psychotherapy organization on the outskirts of the Alexandre township. At Ubebele, she gives underprivileged children an unorthodox, and holistic education, providing them with the facilities of on-site psychologists who are involved in every step of the process.
After a jam-packed 3 days in Johannesburg, we spent the second half of our trip in the gorgeous city of Cape Town, in Hilary and Tony’s beach house. How in the world am I ever going to go back to Uganda? Having been sick, and still not feeling so great, this majestic place was the exact kind of rejuvenation I needed. Paul was the partier of our trio, so I really felt that if anything, my trip to South Africa was meant to give me and my Dad the time to hang out with each other and chill.
Mission accomplished.
It was harder to say goodbye than I thought, and I found myself continuing to gaze backwards seeing if my Dad was still lingering as I entered through security.
Maybe I’m not really South African. And maybe I’m not really American. Sometimes I think my desire to travel is in attempt to find myself and where I belong… and it’s certainly not in Uganda. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere, or maybe I belong everywhere. Maybe I was destined to be a nomad, constantly searching… but for what? As a believer in human oneness, there is a large part of me that believes my spirit chose this lifestyle, so that I could be a representative of the very message I am trying to ensue: that we are all just really citizens of the world.

Mom and Me

I can’t even put into words how amazing it was to have my Mom here with me in Gulu. And each time I’ve tried, the document has seemed to disappear into the abyss. So maybe in this case, I will keep our visit sacred, and share with you rather some of our silly photos:

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Malaria, Bilharzia, and Mom

I now know what malaria feels like, so I wasn’t surprised when the stick that looks like a pregnancy test affirmed that I was indeed pregnant with parasites. Malaria feels like someone is burning your brain, and is usually accompanied by the excretion of your insides from either end. Having had malaria three times now, my body feels as though I’m becoming more immune… does this mean I’m an African now?
My body also seems to be resistant to the medication, as both this time and the previous bout, I didn’t respond to my first dosage, and the malaria strength seemed to increase. This is when malaria gets scary. If not treated, it can spread to your brain, and that is how people die from it. Regardless, I have adapted to this culture where malaria is seen as something of the common cold, and I have been more uncomfortable than I have been worried.
When I finished the second round of medicine, and the malaria test proved negative, I was surprised and nervous by the fact that I still felt awful. Hating the five and a half hour bus ride to the capitol city, Kampala, I tried to figure out what the problem was at a local “hospital.” After hours and hours, with little assistance, I called the Peace Corps Medical team, who eventually convinced me to succumb to the trip. Not such a bad idea, I decided, as my mom was scheduled to come to Uganda the following week, and I had to head down that way anyway.  Well, after a few “in-pain” and “woe is me” phone calls to my parents, my mom, being the superhuman mom medicine that she is, flew in early to be with me.
So how in the world did I get Bilhariza? I don’t wash my clothes in dirty-standing water like I did in Kenya, or “bathe” with the snails like I did in Sri Lanka. I’ve become smarter than that dammit! Hmmm… maybe those baby ants in my bathing water must mean that the natural (but clean-looking, I swear!) water source I get my water from is in fact, dirty.
Bilharzia, or “the Schisto” as we call it here (Schistosomiasis) is a disease caused by parasitic worms. When people urinate or defecate in freshwater, it becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs. When the eggs hatch, they develop and multiple inside of the snails in the water. They then leave the snails and penetrate the skin of their victim. After a few weeks, these damn parasites mature into adult worms, and live in the blood vessels of their host while they reproduce!
...Yummy, huh?

Friday, 6 April 2012


Someone tried to poison her. One of my girls!
This is not something she told me immediately, but something that came out when all the girls complained that they had nowhere to go-or nowhere they wanted to go during their one month school holiday.
It happened when a neighbor found out that someone was going to sponsor her for school. Such a thing is not uncommon as this woman was jealous since she could not afford to send her son to school. The solution? Poison? She gave Sarah vegetables, to which Sarah did not eat, but kept. The next day, the vegetables had turned charcoaled black. And when she threw them out, a goat was later found dead.
Such a thing is not uncommon, like I said. Neither is witchcraft.
When I was living in Wakiso during training, the neighbor child went missing, and never returned. It was believed, since this kind of thing happens here, that he had been kidnapped; the purpose to use his organs for witchcraft.

Now, without getting myself poisoned for posting this, I will say that I believe in energy, and the power of one’s mind. I also believe that extraordinary things are very possible. What I don’t understand is why using these powers for evil is so common here. Is it that the good spells go unnoticed? Or is hurting each other a direct result of living in a culture whose people have violently suffered since the beginning of humankind?
I have heard stories time and time again of things you and I might find unbelievable, yet things my Ugandan friends have seen-or claim to have seen with their own two eyes. Sitting beside my American friend, both of us bewildered by stories of recent, she reacted with a not so subtle: “are you sure you weren’t dreaming?” Ha.

So who knows what is what and which witch is which. Being here has made me crazier and crazier, and I’m not even so sure which way is up anymore, let alone, what to believe.
Two things I am quite sure of, however:  

I’m glad Sarah decided not to eat her vegetables.

I won’t be accepting food as a gift any time soon…