It was a rather surreal day.
It started off on a very sad note; a social worker brought into the office a three year old baby that looked no older than 15 months. Severe malnutrition was the prognosis, (although nothing as bad as the photographs that we have gotten used to seeing coming out of Africa). You could tell something was wrong with the picture because the child’s coordination as she ate her bread bun did not correspond with her size. I tried to play with her, make her smile, as did the other staff, but it was as if she could not even see us. She sat there focused, slowly and purposefully eating her bun. The other girl in the office was nine and had been brought in because she had been defiled, which is what Ugandan’s call it when a minor is raped. She stood quiet in the garden with her sad face.
Our first stop was Apala District where we met with a local district official. It was making my blood boil to have this man sitting there blaming everyone, when his community had been handed over a building and computers and they had done nothing with it.
We then waited for beneficiaries to come. It is planting season so we have been warned that they are working the fields, but slowly they drifted in and we were able to do our focus group discussion. It was particularly hard to get the girls to talk, especially a small girl in a red and blue dress called Vicky. In the end we succeeded and that made me very happy. It’s the little victories sometimes. I hope she went home proud that she had participated in this big meeting with all these foreigners.
They complained they did not have footballs to play with, while those donated to them laid in a closet collecting dust next to the unused computers. It kills me.
At the business center put together by a youth association they told us how the chairman was appropriating funds and claiming that the place was his. Again a speech had to be made about how they needed to take matters in their own hands and learn how to solve their problems, that they could be supported, but it had to be their initiative. Too much too soon? This people have only recently left life in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, where their entire existence was passive and depended on hand outs. 15 months seems way too short to attempt to change that.
The roads were harsh and full of pot holes from the rainy season which is just now coming to and end. The sky was like a surrealistic painting, filled with small and perfect clouds over a bright blue sky. I could not stop photographing it. We arrived at our third and last meeting of the day (still with no lunch in sight) to find that one of the chickens had laid an egg. I tried to photograph the egg too but felt rather silly. The meeting went ahead without significant events.
After a further hours’ drive (and still no lunch) we arrived to our final destination in Kitgum and headed to our new hotel.
Now, I had been warned about this hotel. The Hotel Boma is owned by the ministers of energy, a wealthy man with connections, and I was told to expect it to be run down. Run down was the over statement of the year. The place is a dump. There was no one at reception, it is dirty, the bathroom filled with yellow marks, and the window cracks covered with newspapers. Additionally there was no water. I had a go at the poor receptionist. I would never in my dreams have behaved like that in a normal situation, assuming that all was due to poverty, but in this case I knew it was greed and disregard on behalf of someone wealthy and powerful and it made my blood boil.
I had to wash my hair. I had not done it in Kampala hoping to get better shower, I had not done it in Lira because it did not have hot water, so I ended up washing my hair with (cold) water from a jerry can with the help of a panga. It was not easy, I could barely lift the jerry can , but it needed to be done.
PS I now officially love the too-cool-for-your-shoes officer, who has this very African skill of dealing with those less fortunate in a very stern, straight forward and at the same time kind manner which somehow denotes a great amount of respect for them