on Um Zayd wa Atheer (Uganda), 04/Feb/2012 13:53, 34 days ago
LOOKING FOR THE GULU TABLESeveral kind people have encouragingly said 'You'll soon get your feet under the table when you move to Gulu'. I have now been here 3 weeks and the table as yet to be spotted. There are several 'firsts' happening here and maybe this has added to the confusion and my failure to see the lie of the land.Masindi is the home of the Bunyuro people. By heading north and across the West Nile I came into Acholiland. The Acholis are of a different culture, ethnicity, language and history. This whole area used to be a no go zone for VSO and other international agencies. For two decades local people lived in camps, protected by the army from the Lords Resistance Army. Men and boys were captured and many people were murder or mutilated. With the LRA driven back to the Congo the camps have now been dismantled, village communities have sprung up again. Northern Uganda is being supported back into life by international donors. Five years ago this was a massive humanitarian mission. Now VSO has joined with others to take the Acholis back into security and productivity. This is why I am here.The camps have gone but not everything is back to normal. Mud huts remain in huddles, with thatch touching thatch. Closeness gives extended families a feeling of security and where land is being disputed over square metres of land are scarce. Closeness also brings added dangers as infectious diseases such as coughs, diarrhoea and TB are spread more quickly. Yesterday I saw such a huddle of homes destroyed by fire. One stray spark from a cooking fire caused a blanket of flames to leap from one grass roof to another.Some other fires are started deliberately. It is now the dry season and temperatures up to 40 degrees are parching the land and vegetation. Swathes of grassland are set alight as 'farmers' prepare the land for the planting season, which starts with the rains expected in March. Dreaded snakes are quickly disposed of and edible rats, squirrels and succulent birds are chased into the cook pots.Gulu town is too busy and too chaotic for me to feel quickly at home. The main grid of roads is tarmaced but is still perilous. They are poxed by potholes and they drop into jaggered ditches on both sides. Difficult to negotiate by day and they would be unthinkable at nighttime. I am reminded that four years ago Masindi was not love at first sight but I eventually liked it very much. Gulu will grow on me too.As I write I am still thinking about the Gulu table. The District Health Office has welcomed me with smiles and handshakes but as yet has not invited me to sit at their table. There has been no suggestion of where and how I should be working. VSO's work plan for me is being rewritten. Maybe when the picture is clearer we will all sit around the same table and feel comfortable.Meanwhile as I try to be more comfortable in myself and in my surroundings I am watched over by Gilbert. He is a 10" gecko and lives in the ventilation grill on my bedroom wall. Every evening he appears and eyes me suspiciously. The feeling is mutual. I have sort of got used to him and even feel a bit sorry for him. Maybe he is trapped and would prefer to be playing outside with his pals on the hot bricks of the 7' high, razor wire covered boundary wall. Not liking reptiles too much Godfrey will have to stay put. I am not moving either. We have all got to get used to one another.