Om Josephine

My name is Josephine and I am a 3rd year student of the Human Rights-program (BA) at Malmö University. In mid-April, I am travelling to Gulu in Northern Uganda where I will interview youth that were abducted during the war and professionals working in psycho-social care programs. The purpose of my minor field study is to investigate the available remedies and their relation to the reintegration process as well as Uganda´s legal obligations under international law.

Mountain Gorillas and Pygmies

Where to start? So much has happened in the past week.

I have continued conducting interviews. This week with three formerly abducted persons, each lasting from 55 to 90 minutes. While the research is going well, and I am setting up more interviews with returnees themselves, what I wish to share today is not related to my research.

In the weekend, I went full-on tourist with Matilda (do you remember her from my last post?). On Friday, we went to the Equator and drove through Lake Mburo National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The highlight of the trip was the tracking of the mountain gorillas which can take up to 8 hours! We were very lucky as:

  1. The weather was amazing (no rain in the rainforest).
  2. It took us just 1,5 hours to find the gorillas, thanks to the amazing guides!
  3. The whole family of 13 gorillas was resting at the same spot.
  4. We found them in open terrain which means that the gorillas sometimes move very close to us when passing.

Within the first five minutes, I was within reachable distance of a young mountain gorilla who felt like passing me and another woman. Of course, you do not touch the animals due to transferrable diseases and safety. The gorillas did not seem to mind us at all! They were resting, eating, playing around, building their nests etc. It was such a breathtaking experience to observe these animals that share 98% of our DNA. After an hour, the silverback rose up and they all left.

After returning to the hotel, we went on a community walk to visit the pygmies of the Batwa community. We danced with them, observed how they traditionally lived, made fire, and hunted. We asked how they felt about being forced to leave their home in the forest in 1991. The elders explained that it was very hard but that they have now managed to adjust to the new way of life and settled in the community. We also visited the nearby school and orphanage for pygmy children. At night, we stayed near Lake Bunyonyi, the second deepest lake in Africa.

On Sunday, we drove back to Kampala and made a small detour at Lake Mburo National Park where we spotted different animals including zebras, gazelles, and warthogs (aka. Pumba!).

Standing on both hemispheres at the Equator.

Zebra at Lake Mburo National Park

Elephant at Queen Elizabeth National Park

Tracking the mountain gorillas in the beautiful rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

A mother and her baby at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

A young mountain gorilla swinging in the trees of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

The silverback resting (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest)

A pygmy and elder of the Batwa community (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) in front of their traditional house. The pygmies were forced out of the forest in 1991 as hunting became illegal. They had to find new means of survival and adjust to the life outside the forest. Today, some of their kids have intermarried but the elders still remember the life in the forest where they grew up.

The beauty of Western Uganda cannot be underestimated. It was breathtaking.

The view from our balcony in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Our accommodation at Lake Bunyonyi where we went canoeing in the morning. The lake is the second deepest in Africa with its 900 meters. Still, it is located in the mountains 1962 meters above the sea level.

Follow this link for more pictures and videos of the mountain gorillas.

Reunion in Jinja!

In the past week, I have worked on transcribing my interviews and met with YOLRED (Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development – an initiative founded by former abductees and others who were affected by the war to support youth).

I went to Jinja last Friday. The journey started with a canceled bus at 8 AM and a one-hour delayed post bus from Gulu to Kampala. The trip was quite long (7 hours) as the bus stops several times on route. In Kampala, I changed to a matatu (the shared taxis) to Jinja with the help of the brother of my contact. The drive was … interesting. There are at least 15-20 persons in the car with all their luggage (be it bags of corn, rice, weekend bags). After dark, much rain, and delays due to queues, our driver decided to drive off-road – against traffic! After 3.5 hours, I finally arrived in Jinja where Matilda picked me up. Matilda and I met at the MFS preparation course in Hӓrnӧsand. It was so much fun to reunite in Uganda. On Saturday, we went river rafting, sightseeing in town, and had a delicious dinner right next to the Nile. Unfortunately, I had to go back already on Sunday morning to reach the last afternoon bus to Gulu which leaves at 1 PM. After the experience with the matatu on Friday, I decided to go with a safer, more comfortable, and expensive option: The Pineapple Express. I can only recommend it. We arrived in just 2.5 hours and that included a stop at the bank. The service is a hire car and driver, which takes you from point A to B with whatever stops you desire (hence, the higher cost).

This time, I will be back in Gulu for just three days as Matilda and I are going to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track the gorillas. I am so excited!

The first rapid aka. a four-meter waterfall

The boat actually did not flip but 50 % of the crew went for a swim

On our way to the rafting site in an open truck

Monkey on one of the main roads in Jinja

Local artist in Jinja

The Nile (Jinja)

African Time….

This past week has been very busy and productive thanks to my local contact. It is just the second week of my field study, but I have already managed to conduct several interviews with both community leaders, professionals working in psycho-social care, and state officials. Last week one of the interviewees included a bishop from the district who is seen as a hero around here. He is one of the religious leaders that have taken a very active role in promoting reconciliation and aiding the reintegration process. I have even interviewed three formerly abducted persons about their experiences of return. While I am quite happy with the results, some challenges remain. First, African time is both a blessing and a challenge. I love not scheduling my whole day which makes me feel less stressed than usual. At the same time, calling interviewees at the time of our meeting to find that they cannot make it or are several hours late is not my favorite way to spend my time. Secondly, the day I was interviewing former abductees, my interpreter got sick (he is feeling better now!). Thus, I had to make use of another guy from one of our partner’s office. It was my first time doing interviews with the use of an interpreter and I am not sure whether I am fully satisfied with the translation. I, at least, felt like some details might be missing. The solution is that my interpreter will go through the recordings and transcription this week.

In the evenings, I had dinner with the founders of Gulu War Affected Training Center and Backup Uganda. Both were a very pleasant experience that must be repeated soon. On Saturday, I went out with my roomies and some friends to the restaurant O’ café for the Open Mic Night. We had Rolex (a wrap with eggs), some drinks, and enjoyed the dances, music, and spoken word performance. It is a biweekly event that is also used as a venue for raising funds to cover the medical bills of some local beneficiaries.

Now, I am looking much forward to tomorrow’s Labor Day celebrations and to visit my friend from the preparation course in Hӓrnӧsand, Matilda, who is doing her field study in Jinja. I am keeping my fingers crossed for good weather, so we can go river rafting and cruise the Nile.

Traditional huts and preparation of sim sim and millet (among others)

Delicious Ethiopian food at Abyssinia (highly recommendable!)

Laundry day in Uganda

Open Mic Night at O’ Café

 

Forgiveness after the Atiak Massacre

“When there is peace, anything is possible” – Godfrey Canwat, Hope and Peace for Humanity, Uganda.

Thursday the 20th of April 1995, the senior LRA-commander Vincent Otti and his troops claimed the lives of over 300 people in the Atiak Massacre. Among those killed were 48 students and two teachers from the Atiak Technical School. Atiak is a village 71 kilometers North of Gulu town. It is situated in Kilak County (Amuru District). After the brutal killings, several young boys and girls were abducted. Some are yet to return, 23 years after the Massacre. A monument bearing the names of some of the deceased was raised in 1996 at the Atiak Trading Centre. Notably, several of the perpetrators live in the community alongside the victims and their families. Forgiveness is highly valued in the Acholi cultural region. It is believed that some things (e.g. murder) cannot be changed through retributive justice (as it cannot bring back the dead). Hence, the Acholi uses other procedures such as the mato oput ritual (the cleansing of the spirit) which seeks to reconcile the community, perpetrator, and victims.

Today, we participated in the 23rd commemoration of the Massacre and the inter-faith memorial prayer. Prayers and blessings were officiated by heads of the Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim faiths. The need for forgiveness was stressed throughout the prayers. Forgiveness for all engaged in the war and for “the brothers and sisters” that committed the crimes in Atiak.

After my first (and quite late) interview, I will spend the rest of my Friday night with my roomies and lots of music.

Kop Ango! from Gulu

I have arrived and settled in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa! And what a welcome. I do not believe that I have ever met as kind, open, and welcoming a people before. Everyone is very eager to chat and help if needed.

After a long but comfortable journey with Qatar Airways (Copenhagen – Doha – Entebbe), my host, Paul (the brother of my classmate and friend, Peter) picked me up at the airport. I spent the first 3 days in his home in Seeta village outside of Kampala, being welcomed by his loving family and housemates. The connection to the family and community is very important and I felt honored to be welcomed and addressed as Auntie or Sister.

On Sunday, I met my contact, Mr. Godfrey Canwat (the Executive Director of Hope and Peace for Humanity), and my two Swedish roomies, Hedvig and Shima, at the bus station in Kampala and we set out for the 6 hours bus journey. Our house in Gulu is very central. It is just a two-minute walk from the office of Hope and Peace for Humanity and less than 5 minutes from Gulu Main Market. At the market, you can get everything! The fresh, gigantic, and tasty avocados are my favorite. And they come at a price of less than 2 SEK. In the house, we also live with the French volunteer, Aude, and (at times) Mary, who is the daughter of the landlady.

Gulu is often described as the “Capital of the North.” The district of Gulu was among those most affected by the war (1986-2010). A conflict that has complex roots and continues to impact the population. Sunday, the 15th of April, was the Good Deeds Day – a day to do good for and with the communities. As Sunday is a day of rest in Uganda, Hope and Peace for Humanity and their partners invited us to celebrate it, Monday the 16th. We went to Atyang village where we did different good deeds with community members including cleaning the public toilets, planting trees, slashing (cutting the grass using traditional slashers/knives), giving kits with mosquito nets to expecting mothers and much more. The Good Deeds Day is a day where individuals do something good, large or small, “to improve the lives of others and positively change the world.” While this is a global annual tradition, I aspire to, and encourage others to, try and do good deeds every day.

For now, I am enjoying the hospitality of the locals in Gulu, getting used to the “Ugandan” time, enjoying the local cuisine (Matooke, Posho, Kalo, and Cassava), and waiting impatiently for the mango season. We have our very own tree in the garden! On a last note, and to much amusement for the Ugandans, I managed to get sunburned on Monday. Lesson learned – my sensitive skin is now protected even in the cloudy, rainy weather.

I am looking forward to the next two months in a place where I already begin to feel at home.

The amazing organization that is helping me out. Read more about their projects on www.hphuganda.org.

My outdoor toilet and an avocado tree in Seeta village

My study place in Paul´s garden (Seeta village).

The local bus from Kampala to Gulu where local and Christian music is played on the screen.

Some of my lovely roommates. From the left: Shima, Mary, and Hedvig.

The fruit and vegetable section at Gulu Main Market.

Planting trees at the community health center.

Doing some manual labor to support the local community in Atyang village.

The team of the day, including Hope and Peace for Humanity´s employees, volunteers, and partners as well as community members.

A perfect breakfast setting.