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.

Where to begin? Covering three weeks in one post

I know, I know, I have been quiet recently. Actually, it is not because I am lazy – believe it or not – or because nothing happened. On the contrary, a lot happened and the past weeks have included lots of interesting and inspiring interviews, the classic traveller’s stomach problems, six-hours train rides and bum-hurting tuktuk rides on a muddy river island.

So, how do I cover all this in one single blog post? The easy solution: I don’t 😉 After the bihu festivities, the rest of April mainly went with conducting interviews and transcribing so these days I will just mention quickly. The women activists I have met here are all very informative and willing to talk and I have found a very diverse group of participants spanning from the well-educated middle class lady to the village woman who has seen too much violence and torture during the past decades’ insurgencies in Assam. They have all been incredibly open to talk to me so the past weeks have been busy but effective.

But now, after conducting my interviews and half of the transcriptions, it is time for the fun stuff! The past days I have spent outside my safe base in Guwahati more specifically, in Jorhat in Upper Assam, where I first was introduced to one of the coolest ladies I have met and her organization Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) and later, visited a tea garden and got to meet the strong activists of the local adivasi women’s association. Besides interesting stories, the tea garden visit also included stunning views over green fields and a long-awaited tranquility after one month in bustling Guwahati.

Meeting with adivasi women’s activists in a tea garden

Momos (dumblings) with some of the PBET people

In the weekend, I went to Majuli – a small, but nevertheless Asia’s biggest, river island in the mighty Brahmaputra. The island is famous for its satras (monasteries for monks following the Vaishnavite branch of Hindu religion). One of my participants told me about this form of Hinduism in the interview so I was very excited for experiencing the culture that, according to her, created a more liberal caste system and better living conditions for women in Assam (I have my thoughts about the caste system, including the Assamese, but I will leave that discussion out of the blog).

After arriving on the island, I soon discovered that exploring Majuli and the satras is just easier with your own vehicle and a local guide as both public transport and English-speakers are scarce. However, I tried to make the most of it by hitching a ride on all possible vehicles – scooters, cars and tractors – to make it to the first satra (I also accidently paid 200 rupees for a ride but luckily most people were too nice to take advantage of a confused tourist, who did not do her research before going).

Majuli landscapes

Satra prayer house

My whole trip changed completely when I was on my way back from visiting the first satra, out of the five I planned to, and a car stopped right by my side. The door was opened and a father, mother and two children gestured at me to make me get in. Few minutes later I found myself drinking tea in the family’s home and desperately trying to understand Assamese chit-chat from the cutest 4-year-old boy, who did not seem to care about my limited vocabulary and confused sign language.

I spent the rest of the weekend with Prasanta and Banalata and their children. After knowing me for approximately one hour, they offered me to stay in their house and show me around the island. Prasanta took me to three more satras and a tribal Mishing village, where one of his friends invited for spicy but delicious lunch and home-made rice beer. I also had the pleasure of meeting Prasanta and Banalata’s neighbors and drinking endless amounts of tea. I was really sad to leave Majuli after just two days but back in Jorhat, the reunion with Smita, Arup and Sinumoni from the awesome PBET crew (and some more rice beer) cheered me up.

Beautiful wetlands on Majuli

My sweet sweet Majuli hosts

Tribal bamboo houses

Masks for paunas (religious Hindu dramas)

I think it is safe to say that the hospitality and helpfulness of Assamese people is the most overwhelming and heart-warming I have experienced yet. Everybody has welcomed me like a member of their own family and shared their home, their food and lots of smiles with me. I am already planning another trip to Jorhat and Majuli just to meet these treasures again and I STRONGLY recommend everyone travelling to India to make a trip to the North East! I simply don’t have enough words for expressing how good the Assamese people have been to me.

Cheers in home-made rice beer!

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.

Happy Bihu!

Bihu, or the Assamese new years celebrations, recently ended and after four days of watching butterfly-like dances and eating waaaaaay too many Indian sweets, I am back by the work table. So far, I have managed to conduct three interviews but in between transcriptions it is nice to look back at the Bihu holiday and some more colorful memories.

There are three annual Bihu festivals in Assam and the April Bihu marks the beginning of spring, which in the Assamese calendar also is the beginning of the new year (thinking about it, it makes quite a lot of sense to start the new year in the spring, when everything is blooming again and waking up from the winter sleep). The new year is said to be the most colorful of the Bihus and all over Guwahati, I found open fields full of families, women in beautiful mekhala chadors (the Assamese version of a sari), food stalls and scenes with traditional dances and music.
I went out with my neighbors all four nights to watch the dance shows. Some nights it was easier to find a place than others due to Indian time planning but I had a lot of fun anyway listening to catchy drum beats, wearing a mekhala chador (all attempts to blend in failed, though) and trying to copy the dancers’ graceful moves. Bihu dancing might appear simple but doing it without looking like a chicken just learning to walk is an art!

The day after the first Bihu night (last Sunday) it is tradition to visit the older family members and show your respect by giving them a gamosa (a pretty red and white fabric that somehow resembles a fancy towel and guess what – people actually use it as a towel). In return, one receives an overdose of sweets, tea and fruits. My landlords took me to their relatives to let me experience ”the real Bihu”. For some reason, they did not care much for the dance shows at night but I enjoyed both family visits to hospitable cousins and the drumming and dancing, and I am so happy that I arrived here in time to experience Assamese festivities with my sweet neighbors and landlords!

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.

Oye, Assam!

I have now settled in Guwahati, the biggest city in the state of Assam and my main base for the 10 weeks I will spend on my MFS.

The city is a wonderful chaos of people, rickshaws, fruit markets and (less wonderful) cars. My home is like a little oasis hidden away from the busy streets. I rent an apartment from a couple with a very big house and a garden. My apartment is in a smaller house in the back of the garden almost surrounded by palm trees and flowers and almost isolated from the noisy main road. My neighbors are three super sweet girls and in the main house live our landlords (who we call Uncle and Aunty) and five more tenants. On first floor, there is also a weaving shop with all kinds of beautiful fabrics and an owner who always serves me tea.

So, in terms of social life and accommodation, I have found my happy place to cope with the initial field study-confusion. I am in contact with many helpful people but coming to Assam opened up so many doors that were previously hidden and my idea of what topics are the most relevant in the area is expanding and expanding.
I am still focusing on women’s rights groups and the experiences of activists as it is my main interest. But the longer I stay here, the more I discover the innumerable complex relations in the state Assam. Tribal and ethnic tensions, memories of armed conflict and uncertainty of what is “the Assamese identity” all make for a super interesting but also very confusing place for doing research.

But for now, I just enjoy the hospitality of my hosts and neighbors (who are eager to feed me spicy and delicious Indian food – I think they got worried seeing me heat up the sorry leftovers of yesterday’s potatoes and daal). Moreover, the house is located just around the corner from NEN, a local women’s rights organization, and the staff there is helpful in finding me reports and more contacts. So, my next two months here look promising as soon as the post-arrival chaos has settled.

Photos are coming up soon! 🙂

// Ida

Tappat räkning på veckor hahaha^^

Hejsan!!!

Förlåt för sen uppdatering. Har aldrig haft en vana av att skriva en blogg eller något liknande tidigare så det händer ibland att det sipprar ut från mitt minne 😉 Men anyway nu är jag tillbaka! Så förra inlägget var jag lite för optimistisk haha. Jag trodde jag skulle vara klar med intervjuerna men självklart är det inte sant. Istället har jag kommit i kontakt med mer människor som jag kan prata med. On the plus side, jag känner att min intervju teknik bara blir bättre och bättre so yay! Så just nu sitter jag och transkriberar dem intervjuerna jag redan genomfört och det är såå extremt jobbigt… *suck. Dem gångerna jag inte kunnat spela in har fungerat minst lika bra så funderar på att skippa inspelning de sista intervjuerna och bara ta anteckningar istället… decisions decisions ;).

Själva skrivande fortsätter med sin snigel fart framåt men jag har en deadline som kommer upp på torsdag så så fort jag känner pressen då kommer kreativiteten, haha. Får bara inflika att min födelsedag är på onsdagen men tack vare deadlinen får jag skjuta upp firandet en kväll vilket är helt okej ändå. Ska bli trevligt att hänga med några kompisar och äta go mat. På tal om vänner, träffade några härliga personer som är bosatta i Kakata, vilket är typ nästan två timmar utanför Monrovia. Funderar på att hälsa på dem men ett evigt problem med resandet i detta land är bristen på kollektivtrafik så får räkna med att det kommer kosta en liten summa då jag måste ta en taxi hela vägen ut.

Annars är det inte mycket att skriva om. Eller ah, det inleddes en strejk i staden idag. Nästan alla affärer, inklusive matbutiker och frukt/grönsaks stånd, är stängde men vi stockade upp våra förråd i helgen så vi klarar oss nog. Men nu ska jag upp till en vän för en middag så vi ses!

Fjärde veckan!

Hejsan alla!!! Det var ett tag sen nu! Kan med glädje rapportera att inget allvarligt har hänt sedan mitt sista inlägg, hahaha ^^ Däremot har mitt arbete här nere äntligen dragit igång känns det som. Har lyckats intervjua tre stycken än så länge och har tre, potentiellt 5, intervjuer nästa vecka plus att en av dem ska försöka hjälpa mig få tag på några dokument som min analys hänger lite på, så det känns jätte härligt. Jag har varit lite fundersam ifall jag verkligen kommer att hinna med min deadline för green light meeting där man måste lämna in mesta delen av uppsatsen till handledaren, runt 80-90 %. Det är där man får godkännande att lämna in uppsatsen och sedan delta i opponeringen. Missar man detta får man vänta med att gå upp i augusti… så helst vill man ju bli klar innan sommaren. Anyway, den deadlinen är den 24 april och jag har varit skeptiskt till om jag verkligen kommer att hinna med allt men som det ser ut nu så kommer det nog att gå (peppar peppar) vilket känns jätte skönt!!

Jag har också fått flytta ifrån den där förbaskade kyrkan!! hahaha!! Det har varit jätte störigt då det är både en skola (skrikande barn hela dagarna) och en gospel kyrka (där kören gillar att öva nästan varje kväll). Inte bara det, utan elen stängs av hela tiden känns det som, och jag som bara hade en fläkt fick utstå värmen ganska mycket i samband med allt ljud!! Det började kännas lite som ett helvete trots att jag bott där tidigare. Så det är jätte skönt att jag nu har fått flytta in hos min lokala handledare mina sista fyra veckor här. Hon ska nämligen hem till Sverige för lite semester så kommer ha stället för mig själv i några veckor och det är såå härligt här. Hon har AC i hela lägenheten, balkong med havsutsikt och tillgång till en pool så nu kan jag äntligen börja jobba på min bränna hehe 😉

Vi hörs mer nästa vecka!! Ha det gött!!

Kände att jag förtjänade lite glass efter min tredje intervju 🙂

Här är utsikten som jag kommer att njuta av de sista fura veckorna här nere 😉

Kom äntligen iväg till stranden förra helgen. Det är så svårt att ta sig någonstans i denna stad när man inte har bil. Vill ju inte spendera sjukt mycket pengar på att åka taxi överallt…

Det är så tydliga klass skillnader här i det här landet. Det här är på väg till stranden och som ni ser så bor de i små hus som nästan ser ut som hyddor precis utanför huvudstaden och här sitter jag och klagar på att elen stängs av lite då och då, hahaha #spoiledbrat.