Jamhuri Day, 12th December, is the celebration of Kenya becoming a republic 1,5 years after independence from the British Colony in the 60’s. As of this day in December most/or a lot of working people go on annual leave for Christmas and New Years. It would have been difficult to arrange more interviews etc during this time, however some CGO’s were still working and I was invited to a two day conference/meeting at Friends of Lake Turkana regarding organizing communities. There was an organisation from Peru who were invited to present their work they have done with a similar situation as the one we are experiencing here in Turkana. Their work and results were impressive and hopefully in the future we will see the same strength and work in this region.

Before I attended the meeting and conference at Friends of Lake Turkana, I had had to take a short trip down to Nairobi to sort out my visa, to extend the length of it to be allowed to stay in the country. When I applied for my visa online, I applied for a tourist visa for 10 weeks, and 24h after application it was approved. When I arrived at the airport, the person at the boarder only granted me 4 weeks and said I had to come back down to Nairobi to reapply for an extension of my visa. I was told by my contacts at the organisations that this process would take at least a whole day, so I prepared two full days in Nairobi for this. When I went to the migrations office, I was informed that this is a common procedure for students as there are many occasions where students apply for visa in Kenya because its easier, and then disappear into Ethiopia or Somalia. The extension is to make sure that those applying for the visa is actually staying in the country. Once I arrived at the migration centre it did not take more than 20 minutes for me to get my visa renewed, which left me with two amazing days to spend in Nairobi.

After the conference at Friends of Lake Turkana I ended my stay in Turkana for December and flew down to Nairobi again as there was nothing left for me to do up here. I spent a week in Nairobi working on writing on my project and transcribing some interviews before heading down to the coast to celebrate Christmas and New Years.

I am now back up in Turkana doing my last interviews and I will finally get an interview with the oil company and county government officials. When I have finished here I am moving further south to meet with the environment institution NEMA and Kenya Land Alliance in Nakuru and Nairobi.

Focus Group Interviews

My week in Lokichar was highly eventful and went a lot better and much quicker than I thought. I was introduced to my contact person there through Friends of Lake Turkana who came to see me as I arrived to plan our week and the interviews.

The plan was to interview 3 local tribes affected in different ways of the extractives, as well as other key people and one of the managers of the oil company operation in the area. We managed to hold focus group discussions/interviews with the tribes and the information collected has created a good foundation for my work. We also visited a couple of sites holding hazardous waste and collected information regarding the impact of this on the environment and living standards of the nearby tribes.

I was invited to and participated in an information meeting for CSO’s by the oil company, however the interview I was going to have with one of the managers kept getting cancelled and postponed and it later came to my knowledge that the person in question had deliberately been avoiding me. Through some further contacts made during my stay in Lokichar this was later resolved after I had left and the person in question have now confirmed with me that he will agree to having a meeting which will take place after the new year.

I have had to reschedule a lot and re-plan my visit due to Christmas Holidays. After the 12th of December (Jamhuri Day, the day Kenya celebrate becoming a republic) most people go on leave return after the new year. However, before this I had to go down to Nairobi to extend my visa and fly back up to attend a 2 day conference which I will write about in my nest post.

 

 

Friends of Lake Turkana

As of now I have spent just over two weeks in Turkana County. My first two weeks were spent in Lodwar networking and getting both my head and my way around my study and my approach. As mentioned in my previous post I had a few meetings and todays post was going to introduce my meeting with the organisation Friends of Lake Turkana.

I was met by the executive director, Ikal, and her colleague Andrew. They were both happy to receive me and assist me in answering questions in regards to the current situation of extractives in the area. Friends of Lake Turkana are actively working in representation of the local communities as well as communicators to them from both national and local government and were therefore very well informed and had no hesitated answers to my questions.

I introduced my study and my aim from which we had discussions of how I could possibly move forward and how they could be of help. It led to contacts in the field in Lokichar, as well as being invited to come with one of their representatives to a meeting held Tuesday 27th when Kenya Land Alliance was launching a report regarding land acquisition and community compensation. The meeting lasted for approximately 6hs, and was not only informative and contributed to material to my study, it was also a great opportunity for further networking.

Through connections received by Friends of Lake Turkana, that is on site in Lokichar where the oil fields are, I have now started my interviews with the local communities. I left Lodwar after the meeting on the 27th and arrived in Lokichar in the afternoon. In the photos below you can the landscape we drove through to get to my new destination.

Next week I will write about my first time and experience in Lokichar and the plan for my coming weeks as I have had to rearrange and re-plan most of the rest of my trip due to new circumstances.

My first week in northern Kenya

Welcome to Lodwar (see photos)! This is my new home, at least for the first two weeks (as I will be going back and forth to Lokichar), and in this post I will introduce to you my first week in this town.

I have now been at my study destination for exactly one week, and I have experienced both difficulties and progress. My first two days were fairly quiet and were used to try to get to know my surroundings and how to make my way around everything. I quickly noticed that everyone is very curious of me and walking around in central is not done discreetly. Everybody is starring (in friendly ways) and many come up just simply to say “Welcome!” and shake my hand. Those who do not come up still wave hello from a distance. So, during my first couple of days here I was taking in the whole picture of my new environment, locating myself, finding places to eat and finding my permanent boda boda/piki piki driver (motorcycle taxi) as it is easier to have one or two you can call when you need to go somewhere.

Although its rain season in Kenya, we experience very little of this and temperatures reach up to 40c every day in the sun, and approximately 33-35c in the shades. There are two hotels here where there is access to swimming pool, and one can pay a fee (500 ksh/43 sek) for a full day access to the pool, and this is where I spent my weekend :).

I had my first meeting with a girl I got in contact with through the project leader I am cooperating with. She works at an NGO here, and I am very pleased with how successful this meeting was. Other than this I have had a bit of a slow start but things are falling into place and I am getting more and more prepared to head out and commence the actual interviewing and field study!

In the next post I will write about my meeting with Friends of Lake Turkana that I have on Wednesday and our potential cooperation that I hope for!

Lots of love, Emma B

Surprises and endings in Gulu (for now)

For the past weeks, I have been finishing up my field study, recovered from malaria, visited Kampala, and enjoyed my last time in Gulu (my home away from home). Last Friday, I even went further North to Kitgum and visited the Memory and Peace Documentation Centre. It is the only one of its kind and founded by the Refugee Law Project. It is very interesting to visit as it contains important information on the previous armed conflicts in Uganda as well as a library. I want to thank, Jerry Oyet, for showing us around, explaining everything, and answering all our questions. Most impressive exhibition to me was the one showing a copy of the letter written by Joseph Kony himself. On our way back to Gulu, we stopped at Aruu Falls. A gigantic and beautiful waterfall with a rainbow. It is definitely worth the visit although you must be very careful about when and how you hike down to the bottom of the falls.

Kitgum Memory and Peace Documentation Centre

Letter written by Joseph Kony, the LRA commander in chief

View from the top of Aruu Falls from where we hiked to the bottom.

Aruu Falls, wild and beautiful.

  

I am very satisfied with the results of my 9 weeks in Gulu. I have successfully conducted 30 interviews of 30-90 minutes each with both former abductees and community leaders, professionals from different NGOs, and a district official. I am looking forward to writing the thesis and sharing it with all my friends here, at home, and abroad.

I have a lot of mixed feelings leaving Gulu and all the warm-hearted people, I have been so fortunate to meet here. I cannot give enough thanks to those who welcomed me to their homes, shared their personal stories, hopes, and challenges with me, and to my friends who have made it so hard for me to leave this beautiful country. Lastly, none of this would have been possible without the support and encouragement of my local partners, in particular, Hope and Peace for Humanity as well as People’s Voices for Peace and War Affected Networking and Betty Children Foundation. You inspire me and gives me hope that, together, we can work for a better tomorrow. If anyone wishes to support Hope and Peace for Humanity’s upcoming project which will empower 150 female victims of violence, the Global Giving Platform will boost any contributions made on Wednesday the 20th of June.

Yesterday, my friends from Hope and Peace for Humanity also surprised me with lunch, kind words, a gift and a maize roasting at night. It left me speechless. You are truly the BEST, and I will miss each and every one of you. Now, I am heading off to bounty beaches, drinks, and 2.5 weeks of holidays in Tanzania before going home to Denmark/Sweden.

Roasting of maize on my last night in Gulu

Hope and Peace for Humanity (HPH) family

The End (for now, at least)

My thesis material is collected, all interviews are finished, my backpack is almost full again and my room needs an awful lot of cleaning. It is my last day here in Guwahati before I take the train to Darjeeling and a short vacation before returning home to finish the thesis.

Though I knew the day would come and 10 weeks of MFS seemed like a reasonable time frame, I am still surprised by how fast the time actually passed. As I am packing down my stuff piece by piece I cannot help but thinking “what just happened?!” and I am honestly a bit sad to leave. It has mainly to do with all the amazing people I have met here but it also feels weird to leave all the organizations and power women that have been so helpful to me. I know I cannot change the world but I kind of have this “so what happens now?” feeling about leaving. The organizations will continue their work and I will go home, unable to do much for them from the distance. It is a horribly annoying feeling. The world is full of good causes and organizations working for human rights but seeing the actual work, challenges and victories of the Assamese women’s organizations makes me feel even more attached to exactly these people.

But I am leaving tomorrow and that’s just how it is. After all, I am also looking forward to see friends and family at home again soon. I had a bit of money left from the MFS scholarship so they will now become donations to all the organizations that have helped me writing my thesis. I might be repeating myself but the teams from NEN, PBET, WeDo, FST, NEthing, Yuva and the Jorhat Boat Clinic are probably among the coolest I have met and they are doing a really good job here in Assam. Moreover, this state is just a nice place to be (though the summer heat is getting too much for me now) so I  am pretty sure I will find my way back to visit someday!

See you soon, Assam. Moi tumak bhal pau!

Restlessness, royal ruins and reunions

I did not spend many days in Guwahati after coming back from my last trip before I was on the road again. In fact, I spent much of the second half of May taking sightseeing breaks from my writing and analysis work.

First I headed out for the Green Hub Festival at Tezpur University that screens documentaries about biodiversity in India and short movies made by Green Hub’s film students but also hosts a number of panel debates on environment as well as women’s rights. I attended a seminar on women’s security, watched some amazing movies on biodiversity and nature and spent the night in Okum Guesthouse outside Tezpur. North East Network, one of the organizations I’ve worked with here, runs the guesthouse, which is based in a tribal Mising village among bamboo houses, palm trees and paddy fields. Their veranda is probably the best thesis-writing spot I have yet encountered – writing and drinking tea with a view to woods and wild orchids made me incredibly mindful and productive at the same time.

As for many tribal groups of North East India, the Mising women have a long tradition of weaving. NEN also runs a project in the village with 13 women making handloomed products for the organization and thereby earning a little extra money for their households. I talked to some of them about their work and what it has changed for them and tested my own handlooming skills (or lack of the same) with supervision from the professionals.

Just call this product placement but if you get the chance to visit the Okum Guesthouse (which you should if you’re in India anyway), do take home some beautiful hand-made cushion covers, wall hangings or bags and support a good cause!

The heat has arrived in Assam and I’m suffering. Luckily, my landlord’s driver was kind to take me on a one-day escape to the neighboring hill state of Meghalaya. Meghalaya means something like “the Land of Clouds” and the place perfectly suits this name with its fresh green hills, wet but really enjoyable climate and huge cotton-like clouds rolling down the hill sides and turning everything into a misty wonderland or “Scotland of the East” as the tourist agencies say. Even though the clouds blocked the view to Cheerapunjee’s waterfalls and the Bangladesh border, I still enjoyed a day in the highlands with stunning landscapes and really good company. Binoy, my landlord’s driver is one of the most cheerful people I have met and long-distance road trips are just better when you’re travelling with a good friend.

My lovely neighbor Avishka also took me to Sivasagar, the old capital of the Ahom kings who ruled Assam for hundreds of years untill the British arrived. Sivasagar is a small town but with some very pretty ruins of the old castles and temples. It was a nice little tour and even nicer to meet Avishka’s family.

Sivasagar is only one hour from Jorhat so on my way back to Guwahati, I simply had to pass by the town to meet the people from Purva Bharati Educational Trust and the boat clinic again. I did some follow-up interviews with my participants in my field study but also just enjoyed meeting these inspiring people and their friends and families again! I also took a detour to the Majuli island to visit my “family” there again. If you have read my last post, you will understand why I enjoyed being back so much and why I was very sad to leave them all again knowing that I will probably not go back before some time (what is for sure though is that I can never visit India again without passing by the North East!).

My field study in Assam is coming towards the end and I only have few follow-ups and visits to complete before heading out for some more travelling in India and then home to Denmark/Sweden!

Survivors and Safaris

The 19th of May 2004 was a horrifying day for the people of Lukodi (a village 17 kilometers North of Gulu town). On this day, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided the village and carried out a massacre, taking the lives of more than 60 people. 14 years later, Dominic Ongwen is being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the massacre while survivors request for the government’s assistance to reconstruct their village and rebuild their lives.

Apart from the massacre, Lukodi was one of the villages in Northern Uganda that suffered from persistent attacks by the LRA. Last week, I talked to some of the survivors who also stressed the responsibility of the government to remedy the human rights violations as it failed to protect them from abduction and other atrocities during the armed conflict. One was even abducted from the “protected” IDP camp (i.e. internally displaced persons) while others were abducted from their homes or the school. One thing is for sure, the survivors and their families continue to struggle psychologically, economically, and (at times) socially.

In the weekend, I enjoyed a leisure trip to Murchison National Park and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. All of the following animals were encountered in their natural habitat and under their conditions: lionesses and lion cubs, hippos, buffalos, crocodiles, elephants, antelopes, a hyena, red monkeys, baboons, warthogs (Pumba), giraffes, vultures, rhinos and much more. It was also a real baby boom to the enjoyment of all of us! Lastly, most of the animals were seen up close at a distance of less than 30 meters. Going on a safari is one of the most expensive things to do in Uganda (as well as other tourist activities) but it is a once in a lifetime experience that is worth every shilling!

Baby Rhino, Madam, born the 26th of August 2017 in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

A young elephant (Murchison Falls National Park).

A family of lionesses and their cubs resting in Murchison Falls National Park.

A baby giraffe with its mother (Murchison Falls National Park).

 

 

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!