My Excursion: Leaving Home Again and Reculture Shock
This past week, we had a group excursion to Kitgum, Uganda. Kitgum is a district in Northern Uganda that was particularly hard hit by the conflict with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). It was also the site for many IDP (internally displaced person) camps. One reason that it was so affected by the conflict is its very rural setting. The majority of my time is being spent in Gulu town, the second most populated and urbanized area in Uganda. That is not really saying much, as the town itself is still pretty small. However, when I arrived in Kitgum town, I got some real perspective on rural versus urban Uganda.
I really did not want to leave Gulu for a couple of reasons. I had just started making some great friends in Gulu, and our excursion to Kitgum marked the beginning of a month long series of trips out of Gulu. Gulu has really become my home, and my friend and I joke that we never want to leave. Alas, SIT made us leave, and to Kitgum, of all places. The town is really small, and it was mostly frustrating that I had no idea where anything was. More frustrating was that in Kitgum, my peers and I, from the United States, were even more of outsiders than in Gulu, where the NGO, and therefore western, population is much higher. We stayed in a place called Little Palace. Despite the outside gate, which was a little shabby and had barbed wire around it resembling a prison, the inner compound was amazing. It really was a little palace. We had running water again, and I finally felt like I got most of the solid layer of dirt off of me. I was also lucky enough that a friend of mine from Gulu was promoting his friend’s rap concert in Kitgum, so he came to visit me and took me out.
After 3 days, however, our reign in Little Palace ended, and we were placed in a rural homestay for 4 days. I was fortuitously paired with my closest friend on the trip, which honestly was the only reason I made it through the excursion. That’s not to say that I did not enjoy my time in the homestay overall, but the living conditions were so drastically different from Gulu, where I actually live with a rather affluent momma who takes very good care of me. We did all of the things that you would think of when you think of “White Girl in Africa.” We stayed in huts, which are amazingly cool on the inside. We fetched water from the boer hole 300 meters away. Most importantly, we hung out with a baby cow, some chickens, and all of the goats. I mean all of them. Our father, who we called “Baba,” was often gone, and most of our siblings spoke little to no English. They laughed at us a lot, mostly because of our poorly spoken Acoli, but what can you do.
Getting used to the daily activities in rural Uganda was so different. At home (both in the United States and in Gulu), when I get bored, I can go to town or go find a friend. In our village, we were miles from town, and knew almost no one around us, nor the language. Sitting is an activity. So I sat outside and got myself a nice little sunburn. I did finally wash my clothes though, so that was cool. I will never look at bananas the same way again, though. I was unaware that there were so many ways to prepare bananas. Raw, fried, and boiled. All so good, but not meal after meal. After completing a research project and getting to know some of the people in the village, everyone came together and we had a traditional party, where they taught us to dance, and then they drank. On day four, I was happier than ever to go back to Gulu, and when I got home to my Gulu momma, I got the warmest welcome. Thank goodness for Gulu mommas, am I right?