030710: Arrival in Pader
22:00 [local time] Pader, Uganda
The first full day in Pader Town went by with a languid gait. Young men on dusty bicycles ride past us and smile. Young women spy Heidi with curiosity at her clothes and her hair. Impossibly tiny children shriek with delight anytime they see Phil and his big white hands. A television football commentator dictates cheers and groans among a huddled group of patrons. The World Cup is always happening somewhere. Chickens run amok and the smell and sounds of food cooking mingles with the breeze, the air is heavy with the richness of life. Time is different here. Long and gentle. I had heard a lot about ‘Africa’ and its landscapes, its scenery and its skies. The otherworldliness that was bound to captivate us had done so as soon as we had arrived in the rural north. The ink skies had gifted us an explosion of stars to sleep under. A wonder. A heaven, are the skies in Uganda.
Beyond the beauty of the country however, there are the people and the many, many children. I don’t believe there to be an English word to describe the feeling, the energy of the people here. I haven’t been here long enough to learn a Luo word for it. There is a deep, genuine vein of humanity connecting everyone we have had the pleasure of coming across and meeting. A heartfelt welcome is rare, so rare that I honestly didn’t know what one felt like until I came here. Poverty I have learnt is not something you can romanticize, but those pictures and stories you see of Africa and its poor belie a humanity that cannot be captured with the aid of lenses or a pen. It’s in the eyes of the children of Africa, the limitless joy in their faces. Those magical little moments when they see you for the first time and instantly run all the way from their mothers toward you with their hands raised for you to shake and ask them ‘How are you?’ and then the pride and the excitement in their voices when they reply ‘I am fine,’ pause, and then run away back to their laughing mothers in hysterics. The innocence of the children here, the purity.
Northern Uganda has been scarred by war. The tragedy of this story is that the horrors that were committed here involved children. The Lords Resistance Army who had once prowled the area had abducted young boys to fight along side them, killing and murdering while young girls were abducted to be their brides in exile. Now most of the children have come back to their villages adults and are striving to rebuild their lives in normalcy. Walking among these people, you sense a wisdom that has been borne out of having to learn how to laugh again. There are signs around the place that hints at an unsaid history. The only unsettling sight today was a mentally ill man who had staggered past us yelling and talking to himself. He had slung around his neck an old broom fashioned into a mock rifle. There was a tense moment as he spotted us and began to wander over, hurried feet on our part avoided a confrontation. There are such signs, if you look closely, not everything has been let go. But people are trying, with the efforts of the many NGO’s within the local area, they are slowly beginning to adapt and adjust to peace. That is why we are here, to document the efforts toward its healing.