Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pader and Small Luxuries

After two days in Kitgum, I was apprehensive about arriving in Pader. According to my colleague, when she was here in 2004, conditions were dire and the lodging choices were extremely primitive. The hotel she stayed in was the kind where a drunk Ugandan soldier wearing sunglasses at night with three women on his lap sits and drinks beer all night and shouts at you on your way to avoid the outdoor latrine. She warned me that we might not be able to bathe the whole time we were here.

Imagine our joy and surprise to find that GOAL, an Irish NGO working on water and sanitation here has a guest house. While there is no running water, there are abundant jerry cans filled with water and electricity for three hours a day. Today, I got to take a bucket bath with a giant spider in a concrete stall lit with a kerosene lamp. But I was thrilled that I could get water and wash the dust off of me.

But the most amazing thing is that there is a restaurant in town and internet access! In our room even! The 21st century is an amazing thing. The reason the restaurant is so exciting is that I just spent three days in Kitgum where there was only one place to eat in town - and it was terrible. The BOMAH hotel has the worst service I've ever seen in my life. You must literally chase the waiters around the courtyard that is littered with abandoned plastic water bottles to get them to take your order. And you should do this several times as they forget to put it in. And all they served was beef stew on rice. There don't appear to be any vegetables in Kitgum so the beef stew as gristly hard to chew beef floating in a greasy gravy. Luckily in Uganda, they have abundant bottles of chili garlic sauce on all the tables so you can also flavor your rice with that.

The restaurant in Pader though is my favorite thing here. It is run by young child mothers who have been released from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Many of them arrive from the bush, malnourished and pregnant with small children and they are very young themselves. It is difficult for them to go to school and many of them face stigmatization and rejection by their families. Another mouth or three to feed puts a strain on families in these overcrowded camps.

This amazing woman, Alice Acca, runs a group called CCF: Christian Counseling Fellowship, that has a reintegration center where the young mothers as well as other returning LRA abductees can stay for a few weeks while they get used to being free. They provide counseling, safety, and a secure environment for the young mothers as well as counseling their families and the community that they will be reintegrating into. In addition to these services, Alice is also launching vocational training and sells the bead necklaces that the girls make. I will be returning with some examples. But one of the most innovative ideas is the bakery and small restaurant that these girls run. The food there is delicious and its clean and neat. The residents of Pader are happy to have a bakery. It’s small steps like these that may help these girls and their children start a new life.

And they make a delicious vegetable dish that is basically spinach in a peanut sauce. So I can now check email and eat vegetables and hopefully help out some of these young child mothers at the same time. Life is good in pader.

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