Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sitting on the banks of Lake Victoria

I'm sitting at Gately-on-the-Nile's computer in a lovely colonial villa overlooking Lake Victoria in Uganda. After four days in a sumptious resort on Lake Victoria in Kampala at a conference, I then took a 10 hour car ride up to the North to Kitgum, Uganda - near the border with Sudan. Coincidentally, this was the site of my last mission for Refugees International in November 2006. After a long and grueling trip back to Kampala and a "Nile Special" night out on the town, I'm reveling in the tranquility and beauty of Jinja.

It was interesting to see the difference in Northern Uganda. Gulu has exploded into a typical NGO/UN town. Crowded and expensive - now the most expensive city in Northern Uganda - a sad side effect of Jan Egeland's forceful drive to turn the world's attention to Northern Uganda's forgotten crisis. The IDP camps in Kitgum, the most vulnerable of the counties, I would argue, are not as crowded, yet still shocking to see- a blight on the beautiful landscape. People have moved out but the team spoke of a tension in the National staff that is more palpable than before. Everyone is convinced that the LRA are back in town. Just hiding in the tall green grass waiting to abduct children, kill civilians, and wreak havoc.

I spent the night in Madi Opei, a camp about 1 hour north of Kitgum town where my organization runs a medical clinic with the ministry of health. It was so great to be back in the "bush" and sleeping in a mud tukul with bucket baths under the stars. Alyson, my sister, probably doubts our blood relationshiop when I send her emails telling her how happy I am to talk to the chickens in the morning when I walk to the outdoor shower. I love tucking myself under mosquito netting and seeing geckos run around on the walls. She belives that the Holiday Inn is roughing it. The Uganda team is funny and competent. The National Staff (I don't know why we segregate them) intensely committed and hardworking. I did what I was hired to do. Yet it wasn't the fulfilling experience that I had hoped for. I don't know why.

I guess my mind was clouded with concerns and fear for my father and sister moving in together in the midst of all of it. My father fell in April and broke his arm. His slow recovery prompted Alyson and I to decide that it would be better for him and bring us more peace of mind, if he weren't living alone anymore. Luckily, he agreed. I was able to find them a beautiful house in Columbia to move in. Unfortunately, right as Alyson was packing to move herself, she fell and broke her leg. My leave time had been mostly depleted by my five weeks in Sumter caring for my father as he recovered from surgery. It's been unbelievably frustrating and scary to be a six hour time difference away, hovering by the computer hoping for news from home.

My unexpected trip to the north of Uganda has been enlightening. I"m finally doing the work that my org supposedly wants me to do. I'm good at it. I like it. But it feels strangely unfulfilling when I long to be at home with my family. Work isn't enough anymore. At the conference, I made contact with old friends and put out the word that I'm looking for work. I think I need to be closer. I can always move back to Europe, right? I hope so. Either way, living in a city that I like is no substitute for being there for my family.

I met up with another section of my org's crew last night in Kampala. I was staying in my sections house in a suburb of Kampala all alone - six bedrooms and me! I have no telephone, I had no idea where I was, and was a bit frustrated and lonely. We went out for Thai food and then dancing at the expat hotspot. It was a faux Irish bar called Bubbles O' Malley or some such thing. Really gross. It was fun and exciting when I did it in Sierra Leone. In Uganda, the fact that I'm at LEAST 10 years older than all the silly aid workers and missionaries (?!) dancing with the beautiful young Ugandans out on the prowl made me sad. The old, desperate looking men dancing with young beautiful Ugandans disgusted me as it always does. Am I this person? I love to dance and it was fun laughing and talking with the Spanish section. I felt much more a part of the crowd than I usually do in the dire Eik and Linde where conversation is so forced and boring. Ops this, Ops that. Where is the joie de vivre for our jobs? I feel like headquarters is a refuge for grim, loveless, workaholics determined to wring some sort of meaning out a life in the field.

In the field, however, the joie de vivre is there. The laughing. The mixture of a motley group of people. But not in this bar. In Bubbles O'Malley (where the waiters wear tshirts that declare them Craic dealers), the stench of desperation sticks to the older people. For the young and hedonistic, risking it all on the battlefield and dancing it off in the capitol seems appropriate. Yet I prefer to go to bed at nine with my book most nights now. Not the party girl I used to be.

Anyway, I am enjoying the good food, the beauty of the setting, and the books I have snagged from the org's bookshelves. I can't be that different from my fellow co-workers if we all like to read the same things, can I? But for some reason, the fit is not there.

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