On Monday SIT took us to Mbale. Mbale is in Eastern Uganda. The program wants to introduce us to all of Uganda so we are not able to overgeneralize Uganda when we go back to the US and talk about our experiences.
Something that I have written about before is how difficult it is to be in Gulu/ Northern Uganda and constantly be surrounded by the ghosts of its destructive war torn past. I was beginning to think these ghosts where everywhere except Kampala, where the central government is located and oppresses the North. Peace is not known here in Northern Uganda and it can be pretty taxing on the spirit when you are trying to study post-conflict transformation and all you can see is conflict.
For example, we went to talk to students in a high school. I had a really great conversation with three high school students. One of the things we talked about was the Bible. The girl who was speaking of the Bible was a Christian who took "eye for an eye" very seriously. I told her that I believed in forgiveness and she responded by saying "How can munos (white people) forgive so easily all the time?". I thought about how this was way too over-generalized, and thought about arguing it, but another thought came to mind. I told her most munos can forgive so easily because America as a country has never experienced anything like Uganda since the civil war. Americans have not seen war on their soil, and most Americans do not know what it is like for their home to be invaded by either the government or a rebel group, their siblings taken or killed, their parents taken or killed, themselves taken or killed, or all of their belongings being stolen. Most Americans can forgive easily because we have not experienced such trauma or evil. I told her this and she responded, "If that boy hit you, I would make him bleed to make you happy, that is love in Uganda".
This is the mentality that is here. The students I was speaking to go to the best high school in Norther Uganda. They are bright, engaged, and educated; yet they still have this deep need for revenge. Peace is not here, even in the generation that is supposed to be hope for the future.
This lack of peace has definitely gotten to all of us... I think we all realized it when we went to Mbale.
Mbale is peace. They grow bananas and coffee and are relatively well off. They are the center for opposition to Musevini, yet they are peaceful and sane. There is very little NGO presence, yet they are still doing well. It became clear that the reason Gulu and the rest of Northern Uganda is messed up is not because of political oppression, IDP camps, laziness, or any other reason except war. This part of the country has not been stable since Independence. Northern Uganda has hope. The hope is to rebuild peacefully. The virtue needed is patience. Mbale taught me that Uganda is not hopeless. I say that then think of how Northern Uganda is on the verge of another war. NGOs here have to have one purpose as Westerners. Continue to give hope by promoting peaceful negotiations with the central government to end the corruption and oppression so there is not need for a war. I am not sure how Westerners can do that, but if that is not their main issue they are just promoting a dependence mentality that will destroy this part once again.