Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Road to Gulu

The road to Gulu: a roadside market

Riding on the road to Gulu is a constant game of chicken. The road is too narrow to easily accommodate all the traffic which includes shipping trucks, full size passenger buses, cars, motorcycles (called bodas), bicycles, people on foot with balanced packages on their heads, children walking with parents or friends, and travelers "footing" it to their destination. As the road continues north, it gets increasingly treacherous, in some places not even paved, in others the paving is in such disrepair that there are severe potholes and deep ruts in the road sometimes as much as ten inches off the edge of the road.

Drivers, including ours, drive in the middle of the road, the best part, until just before passing when each driver must decide who will yield. If you happen to be a boda or on foot, you must yield to the motor vehicles who toot warnings in the seconds before they pass. At several times in the ride, I am sure we will collide, a pedestrian or cyclist will be killed or the side of our bus will be ripped open like tin or we'll head-on collide and fly through the interior of the van like Penelope Cruz in the film Frida when the trolley Frida is riding on collides with a truck.

Commuting to work
Incredibly, we never crash. My travel mates quickly learn my road travel anxiety and begin to find it funny to gasp along with me when the passing looks especially risky. Leaning to the center of the bus or just covering my eyes and praying is all I can do. It's a lesson in letting go, for sure!

When we cross the Nile, bands of baboons and small monkeys, all well-segregated, gather at the edge of the road, hopeful for passers-by to toss leftovers from the road trip. They stick incredibly close to the main track of the road and several times pass so close in front of us in what seems casual saunters across the highway that I am sure we are going to hit one. Incredibly we never do.

We arrive in Gulu by 7:00 after nearly 10 hours of African Coaster. I make myself feel better by reminding myself that this leg is done, only once more will I have to travel this road, at the end of the week when we ride to Jinja to raft on the Nile.
Baboons on the roadside

Our guest house is a sweet house with the only other guests another group of activists who leave the next day. This group is working to raise scholarship funds for an organization called Unified for Uganda. They complain a bit about the food, a walk to Murchison Falls they describe as torturously long, and thin mattresses. They are excited to hear we are from Invisible Children; a couple of them are veterans of the 4th Estate and greet us like old friends.

After a dinner of local pizza, we get our first lecture about local life. David Occite was born in the year the LRA conflict began. "When you look at me," he tells us, "you can see what the length of the conflict looks like in the age of human being"-- a powerful reminder of this long-lasting turmoil.

He tells us of getting an opportunity to go to college while his friends, young neighbors whose parents had been killed by the LRA, were unable to attend. Occite had a scholarship. At college, Occite learned of Invisible Children and its work to raise scholarship money. He knew he had to work for IC at any cost. In danger of losing his scholarship, Occite composed a letter to the college dean explaining that he wanted nothing more than to go to the United States and travel around the US raising money with IC Roadies for peers who could not go to school. Incredibly, or maybe not once you meet Occite, the school made special arrangements to make it possible.
Jaclyn Licht and IC trip leader Jess Morris with David Occite

He is incredibly articulate, somehow almost like a Ben Keesey without quite the same ferocity. After hearing his story, he offers an orientation to culture in Gulu. We learn how people from Gulu speak with their eyebrows, will enjoy being greeting in Acholi, and a hilarious difference: will tell you that you look fat which means that you look healthy, a compliment.

By the end of the orientation, I feel so tired my eyelids are trembling. Tomorrow we'll visit some local schools. I turn in early, hoping to be up first for a decent shower before the house wakes.

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