Saturday, 10 December 2005

Trip to Northern Uganda - Kitgum

Night Commuters

M: I landed in Kitgum about an hour and fifteen minutes after leaving Entebbe. [Kitgum is one of the northern districts which borders Sudan. Within it, is Kitgum town, which is pretty small.] I was so shaken up by the flight that I completely forgot about my luggage, only to remember it once the plane had already started up again and was ready to take off! Luckily, the plane routed back to Kitgum forty minutes later so I was able to retrieve it then. The remainder of the day was spent visiting UNICEF and UNOCHA.

The Bomah Hotel was definitely not worth the 30,000 Uganda Shillings I paid (about US$17). The mosquito net had several large holes in it, which later proved to be my demise. I ate at the hotel restaurant outside under the darkness of the evening! I could not see what I was eating, but perhaps that was a good thing! I spent the remainder of the evening reading in my room under the mosquito net. As I tried to sleep I felt rather itchy on my finger and arm and could not stop scratching. I turned on my flashlight to see if there was a mark but nothing. After several minutes of scratching, the mosquito bites finally appeared. I then frantically searched inside my net for the little pest. It was right beside me! I tried to kill it but it escaped. I tried several times to follow it with my flashlight and kill it only for it to get away each time. I finally gave up and consoled myself with the thought that if she had malaria (because only the female mosquito carries malaria - and she lives twice as long as her male counterpart!), she had already infected me with it anyhow, so what did five more bites matter? And mosquitoes have short life spans anyhow, so she will probably be dead before morning.

The next day I went by Armoured Plated Vehicle (APV) and military escorts (two pick up trucks of armed UPDF in front and back of vehicle) to one of the IDP camps, called Acholibur. The LRA have been carrying out ambushes over recent months, killing several humanitarian aid workers and Acholi. Therefore, the UN and NGOs are not taking any chances on insecure roads and will only take these roads with armed military escorts. The APV itself is bulletproof and even the tires, if shot at, can still drive for several kilometres. The camp is about twenty kilometres south of Kitgum with a population of approximately ten thousand. I spent the full day in the camp, talking to people, getting a tour of the camp with a formerly abducted youth. The children of the camp were fascinated with me. I felt like the pied piper as I walked through the camp with a trail of children in tow. It was like a parade had come to the camp!

That evening back in Kitgum Town, I walked with a UNICEF staff member in the trickling rain (I thought it was the dry season??) to one of the reception centres for the ‘night commuters’. These reception centres have been set up by different NGOs so that the children who travel from the IDP camps into the town will have shelter for the night. The ‘Night Commuter Reception Centres’ were originally created for children who wanted to avoid being abducted by the LRA from their homes in the IDP camps (usually at night). Now, however, children (boys and girls) and women are coming for several other reasons besides avoiding abduction, including escaping physical abuse. Some reception centres offer counselling, water, constructed latrines, a lighted area where they can read or do schoolwork, and social or cultural activities including learning songs.

To see more photos of Kitgum, click on the "Night Commuters" photo and you will be automatically directed to the album. Let us know what you think!

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