I took a whirlwind trip to the East and then North of Uganda for almost two weeks. I went to help run some programs and also to visit the new Peace Corps volunteers in the North and welcome them to Uganda and Peace Corps. It was in the East I met with the women's group doing the VSLA. I also visited a deaf school with Amy where we taught the students self-defense. Amy translated into Iteso what we were trying to say and then a woman translated that into sign language. We think things got lost in translation since during the question time we were asked, “What happens to the person after you've beaten them up?” and “Why would we hurt another person?”
Due to the cost of travel around Uganda, Amy and I chose to hitch hike as much as possible during our travels. This brought us into a nice air-conditioned truck with a friendly Chinese road construction man, a Danish agriculture man working for USAID, a kind woman driving a small distance, the cab of an empty dump truck and even a World Vision vehicle out on outreach. The dump truck left us half way to our destination one day and we spied the World Vision vehicle parked along the road. With our friendliest smiles we approached the vehicle and asked where they were headed. They were going to our destination but first needed to complete some data collection in an IDP (internationally displaced people) camp. We were welcome to a ride if we didn't mind going to the camp with them. This lead to an educational 4 hours with World Vision. This camp was one of the largest IDP camps during the insurgency in the North. For a while there were 76,000 people living in small grass thatched huts. Hundreds died each day due to sanitation. Now it is much smaller. They have dismantled a vast majority of it. Many people have gone home now that the war is over. There are still many who have not gone back and may never return to their villages. There is too many bad memories associated with their homes and/or they have no reason to go back. Where they are now water is close and clean, they have health care near, food arrives on a scheduled basis, and they don't fear a resurface of rebells. IDP camps are interesting places to find yourself.
One thing Amy and I were most aware of was our ability or inability to understand language. When hitch hiking we normally found someone who spoke one of our languages. People would get so excited when they found Amy spoke and understood Iteso or I could converse with them in Luganda. There were only a few times our driver and fellow passengers spoke only Lango or Acholi which left us out. Language is a bonding factor here in Uganda. The respect other's have for us raises as soon as they discover we have taken the time to learn one of the languages in their country. We're always told language is a big component that sets Peace Corps apart from other humanitarian organizations and the more I travel and even interact in my own community I understand the value and vital importance of language.
Coffee with PCV's in the North: