Rachael’s volunteering (Part 4 of 7): New People, New Places

Hi all,

We’ve had several visitors to the Agago District over the last few weeks; the most important one being the President, who made his first visit here since the District was newly formed in 2010. His visit lasted around 4 hours and he discussed a number of important initiatives including building a second hospital for the District in Patongo; sealing the road between Lira and Kitgum (which runs through Agago) to improve communication and piloting a new national scheme here to provide tractors to institutions in the District to help improve the scale and efficiency of agricultural activity.

He also wants more focus on youth, particularly on HIV/AIDS awareness and vocational skills training. Everyone is hoping that it doesn’t take too long to get these initiatives up and running although it could take several years.

This week I also met a Member of Parliament for the District and a group of 40 medical students from Kampala who came this week to provide free health services to the community. I also met the Chief Justice responsible for overseeing trials of LRA war criminals. (He was also the minister for Northern Uganda during the war and has a home in Patongo). I met him in a shop while I was buying airtime – being the only female muzungu (or “munu” as they say in Acholiland) means that people constantly come up to me and ask me what I’m doing in Patongo!

The children here are very cute but very cautious with the munus. Whereas children in other towns will come to greet you, here they just don’t see many white people and prefer to keep some distance and shout “munu bye” (they aren’t bothering at the moment with hello!) and it takes a long time before they’ll pose with me for a photo! Now they are back at school, but more than half of the Patongo school children I see don’t wear shoes to school and wear ragged uniforms. But they seem happy to be going to school.

Out of work, things have been busy too. We went on a 170km round-trip motorbike ride to visit the town of Kalongo (where the hospital is) and the eastern side of the District, which borders Karamoja. It is stunningly beautiful and gets quite hilly, compared to Patongo which is flat. There’s no better way to see the countryside than the back of a bike. It was full-moon last week, so we went for a moonlit bush walk with a friend who grew up in the town.

There’s lots of bush-burning at the moment, as local people want new grass to grow, which is not a very good environmental practice but it was quite dramatic to be walking through the bush watching the fires (from a safe distance of course!). I think some of the local people in the villages thought the munus were crazy walking through the bush in the dark.

During the week, local fishermen were catching mud-fish in the river near town. They can only do this in the month of February when the river is at its lowest and basically 100+ fisherman with spears walk in a straight line together (like when police at home are gathering forensic evidence!) and trap and spear the fish. These fish can be 6-8 inches in diameter and several feet long. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it live as I was at the youth centre, but Michele took a great video and I got to eat the fish that he bought. It was delicious and the single fish fed 10 of us! We can’t usually get fish in Patongo so it was a real treat.

I’ve also been to the town of Gulu recently, the biggest town in North Uganda for some R&R and it was really strange to be in a town with facilities, shops and traffic!! Although the 5 hour bus trip in the overloaded taxi on a bumpy dirt road was not that comfortable.

A teacher from one of the schools in Rwanda where I worked last year (he was the friend who invited me to North Uganda in November) also invited me to have lunch with his family  at their home which was lovely. I also got to drink cappuccino (yes, even in the heat – I was desperate for a coffee!) and stock up on items for Patongo like pineapples, avocados and cans of tuna fish (for emergency situations where we can’t get food in Patongo – we just eat with onion and tomato if we can get it- in a chapatti!).

Well that’s all for now, until next time!

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