I’m up-country this weekend, visiting some friends who live in Gulu¸ the biggest town in northern Uganda. Besides Kampala, it is THE place to be in Uganda if you are an expat NGO worker.
Gulu is infamously known as the headquarters of Joseph Kony’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Up until just a few years ago it was essentially a war zone, devastated by nightly raids on families, where thousands of children were abducted into Kony’s brutal reign of terror. 2 million people were placed in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, with more than 100,000 still left in the camps. Many people still carry the physical and emotional scars of unconscionable devastation.
Now that Kony has fled to Congo, peace has returned to Gulu, and with such stability came a flock of NGOs and social entrepreneurship ventures. I have a lot of friends up in Gulu working for various NGOs like One Mango Tree, The Zion Project, 31 Bits, Purse of Hope,
Similar to my travels in Rwanda, I always find it strange to be in a place that made history books for its tragic history, yet for all practical purposes, life is back to normal here. I sometimes feel like I should wander around in shock and awe that I’m in a place that has seen such brutality, but people are amazingly resilient creatures, and there is very little now to distinguish the face of Gulu from any other Ugandan village (except for perhaps the copious amounts of NGOs!)
The truth is that Gulu is a pretty sleepy little town now, with not a whole lot to do. The main part of town is about 8 square blocks of small hotels, stores, and businesses. The main grocery store frequented by expats is the size of a gas station convenience store in Kampala. It’s tiny!
The weekend has been really refreshing just to hang out with good friends in their quiet compound. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, relaxing, listening to podcasts, enjoying the cooler-than-average weather, running along dirt roads. I even got 9+ hours of sleep last night, which is definitely more than I’ve been getting recently!
I definitely enjoy the hustle and bustle of Kampala, but it does wear on me and often makes for a rather haggard existence. So it’s nice to get away and allow myself time to think and just be.