I greet you this Sunday afternoon from the sleepy town of Gulu. At the heart of Acholiland in Northern Uganda, it is the country’s second largest city, yet it couldn’t be further removed from the non-stop bustle of Kampala.
After a six-hour bus ride, I arrived in Gulu during the peak of the hot season. Because Kampala rests on Lake Victoria at an altitude of 4,000 feet, it has a relatively cool and temperate climate. Only a few hours from South Sudan, Gulu is not so lucky. By the end of tomorrow, after walking around and meeting with journalists all day in trousers and a button-down shirt, I will be drenched with sweat, but the scorching sun should be a small price to pay for the riveting conversations that I hope to find.
Although Gulu is a cheerful, laid-back city, it has a scarred reputation as the setting for the civil war between the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During the height of the civil war, Gulu was home to the “night wanderers,” the children who walked to downtown Gulu every night from their homes in villages and Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps to avoid being captured by the LRA and recruited as child soldiers. When three filmmakers from the United States—Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Lauren Poole—discovered this phenomenon, they documented one night wanderer’s journey in Invisible Children: Rough Cut. The organization they created has made Kony and Gulu famous, and the city is now filled with NGOs and aid workers eager to help the Acholi people.
This week, I hope to speak with people at Invisible Children and other organizations that understand the intersection between the media and peace and conflict. I will also interview journalists who have had first-hand experience reporting on the conflict with the LRA, including producers at Mega FM, an inspiring radio station here that is entirely devoted to peace journalism.
I look forward to starting these interviews tomorrow, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the slow pace of life in Gulu. In my first five hours here, I checked into a hotel for $9 USD per night and I have already visited both of the city’s coffee shops. While slow service is standard fare across much of Africa, slow restaurants tend to go out of business in Kampala. But here in Gulu on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I reminisce to the quiet beaches of Cameroon, where it was typical to wait two hours for a meal. After waiting an hour and a half for lunch, I hopped over to Coffee Hut to write this blog entry. It has taken thirty minutes to receive my frappuccino, but the fact that you can order a frappuccino here says a lot. Perhaps this place isn’t too different from the Western world after all—or maybe the flood of aid workers here has simply pushed globalization forward, one frappe mocha at a time.