In December, the US Embassy put on multiple World AIDS Day events, and one of them was in Arua, a district in northeastern Uganda which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo and nearly borders Sudan.
It is UP there.
One of the embassy workers, a returned PCV herself, asked the Peace Corps for some volunteers for the day. And she got them... a lot of them. An opportunity to go into a formerly restricted zone (due to rebel activity from both the Lords Resistance Army and DRC/Sudan overflows) where PCVs are not placed, devoid of all but HEAT? Yes please. And, it turns out that the northeast is BEAUTIFUL! Very "Africa" as you would see it in a textbook (minus the wildebeests and zebras).
Depending on who you speak with, the event itself was a success or a failure. I think it teetered between either throughout the day. I made some tremendous emotional connections with a few of the event attendees, and after 8 months in the field, my eyes were further opened to the devastating poverty that 99+% of this country suffers with from day to day (Consider this: Borderline RIOTS over free t-shirts). Looking back, I'm remain proud to have been a part of the event.
Well, I've got a story for the event, but this post is for pictures. So I'll turn off the tap... but stay tuned.
The event started with a BIG parade around the town.
All in all, 11 PCVs turned up for the event. We all got to wear/keep those snazzy red shirts.
Ecstatic spectators. Is there anything funnier than a crowd of dancing white people?
The event grounds. This is a soccer pitch and the marching field for the police.
A woman, backed by a choir sings "Oh Uganda", the national anthem, to kick things off.
A crowd of children watching "AIDS Jeopardy", a game show where all the questions are related to AIDS and HIV. Three different groups of contestants play, (1.) Kids, (2.) Adults and (3.) Local leaders. It is horrific to see just how little the adult population INCLUDING the local leaders (theoretically the most educated in the region) knows about the subject. The kids ROCKED it though! The challenge is to get them to apply all those memorized facts now.
A neighboring district showed up to build one of their traditional instruments: the biggest xylophone on the planet earth! The cross pieces are wood blocks, and the long supports are banana stalks.
The finished product.
JAMMIN'! When they started, the crowd gathered around, and a huge conga (or should I say congO line) formed, and people danced and sang around the musicians. Talk about feeling the music. I felt possessed.
A woman wears a lanyard strung with ARV containers (Antiretrovirals - the medicine to combat HIV/AIDS) ammunition-style across her chest.
The group "Woman living with HIV/AIDS", the event's host (who has lived with HIV/AIDS for 11 years) and Peace Corp Uganda's Country Director.
After a full day's battle, I was finally able to pull through and give his deaf-boys group a bag full of t-shirts. He was gentle, patient, honest and so thoroughly grateful. It made my day. I love this kid.
This kid gave me a ration of shit at the end of the festival for not giving him a shirt. I recorded his spiel on my recorder... something about Obama and how the people of the US need to do what Ugandans want, and that means giving them free T-shirts. Hilarious at first and damn annoying when it didn't stop. The next day, as I had just boarded a bus for Gulu when there was a knock on the window, and guess who it was? Yep. This guy. Well, he was on much more pleasant to be around (no more mob-mentality), and in exchange for a song from his recorder, I took the shirt off my back and tossed it to him. It made his day, and it made my bus ride. We were even.