Friday, August 26, 2005

This picture was not taken by me. I have no idea who holds the copyright.

Like A King

Well martin’s dream
Has become rodney’s worst
Can’t walk the streets
To them we are fair game
Our lives don’t mean a thing
Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney king, rodney king, rodney king
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us dr. king
Make sure it’s filmed
Shown on national t.v.
They’ll have no mercy
A legal lynch mob
Like the days strung up from the tree
The l.a.p.d.
Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney king, rodney king, rodney king
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us dr. king
So if you catch yourself
Thinking it has changed for the best
You better second guess
Cause martin’s dream
Has become rodney’s worst
Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney king, rodney king, rodney king
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us dr. king

Ben Harper, from Welcome To The Cruel World

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Another nice one from Ani DiFranco. Check again next week, there is more to come.

Bits and Pieces – Impressions from Uganda – Part III

‘Is it confirmed?’, people asked. News make their way around town that four of the children abducted from Lacor Seminary have been killed by the rebels. Cold blooded murder. It seems that they were not fast enough anymore; just could not keep up with the pace the rebels demanded. Some of them might have been wounded a bit due to the walk through dense scrub-lands, most probably without shoes. So they were executed. Barbarously clubbed to death. The LRA doesn’t hesitate for long when they want to get rid of people. They are killed. And rebels want to safe bullets and avoid being tracked down. So they normally kill people with pangas (machetes), hammers or rifle butts. A cruel death – but very common in our region. ‘Yes, it is confirmed by the military but not yet by independent sources. So let’s keep on hoping they are alive.’ The principle of hope it’s often the only thing that keeps people going in Acholiland.

I almost didn’t see it, the bright green chameleon that crossed the deep mud of the rusty red road. A nice looking creature with a funny walking style. It looked a bit like one of the early animated cartoon figures. The African version of Loony Tunes. Especially weird are its eyes. Chameleons can move their eyes individually. That gives ‘em a kind of a crooky look. I was a bit surprised to see something that bright and green, clearly not a good camouflage on a red road in the African outback. I wonder if these animals are really able to adapt to their environment. Or if this is another one of these myths that just manage to escape its extinction by being repeated over and over again – regardless its – untrue? - content. I’ll find out and let you know in my next letter. The last time I saw a chameleon was in Murchison Falls National Park. It clung to the handle of a toilet brush. That one also didn’t adapt very well to its environment. Its green color didn’t blend in well with the toilet’s white. But I must admit it would have been quite a hard job.

‘Sixty Five get out of our line! Over’, we hear a male voice over the two way radio. We have just been contacted by one of our outpost stations and answered for the first time, when this voice interrupted our conversation rudely. Within seconds we got to understand that the voice belonged to Onen Kamdulu, one of the LRA commanders active in our area. And without further talk he explained to us, that our two-way radio set would be looted within the course of the day. In addition he would order his fighters to open fire of every Cartitas vehicle they would come across. Great opening for a day. The receptionist handling the radio was still shaking when she called me to inform me about this message from the rebels. It’s the first time we have been directly warned like that. So what to do? ‘Who is out with a car? Call them to make sure they get the Caritas flags normally being displayed on our cars down. Well, we will still be left with the stickers on the doors. But the flags are an even easier target marker. They shall get them down immediately. And if possible they should try to come back to the head office not later than four.’ Up to then the chance for an ambush is rather limited. The later it gets, the higher the risk. ‘How about the visitor expected for today?’ He is supposed to be on its way up from Kampala and arrive here not later than noon. But let’s check. Surprise, the driver had problems with the car and will not be able to leave Kampala before 3:30 pm. And then it still is a four-hour’s drive to Gulu. Under normal circumstances it would already be a risk; with the new developments it would be completely nuts even to try. So let’s get the visitor up differently. ‘What else? How big do we consider the danger of an attack on the office during the day?’ ‘ Not very likely, so let’s forget about it.’ But we should get some of the more valuable things to a safer place over night. The office is six kilometers out of town and we have had enough proof that attacks in this area and on church property are possible. Actually after the events from Lacor Seminary, it is not just possible, it is likely. ‘Well, that’s all we can do for right now. So back to work and let’s hope for the best.’ There it is again: Bloch’s principle of hope.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Some Ani DiFranco mug poetry corresponding with the text below.

The Mayonnaise Jar and the Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar...and the coffee.

A professor stood before his Philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.

The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things - your God, family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."

"The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car."

"The sand is everything else-the small stuff."

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls."

"The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Bits and Pieces – Impressions from Uganda – Part II

Kampala. The town is full of life. Whenever I come down from Gulu and spend a few days in Uganda’s capital I am surprised by its growth. Every time I see something new. A new shop here, a newly sealed road there. Prices for access to the internet drop constantly and more and more goods are available in excellent quality and for decent prices. When I arrived more than two and a half years ago, many of the things now easily available in normal supermarkets were hard to get and/or horribly expensive. Not any longer. Not that you need all the stuff. But it is there. From computer hardware to French wine, from a Thai restaurant to new cinemas, from new ATMs to mountain bikes. Even ice cream parlors and cappuccino places. It’s all there. And it is affordable. Especially when you are being paid in Euro – as is the case with me. The first time I changed Euro into Uganda Shillings I got 1435. By now the rate is up to about 1:2330. Great. for me. Although not for Uganda.

Parents are coming to the school. Many of them. They have heard about the incident. And now they want to find out if their child is among the abductees. You can see the worries written in their faces. Hoping for the best, fearing the worst. Some are relieved. They are told that their son was among the lucky ones who managed to run away. Others stand together in little groups and console each other. They just got the news that their child has been taken. Like thousands before. And many of the parents have already lost children to the war before. In countless families more than one person has been killed, has been maimed or abducted. The ones left behind try to stay calm. Acholiland doesn’t cry. At least not in public. It is not part of the culture. If it started, a river of tears would flood our area. A constant rainy season.

My sister was here. Together with a friend. It was her first time on the African continent. And although it was just a short visit, not even two weeks, we managed to do a lot. One of the highlights was a visit to the area around Mt. Elgon in the very east of Uganda. Nice hills, deep valleys, breathtaking views over the African plains underneath and lots of lush green vegetation. It feels great to be out in nature. Especially since we hardly manage to do so up in Gulu. Too risky. Or to annoying. Often both. Depends a bit where you want to go. Far out of town is completely out of bounce. That’s easy, it’s rebel territory. Closer to town where you still find settlements, children follow you everywhere and want to say ‘Hello’ to you. What – most of the time - is nice and fun if you are still struggling with the local language (read: He is still struggling with the local language and a source of constant amusement for all Acholi-speakers). They enquire where you are coming from, where you are going to, they ask for pen friends, for school money, for sweets, empty bottles or what so ever. They laugh kindly about your use of the language and just enjoy talking to a stranger. Just as I enjoy talking to them. But if you want to switch off from your work in some solitude out in the fields, a group of 20-30 children surrounding you everywhere becomes quite annoying. Don’t ask me why but in the area around Mt. Elgon I managed to get some time in nature by myself. Silence. Just the wind, the birds, a cow every once in a while. But otherwise silence. It is great. A nice treat for body and soul.

Monday, August 15, 2005

In the early 2000s I lived in northern Uganda. And during this time I started writing down my impressions of daily life in the Acholi sub-region. I just wanted to put into words some of the things that surrounded me. Over the months the writing turned into a small collection of snap-shops of life in East Africa. Some of these snappies recall nice experiences, others focus on the things that still boggle my mind.

Over the coming weeks I want to share them with you. Most of the bits and pieces originate from the years 2003 and 2004.

Bits and Pieces – Impressions from Uganda – Part I

They have been around for thousands of years. Birds. But I have never really been interested in them. Well, one reason might be that I haven’t been around for all that long; thousands of years I mean. But even after 1971 my interest in feathered animals was very limited. They have been there. Sometimes I have noticed them, more often I didn’t. That was it. But over the last couple of weeks something has changed. Probably because there are just so many of them here. You see them everywhere. During my last two trips to Murchison Falls National Park I really got spoiled. Bird-lovers heaven I would say. One time I saw thousands of Abdim storks – first circling like big clouds in the sky; later on they came down, landed on dead trees and occupied the grass patches between them. A great scene. And just a short while later a pair of saddle billed storks with their carnival like masks walked up to the car. Beautiful creatures. And these were not the only big birds catching my attention – and using up lots of my film. From giant goliath herons over kori bustard to picturesque crested cranes, from African darter to hamerkop and majestic African fish eagle – with a fresh catch in its claws, and from tiny colorful sun birds over shiny bee eaters to huge Abyssinian ground hornbills. It is great fun watching them. And a great challenge to try to take good pictures of them. I find it very relaxing to get my mind focused on something out of the ordinary, often nasty routine of the life in Gulu. And taking wildlife pictures is one of these relaxing activities. A kind of outdoor meditation.

A SMS at 1:30 in the night. From Fr. Cyprian, the Chairperson of the Justice and Peace Commission and vice rector of Lacor Seminary, a secondary school for boys. ‘Sem. being attacked. Sens. taken’, it reads. Just during the course of the next day I get more details. Lacor Seminary is about 10 kilometers out of town. Rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been in the area for weeks. Places within the municipality have been attacked over and over again. So were the roads. So was church property and others. Within two weeks, a residence of the Comboni Missionaries and four houses from parish priests have been targeted. The attack on the school is not just the last incident in a worsening overall situation, it is also by far the worst during the last couple of weeks. One night commuter, a child of 8 years, was killed. It came to the church ground in order to seek protection during the night. Thousands do so in these times of insecurity. During the day the life seems normal. Even in more remote areas. At least at the surface. But when the sun is setting and nightfall is near, people migrate to trading centers and towns, to hospitals and churches, to everything that seems to offer some kind of protection and a few hours of safe sleep. During this very night thousands have been away from home. But for the people in Lacor Seminary security proved to be an illusion. It just doesn’t exist in northern Uganda. One child was killed, more than forty others were abducted and taken to the bush.

Rainy season has started again. What is often a horror for the roads up here – even four wheel drive has its limits when the mud reaches almost up to the doors -, is a blessing for the vegetation. Within days, the bare brownish soil shows fresh green. Flowers pop up everywhere. Whatever seed is put in the soil will germinate almost immediately. People are out in their fields, digging, weeding and planting all day. The range of stuff you can buy on the market is getting bigger every week. Green beans, cucumbers, carrots – suddenly everything is available again. And soon we will add from our own garden. Lettuce, more cucumbers, herbs, zucchini and probably even some butternut. Let’s hope the bigger variety will help me to put on some weight. Well, call me naïve.

Back to Lacor. A boy of 15 takes me around and explains what has happened the previous night. It looks like a group of around 20 rebels came from the northern side, cut a whole in the fence of the seminary and entered the compound. The four soldiers normally guarding the school took off immediately. The LRA fired some shots to see if there is any resistance and was pleased that there wasn’t. So they could move quickly to the dormitories of the students. Alarmed by the firing the children were hiding under their beds, hoping not to be detected from the outside. And hoping that the metal doors and the metal bars at the windows would be strong enough to keep the intruders out. They weren’t. With an axe one of the bars at a window was bent, the space to the next bar widened and an LRA child soldier slid through. Others outside the window watched his back with guns at hand. This child opened the doors’ padlocks from the inside and let the rebels enter. Over 40 teenage boys were taken. Others managed to flee in the turmoil and spent the night somewhere in the bush. The lives of another 40 families have been ruined.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Over the last few days I have been going through some of my old stuff. Letters, books, pictures, back-ups from computers of IT’s dark ages and the like. And I have come across some excellent quotes and nice poems. This is one of them. Enjoy it.

I’ve learned...

I’ve learned –

that you cannot make someone love you.

All you can do is be someone who can be loved.

The rest is up to them.

I’ve learned –

that no matter how much I care,

some people just don’t care back.

I’ve learned –

that it takes years to build up trust,

and only seconds to destroy it.

I’ve learned –

that it‘s not what you have in your life

but who you have in your life that counts

I’ve learned –

that you can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes.

After that , you’d better know something.

I’ve learned –

that you should’d compare

yourself to the best others can do.

I’ve learned –

that you can do something in an instant

that will give you heartache for life.

I’ve learned –

that it’s taking me a long time

to become the person I want to be.

I’ve learned –

that you should always leave loved ones

with loving words. It may be the last

time you see them.

I’ve learned –

that you can keep on going

long after you can’t.

I’ve learned –

that we are responsible for what we do,

no matter how we feel.

I’ve learned –

that either you control your attitude

or it controls you.

I’ve learned –

that regardless of how hot and steamy

a relationship is at first, the passion fades

and there had better be something else to take

ist place.

I’ve learned –

that heroes are the people

who do what has to be done

when it needs to be done,

regardless of the consequences.

I’ve learned –

that money is a lousy way of keeping score.

I’ve learned –

that my best friend and I can do anything

or nothing and have the best time.

I’ve learned –

that sometimes the people you expect

to kick you when you’re down

will be the ones to help you get back up.

I’ve learned –

that sometimes when I’m angry

I have the right to be angry,

but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.

I’ve learned –

that true friendship continues to grow,

even over the longest distance.

Same goes for true love.

I’ve learned –

that just because someone doesn’t love

you the way you want them to doesn’t

mean they don’t love you with all they have.

I’ve learned –

that maturity has more to do with

what types of experiences you’ve had

and what you’ve learned from them

and less to do with how many

birthdays you’ve celebrated.

I’ve learned –

that you should never tell a child

their dreams are unlikely or outlandish.

Few things are more humiliating,

and what a tragedy it would be if they believed it.

I’ve learned –

that your family won’t always be there for you.

It may seem funny, but people you aren’t

related to can take care of you and love you

and teach you to trust people again.

Families aren’t biological.

I’ve learned –

that no matter how good a friend is,

they are going to hurt you every once in a while

and you must forgive them for that.

I’ve learned –

that it isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others.

Sometimes you are to learn to forgive yourself.

I’ve learned –

that no matter how bad your heart is broken

the world doesn’t stop for your grief.

I’ve learned –

that our background and circumstances

may have influenced who we are,

but we are responsible for who we become.

I’ve learned –

that just because two people argue,

it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.

And just because they don’t argue,

it doesn’t mean they do.

I’ve learned –

that we don’t have to change friends

if we understand that friends change.

I’ve learned –

that you shouln’d be so eager to find out a secret.

It would change your life forever.

I’ve learned –

that two people can look at the exact same thing

and see something totally different.

I’ve learned –

that no matter how you try to protect your children,

they will eventually get hurt and

you will hurt in the process.

I’ve learned –

that you life can be changed in a matter of hours

by people who don’t even know you.

I’ve learned –

that even when you think you have no more to give,

when a friend cries out to you,

you will find the strength to help.

I’ve learned –

that credentials on the wall

do not make you a decent human being.

I’ve learned –

that the people you care about most in life

are taken from you too soon.

I’ve learned –

that it’s hard to determine where to draw

the line between being nice and not hurting

people’s feelings and standing up

for what you belive.

Carlie Heins

Friday, August 12, 2005

Nicht alles was hinkt, ist ein Vergleich.