I have been in Gulu since Monday working with the North Ugandan Transitory Initiative (NUTI) on a project named ‘The War is Over’. It is part of an overall strategy to highlight improvements in infrastructure and re-brand the North of the country, which suffers from a terrible public image as a result of the 20-year war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (and other smaller conflicts with other rebel groups).
As part of a team of five photographers working for Casals and Associates (who are implementing the initiative) I am to mentor my share of 10 journalism students who will help us on this project. While three of the photographers wrap up other contracts Moses Waswa and I have been running basic camera workshops to get the students up to a level where they will be able to operate without constant supervision. In two days they have gone from on-camera flash and full auto mode to a basic understanding of aperture and ISO, as well as some basic speedlight use. It’s a slight struggle at times, but it’s rewarding and we’ve already had some brilliant images out of it.
Gulu itself is quiet, with no streetlights meaning that when night falls the town is pitch black lit only by motorcycle headlamps. Frequent rain necessitates deep storm gutters everywhere, some more than a metre deep, and in the dark these become a serious hazard. Any shadow thrown by a headlamp becomes suspect, so walking is slow and undertaken with care. The road from main to my hotel is half un-surfaced, and halfway along it a drainage pipe has been started but not finished and leaves a gaping 6-foot-deep hole in the centre of the thoroughfare.
Storms rage at night, and horizon lines of cumulonimbus clouds are highlighted by lightning strikes. The air ranges from hot to oppressively hot, and from very humid to unbearably humid, and it is thick as soup with a myriad of bugs, many of whom have designs on my flesh. Big cockroaches, if flipped onto their backs, are reduced to an empty carapace within minutes by the tiny but ubiquitous ants which seem to spend a lot of time in my supper.
Of the cars, a significant amount belong to NGOs who label them with their pretty logos but too often, it seems, give them to hooligans who drive at stupid speeds and use them to carry matooke bananas. I disapprove of speeding in built-up areas, but it’s the matooke which really offends me. Thankfully though, boiled bananas are a small threat in this patch, and by and large the food here is really brilliant, with grilled pork rolled in spices and served with cassava and avocado being the culinary highlight in my opinion.
The pork, served riddled with bone as a result of the use of machetes by butchers, is on the whole blackened, greasy and bursting with a flavour which leads you to question what that pinkish substance they claim as pork in the UK actually gets fed on. The tomatoes have strong flavour which, when scooped as a handful with the pork and some buttery avocado, creates a combination so delicious you end up sucking on bone shards to get at the taste before discarding them.
On Sunday I’m heading for West Nile, the district I will be focusing on for the duration of the contract. It’s a place I know very little about, but it is the tri-state border with Congo and Sudan, the birthplace of Idi Amin, and the place in which at least two wars were ended. With me will be two of the students, Fred and Edith, and we will spend Sunday until Thursday on a fact-finding mission. Pictures will follow.