So after the buildup I pretty much was ready for anything when I got to Karomoja. It's probably the only time where a monkey riding an elephant wouldn't have caused me to significantly reassess my situation.
We stayed two nights in Moroto, the major "town" in the region. It had the feeling of being basically the last outcropping of civilization on the edge of the earth. The only cars were military or NGO, and all looked like they could survive a bomb blast- to be accurate, most looked like they just had survived a bomb blast. It was the kind of place that makes you realize what SUV's were invented for, since the main road into town had a mile or two long stretch of "bumps" easily the size of volkswagons.
On the way up there, we arranged for a friend of a friend of a friend to meet us at the buspark. It was a complete shot in the dark affair, we had no idea if this person was going to rob us, take us to his own or just flat our not exist. It was pretty much an exact repeat of the Rasta affair- if it was bad we could always just get out of dodge, it it was cool it would amazing. We get out of the bus, and shock of shocks- no on there. I had pretty much already marked him off in my head when who should show up, but some dude. "You must be the new friends, I'm Wilbert." (Somehow he spotted 4 whites guys in a crowd). Turns out Wilbert was amazing and the best host anyone could want.
Moroto was a funny place. It was the driest, most inhospitable place I've ever seen. It was the only place I've been that the local children said cute little things like "F*@k your mother. You give me money." I've been to a few other NGO hotspots, and they all sort of feel the same- which is to say not very pleasant. They don't really have the feel of real places where people live. The economy is warped because everything on the market gets baught up by aid workers on USAID dollars, and the locals get like millions of tons of relief food a year. The people are weird because they are subject to an ever changing parade of NGO's trying to fix them without adressing the fundamental problems in their lives. And of course, it is by nature a hostile, inhospitable envirnoment, since you must keep in mind that somtime in the recent past something horrible enough has hapenned to draw the attention of the international community to this previously forgotten corner of the earth.
The comparison between Lira, Gulu and here was very interesting. Lira kind of has the feeling of a shell of a place. It used to be the place to be for NGOs, everyone and their mother in international development had a Lira office up until a couple years ago when they all moved to Gulu. Walk around Lira now and one is struck by the number of nice Mzungu style houses that are sitting empty and for rent. They are too expensive for the vast majority of locals, and owned by rich absentee landlords who'd rather they stay empty than be dwelled in by the unwashed masses. There are broken down signs everywhere annoucing that and this and that project has been generaously provided by the good people of some silly country. Unfortunately, judging by the haggard upkeep of the signs, the generous people of Salt Lake City, Utah may have forgotten that there are real people whose problems never got solved by all the promises and good intentions. When all the NGOs left Lira, they headed for Gulu.
Gulu is a bloated bizzaro-world place if ever there was one. Walking down the streets, there are white people everywhere. The shops are full of weird comfort items for internationals that have no place in Gulu. $5 can of Pringles anyone? Gulu is on the gateway to Darfur, so it feels kind of like human suffering Disneyland. Everyone is there transiently, looking to have their life affirming help-experience. The money comes in bizzare waves because every time your Aunt Sally from Grand Rapids, Michegan hears about Darfur on the news, her $20 filters through here. The classic Gulu story is this: It's harvest season, but there is no corn to be found in Gulu. Corn field after corn field and no corn. The people are hungry, and have money to buy corn. But, the corn is not there. It turns out NGOs had swooped in and bought up all the corn in town, entire fields, to ship to the Sudan where the price of corn was much much higher. So, the locals were relying on food aid because there was no corn to be had because all the corn was being shipped to the Sudan as food aid. Hmmm...
In Moroto I had the feeling that I was a little early to the party. The NGOs were there, but it still felt very lonely compared to Lira and Gulu. I have no evidence to base this on, but somehow feel that 3 years from now when Gulu is Lira, Moroto will be the new place to be. Kind of like LA nightclubs, everyone has to be at the new hottest place. The dark little question no one wants to ask of course, is: did the NGOs leave the people of Lira any better off than the people of Moroto are now?
On Sunday we set off for the village. One car, one driver, one guide, 4 silly white dudes. Ready to hit it.
The rest of the story will follow hopefully soonish. I'm having trouble securing computer time to write these days, because we currently have 7 people in an office trying to share 3 computers and 1 internet connection. For some reason people seem to think that work should take precedence over me writing stories about poop. I'm doing my best, bear with me.