This was definitely a weekend to remember. I heard some crazy mind blowing stories, I reevaluated my perspective on life a little bit, and I spent seven hours staring out the window of a bus debating whether to quit my job. Needless to say, I did more than just sit by the pool and drink margaritas. It was basically a “go to the hardest, scariest place you can think of” type weekend.
Together with two of my roommates I trekked up to Karamoja, a region in rural northeast Uganda. Talk to any Ugandan and they’ll give you their assessment of Karamoja, generally it falls under the category of super unsafe and crazy to even think about going up there. On the other hand, almost no one has been up there, and those who have say that it gets a bad rap. Upon leaving I assumed it would be something in between, particularly since they said something similar (though much less emphatically) about Lira. A few tidbits, mostly if not exclusively hearsay, to get to know to get a basic idea of where our heads were at upon leaving for the trip:
My friend read a book which described it as: “where the Karamajongs all wear traditional clothing and assault rifles are as common as walking sticks and blankets.” (Traditional clothes are primarily blanket based, so basically that’s a lot of guns).
A person in Northern Uganda, whose current address was within an IDP camp when I was in highschool, told us “Watch out for those people, they’re uncivilized. They walk around naked and shit in the streets.”
The Karamajongs are said to be one of not too many cultures left that are resisting the influence of the “modern world.” They live basically the same life they’ve been living for countless generations, keeping cattle and hunter gatherer ing. The karamajongs believe that all cows on earth were ordained to them and them specifically by god. It is their divine right and duty to take by force all the cows they see. They have been raiding villages back and forth with the neighboring tribes for a zillion years, and until recently it wasn’t such a huge problem. Trouble came with the influx of cheap guns from Southern Sudan and the Congo, and it came in a big way. I was told that the average Karamajong adult male has more guns than changes of clothes.
We asked someone what the traditional Karamajong foods were, the answer: “UN relief.”
I was told by a Rasta that “Karamoja is fine, as long as you bring plenty of cigarettes, soap and salt. Kids will come up to your car with guns and demand you give them something, if it’s not one of those they’ll probably kill you. But other than that it’s just fine.”
I called the US embassy before leaving (in itself noteworthy) they connected me to “Ranger Station B.” The guy there gave me some helpful info: “don’t ever ever go outside of the town centers after dark,” “if you get ambushed, give away anything you have to to get out alive,” and “there is daily gunfire between the army and gunfire, so keep your eyes open.” He gave me the cellphone number of the UN security chief and told me to check in with him periodically. You know just to be on the safe side.
The stage was set for a notable weekend.