There is always a first time for everything. First time to eat some foods, first time to meet certain people, first time at a work place, first time on the plane, for a vacation and or, the most obvious, the first time to be on earth. Same for me, I had my first time encounter with what my workmates usually refer to as field.
Having spent hardly a quarter in my new job, I realized that I had joined an on the go working environment. My work, among other things, involves having to capture information, recreate it and bring it to you in the most creative manner as possible. Usually, some of this work is given to consultants because of their expertise in the field and because as an organization, there is a constant thirst for novel and ingenious forms of conveying our work to the world outside the secretariat walls. This time round, my supervisor, thought it would be a very good thing if I too got down there as the rest to capture the stories as opposed to the usual norm of getting on board a consultant. And, if you don’t know what that means, it’s what some companies call empowering staff or in some cases capacity building.
So off I was sent to the field. Deep down in the villages of northern Uganda, Lango sub-region in specific. I was sent with a team of three other persons. The driver, a lady of about my age, to do the interviewing and lastly a photographer. Unlike my colleagues, field, as the word sounds was an entire new phenomenon in my world. In fact, if I were given a task to define, I wouldn’t be able to. However, now, I am better equipped and can almost paint a pretty good picture of what it is.
I left Kampala on Wednesday, super excited as always about new experiences. At last I would be among the band that leaves every now and then for field. Our roles had already been defined by our supervisors, Pamela, that’s the name of the other lady on board would do the interviewing as I wrote down what was being said. Onen Patrick, some somewhat weight gifted chap, would take the photos and Godfrey, whose name we usually cut to Goodie, would take the driver’s position.
I remember warning the driver a day before to come early for I did not want to have any delays and wanted to reach as early as possible. He must have laughed at my eagerness for he did not see any reason for the rush. Ironically, I came in late myself. I trotted into the ACFODE compound at about 8: 30 am laden with my back pack. I had to wait for more than four hours before we could set off, I remember getting frustrated along the way but, well, I had no control over the nitty gritties that surrounded the whole process of field trips.
I will spare you the details of the journey from Kampala to Nakasongola and finally to the landing site and aboard the ferry. Tired, hungry and weary, I did not have an ounce of excitement for the long windy and cold journey on water. I remember dozing off every now and then, only to awake and find myself still marooned on the cold bench that accommodated my pains for the day.
I had never travelled with so much luggage, people, birds and animals as I saw on the ferry. Taxis with their own cargo, women and their chicken, some with crying babies, trades with their band, boda- bodas, sugar cane, sacks of wheat and maize, all on board. We landed on the other side of the Lake Kyoga at about 7:30 pm, hit the dusty road and reached Amolator at about 8:30 pm.
Day one set in like a flash, I woke up early enough to catch the rest of the team in time. Breakfast was quick and soon we were off for the actual work. Pen and paper in hand, I settled myself right behind the driver seat and Patrick jumped run in next to me and behind Pamela who sat in besides the driver. Later that morning, I was to be squashed up in the middle to allow the field officer take a seat for we could not do this job without him.
We traversed a few bushes and hut, leaving a cyclone of dust behind us, until we reached our first interviewee’s station.
It was a little compound encircled by little mud huts, clattered with torn out mattresses, a rusted panga and hoes. Very typical of would be economic activities of the area, but people in Amolator are not funs of digging and clearing bushes away from their compounds. A little boy run at the sight of our vehicle, only to be calmed by his thin and cloth ragged sister, our interviewee, a 17 year old, a child mother. These and several other more heartbreaking sights would form most of the views for the rest of my stay in the field.
In one home, I could almost not hold back a tear or two when I saw a girl, slightly older than I am, whose life had been twisted because of a rape by one of her clan mates. Mercy Achola (not actual names) is lame and cannot even drag herself from one point to another. She hardly takes a shower because, being grown and in the village setting, little empathy and care in terms of helping them out with bathing, washing up, brushing, smartening and a few basic things like going to the toilet is shown to handicaps. So for mercy, most of the activity is done from her primal spot right in front of her little soot washed hut. When there is anyone around, she will be carried to the place of convenience to ease herself and later returned to her spot.
She spends the day half gazing and smiling at passersby. You will notice a streak of fluid flow down her chin every now and then as she struggles to keep flies off her half naked sun battered body. On this fateful day, this is the state we found smiling Mercy in. ACFODE has taught her that people should be dressed and neat. So she questions our field officer as to why he did not communicate that he would bring visitors over! Her mother washes her up as we wait and helps her into a clean dress so that we can interview her.
Her tale, just like the rest of the interviewees I have had in the day, is heartbreaking. But the brighter side is that she, just like several girls in Amolator, have found solace and new life in ACFODE. It is clear that the word itself pastes a smile on her face and that from learning that she must look smart and clean, there is hope that she can help herself and defend herself, the next time, a man tries to force herself on her weak body.
My field tales are quite many, but I cannot share all that I experienced in a page. Were you to give me an entire chapter, perchance it would not be enough to engrave the hurts and rampages and injustices done unto women, girls, school going children and the family setting in Lango sub region. In comparison to all the discomforts I had experienced on the journey, my pains, compared to those of women and children in Amolator and Oyam, were simply a drop into the ocean.
I am forever grateful that ACFODE, particularly my supervisor, who gave me chance to experience realities of the transformational kind of work that the organization does at the grassroots. Many of the families and schools and health centers visited confessed that they did not think certain things like sanitation, paying for girls school fees, keeping children in school, denying compensation fee-Luk in preference to educating young girls, marrying one wife, working together with your spouse as well as solving issues at around table- as important aspects of amicable living. To most Amolatarians and Oyam folks, ACFODE opened their eyes to reality and closed behind old barbarian negative practices and beliefs in their communities.
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