Saturday, May 24, 2014

how we roll... (road trip in Uganda)

We just returned from a road trip to Gulu in northern Uganda, where we enjoyed spending a few days at Watoto's Laminadera Village.  The kids and I stayed a few days, and Thomas stayed behind for two extra weeks.  Gulu was actually the destination of our very 1st Uganda road trip 3 yrs. ago.  Remembering that, I couldn't help feeling some amount of satisfaction while I was packing.  Several thousand kilometers past that first trip, I can decidedly say I've become much more adept at hauling three kids over Ugandan roads for hours at a time.  My own childhood was one, big road trip, so traveling is second nature to me, however, traveling in Uganda is basically NOTHING like traveling in the U.S.  It feels more like an endurance test than anything I would call "second nature."

I thought I'd share a few pics and insights... just in case you are daydreaming about taking a Ugandan road trip... or just in case you're curious... or just in case I have nothing else interesting to blog about in the next few wks., I should take advantage of this opportunity now.

First, in regards to packing - toilet paper, phenergan, and anti-nausea syrup - those are the essential travel companions.  I think I would even take them over my toothbrush.  There is a 100% chance that there will no t.p. available at the one potty break pit-stop on our 6 hr. journey.  I'd say there is a 75% chance that someone in the vehicle will get sick after 40 min. of bumping over the roughest part of the road (which we affectionately call the "craters of the moon").  And, there's a 90% chance that, even if my kids aren't upchucking out the van window, I will still opt to give them the syrup in hopes it will knock them out for at least a couple of hours. 
Of course, bottled water is another packing essential, because you never know when you'll break down or be stuck in a jam and need it.  But the trick is to not actually drink the water if at all possible - remember I mentioned the one potty break?  Right.
It is a squatty-potty, btw.  But this is a rather nice squatty-potty with tile and linoleum, and there is a sink outside with running water!  You're welcome.  I knew you'd love to see that. 

And food must also be packed.  There are no bright, green exit signs along the way displaying the plethora of fast food options you may choose from.  There are plenty of fruit stands along the way where you can pull over and buy mangoes or even thick, fried, flat bread called chapati.  But, according to my family, this falls into the "snack" category and not a "meal."  I have learned this lesson well.  So well, in fact, that I was too embarrassed to photo document the picnic basket that I over-stuffed with banana bread, boiled eggs, yogurt, pineapple, peanut butter, apples, and ... you get the point.

If you can get over the absence of proper toilets and restaurants and get used to the never-ending potholes, then the scenery outside your window makes a Ugandan road-trip very enjoyable.  The scenery in the city is not exactly what I would call picturesque - but it is very entertaining.  The pulse of life is found right beside the road in Africa.  There are always people haggling, chasing, waiting, selling, and accomplishing amazing feats of transporting goods (on their heads, on a bike...).

pineapple, anyone??

Outside the city, the scenery is indeed lovely.  The further I go from Kampala, the air is easier to breathe, the villages are small, and the more I feel that I am in "real Africa." 

When traveling to Gulu, we have to drive over the Nile River.  This is interesting because of the cheeky baboons who always loiter around the bridge.  It seems that they have a toll booth operation going on - they demand that you throw them a few scraps of whatever is edible in your vehicle as you pass by. 

Here now, we have finally arrived.  We got settled in the guesthouse just in time to take in the sunset.

It is a long, grueling drive, but totally worth it.  To spend time with our Acholi friends is always refreshing and inspiring.  Just a few years ago, Gulu was a very dysfunctional town caught in the crossfires of Joseph Kony's rebel army, the LRA.  Abductions, rape, and murder were rampant while devastation and fear were tangible.  But, today, you would hardly know of that past if you didn't inquire.  There are still scars for sure - both visible and invisible - but the atmosphere is now one of peace and HOPE, as people are resiliently moving forward.


That atmosphere is especially thick at Watoto's Laminadera Village.  The location of the village was actually once one of the strongholds of the LRA.  This land is now saturated with healing and life.  It is beautiful to see God's hand at work there -  children and teenagers who are truly thriving and know they are loved.  Stories are being re-written.  A bright future has been restored.  They say, of course, that it is about the journey and not the destination.  But, still, a sweet destination is a very good place to be. 

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