Peacebuilding Skills Put to the Test
04.04.2016 - 04.04.2016 23 °C
Monday I woke but my body was still fighting me from getting up. I didn't make it to join the 9am meeting Chrissie had asked me to come to but I got there by 10.
I recognized the Agha Khan mosque and all the buildings...
but when I got to the building that seemed clearly what KRC would be, I couldn't find one sign and Chrissie had been clear that a sign was there so I continued. However, I never remembered the road curving so much and I was almost full circle before I went back. This time I saw the sign but the tree branches were covering it from the other direction. The building was the one I thought it was.
Not seeing the very small sign that said "Entrance-->" I chose the nearest door. I came up to reception from behind and the nice man, John offered to take me to Chrissie's office. Since he wasn't there we asked another John where we could find him. The new John had been at KRC when I was there last but he didn't recognize me entirely. He said I had changed so much. 😁
John introduced me to the two men at the conference table as important leaders from Kasese. It was explained that the men were there to really discuss Peacebuilding pathways. I was asked to join them and I explained that I had been to Kasese 10 years before to help Chrissie with the peace clubs he had started. The one man said he'd been one who worked with them and we had a brief conversation about the clubs' sustainability, or seemingly lack there of...then the third man joined the table.
Chrissie was writing me about a very important meeting he was in just then but he would arrive shortly. What I didn't realize was that John had been anxiously trying to get Chrissie on the phone...apparently, he didn't feel he could hold this meeting without him. Neither he nor myself understood the magnitude of the meeting, which I'd learned later was impromptu and requested in earnest by the three men sitting at the table. I realize now that one reason John had me sit at the table was so that he could get Chrissie in that room as soon as he would arrive.
During the time we waited for Chrissie's arrival, John began the meeting by creating a safe space. I could see how stressed the men were...lots of nervous laughter over how serious things were in the region. John stated that the first thing that they wanted to do was keep them alive. Now, on my Emirates flight back to Dubai as I'm writing this, tears well up in my eyes as the severity of their fear washes over me...although, I'm also watching the movie Spotlight so it could be a variety of emotions...
When Chrissie finally got there, he was excited to reintroduce me to the staff the same way Aludi did at Caritas. I told him how John hadbeen desperate to get him there but he was still unaware of what was happening except that one of the men had not been around in years and was so happy to see him. When John caught him, he begged him into the meeting and Chrissie promised to come but he was able to get away with saying he needed to get his tea first.
While we walked around, some faces were vaguely familiar while many were new and, as I pointed out about one, so very young. Chrissie, as Aludi had, introduced me as his OG (Old Girl...meaning someone you went to school with, no matter when or where it was.) He told them that I had been there many years ago to work on Peacebuilding in the region and that I was back to see how things were going. He joked about how, when were doing the work before, it had just been theory but that now...and it never really had an end and I started to chime in that he would be able to demonstrate his excellent skills...which, of course, he was still truly nervous about. Many of his colleagues thanked me for keeping either Fort Portal or KRC in my heart and some even said they'd hope I'd stay to help...which prompted me to say that I was just a teacher...but it just flew from my mouth before I realized how stupid it truly sounded...
I can't even imagine what it's like to watch your home become so polarized that you couldn't know what might happen next...
I got to the bottom of why people didn't recognize me right away when we entered the kitchen and the lady in charge of making tea and coffee for everyone and meetings said, "you're fatter!" 😂 (One has to understand that the fatter you are, the richer you are because you have the luxury of eating more than just what sustains you...so it was a compliment.) We asked her to bring tea to the conference room and I returned to the seat at the end if the table away from the conversation as I had felt I was intruding enough already and John moved over to give Chrissie the head of the table and the meeting.
The severity of the situation finally washed over Chrissie...these three men came to KRC looking for his help. Te murders with the machetes happened in their district...They were there to talk about the experiences they'd all had in recent years in their positions of power and, according to a chat with Chrissie later, had never felt comfortable recounting these stories to him before due to a historical rift in the region going back to the 60s (i.e. Before our time) which prevented them from doing so. This, alone, made it a situation deserving undivided attention. Chrissie was able to get some of those questions answered from the night before as to why a "simple" political disagreement had begun to drive people to take machetes to people with whole they disagreed. It ran deep and it seemed to have connections to some of what I had studied during my last visit but, since I hadn't paid close enough attention to the area during the past 10 years, I just sat and took it all in.
Throughout the conversation, the men received phone calls so they took turns telling their stories. Chrissie admitted later that he had been advised by our professor, Olivia Drier (the same one from the earlier post with Aludi) that they should have everyone turn off their phones but, as this was an imminent threat and new territory in his honed skill set (honestly, I don't even feel I'm in his league despite having been classmates in the same course and working together on an independent study.)
At the end of the meeting, Chrissie and John, again, told them that their first priority was to keep them alive. That, alone, was enough to understand the intensity of the situation. Chrissie had other work to get to before lunch. Once a month, KRC provided lunch for the entire staff so that they would be sure to all be in one place for the monthly staff meeting. I posted the articles and asked my home church, Church of the Holy Spirit to keep these people in their prayers...for the second time, I was praised for "the work I do" in one week from different people back home...
The first time I was thanked on my Facebook page was when I posted about my visit to St. Jude's Children's Home and delivering all the kids clothes that had been donated to me which sidx something like, "thank you for all that you do!" but I honestly didn't feel like I had do anything...I responded with something like, "I didn't do anything except book a flight and offer to take things with me if people were willing to give." Honestly, I felt that the people who gave me the clothes and toys did more than I was doing...I felt more like I had been keeping my friend, Aludi from the important work he does by occupying his time showing me around...so, when my own church thanked me...all I could do was keep them updated...I really felt like I was more in the way than anything else.
Before the serious meeting was adjourned, I made sure to ask permission to take a photo of everyone since John had requested a photo be taken by another staff member. I told them that I was worried and didn't want to jeopardize their safety but they agreed. Even so, I've decided not to post the picture...but rather this one which I felt was safer.
After I had lunch with the staff, I headed back to my hotel room so I could work on the blog...
Apparently I needed a nap cuz I'd forgotten to take my allergy meds but I also had time to charge the technology with me. Chrissie came by sometime near 5 and I had already taken part in a Smirnoff Ice which I had found at the hotel in Kampala too.
I handed him a bag of clothes to share with his various family members, perfume for Vicky and one for his aunt with the disabled son...when he found out I hadn't been to the Tooro Palace at the top of the hill in Fort Portal, he insisted that we needed to stop by before I were to leave again. Somehow, during the 30 days I had been there last, we never found time to get up there.
The first stop we made was at his personal office in town where he did work to get some alone time for processing then we headed to the palace. The views going up the hill were gorgeous. When we got to the top of the hill, the Tooro king's military guard told me I couldn't even take pictures of the mountains facing AWAY from the palace because it was after 6pm.
Chrissie was able to get the attention of one of the members of the council to try talking to them and allow us to wander. Apparently, they pushed it up the ladder and we ended up chatting with his OB (Old Boy) who now works as the assistant to the king. We wandered and chatted but, finally he helped us get some photos.
From there, we went to the other side of Fort Portal to a hotel where the other great view of the town was, past the house Chrissie used to live in and I shared a room with Agnes to catch a drink.
It was here that he admitted to me that the man who had just wandered the palace grounds with and gave us his direct number was the one who he'd been trying to get hold of for a long time. There is a conference on the 20th of this month to discuss food issues in Fort Portal going forward in the coming years as the town becomes a city. As Chrissie told me this story, as well as more about the significance of what happened in the morning meeting, he was thanking me for being here. As Ngoya had given me the nickname "the bringer of rain", he felt that I brought this positive fortune. (Oh yeah, as an aside, his son gave me the Lutoro name of Akiki which, as I was told, doesn't really have any particular translation but is like a mythical heroine.) He asked me to come with him to the meeting he had to shorten, the one with the bishop the next day to discuss how they could get other prominent leaders involved in de-escalating the violence, not just because I might find it interesting but also because he felt I was bringing some hope...or good luck to the process.
To this, I laughed internally...a family joke we have is that we aren't very lucky...however, I never told him...it was nice to see him look hopeful after seeing him look so desperate the night before.
While we chatted, the news was playing in the background...the man who was part of the problem was speaking to his followers...he was demonstrating his influence in the region.
When we finished there, I went back to say goodbye and goodnight to the kids. Chrissie looked at the shirts my colleague had donated from her husband and he told me he wouldn't have to buy new ones for another 5 years. The kids were in awe of our pictures around the palace but they went to bed eventually. Vicky was in Kampala for a meeting with the little one. So, once they were in bed with their aunt, we set off for the guesthouse.
As we approached, Chrissie translated the news to me...the three men who were at the table in the morning were announced as troublemakers. What I hadn't understood at the time that he told me was that it was the man from the news who said it. Going to bed that night, I worried about the safety of the men, the peace process and even Chrissie and his family, thinking it had been the ruling party who made the statement (which, in the morning, was corrected for me.)
Additionally, when I had been doing research on articles about what wss going on in the region to post on my Facebook page, I had found an article about a bishop who had a machete taken to him on the Eastern border (the other side of Uganda) so I started to wonder if going to the meeting in the AM was really a good idea...a message attached to one of the articles I'd posted on Facebook from my former Irish colleague, basically saying "get out of there!" was also starting to get my anxiety up...
I updated photos online and I posted a blog before trying to sleep. The internet was super slow so, I had been up late...the anxiety didn't start until I was falling asleep, but not even as bad as the next morning.