First and foremost, we are safe in Adjumani (Northern Uganda). On Tuesday, Jason and I rode a coach bus from Nairobi to Kampala. It was a very long, hot ride full of near misses with nigh-unfortunate pedestrians and other buses. At the end of the ride, they were picking up random people and dropping them in the next town, which is clearly in violation of their policy, so they could make some money off the top. When we crossed into Uganda we got shaken down by every friggin' police stop. One guy asked if the medicines I had were drugs, which I vehemently denied. He let me back on the bus so all that happened was a spike in blood pressure. We made it to Kampala at about 9 PM with our new-found Canadian-missionary friend David and met up with John Kur, a young Sudanese Bor Dinka whom Jason goes way back with. We found a nice hotel to stay at and dined on some chicken and fries.
Wednesday began with a full English Breakfast at the Banana Cafe (following the obligatory police shakedown in the parking lot) with an immaculate cup of African Coffee (more milk). We then made our way to the Sudanese Embassy, where we began to see just how resourceful and industrious our young friend John Kur is. Within 1 hour, we were sitting in the office of the head of the Government of South Sudan's mission in Kampala. She wished us well and they were able to rush our travel documents, so we had that major objective taken care of (it is not good to show up at a Sudanese Border without a visa already prepared).
These things being addressed, we checked out and headed down to Arua Park in downtown Kampala, which is basically the most busy, chaotic, congested, muddy, diesel-fume-filled megalodon of bustling nonsenese that I could ever imagine. This is where we boarded our bus and waited for a couple of hours for it to leave, telling everyone that we didn't want to buy a fanta or a coup of mangoes, or a wrist watch. Jason got in an argument because they charged us to transport our luggage, which is not normal and was not done for the other passengers; oh the pleasure of being a mzungu in Kampala. It was entertaining none-the-less, and when Jason told the guy he would pay him if the guy would just stop talking, it was well worth the 4 or 5 bucks we were haggling over (LOL).
OK, so this particular bus ride was every bit as psycho as the last, as the driver careened down the highway at breakneck speeds. It was probably for the best that we were in back and couldn't see in front of the bus. The driver played wack DVDs of Ugandan hip-hop and UB-40 b-sides. You probably think I'm joking- but I'm not. Just as we were about to stab our eardrums out with our pens, the bus arrived at our destination, Gulu.
At Gulu, they tried to tell us that they were going to hold our luggage until the following morning, to which we responded with great chagrin. It's probably for the best that they don't understand common American vernacular. After we made them get our stuff, we found a gentleman who was willing to take us to Adjumani despite the fact that it was dark and we were well past the time of typical travel to destinations more than a few minutes away.
A bit of history- over the last 20 years, this road from Gulu to Adjumani was not passable save for military escorts because the Lord's Resistance Army would frequently ambush vehicles passing through. Because of the various atrocities committed by the LRA (child abductions, torture, rape, etc); and the fact that Northern Uganda has only been cleared of them for around 2 years, there is still a healthy fear of traveling at night in this area. That being said, they are gone and it is totally safe.
However, our driver was careless and tried to go too fast over the washboards and various divots in the road, which ended up breaking his transmission fluid line and leaving us incapacitated in the middle of nowhere, right in the middle of our two-hour jouney to Adjumani. We were a bit at a loss for words, however our salvation (for the moment, anyway) came in the form of a group of Congolese truckers on their way to the next town Attiak. I just love the fact that I have an excuse to use the word "Congolese."
What followed was an hour long bout of painfully-irritating failures by our driver to keep the appropriate tension on the towrope the truckers had so graciously used to pull us along; resulting in snap after snap and time after time of us having to honk, everyone getting out and pushing the car up to the truck and them griping at each other in Swahili while we stand around and look pretty. I should also mention that the soundtrack to this consisted of old Tupac, G-Unit and that horrible duet Mariah Carey did with Jah Rule. We couldn't help but laugh at this point.
SO we finally ended up in Attiak where we got out of the car in pitch-black darkness across the street from a lean-to shanty of a pub that was playing some futbol match. There were fall-down drunks stumbling in and out and it didn't take long for them to take notice that a couple mzungus and a Sudanese just rolled into town, completely stranded. We checked with a couple of them to see if there were any motorcycle taxis and we found none.
Luckily, John Kur again swept to our rescue. While Jason and I fended off the zombies wandering down the street and talking to us, he called the Ugandan Police Chief in the next town and we were told that he was going to mobilize some people to come to our rescue. In the meantime, we became increasingly paranoid of everyone we saw and we decided to put as much distance between us and Attiak as possible, lest we have to fend off some mob of drunken Ugandan soccer hooligans. The majesty of the stars and Nebulae that are visible in places with no streetlights momemtarily kept our stress to a minimum. What a sight it must have been for the locals- the three of us wheeling our luggage down a country road past their mud huts.
I will say that despite being slightly on edge at this point, we were still in good humor, cracking jokes and singing songs which I would be too embarrassed to admit that we know the words to. A couple of times people went walking down the road going to their huts (it was midnight-1 AMish at this point). One couple froze in their tracks when they saw us, and we asked them what was wrong. "We are scared," they replied. It became increasingly clear to me personally just what the impact was of the horrors that had occurred in these places. We assured them we were simply waiting for a ride and they could pass. They trusted us and went on their way.
We then began to hear a crowd of people wandering down the wrong road (possibly trying to find us) a mile or so away from us. Someone kept hooting and hollering, which kept us entertained for the moment, but our resolve was wearing thin as two or three cars passed us by, disappointing us each time as we thought our ride had arrived. Some vehicle had come down the road about half a mile away from us and shut off. We then saw two flashlights get out and go to the left and right, respectively. We got pretty nervous as we got no reply to our calls. Just as our paranoia reached epic heights, a nice SUV came down the road. Two civilians and a Ugandan Solder got out with his Kalashnikov and greeted us with smiles. We were ecstatic.
We finally arrived in Adjumani at 3 AM to our destination, the Zawadi hotel. We got a good three hours of sleep and awoke this morning to a nice omelette and cup of coffee.
Jason has been reunited with two of his old friends, John Kur (whom I previously mentioned) and Onek Brian Juma, both of whom he knows from his days running an orphanage in Nimule, Sudan. This is a whole 'nother story to tell some day soon, but just let it be known that these three had very close ties and it has been a joy getting to see them reunited and it has been a pleasure getting to know these two young gentleman. More to come on them in the future as they both have lived full lives at the ages of 26 and 19, respectively.
We spent the day on rented motorcycles traveling down to the Nile River and going on python hunts. We got some serious sunburns and we are seriously fatigued, but we are having some serious fun now. Today was the first day that was not constant business or travel in the last 6 days, so we enjoyed it. To be able to witness with my own eyes a place as historic and ancient as the Nile was amazing. I will post more on our experiences in the future, but let me say for now that we are so thrilled to be here and doing what we're doing with the people we are doing it with. There is still so much more to be done and it truthfully feels as if we've been here longer than we have.
Randy and Jason