I could tell we were getting closer to Gulu as the satellite IDP camps began to crowd the landscape. I anxiously arranged my belongings in preparation for a chaotic arrival into town, and I realized (maybe for the first time), I’m back!!! The bus careened left and then right, and suddenly vast and open land was replaced with brick and concrete, dilapidated storefronts, red and yellow and purple advertisements painted across half completed buildings, and long-abandoned scrap-wood scaffolding about to topple at the next big wind. Men on bikes and women selling bananas, boda-boda drivers and business people counting boxes of inventory scattered to the sides as the bus pushed through the narrow street and screeched to a halt. I knew this place, I had held it in my heart all year hoping for this return. And so, I was utterly unprepared for my own response to this scene. I was, in a word, horrified.
I did not have time to consider this visceral response, because before I could register much more, I was off the bus in a sea of bags and travelers and boda-drivers eager for a fare. I quickly assessed my belongings and jumped on the back of a bike side-saddle, balancing my big pack on my shoulders and my small bag carefully beside me. My simple, simple Luo somehow found my lips, and I greeted my driver and told him exactly where I was headed. Within seconds I was flying through Gulu town past familiar storefronts, familiar scenes: the men gathered outside the bike shop, the herd of cows outside the World Food Program tents, the children happily racing out of the schoolyard, the women carrying water back for the evening. The boda-driver chatted with me, and after a moment he paused…. “Wait, you tell me,” he said, “is this Lakica Aimee? You were here maybe just one year ago?” Yes! I replied. “Ahhh, Lakica Aimee, You are MOST Welcome! he enthusiastically re-greeted me. “How was your journey? How is your family?” (Did I know this man?) “Why have you been gone so long?” I hopped off the boda and recognized my kind-chauffer. He had driven me to the hospital many, many, many times last year when I was caring for Joyce.
So, somewhere between the bus and the boda, my friends, my vision changed. The dismay dissolved into a warm familiarity and affection. Instead of registering horror, I saw the workings of a day – a day in some ways unlike mine at home in
Later that night I sat up in bed thinking about that moment of transition. Which vision of this place was real? Upon leaving the bus did I lose sense of “reality,” or is one only really able to “see” a place by looking past the trappings and into the heart of a day, the heart of the people there? I wasn’t sure.
I was jolted by my own reaction yesterday on that bus. Maybe even ashamed. But today, I am grateful for it. I think that maybe we need both – each to truly appreciate the other. If we do not allow ourselves to be moved by what we see and experience, we become complacent. However, to stay in disgust and shock is to possibly miss the heartbeat of a place, and maybe, then, to miss the point.