After a brief stay in Kampala, I began the long journey to Pader,
Northern Uganda. During the ten hour bus ride, I saw the land around
me transform from the semi-tropical and relatively prosperous south to
the increasingly dry, desolate, and poor north. At one point, an
Acholi mother with two young children sat beside me. Her oldest
daughter, roughly 3 years old, laughed and laughed every time she
looked at me. Occasionally, she’d reach out to touch my skin and then
let out a big belly laugh with her sparsely toothed, orange slice
smile, a sweet, innocent reaction to the unknown. Later in the day, I
encountered a younger boy, less than two years old, who looked at me
with a horror-struck countenance and then broke out into tears. I
preferred the little girl’s response.
Pader is one of the most remote regions of Uganda, and was hard hit by
twenty years of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warfare which ended with
a peace agreement in 2008. During its heyday, the LRA abducted an
estimated 60,000 children who were forced to become soldiers and child
brides, and 1.5 million Northern Ugandans were herded into internally
displaced people (IDP) camps, living in notoriously abysmal conditions
for over a decade.
Today, Pader is a graveyard of NGOs, with locals telling ghost stories
of foreign humanitarians who passed through, leaving few remains of
the tens of millions of aid dollars spent here. While NGO buildings
and jeeps sprinkle the town and countryside, the liveliness of these
organizations departed and left in its wake a slew of empty
guesthouses and restaurants.
Food is scarce in this dusty and dry district, so World Food Programme
trucks pass by often, with Food for the Hungry, Mercy Corps, and
several others having some presence here. While many habitations
advertise restaurant services, most are seldom open, and those that
are offer only a small fraction of what is on their menu.
With the coming dry season, the availability of food and water will
become even rarer, introducing me to paucity like I have never before