26 September 2011

Motherless Brooklyn

Thanks to packages of books from the delightful and talented Sarah Tompkins, Jonathan Lethem is one of my new favorite authors -- Chronic City, The Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, As She Climbed Across the Table: all definitely recommended.

So this quote made me smile: I think it sums up my wandering childhood -- read: childhood epitomised by the time I peaced out of the backyard in San Diego unnoticed, diaper-clad and cookie in hand, and meandered down to the busy four-way intersection at the corner where I was happily picked up by a random stranger who brought me home; thanks for giving me space to explore my freedom (to have potentially been the next Lindbergh baby), Mom and Dad; love you! -- which helps explain my subsequent life (or how I ended up here) in Uganda: my wandering adult(or at least fully grown man-child)hood.
Danny might have coolly walked out on his parents one day when he was seven or eight and joined a pickup game that lasted until he was fourteen.
And that's why Mom had a leash for me as a child. (If I ever come across a quote to sum up the time, not long after my diaper-clad expedition, when Dad caught me sitting on the kitchen counter using a butcher knife to scoop and eat sugar out of the jar, I'll be sure to post it. Anyway, point being: how am I still alive?)

16 September 2011


So they usually say that after a year at site, you finally start to get busy. I haven't been at site for quite a full year yet – though I have been, and it's hard to believe, in Uganda for thirteen months now – and I'm still not quite as consistently busy as I want to be, but it feels good to have had some real work recently.

So, I mentioned before about training forty people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) to act as home-based counsellors for others with HIV/AIDS. After the whole fiasco with my organisation and the other local organisation that originally wanted me to do this project with them, after writing a lengthy grant proposal, after meeting with the HIV counsellors at the Counselling and Testing Centre at Freda Carr (the local hospital) and other community members and the LC5 Chairman (the highest government official in the district), after leaving site for ten days, and after scheduling and then having to reschedule the training – after all that, it finally happened.

Here's a little bit more of a background (from the Statement of Need in my grant proposal):

Ngora District was formed in early 2010 when it was separated from Kumi District. When the two districts split, Ngora was left with an estimated population of roughly 142,000. With this separation and the changes in leadership and government funding and programmes, the home-based HIV/AIDS counsellor project which had been well received in Kumi District was not brought over to Ngora. This left all counselling, testing, and antiretroviral therapy services to the CTS Centre at Freda Carr Hospital, near the district headquarters. There was no longer a system in place to get services and support to people in the outer reaches of the district.

Now, with only a few volunteer counsellors on staff at the CTS Centre, not only do many people have to travel ten or more kilometres for services, but they then have to wait a couple hours or more before they are able to spend a few brief moments with one of the counsellors. It should be noted that this should not reflect negatively on the staff at the CTS Centre who are committed and hard-working but, simply, a bit overwhelmed by the nearly 100 people who come for services each day the Centre is open. There are 2,504 HIV-positive individuals registered with the CTS Centre, 691 of who are on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). However, there are many other individuals who have been tested through mobile outreaches or community testing days but are not registered with the CTS Centre. Using a lower estimate that has 6% of the total population living with HIV/AIDS, there are an estimated total of over 8,520 HIV-positive individuals in the district. There are, then, more than 6,000 PLWHA who are not accessing any services or counselling, not receiving any sort of adequate support, have not been well-educated on HIV/AIDS, and a number of them likely need to be started on ART. So the effects of all of these issues are felt by many individuals and families across the district. There is, then, an obvious need to increase the accessibility of services for PLWHA and a large, pre-existing client base. While it may not be within our power to expand testing sites and ART distribution points, one area we can build the capacity of the district is in the support of PLWHA, specifically with home-based counselling.

So, that's why we – the community, me – felt like this project would be a good idea, and why we felt like it could be a success. And here are the cool things about the rest how the training came to be and then how it went:

1: I had started trying to get my volunteer counsellors by going to Freda Carr on Mondays and Fridays, the days that people come to pick up their ARVs and get counselling, and giving a short little spiel about the project, then leaving a sign-up sheet for whoever was interested, planning on then, after a month (so that I'd hopefully give the spiel to everyone who comes for ARVs), doing a little interview or whatever to pick who I thought was really committed and would be good counsellors. When I went to do that for, maybe, the third time, I found out that the community members had already figured out who they wanted to be counsellors. They wanted this, they had people who they knew would be committed and would make good counsellors, and that made me happy. (And that after the whole original idea came from the community in the first place.)

2: I knew these people would know more about, or at least be way more – for obvious reasons – experienced with HIV/AIDS than I would, and so I went into the training planning on basically just running a discussion, bringing all of their knowledge and experiences together so that we could be standardized, so that they could all be using the same information when they were counselling people. And it worked perfectly. We covered about fifteen or so topics surrounding HIV/AIDS and counselling. They were more than happy to discuss, more than happy to share experiences and testimonies – to the point where I had to cut some discussions short in the interest of getting to all of the topics we wanted to get to – and they were all just as knowledgeable, maybe even more so, than I'd expected them to be.

3: At the beginning of the training, we went over the goals and objectives of the project: to increase availability and accessibility of quality counselling services, and so on. One of the objectives, the main one, actually, was that each of them would provide counselling to at least forty individuals within the first quarter of the project, or by the end of October. I had wavered on this number before the training, not wanting to ask too much of them, to tax their health and energy, especially since they were doing this voluntarily, and so when we were going over the objectives, I asked them, 'Does forty sound like a reasonable number? Or is that too many?' The question was translated for those who couldn't understand me – most of them can understand at least some English, but I always find myself speaking too fast, in too American of an accent, when I'm talking in front of a bunch of people, so some of them found it hard to understand me, or, as they say, they weren't 'picking' me – and immediately everyone started talking – sounding, to me, like, 'Rabble rabble rabble!' – and so I was worried that I'd set the bar too high. Martin translated their consensus back to me: of course we can reach forty people by the end of October, and not only that but we could even do more, why, just last week I talked to ten different people about their HIV tests, forty is no problem at all. I couldn't help breaking out in a big stupid grin.

4: People here – and I honestly don't think this is a reflection of people's attitudes or anything, but is a reflection of the foreign-aid-and-NGO-ification of everything in Africa – generally expect to receive some form of compensation for, well, a lot. Like coming to one of the sensitisations that my org puts on in the villages to teach people about family planning and reproductive health. People come – usually within their own village, not far – knowing that, at the very least, they'll get a soda. And it inexplicably extends to, like, conferences for NGO staff: a per diem allowance is expected; as in, I'm coming to learn new things that can either A: help people in my area, or B: help my organisation perform better, and, yes, I expect to be compensated for learning these things. Without going off on too much of a tangent... that's how it is, and there's really no getting around it. So I made it clear – in the few spiels I gave at the hospital, in the letter I wrote to the volunteers thanking them for being a part of the project before the training – that, while I would provide tea, lunch, and soda during the training, along with a small transportation refund – and I feel like this is understandable; I'm expecting them to come to me and to be there all day, so, ok, I'll pay for that – I would not be paying them any sort of monthly stipend for their work, I would not be buying them a soda each day they went to do counselling with people, I would not be buying them bicycles or t-shirts or messenger bags. It was a concern: I was worried people wouldn't want to do it for free – and maybe that makes me cynical, but I can at least say that it doesn't make me cynical about Ugandans or Africans or whatever, it just makes me cynical about, like I said, the foreign-aid-and-NGO-ification of everything in Africa – and I was told by the counsellor at Freda Carr that when they had a similar program, the one from when Ngora was a part of Kumi, the 'volunteer' counsellors were paid 50,000UGX per month (a number I laughed out loud at when he asked if I'd be paying my volunteers – no quotes – something like that). So, at the beginning of the training, right after going over the objectives, we went over their questions and concerns about the training and, natch, the issue of idiboro – literally a little something in Ateso – came up. And so I made it clear again: I really, really wish that I could pay you for this work, I wish that I could buy you bicycles to help you reach more people, all because I believe in you all and in the work you'll be doing, but, simply, the money isn't there, not only am I on a shoe-string budget here, but I'm actually over budget, and, I don't want to get too serious, but if you're here to get a monthly stipend or a bicycle or whatever then, well, you probably shouldn't be here. I said that last part haltingly, wanting to get the point across without myself coming across as a jerk. But, once it was translated, I was met by nods of agreement, or, if not agreement, then at least understanding, from all across the room. I was also met by, the rest of that day and the next two days of the training, engaged and active and – yes, it's true! – on time volunteers, all of them. This put another big stupid grin on my face.

And so, overall, success.

At the end, I told them how much I appreciated them agreeing to work with me, told them that the success of the whole thing was up to them, told them how much I believed in them, and how big of an impact they could make in the lives of the friends and neighbours. And then I blasted 'Eye of the Tiger' from a boombox and made them run up a huge flight of stairs, pumping their fists in the air.

Ok, just kidding. But only because we don't have any stairs here.

A few weeks ago, I was in Gulu, in the North, for Peace Camp. Peace Camp was a week-long pseudo-summer-camp started by a few PCVs from the north for teenagers, fifteen to nineteen years old (and one thirteen year old girl who lied her way into the camp, which is kind of awesome), who were affected by the war with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). It was a great thing to get to be a part of.

The LRA is the rebel group who terrorised northern and eastern Uganda for over twenty years (though now they've been pushed into the DRC). They abducted children and forced them to be soldiers or wives for the commanders, they forced them to kill their families, they raped them, they forced them to carry massively heavy supplies for days on end with no rest and no food. Those are the basics. The actual stories are worse.

I got to spend the week with eighty kids who were just awesome people, happy, assertive, intelligent, resilient. I helped to run the Life-Skills sessions of the camp, doing stuff on resisting peer pressure, but when I wasn't doing that, I got to hang out with the kids, play football, have a dance party, watch them perform skits and traditional folk songs and dances from their tribes, go to a ropes course where they all did a zip-line and were stoked about 'flying,' listen to them, watch them grow and develop – and I really believe a lot of them did – and impress me – like I knew they would – and just generally be a part of something that was, can continue to be, really good for the kids who were there and for their communities when they bring back everything they learned and accomplished.

Another reason I was looking forward to the camp was because kids from Teso were there, too. Along with all of the youth from the North, these kids were equally affected by the war, but haven't gotten the assistance and recognition that the Acholi, Lango, and other Northern tribes – though, really, mainly the Acholi – have.

We met with one of the local counterparts from Amuria at the weekend training we had a couple weeks before the actual camp, and he talked about how the fighting in the East has just literally never been documented. I read a book recently about the kids who were affected by the war. Near the beginning of the book, the author said, 'The South and West of Uganda are the tourist destinations; the North is a warzone.' There was no mention of the East, not only as being affected by the war, but as, like, existing. Butt kids there were forced to kill their families and become soldiers, they were raped and forced to become wives, they were orphaned and traumatised, just like the kids in the North. I almost feel like this sounds like I'm belittling the horrible experiences of the kids from the North. I'm not, obviously. It's just that there was never an Invisible Children for the kids from Teso; it's just that there aren't dozens of NGOs in Teso dedicated – regardless of their success or the way they go about fulfilling their missions – to helping these kids; it's just that, yeah, when people think of Uganda, they think of the gorillas and the amazing national parks in the South and West, and they think of the war in the North, and they don't think of the East. But, about five years ago, the LRA made it as far down as Soroti. There were tanks in the streets of the town 50km to the north of me. My counterpart has talked about driving around doing work in the villages and being constantly on the lookout for rebels. At one of the sub-county headquarters in my district, the walls of one of the buildings are covered in charcoal graffiti about the Arrow Boys, the – basically – civilian militia from Teso that fought against and, eventually, drove back the LRA. So, I'm really glad that kids from Teso got to participate in the camp.

Our man from Amuria also talked about how people in Teso often think that the LRA is the Acholi and the Acholi are the LRA, and having those kids come to the camp will help to break that misunderstanding. Some people were worried about the kids coming up to Gulu because of this belief, and hopefully, after the camp, some of that will change. One night at the camp, there was a forgiveness and reconciliation ceremony. The kids wrote down forgiveness messages – to the rebels, the government soldiers, whoever they felt like they needed to forgive – and burned them, symbolically releasing those things they've been carrying with them. After that, they had the kids from each of the four tribes – Acholi, Lango, Iteso, and Alur – forgive each other. There were a lot of tears and – seemingly – flashbacks, one girl fainted, it was all very intense for all of them, but we hope it was worth it.

We hope they'll bring that back to their communities, to the other youth affected by the war, to their families and neighbours and friends, and foster forgiveness and reconciliation in their towns and villages. And though we recognize that maybe that's a lot to ask of 15-19 year-olds, we hope that it really did mean something, something other than simply scratching at wounds that time had allowed to become scabs or scars until they bled again and then leaving them with no bandages to help the wounds re-heal after they left the camp. But I think these kids are resilient and brave enough to make it, regardless; I think they've proven that already. And a lot of them were already excited to go home, back to school or back to the village, wherever, and share with everyone there, start Peace Clubs with other youth, become leaders among their peers and communities. Awesome.

A couple other quick highlights from the camp:

Monica's goal: one of the days, we had some free time, and I was playing football with a group of the boys. Mostly boys, I should say. There were one or two girls on each team, and after twenty minutes or so, the game was mostly bogged down in the midfield, no goals yet, not really any real chances. Then one girl, Monica – a tall, confident, sassy (in a good, hilarious way) girl from my friend Sandi's school in Pader, east of Gulu – jogged onto the field, picked a team, and, about ten seconds later, ripped a shot from thirty yards out, a serious rocket, a low line-drive that the keeper had no chance of stopping, didn't even try to stop, a goal that – and this was the best part, really – none of the boys could be able to top, before or after, all week. (And, for the record, it was the best goal I can remember seeing in a game that I've actually been a part of. Seriously awesome.) We'll call that 'Breaking Gender Stereotypes,' or, maybe more accurately, 'Showing the Boys What's Up.'

The traditional dances: all of the tribes were great, it was great to see how excited they got about getting to perform their songs and dances in front of everyone, they were proud and enthusiastic and talented. But, at least for me, the Langi were especially impressive. Thirty kids (I think), spears, feathered headdresses, the girls in matching skirts, the boys with ash rubbed on their faces, two of them wailed away on drums while the others were chanting, jumping, moving both aggressively and gracefully, circling the drummers. Hard to describe, very cool to watch, very cool, also, just to see how pumped they were to be up there, doing their thing, representing their tribe, especially in front of one of their tribal leaders (because we had a leader from each of the tribes come and address the kids).

The, let's call it, solidarity: we had several deaf campers in two of the camper groups, with a couple of the local counterparts translating everything from English to sign and back. It was, first of all, cool to see them interacting with all of the other kids. There weren't any cliques that developed – which was actually true for everyone, and was really nice – and none of the separation between hearing and hearing-impaired that you might expect. The highlight, though, was during one of the group reflection sessions. A Ugandan woman from an NGO in Gulu was leading the session, and, at one point, she asked for a boy and a girl to come up and do a short skit. Two of the deaf kids immediately raised their hands, stood up to go up to the front, when the woman running the session stopped them, saying, 'No, no, we need someone who can talk.' (To be fair to her, I certainly don't think this was malicious or intentional. I think it just came out without her thinking about it.) We PCVs, sitting in the back of the room, immediately looked at each other, shaking our heads, disbelieving, but almost before it even registered, the kids started murmuring, shaking their heads, then calling out, 'No! They can talk! Let them do it!' The facilitator, embarrassed and realizing what she'd said, let them do it, while giant smiles broke out across all of our faces in the back of the room, goosebumps spreading across our arms. Just eighty really, really good kids in that room.

So that was Peace Camp. An awesome week, a great job by everyone who put it all together, a great job by everyone who was there. And, most of all, the kids who came – and those who couldn't come, but are no less amazing than the ones who could; one of the other PCVs who was there said that some kids in her town couldn't come, knew they couldn't, and were still almost unable to control their excitement for the ones who could – and were, are, just generally pretty amazing human beings: what is there to say?

(Oh, one last thing: the movie War Dance. You should all go rent it, Netflix it, do whatever crazy new technology there is now that I don't know about. It's about a group of primary school students from Pader, all, like our campers, affected by the war in one way or another or many, and they tell their stories while it also follows them practising and performing in a music and dance competition in Kampala. It's beautifully shot and, well, just watch it. You'll cry. And, though Pader isn't what I would call exactly close to Ngora – maybe 200-ish km away – it looks pretty similar, so you can, sort of, see what it looks like where I live.)

13 September 2011

The Burial

Last month, before I left for Peace Camp (I'll write about that and other work soon), Moses' – a friend from my organisation – father died. I went to the burial; I was glad to be able to go, out of support for a friend, out of interest in the cultural experience, because I'd never been to a burial, a funeral, before, ever, anywhere.

Moses' father was 80-something years old, he'd been sick for a few months by then, but it's still always sad for someone to lose a parent, and I felt a little guilty about wanting to go partially just out of curiosity about the ceremony itself. But, well. (Well? I don't know. It seems fair to me; maybe I'm just insensitive though.)

The burial was in Amuria, a district bordering the north of Soroti (which, remember? [just kidding, I don't really expect you to remember], is the district that borders Ngora to the north and is the district in which the Iteso kids who came to Peace Camp live, another reason I was glad to be able to go), and we piled into my organisation's Toyota Hi-Lux pickup – I always kind of enjoy pointing out that it's a Hi-Lux because all I knew of Hi-Lux-es before coming here was that the Taliban and the, um, rebels (is that what we call them? are they still rebels if they basically run the country?) in Somalia mount machine guns in the beds of theirs, a feature that, I've since learned, does not come standard – and I was sitting in the bed of the truck with, from my organisation, Martin – my 'twin,' remember? again?, the Opio to my Odongo, because we're the same age – Peter, Cuthbert, Vincent, Scovia, Mr Oloit – whose other name I somehow still don't know, though, at least, now I know the one name: after he'd been with my org for several months, my supervisor, randomly, asked me, one day while we were eating lunch under the mango tree and Oloit came and sat down, 'Danieli, you know his name?' and I said, 'Yeah... totally... he's been here for a long time now... ha...ha...' and then she asked what it was, she told me that was what people said when they don't really know, and she was totally right: embarrassing – and, not from my organisation, two old ladies who I'd never met before, and so, needless to say, it was crowded, nine adults (and a full-sized spare tire) in the bed of a pickup. We headed out, bouncing down the dirt road, I covered my head with a pair of someone's waterproof pants during a brief, pelting rain, we bounced along up to the main highway, everyone laughed at the wind wildly whipping my hair, we flew down the tarmac to Soroti Town, through town, then maybe twenty kilometres north of town, we turned right off the tarmac onto another rutted dirt road, this one at times angled at a nearly-forty-five degree angle, and Amuria looks not unlike Ngora though it's less flat, less totally planar, there are long rolling hills, there aren't any of my favourite massive rock formations, there's more space, more empty – read: not cultivated for farming – land, vast expanses of grass, and the grass is tall, taller than in Ngora, tall like in the North, able to hide rebel soldiers, as tall as me, and we hopped out of the back of the truck while Emma – our driver, or, as they say here (and as I love that they say here), our pilot – navigated a metre-deep trench, broken concrete pipe, current of dirty water that cut a swath across the road, everyone disparaging the construction team who'd put in the concrete pipe, 'Eh! These Ugandan engineers... Tsk!' – the disparagement of their fellow Ugandans, and their fellow Africans as a whole, is an entirely different subject that I could go off on but won't here; I feel like it happens a lot, and it bothers me, makes me uncomfortable; it feels like racism that was so engrained during colonialism that they now just take it for fact; I never know what to say when, for example, they say Africans aren't as good at science as Westerners, usually I just end up stammering, 'That's not... It's... No.' But, anyway – then we hopped back in, clambering, and soon after, after two and a half hours total, we were there, Moses' family's homestead, a collection of mud-and-thatch huts.

The ceremony had just begun when we got there. We got in the back of an orderly – more orderly than any I've ever been in in any non-Western country – single-file line, we moved past the coffin, a wooden box, nailed shut, covered in a royal-hued (standard though, not actually for royalty) purple cloth, a large floral arrangement sitting on top, it would've been sitting on his stomach were the coffin open, and though the coffin was closed, nailed shut, there was a small window over his face, his eyes were closed, his expression peaceful, his skin wrinkled and aged but somehow relaxed, you could see the gauzy material the rest of his body was wrapped in, and all I could think about was Mao Tse-tung, lying embalmed in Beijing forever, for (I think?) like forty years by the time we – Sarah and I; hi, Sarah! – saw him, by the time we made a similar silent, single-file procession past his coffin – his not nailed shut, not wooden, simply a large glass box mechanically raised up from the floor each day for the, um, viewings – all I could think about was Mao because he, that, was the only dead person, body, I'd seen before – in that state anyway; I'm not including those lovely folks at the University of Washington cadaver lab, as I mostly saw their guts and, most memorably, their feet, which still had all of the skin and nails and everything – and so I looked at his face, peaceful, wrinkled, and thought of Mao, all while constantly moving slowly by, then, hurriedly, as I moved away from the coffin toward our seats, I remembered to think of a few words of consolation for Moses, his family, his late father, I didn't want to only think of Mao, and then we sat down and the ceremony continued.

The crowd that had gathered, maybe a hundred-strong, was, if not sombre, then certainly subdued, respectful, and I'm lacking another good word for it, but this subdued atmosphere was really only noticeable to me when I thought of it in relation to every other gathering I've been to here, celebratory, educational, whatever, and not when I thought of it in relation to the typical – stereotypical? – Western funeral, or Middle Eastern funeral, or Indian funeral – all of which, of course, I've only read about, seen in movies – because there was no one clad in mournful black, no black-mesh-veiled widow weeping, no stoic son's arm being clutched by a despondent wife and mother, there was no fittingly atmospheric overcast sky, no cold drizzle or autumn leaves that, in a reflection of the occasion, would lose their last grip on the branch and float slowly down in a peaceful death to land on wet cemetery grass, and there was no gnashing of teeth, no rending of garments, no funeral pyre, no screaming out to God in anger and grief, and I realize that this may be a factor not of the cultural – though, I don't know, maybe it is; but I think back to the wails of grief I heard that one night, the night my former neighbour Peter told me that the other neighbours had lost an infant to malaria, and I think not – aspect, but of the fact that it was the burial of a man in the eighth decade of his life, who'd been ill for several months, who'd been a good, successful, respected man – I think he was a deacon in the local church – and I only saw one woman – wife? widow? – let out a single cry of sadness, one that racked her whole body and almost brought her to her knees as she passed by the nailed-shut, purple-clothed, windowed coffin shortly after we'd taken our seats, but even she, like many of the other women there, was dressed in the garish, synthetic colours of a gomes – pronounced gomez; the traditional fancy dress, conical shoulders and a wide sash-like belt tied with a square knot in the front around the waist – a few men were in suits, but even Moses, though his face was uncharacteristically long, wore just a grey polo shirt and khakis, everyone else dressed in whatever they'd wear to go about their normal day after the ceremony, they've done this all before, more than a couple times, I'm sure, and even the weather, blue sky, the sun warm and bright, was less than sombre, subdued only by a handful of heavy black rainclouds gathering in the distance. So: subdued. I mean that the dancing, the music blasted from speakers at an ear-splitting volume, the happy songs and ululations, the loud chatter and louder laughter, those things that typify every other gathering I've ever been to here were absent, but the two short speeches that made up the bulk of the ceremony were more lighthearted than not, seemingly anyway, judging by the speakers' tones of voice and the – albeit, again, subdued – laughter elicited by, presumably, charming anecdotes about Moses' father, and there were these two short speeches, neither longer than five or six minutes, they were followed by the reading of a few verses from the Bible, a hymn sung by the gathered crowd, and even this wasn't mournful-sounding, just respectful, subdued, and then the coffin was lifted, carried to the grave-site, we all followed behind, walked half a kilometre through tall grass under warm sunshine, and we, everyone, gathered around the grave, the coffin had already been lowered in when I walked up, there was another speech, shorter even than the first two, another hymn sung, and handfuls of rocky red dirt were scooped up, tossed down onto the coffin – nailed-shut, purple-clothed, windowed – the dirt and rocks clattered on the wooden box, sounding like the first drops of a heavy rain on a tin roof, and, maybe five minutes after walking up to the graveside, we turned around and walked back through tall grass under warm sunshine to the homestead, the ceremony was over, I asked Martin just to be sure – Is that really it? – and it was, they served lunch, we said goodbye to Moses, hugged, and we'd only been there for barely an hour, even the length of the ceremony, relative to typically hours-long gatherings, was subdued, and we left.

It was interesting. I was glad that I got to go.

And we went back down the angled, rutted dirt road, hopped back out with Emma navigated trench, broken concrete pipe, current of dirty water, and, this time, I was sitting on the edge of the truck-bed wall, the only place to hold onto was the wall, a hand gripping the metal immediately on either side of my butt, not much – barely any – leverage, we bounced along and I tried to keep my balance, my white-knuckle grip, tried to keep the legitimate concern off my face, they'd never let me ride in the back again if I fell out, mostly because I'd probably be dead, then we flew down the tarmac of the highway again, one of my hands fell asleep and I couldn't tell if I was still holding on or not, the rain clouds were gathering again though the sun was still shining brightly as it dipped westward, a couple kilometres off the highway, I could see a column of rain, grey, silvery shafts of water coming down, clearly delineated from where it wasn't raining, maybe one square kilometre getting poured on while the rest of, well, everywhere was still dry, and we picked up two more people, and their two kids, in Soroti Town, now thirteen people in the bed of the truck, and the woman sat down in the bed, her back pushing against my legs and sliding me back so that I was hanging at least eight inches out over the tarmac, at least I'd gotten a better hand-hold on the rail running along the back of the roof, but still, lorries flew by, a metre away from tearing me in half, Emma drove the same way he'd've driven without anyone in the bed, the tarmac whizzed by beneath me, I silently cursed the woman pushing on my legs, my knuckles were white, I pretended just to be hanging off the truck like Kevin Costner in Waterworld, the sun was dipping towards the horizon, the light was golden and warm, we bounced off the highway and down the dirt road toward Ngora, we made it back, I could finally let go, my hands hurt, but I'd never felt so personally responsible to – still – be alive as I did at that moment, and I was happy, maybe inappropriately so, but the feeling was amplified by the fact that I'd been to a funeral for the first time, by the fact that I'd just looked a corpse in the face, that I'd been a tenuous grip on the truck away from the pavement and the speeding lorries, that I'm twenty-six, that I'm healthy, that my family's healthy, that I'd looked a dead person in the face and thought only of Mao because that was all that I had to go on.