Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My First Voyage to Acholiland

by Hanna Schwing

In October, I finally made my first trip to Gulu. On Thursday, I went to the bustling Owino market in Kampala, and through talking to a few people in the market and pointing at a piece of paper and a paper bead necklace, tracked down a handful of women selling the types of paper that our artisans in Gulu use to make paper beads. The papers are mainly copies of various booklets, pamphlets, and labels that were misprinted at one of the printing shops that line Nasser Road in Kampala. I dug through a wall of rejected paper goods and eventually chose 12 kilograms of paper.

Friday morning, Kate and I loaded her Toyota Corsa with the 12 kilos of paper and set off for Gulu. Between pedestrians, cyclists, potholes, motorcycle taxis, buses, and a seemingly endless sea of speed bumps, the road from Kampala to Gulu is difficult to navigate. Driving in the equatorial sun for five hours and depending on open windows for cool air does not help the situation. Seeing adorable baboons and monkies running across the road near a wilderness preserve helped lighten our moods, which were soured by what will henceforth be known as The Incident of Loud Shouting and Cursing and Life Flashing Before Our Eyes. The Incident brought the Awava Uganda team mere inches away from being completely obliterated by a passing bus and/or killing two tired cyclists. Fortunately, Kate's eyes-squeezed-shut-in-fear driving technique delivered us safely in Gulu.

Arriving in Gulu was a relief. While Kampala is a bustling and difficult to navigate city, Gulu is a small and calm town. Kate and I breathed our first calm breaths after the drive at the Hotel Kakanyero's Ostrich Room. The room is designated by its painting of an ostrich graffitied to wear a monocle and a top hat--brilliant! Lucy, the main tailor with whom Awava works, warmly greeted us with a brief chat and a ginger beer. After dinner, Kate and I promptly passed out from exhaustion and awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to work.

Following a complimentary breakfast of cold Spanish omelets, and after watching a throng of pedestrians participate in Gulu Walk, Kate and I walked to Lucy's stall in the main Gulu market. Having traversed the crowded paths of Owino market in Kampala, I found the Gulu market absolutely spacious. You may have to jump over a few open streams draining from a hair salon, but no one gives you a concussion and pushes you into the drain when they walk by carrying a 20 kilo sack of grain on their head. We quickly arrived at Lucy's stall, which has a new sign designating it as Mama Lucy's Friendship Store. The stall is quite small and somehow fits a mind-boggling amount of fabric, foam, finished tailored products and four foot treadle sewing machines. Kate and I met the three new tailors that were working at Lucy's stall, counted the products ready from our last order, and purchased fabric to place a new order.

Over lunch, Kate and I assigned fabrics to products and wrote out our order. We then met with Lanyero Florence and Oneka Richard. Florence is the unofficial leader of Konye Keni, a group of women who make paper bead necklaces to supplement their income. Her brother, Richard, helped organize Konye Keni and introduced Awava to the group. We purchased some of the colorful necklaces Florence brought with her, gave her the 12 kilos of paper I had bought on Thursday, and discussed our next order.

At the end of the day, we made another short trip to Lucy's stall to place our order and purchase the beautiful new Awava products Lucy and her tailors had made. Kate and I agreed to soon send liner fabric and foam from Kampala to Gulu via a postal bus and said our goodbyes to Lucy. We finished off our time in Gulu with a barbecue at an extravagant USAID house. The goal was to relax and do a little schmoozing for Awava before the ride to Kampala. However, my clumsiness is truly epic, and it sought to embarrass me yet again. In case you were not aware, holding a plastic cup of wine with your teeth then tilting your head back to put up your hair is a very, very bad idea. And for some reason, being covered in wine is not so conducive to schmoozing. Surprising, isn't it?

The next morning, we attempted our return to Kampala. We were delayed for half an hour, as two cars had managed to block Kate's car in the compound at our hotel, and their drivers had utterly vanished. When we finally were back on the road, the drive to Kampala was significantly calmer than the drive to Gulu--until we were overtaken by torrential El NiƱo style rain that forced us to stop on the side of the road for twenty minutes.

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