Gulu after the storm

On the plane ride from Ethiopia to Uganda, I had a fascinating conversation with a UN peacekeeper, from the Ivory Coast, who was stationed in Darfur. He was talking about how bored he gets in Darfur because of he strict curfews. I really never thought about that war-torn region being boring. His interesting stories made the one-hour connection fly by. When I got to Kampala and checked into the hotel, I opened the window and heard the song “New York, New York” blaring through the smoke and dust of the city.

I had a day of organizing from Kla before heading up to Sudan. I picked up tiles for the wells from our engraver, Edgar. I also changed money, stocked up on some food items for the road and got airtime for my regular phone, the satellite phone and the Internet modem. The night before I left Kla, I heard that one of the roads into Sudan was so muddy that the vehicles couldn’t get to the border. One of our friends had taken the bus and was stranded until things dried up a bit. It’s the end of the rainy season, which means it actually rains a LOT for the last little bit.

Instead of going straight to Sudan, we drove to Gulu to spend the night and get a fresh start the next day. That night while I was eating dinner with Wilson and George at a local hotel restaurant, an unbelievable storm came up. The thunder was so intense I though the earth was going to crack open. The next morning when we got packed up and on the road, we saw incredible devastation throughout Gulu. There were enormous trees that had been completely uprooted and were blocking the road, power lines were down, roofs had been blown off and one building even caught on fire. The struggle continues. When we got to the office, the storm had wreaked havoc there too. There was no power and whole town was a mess. I was a little concerned about the roads leading to Kajo Keji but we had work to do and decided we would deal with the situation if it came up.

The route was definitely muddy and some big trucks did get stuck, but we made it fine. I called Jacob, our new project director, who was working at some schools in Lira. He updated me on the status of projects he was working on while the rest of us trudged through the mud en route to Sudan.

We got to the border and I had a brief chat with a friend, who is the main guy in charge of the border on the Sudan side. We got my visa and filled the paperwork for the road user permit, which is needed for us to drive our vehicle with a Uganda license plate on Sudan roads. It was late so they told us to stop by the next day and pick up the actual permit.

Next we stopped by to see our drilling team and brief them on the plans. The guys in Kajo Keji are so professional and a joy to be around. It was good to see them. They have been on hiatus from drilling for the rainy season and are just now gearing up to begin again. I discussed the schools we had selected and a tentative schedule for drilling. Then we left to go over to the UN compound to get checked in before dark. On previous trips we were the only people staying there. But this time there were six UN peacekeepers from UNMID (United Nations Mission I Sudan). They are contracted to be there until March as advisers to the upcoming referendum election (which is happening in January).

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Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

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