As we drove through Uganda, it was impossible to go unnoticed. Children walking to and from school wearing freshly pressed and brightly colored uniforms would turn and yell “Muzungu!” as we drove by in our SUV. They smiled and waved, and I waved back.
I had read about the term, used to refer to white people, but I didn’t expect it to have such an impact. It made me feel welcome, more connected to Uganda, and I wanted to reciprocate that feeling.
When there were just a few children around, we would stop and offer candy and fruit. It was a small gesture—my way of saying hello in return. Some of the children were overjoyed, so I stocked up on lollipops at the gas station.
In a more impoverished area, we stopped for just a moment near a small collection of homes, and a dozen children ran toward our vehicle. I handed the lollipops through the window to their outreached hands. And while I felt I was doing something nice, it was also quite sobering. Each lollipop cost half a day’s wage for this area. Our driver, Henry, said our visit would be the talk of the village for weeks.
But things were different in Gulu, a northern town where just a decade ago, children would leave their villages at night and gather to avoid being captured by Joseph Kony’s army. In Gulu, there is now an abundance of Western aid workers, allowing us to blend in with the crowd.
After touring the colorful downtown and visiting a modern grocery store to buy ginger beer and banana cookies from Kenya, we went to an outdoor market with local goods. In the far corner, men were making sandals out of used tires. One man made the soles, carving the rubber into the desired shape and thickness, while another man secured the straps with a small hammer.
In another corner, a goat carcass hung in a butcher’s stall and women sold cassava and dried fish. I asked the women if I could take their photos. They posed, proud and beautiful, and then asked to see themselves in the camera. I showed them the camera display, and some asked for a printout. I was surprised and felt bad that I couldn’t grant their request. Not only was I unsure of how to develop photos in Uganda, but I was leaving Gulu the next morning.
I took more photos of the market and decided to buy something before I left. I chose a hand-carved bow with arrows, which the locals found amusing. Apparently, this is the weapon of choice for poor people who must hunt. While the bow didn’t make it back home, the arrows made a unique souvenir.
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Anti-war mural at the Pece Stadium, Gulu
Local market, Gulu