Day to day we go about our business and we interact with a lot of people along the way. There are some people that we see every day yet never really get to know them for who they are. We don’t really see them. It could be the bag boy at the grocery store, the receptionist at your office, or the mailman. There are people that are somehow functional in our lives and we expect them to “do their jobs” to somehow make our lives a little smoother, yet we fail to recognize their real worth. Maybe the waitress wasn’t really friendly because she had an argument with her husband that day or a family member passed away. We can never really know what another is going through unless (God forbid)…we ask!

Michael is the gatekeeper at ChildVoice. Every day he sits in a tiny metal building just by the front gate so that he can open and close it as the vehicle passes through. When I go for walks in the evenings, he asks me “ichito kwene?” (where are you going) and I say “achito ka wot” or “achito poro” (I’m going for a walk or I’m going to the farm). Every time…never fails. I assumed he didn’t know much English and he knew I didn’t know a lot of Acholi so we never bothered going any deeper than simple pleasantries. Yet…I often wondered about Michael, or as we call him, “Mose” (it means “old man” in Acholi but is meant as a sign of respect to an elder). Does he have family? What does he like to do? What does he believe? What must he have seen in his lifetime? For some reason, I never took the time to find out.

When I went back to Lukodi this week to check on my hut and the chicken farm (a wild cat was eating our chickens grrrr), I decided I would visit with Mose. Maybe it was the meat and matoke I brought him or maybe it was just because he was bored all alone there, but for some reason, he decided to open up to me that day. Here’s a little bit of Michael’s story…

Michael was born in Lukodi 1952, and he attended Lukodi Primary School (which sits directly next to ChildVoice so he can see it every day from his post by the gate). He was 10 years old when Uganda gained independence from Great Britain in 1962 and he remembers the great celebration that took place in Lukodi on that day. There were parades, singing, dancing and lots of meat-eating that day. He said they didn’t have school for several days just because everyone was too busy celebrating. Before the country’s independence, he says the British treated the Acholi people a bit like slaves. He said, “When the road needed built, the British would just stand to the side and tell the others what to do, making them lift very heavy boulders and other objects without any help. If someone couldn’t do the work, they would yell at them and threaten them.”

The first president in Uganda was Milton Obote, an Acholi man. “After Obote, all the Acholi thought that they were so powerful that only an Acholi person should ever be in charge. So they were not happy because they felt like they lost control,” he said. Of course, then rebellion started in northern Uganda by the likes of Joseph Kony in 1986. The details stopped freely flowing at this point in the conversation since he and I both knew what came next: 20 years of terror, death and destruction by the Lord’s Resistance Army. All Michael said was, “Even though I grew up here, I never knew Kony because I am older than him. Still, he is just a young man. He doesn’t know what he is doing.”

Michael went on to tell me that he was blessed with a wife (Josca) and one son who had given him five grandchildren. I never even knew he was married. He said he sees some of his grandkids every day because they attend Lukodi Primary School. He said they sometimes stop at the fence and say hello to him on the way home and sometimes his wife will come to bring him lunch. I’ve never seen them, but then again, I wasn’t really looking. He told me all of this while smiling and eating the matoke and meat. I felt as if I had now earned this valuable time with him, although really I think he would have been happy to share all this before…if I ever gave him the chance.

Silent now, I looked over at the people lined up to vote in the field nearby and said I was glad there have been no problems with elections so far. Now he was laughing. Not just a polite giggle but like really laughing. Then he said, “Ohhh no…no problems. We are just tired now, don’t you know?” Tired. Tired of war, violence, poverty. Tired of fighting. Or tired of caring. In the weeks prior to elections, some of my co-workers laughed when I made any mention of disturbance, saying that most people did not feel like their votes mattered anyway and they didn’t care enough to rebel. They were apathetic. They were just happy to have peace and did not want to do anything to disturb that peace.

Some might say this is a bad thing when the people feel like they do not have a voice, when the government has all the power. Coming from a free, democratic country like the U.S., I am tempted to agree. Yet I knew that the elections in Uganda would not be “free” or “fair” as they had claimed, and I knew that Museveni had been unfairly elected for more than 20 years, but somehow I still hoped that he would win if only to spare me the disturbance of riots and potential violence. Maybe there is something to be said for apathy after all. Things might not get better, but at least they know they won’t get worse.

I thanked Mose for talking with me, and he thanked me for the food. I told him I would come back again next week to visit, and I meant it.

 

Mose Michael

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