Blog #9 from Burim in Uganda-Music, Riots and Teargas
May 2, 2011 | By wickley wickley
April 18: Last week was the last week of the first term for Schools in Uganda, and the Secondary School (High School) students were “in for their final paper”, which means that they were taking their final exams. Now they will have a one-month break and then begin “mid-term”, which will last three months, and then after another month break they will begin their third (and final) term of the year, which ends in December.
The primary schools ended classes one week early because they spend the last week of the term traveling to compete with other primary schools in the area.
I have been working with the Gulu Central Secondary School, teaching there 2 times each week even during finals, and going to the Pabo IDP Camp 2 times each week, but from this Monday until I leave Gulu, I will be going to Pabo 3 times each week so I can work more with the street kids and try to start them on the Pennywhistle before I go and then Cambel will continue teaching them after I leave.
Last Thursday as I went to teach at Gulu Central, I saw many people gathering and then Police passing by, but I had no idea what was going on, so I went to the school and taught the classes there as usual. On my way back I couldn’t find a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to take me to where I am staying, so I started walking until I saw the crowd and I started asking people what was going on. They told me that they were in riots. I had to pass by the police station and the main street to get back to my place, so I just kept walking and the air became very strong to breathe because it was full of tear gas and the burning of used tires. Tears starting coming out of my eyes and I could help it so I rushed to get back. The closer I got the harder it was to breathe and more people were running scared and police were chasing them away in a very brutal way.
After I reached the place where I am staying, (called “Jojo’s Palace) I saw that they were closed already and I had to use the back gate to enter, and as I entered in I saw many people hiding. They told me that Norbert Mao (Gulu Chairman and former presidential candidate) brought the “Walk to Work” Protest that is happening in other parts of Uganda here to Gulu and the Police arrested him for that, so people were not happy and protested.
The police were using real bullets to scare people. One bullet entered into the place where I am staying and broke a window. We found the bullet and saw that it was not a rubber bullet but a real bullet. The riots
went on till very late– I could still hear the gunshots and a lot of smoke was coming inside for a long time.
The next day I was supposed to go to the Pabo IDP camp, which takes about 2 hours to get to because of the condition of the road, so I woke up early in the morning and went outside. I saw lots of soldiers and the police still arresting people but it was peaceful morning, so around mid-day I left to go to Pabo and teach there. Half way to the camp the road was blocked. People have been requesting that the government fix the road because it is the road going to Sudan and lots of heavy vehicles use it and it is a VERY bad road, and a lot of people have been getting sick and food was going bad because the dust is so thick that you can’t see anything, and it gets into everyone’s food and water. Since the government didn’t respond, the people blocked the road and we had to go back to Gulu and find another way to go to Pabo.
When we finally did reach Pabo, I had a very nice class with the street kids and this time 3 old women came and were sitting not far from us, because we did our class outside, and after I finished they talked to Cambel and told him to make sure he tells them anytime I come, because they like the music and also want to see their kids have fun. They even promised that next Friday there will be many of them around camp to attend the music classes together with the kids.
After I came back to Gulu the town was still calm and no protests were going on, but the whole town was sad because 4 civilians had died in the protest and also one policeman died in a nearby village trying to stop people from blocking the Sudan road.
More protests are announced for Monday and Thursday, and specifically they are threatening to burn the power transformers if the electricity doesn’t come back, but on Sunday we had electricity all day, and on Monday it went off for very short time and came back and hasn’t gone off again.
[note from Liz: This is late because the riots got worse and Burim wasn't able to send these pictures. We decided to bring him home early for safety reasons. Burim's next blog will be about leaving so quickly and unexpectedly.]