I am writing this on a plane flying high somewhere above Africa, probably over the Sahara desert. It is pitch dark outside, so I canâ€™t be sure exactly where we are now. All I know is that 13 glorious days in the motherland has come to an end, and now I am on my way back to my wife and two boys.
As an educator, I gravitated naturally toward children and quickly zeroed in on their emotional state at any given moment. Everywhere I went in Gulu district, including in the IDP camps, children were being children again, doing what children do which is to play a lot. I remember spending the first evening in town at Gulu Prison Primary School, in the gathering twilight, watching a group of boys vigorously playing football.
The sun had long gone down. In the past this meant thousands of children hassling into town for security away from the marauding rebels.
But, the soccer players were clearly enjoying themselves, and were in no hurry to go anywhere.
Many of the players displayed excellent skills on the pitch, dribbling, dodging and passing the ball. One player nicknamed â€œBrazilâ€ because of his unique flair with the ball (and perhaps because he was wearing a yellow jersey with Brazil emblazoned on the back) demonstrated such dazzling wizardry with the ball that he left this onlooker in awe.
He will hopefully be discovered by one of Ugandaâ€™s national teams and go on to play the game at a higher level. Even in the camps, children were beginning to dream again. At Anaka IDP camp, I met a teacher grading childrenâ€™s English language assignments under a mango tree. Looking through the pile of note books, I quickly selected one with neat handwriting and excellent grades and asked to meet the student. Out walked shy, 13-year old Simple Apiyo. She sat down, and for a while would not even answer my questions, but slowly warmed up enough to talk.
Although her mother had had many miscarriages, she has three brothers and three sisters. One of her brothers completed high school, but decided not to continue with education. She wanted to become a doctor, and will work hard to get thereâ€¦
Later, I addressed an impromptu assembly, speaking to the children in Luo, telling them about the beauty of education, and urging them to tell their friends holding out at home to return to class.
It was great seeing those eyes sparkle with life. Call it hope or whatever you want, but the children in the camps are slowly waking up, and hopefully the government will be there to support them in their ambitions and aspirations. Certainly, one prays that Apiyo and her kind will not become mere statistics of failed education, drop-outs and early-motherhood.
On my way back to Kampala, I spent a night with my mother in Kiryandongo. On the afternoon of my arrival, I visited Kibanda Secondary School, and spent sometime talking to the staff and students.
These school visits are often the highlight of my stay in Uganda because they afford me the chance to interact with young people eager to learn so much about life abroad. Often they ask all manners of questions, and this visit was no exception. How cold does it get in Canada? Very cold, came the answer. Is it difficult for an African to get a job in America? Yes, because discrimination is still rife, but things are changing so that people with black skins have the same opportunity as everyone else. And so it went for the next hour and a half.
That evening, after the dark clouds that threatened a thunderstorm had passed harmlessly, the stars came out in the heavens.
With family, we sat around a bonfire, talking, roasting maize (or corn as they call it in Canada), and laughing. We marvelled at the magic of flight that has allowed human being to reach high into space.
Maybe one day, a child like Apiyo will reach into outer space just like Roberta Bondar â€” Canadaâ€™s first female astronaut in space. It felt good to be home. Opiyo.firstname.lastname@example.org
The children in IDP camps are waking up