SIRâ€” After visiting Gulu district recently, my heart weeps for what I saw. Acholi is not what I used to know.
I was born and lived in Gulu. When we were young, you had the same standards of living, whether you had grass-thatched houses, iron-roof houses or in the town.
I speak as someone who knows the district well. My first posting after I finished my education in the UK in 1966 was as a district health visitor. I travelled in every corner of (the then) Acholi district. I would drive from Gulu to Patongo (now Pader district) as a young girl, with no companion. I had no fear. I would travel from Gulu to Kitgum and to Agoro near the Sudan border and return to Kitgum alone at night. Another way was from Gulu to Atiak, 42 miles northwest of Gulu.
Just once in my two years in the district did I encounter any problem. Two leopards were spotted in an area and the warning was sounded by elders and opinion leaders. Workers in the area told me not to leave the area by myself.
The people in Acholi were very courteous. Children would come to you and greet you politely. When you met people on the road, they would walk politely or greet you or just leave the way for you. There was much respect. This respect went with the age group of a person regardless of whether you were a relative or family friend. There was excellent mutual respect for everybody. Nutrition was not a problem in the district. People had the highest balanced meals in every home. There was even more food in the villages. There was beans, peas, meat, game meat, simsim, groundnuts, green vegetables and fruits in plenty: oywelo, kano (jambula), guavas, oceyo, tugu and many others. In every home, which I visited as a health visitor, although we were encouraging nutrition, there was reasonably well-balanced meals. Talking to families, people were eating well; at least two good meals a day.
As regards culture, the youth had their own activities in every village: lamokowang, larakaraka dances. All the traditional dances larakaraka, apiti, bwola, dingi dingi were also taught in schools. Even cooking and cleaning houses were taught in homes and in schools. Mothers had time to teach their children how to cook food and take care of the home from a very young age. From the age of six, one knew how to sweep the house and wash dishes. Rubbish was disposed of properly. Grass-thatched houses were smeared with black soils and cow-dung. Those with cemented houses washed their floors clean.
Tidiness was considered part of your living, grooming and general look. You did not have to buy a toothbrush to brush your teeth. You used the sticks to brush the teeth.
Now, when you see the changes, it just makes you wonder. The children in the streets of Gulu today are a sad sight. They are malnourished, underweight, dirty and uncared-for. You can see that there is no guidance toward their moral behaviour.
It is with disappointment that at this point of our life we see this happening. People in Acholi did not like living in town; they only came to town to do business and went to the market once a week. Life was not town life. Today, people have converged in towns and trading centres.
It is my wish that we restore the confidence, the activities, the culture and the well-being of the Acholi.
Maliam Lakareber, UK
A weeping heart: Message to my dear youth in Acholi