Photos from my first time at the camp, December 8th.
On January 14th, I went to the camp for my last time. It was becoming more and more vacant, fewer and fewer kids. In December it had about 400, stacked in 3-layer bunk beds, crammed into what used to be official barracks; the older teenaged boys were in large Norway supported tents. Now only about 140 children were left in the camp, about 40 of whom were “unattached” – a euphemism that refers to children who lost their parents while fleeing from the rebels.
It was a very hot day, and the boda-boda bike was passing over dusty trails, dirt flying our direction as my "driver" pedaled his way along the paths. The guards had come to know me automatically and took off the tree branch that kept the gate closed when they saw me coming. I wasn’t sure who I’d connect with, so just wandered in and around a bit. Then, because of the heat, I sat on a chair on the veranda and hung out to see what would happen. I had about an hour before my biker would return for me; then would have to get back to the office.
Two young teen boys showed up to visit with me. Both of them talked about what had been done to them. To be honest, it was pretty much the same ol’, same ol’. And then one of the funniest stories was told.
His name was Simon, 13 years old. On June 20, he was digging in his family garden when the rebels came and grabbed him . As said earlier, his story wasn’t much different from all the others. Children were beaten, killed, forced to carry heavy loads, and suffered hunger. His particular group had approximately 100 rebels and 150 children. They moved from one section of northern Uganda to another, partly because they had so many people and needed to be sure to have enough to eat and drink and stay alive. After six months had passed, he and another boy from another part of the country, were put out by the road to watch out for the Army that the rebels had been told was in the area. The boys were to be on lookout while the rebels hid in the bush. They had been near the road for some time, and the rebels hadn’t come to check on them, and the army hadn’t arrived. Simon turned to the other boy and said, “Let’s leave.” So they did.
This was on December 13. He had gone to Army barracks and other hang-out places for a couple weeks. He had been transferred to this particular camp in early January. His parents still didn’t know he was free and someone had been sent to find and give them this good news.
I was so happy for Simon, and felt pleased and relaxed. Happy that this was my last interview and had been a blessing.
Then life slapped me again.
While Simon and the other boy were with me, I looked out in the yard and saw a mid-teen girl who looked shell-shocked and ashy. Her eyes were vague and distant. Part of me wanted to reach out and see if I could visit with her, but the other part wanted to hold back. When the boys saw me looking at her, they explained her appearance.
I know very little about how long she had been forced to be with rebels, how she escaped or was rescued, where she was from, and any other details. I don’t even know her name or age. But when they told me the story, I knew God had protected me to be a story hearer, but not an interviewer. I would have totally collapsed in sorrow.
She was forced to watch as the rebels killed her best friend by slitting her throat. And she was told that if she cried, the same thing would be done to her.
What did I want to do? Hold her, of course. Provide love and peace. But it wasn’t appropriate in this culture and, by being touched, after what she had gone through, she could easily have become hysterical. I couldn’t risk that.
But I’ve never forgotten her. No photo, and, as I said, no name, nothing but that one event she faced. She entered my heart then; she lives there now.