Right behind the hotel is a large open swamp. In the middle is a fen that is the range of the local Marabou Storks. They cluster there in large numbers. Around it's edge is what I can best describe as a slum. On the other side of that is the 'good' part of town where one finds schools, hospitals, World Vision, and Gulu University. The town is small and all of this is in view of the back of my hotel.
Of course I have to try to get some close-ups of the storks so I thread the huts and mounds of trash to the swamp. In the slum young men are washing the cars of the rich and one, Patrick, helps me to a good shooting spot.
He asks "do you want to see a fish pond"? Of course I do, so I follow him, stopping to shoot some huts and people washing clothes in a drain. Some boys are huddled nefariously under a shelter. One of them shouts at me;
"Eh, I iz called C-64 Overdose! I am dah gangstah! Dis is de ghetto! ....."
....his Jamaican gangster accent is laughably bad, but he doesn't know that.....
"... My boyz and I fuck you up! You cahn't shoot photo 'ere unless you gives me ten thousand".
I really should be scared, but I've gained an over-inflated sense of my own physical strength here - he's about 80 LBS smaller than me, really high, and probably hasn't eaten in days...
"I don't have ten thousand", I lie, "how about I take your picture?"
"Yah you do! Den you gives it to me", he replies.
I shoot the photo, waiting for him to stop doing gangstah poses. I tell him I'll bring him a copy. I will.
"Eh, you likes to get high wit us?" He makes a 'joint smoking' gesture with his fingers, I think he's warmed up to me.
"Opium cigarette, marijuana", Patrick tells me.
"No thanks, I don't do. I will bring your photo".
Patrick and I march on, heading through an alley past a main road to a ghetto on the other side. Safe? Probably not, but I'm 100m away from the market and the police if anything happens. Patrick takes me to a lake of sewage lined by reeds and storks, surrounded by round Acholi huts and small crops of maize.
"Fish pond", he tells me. I can see the churning of the fish underneath the layers of scum and algae. The smell of sewage is rank in the air.
"The government doesn't care about us, so we have to survive any way we can. Me, I have two children, so I wash cars". I understand and give him some cash.
We walk back to the road and shake the 4 part, Ugandan shake (hand, bro grip, hand, fist bump). I go up the road to the good part of town, him back to washing cars.
I walk up the hill past the university to the 'Acholi Inn', the best hotel in town. The paking lot is filled with idled NGO trucks and armed soldiers lounging around. Though I am dressed like an Ultimate frisbee pro, the guard at the gate doesn't even notice me. I'm white.
After a week of eating in the bush, it's time to splurge on lunch - a real lunch - and this place, with its 'old colonial', Rudyard Kipling vibe, will do the trick. The good looking Ugandan staff make me a table on the patio beside a large group of dining NGO types, Afrocrats, and Eurocrats. They're all pretty distinguished, distinct people. The Eurocrats are older Germans or Danes with blow dried silver hear wearing cool Marlin-Perkins-meets-Jinrah-Nehru outfits (fashion icons both, google them if you don't know who They are). The Afrocrats wear elephant patterned Miles Davis shirts over pressed slacks and dress shoes with designer eye glasses. They all have big bellies and they look 'international-man-of-saving-the-world' chic. (Why did they let me in here?) They have a special buffet laid out for them and they laugh alot as they eat. They are talking about Barack Obama's security budget (according to them, $1m per day) and how the president of Uganda can't visit Gulu cus they can't aford to keep him safe.
Lunch, which f'n rocked, was fresh coleslaw with avacodos, deep fried fresh fish strips, french fried 'irish potatos', and a glass of beer. It cost about 25,000 shillings. That's about $15, or enough to feed a lower-class Ugandan family for a week. A one-eyed cat from the garden slinks under the table and meows until I give him some of my food.
Even here I am covered in flies.
A sudden thunderstorm whips in just as I finish. The cat finds shelter and the Eurocrats and Africrats leave in a convoy of trucks escorted by Ugandan Soldiers. I retire to the bar and drink pineapple Mirinda (which is da bomb), while the staff watch 'Total Recall' on the bar TV, until the storm blows over.
Just another day in Africa.