Additionally, the process of clarification often reveals shocking secrets about the kids, and the two UJV representatives are very good at sniffing out hidden 'truths'. Today I saw a man admit that he was not in fact an orphaned childs uncle, but his father. And it was discovered that children who were thought to be brother and sister, having survived to this point believing so, are not related by blood at all.
Desperation, scarcity, and fear often combine to force people who might otherwise be loyal and good to make terrible decisions. An extra child, one belonging to a dead relative, neighbor, or perhaps one-to-many of your own can be, in the sharp calculous of survival, that awful tipping point. One extra mouth to feed, one weight too many to carry whilst fleeing in the night, a burden whose odds are slim anyhow. So names are forgotten, stories are changed, responsibilities lapsed. Who cares if it is not who it thinks it is, maybe it's better that an unwanted child be taken by these Munu's (Acholi for white person) to an orphanage far away from this place. Out here, where life is so close-to-the-bone, perhaps a lie, even a huge one, is a favour.
Looking out over the tranquil grasslands, dotted with circular huts, termite hills, and occasional mango trees, it's easy to forget how devastated this area has been by war and HIV. One does not need to travel far (far in these parts can easily be 10 miles by foot) to find a burned out, abandonded village, a place where families once dwelt, with the often shallow and unmarked graves of the former inhabitants aside the shell of the circular home. Even the inhabited villages, the cleanest and most prosperous, will have a well stocked graveyard out back. The lucky souls will have their resting places covered with a cold duvee of formed, smoothed, cement, their names and dates inlaid below the crucifix. '1965-2005', '1978-2007', '1986-2006', and of course '?-2004'; dates of lives too short. Every graveyard has an all-too-large flotilla of small graves, little underformed things, easily mistaken for early stage ant hills or the mounds of mud sometimes formed by the surging runoff from a thunderstorm. But you know who lies beneath them, forever claiming a lifetimes worth of unclaimed naps. There's often 10 of them for every adult sized one.
So as we trundle across the plains, at least 40 miles by foot in the last 3 days, I can't help but feel that anything we are doing to improve the life of a child who did survive this place is amongst the only useful things I've ever done with my days.