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Uganda: Showing (Approximately) the Location of Agoro

Uganda: Showing (Approximately) the Location of Agoro

To Agoro in the north of Uganda, to visit a fellow volunteer placed in a remote vocational training college. He wants to open the area up for tourism (currently Agoro is not mentioned in Bradt, the major guide to Uganda); we are here to act as guinea pigs. We inaugurated his bread oven by making pizzas, the first to be cooked here we reckoned,

Agoro: Pizza Making on Saucepan Lids

Agoro: Pizza Making on Saucepan Lids

and began to find walking trails for mad westerners who want to walk! Locals fell about laughing when they saw us choosing to go ‘footing’ as they call it.

Agoro: Along the Valley Floor

Agoro: Along the Valley Floor

Agoro is a beautiful place, ringed by the mountains of the South Sudan border, but it was hit hard by the LRA as they made their way to and from their Sudanese hideouts.

Agoro: Sunset from the College

Agoro: Sunset from the College

So far the only effects of the current South Sudanese troubles on Agoro have been an increase in cattle rustling. The new refugees come through the border at Nimule to the west and are moved to existing camps, for many these are the camps they only left recently to go back to their newly formed country.

Agoro: From the Ridge, Towards South Sudan

Agoro: From the Ridge, Towards South Sudan

Proper mountain climbing here is serious stuff, demanding armed guards and sustained planning. We blazed an easier trail along a lower ridge that rises above the local trading centre.

Agoro: Back Down to the Valley Floor

Agoro: Back Down to the Valley Floor

It was gorgeous walking country that, unlike anywhere else, had evidence of past stone structures; the sorts of hut bases and circles we have visited in cold wet Cornwall for example.

Agoro: Hut Circle?

Agoro: Hut Circle?

It was impossible to tell the age of these features, recent or very old there was no way of knowing. Though the game scooped out of the rock we found at the far end of the ridge had to be old.

Agoro: Game Scoops in the Rock

Agoro: Game Scoops in the Rock

The same game is still played on the streets now, and I even remember seeing a version of it carved into a pavement in the Roman Forum.

Rome: Game Scoops Carved into the Pavement of the Forum

Rome: Game Scoops Carved into the Pavement of the Forum

The old vegetation is being burnt back everywhere to allow new grass to grow.

Agoro: Burning the Land

Agoro: Burning the Land

The burning is not controlled, alarming when you are sleeping in a nylon tent.

The local children love this time of year because they catch rats forced out by the flames.

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking

These three boys came to show us their catch, 30 rats produced from the pockets of their shorts.

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking 2

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking 2

They begged a match and firewood to cook them.

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking 3

Agoro: Three Boys Cooking 3

As our volunteer in Agoro said, this was probably the only meat they would get for a long time. But will roast rat entice western tourists?

Agoro: More Rat Mr Bradt?

Agoro: More Rat Mr Bradt?

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To the world’s newest country, South Sudan and the capital: Juba. The Juba road through Northern Uganda is appalling, more a track through holes harassed by huge double-container lorries than a road. As Mary said once we arrived at the border (Nimule) that was like being shaken in a metal bucket for hours with someone pouring dust in all the time, although in our matatu the dust came up in clouds through the floor We had been squashed four to a row meant for two, so I suppose we didn’t bounce around as much as we might. In contrast once we had walked through the border, a very expensive but much easier process there and back than expected, the South Sudanese road was tarmac and smooth. The South Sudanese matatu was air conditioned, clean, spacious, without ear splitting music; we sat battered and filthy in bemused comfort.

A Car Washing Station, Juba

A Car Washing Station, Juba

I don’t think Juba is quite ready for independent white travellers, the place is packed with Western NGOs, but they drive around in herds of huge 4 x 4s. These hermetically sealed white beasts are everywhere: floppy aerials waving over the bonnet; big labels on the side proclaiming donor credentials; windows firmly shut; air conditioning on full, completely secluded from Juba’s indigenous inhabitants.

Downtown Juba 1

Downtown Juba 1

Walking around the markets, or going down to the bus park to find a better ride back to Uganda,

The Bus Park, Juba

The Bus Park, Juba

was met (mostly) with incomprehension, why weren’t we in a car? What were we doing there?

Downtown Juba 2

Downtown Juba 2

No one was actively aggressive, neither where they welcoming, just puzzled and unsettled; ‘edgy’ was the description we came up with. There are not many direct photographs on this posting; it was not the sort of place for street photography.

New Buildings, Juba

New Buildings, Juba

But it is booming, buildings going up everywhere, streets and areas change almost overnight. Many of the vocational colleges we work with say that their students intend to work in South Sudan, although there is growing resentment and violence against Ugandans coming to take jobs. Will the boom last? Many of the hotels set up for westerners have a feel of impermanence and rapid solutions to them.

Container Rooms at the Paradise Hotel, Juba

Container Rooms at the Paradise Hotel, Juba

The rooms are made from stacked containers kitted out with power, windows and air con.

We complain in Gulu about the limited choice of vegetables, now I know why, they all go up to the Konyo Konyo market in Juba, where they fetch three or more times the price.

Downtown Juba 5, the Back of Konyo Konyo Market

Downtown Juba 5, the Back of Konyo Konyo Market

Every sort of vegetable you could ever want was on sale from huge crates, all brought up on lorries from Uganda on that terrible road, there was even fresh dill (there is a very big Scandinavian presence here).

Of course, fresh food and NGOs meant good places to eat and drink alongside the Nile,

Evening Drinks at da Vincis, Alongside the Nile Looking Towards the Only Bridge

Evening Drinks at da Vincis, Alongside the Nile Looking Towards the Only Bridge

and nice meals from the friend we stayed with. She had air conditioning, fridges, freezers, ovens, fresh baked bread, water from the tap you can drink and silence; extraordinary.

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 1

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 1

On Sunday morning, in traditional fashion we took an early morning walk along a tributary of the Nile.

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 2

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 2

Through the squatters shacks that surround the city and out into farmed land, people waking, going to church in their best, fishing, working the land.

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 3

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 3

It was a beautiful walk taken before it got too hot; in many ways Juba is much hotter than Gulu.

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 4

Sunday Morning Walk, Out of Juba 4

We returned to Gulu by Baby Coach, a much better way to tackle the Ugandan section. Would we recommend the trip to others? I think so, it was interesting not necessarily relaxing, but interesting to see a young country get itself going.

Sunday Lunch at the Juba Bridge Hotel

Sunday Lunch at the Juba Bridge Hotel

There is still a subliminal Arab feel; Frankinsense burned to ward off insects; a greater intensity to haggling and selling anything; mint tea drunk at cafes by men in djellabas and skull caps; gilt and heavy decoration on all surfaces, I suspect all that will go in the next few years.

Downtown Juba 3

Downtown Juba 3

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work

Whitemarkarts

From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container

Here

A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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