Interviews with the former child soldiers at the Gulu recovery centre for children of war in Uganda were always difficult. Things buried in the past were now open and exposed, like a wound, the scab removed, the pain revisited. Sometimes I would be listening and writing and my mind couldn’t fathom this evil. My pen would fall from my hand, tears would drop onto my paper, and we would have to stop, often hugging each other in an attempt to bring an ounce of humanity to the scene.
In my attempt to show my appreciation to these men and women, I offered my thanks in the form of a gift. For the women I gave a tin bowl of foodstuffs like rice, flour, and oil. For the men, a soccer ball.
The gifts always seemed miniscule. As if this small token of my appreciation could erase the past and bring a better future. When I gave the gifts, I felt inadequate, feeling quite small in the presence of these people’s large grateful smiles.
It wasn’t until I met James that I realized how valuable the gifts really were.
James was taken when he was a young teen, and like many boys who needed to survive as a child soldier with Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, he rose in rank from private to corporal to sergeant. He knew that the more people he could place below him as he climbed up the ladder, the less who could do him harm.
James was like many of the men I interviewed: abducted, trained, then forced to kill his own people. After his escape several years later, he was ostracized from his family and his village, now working a trade in a different community, and haunted by what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. The Acholi people call it, ajiji, which literally translated means, “to see again.”
When we finished our interview, I thanked James and gave him a hug. I wasn’t quite sure if it was culturally appropriate for me to do so, but I wanted to, so I did. And he hugged me right back. A big firm hug. And then I gave him a soccer ball.
I will never forget what James did then. He looked at the ball and held it to his chest and he smiled. Not just a grin, but a huge smile that filled his face and brightened his eyes. He murmured thank you, turned to walk away, then stopped, and said:
“Kony took more than our families and our way of life away. He took away our childhood. I will never be able to enjoy the carefree day of youth again. But sometime I like to try to go back and live it - as an adult. When the ajiji come, I go out and I find my friend and we play the game. It help me to see better again.”
He placed the ball on the ground and hugged me, then picked it back up, smiled, and left. I watched him walk away. The gift didn’t seem so small now.
I’m sure that ball is now quite dusty, bearing the marks of many kicks and passes and very well used. And perhaps in its use, a little bit of childhood regained.
With all of the attention on the Royal Wedding, I feel a great need to share my experiences with Prince Harry. Yes, I’ve told many people that I’ve dined at the same table as Prince Harry, and sometimes I even dare to tell them that I’ve slept in the same bed as this fine man. I love to see the look on their faces, wait for a brief moment, and then spill the truth: yes, I did both of these remarkable things – not at the same time as Prince Harry – just, one week later.
Yep. One week off the mark.
I was at Mvuu Lodge in Malawi, taking in a weekend safari with a couple of friends, when we stopped to have dinner. The manager of the lodge dined with us that evening, and shared some very interesting news. He told us that Prince Harry, yes, the Prince Harry, had been at the lodge, one week prior, helping with the elephant relocation program. “And he ate at this very table!” the manager exclaimed. We gasped, looked at the table, ran our fingers over the white linen, and nodded. Yes. This was going to be something to tell the others. Our brush with royalty.
And then I asked the question all three of us middle-aged ladies wanted to ask: And where abouts did he sleep?
“Cabin 2” he told us.
“Cabin 2?” I asked. It was my cabin. Where I was staying for the weekend. Oh my.
And that night, as I lay in my bed of crisp cotton sheets, covered with mosquito netting, and listening to the hoots and howls of the night, I thought that this would be another great tale to tell the others. I had slept in the same bed as Prince Harry. It didn’t matter if it was one week after the fact that Harry had been to Mvuu Lodge. No. I had my brush with royalty, one week too late, but that didn’t matter. I slept very well that night.
If you want to read the article about Prince Harry's work with elephants and watch his video click HERE.
The message is loud and clear. Check out more of these thought-provoking photos at behance.net.
Make the popcorn and have a box of tissues ready. A real feel good movie. And for those of you living in the Thunder Bay, Ontario area, mark your calendar for Thursday Nov 1, 2018. Emmanuel Jal, who plays the character, Paul, will be speaking at a fundraiser to help former child soldiers. More details to follow.
As for the movie, check out this review from Rolling Stone:
"Chill out you cynics who fear that The Good Lie will follow the lead of The Blind Side and draw a halo over the head of a single determined white women for solving the thorny problems of global racism. Not happening. Not here. True, Reese Witherspoon gets star billing. But for a good half hour, The Good Lie doesn't offer even a glimpse of her character, Carrie Davis, an employment counselor based in Kansas City, Missouri. Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, Oscar nominated for Monsieur Lazhar, focuses, as he should, on the plight of the lost boys (and girls) of the Sudan after brutal militia attacks beginning in 1983 left them orphaned, starving, displaced wanderers.
Yes, the film is based on a true story, Hollywood's usual shorthand for making things up with impunity. This time the fakery is not so dire. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle (Boardwalk Empire) creates fictional characters, but their situation is all too tragically true. After opening with scenes of violence against these children, the script concentrates on the plight of five of them, including brothers Mamere (Arnold Oceng) and Theo (Okwar Jale) and their sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) who meet up with two brothers, Jeremiah (Ger Duny) and Paul (Emmanuel Jai), and organize a resistance. Mamere, the default chief, is haunted by a sacrifice Theo makes to save the others. The film's climax allows Mamere, hauntingly played by Oceng, to make his own form of restitution. In America, the first wrenching blow to this makeshift family is when the boys are assigned living quarters in Kansas City, while sister Abital is sent to Boston. That's when Carrie (Witherspoon) enters their lives, trying to find them jobs in a disciplined if perfunctory manner.
It's through Carrie's eyes that we awaken to the enormity of what's at stake. Witherspoon tackles the role with hip-swinging verve. She's a livewire. But Carrie and her boss (Corey Stoll) are facilitators, not saviors. The refugees, all played by gifted Sudanese actors, must face the pressures of adjusting to a new world and become the heroes of their own lives. Or not. The lack of`cheeseball overload is refreshing. I could tell the good lie and say the movie is perfect. It's not. It's often earnest to a fault and fearful of its deeper, darker implications. Still, you won't leave The Good Lie unmoved. Its heart really is in the right place." ~ Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
I am a M.A.S.H. fan. Yep. I have all of the DVD’s and I’ve probably watched each episode 9 or 10 times. There’s one M.A.S.H. show, however, that I’ve watched more than what can be considered a sane number. I’ve gone to it time and time again and try to use its simple wisdom as a means to fight the insanity that can roll inside my head.
It’s called “Dear Sigmond” and it evolves around the character psychiatrist, Sidney Freedman, as he writes a letter to the late Sigmund Freud while visiting the 4077. It’s quite hilarious, and rather than telling you about it I suggest you watch it. B.J. is up to his tricks again and no one is immune, and the scene where Frank falls into his own air raid hole, filled with ... well like I said, I’m not telling. Go watch it for yourself and you’ll see.
Anyhow, as Sidney is trying to cope with his own internal battles as a war psychiatrist, he finds the answers to healing his mind mess in each of the characters own little coping mechanisms. But it’s the one line, near the end of the show, that helps me the most. Sidney tells Hawkeye and B.J. that coming to terms with effects of war, is like springtime in Korea. When the wind is blowing and winter is still biting and spring is as far removed from you as the comforts of your own home, you just have to make a little of your own spring.
And I like that. It can mean so many things, but to me it means life is difficult, we all have troubles, some way more than others, but when it is difficult we can coax new life out of anything. We just have to find a new way to do it.
So, my friends, when you have some trouble finding some spring in your lives, feel free to use my cure. Season 5, episode 7: Dear Sigmond. It just may cure what ails you.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.