After church on Sunday, Colin and I stayed at the school for the afternoon and hung out with the kids. Sunday is their only full day off from school and it was great to spend a little time getting to know them.
These kids are so funny. Laughter is like breathing here, bubbling out of the easy smiles of the students. It’s the white noise of the campus.
It never ceases to amaze me what kids will share if you just spend time with them sans agenda. Colin and I were sitting in the shade of one of the outdoor classrooms shooting the breeze with the kids, talking about things like rap music and soccer.
Then the conversation took a turn and the kids started talking about their experiences as night travelers during the terror-filled years when Kony rampaged through the north.
Each night they’d travel the dark road from their houses and huts and into Gulu. You can’t imagine the pitch darkness of this road. No glow of electricity. No flashlights. Only stars pin pricking the sky and the white face of the moon to watch over them. The boys walked for miles with their cousins and siblings, an ant trail of children hurrying along the edges of the roads in search of shelter and the hope of safety in town. One particular boy was ten years old at the time. I think about my nieces and nephews who are around that age and I imagine them walking that dark road together and my heart fills with agony that spills out of my eyes.
The boys talked about family members who were taken; uncles whisked away, fathers snatched out of the potato garden in the early morning hours. They talked about family members who are still missing and about others who were mercifully released.
They also told stories of children forced into servitude for the LRA, walking for days with heavy loads balanced on their heads. A single utterance hinting at hunger or fatigue meant a sure and swift death.
The boys told horrific stories that I can’t even bring myself to type because the malevolent inhumanity of it burns in my stomach and causes hot vomit to sizzle in my throat.
It’s fitting to me that the new campus is built in what was once one of the most violent and unstable areas in Northern Uganda. The heart of the school is their dedication to love and justice and I can’t think of a more fitting place to make such a declaration.
On our way home Sunday, Colin and I walked part of the road used by the night traveling children. Two of the boys escorted us and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at their faces, imagining younger versions of them making this walk in the dead of night. We walked about a mile before flagging down bodas that took us the remaining nine miles back into Gulu.
Sunday night my heart was heavy, weighing me down in my sleep as the boys’ stories came to life in my nightmares.
Every good teacher learns from his or her students. Here in Uganda, I’m eager to learn how these children walked the darkest road and arrived at this destination, to a time and place where laughing is like breathing.