Easterly Clouds

By on September 22, 2017

When you drive through parts of Eastern Uganda in a well serviced 4 Wheel Drive, you are bound to encounter glimpses of the heavenly scenic views that rightfully make Uganda the Pearl of Africa. You are also bound to enjoy the ride, worrying little or not at all, about the bumpy road and concentrating more on the lovely sights of flat lands. You may occasionally stop along the way to take pictures – just so you can later remind yourself that you were not just dreaming.

When you get to Kapchorwa District, get some rest and then decide to drive through Kween and Bukwo Districts, things begin to sort of take a turn. First, the scenery will shift from lovely attractive hills and valleys to extra ordinary and out of this world landscapes including strangely shaped green hills and bottomless valleys. Then you will come across natives with little or no interest in News Papers, TV news or on-going discussions in parliament. They are as aloof as can be. But they are doing just fine – with their donkeys, community radios, numerous water springs, endless fields of corn and heavy attractive clouds hovering all day and all night.

If your plan is to spend four days moving back and forth in the three districts of Bukwo, Kween and Kapchorwa you need to brace yourself for bumpy roads, cold weather and scenic views. You must also prepare to have as little contact with the outside world via the internet mostly because the beautiful scenery will not let you. But also because internet connectivity will be a faint dream only attained in specific areas and for specific periods of time.

BukwoKissed by the clouds

My four-day stay in the Sebei region was unlike any other. As a first time visitor I was not sure what to expect but I was willing the world to take charge and surprise me. As fate would have it, I was wowed right through Kapchorwa District, into kween District and all the way to Bukwo District. I was lucky not just to traverse the districts and experience the geography, sights and sounds but also talk to the natives and experience the culture and history.

I had an opportunity to talk to some of the natives folks from Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo about several issues and from what I gathered, it seemed apparent that the entire Sebei Region was/is one of the most neglected areas of Uganda. Apart from the fact that the region has been in the headlines for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), there is a general sense of nonchalance in the region.

I had a conversation with Kopop Yego a 72-year-old mother, grandmother and great grandmother from Chesurur Village somewhere in Bukwo District in the Sebei Region. During this conversation, I was slammed with some of the most interesting story telling of all time. Kopop and I met and sat down in a little village named Kabei The Place of Water. According to the authorities in Bukwo District, Kabei was/is one of the hot spot areas for the hideous FGM act. It is one of those places where the FGM surgeons Mutindets have notoriously insisted on carrying out this activity despite stern warnings from the authorities.

KabeiPhoto opportunity at Kabei Silent Hotel – The quiet Gem of Kabei

Kopop’s sad tale

Kopop and I are seated in-front of a mud and wattle house that seems like its been around for a few decades. Nearby, children are running around, seemingly unbothered by the discussion their grandma and I are having and playing a strange game that looks like dodge ball except there is no ball to be dodged.

Their grandma and I are able to have a lengthy seamless conversation because of a kind gentleman named James who is doing the translation. James is one of Kopop’s grand children and he knows some pretty decent English.

According to Kopop, the Sebei region has suffered many problems in the past but the greatest of them was and will always be wonsetap koruk (Female Circumcision). She vividly and sadly recalls the time she underwent FGM herself. One would assume that for a woman in her 70s, sadness and pain from nearly half a century ago ought to be something Kopop can brush aside easily but the old woman can’t hide the sadness in her eyes. She describes how young girls are prepared for the ‘ritual’ through the process of brewing komek, calling the relatives for the circumcision and eventually identifying the right mutindet to carry out the procedure. With a slight smile, she remembers the elaborate and lengthy dancing that preceded the circumcision. She talks about the teenage girls who line up for the painful and gruesome activity, many of them shaking like leaves, some peeing on themselves but none willing to back out, for fear of being ridiculed by the rest of the village.

FGM is a practice that is strongly rooted in evils of gender inequality and a desire by men to control women’s sexuality. It is also rooted in the rather ridiculous assumption that it encourages purity, honour among women and curbs the issue of possible adultery by women. The act is often initiated and carried out by older women, mutindents, who see it as a source of honour and pride, and who spread fear among the rest, claiming that failing to have their daughters and granddaughters circumcised will render the girls unworthy social misfits.

At this point, Kopop narrates the story of Chelimo, an old friend of hers who passed away during wonsetap koruk – the circumcision. She recalls the fear they both felt when the ritual approached. She recalls the pressure from the older village women. And then she recalls the night Chelimo bled to death after the procedure. She painfully recalls the manner in which Chelimo’s death was blamed on her unreadiness to become a woman – how Chelimo had been rebellious and therefore the gods had punished her. And then she spits on the ground – vowing to never forgive any mutindet who still practices FGM.

When an old person is telling you a sad story from their younger days, you want to reach out and turn back the hands of time if only to give them a hug and protect them from the evil that lurked about. At several moments during the conversation, I look Kopop in the eyes and look away almost right away, I can almost feel her pain. A cloud of sadness lingers over the entire place.

Old WomanA selfie moment with Kopop, our translator, the little kids, Pru and myself.

Kopop continues to talk about the recent crop of natives who seem to be distancing themselves from FGM. She talks about several local leaders who have embraced the abandonment of the practice and remembers with fondness an Anti FGM Marathon from the previous two years, organized by UNFPA. She remembers seeing several local leaders, CSOs and Religious Leaders joining the fight against wonsetap koruk. And then she remembers a few former mutindents abandoning the practice and opting to become advocates against FGM.

As our conversation inches towards its end, I ask her about the upcoming anti FGM marathon to be held in Kapchorwa. She smiles and wishes she had the energy to travel all the way to Kapchorwa where this year’s Marathon will take place. But she continues to thank all the soldiers in the fight against FGM mentioning that no woman deserves to go through that kind of pain just to please a man.

The marathon itself that took place on 17th September at Kapchorwa under the theme “Come run to end FGM and promote the health of women and girls in Sebei region” was well attended with several political, religious and cultural leaders along with other dignitaries adding their voice to the fight against FGM. According to UNFPA Uganda representative Mr Alain Sibenaler, the only way to end FGM once and for all is to make sure that girls go to school. This, as a general rule is what everyone would prefer not just for the girls in the Sebei Region but across the nation. And just like Sibenaler suggests, perhaps if girls were educated, we would solve not just problems of FGM but a thousand other problems.

Everyone who stepped up to say a word spoke of how the fight has yielded results with the prevalance of FGM substantially going down. The few instances of hard headed mutindets are being dealt with in collaboration with the Police, the Cross Border Alliance and the Elders among others.

One of the challenges faced in the fight was the issue of some girls being taken to areas of Kenya for circumcision. The proximity between the Kupsabiny of Eastern Uganda and the Pokot from Western Kenya is one that has fueled FGM over the years but a tightening of the bolts by leaders at both ends is working towards eliminating any such gaps.

RunnersMarathon Runners at the End FGM marathon in Kapchorwa

If people like Kopop who once believed wonsetap koruk was a necessary evil are happy to embrace a new era where girls are left to be girls and their bodies not tampered with, once can be sure that the future for the girls in the Sebei region is devoid of FGM worries. The Easterly cloud of sadness will soon drift to a cloud of hope and optimism for the girls from the Sebei Region.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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