[retro]spect + [pro]spect

It’s been almost a full week since my return from northern Uganda and South Sudan.

A week of boda-less city streets and hot showers on demand. A week of welcome inactivity to catch up with loved ones, to catch up on sleep after a hectic 3 months.

But these seven days have also granted me some perspective, some much-needed distance from my research in Uganda.

After an intense work schedule I found it challenging to look at the topic of the reintegration of formerly abducted women with a fresh pair of eyes.

Working day-in and day-out with these women, it became harder to step back and see the bigger picture, to disentangle myself from each woman’s story.

The past week has allowed me to take something of a step back, although I still find myself thinking of how Christine is managing now that all of her pigs have died, or how Janet’s tailoring classes are going.

This time has also afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the last few months. I knew the research would be logistically challenging, emotionally draining.

But interestingly the biggest challenges weren’t the ones I’d anticipated.

I thought that most women wouldn’t open up to a mzungu, let alone a man. I was wrong.

I feared how the women would respond to using the digital cameras. I had no need to.

One of the biggest challenges were the NGOs themselves.

Understandably protective of these war-affected women, I often had to justify my research at length.

Additionally, I had to occasionally question the women they selected for me to interview. On a couple of occasions it turned out they were related or worked for the NGO workers. This seemed to greatly affect their objectivity when questioned about how well the organisation was helping formerly abducted women.

Only a handful of participating NGOs allowed me to ‘handpick’ women to speak to.

Since I have left Uganda I have also heard that a couple of the organisations that my participants are affiliated with are trying to strong-arm them into handing over the cameras.

Another challenge was cross-checking what the women told me. In my naïveté, I’d assumed they’d answer all my questions truthfully. But I found a number twisted the truth on subjects such as their vocational skills training or obvious pregnancies. Why they lied, I don’t know. To garner sympathy, to ensure financial support? Anyway – it sadly meant I couldn’t always take things at face value until I’d corroborated them.

So where do I go from here?

I have over 200 gigabytes of audio, video and photos to wade though. I have countless books and academic articles still to read.

Now I just have to find a way to pull out what I need from this melting pot of data, and to present it in a powerful and navigable website.

A website that introduces the 20-year history of the conflict, the current issues, and tells both sides of the story without overshadowing the voices of these women.

Such a site is going to be at least 6 months in the making.

In the meantime, I’ve set up a teaser page:

www.dwogpaco.com

Dwog Paco means ‘Come Back Home’ in Luo. I chose it for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it was the name of a radio program broadcast on Mega FM. Formerly abducted men and women would once a week appeal to those still in the bush to escape, assuring them that they’d be welcomed back to their communities.

Secondly, the phrase ‘dwog paco’ ironically became denigrating slang for former abductees.

Thirdly, my research highlighted how many Ugandans felt that aid efforts have targeted women and neglected formerly abducted men. To address that, whilst the initial incarnation of the website will focus on women, I hope in the future to investigate further this claim of gendered favouritism. Hence I decided to rename the project from ‘Invisible Women’ to the less gender-specific ‘Dwog Paco’.

Anyway, as always, I’m getting ahead of myself.