Being here in Uganda with IsraAID, I of course have to send my friends and family New Year's greetings full of health, happiness, and peace. I collided with the Holocaust/Uganda connection again a few nights ago. I had a Tusker (I prefer the Ugandan Nile Specials over the Kenyan beer, but the Tusker was colder) with a Ph.D. candidate from Warsaw, Camilla, who has been here in Acholi Land over the last 6 years. She is exploring the process of reconciliation here in Acholi Land following the 24 years of low grade war during the Joseph Kony and Lord's Resistance Army period. Interestingly, she is comparing the process of reconciliation here in Acholi Land to Poland under the Communists, if I understood correctly. It could have just as easily been a comparison of the Holocaust period had her research occurred 40 or 50 or 60 years earlier when there were more survivors, and I certainly do not yet know her conclusions. But the contrast is striking... in the West, we generally pursue reconciliation through justice and education. Here in Uganda, where there are no memorials to the Idi Amin or Joseph Kony victims, and where very few people will openly or even in confidence speak to me about their personal experiences, the path to reconciliation seems to be forgiveness, or at least forgetting.
Geophysics provides no answers to these complex questions. But what I do know, is that when I am out for a long run in the desert in Turkana or through the bush in Acholi Land, and I suddenly burst into a Turkana family compound or surprise Acholi farmers at work with machetes in their fields, and their immediate expression is that of suspicion, invariably a few words of greeting, Ejoka in Turkana or Itye maber in Acholi, will set off the widest grin imaginable. Of course my poor pronunciation may be part of the source of amusement. But I prefer to think that using a few words of the local language immediately demonstrates an effort to identify with the local community, and to show some respect for people that certainly deserve it. And what more could anyone want from a stranger.