Waking to the sound of gunfire - again

Dear Friends,

Dear Friends,

Moving house is never fun, especially in the mountains. Recently, armed groups had been pillaging the village we normally stay in during our trips in the mountains. The attacks were increasing in frequency and occurring every night. Despite our demands for humanitarian space to work in, we awoke to the sound of gunfire and panicking villagers screaming and running.

The weaponfire continued for at least 3 hours. During that time, the whole team took shelter in the safe room. When the gunshots ceased, we all went back to bed. The sounds of villagers beating on jerrycans and making whooping noises to scare away the pillagers continued on all night. We decided to cut our trip short and return to Kitchanga the following day. For two reasons mainly. The first was the safety of the team and the second the second was that we cannot work in conditions where our safety is not guaranteed.

This week, we found another house in a nearby village where we have our health centres. The villagers are hospitable, the view beautiful. Our very essential logistician was unable to come on the trip this week. There was much laughter when the drivers and nurses attempted to construct a kitchen and shower with bits of wood, bamboo, plastic sheeting and 2 kitchen knives. There was muffled giggling when the kitchen collapsed after 2 minutes of drizzle. The mountains are very remote. Children are unaccustomed to seeing foreigners. I drew a big crowd when I started peeling potatoes and plantains.

We were extremely busy this week during our visit to the mountains. I was particularly affected by a couple of cases. The first was a lady who had been held in captivity by an armed group in the bush for 5 years. She finally escaped and sought help at our health centre. She arrived with 3 little children. She was worried about the HIV status of herself and her children. She could no longer find her existing family and had nowhere to go. We eventually brought her to Mwesso hospital for sexual violence counseling and psychosocial support.

The second case was a 3 year-old girl. She was carrying her baby brother on her back when a tree fell on them. Her brother died. She was brought into our Health Centre unconscious. Thankfully, all was well. After 24 hours, she had started eating. She smiled very shyly at me as I examined her.

As the press releases report, there is much population displacement and movement of armed groups. Without quite realizing, Claudio and I have been here for almost 4 months. We are both a little tired and very much look forward to our holiday. We will be leaving Kitchanga end of next week and will spend about 10 days in Zanzibar.