Having completed our work in Unyama, we moved onto Atiak for the third day of research. Initial impressions of the site revealed that the facilities were much more spacious than those at Unyama, which was an encouraging start to the day. However, after introductions, we realized that there were far fewer English speakers in this group of co-researchers, so our student/translator teams would have to be more efficient than they were on Monday. The group of women that met us in the stone hall included many survivors of the Atiak Massacre. In the mid-1990s, a unit of LRA fighters, led by a former resident of the area, routed the national defense forces from Atiak and slaughtered hundreds of civilians. Most young boys and girls were spared from the killings, but only so that they could be abducted and put to work for the Lord’s Resistance Army. We are now about 25 years removed from this tragedy, but such horrific experiences tend to lurk right beneath the surface, waiting for the opportunity to reappear. Our survey was bound to bring back painful memories for some. That being said, the massacre pushed the residents of Atiak to international prominence and garnered significant media attention, so many of the women we spoke with reported previous dealings with NGOs and researchers who came to Atiak to speak with the survivors. Of course, no amount of debriefing and deconstruction of such an incident can truly harden someone against the searing flashbacks.
I was still a spotter, so my interaction with the co-researchers during the questionnaire was limited, and most of my information is second-hand. Nevertheless, I had a number of our interviewers tell me in no uncertain terms that the conversations were painful for everyone involved. Given the nature of the study, this was going to be difficult to avoid, and it would be improper to silence the women who wanted to share their stories. We were not there as emotionally-detached data-collectors. We were humans trying to understand the experiences of fellow humans, and the recorders did a terrific job, per usual, finishing at approximately the same time that they did on the first day despite having half as many English-speakers. Had we attempted to survey this group of women on the first day, we would have been in Unyama until midnight.
At 8:40pm, I heard a knock on my door. I had opened our living room up for a kickback session that was to start at 8:45, so I assumed that one of the guests was fashionably early. To my great surprise, I was greeted by none other than Bob Okello (the nicest, most charismatic leader to ever grace the OU campus)! Bob is a student from Lira, Uganda, and he is taking the year off of school to run an educational start-up that recently placed first at Uganda’s National Hack-a-Thon. He graciously went out of his way to visit us in Gulu and attend the opening of a new primary school by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and George and I thoroughly enjoyed introducing him to the rest of the team and catching up over an evening of UNO and charades.