Saturday, July 5, 2008

Visit to Atiak


22 years ago, Atiak was a chill Acholi Village. The last town you would pass on your way to Sudan, the southern border of which lies just 22 miles north. Because of this location, however, it was the first place that the Lord’s Resistance Army descended upon during the war. One day in 1995, the LRA stormed the village. The separated the pregnant women and children from everyone else, the prelude to massacre. They killed 250 men and women and set the town ablaze. The town was devastated. Over the course of the war, Atiak was unsafe. Which meant that aid organizations like the world food program could not deliver supplies. Those who remained in the town, much like any who lived along the Great North Road between Kampala and Gulu, were constantly subject to fresh raids and abductions.
In 2006, the war finally subsided. In an effort to curb defection, the LRA moved further out into the bush, into the Congo. Finally, the great north road became safe to travel without police or military escort. The world food program has been there for the last six months.
But Atiak is no longer a village, really. It is an IDP camp, a place for those who were displaced from their homes by the war. Women work hard at raising children and working in the fields, gathering what food they can to supplement the WFP. Most of the men are deadbeats who just hang out all day. This is not the traditional Acholi way, I am told.
One day, I accompanied the midwives to Atiak. We were taken by Lam, an Atiak native with links to St. Monica’s. We arrived for a night meeting with the town officials and retired to the Safari Hotel, which is made up of two mud huts covered by bamboo roofs. Atiak is dark. There is no electricity. There is not even light on the horizon from some other city. At the meeting with the elders I could not see the faces of people who were sitting right next to me. Such darkness on land made the perfect settings for light in the sky. Which was so full of stars I had trouble believing that it was the same sky into which I gaze back in Tampa. So I told Lam that I might like to go on a walk from the hotel and check out the sky. He said that this would be inadvisable. There may be people who wish me harm, he said, and the only way it would be safe to travel is if he accompanied me, since he knew the language and was well known in the town.
I heard this and thought about that song that comes on the radio back home incessantly, the one about the dude who wants to take a girl on the tour of the slums, like yo, “as long is you’re with me, baby, you’ll be alright.” Like there is some underlying romance in this idea. Then I thought about the people of Atiak and the crap they have gone through. I thought of Lam, who has dedicated his life to improving this place, to giving his people a future, and finally, of Sean Kingston whose highest ambition is to impress girls by taking them on a tour of places like Atiak. What a stupid song.

4 comments:

Ben Ostrowsky said...

That would be Sean Kingston's "Take You There" [YouTube], and I agree that it's ridiculous.

Lyrics:

[Chorus:]
We can move to the tropics
Sip pina coladas
Shorty I could take you there
Or we can move to the slums
Where killers get hung
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there

Baby girl I know it's rough but come with me
We can take a trip to the hood
It's no problem girl it's my city
I could take you there
Little kid with guns only 15
Roam in the streets up to no good
When gun shots just watch us, run quickly
I could show you where

As long as you're with me
Baby you'll be alright
I'm known in the ghetto
Girl just stay by my side
Or we can leave the slums go to paradise
Baby it's up to you,
It's whatever you like

[Chorus:]

We can move to the tropics
Sip pina coladas
Shorty I could take you there
Or we can move to the slums
Where killers get hung
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there

Shorty come with me it's no worry
I know the bad men them where they ah stay
Police fly pursuit in a hurry
This is no gun play
Don't be scared in a deh West Indies
It's Jamaica, that's where I'm from
Might see something you're not used to
Welcome to the slums

As long as you're with me
Baby you'll be alright
I'm known in the ghetto
Girl just stay by my side
Or we can leave the slums go to paradise
Baby it's up to you,
It's whatever you like

[Chorus:]

We can move to the tropics
Sip pina coladas
Shorty I could take you there
Or we can move to the slums
Where killers get hung
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there

Oh we (oh we)
Can go (can go)
To a place (to a place)
I know you're gonna like (oh oh oh)
The beach (the beach)
The breeze (the breeze)
West Indies, I call it paradise

[Chorus:]

We can move to the tropics
Sip pina coladas
Shorty I could take you there
Or we can move to the slums
Where killers get hung
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there
You know I could take you (I could take you...)
I could take you (I could take you...)
Shorty I could take you there

Ben Ostrowsky said...

Here's another YouTube link; this one doesn't have the lyrics, but it does have the actual video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXtKdMo3tzA

amy said...

hey, i am checking your blog from an inn in kyoto, but your writing is so vivid i feel like i could be looking at the same stars. the safari post and this one made me think a lot...

so japan seems really peaceful on the surface, but the country has a troubling history of war crimes, particularly against women. even today, the government refuses to apologize for its use of japanese and korean women as sex slaves during world war two. the majority of these women, for good reason, do not feel comfortable publicizing their stories themselves. so most of the evidence comes from interviews and transcripts, i guess done by people like you.

and what an important thing...to help reveal the stories of those who have been silenced. good luck with everything you are doing!!

-amy

Ben Ostrowsky said...

Hey, I just shared your thoughts about that song via the Sociological Images blog. The blog owner had this to say:

"My original thought, before I watched the video, was that maybe Kingston (who, according to Wikipedia, was born in Miami but mostly raised in Kingston, Jamaica) was trying to humanize the kinds of low-income neighborhoods that non-residents often believe are uniformly terrifying and that anyone who would venture there is going to their certain death. Or, if not that, maybe to show some of the horrid realities of living in economically devastated areas.

Then I watched the video. What struck me when I started watching the video is how every resident is portrayed as glowering, threatening, and angry; they’re all the stereotype of the aggressive Angry Black Man.

The other thing that’s interesting is the gender elements. First, here are some of the lyrics... So rather than having any real commentary on slums, the slums become a site to reinforce the idea that women should align with a man to protect them. The slums are just a backdrop for Kingston to impress a hot woman by being able to take her into an exotic world and keep her safe...from all the aggressive, mean Black men they encounter."

So thank you for posting this observation -- I hope lots more people will regard that song with suspicion or contempt now!