A field littered with military uniforms. A used mortar shell unearthed in the fresh soil. A community scarred by conflict. The remnants of war are never far from the surface in Northern Uganda, something that became clear to me during a visit to a village on the outskirts of Gulu during our reporting trip here.
At dawn, my colleague Kassie Bracken and I drove to Paicho, a small community a short drive from Gulu with our local fixer Peter Labeja. We were here to meet with Patrick Ogik, a farmer who has lived his whole life in the village.
A day earlier, we met him while visiting an association of small farmers who sell food to the World Food Program (WFP). Their maize will then be used to feed some of the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees now living in Uganda. Patrick has lived in Paicho his entire life and told us how his own family once needed the same type of support from WFP that he was now helping to provide through his farm.
This community knows the realities of war well. From 1997 until 2007, most were forced to live in IDP camps as the Ugandan military fought against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal rebel group that rampaged across the north of the country.
For the majority of the ten-year span, there was a curfew imposed on residents of Paicho and other towns and villages in the area, which prevented them from properly working their farms. But after the war, they returned. Many were allotted plots to grow crops, and by 2010, they had begun planting. Eight years later, they now have a sense of normalcy.
But the scars of war are ever-present, as we discovered during our morning visit. We were here to film Patrick as he tilled a new plot, preparing to plant groundnuts (similar to peanuts) for the next harvest. With his two oxen – a black one with some serious horns named Ocuc, and a hornless brown one named Olem – Patrick plowed through the fallow ground as the sun rose.
Our fixer, Peter, kicked at the freshly tilled dirt and saw fabric poking through – a green military shirt dislodged from the clumps of soil. He held it up, the fabric barely clinging together, riddled with dozens of holes. A few minutes later, he found another uniform unearthed by the plow and again pointed it out.
Patrick explained to us that the land he was farming used to be a military barracks for the Ugandan army. And just a few minute later, he made his own discovery.
His plow hit against something solid in the earth: a spent mortar cartridge.
Patrick laughed and threw it into the dirt.