On our way to the Bidi Bidi refugee camp we crossed The Nile on a ferry at Laropi – the border between the Adjumani and Moyo districts in Uganda. My colleague Megan Specia and I signed the official ferry passenger register (which disconcertingly involved detailing a next of kin) and took our “ticket” from a basket of recycled 1×1 cardboard squares. As we waited for the ferry to arrive, a red coach bus pulled up behind our car and its riders spilled out – South Sudanese refugees. They were nearly half-way through a six hour bus ride from the Alegu reception center to Camp Rhino and would be our fellow passengers on the ferry.
The ferry was the smallest I’d ever seen – well at least among ferries that carried vehicles. I didn’t see a maximum load listed on the boat, but as that huge coach bus drove on I hoped the writing its side – “John 14:14” – might be scripture dealing with blessed water crossings or somesuch.
Along the side young boys grasped the white railing – their bright blue UN wristbands marking their refugee status. A young mother with a toddler and an elderly woman carrying a baby sat across from us – the young mother wore two bands – one for herself and one for her son. The crossing took about ten minutes – a breezy respite from Laropi’s brutally bumpy roads. The boys leaned further over the railing to see the river below, and the young mother hoisted her son higher to see the fishing canoes gliding in the waters. Megan and I took selfies of our maiden Nile crossing.
As we disembarked I walked behind a young girl holding a baby with lumpy sores on his head. Blood trickled down the girl’s leg. A couple of discarded US AID glucose biscuit wrappers lay crumpled at our feet. The young girl and the baby returned to the red bus and we got back in our car and our continued our journey to Bidi Bidi. We spent rest of the day speaking with people in Africa’s largest refugee camp, hearing accounts of hunger, dislocation and uncertainty.
At our hotel in Moyo the next morning, I thought of the bus and looked up John 14:14: “You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.”