Revisiting My Childhood

My name is Alfred Oryem. I am a grown-up now. But serious hurts happened to me during my childhood—hurts that almost altered my destiny. They became part of my life, and consciously or not I learned to accept them as a norm in society.

After all, I wasn’t the only child going through such difficulties in life. I was just a drop in an ocean, so it didn’t really matter and nobody cared. I saw my brother drop out of school and later sell his soul to alcohol. We were orphans, and nobody bothered to give us attention.

Family is just a word to me—a word meant to describe a place where people are related to each other through their bloodline. I chose to forget about love and affection and focus my instincts on survival. I began selling on the streets of Gulu (Uganda) for business men and women, and with the help of my good uncle I managed to go through school.

I have never been offered an opportunity to fully revisit the scenes of my early days on earth except at a family workshop led by Chuck Esser (the International Commonality Reference Person for Family Work) in Kampala, Uganda, last year. I was there as an ally, and as I watched the children play and interact with the adults I noticed that some of them were like me and others were different. The different ones were happy, confident, and never afraid to try things or make mistakes. They related to their parents as if they were best friends. If what I had gone through was the norm, then what could this be?

The time came for us adults to do special time with the children. While people were busy picking children to play with, I held back. I didn’t want to embarrass myself—I didn’t know whether I would be able to give them what they needed.

As I was pondering my next move, there came B—, running. He came straight to me and hugged. My head went blank for a moment, because I knew that disaster had approached my door.

B— took me by the hand, and we ran downstairs. Imagine a child like him! Did I even have time to play with people outside my age bracket? The answer is a big no. But here was B—. He was rushing to the swings because he didn’t want other children to get there before him.

Right from the beginning, B— was commander and I helplessly followed, wanting the session to be done soon. How would I go through it till the end? No child is supposed to command elders. But B— would tell me the pace at which he wanted to be swung, when to take a break, and when to carry him—despite his weight. From swinging to running to dancing to drinking water (which, by the way, he specifically instructed to be served in a glass), I did it all with B—.

B— was only about five, or slightly older, and defeat rubbed him the wrong way [he didn’t like defeat]. All he wanted was to win.

When we joined the rest of the children in the gardens after our “marathon,” B— and I joined in a running competition. Each adult competed with someone else’s special-time person. I didn’t want to “hurt” the other child, so I let him win the race. But my counterpart didn’t have that in mind. When B— fell down during the race, he was defeated by his brother’s special-time person.

At that point, seeing B— sad, I knew that I had to somehow find a way to inspire him. “You have to run again and win, B—,” I said to him. “No,” he replied. “Come on, you can do it.” “Okay.” So we took on [undertook] another challenge. This time it was walking to and fro with several other children. He quickly forgot about the defeat and seemed to just enjoy the company of others.

Then it was time to be blindfolded and kick a ball. The facilitator didn’t notice B— when he offered to take the challenge, so I kept calling for her attention. Finally, when the others had tried their luck and failed, B— won the game. “My brother won!” yelled B—’s brother, and we all cheered.

“You must be very tired, B—,” I said. He replied, “Yes, do you think it was easy to spot the ball? I had super sense. Now I want water again.” So we took some selfies and headed back to the restaurant. B— kept asking me where I had come from, whether I had a mother, whether she had given birth, whether I had children of my own, and so many other questions. All this time I was carrying him on my back as we went for water.

At the end of the day, young B— had a story to tell: “Daddy, this man bought for me water. Daddy, I had super sense. I can sense anything.” And his father, very proud, congratulated him and wondered how I had managed to carry him, because “everybody at home calls him ‘Big B—.’”

I wasn’t worried about that. I was only thinking about all the fun we’d had and the unusual experience. It was all about having fun, as B— later told the class. In the end, that’s what really matters at his age: playing and being happy and being a winner at all times. I don’t know what would have become of me had I had such an experience in my childhood.

Chuck Esser and Pamela Haines (Pamela Haines is an Area Reference Person in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; she and Chuck Esser are married to each other) know the kind of battle I face inside, and they wouldn’t let me return to my hometown without giving me attention. I hadn’t known how my childhood had affected my ability to choose what I wanted until Pamela asked me to make some demands of Naume, my Alternate Area Reference Person and favorite Co-Counselor.

I couldn’t do it. How could I? How dare I make demands of people? It was ridiculous. I involuntarily buried my face in my hands as I tried hard to do it. Tears started flowing. It didn’t make sense to begin making demands at age twenty-eight when people had been doing me a huge favour by providing for me all my life. Come on! What if they perceived me as ungrateful?

But B— had made demands, and I didn’t think he was ungrateful. Shouldn’t I feel as confident and proud as B— and tell everybody who cares to listen that I have “super sense”? I just don’t know.

I don’t know why it hurts to think about all this. I don’t know why I cry. If what happened in my childhood was a normal thing, then why are my tears betraying me?

Maybe it’s because my childhood was spent in a battlefield. Maybe the crimes committed in that battlefield should be buried there and no one should hear about them. But let RC investigate these crimes. I am confident justice will be served.

Alfred Oryem

Area Reference Person for Gulu, Uganda

Gulu, Northern Uganda

(Present Time 192, July 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00