On the surface, daily life in Uganda is quite civil. I saw more theft and scams in South Africa, and more frowning faces in Chicago. In fact, one time when I dropped my wallet in Gulu someone picked it up, took it to a radio station, and paid to have my name announced so that I would come and claim it.

But, underneath this is a legacy of violence that runs very deep. Almost everyone in Uganda has been touched by war and violence, whether it was Idi Amin’s reign of terror, Yoweri Museveni’s bush war in the Luweero Triangle, or atrocities committed by the LRA or one of the other two dozen or so rebel groups that have surfaced over the last 20 years.

I was reminded of this fact yesterday while riding the boda boda of Ssemakula, my favorite boda driver who is also the chairman of the boda stage in Munaku where we live.

(So, “boda stages” are gatherings of boda bodas—motorcycle taxis—that park in various places waiting for customers. Each stage has a “chairman”, someone elected by the boda drivers that park at that stage who sort of manages things).

Ssemakula’s mom is from Buganda and his dad was from Acholi. So, Ssemakula speaks both Luganda and Acholi…this gives me someone to practice Acholi with on a daily basis.

While riding yesterday, Ssemakula told me about the time his dad was killed by the UPDF (current Ugandan military) in a village called Awer in Gulu District. The father had worked in government during the regime of Milton Obote, and the UPDF soldiers accused him of “supporting rebels”.  So, they killed him.

As we rode through town past bodas, shopkeepers, and lots of other average folks going about their day, I kept wondering who else had a story like Ssemakula’s. Quite a few, I imagine.