Reflections on “The Journey to Paraa”
Alice Auma, more popularly known as Alice Lakwena was a leader within the Acholi community of Uganda who strived to bring them towards an equal share of resources. However, her life’s work faces many clashes of good intentions with negative implications, as would be for anyone who works in the realm of national politics and war. “The Journey to Paraa” marks the beginning of her odyssey, told as a fable and only spoken of by her father, Severino.

Severino spoke of his daughter traversing through vast landscapes on foot. Then, he proceeded to talk about her conversations with other beings, as a symbolic representation of a higher power calling her to act.

Alice listened, responded in the affirmative to a Power not clear to the naked eye and started her mission to save her people.

To insert myself in the characters of this story whose world has no clear bounds of the human experience as I know it, and whose realm of nature and the spirits is expansive and freely forming, means to explore the personification of nature (as dictated by my human limits) within their experiences.

The following  is a snippet of my first texts, a reinterpretation of Severino’s perspective. Here, I go beyond and explore the cultural implications of communities that see nature as actively interacting which in turn would prompt the reaction that they converse with nature.

My child disappears into the wilderness before the water settles on the grass.
The morning dew secretly reconnects to her early morning love. She spreads her weight on each adoring blade. The grass bends and worships its lost love. It has been too long a night of coaxing since and it would be wise to savour the moment before the sun comes to steal her away.
But the dew knows herself, a freely flowing element. She belongs to none. She will be held back by none.

The sun splits each drop, breaks each molecule down and wrestles to pull it to the blue floor. The sun wins the unfavourable match against the grass. the dew hovers looking down, longing to once again return. And the grass blades bend in shame begging for a lost love to return.
The dew looks down and dances in white circles. She gossips and whispers stories in shapes drawn on the blue floor. ‘I shall return.’

And the story carries on… Alice responds, walking to different places having conversations with nature: animals, water, air, land etc. In this world, everywhere you turn the gossip amongst beings is ceaseless, like chatter on a market day, it will only be clear if you stop and listen.

The Gossip of Beings
What does it mean to have a conversation with nature? It is not uncommon for us busy folk sunk in today’s systems to claim that the earth is speaking. Speaking… To talk? Such a fickle term. To communicate. So how do other beings above, below and moving across us communicate? Is there a lost language?

Severino retold this story as, “She asks the water… She talks to the hippos, the crocodiles… She asks the mountain…” What is this secret language and who understands it? 

Alice’s journey leads us into a dilemma. Is this just a romanticised ideal of nature where we ask it to bend and conform to our ideals of emotion in a bid to communicate what we desire? Or is there a language that we are oblivious to?

About Ursula Gisemba

The author and artist Ursula Gisemba from Nairobi is this year's scholarship holder of our residency programme – a cooperation with Artist in Residence Munich: Villa Waldberta, City of Munich. In her three-part text series, she gives us insights into her stay at Villa Waldberta and her writing project, which deals with the controversial work of Alice Auma - a rebel leader in Uganda in the 1980s. Click here for the first part of the series.