Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Angela, kidnapped and held captive for eight years

Sunday 25th May

The call from Jemma in the Good Morning Britain office was short and to the point. Would it be possible for me to go to Uganda in a day or so for a couple of days?

I was having time off, but never having been to Uganda I said yes and started to think about getting my kit together and ordering some anti malarial tablets.

The next call was to say that there had been a mix up in the dates. The job was actually the following week. That made it easier for getting things organised. No need to rush around to the travel clinic and pull another favour to be seen quickly.

I also had time to ask what the story was and who would I be doing it with?

Ah, well. It's like this. We want you to go and do it yourself on your own. There will be no reporter or producer producer if that's OK?

The story is to do a short profile piece on a woman who had been abducted from her school dorm and kept in captivity for eight years as a forced wife.

She would be speaking at an international summit in June to be hosted in London by Angelina Jolie and the Foreign Secretary William Hague.

A week after the call I was standing in a very long, hot and sweaty queue at Entebbe waiting to get my visa to enter Uganda.
Welcome to Uganda
UN aircraft at the airport a sign of a place needing aid or in turmoil
It was going to be a long wait
I had been standing and occasionally inching forward for about an hour. Around me there was a sense of disgruntlement, particularly from the guy right behind me. From time to time he would stop shuffling from foot to foot to exhale loudly, following it up with an exasperated, "come on guys."

I saw a policeman wandering around casually carrying his well worn AK47 with a spare magazine taped to the one already slotted in position.

He was scanning the queue. His eyes met mine. With no acknowledgement he sauntered over to me. "OK. Here we go." I thought

He got close and offered me the hint of a smile which made me feel that I was not going to be given the third degree.

Silently but still smiling he held up an ID card. I looked at it.
Rather surprisingly it had my photograph on it.

He then sort of offered it to me.

When I went to take it he spoke for the first time to say, "somebody waiting outside. Get it then."

He took the card with my details on it and Media Commission in bold at the top, turned and walked away.

We in the queue might have been feeling a bit grumpy at the long wait but the broad smile from the guy at the desk eased things a great deal. As he was taking my $50 US, stamping my passport and filling in various forms he rather excitedly told me that in his long career in Immigration he had never seen anyone with my surname and in fact I was probably the first person with that name to come into Uganda.

On the other side of the desk my smiling policeman was waiting. He ushered me through to the exit bypassing the Customs desk. Both he and the Customs official waved me through saying, "don't worry.",when I said that I had a duplicate equipment list to be stamped.

The policeman took me to a guy with a Beijing 2008 Olympic back pack wearing a t shirt, boots and lightweight cargo pants.

Peter, an ex-Sunday Mail China Correspondant and News Editor, now in the PR role was my contact from the Christian charity World Vision. He had set up the logistics for me and would also be lending his journalistic input helping out with some interviews etc.

In the rough and ready airport car park I met our driver Santos and Moses the local PR for World Vision.
Santos our driver..
..and Moses
I had been travelling for good few hours with around another five or six to go a lot of it in the dark on roads that were not much better than wide, potholed tracks.

Normally driving at night in Africa is not recommended for many reasons but here in Uganda World Vision deemed it fine.

Indeed it was fine although not quite as calm as a night drive up the
M6 or even the A1.
Even on the good tarmac there were obstacles to get round...
..and when the tarmac ran out obstacles to go through
Totally knackered after about four hours of being bounced over potholes or slewing across the back of the car as Santos tried to avoid the biggest ones without ramming us into the headlights of the oncoming cars, their drivers doing the same.

Often Santos canted us over as he took the near side into the ditch at the side of the road in order to miss the bigger craters in the bright red compact dust that glowed back in the beam from the headlights.
Busy and dusty

Monday 26th May
Gulu Northern Uganda

This morning it was not too much of an early start. The night's sleep was much appreciated in a hotel well above African standard. We had constant water. The information sheet in the room said to leave the water running in the shower for at least 5 mins to allow it to get hot, which it did.

Being in Africa and not being mean with water felt wrong.

In the two nights we had there the power only went off two or thee times. Most or the outages were a matter of a few short moments. One during the early hours of the morning lasted three hours.
Our car parked in the shade..
..under one of the many mango trees 
At the Word Vision Uganda Children of War Rehabilitation Centre just a few minutes drive from the hotel I started to film some graphic art work done by a local artist depicting the general story of people being abducted, held captive and finally rescued.

The painting won't win any awards for artistic merit but they certainly portray very compelling events. Even in this simplistic style the horror of what happened to thousands is stark.

Whilst I was doing this I heard voices outside. Angela had arrived.

She had a huge smile and warm manner that belied the horrific years that she had endured at the hands of the members of Joseph Konys Lord’s Resistance Army.

One of the things that Angela has done since getting away from the bush was in simple terms to set up a bit of self-help group and document the women and their children, particularly the ones that they had whilst in captivity.

So, my first bit of proper filming with her was at the hut of one of those women and her children.
Angela at work documenting the families
Kids were never far away 
At another village not far away Angela spent some time with another family. Skovia the eldest daughter was born in captivity. When she was a little girl she was caught up in a gunfight in which she was shot in the hip and head.

The bullet in her hip is still there, deemed too dangerous to be removed. The head wound has caused a combination of paralysis and mental problems.
Getting some village GVs...
..and shots of Skovia with her mum and sister
After a lunch of take away chicken and chips eaten on the two hour journey further north from Gulu into the bush towards the Sudanese border we came to the Aboke school.

It was not just a case of driving up the gate and into the school. The large sheet metal gates of the school remained firmly closed until the small posse of unarmed guards were happy that we would not be up to no good and a teacher had arrived to escort us in.

Back in 1996 at the height of the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army one hundred and thirty nine schoolgirls were abducted from the school, taken into the bush where thirty, including Angela were selected to be used as forced wives by the young men of he LRA.

I filmed a little piece to camera with Angela where she told terrifying story of how that fateful night they were taken out of the dorm at the point of not just AK 47s but also Rocket Propelled Grenades, with their hands roughly and tightly tied behind their backs.

I was amazed at how well she told the story as she walked me through the events of night. It was a bit longer than I would have liked but with a judicious bit of editing and use of cutaways of the dorm it would work well.
The dorm from where Angela and her school friends were taken
Angela ready to tell her story
When the abduction happened the windows were lower and bigger
Angela telling her story to my camera 

In the school grounds there is a memorial that depicts the trek into the bush and the fruitless brave attempt by one of the nuns from the school pleading for the girls to be released.

In front of it I did another little piece to camera shot with Angela telling the story shown in the images.
One of the images on the memorial
It was just awful to hear how the girls realised that the soldiers were going for the more attractive of the girls and any that were not pretty, had fat legs or were too plain were rejected and some given a good beating into the bargain.

The girls tried to make themselves look as unappealing as possible by pulling faces or trying to make out they were disabled or impaired in some way. This did not do them any good because not only were they selected, the beatings that they were to endure over the next years started there and then.

The ones that were rejected were the lucky ones. They were allowed to return to the school.

Again the way she related the story was compelling listening.
Detail from another image on the memorial
When I was getting some shots of the art on the memorial I could hear Angela talking about the woman who was sitting a little bit away from us grinding up a plant that is used as flavouring, akin to curry powder for the school’s canteen.

Florence was one of the very few members of staff still at the school that had been there when the abduction had happen.

She was going over to say hello and see if she remembered her. I instantly thought that there was the potential for a nice bit of a reunion.

I quickly whipped the camera off the tripod and dashed over to see the meeting. Sure enough Florence did recognise Angela and this was the first time that she had seen her since the abduction and her return in 2004.

It was a lovely reaction to witness and record as the old lady hugged and touched Angela. The pair were genuinely pleased to see each other.
Angela and Florence
There was genuine joy from them both
A moment of reflection for Angela as Harriet translates for me
World Vision's Peter getting the shot of Angela beside... of the appropriate signs around the school
That was it in terms of filming for the day. We headed back to Gulu.

On the drive north I sat with Angela and she told me of the sickening things that she suffered and witnessed.

For eight years she was systematically beaten with canes and machetes, called panga in a lot of African countries.

Not only would she and the other girls be beaten with these panga, the blades would be heated up so that the beatings ended up as brandings too.

Along with all the other girls they were repeatedly raped, they call it being used. Many became pregnant giving birth to their children in the bush with scant attention to cleanliness or any form of medical help if things went wrong.

She witnessed brutal killing maybe not on a daily basis but far too frequently.

All the members the group of soldiers that had come in the night to the school to take Angela and the other girls into their nightmare ended up dead, usually as a result of an exchange of fire with the Ugandan or Sudanese army.

It was last night when the power went off for a fairly long time. Long enough for the lack of air conditioning in the room to make sleep a difficult task as muggy temperature eased up from bearable to pretty uncomfortable.

Tuesday 27th May
Gulu Northern Uganda

This morning after doing a little interview with Harriet, the local World Vision boss, about what a wonderful job Angela is doing getting the returnees rehabilitated into society and how she is helping the charity do it’s work I got some shots of some of the art work done by the children born in captivity. Although simply drawn it was a stark indication of the hideous things that these innocent kids had been through.
The children's work..
..a graphic illustration of what there life was like..
..and what they saw almost daily!
Then we went to meet Santa and her son Job.

Santa was in captivity for a long time. Job was born as a result of Santa being “used” by one of the LRA commanders.

The big problem that they face is the stigma attached to being born a “rebel child” with a father that the authorities are still trying to bring to justice.
Peter in Santa's hut..
..doing an interview with Angela, Job and Santa
They pose for a still for me
Santa and Job
To make ends meet the pair make and sell necklaces made out of old magazines and any other scrap paper that they can find.
Can't believe these pretty necklaces are made out of thrown away paper
Another curious onlooker
Angela was a little bit worried and on edge when we were going to meet her mum because Peter and I had asked if we could film them at home rather than at the World Vision Uganda Children of War Rehabilitation Centre.

Her mother is certainly an imposing woman, giving the distinct impression that she was not to me messed with.

After meeting her and explaining what we wanted Angela need not have worried because she was lovely and gave us more time and help than it was reasonable to expect.
Angela and her mum
We had time to get a bite of lunch before going back to the Centre to get some shots of one of the meetings of the Watye Ki Gen Project.

This is where the abductees get together to share stories and help each other get back into normal society.
Our lunch venue in central Gulu
Angela gets the meeting started
One of the women talks of her experiences 
Janet takes notes
Taking care of baby whilst the meeting is on
The rest of the afternoon was set aside for Angela’s main interview. She spoke for about two hours about her abduction, life as basically a sex slave and her eventual escape to Juba in southern Sudan.

It would be near impossible and require someone with much better word skills than me to encapsulate the enormity of her story in a few lines.

When she talked of walking over skeletons of people who had died in the bush and how many of the girls were sexually brutalised in front of very young girls so that they would know what to do when they came of age tears slowly rolled down her cheek as the memories became almost to difficult to bear.

It was a mark of her character that it was when she talked about what happened to other people not to herself she became emotional.

Apart form the noise of the cockerel and goats in the compound there was only one little interruption the interview. Some kids at the back of the building that houses returning boy soldiers threw a few speculative stones over. They bounced noisily on the corrugated roof, quite a large one almost hit Angela.
Reviewing Angela's very powerful interview 
It was not just girls that were kidnapped. Boys were also taken in order to be trained as fighters for the LRA.

One of nasty tactics used to keep the boys in line was to take them back to their village on a raid and force them to kill someone from the village so that even if they did manage to escape it would not be possible for them to go back home.
The end of the interview almost ended the day’s work. The only thing left to do was to record a few short bits of the interview that I did with Florence in English. I enlisted the help of Janet, Angela’s friend and partner in the group that they set up.

Janet's story of captivity was equally disturbing, but the way she was captured comes straight out of a post apocalyptic novel.

She was in a packed bus that was attacked by the LRA. Everyone on the bus except Janet was murdered.

She survived because she fell down and was covered by the bodies of the some of the dead passengers.

The LRA left after carrying out the massacre. Soaked through in the warm blood of the dead she managed to force her way out of the pile of bodies.

By the time she had done that the LRA boys had decided to come back just to make doubly sure that no one was left alive to tell the tale.

At least they did not kill her, just made her life a living hell for a lot of years.

As I said my goodbyes to these beautiful, intelligent, warm women I could not help but marvel at their ability to survive and come out the other end capable of laughter and living a normal life.
The pain and suffering these women endured is impossible to comprehend.. they are free, able to smile and share the gift of laughter
Angela would be coming to London to be a guest in the Good Morning Britain studio on the morning of the start of the summit. I would miss it, as I would be heading out to Rio de Janeiro to cover the FIFA World Cup.

The following day was a very long one travelling, starting with a long drive back south to Entebbe followed by two flights home via Amsterdam.

On our short trip we had had our very minor share of stress and sadness. Santos our happy and informative driver received news that two of his very close relatives had died. As soon as he had dropped us off in Kampala he was off to help transport one of the bodies to be buried.

Moses had to dash off for an afternoon to take one of his sick relatives to a hospital. Thankfully it turned out to be nothing too serious. 
We did stop off a couple of times on the drive south, once for very juicy mangos..
..and an incredible lunch..
..of fish from the local lake..
..accompanied by rice, matooke (sort of stewed banana) and posho (maize flower)

No comments:

Post a Comment