5 Things Josh Dysart Could Never Have Learned On The Internet

5 Things Josh Dysart Could Never Have Learned On The...

By DCE Editorial Monday, August 24th, 2009
If there’s one thing I’m proud of in UNKNOWN SOLDIER, it’s that Alberto and I work hard to capture East Africa. Not as it looks in films, not as it’s described in books, but as I experienced it. To that end I’d like to share with you some of the exhilarating, scary and dreamy realizations that shaped the tone of the book. Things that no amount of research, shy of visiting the region in 2007, could have possibly unearthed. 1. “AFRICAN’S LIVE AND DIE BY CHANCE.” – This was said to me by the Muslim woman who sat next to me on the Air Emirates flight from Dubai to Uganda. It has become one of the defining statements of the series. 2. GUNS, GUNS, GUNS - From my first destination (a wildlife preserve I spent the night in that was guarded by an AK-47 toting 17 year-old girl) to the moment I left, I saw guns everywhere. Every business seemed to have an armed guard at its doorstep. I saw people riding bicycles to work with shotguns strapped to them and a back barroom in Gulu that housed a wholesale armory. Soldiers and security are so used to their guns that they carry them with the lackadaisical indifference of a woman lugging a purse. 3. THE JOY OF THE BODA-BODA – Every guidebook warns you of the dangers of the motorcycle taxies of Uganda. But you just can’t resist. From the raging exhilaration of nighttime travel through the pitch-black bush to the crazed life or death dogfights through the free-for-all anarchy of Kampala traffic, the Boda Boda is pure freedom. Wave one down, pay the hiked muzungu price, still dirt-cheap, and you can go anywhere. Just make sure to get your traveler’s health insurance. It’s on the back of these bikes that I first fell in love with East Africa. 4. NATURE’S IN CHARGE HERE – sweltering equatorial days, two-inch long mosquitoes and terrorist baboons that ran my bus off the road were just some of the encounters that shaped my understanding of the East African’s respect, fear and wariness of nature. But I also had a vervet monkey look for bugs in my hair, got to pet a white Rhino that laid on his side like a 6,500 lb dog begging for a belly rub, went to sleep in a nature preserve to the lonely roar of an old lion who had long since lost her pride and felt the grace of the heat-breaking rains in the middle of an emerald forest. 5. THE EYES TELL ALL - It seems everyone has a war tragedy to share in Northern Uganda. Truth is, some are just making it up to grift you out of a shilling, but often enough you hear the real deal, and you know it’s the real deal because you can see it in their eyes. You can see real suffering, real fear, real confusion in the right, or wrong, set of eyes. But now and again you also come across deadened eyes. I looked into the eyes of one boy and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was a killer… not one who was forced to kill, mind you, not one who was remorseful about the blurry, morally complicated life he had led in the bush, you see plenty of that too, but a shark-eyed boy who would kill again if it would get him something he wanted. The kind of boy who thrived during the war. I’ll never forget looking into those eyes. - Joshua Dysart