Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Uganda Part 2 - The good, the bad, and me

(If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you should scroll down and read it first)

I'll start with the bad, because I don't want anyone to read this and go away thinking Uganda is a place to avoid. It's most definetly not!

Yesterday Joakim got me a rented car and I set off to Jinja. Uganda's second largest city at the shore of the Victoria Lake. It is also where the Nile is born, the source of a river that runs thousands of miles through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. After driving for a couple of hours in the very demanding Ugandan traffic, I was extremely pleased to finally see the Nile in front of me. The road crosses the Owen Falls Dam which provides electricity for large parts of Uganda. As soon as I had crossed I took the next road to the left in order to get a picture of the dam. That was mistake number one. Right by where I had stopped were two armed military police. I saw them, walked up to them with my camera in my hand, said hello to make sure everything was ok, and then I took a picture thinking they would say something if it was not allowed. That was mistake number two.

The older MP called me over. He had a black berret, mirrored sunglasses and an automatic rife. I don't mean to make fun of this. It certainly as hell wasn't funny while it lasted, but he said: "You make big mistake. You take photo. That is bad for our community. Now you under arrest. You go to prison for life. Give me your camera!". Can you believe that? I couldn't. It was completely surrealistic, like taken out of a cheap american movie. Except no US Marines were coming for my rescue.

I spent 10 minutes answering questions and listening to threats. And all the time I was as diplomatic, courteous, respectful and apologetic as I could. I also said I could erase the picture, but somehow I don't think they were familiar with the concept of digital photography. Finally when I saw the second soldier tightening his boots (to me a soldier tightening his boots means his getting ready to do something), I said "I can pay for my mistake". Two BIG Ugandan bills later I was on my way to Jinja. Strange how 50 US dollars seems cheap when the alternative is life in a Ugandan prison. I also understand it might all have been empty threats, but I didn't feel like discussing the point further. Anyway, now when you see the picture of the Owen Falls Dam here.

The good. Aaah, the good are much more good than the bad are bad. And there are so many more of them too! The night before I left, while we were having some Nile Special beers, Joakim called a norwegian girl, Sigrid, that works in a primary school in the village of Motuku. She said she would be glad to show me around the school if I stopped by. I did, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

I've never seen so many smiles and happy faces. I was shown all the classes from Preschool One (3 years old!), to Primary Seven, and in all classes they jumped up and said, "Good morning Mister! We are Primary One (or two or three or whatever)!". The teachers all thanked me for coming, and then they thanked Sigrid for having brought me. I obviously felt I should be the one thanking! In recess all the kids came up to us and wanted to hold my hand and play with the strange skin on my arms. I've never felt so pale in my entire life. I have some great pictures from the visit.

My internet time is running out! I'll be back with more later.


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