I worked in Uganda from 1984 to 2005 (with the exception of 1987 and a good part of 1988). The last time I visited was twice in August 2007, with China as the filling in the sandwich. (That story is not yet complete.) But I left Uganda that time feeling I never wanted to go back. I had been entirely in and around Kampala, old friends were mostly busy, various people and I managed to be dissatisfied with each other one way or another.
And yet I always had in the back of my mind that I should not let my residence status lapse, for a start having it makes the logistics of my 14 year old daughter visiting her mother less complicated; also I would like to retain an option to retire there, it being significantly cheaper to live, and feels like a second home, having spent a whole chunk of my life there. I would have to be there before the beginning of August 2009 in order to maintain the status. And then the business of my Ugandan son not communicating with me reared its ugly head (he living in Karamoja north-east Uganda); and the desire to visit, encourage and affirm the orphaned family of my late friend Stephen Ediamu (who were reportedly in some difficulties); to visit Gulu in northern Uganda, recovering from 20+ years of war and worse in order to get at least a glimpse of the rehabilitation work going on there; to visit a number of old friends, several now working in Juba in neighbouring southern Sudan; to visit Rwanda again and see what was happening with displaced people from north and south Kivu in eastern Congo, all issues close to my heart. Being in the middle of starting a new occupation, with savings already strained, I could not justify the expense. And yet.
My daughter Marjory was due to visit her mother and has travelled before as an Unaccompanied Minor, but I had not bought her ticket. I was going to wait until the last minute and see if I could get a cancellation at a reasonable price, so why not for me as well (considering all the above)?
So it was , after some days of internet search and phone calls, on Friday 17 July I booked and paid for our (hardly cheap) fares to fly early in the morning of Wednesday 22 July to Entebbe via Amsterdam. On Wednesday evening, Marjory and I flew into Entebbe Airport, on the shores of Lake Victoria, about 20 miles from Kampala. Unfortunately my suitcase did not come though on the luggage conveyor and of course we had to wait until we were sure, then go and report. I was told it would come “tomorrow”. My friend’s car and driver were there to meet us with another old friend. Naturally they were somewhat puzzled about the delay, but fortunately they did not go away.
Marjory was duly delivered to spend time with her Mum at her house in the extended Kampala suburbs. (Her time there included a trip to visit that side of the family in eastern Uganda at Sipi (home of the famous falls in the foothills of Mount Elgon) where, rumour has it, they slept in her uncle’s kitchen with a goat and a cock that crowed in the night). The driver took me my friend’s house in a suburb at the other end of the city; the road was undergoing reconstruction and was very dusty – it was impossible to keep this out of the car. On arrival I was greeted with a warm welcome, a hot meal and a comfortable bed.
Note: people’s tribal and Christian or Islamic names are used interchangeably, including ‘surnames’ or family names. Although things are changing, people rarely use the same ‘surname’ as their father, but are often given a family name from their grandparents’ generation, and/or a name that reflects some big event or season; then there are special names for twins and those who follow them. So I will try to give all of people’s names (in no particular order) as I introduce them. I may well refer to them by more than one of their names thereafter. Some names may be changed to protect privacy.
Though I had many places I wanted to go and people I wanted to see in Uganda and the neighbouring countries, I had narrowed it down to meeting my son, Jewitt James Locha, and finding the reason for his apparent silence; updating my residence status; visiting Gulu, logically proceeding to Juba in south Sudan to see friends and hopefully a little of the nation re-building there. Sadly, Rwanda had to be removed from the picture. Little did I know that she would not be the only sacrifice to the availability of time and money.
I spent the first couple of days doing the necessary administrative tasks: my residence status in Uganda was transferred to my new passport and updated (only one visit to the Immigration Department’s Office was sufficient, with no waiting – all in all an amazing experience); after a wild goose chase with the Sudanese Embassy I succeeded in obtaining a visa for Sudan (overnight from the South Sudanese consulate after waiting in a long queue at the bank to pay the US$50 fee). Additionally on Thursday I went to the KLM office to chase after my suitcase – it was apparently in Entebbe and the lady behind the desk spoke very strongly on the phone to the people in at the airport and promised I would get it on Friday; she also gave me US$100 for the inconvenience. That certainly helped to quieten me down, though did little for the inconvenience of having to borrow clothes or wash them overnight.
My absent good friend lent me his car and driver at cost which helped me a lot. I believe in public transport but I would not have been able to get all those things done in that space of time without a personal vehicle. And when I did get the suitcase on the Friday morning, carrying it on the back of a motorcycle taxi, bodaboda, would not have been easy at all.
© Nicholas Robert Jewitt and nickjewitt.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas Robert Jewitt and nickjewitt.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.