Yesterday was Uganda’s 50th year of independence. Well, sort of. I guess if you choose not to count the millennia before Britain came, when Ugandans were not called Ugandans and were just doing their own thang. For thousands of years.
Tom and I put on an essay competition at his secondary school, mostly regarding this milestone of an event, and what students want to see out of their next 50 years of independence. We only have three entries (which means everyone is a winner!!!), but our first place essay is below. I chose this essay because it most closely resembled what an essay should be, instead of just listing ideas.
Name: Arionzi Vincent, Senior 2, Adumi SS, Arua UgandaAs a citizen of Uganda and as I have been staying in Uganda there are so many bad stories and good stories about Uganda, some of which I witnessed and others I was told by my elder friends, brothers, and some of which I learned in school.Uganda has got independence in the year 1962 under the leadership of president Kabaka Metasa II and by then Milton Obote was a prime minister of Uganda. Since that time many changes have been witnessed by the people of Uganda and non citizens. However these changes are both good and bad changes which varied according to the leaders who are running the country and are influenced place to place.It has now lasted for about 50 years ago since Independence of Uganda. Many Ugandans have totally forgotten the war regimes that overshadowed the country like Uganda especially the wards during the first and second regimes of Milton Obote, so, after another 50 years cases of insecurity and wars will be history and Uganda’s motto that says “For God and my Country” will no longer remain on paper but practically enjoyed by Ugandans and will be witnessed by the people of neighboring countries.More so after this 50 years of independence, Uganda has also been known world over for so many developmentary features concerning health education systems, people’s rights, and others in that many schools have been created, hospitals have been built for people to struggle for their rights, some of which are free and there have been respect as regards to human rights compared to before that one associated by the leaders in past.Uganda as being my country, the following are what I hope to see in Uganda during the next 50 years of independence. Before independence, wars of conquest, mob justice, women suppression, over taxation, corruption had been common practices among Ugandans and mostly played out by those past Ugandan leaders, more so brutality by armed men in highways have being almost everywhere in Uganda. The suspect of brutality being the LRA rebels and led by joseph kony, the ADF rebels and Ugandan forces to who had caused threats everywhere, Uganda, and claiming peoples lives and during those regimes some tribes were also hostile with others, these tribes include Karamajong, Masai, and others.So many parts of Uganda were also unpassable due to natural barriers such as forest and water bodies which were left unbuilt and roads were narrowly constructed and some places were inaccessible due to poor roads and high ways robbers.THE END
Not bad, eh? I like that it shows the good along with the bad, the positive development along with the wars. It’s interesting being here for this anniversary; we are able to witness many different opinions about Uganda, its government, and future. These last 50 years have been spent mostly in war, so I think that the greatest cause to celebrate for many is the current peace.
We went to the sub-county celebration in Etocaka, which are my old stomping grounds. It’s always weird going back to where my first house was. I’m so glad I don’t live there anymore. Anyway, the celebration mostly consists of parade/marching. All of the schools and organizations in the sub-county practice marching for weeks before Uhuru (Independence Day), and they call this “Scouting.” I asked Dante (headteacher of Adumi SS) what the significance is of the marching, because it is a very unique tradition, and he told me that it symbolizes the joy and ceremony of the country taking actions into their own hands. It is very formal, like many things here. All of the military and big government officials stand at attention next to a flag and salute throughout the entire parade. Then, school by school and organization by organization, the parade starts with the slow march. I guess this is just the standard Ugandan military march, in all its slow dignity. There is always one person leading their little battalion of marchers, and he directs them by yelling “EYESSSSSSSSS RIGHT!” when they pass in front of the crowd and they all follow his lead, and turn towards us in perfect synchronization. Then, they march majestically past us. It’s sort of unsettling to see children as commanders, especially as they are usually donning fake guns, sunglasses, stern expressions, and other military paraphernalia. But, that is part of the history here.
After everyone has followed the protocol, then there is the fast march, which is somehow more entertaining. This time, they let their hair down a little, kick up their heels, and they can modify what they are doing. It’s not as much about the uniformity, and people get really into it. Schools are judged based on their “smartness” and their marching. If their uniforms all look really nice, and if they march perfectly in step, then they are discussed later with much pride. It’s really a thing of pride. I was pretty happy because my two favorite organizations in Adumi did the best. Golden Day Care- the nursery school that I visit a lot- were the “smartest” school; and they were wearing the alphabet hats that my grandparents sent last year! And then, my female adult literacy group was also very smart, in their new uniforms. It was exciting to see them as an established organization, and now they are even starting up some income generating activities, like bead-making and sweater-making! They don’t even need my help at all, which makes me feel like a good Peace Corps volunteer- because we aren’t supposed to be leading or running anything, we are supposed to facilitate, mentor, and act as resource people.
Highlights of independence day you ask? I’m glad you asked, because as a whole, going to these celebrations is always rather stressful for us. We are still a strange site for sore eyes (?) and gather a whole lot of unwanted attention. Wherever we walk, we have to wait for a sea of children to part, because they are simply always orbiting around us like a thousand curious little planets. All of the elders and village mummies and pretty much everyone else come to shake our hands. We have to rub elbows with all of the big government officials and community leaders, who we frankly don’t feel worthy of sitting next to. We get asked to pose for pictures with babies in our arms, and feel hundreds of tiny little hands brushing against out skin to see if it rubs off and turns them white. But, I really could be describing any other day in my village with that. What made it unique? Besides seeing my female literacy group and reconnecting with a lot of people in the community, I also enjoyed meeting probably the oldest man in Adumi. As spry as a rabbit, this muzee (elder) donned a bonnet (why not?) and clocked in at 99 years old. Twice the age of independent Uganda, this was a man who has lived through countless wars, in addition to fighting in the King’s African Rifles in World War II, and has seen the Lugbara transition from a very isolated tribe in the Congo that still practiced traditional beliefs and wore bark and leaves, to a Catholic tribe in Uganda. What makes this man so special, besides his age and wisdom, has to be the hats that he wears. I have seen him in a furry leopard-print cowboy hat, a bonnet, and probably something else equally bizarre. What also makes him special are his favorite words to say to me, “You! Mommma! Give me money!” The minute those words exited his 99-year old mouth, I remembered him as the man in the leopard-print hat who had accosted my mom at one of my primary schools with a similar request. And, both interactions ended the same way: confusion, laughter, and then taking a picture of him. He really wants a picture of himself. So, mom, do you have that one of him from April? Once you reach the status of village elder or muzee, it seems that you get to cash in a life-time weird hat license.
Speaking of photos, while we were waiting for Father Lino to pick us in his vehicle, Tom and I got asked by a hundred people to take their pictures, and we were happy to oblige. Many people here don’t have mirrors and have never gotten a picture taken of themselves, so I think it’s the least we can do. We will have a lot of distributing to do later on, but for now it was fun to show them their image on the camera. I love the pictures, mostly of mommas, because they show the beauty of Adumi village.
After we had left Etocaka, we knew were in for the second phase of our journey. It is well known that Father Lino is a very moderate man, except for a few key dates over the course of a year. These few dates shall be hereafter known as the days when father lino drinks tom and ilse under a table. We knew it was coming. We were invited to have dinner at the parish to celebrate, and so we went, even though being outside and moving after 6:30 pm always feels foreign and dangerous. Father broke out the bag of Primus Beer while we were watching the news (! First time in 2 years!), and after a really depressing half-hour where I had a traumatic crash course in modern-day history, we went to eat dinner. A feast for kings! No, really, it was. We eat beans and Enya Sa (cassava bread) for every meal at the secondary school, and independence day is a day for splurging, so we had irish potatoes, creamed greens, cow peas, pasta, cabbage salad, and a huge assortment of meats. During and after dinner, Father kept on pouring us more and more primus. I was getting alarmed, because I really don’t drink here, and have not had more than 1 beer in succession for months. Well, it all turned out well, because I just poured my beer in Tom’s glass. The real treat of the evening was the conversation. We were accompanied by the resident seminarian at the mission, named Joel, who had just finished a course in philosophy and astrology. That became very relevant to our conversation, as we discussed religious beliefs, evolution, Uganda, political philosophy, etc. At one point, Joel turned very somber and morose, and explained to us that he was very disturbed from his recent course in astrology. The fact that the earth is so small in relation to the universe, and the very existence of black holes was confusing and depressing him. “Also,” he said, “There exists a type of non-planet mass that moves through the solar system not respecting the orbits and can possibly crash into the earth, destroying it.” Father LIno looked over to him, over his glass of beer, “And that is worrying you? What do they suggest we do? Stop drinking beer?” After a few moments of hysteria, in a brief calm, Joel shook his head. “No, I think it is better if we continue to drink beer.”
And with those words, here are some more moments from Independence Day: