Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Juggling student life and first time motherhood was never easy. I lived off the University Campus and drove to Makerere for lectures then rushed back home to take care of my baby. Sometimes a friend would ask for a ride into town and on that day two friends, Alice and Rebecca jumped in the car with me.
It was 1985, Museveni's NRA guerillas were advancing towards the capital city threatening to bring down the Okello regime and one could not travel a long distance without being stopped at a roadblock. We got stopped on Bombo Road and a soldier in military fatigues approached us and asked me for the vehicle registration card. When I opened the glove compartment to retrieve the card, the soldier did a double take, peered into the compartment once more and then jumped into a trench on the roadside, yelling out to his colleagues. My friends and I looked at each other in puzzlement wondering what had caused so much excitement. Five to six soldiers were walking carefully towards the car with guns aimed at us. We started screaming, scared out of our brains. The first soldier reached into the compartment and pulled out an oval shaped black object and shouted 'What it is this?' I had never seen it before so I shouted back; 'I don't know.' By now the scene appeared like something out of an action movie. We were pulled out of the car roughly and stood there shaking as the soldiers debated whether to take us to Nile Mansions (a notorious torture chamber) or the nearby police station. A kind policeman took pity and said we were just students from the University and he wanted the case logged at Wandegeya Police Station.
Everything took on a dream-like quality as we were led into the station, asked to remove our shoes and belts before being thrown into a filthy cell. The floors were slippery with human waste and in those cells men, women and children were held together. My friends kept asking what I had in the car to which I had no answer. The kind policeman came back and informed us that we had been arrested for possession of a 'tortoise' hand grenade and the military officers wanted to know how it came in our possession. I nearly passed out with fright. It did not help that we spoke the same language as the rebel leader trying to overthrow the government. It took a while but I finally remembered that a relative had borrowed the car over the weekend and this relative was dating an army officer. That saved us from a very unhappy ending. I had learnt in my criminal law class that an arrested suspect was entitled to one phone call at the police station and I insisted on it. I had to think fast and decide whom to trust with this single opportunity that could mean either that we would be free or on the way to a torture chamber or even death, which was not uncommon in those days. I called Emmanuel, my brother (RIP) who bless his heart, found some humor in this whole situation. He knew the owner of the grenade and produced him at the Police Cells in record time and we were freed after nearly five hours of this nightmare.
There were not too many friends asking for a ride into town after that. I also learnt to check what I was carrying in my glove compartment before I switched on the car's ignition.

At 50 I know that no matter how well the story is told in hindsight, only those who have experienced terror during war can truly relate to the fear of that moment when your life hangs in balance.

 — feeling bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment