During the early 80s the bush war in Luweero Triangle threatened the government in Kampala so much so that those in power took special security measures to net people suspected of being rebels or rebel sympathizers. This was the era of 'dduka-dduka,' which literally translated means 'run-run.' No one could accurately predict when state security and armed forces would mount a dduka-dduka operation or the exact form it might take. One infamous method was the 'Panda-gari,' which literally translates to 'Board the vehicle.' The 'gari' was usually a military truck which people were forced to board with gun butts being shoved in their backs so it was not a polite offer for a ride. Many people taken during these panda-gari operations were not heard of again, so obviously a panda-gari operation was accompanied by a dduka-dduka reaction.
Sometimes these operations were simply staged as a cover for looting stores in town and so one day I was in my mother's store on Luwum Street when the security operatives swung into action. The soldiers were known for their thuggery and during such operations, in addition to roughing up innocent civilians and stealing their wares, they also stole the dignity of women by raping them. They were not known to discriminate when they plundered and raped and a woman of advanced age could be raped alongside her teenage daughter. That must have been the thought that crossed my mother's mind when the soldiers poured onto Luwum Street. So while others rushed to lock their shops and hide their wares, my mother's first thought was to hide me and my cousin Alice who were assisting her that day. She never thought of herself, nor did she think of her wares, she sent us upstairs to hide behind the boxes that were in storage and returned downstairs to secure the shop. The soldiers were in a hurry that day and they went by grabbing only what was easily accessible at the front of the stores. We remained hidden with pounding hearts until the storm passed by and mother came to retrieve us from our hiding places.
Hardly five years before, mother had left Kampala alone to search for me and my brother who had been displaced by the war that ousted Idi Amin. She had come looking for us long before civilian transport was easily available and she boarded trucks fit for transporting produce to market and cattle to the abattoir. She boarded overloaded passenger vehicles that were far from roadworthy whenever she could find them until she found us and retrieved us from displacement. She braved the dangers of that journey to make sure we got back home safe and sound.
At 50 I know that a mother's love is not something that she sets out to demonstrate to her children but it is something that her children perceive in the many small and big risks that she routinely takes to protect them.