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Post War Uganda, East Africa, Part 4: Dangerous Territory
We're on Their Time Now
Our arrival in Nairobi was relatively uneventful, although a different air prevailed when we crossed the border into war-torn Uganda. I observed there, for the first time, the military presence which would become a part of our daily life for the duration of our trip. Soldiers on the tarmac guarded an El Al plane which was being searched thoroughly upon its landing. As we exited the Air France plane and walked across the hot pavement into the terminal, we saw no Uganda Air personnel or planes on the ground.
Knowing that we were in for a wait, some of us wandered the halls of Jomo Kenyatta Airport, while conserving enough energy to play a subdued game of "kick the ball" with some children while seated. The overall appearance of the airport was clean, and the people friendly.
A slight unrest settled in as the officials reviewed and refused to return both our airline tickets and passports. Tom reassured all of us, privately, that all would be well, he had been through this experience more than once, and since I knew him to be very diplomatic I trusted his words..
One of our teammates, Jerry, however couldn't be persuaded, and let his mouth get away from him a bit, which was unfortunate, and did not serve us well as a group. The airline personnel (Kenyan Airlines) were offended by his insistence that he be given a window seat. He seemed to have no clue that we were guests in this new territory, and perhaps not welcome guests, as we were soon to discover. I wondered later if his arrogance might have contributed to the interrogation we later were subjected to. I made a note to myself about why it's probably easier just to follow the rules and do what was asked,
We encouraged him to quietly seat himself and let Tom do the communicating. To our horror, we learned from Tom that our luggage had not accompanied us from either New York or Paris, due to the flight changes. That proved a problem to the officials, as the Uganda government required that no travelers be allowed to enter the country without luggage which indicated to them that there was a plan to stay in the country. Tourism was really welcome, with or without the dangers of travel, the country was poor beyond our comprehension.
Mercenaries had been a problem both during the war in Uganda, and afterwards, because of revenge for atrocities, they were often hired by changing unstable leaders or their enemies to flush out the remaining resistance. Learning that from some nationals in the airport who I was enjoying my casual conversation with, was hardly a comfort. The information was a jolt to my sense of safety, and brought me closer to the impending reality we would soon face.
Suspended for a Minute
After everything was cleared, and we had our boarding passes, we were thoroughly searched by the Kenyan Security Police. Then we were brought through the terminal with military escort out on to the tarmac. We were told to identify our luggage on the tarmac, and to pick it up and walk it to the airplane. We were confused at first, since we were already told that our luggage had not arrived.
They questioned us again as to what our intention and purpose was in Entebbe and Kampala. We told them the truth, and they still seemed rather unsure of whether or not we would be allowed to board the plane. I realized they were trying to ascertain if one of us would tell a story that was different than they others on our team. Of course that didn't happen.
It was hot, sweltering hot, and I felt weak momentarily. We watched as all the other passengers boarded the plane, each with their luggage, including Jane. No one helped her as we had. Then finally when all the others were seated and no luggage was left, we were questioned again.
When it was over, we were allowed to board the plane, wondering what would happen when we landed in Entebbe. The flight was bumpy as a rainstorm began after takeoff. Fortunately, it cleared somewhat before our landing which was on a strip at the edge of Lake Victoria.
It looked to me like we were going to land in the water we flew so low coming in, but the landing was on solid ground, thankfully. The airplane was old, and rickety, after looking out and seeing rivets missing, I read my book intently. Just like in the movies, I thought, just what I expected.
Beautiful People, Beautiful Place
New Friends in a Foreign Land
I buried myself in my book "Under His Wings" for assurance, and prayed silently. They gave our passports and boarding passes back, and my focus changed. I noticed the women around me, many of whom were Muslim, since I had only seen hijabs in magazines up to that moment.
What a sheltered life I had lived! I felt a sense of unity with these women at that moment which transported me to love and equality as God's creation. As I watched them with their children I realized how alike we were as mothers. Realizing that they, too were travelling to Uganda, fostered a concern for them beyond the differences we knew separated us because of our religious beliefs.
I also met a delightful woman from Burundi, a young mother named Jane, whom I helped as she struggled to carry her belongings off to change her infant son. Later she told me she would be traveling to an outpost near us, Semuto, with her brand new baby. I found her sensible and kind, as she happily bantered about the beautiful place we would eventually arrive in.
Jane's husband, who was from the Netherlands. was with the International Labor Organization, and he, too was helping train the nationals to become self-sufficient. I never saw Jane in Semuto, as transportation was not all that available except for work-related issues. I did think about her often and pray for her.
Final Landing - Destination Uganda
Upon arrival, we stood in line with the rest of the foreigners, while Jane quickly moved through the residents line for African citizens. She expressed disappointment as we were detained, as she wanted me to meet her husband and friends, who were happily waving on the deck with the Danger's daughter Jamie, whom I identified from the pictures we had been shown during our missionary training.
I felt a strange sadness as I watched Jane disappear through the outer door. I had identified with her deeply, her gracious smile and our conversation was a treasure I could now only hold in my heart until heaven.
Tom and Jim quickly went through the customs line (along with all our money, which had been pooled for safety sake). This presented a problem, as we were questioned as to why we were in the country without luggage and with no money on our person (individually). Only Art had a bag, an overnight bag with clothing, something I have remembered ever since that day. At least one change of clothes is a good idea, but in Art's case, he was just a light traveler.
Tom produced a letter of invitation from Jay, who was waiting for us outside customes, and he soon was brought in to verify us as his guests and volunteers for the work project. They gave us 3-day visas which could be transferred when we were taken to the Embassy in Kampala by our Agency sponsor in Kampala.
After filling out forms to locate our luggage and converting the required $150 US dollars into Ugandan shillings, we were finally on our way to our new home in Kabubu. It would be a 5 hour trip from Entebbe. I couldn't wait to get there.
(Continue to Post-War Uganda Part 5).