Reflections: Another of my hair’s-breadth escapes!

It was a warm Wednesday morning, and we were exchanging titbits about the war. After dismissing the students and advising them to run home, the headmaster had just told us that Kampala was in the process of being captured by a combined force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles.

It was a warm Wednesday morning, and we were exchanging titbits about the war. After dismissing the students and advising them to run home, the headmaster had just told us that Kampala was in the process of being captured by a combined force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles.

The other teachers immediately followed the students, but four of us took our time to walk down to the shops lining Kampala-Gulu road, which is within fifty metres of Bombo ‘Sudanese’ Secondary School.

We were apprehensive, of course, but in our excitement we could be seen even laughing as we chatted. One particular teacher, Mukiibi who had studied in Dar es Salaam University, was trying to convince us that Mwalimu Nyerere, the then president of Tanzania, had himself requested Ugandans to install Professor Yusufu Lule as their president that very day, 11th April 1979.

Nyerere, he continued, had picked Lule because he was a professor and an intellectual, who would do better ruling Uganda than Amin, the buffoo….

Before Teacher Mukiibi could complete the sentence, his head exploded, blown up by a bullet and blood and brains were splattered all over our heads.

We dived onto the ground, faces down, until a rough voice shouted in broken Kiswahili: “Nyinyi shenzi! Anafulahi ati mwalimu yenu nakuja kuwa Perezident?”

The soldier was ordering us to sit up, asking if we were happy that ‘our’ teacher was going to be president. Mafabi, another teacher, attempted to give an answer but was cut short with a bullet through the heart.

A jeep, over-laden with seemingly crazed soldiers, had materialised from nowhere just as Mukiibi was giving his opinion.

The soldiers, with everything covered in ochre mud to show that they were coming from the frontline, were swivelling all sorts of drinks as they splashed some in the air and on the ground.

Their commander was a man dreaded in the whole of Uganda, known as Butabika. ‘Butabika’ denotes a mad person in Kampala, the way you have ‘Ndera’ cases here in Kigali, or ‘Mathare’ cases in Nairobi.

So, only two of us teachers remained alive now, ‘Ampya’ (not his real name, because he is a gallant soldier here!) and I.

‘Ampya’ was a fellow Munyarwanda, and I could imagine him thinking like me: “Surely, we are going to die like dogs in a war that has nothing to do with us?”

Then we saw the soldiers move away, but ‘Ampya’ whispered: “Grenade!” One of them was unhooking a grenade from his belt.

When he turned and made as if to remove the pin of the grenade, I jumped up and, pointing in the sky, shouted: “SABASABA!”

The effect was electric! All the soldiers dropped their weapons and bounded for their jeep, the fast ones leaving the slower ones.

After driving a distance and hearing nothing, however, they stopped and started to turn round. But, fortunately for ‘Ampya’ and I, at that very moment the first of a very long line of brand new Peugeot 504 cars wheezed by at a supersonic speed!

The jeep turned to follow, but some soldiers jumped down and raced off on foot, as it was not fast enough for them!
Forgetting that we were sitting in a pool of muddy and bloody water with two dead bodies, ‘Ampya’ and I burst out laughing!

The soldiers were running while tearing off their uniforms and, if they could not find a hapless civilian to pick clothes from, did not bother to cover their nakedness.

Meanwhile, to ensure our security ‘Ampya’ picked up one of their discarded guns and with it we made our ‘muddy-bloody-wet’ but safe trek to Bugema Adventists’ Centre. And the trek?

A 50-mile long hike in one swift day! For your information, what was that ‘Sabasaba’ that had put the mother of scares in Amin’s soldiers?

The force of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles had found a way of making a cheap bomb using metal scraps. Still, the bomb was so powerful that it destroyed everything within a mile-radius of where it landed, and sprayed shrapnel in form of old pieces of hoes, machetes, spears, arrows, sauce-pans, folks, spoons, etc.

It is this motley of old metal pieces giving them a juju aura that spread terror in Amin’s soldiers! Now, you may remember that Prof’s presidency lasted a miserly 60 days!

This time a bullet grazed my forehead, and my scar attests to that. That I was almost killed protesting Lule’s removal, which had nothing to do with my country, is too shameful to recount.

ingina2@yahoo.co.uk

 

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