Saturday 19th September
They have gone: our last team of the year has flown out of Entebbe airport en route for Brussels and then Heathrow. Richard and I gave each other a congratulatory hug at the airport and went off for a beer at Banana Village. There, under a moonlight sky, next to a placid swimming pool glimmering gently in the darkness, we chewed over the events of the last three months.
It has been good: most of what we set out to do has been achieved. 35 volunteers from the UK have had a “Uganda experience” and done some useful work in the progress. We have learned how to do some things better and how not to attempt some things at all. We now have six days to finish up, clear up and say many goodbyes before we too are back at the same airport heading for home.
The last thing we did with the team today was to take them to the Botanical Gardens at Entebbe. After a picnic lunch by the side of Lake Victoria, amongst egrets, kites, kingfishers and Egyptian geese, we had a couple of hours to walk through the woods or sit by the water. I chose the latter. I had been there about an hour, making notes about the programme, when there was a voice behind me. The guidebook warns us to avoid people asking for money or seeking friendship in the gardens so I was a bit careful in my response. I turned to find a Ugandan man in his twenties covered in blood from the knees down. It is strange – a lot of blood looks less scary on black skin than on white.
He and his friend asked if I had a first aid kit. (I had) They said he had fallen down some rocks on the way to the beach. I was suspicious – had he, I asked myself, faked this injury in order to catch me off guard and rob me? When he peeled back the bleeding skin to reveal his kneecap I realised that this was a genuine injury. No-one, I told myself, would injure themselves to this extent just to steal my bag!
So I helped them clean up the wound; I found a large plaster and we tried to stem the bleeding with difficulty. I went back to our bus to fetch a bandage to hold his torn skin together and I bandaged his leg up. I was acutely aware that I was the only white person on the beach and I was putting myself in danger – he could easily knock me over the head I kept telling myself. But, of course, he didn’t – he was just grateful.
And then he asked for my mobile number. I said I could not remember it (true) and my phone was not with me (untrue) because, once again, I was putting my safety first. I feared that he would pester me with calls begging for money for college fees (the usual reason given). So I wished him well, told him to see a doctor and get some stitches in the wound, and said goodbye.
I have mixed feelings about this incident. On the one hand I have done everything “by the book” – I have been “HIV aware” about touching his blood, I have not identified myself, not given him my contact details and I am entirely sure that he cannot trace me. On the other hand – I may have missed the chance of an interesting friendship which could have stretched between Uganda and the UK for many years. I do not even know his name and he does not know mine.
My only hope now is that I have raised his respect for white people. I hope he thinks they are not just “bosses” who don’t do any work (the common view) but are actually people who are willing to help get on their knees in the dirt and bandage a black person’s wounds. But I will never know!
To close – how about this for a sign next to a police station – “Mpala Police Station sponsored by Entebbe Pastors Association” If I read this correctly, the police station has been paid for by the ministers of local churches! In a country ripe with corruption in official circles, it is refreshing to see some transparency – we just have to hope that there are no expected concessions on speeding tickets and parking fines.