In December 2014 I wrote this blog post When the night is unsafe … life goes on which focused on an indident, on new year’s eve in 1983. Together with most of thepeople in the photograph below, we were part of a band called the Elements. On our way to a gig, we had a run in with soldiers. It could have ended very badly, but it didn’t.
Yesterday morning, on the 5th of September 2016, I wake up to a comment by my good friend, Estella Muyinda, who should have been there but wasn’t. I met her through the Elelments and we have remained fast friends. This is what she wrote in response to the blog above:
I asked my parents for permission to come out with you that nite, and of course they refused. Why? They said that I had not given them the name and address or the phone number of who had invited us. Moreover, they said it was not at any of your homes, so you may recall that I was grounded for a while not joining you where you had to perform.
That nite, I was miserble. Missing you, thinking of the fun you were having. Never in my mind did I think of you being in danger. And you all, never spoke about your experience to me. I guess, it may have been out of fear that it would be something that stopped us from getting together again to sing and perform. ( i.e our safety being the first thing to discuss when going out late to perform.) What I can say, is, we noticed that there seemed to be a stronger bond between all of you and I think, that experience may have been one of the catalysts.
Namu, your experince reminded me of a time in October 1984 when I would have disappeared. Norah, Lillian, Nightingale, Evelyn and I were on our way to Jinja seated at the back of a taxi (a van that carries 6-10 people). Of course we felt the invincible power of youth surging through our veins. We were opinionated, powerful, unstoppable all sure of our rights. As we approached a road block, a deafening silence fell on the taxi. As the taxi stopped we all had our identification cards (ID) on the ready for the soldiers who manned the road block. In silence the ID’s were checked and returned. When it came to mine, the man looked at it, looked at me and motioned me to get out of the taxi. In shock, I asked why, he shouted at me to get out of the taxi. This drew the attention of the other men and women manning the road block. They gathered around the taxi passanger door and window, passed my ID around – pretending to read it I suppose – because they were holding it and reading it upside down! I was just about to get out of the car, when the taxi driver whispered, “If you get out, you are going to disappear”. I had recently lost my mother during an attack on my home by soldiers, so I was still sensitive to the pain, frustration and danger that surounded my family. Then, I heard Lillian’s voice saying, “If you want her to get out of the taxi, we will all get out with her.” I heard Nightingale’s voice saying, “Yes, all of us in this taxi will get out with her.” The other passengers in the taxi were very quiet. No-one contradicted the two brave girls. There was more shouting from the solders for me to get out, and me loudly telling the girls that I can get out. That they should not say anthing that would cause danger to them, urging them to call my home and tell my father that I had been picked up. (Of course there were no cellphones for immediate calls.) The girls shouting back saying that – “We know our rights!”, putting it to the men that they could not possibly read my ID upside down and understand it. (Now, looking back I just shake my head in wonder – what were we thinking?)
I looked around, other passangers in the taxi were either looking down or the other way. Finally, the taxi driver asked us to get out of his van, We got out, but he did not leave. I do not know why he did not. Maybe, when he realized that all the girls getting out of the taxi looked like teenagers; had no brains to assess the danger they were in; or the passangers in the taxi pleaded for us, I will never know.
We stood outside the taxi, crowded by men in uniform. Nora was wearing a beret. One of the soldiers, grabed it, pulled it off her head saying “Only soldiers are allowed to wear berets.” Nora said that was not true! She asked for her beret back. We foolishly joined in the chorus, trying to negoitate with the soldiers to get the beret back. I stopped listening to the begging for the beret as the gravity of our stuation hit me. Fear like a small tiny ice block started creeping down my spine. By the look on the faces of my friends, I knew they had started feeling the same way. In silence, we listened to the jeers of the soldiers, saying to us that we think we were educated. “Today you will learn what education means,” they said.
Then an interesting thing happened. The man who had asked me to get out of the taxi peeled himself from the group and stood on the side watching us. We all stared back at him. Well, I did. I was very conscious of him because there was something different about him. Also, he was not wearing a soldiers uniform. He called two men in uniform to him and after a brief discussion amongst themselves, they turned towards us and shouted at us to get back in the taxi. We hurriedly scrambled back into the taxi, but it seemed the taxi driver did not know what to do next. He sat without moving the taxi, staring out at the three men until he was waved to go. No-one said a single thing until we got to Jinja. Only, when embarking from the taxi would a passanger say, “God keep you girls”. I used to tell my parents everything but this time I did not tell my father what had happened to us that day.
I have never forgotten how much I was gripped with fear. This fear followed me because I experienced the same treatment from manned road blocks on numerous occasions. I learned never to travel alone and if i did, I befriended the taxi driver and the tout who collected the taxi fare. Because, in them I knew I could find a stranger who could protect me, which was the case on several occassions. I can say that there are numerous times I was saved by strangers. For that, I am grateful. One of these days I will share with you other times me and friends you know faced similar terror.
Pippa, maybe, you could gather our stories, make a record of our experiences. It could be carthatic for some, and a record of the times – a missing piece not reflected in the recording of our history.”
Storytelling. Storyholding. Holding this space. This is my work.