Wano (Lugandan for Round Here)
Wano (Lugandan for Round Here) by Penny Randell
Venturing out into a world unknown for a visceral, first time experience can mean the birth of realizations meant only for the strong at heart and devoted in spirit. I now speak of a ghetto that recently hosted me via devoted friends who believed the encounter would speak to me as nothing from my past. Indeed, they were proved correct. I was hosted in an honorable fashion, as though the entire community was greeting a princess. The outcome solicits a description uncommonly put into words. Because I have been keeping company with youths who fancy complete social freedom of mind and body, I was taken to a place hardly ever frequented by Mzungus, meaning whites. Most poignant was the acceptance initiated by all who either personally met me or lingered from afar. But, no matter who became aware of my presence I was taken in as a sister and more importantly, never once singled out or stared at from either close up or from a distance.
The corridors that provided the community’s infrastructure were barely wide enough for the passage of one. A common canal ran the course of the entire domain and flowed with a viscous fluid I preferred not to identify. The stench was insulting; locally grown vegetables were inundated with black holes; and the open air array of meats afforded a satisfying meal as insects swarmed displayed flesh. Benches were commonly placed about for those who had nothing better to do than sit and take in the sites. Most of these perches were occupied by museas, meaning old folks, who were happy only to take in their surroundings from a distance. Even then, a nod of the head was practically continuous and not a one let me pass without recognition of my presence.
As I sauntered by and made note of their being, a wide grin displaying a mouth full of white dentition would meet straight on with my smile. And never have teeth been so obvious as when revealed against a black face that was so full of life and exuberance. While moving from one station to another, my colleagues were lured to a private shanty constructed of cement and corrugated tin. In this ever so small envelopment that housed a continuous bench confined to a rectangular pattern, I remained the guest of honor. Few words were passed, however, for their attention was fixed on a small television that offered an American movie, starring Sylvestor Stalone. As the video ran a gruff Ugandan voice narrated it for those who had not been formally educated, thus escaping the option to learn English. The room was swollen with great laughter, as the Hollywood star would wrestle his opponents to the ground, ignoring the option to behave in a more civilized fashion. The air within the enclosure was heavy and laden with enough moisture to create a substantial sauna. Intolerant of the heat, I asked for an envelope or anything that could create a current of air that I could self motivate. Upon my request, all attendees offered something that would make do and render me comfortable. As I fanned vigorously, I listened to the banter between the occupants, able to distinguish a few words here and there. The chatter was concerning local happenings and were rife with comments concerning the recent Independence Day celebrations.
At the end of the visit I was unanimously invited to return at any time. All present rose to their feet, offering what seemed to be a generous and sincere farewell. My friends lead me by hand through the hallways lined with cement walls and out into the open where I could grab a whiff of fresh air.
As we made our way to the outside, I openly admitted that the camera in my purse was itching to be brought out, taken into action and record the visual account of my happening. This was an awkward moment, for Emi and Paul, my two new friends, were not so sure if such a gesture would be tolerated. At discussion’s end, however, Emi assumed the responsibility, grabbed my camera, turned and proceeded to take the shots. One by one he snapped them off until I was forced to encourage a cease-fire. But, just then two Ugandan police lorries were upon us and nothing I saw or heard warned me against seizing the opportunity and taking the snap. Without thought my words dictated a “go” status and once again Emi took the shot, one and then another. Just as we rounded the corner, making our way to the intersection, a uniformed army woman confronted us face to face. “What are you doing, and what are you up to?” was her demand. Both Emi and I began to speak. That said, I was suddenly attentive to the mere tilt of his head, as he seemingly asked me to silence myself. I responded to his gesture. In all manner of compliance Emi asked if he could simply delete the picture and be on his way. The uniformed officer would not let us pass. She insisted on knowing why we had made attempts to capture the police lorries…that were, by the way, filled to overflow capacity. Finally, she abruptly inquired if I was a journalist. Again, the tilt of the head.; I did not respond. More than five minutes passed before the soldier gave it up, gave in and walked away. Nonetheless, even from afar one could easily detail her image. She never removed her eye until we had cleared that side of her world.
While crossing the street and clinging to the precious state of anonymity, I drew a deep breath, relaxed and recalled the number of times I have been detained for that exact reason. This time I was protected while in the grips of locals. Had I not been, there would be no advancement of pixels, me or otherwise. Truly, I have been heavily put upon for sake of the camera. Alas, I had an ally. The day was like no other; I am blessed and I hope to visit the ghetto just one more time, for this was a revelation in the life of an average Ugandan that is rarely, if ever told.