Monday, May 7, 2012

Trip To Arua

Back then, the little I knew about Arua was that it was far. It was a long distance away, it was in the sticks, it was in oblivion, it was in the black hole and it was on the other side of Uganda.

Apart from Arua being a long distance away and in the sticks, in oblivion, in the black hole and being on the other side of Uganda, I didn’t know anybody who came from Arua. If that was not bad enough, I didn’t even know what people from Arua were called – Aruan’s?

Then, Erik van Veen was new in town. He was doing everything he could in promoting a company called MTN and part of his grand plan, was to have a launch party in every significant town in the land and Arua was one of them.

There was also that most horrible chap called Joseph Kony, who was doing a savage and different kind of promoting. His promotions were to inflict terror, pain, and havoc on our brothers and sisters up north and he also made it extremely difficult for people travelling up north, for once you crossed Karma Falls, it was bunkenke all the way up to Arua.

To make things even worse, the road between Karuma and Arua had no tarmac, and every mile of so, UPDF soldiers were deployed to thwart any Kony ambush.

Van Veen didn’t give a hoot about there not being tarmac between Karuma and Arua. And he didn’t give a damn about Kony either. He had a mission: To put Uganda on the telecommunications grid, to enable the people up north to communicate people in the west and people in the west to communicate with people in the south and people in the south, to communicate with the people in the east.

To cut a long story short, Van Veen wanted Uganda to jazz, to bang kb, to talk and to vybe. And we wanted to do just that because MTN made communicating easier and cheap unlike those chaps from Celtel, who had made it a thing for the rich.

When the invitation to go to Arua landed, I was committed. I was going, just like I went to Moroto in last week’s cowardly tales.

At MTN Towers on a cold Thursday morning we assembled for the yellow bus ride to Arua and invitees list was impressive enough.

Radio One’s RS Elvis, John Nsimbe of Daily Monitor, Capital FM’s Alex Ndawula, Kalunge Kabuye from New Vision, Tilly Muwonge and Chris Eritu of WBS, ‘Barbra’ Natty Dread, Philip Besiimere and Patrick ‘OPP’ Oyulu amongst others.

Anjelica Arden who was in charge made sure that as we boarded, a liquid breakfast was on hand. And the liquid breakfast? Numerous creates of Bell, Nile, Club, Red Top and ESB beers. She had also thoughtfully threw in some buweera’s of water (you have to understand that in those days, the likes of Vero, Rwenzori, Highland, Wava, and Aqua Sipi bottle water did not exist.

We had breakfast all the way to Karuma Falls. The conversations that were running were good, full of humour and sometimes, full of downright blatant lies. But who cared for we were off to Arua and to a town most of us had never been to.

In those days, when you got to Karuma, there was a wait while the UPDF foot patrols made sure that the road from the falls to Arua was safe and devoid of Kony.

Once we got the all clear we set off. As soon as we started seeing wreckage of buses, trucks and cars that had succumbed to earlier Kony ambushes, the conversations that were once full of humour and downright lies ceased to be and the bus went into a silent mode.

And on one bend, when we spotted a group of soldiers in ragtag uniforms squatting in the shrubbery, that was it. We all turned to god.

OPP wept, Kabuye was babbling to himself. RS Elvis held onto his crotch for dear life like there was a probability that the contents would get shot or hacked off.

I on the other hand displayed exceptional bravery that even I found surprising. I joined OPP in weeping, except that my weeping was audible.

Getting to Arua was a relief. We had survived Kony and we had to celebrate. That we did for the next couple of days.

The day before our return to Kampala, Van Veen threw us a mega party in Pacific Hotel that went on into the wee hours of the morning. The party was the talk of town that the ladies of the night from The DRC crossed the border to get in on the action.

Some found clients while other had to trek back empty handed. But was all seemingly well for those who got clients?

In the morning as we all clambered on the bus and nursing sever hangovers, there was no sign of trouble looming ahead. Well that was until we got to an impromptu road block on the outskirts of town.

A combination of police and UPDF troops flagged the bus down. As we all peered out of the windows looking for information, we saw a young lady in the midst of Police and UPDF and who was in a state of distress.

Led by Police, they brought her onto the bus and the conversation that followed went along these lines:

Affande: “One of you boys has been naughty. If you feel you have anything to confess or that you are the guilty party please come forward.”

There was silence.

Affande once again repeated himself and again, it was met by a wall of silence. It was only when he started to walk down the aisle with the Young Woman that I felt the urge to confess. You see the previous evening, I briefly left the party to get some air and while outside the hotel, I felt like having a pee.

Rather than going back into the hotel and using the toilets there, I went round the corner and peed on a wall of a house next to the hotel. Yes I know it was a daft thing to do, but at the time and with a few beers down me, it seemed perfectly ok.

But really, why should I confess to Affande. Let me harden so I thought to myself. And I did just that. As Affande and Young Woman encroached further down the aisle, she stopped, lifted up her hand and pointed. The conversation that followed went along these lines.

Young Woman: “Affande, there he is, that one.”

Affande: “Are you sure he is the one?”

TB (under my breath): “I only peed on the wall but is it grounds for arrest?”

Young Woman: “Affande, I swear it is him. He refused to pay me after sex and even stole my knickers.”

Eh, now from just peeing on the wall I am supposed to have laid her and stolen her knickers too? This is going too far. However, just as I was about to stand up and protest my innocence, Young Woman and Affande walked straight past me and to the back where a young man was trying to hide under the seats.

The Young Man who was a contractor with MTN was hauled down the bus and a quick search of his belongings revealed he did indeed have Young Woman’s knickers. With that he was arrested and taken off the bus.

It was not until we got to Kampala that I felt relieved. Not because we had once again survived Kony but because nobody had reported me for peeing on their wall and thus no arrest would be forth coming.

But pause for a thought. Why would Young Man steal the knickers of a prostitute? Was it some kind of trophy to brag to his friends in Kampala? Young Man, if you are reading this, drop me a line for I would like to know how it all ended. Cheers!

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