Up to this day, everyone I know that was in Kampala that day, still speaks of it as if it were yesterday.
And for me, I recall how each second went by as though my life depended on it
Well it did, considering that I had to ride through the appalling streets at some point of the day.
And in this post, I will concisely give you a vivid picture of what transpired from my side
So, where do I start from? 🤔
How the day began – Wednesday 18th November, 2020
I woke up to a rainy morning and that in all essence meant, working from home – because well, the feeling of getting drenched on a bicycle is not a pleasant one *future post*
No wait, hold up –
“Oh no🤦♀️ , I have some docs to drop at a supervisor’s office!”, I remembered as I was getting myself ready to enjoy the comfort of working from home.
The documents needed to be signed asap and that meant me going to his office – come MORE RAIN or ROCK-SIZED HAIL.
Being a rainy season and nice weather only for ducks, circumstances have forced me to study the inconsistences in the rain patterns.
So I reckoned that it having rained from 2 am that day, it would stop by around 11am, stay cloudy and become sunny later in the day – Clairvoyance, I tell you 😎
I eventually prepared myself to get ready to leave by 11 am on a day I had initially planned not go to office
While I dressed up, I heard on the news that the incumbent’s main opponent in the forthcoming presidential elections was arrested while conducting campaigns in Eastern Uganda.
This was a sign.
Like, “Woman, you know what happens in Kampala when this guy gets arrested when upcountry?!”
Strikes and violence everywhere, especially in Kampala!
“Well, I am just dropping documents and attending a meeting and using free internet for a couple of hours” – I told myself as my sixth sense talked me out of going to work
Taking no heed of my gut feeling, my big-headed self left home after a couple of minutes and headed out to go about my half – day at work
I reached work only to find that the person I was meant to be meeting, was out of office.
OH WOW, somehow, the gut feeling is always right!
Feeling devastated for doing a futile trip to work, I got tempted to do other tasks I had on my table
Meanwhile, people in different parts of the country were protesting in the wake of Bobi wine’s arrest.
This was expected and I convinced myself, it would calm down by the time I headed home
We are talking about 1 PM
By the time it reached 2pm, tear gas explosions had reached the vicinity of my work area.
When I went to social media, sick-making scenes graced the internet
Citizens in the centre of the streets were burning everything they got hold of as the police reacted with teargas and shooting live bullets at people
It was freaking scary!
Meanwhile, other people were risking their lives lashing at police guys while others were doing antagonistic acts towards anyone that seemed to be in support of the ruling political party or the incumbent or affiliated with the party’s colour, yellow
This went on….. and time – like we know it, likes to fly on days you don’t want it to
All of a sudden, it was 5 pm – just like that
For a moment of about 15 minutes, calmness filled the atmosphere which gave me hope that everything was under control and I could ride back home safely
In a jiffy of assuring myself about how everything was okay, a spate of unexpected outbursts from tear gas explosions got heard from the vicinity of my work place
I started to freak out.
I was with a colleague and started to joke about how we would camp in office that day, if push came to shove.
It’s not any better!
“Brenda, you better start moving btw because the night will only be worse!”, warned my colleague.
“How and where will I pass?”, I wondered
All my routes were hotspots for the riots and teargas pervaded their atmosphere
I have a red bike and the police seemed to take out anyone that had something red on them, being the colour of Bobi Wine’s political party
I was scared!
You’d think a girl my stature and bold character would easily brave it out
I mean I have participated in a strike in high school before, and while I was still a student at Makerere University, strikes happened to be the order of the day
So this should have been……. a trifle precisely
Not if people were losing THEIR LIMBS and others, THEIR LIVES (may their souls rest in peace)
The law enforcers i.e the police and army were shooting live bullets at CIVILIANS!
I don’t remember if I was thinking in that moment
“What if I called someone I know?”, Somehow my brain was able to think of that
It occurred to me that the MOST IMPORTANT THING was reaching a SAFE PLACE using a SAFE ROUTE
So, I got my cell to ring a few people I knew were in safe spots according to what was on the internet and updates from people at home
The first person I called was upcountry
The other had left town before everything got intense
And the last one just didn’t see it as the optimal option to go to their home
“What am I ACTUALLY going to do?!” I asked myself as the horrific scenes from what I had seen kept playing in my mind
I either had to ride my bike or stay at office.
As my colleague packed his things to go home, I figured I could pull the same stunts.
He gave me a pre-ride pep talk me as I prepared myself to face an unprecedented riding experience.
I got onto my bike and headed out
Immediately I got onto the route out of the main gate, the atmosphere I entered reeked of savagery
The wind alone, that hit my face, was sufficient cause for alarm
As I rode away from the gate, my already-flawed eyes frequently and uncontrollably blinked out of irritation from the tear gas
For a moment, I started to question if I actually had my glasses on because it seemed the tear gas just didn’t find any obstacle getting into my eyes.
A few metres into my journey, I stopped to ponder if I actually had to go home.
Staying at the office had its consequences too.
But mostly, I would need another mental preparation session for the fear of the pessimistic imaginations that ran in my mind like; in case I dared to stay and should anything happen to me while in office, I was on my own plus the irritating mosquito bites – of course – was a whole other sport
I somewhat convinced myself to endure the ride.
For every distance of about 100 m I rode, there was a heap of residue from burning, in the middle of the road
Did I mention that there were more pedestrians on the road that day? As taxis and bodabodas were afraid for their vehicles?
The only beautiful thing about that route was, the no traffic
Except for a spot in Nakulabye
During his pep talk, Brian had warned me to avoid any crowded spots and additionally, my dad – on speaking with him about the possibility of not sleeping home – told me to resort to short cuts and try as much as I could to avoid the main road.
And here I was, in a dreaded spot I had been hoping I shouldn’t find
It was attributed with an exultant mob of protesters who sang to Bobi Wine’s songs
Seeing other cars passing by, I thought I would do the same – go my way as I convinced myself that nothing would happen if I stayed lowkey and rode at a moderate speed
It seemed like my efforts for staying lowkey had gone down the drain
As most of them continued to sing in unison, one came towards me and raised his clenched fist as in the Black-lives-matter fist signal.
“Okay, what am I supposed to do?”, I wondered as I held my bike with my right hand, and raised my left hand in a fist to mimic his action.
“Kyekyo Rasta, olina eggali eyakabi” which translates to, “that’s it Rasta, you have a nice bike”
He said that as he continuously hard-patted the pillion on my bike while I slowly progressed forward on my journey.
“Kansubire olina ndaga muntu, okulonda omubanda waffe” which translates to “let me hope you have an ID to vote for our badman”, He said, as I left his sight
I like to think the aura he picked from my appearance and bike, was that I belonged with the protesters.
“Phewxxxxxxxxx!!!!!”, I said in a muted tone as I progressed with my journey.
Truth be told, it was an actual relief that I found the mob instead of the police – those folks hadn’t gone on the streets to play!!
Because I imagine, what would have happened if the police that was shooting at NUP protesters saw me with my Rastafarian dreadlocks riding a RED bicycle!
Or would I survive the mob’s wrath if I was using the recently donated YELLOW BICYCLES that were handed out to village chairpersons by the government?
Fact is: I had already planned out in my mind that, in case the worst comes to the worst and I found myself losing a limb, I would design an artificial limb – being a biomedical engineer and one with experience in rehabilitation engineering.
Okay, I am naively prospecting but truth be told, I was glad that with my red bike, I met protesters – NO LIE!
And yes, I was FORTUNATELY able to reach home in one piece!
Also, I realised I have a timid side that just didn’t want to risk going to work for the next couple of days on my RED BIKE or for as long as Bobi Wine was still apprehended.
For safety reasons, I guess I need me a white/black BIKE that labels me as NON PARTISAN (I am currently welcoming donations😁)
PS: I am grateful to anyone that reached out that evening to check on if I was safe, I don’t take that for granted and I say I am lucky to have y’all in my life 🖤😊
I am keen to know how different your day, that Wednesday, turned out in the comments section below 😊– doesn’t matter which time zone you were in.