Uganda Days 64 & 65: Second Police Visit

When I last left you it was raining ants over my bed. The plumber had come by to assess the situation, and I had convinced him that we had to seal the gap between the wall and the ceiling. He told me he would look into it and call me to arrange a time for the carpenter to come and do that.

Now, given my overall experience so far—first all that plumbing nonsense in the weeks after I arrived, then the lock that was broken for a month—I wasn't expecting much to happen soon. Maybe he would call me in a few days, then maybe it would take a week or two for the carpenter or whoever to come out here, then there'd be a problem and he'd have to come back after several more days...that's the sort of timeline I've grown accustomed to. I was really just hoping it would get done before I leave to come home. Not that I was thrilled about sleeping under the ant factory, but I figured if I kept the pressure on them it would only be a week, two at the most.

So you'll understand my surprise when I got home from work on Monday and the caretaker, Ivan, said the sealing was done. First of all, his English was such that what he actually said was, "the carpenter is coming", which at first sounds like future tense. I was excited even by that prospect. But after a moment it became clear that what he actually meant was that the carpenter had already come. Picture, if you will, the bewildered expression I'm sure I had on my face. Honestly, it took me a little while to fully comprehend this stunning turn of events. Surely, he hasn't come yet—but he has? Okay, so he must have only been here to see for himself...? But again, not quite right.

No, he had actually come and sealed the whole thing. Done and done. I walked into my place with Ivan and looked up at the ceiling, still not quite believing it, even as I saw the fresh plaster (or whatever it is). I was amazed.

And that was only half of it. Again, Ivan's broken English led to a bit of confusion. He mentioned something about cleaning, and I thought he was talking about cleaning the ant mounds behind my bed, because we'd spoken about it yesterday. I looked behind and sure enough, all the ants were gone, as if they'd never been there. So I thanked him (because I had not been looking forward to that particular job) and after a few more broken exchanges, he left. It was only then that I began to notice something else was different, too. As it turns out, he had actually cleaned almost the entire place, not just behind the bed. I discovered things one by one as I walked around—the bathroom sink was clean and white, that grimy corner by the door was wiped clean, the trash and all the empty water bottles were gone, etc.

I'm not going to lie, it felt a little bit fantastical.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this wonderful development. It wasn't quite as perfect as I'd hoped, of course—I could still hear ants all through the night. A handful still fell behind my bed (though I can't imagine how), and I think the sealing has forced them to migrate a few feet away, because some were falling beside my bed. I think as long as they're not falling on the bed, and as long as they aren't falling in droves like before, I'll be happy. We'll see if it's any different tonight.

But enough about ants. Tuesday, today, I went along on my second visit to a police station, this time in Old Kampala. Straight away, it was obvious that this station was significantly busier than the first one I'd gone to. More activity, I mean, more people milling about; strangely, there were far fewer detainees. It was just the station itself that was bustling.

Pardon the angle. Even this far back I had to be sneaky, there were officers everywhere.

Our crew this time was myself, three other interns, plus Rebecca at the helm (Aliana was away today). We waited for what seemed like ages while Rebecca went inside, essentially to explain why we were here to the Officer in Charge [OC] and convince her to be interviewed, and to let us interview some detainees. Eventually she came to fetch the four of us and we crammed into the OC's office, taking notes while Rebecca asked the questions. After that we went down to the cell. If you walk straight through the door in that building above, you come out the other side onto a staircase, in what's kind of like an open courtyard (for lack of a less glamorous term); the offices are up, the cells are half a flight down. Because I had to be covert with my picture-taking, I couldn't get the most interesting shots in the world, so sorry about that. Here, I'm standing in the courtyard looking into the building:

I had the phone at my side, trying very hard not to look like I was taking a picture with it.

The five of us each interviewed two or three suspects. I did two, partly because English speakers are sometimes limited. I think it went fairly well—certainly better than last time, even though I was on my own for this one—Aliana and I had paired up before—and despite the fact that I hadn't even been the one asking the questions the first time.

In some ways, it was easier, especially because the suspects I interviewed didn't have the same sort of frantic expectation that some had during our first visit. I'm glad I didn't have to shoot down any false hopes today.

And beyond that, it was just a slightly better place. When we did the first one, the smell inside the cell was horrific. Here, it wasn't too bad. I think it's because this cell faces the courtyard outside, with a lot of light and air getting in, whereas the first one was a dank room buried inside the station. Although, perhaps I had simply set the bar low based on my last experience...when we eventually left the police station, the other interns immediately commented on how they couldn't stand the smell, and here I was making note of how not bad it was.

In the courtyard, looking towards the men's cell.

We actually did all of the interviews in the courtyard, in that space. Most of us had to stand, including myself. Even so, it was significantly more comfortable than last time, when we had all crammed into the OC's office to do the interviews, eight or nine people in a very small space, trying to ask a lot of important questions to people who, in our case, were already dealing with a language barrier. Standing in the courtyard was much better. Much cooler, too.

Unfortunately, we didn't get back to the office until about 2:30, by which time lunch was already over. No lunch for me today! But when I got home I ordered a quesadilla and devoured the whole thing, so I'm feeling better now.

And that's it for tonight. I am off to bed, hopefully sans ants now. Thanks for reading!