Uganda Days 68 & 69: Perspective
I don't usually write these on Saturdays, but I feel like if I leave it too long I'll end up not posting anything, and that would be a real shame so close to the end!
When I went to work yesterday morning I expected it to be a fairly standard day at the office. An hour after I started, we were informed that we were doing another police visit today, and that we were leaving right now. So I grabbed my notebook and pen and I headed out with Rashid and Aliana; it was just the three of us this time. Once again, I had to be discrete with my picture-taking...especially since it seemed like every officer at this station was in a combative mood. The Officer in Charge [OC] of the station very nearly turned us away because we didn't have ID proving we were from FHRI, as our approval confirmation said. Thankfully we convinced him, but I got the same sort of vibe from a lot of officers.
This visit followed the same basic procedure as the previous ones: first we talk to the OC (either of the station or investigations, or both, depending on who's around), then we choose a sample of detainees to interview, and finally we follow up on any issues with the OC once again. The picture below shows one of two doors into the cell; the small windows you see here were the only ones. When we did our first police visit, the smell inside the cell was beyond awful. The second visit, earlier this week, was much better, because it was very open and a lot of air could circulate. But this one...this one might have been the worst smell I've ever experienced in my life. It was like a physical heaviness weighing down the air itself.
We try to pick suspects who have spent a long time in police detention, but I guess there weren't very many of those here, because we only spoke to four between the three of us—one each for me and Aliana, and two for Rashid.
During both of my previous police visits, every suspect I interviewed was charged with a relatively minor offence—basically just loitering or theft. I only interviewed one suspect here, but this visit was much, much tougher. The suspect I spoke to was 16 years old, and along with a 14-year-old interviewed by Aliana, he was charged with defilement, which is the name given to the offence of raping someone under the age of 18. And it gets worse. The victim has some kind of mental disorder, or in his words, "brain damage" (he wasn't being offensive, he just had limited proficiency in English). Moreover, all suspects say they're innocent, you expect as much, and this one was no different...but what you don't expect is for a suspect to say that he's innocent because it was actually his older brother that did it.
So, yeah, to say it was complicated and challenging would be an understatement. And yet, it gets worse.
After the interviews, we go back to the OC (investigations). We are following up with him about the cases, bringing some issues to his attention—like, for example, the fact that these two juveniles were locked up in a cell with thirty or forty adults, and some other details of the case I won't go into. But one of the questions we raised had to do with the victim's statement, as well as her mother's. And as we are discussing this, we learn that the victim's mother is actually at the station right now. Before I really knew what was happening, the OC told someone to go and bring the mother here so we could all talk to her.
A couple of minutes later, the mother walks in. The look on her face—I'm not sure I've ever seen someone look so utterly broken. I mean, just picture the expression of a woman who finds herself at a police station because her mentally disabled teenage daughter has been raped.
(By the way: I apologize for how dark this post is right now. But, after all, this is really the reason I'm here. It does get brighter after the police visit, I promise.)
The mother was there for maybe fifteen minutes. She didn't speak much, and when she did, it was exclusively in Luganda, but I'm almost glad I didn't understand. The truly awful part was the OC and some other guy there who worked for him. Both of them kept referring to this woman's daughter as an "imbecile", you know, like they might have done a hundred years ago. Every time they said it—which they did with astonishing frequency—I cringed, not just because of the inappropriateness of the word itself, but mostly because of the effect it had on this poor woman. There was one point when these two guys were talking to each other, both saying "imbecile" repeatedly, both seemingly unaware of its vulgarity, and each time it was like a small blow to the mother; she pulled out a handkerchief and started dabbing her eyes, looking, at least to me, like she was either trying very hard not to burst into tears or just so tired of crying that she had none left. Strained. Not that either of those two noticed at all. They just kept talking, oblivious or otherwise uncaring. The second guy was the worst—he's one of those people who's resting facial expression is a disconcerting sort of smile, and he was smiling the entire time. Could you imagine smiling as you discuss the rape of an "imbecile" teenager in front of her mother? I wanted to punch his stupid grin.
A challenging experience. And the reality is that my experience is less than nothing next to the mother's, or the victim's, or even the two suspects', regardless of their innocence or guilt. I can't imagine.
It feels strange to move on to the rest of the day, after all of that. Wrong, almost. But I suppose this post needs some positivity, so here it goes.
We got back from the police visit during lunch, and the rest of the work day was pretty uneventful. After work, much less so. This was the last day for all of the local interns—and getting very close to our last days as well—so instead of going home, (most of) my division went out for drinks. It was all a bit unexpected; I'd only heard about it that afternoon, in vague terms, so when I went upstairs at the end of the day, I was planning on going home, having not heard anything else about it. No one even knew the location until we were leaving. In fact, it was a fluke that I even went upstairs at all, since I usually just leave. Lucky I did, though. In a moment my Friday plans of ordering pizza and watching a movie were dashed. We left and met up again at a place relatively close by, called Terraces.
There were around eight of us there, I think, and we stayed much later than I expected. At first my plan was still to have a drink or two and then go home to find some food, but I don't think we left until 9:30 or 10-ish. It was a really nice evening, actually. At the office I'd never really spent much time with most of these people, and when I did, it was work-related. So as belated as it might have been, it was nice just to chill with them for a few hours.
When we left, we still hadn't eaten anything. I was, of course, starving, and I still don't understand how most of them were seemingly content to go without dinner. Thankfully, one of the other interns was also hungry, and after recruiting two others, the four of us went for pizza down the street while everyone else went home.
Maybe we were just really hungry, but the pizza was fantastic. Although—you can't tell in this picture, but my mouth and throat were on fire, and so were Mena's (on the right). We had asked for spicy, so they brought this little bowl of hot sauce stuff. I've had pizza a few times here, and the 'spicy' sauce is never all that spicy—until now. Holy God. I put some on my first slice, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the spiciest thing I have ever eaten. Like, it was painful. I put it on my first slice and powered through, then refrained for the rest. I didn't need any more, since my whole face was still burning several slices later. It was kind of crazy.
After that, we all went our separate ways, and I came home to sleep. Also to shower—after a police visit, it doesn't matter what time it is, you need a shower before you get into bed. I felt gross all day.
And that brings me to today! It was basically my usual weekend routine, but with a twist. See, the new Bourne movie arrived here yesterday (not sure if it was the same release in North America). The original Bourne trilogy are some of my favourite movies of all time, and I can't describe to you how much I've been looking forward to this. Sure, there was that fourth one with Jeremy Renner—it was good, and I do like Jeremy Renner, but he's no Matt Damon. So this afternoon I had my first Ugandan cinema experience. There's a movie theatre in Acacia Mall, which is very convenient, though there's not much to say about it...it could have been a Cineplex back home.
But the movie—the movie was amazing. Am I biased? Possibly. I've been giddy with excitement since they announced it, and probably since before that, from the moment I heard the first credible rumours that it was in the works. It was so good. I've been tempted to do a Bourne marathon tonight and go see it again tomorrow. I won't, but it's tempting.
Alright, I think I've rambled long enough for one evening. This post has certainly had its ups and downs. If you've read this far, thanks for sticking with it. As for me, I am off to bed. Hope you're all having a fabulous weekend!