Since it’s fresh on my mind from yesterday’s note on the Somalis thrown into a Kampala jail for allegedly plotting a terror attack around here, I should add that I’ve had my own experience with a Ugandan jail.
To speak with a certain investigating police officer, Joseph, I was once a visitor at a local precinct after my vehicle was smashed and camera ripped off. This was some years ago, just a few days into my Ugandan experience (Welcome to Africa), an instructive experience that you can read more about here, a Spectator piece in the vault.
What you won’t find in this column’s reportage, however, is that while there at the dingy station, waiting to meet with an officer investigating the unfortunate theft against me, I was innocently, just minding my own business, sort of, standing in front of a brig,
And I thought it wouldn’t be a totally offbeat idea to take the second camera I had, a little point-and-shoot owned by, in fact, my wife, and take a few snaps of the boys inside.
These guys were young and tough and all that but they were really hamming it up, were more or less begging me to take a little photo, the sort of shot I would submit to, I don’t know, African Jails Today or some other worthwhile publication I would still discover later.
Of course, after I raised the little camera and took a photo or two, somebody yelled out like a bloody air-raid siren and I was immediately apprehended and dragged in front of the precinct captain.
He was a burly Ugandan with a flat nose that looked like it had gone 15 rounds on more than one occasion and a neck as wide as a Vancouver Island Douglas Fir. Of course he wanted to know who on God’s green earth I was and what the #@$% I thought I was doing taking photos of his prisoners.
I wouldn’t say I’m an experienced expert at talking my way out of life-threatening situations, but somehow I got quite filled with the spirit of speech and, sure, brought everyone into it: my wife, the university, our kids — (the children, sir, they’re so beautiful) – my home country, my love of African wildlife, all of Africa, really, all things to indicate I had at least some measure of sanity despite my brief lapse of judgment in front of his brig.
Of course the captain had the camera in his hand and this was my main concern, to get it back, because, besides photos of the boys in the brig, said little camera had photos I had take earlier in this visit, photos of that officer, Joseph, investigating the original theft against me, photos I needed for an upcoming newspaper column I was writing on the wonder of African justice.
(It was a fine photo of Joseph, really, which you can see here as part of said column.)
So while I don’t recall the details of how this actually worked so well, I somehow approached the captain with the tree-like neck and gently took the camera, erased the photos of the brig (without showing him any of Joseph) and assured them the photos he was so concerned about were now all gone and all was well and could I please go now also?
The moral of the story, of course, is never take photos of the boys in the brig of an African jail.
And don’t get ripped off while in Africa.
I suppose, if you can avoid going to Africa altogether, then, well, all the better.