Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2000 01:30:33 PST
From: Claude Marthaler firstname.lastname@example.org
Jinja, Uganda, km 1OO7OO
About third world paranoia:
"To forget is a crime
to be lazy is a greater crime
to neglect work and offer
excuses is the greatest crime
The secret of efficiency is Action
Punctuality and politeness are Your respect
Speed and Accurancy the enemies of
Seen in Jinja Police Station
"Corruption is like a bush fire; it catches slowly, but spreads fast"
Seen in Jinja Court
"I have nothing in my brain"
Charles, one of the bike robbers, answering the judges question "Do you have any questions to the complainers?"
After the "Black hole" of the robbery (see Equatour story), we moved into action:
That night, an epic man hunt was on the go. We were two handfuls of "Muzungus" (white people) and two bike mechanics packed on a yellow truck, heading into the night - a long night. Soon we literally "kidnapped" two bikers on the highway, just in front of an open market watched by hundreds of surprised eyes. Not the robbers themselves, but good informers.
We reached a tiny village where one man, Moses, was sitting on the ground right beside an armed policeman. Ute observed immediately something abnormal about his feet: he wore my shoes, far to big for him. Our informers made us speed up on the highway and suddenly pointed to someone on the other side of the road. Charles, the robber, was walking quietly, pushing Ute's bicycle. We turned back and caught him, victoriously.
"Have you organized the transportation?" we were asked by one investigator at the Jinja police station a few days later, as we were intending to drive to Charles' village. The only existing police car had no tires and to buy fuel was too expensive. The morning had vanished like our belongings: never to be recovered. Finally the head of Jinja's police, a brilliant woman, gave her personal car for our disposal.
In the village, we first met its drunken chief (as is custom in Africa) and asked for permission to search some huts. Africa immediately showed us its pathetic side: not its beaches, its culture, not even the wildlife of its national parks. As Shiva Naipaul wrote in "North of South": The obsessive concern with wildlife leads to the degradation of the human population". In fact, the "wildlife" was right in front of us: a village of liars, living in extremely dirty huts made of mud. (Compared with India for example, even the poorest farmer will keep his house and his clothes as clean as possible).
Unexpectedly a woman came out of the bush carrying three empty bicycle bags. We wanted to sack all the huts, but the policemen said we'd better leave immediately, otherwise the entire village would beat the robber to death. Our truck turned back and zigzagged on the red trail to avoid potholes. One policeman pointed out two big round spots covered with ashes on the ground: "Last week, we came too late. The villagers had already set afire two thieves".
Back at the police station, a man who was saved in the last minute from a "mob justice" was lying half unconscious in front of the cell door, the back of his head marked by bloody cuts... In the official list of Jinja town delicts, "lynch justice" takes the second place, just after rape, followed by theft. A piece of justice, finally.
The austerity, the suspicious silence and apparent cleanliness of Jinja Court resembles a provincial hospital. Its strongly built wooden benches are those of a church. For once in Africa, maintenance doesn't seem to be an alien notion. Nothing is broken here, nothing except men. Nothing except our hearts. The police had arrested a third suspect (among a supposed number of five).
My wheels had brought me to numerous places - but never in a court. Today, I wished my yak could have talked wisely for all of us. Even the well executed formalities could not bring back our stolen belongings and restore our darkened vision of Africa. After having been a victim of two attacks while riding in the Ukraine in 1994, it was the second time in my life that I had to put youngsters behind metal bars. Today we went back to the same village, affronting the same absurd, shameless, denying faces, the same lies.
Each villager seemed to cover the other one. Searching more huts we found some little items and immediately two suspects ran away into the bush. In Africa one never knows where reality finishes and where fantasy starts. We are simply Made in Europe and Mad in Africa. Extremely far from Karen Blixen's romantic vision in "Out of Africa" and very far from being pathfinders of the largest industry of the world (tourism), at the moment we feel abruptly "Afreakout". Words, words, words. As Shiva Naipaul wrote in "North of South": "Words can become a complete substitute to reality."
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