This is the end...
Ali Arif, Uganda
My time in Africa is coming to an end. Today is my last day working with the court. On Sunday I am flying to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and taking a ferry to the island of Zanzibar where I plan to lay unconscious on the beach for 10 days.
Last week, the court arranged a visit to the prisons on the outskirts of town. The best one was the women's prison. It was cleaner and more organized than the rest. The wardens had planned for our arrival and about a hundred women dressed in their yellow prison garb sat on the floor in a concrete building. As we neared the building, they all began clapping in unison and continued as we all filed into the building and sat down in chairs facing them. We all introduced ourselves and had a chance to speak to them. The woman I spoke to was 22 years old, the same age as me. She was in prison for supposedly embezzling from her place of work. She had been sentenced to 4 years but had been in remand for 2 awaiting trial. Those 2 years don't count towards the sentence so she is going to have to spend a total of 6 years in prison. The women sang for us as we left.
We also got to see the remand prison. This is where people who have been arrested wait until they are taken to court for trial. They sleep in large concrete buildings on straw mats on the floor. The prison was designed for about 300 people but now has over 1000. They are crammed into the rooms like sardines so tuberculosis is a common problem. One thing that surprised me was the lack of security. The place looked like a camp. It was outdoors and surrounded by a chain fence. None of the guards were armed and the number of the inmates greatly exceeded the number of the guards. We were talking and taking pictures with the prisoners and I thought that at any moment they could snap my neck and riot and the guards would be powerless to stop them. But it seems that these people are so demoralized and malnourished that they don't have the energy to revolt. They are fed one meal a day.
The worst was the upper prison, which is the maximum security men's prison. It is on top of the hill, surrounded by a high concrete wall. You enter into a small chamber with a door that leads to another chamber surrounded by a chain fence with razor wire at the top. This other chamber leads to the courtyard. If anyone has watched Prison Break, the place looks a bit like Sona. They took us to see the solitary confinement cells. On the way, we passed through a dark and narrow corridor with cells on each side. Each cell was a 6x6 square. They told me that 5 people slept in each of these cells. At the end of the hallway was a locked metal door where the solitary confinement cells were. They led us in there and let out one of the prisoners who had been confined there for a week for trying to smuggle in marijuana. He crouched on the floor looking up at us as the guard explained to us why he was in there.
I have done too much in the past 2 weeks to organize it in a coherent way. How do I talk about the hippo that reared its ugly head out of the water and roared at us as we passed by it on our boat and the warthogs and baboons that roamed around our campsite at Murchison Falls National Park and the elephant that almost charged our van and the giant 20 person tent that we somehow crammed into the van and miraculously pitched in the same entry as visiting the northern part of Uganda that has been ravaged by war for the past 20 years, visiting the IDP camp that has no electricity or running water or schools for the children that have been forced to flee their homes? How do I compare the Ugandan Judiciary dinner, attended by the Chief Justice, Kenneth Starr and several members of the Ugandan Judiciary, based in the Imperial Royal Hotel, catered by a buffet that must have included every animal in a petting zoo with the peace and reconciliation training in Lira, attended by more people than the dinner, but based in a small brick building with a corrugated tin roof, with the food being served out of tin bowls and people eating it with their hands? How do I describe the Chief Justice's chambers and his dialogue with us and the halls of Parliament where witchcraft, child rape and bad driving are all discussed together by the same speaker in the same speech?
I will probably come back to the region at some point of my life but for now, I am missing California.