My late wife came from a poor Ugandan family. They live in a not very nice part of Bukoto. All that mattered to me was my wife was beautiful ( but aren’t all Kampala girls!) and more important, she had a good heart.When I was staying at the Old Kabira club I used to walk to Bukoto, night or day, to visit my future wife. I think I was probably the only white guy ever to walk through Bukoto; I never had a problem.
When the people along my walking route realized why I was there, through the local gossip (to meet and court one of their residents) I was invited in for tea at virtually ever house on my route; some of these people were very educated and were still making their way up; some were poor and uneducated but they still had the pride to offer me tea and a seat for a chat. It was this experience that made me realize I was working in God’s country.
I think this is shown well in Queen of Katwe; the boda boda guy trying to make a living but still having time for a smile and chat up with the girls. During the movie I could here people around me (who had never been to Africa)saying “how can people live in that place (Katwe)”.
I didn’t waste time telling them “because they have a good heart and spirit inside and get on with life; not like privileged you who have lots of thing and still complain about what you have not.”
I remember the first time I came to Uganda long ago. I had worked in a number of African countries before Uganda and all of them were a bit of a disappointment; they were like Europe; nice roads: industrial estates: nice houses: but with a hotter climate. I had read books that told me Africa had a “burnt earth wild smell”. It wasn’t like that in the African countries I had worked in so far.
I landed at Entebbe at midnight; my flight from South Africa, which was full, was going on to Europe. Only about six people descended from the plane at Entebbe. The first thing that I felt was the heat; it was midnight and I was dripping sweat. I quickly took my jacket and cardigan off.
The airport was dead. There were no staff on immigration, no staff on customs. As I waited for someone to arrive, someone from my fight, a Black Africa gentleman, asked if he could help me. He was Ugandan; it was the first time I had heard the wonderful Ugandan accent. I explained I was I was waiting for some staff to come to immigration. He explained that there were no staff this late at night and I should walk through and I should go to the immigration building tomorrow in Kampala to get my passport stamped.
Then seeing me looking confused, he started to laugh and said “Welcome to Uganda; you are in Real Africa now.” With that he took my arm and walked me through empty immigration and empty customs.
We picked up our bags O.K. Fortunately South African Airways had sent some of their Kampala staff to unload our bags as there were no airport baggage staff. They asked me if I was being met. I said no, I was getting a taxi. The S.A.A people told me there were no taxis this late but they would give me a lift into Kampala. As we walked to their car (one S.A.A guy was a white South Africa, the other a Ugandan guy) the scent of the night hit me and I took a big lung full; at last that wonderful wild burnt earth smell. The Ugandan smiled, my first full Ugandan smile.
Reading my mind he said “Yes my friend, that is the smell of Real Africa.”
About Micheal Harkins;
He was born and educated in England, he is a telecommunications/data engineer who has worked all over Africa, including Uganda. He worked in Uganda for nearly 30 years and during his stay he meet and married a Ugandan Lady, who passed away from cerebral malaria in 2001.
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