It is nine in the morning, a huge snail lie stock on the Safari bus’s side panel surface is driving nine Actuality Media documentary program students and me, one of their supervisors, to Jinja in one of our production weekends off.
Alfred, the gatekeeper opens the gate and kindly greets us before we drive outside the ICU guest house. The unpaved streets outside the guest house are reddish in color, but clean even do Kampala is one of the most populated cities in Uganda. We cross the busy city on Jinja Road getting us closer to our destination. As we are driving to Jinja the scenery starts to change, the color green starts covering most part of the LCD screen of my Sony handycam viewfinder and the sound levels start decreasing. My plan today was to enjoy my day off, but the natural scenery attracts me and makes me take it out my camera and start shooting some video. This may be the last time I am in Africa. I feel that every place I point my camera is a postcard that talks about another place, another state of mind, some people call it “the cradle of mankind.” Looking at this images thru the viewfinder makes me think of how the world and humanity has changed. The vast natural landscape talks to me about the past and the current life of Ugandans.
I look through the bus window and see some huts sprawled out up beside some small concrete houses. My camera records people sitting on the ground cooking, cleaning rice and coffee beans. Some kids laugh and play around. Further down the road a teenage shepherd with a thin herding stick conducts a big herd of Ankole Longhorn. After an hour or two the color blue becomes predominant making everything look brighter. I am impressed, with a women walking beside the road carrying a big basket on top of her head. Even thou she walks swiftly, she keeps a straight body posture keeping all her valuables inside the basket. a man carries a big pile of long tree branches. He concentrates while moving his body without turning his head as he gaze beyond the road. My camera can’t record the action as I would like so I decide to pull my camera out and enjoy my adventure since we are moving quickly. Between two houses there is a water well with a girl pumping water into a yellow bucket,behind her a boy with two buckets gets in line. He is ready to pump the water for the whole day. Close to them, a woman crouches down and scrubs the family’s clothing intently and repeatedly into a container, slapping and grabbing the clothing forcefully to get out the dirt.
Suddenly a fresh water breeze from the Nile River comes through the window, My fellow passengers start gathering close to the windows excited. We are about to approach the bridge that connects the Nile River to the bay. Everybody take out their cameras and gets ready to take their first picture of the Nile. What a moment, I am about to presence the source of the biggest river in the world. The first time I heard about it and its dimensions was in Mexico at primary school. I thought that I would never visit it in my life. As we cross, I hear various cameras motors and flashes clicks. I have already set up my video recorder for this life event. Looking thorough the LCD screen the bridge looks to me as a military fortress, a soldier dressed in a blue camouflaged uniform quickly steps out of the building. This may be a good moment in the footage, I think. After he sees me he points his finger at me and yells, “HEY YOU! STOP!” My camera captures this in a medium shot. The commander doesn’t look too happy to see me after all. James, the bus driver doesn’t hear anything and the bus keeps moving. The only documentary students aware of it is Ashunda, her sister and Brad who are sitting close to me. I ask, “what’s wrong? … should we stop?” Not knowing what happened I pull down my camera and wait. The bus keeps moving as we finish crossing the bridge.
A couple of minutes passes before a military truck packed with armed soldiers tailgate our bus. Our driver James looks through his mirror and notices that we are we are being chased. He keeps driving since there is no place to stop beside the road. Everyone notices what is going on now. The military truck speeds in front and blocks the road before James could park beside the road. Everybody is looking through the front window. The soldier in the blue camouflage is the first one coming towards us. He looks pissed. Someone screams, “whats wrong, what happened?” He comes directly into my window and points at me again, “You the guy with the camera, you come down, right now!”
Everybody looks at me worried before I get off the bus. Our driver, James gets off as well. I approach the circle where the commander and three other soldiers stand. “How many did you take? Let me see the pictures, you can’t take pictures of the bridge, is not allowed.”
I didn’t know what to say, I can’t deny I took few still as well. “I don’t remember I think four, I am sorry, I didn’t know taking pictures was not allowed, nobody warned me.”
The Commander says, “You didn’t see the sign? I want to see the pictures, now!”
I open the LCD screen and hit the playback function of my camera, carefully scrolling down around the pictures to not play the video thumbnails. If pictures not allowed, I don’t know what trouble I would get for the video. I play some of them for him, the commander sees more than four thumbnails of the bridge on my camera. “You have more than four! Give me your camera, you’ll come with me.”
“Look, I was excited for being in the Nile for the first time, I don’t understand, you can have the memory with the pictures as well as I can format my camera now.” I didn’t see any sign, I am very sorry.”
“You and your friends drive back to base we going to interrogate you.”
Before anything else happens James starts speaking with the commander, they walk close to the military truck. While they were speaking, I tell one of the soldiers, “my sign story.” He replies to me that is not allowed to take pictures of the Nile bridge to protect it against terrorist. Suddenly a more clear view about things comes to my mind. James finishes talking with the commander and approaches me. He quietly says, he will let us go in exchange of one hundred thousand? I walk to the bus, step up little bit relieved, little bit concerned, “One hundred thousand, one hundred what? I turn, walk back and quietly ask James, “hundred dollars?”
James,“No, hundred thousand shillings.”
“UH, OK… Shillings?” I turn again and I walk back to the bus, “Mmm..How much is that?”
I Kayaked later in the evening for few hours in the magnificence and beauty of the source of the Nile River and spend one of the most magical sunsets in the water. This great experience made me forget about what happened earlier in the day. I take a depth breath and look into the few colors the moon provides with the few lights available in the road. Then suddenly, I remember the snail and look down to see if stills there, but he has gone. Maybe decided to stay and spend his days at Jinja.