Life is Fragile (Flashback)

The boda boda driver dropped me off and I looked up at the worn down sign which read, Mola Medical Center.  I turned back to the driver and with a look of disbelief.

“Are you sure this is it?” I asked.  “He was supposed to have had surgery on his head at a hospital.”

“Yes, this is the hospital,” replied the driver.

I turned back and looked at the weary building behind the sign.  It looked like an old three-story apartment building.  The white paint was peeling and was now more brownish in color due to the rust stains.  I paid and thanked the driver, and then set off for the entrance of the building.  When I arrived, it seemed to be a small pharmacy and nothing more.  There was a line of about five people in front of me, all with small children.  I wonder if the rainy season brings an increased number of malaria cases, I thought to myself as I observed the Ugandans in front of me.  As I continued to wait, my mind drifted back to the day before and the eventual conversation I would have with Nancy.


I spent much of the past weekend with my Acholi friends.  On Saturday night, my friend Collins from work invited me over to his parents’ house for dinner.  Collins is 24-years-old and has a bachelor’s degree in computer science.  He and I have spent many hours talking about technology and sports in the computer lab at Sir Samuel Baker School.  His parents live in a village east of Gulu past Pece Stadium, where I had attended the district athletic meet the weekend prior.  Collins came to pick me up that evening on his own personal motorbike.  Unlike the bodas I was used to, this bike was smaller and did not have any foot-pegs.  Nonetheless, I jumped on and enjoyed the adventure. When we arrived at his house, I was shocked by the size.  It was quite large with a surrounding security fence, all of which was hand built by his father in 2001.  I met nearly his entire family: his father, mother, two sisters, four cousins, one of his brothers, sister-in-law, and his  three month old nephew; I got to hold the baby to hold thirty minutes.

The girls prepared the dinner, which was not shocking giving traditional in Acholi culture.  We had pork, beef, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, roasted maize, peas, and pineapple.  The food was delicious, even the beef (I only make mention of that because I hardly have eaten any beef in the past fifteen years).  After dinner, I sat with Collins’ father and talked about the history of Uganda, specifically the politics.  It was really interesting for me to hear the political history from the perspective of an educated Acholi man.  He was harder on the current president than I would have thought, and actually took a lighter view of the former dictator, Idi Amin.  After his father retired for the night, Collins and I talked about football and made plans to get together on Sunday night for the England vs. Italy game.  He took me home on his motorcycle around nine.  Collins is one of the nicest people I have met, and that is never more apparent than when I watched him interact with his nephew.

My friend Collins holding his baby nephew while we waited for dinner at his parents house.

My friend Collins holding his baby nephew while we waited for dinner at his parents house.

On Sunday, my friend David, who is a 25-year-old Acholi man, invited a few of us over to his village to hangout for the day and enjoy a late lunch.  We arrived to his village around one in the afternoon and did not leave until after six.  David gave us a tour of the four thatch-roof huts he had built himself for his family.  The craftsmanship he displayed in building the mud huts was absolutely stunning.  While in Layibi village, I spent a great deal of my time playing with all of the village kids.  There were around ten kids in all, many not over the age of 5. Some of the older kids taught me a game which combined monkey in the middle with dodge ball   Essentially, there are four sticks in the middle and the person who is it tries to pick up the sticks without getting hit by the ball which is thrown by a two people on the outside.  A person is able to score by either picking up the sticks or catching the ball.  In this case, the ball about the size of a racquetball and was made up of beans and a plastic bag.  I really got into playing and we all had a blast playing.  We also played a three verses three soccer game which was quite humbling for me as an unskilled munu.

My friend David built a beautiful hut and Layibi Village is the home to these beautiful children.

My friend David built a beautiful hut and Layibi Village is the home to these beautiful children.

After the kids wore me out, we all went into David’s hut for lunch.  We were also joined by David’s friend Patrick, who I wrote about in my previous blog, “Perseverance”.   Patrick, David, and the four of us Americans sat there and talked for almost three hours.  We ate Posho and Bo, which were made by his mother.  Posho is a corn-flour mix that is a calorie filler that is usually served with beans, while Bo is a green type of vegetables.   While we were eating it began to storm, and storm hard.  Now I understand why everything stops in Gulu when it rains, I thought to myself as I watched the rain pound the red dirt outside.  The rain added a nice calming effect to our time in the hut, and amazingly the hut’s grass roof didn’t allow a single drop to leak through.  Being in David’s village and with the Acholi is probably the coolest experience I have had in Uganda thus far, and I have had many great experiences.

A view of a heavy rain from inside the safety of David's hut.

A view of a heavy rain from inside the safety of David’s hut.

Sunday night, Sarah, Becca and I decided to go out for dinner before the England and Italy soccer game.  We chose The Coffee Hut so we could surf the internet as we were waiting for food.  Food in Gulu always takes close to an hour if not more.  As the three of us were sitting in The Coffee Hut eating dinner, my mind slowly drifted away from their conversation about cosmetics.  I wonder what my dog is doing right now, I thought to myself.  She’s probably already convinced my mom to let her up on all of the…  Suddenly my thoughts were ripped away by Sarah’s ringing phone.  It was not a number any of us recognized, but I knew Collins might call so I answered.  It was a woman on the other end of the phone and I could not initially understand her due to her thick, Acholi accent.  I hung up the phone and walked outside and tried the number.  Finally, I got through and I could sort of make out what she was saying.

“Hello? Joshua?” asked the woman.  “This is Nancy, that of Collins.  We met the other night at dinner.  I am his sister, do you remember?”

“Oh yes, how are you doing?” I replied.

“Not good,” she responded quickly.  “Collins has been in a serious accident on his motorcycle in the afternoon.  He hit his head and lost a lot blood.  He is in surgery at Mola Medical Center.”


“Sir, may I help you?” asked the counter attendant at Mola.

I was back in the abandoned apartment building turned hospital.  I explained to the man I was looking for my friend Collins who was in an apparent boda accident.  He just looked at me with a blank stare.  I tried several times to describe Collins and how he was injured, and finally the man pointed me upstairs to the third floor.  It was an extremely eerie feeling walking along through the makeshift medical center.  Every Acholi I passed seemed to be hiding any sort of emotion on his or her face.

Eventually, I found Collins and his mother in one of the rooms.  He was bruised all over and had his entire head covered with a bandage and a pad.  He was conscious and talking when I walked into the room.  I immediately noticed what appeared to be an IV hooked into his arm, although its setup looked almost like a bag of fluid hanging from a hanger and nothing else. He had to have 15 stitches to close the wound on his head.  He had also dislocated his thumb, which he popped back into place himself after the accident, and hurt his ankle.  With all of the injuries, however, he appears that he will be okay.

I sat in the hospital room with him for about an hour, talking mostly of football and the game last night between England and Italy.  I gave him details about the game since he missed it.  He also started asking me about football in the U.S. and told me he looked up my home team and saw that it was the Colorado Rapids.  Maybe someday I will be able to return to Uganda with a Rapids jersey for him.  He also showed me his bible, which is written completely in Luo.  By the end of the visit, we were both laughing and smiling; my mission was accomplished as far as I was concerned.  I also left him a gift: the only Butler Bulldogs hat that I had brought on the trip.  I gave him this because the night before he was wearing a Fresno State hat and he had no idea who Fresno State was until I explained.  I told him he was wearing the wrong Bulldogs on his head; he told me it was a good way to cover the massive scar which he was going to have.

Collins’ accident was a humbling reminder of how fragile life truly can be.  On Saturday night, we were eating dinner; on Sunday night he almost died.

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