By Robert Ssempande, Uganda:
I arrived early at the Entebbe International Airport yesterday, ready to catch my flight to a new land: America. “I am heading home!” I kept telling myself. I had decided to leave for good. The morning was sunny, but under that thick roof of the passenger terminal, I barely noticed the heat. I sat there on a hard plastic bench in the lounge with my luggage right beside me, waiting for my flight. Quite a number of people were coming from the landing site.
An elderly Caucasian man dressed in blue jeans, red checkered shirt and a cowboy hat, came in first through the wide glass door, luggage in hand. He moved to the side as more people arrived and, for a moment, stood there. He glanced my way then started towards the lounge.
Other travelers were now swarming into the terminal. I was drawn to the intriguing gait of an extremely dark young man who entered, donning a Drogba hairstyle. He passed by the benches with a swagger to his step as he spoke with one who seemed to be his brother.
“Look at your hair, only one weekend in Britain and you’ve become a muyaye? Humph!” his brother said.
“There’s nothing at all wrong with this kind of hair, John,” the young man replied, attempting to mimic a British accent.
As I sat there looking at these two, the elderly man came and set his luggage down against the bench.
“Hullo, son, how do you do?” He greeted, with a Texan accent as he took off his hat.
“I am fine, sir,” I replied, as it slowly dawned on me that the smile on his old face belonged to… Hey, wait a second! I know this guy. “Jack, I mean, Mr. Jack Bormont?” I said, astonished, as I rose from the bench.
“Yep, that’s me,” was his reply. “And you, sir?” He motioned with a tilt of his head.
“I am Ronald Blake.” I replied, as we shook hands. “Wow, it’s such an honor to meet you, sir. I’m a huge fan.”
“Oh, really?” He raised his brow.
“Indeed, sir.” I mean, I grew up watching you on T.V as you inspired many in America, why wouldn’t I be a fan? “You, sir, are an inspiration to me, you and all that you stand for.”
“Well, I’m pleased to hear that, but it’s a greater honor for me to meet a lad like you who believes in our patriotic cause,” He replied, “Mind if we sit down?”
“Not at all,” I moved my luggage from the bench as I motioned him to sit where I had been seated.
“Why, thank ya, son.” He said as he sat.
“So, what brings a man of your stature to a country like Uganda?” I asked.
“Oh, well, I’m just here to pay tribute to an old dear friend of mine.”
“Oh, I see. An American in Uganda?”
“No, a Ugandan.”
“Yep, but he’s deceased.”
“Sorry about that, sir, but it’s a great surprise to find out that a man like you had a friend in Uganda.”
“Ha-ha, you’d be amazed, son. Say, what kind of a last name is Blake?”
“Yes, Blake. ’cause from what I learnt from my friend, last names are different here…native, so to speak. It’s not your custom now, is it?”
“Ah, no, not fully at least. But I decided to change my surname from the awful name Bulika to Blake, a radical step to your worldwide call, sir, embracing America as my new home.”
“What!” He exclaimed; surprised. “Son, I never did tell anyone to leave their country and join mine.”
“But I used to see you on T.V; you kept saying your country is great. Well, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it is, but you misunderstood me. I wasn’t out to make folks abandon their homes and come to mine. I actually just wanted them to see the beauty of their own countries as I see the beauty of mine.”
“But you spoke of America as though you wished us all to live there.”
“No, no, I only spoke like that because I had so embraced my country with all her pros and cons, and I wanted everyone else to do so for theirs.”
“Okay, still, sir, America’s cons are NOWHERE near Uganda’s.”
“So what? You jus’ gon’ cut yourself off from your own home and adopt a new one? If it’s really as bad here as you say it is, then you gotta get this, son: it’s not the fit soldier that needs savin’, but the wounded one.”
“How do you mean?”
“Lemme tell you a story. See, I was a soldier back home in the navy, back then in 1976. Like most folks, you may already know that. But what you might not know is that in those days we recruited many kinds of folks: African, Asian, Hispanics, you name ‘em. But of these, there’s only one I can never forget.” He gestured with his index finger. “He was a Ugandan called Mukulu Mukisa. That old dough-boy was a soldier who fought not just for our country in the physical but for his own at heart; always dreamed about returnin’ to his home after the war, but, well, me and the others always laughed it off; called it a fool’s wish for anyone to want to leap back into Africa.
Anyway, one night, the General comes and tells us we’re goin’ for a covert mission. And yeah, we went on the mission, but it went bad and I found myself maimed and alone behind enemy lines. My so-called buddies had written me off as a gone soldier; but Mukulu wouldn’t let up; he sneaked right back into that jungle and came for me. ‘In Uganda, a soldier is not a soldier but a brother, and I can never leave my brother behind,’ he said as he carried me through that jungle, trailin’ the others. I was struck by his solidarity with me, a man who had made fun of him and where he came from countless times. Just when we had caught up with the others, he was shot by an enemy spy that had been tracking us. We barely made it out, and without him…” He looked down. “We’re all decorated with great honors back home, but not him, and yet he was the bravest of us all; still owe him ma darn life.”
He paused for a moment with a wistful face, then straightened himself and continued.
“Son, there’s two sides to the coin for any country. I’ve just given you the other for yours. See, you can do all kinds of things others have done, like that boy who was bouncin’ like a carriage on a rough road ahead of me, but you will still be your country’s child. What you been tellin’ me is that America ain’t as much in need of savin’ as your country is, and yet here you are, wantin’ to leave. Well, the world would be no fun if we all were Americans, that’s for sure. Look, the world needs Uganda’s flavor, son; so, embrace it, like Mukulu embraced it. Embrace it, and then, see if you won’t save this wounded soldier.”
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