Sunday 25th August 2013
And I thought yours irritatingly, selfsame Ingina, was the only one who’d gone through bloodcurdling brushes with death. Indeed, even you would be tempted to agree because my hair-thin escapes were so many that you’ll wonder how I’d still be here to recount them. Well, I’m here and for that I used to call myself Never-die.
Until, that is, I heard of men and women whose brushes with death were truly out of this world. And yet mine were no mean feats, either.
My first such brush with death was before 1959, the year we were given the boot by our fellow Rwandans, instigated and egged on by Belgian colonialists.
One time I was rolling the wheel, as you see kids do all over Africa. I was running after that discarded rim of a bicycle wheel (which is what it is, actually) when it hit a stone and stopped. The jagged end of the stick I used to push the wheel hit the inside of my khaki shorts and so, to examine the damage, I removed them. And screamed like I’d never done before. The damage was horrifying but where it was, don’t ask me!
Luckily, Mutorere Hospital, in Uganda, being about an hour’s ride away, I was given a few stitches by doctors there, who did the trick. But for the rest of my childhood, I never pushed a wheel again.
One time in 1962, before we left Bufumbira, Uganda, for a more accommodative place, I was walking home carrying a milk container one rainy evening. Being a hardened herds-boy, and knowing the hazards of evening, I was walking guardedly, my umuzo stick on the ready. When I got that feeling you get when an animal is near, I lifted my stick and peered hard in the dark, ready to strike, but saw nothing. Then I heard a growl and saw paws and white fangs right in my face.
I jerked back, trying to save the milk at the same time, but it was too late. The wooden container clanged onto a stone, shattered. But that way, interestingly, whatever animal it was ran off into the woods. A minute’s delay and I’d’ve ended up as its dinner!
One time in 1964, before we were unceremoniously given the boot out of DR Congo, I was clearing a maize field after harvest. I was using an old machete that’d been so much eaten by frequent sharpening that it looked like a long penknife. When I swung a hard hand and hit a soft cluster of maize stalks, the knife came off its handle. As I lifted my head to see where the knife’d gone, it swished before my eyes and then around my neck twice before it sank into the side of my knee. How it’d missed my neck twice, only a Never-die can tell!
One time in 1979, while teaching in Bombo, Uganda, before I left for Kenya, which was safer as there was no war and where a salary had value, I was walking out of the school compound, chatting with a few colleagues. As we got near the main road (Kampala-Gulu road, those who know), an open military jeep screeched to a halt and wild-eyed soldiers poured out. One soldier glared at us and shouted: “Nyinyi nacheka nini, walimu kama Lule?” and then plucked a pistol off his hip and shot. A bullet grazed my forehead and lodged itself in the head of a colleague, killing him instantly.
Our crime was that Prof Yusufu Lule, a teacher like us, would be the next president of Uganda.
After ordering us to sit in a pool of muddy water, another soldier pulled out a hand grenade. But as he made to release it, a brand new Peugeot 504 car (looted from a showroom in Kamapala) wheezed past, escaping, and their commander shouted for them to zoom off!
In 1994, before I left Kenya and exile for good, one evening I took a shortcut to Tena Estate, Nairobi, where I lived. As I was walking, a hand, which I assumed was a friend’s, covered my nose and mouth. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back, counting millions of stars. Wondering if the roof’d been blown away, I checked around and realised I’d been slashed almost to my brain by muggers.
The slashing was punishment for walking home “on” empty pockets!
And so, looking back at these hair-thin escapes, I thought nothing’d beat them for brushes with death. Until I was told about some RPF/A exploits the telling alone of which’ll leave you in a lather.
Have script writers of Hollywood ever considered that in Rwanda there is drama to beat their wildest imaginations? It’s been said that a film about the RPF/A war is in the works but I doubt anybody’ll include the daredevil rescue missions that RPF/A fighters pulled off.
Pulled off, moreover, while enjoying the mirth of listening to bizarre goings-on on RTLM radio.