Yesterday, Lauren and I put in some long hours house hunting, being on the phone with partners and potential employees and trying make everything perfect for when our volunteers would arrive. This particular day (May 4, 2010), we decided to treat ourselves, take the afternoon off, stay local and explore Jinja. We took Kristy with us as went into town to walk down the main streets and visit the tourist shops. Jinja lies east of the Nile River and has a bridge available to vehicles and pedestrians to pass over for a beautiful view. We were all feeling very fortunate to be walking along the source of the Nile, that naturally we wanted pictures of the River, ourselves, and each other. The Nile is a main tourist attraction for visitors to Uganda, and the dam supplies most of East Africa with power. It is incredibly beautiful and lush!
While we were all taking pictures, I could hear someone calling us from the opposite side of the bridge/road. I turned and saw an armed guard dressed in camo holding a shotgun motioning for us to come toward him. I pointed him out to Lauren and Kristy and became the first to venture across the bridge to see what he wanted. He began speaking very quickly in Luganda and I couldn’t understand what the problem was. At this time Lauren and Kristy began dodging traffic and making their way toward me. Before I knew it there was another armed guard, also carrying a shotgun, approaching us at a rapid pace. Luckily he spoke somewhat better English; however, I still misunderstood him and thought that maybe he was informing us that we were not to be on the other side of the bridge. As he spoke, it sounded like he said “It is best” which I took to mean: it is best to be on this side of the bridge/road, but I quickly found out that that is not what he said at all! I apologized and agreed with him when he spoke again and this time he distinctly said that we were “UNDER ARREST” and asked me to come with him… I froze! I didn’t know what to think or say! He and his partner demanded that we give them our cameras. I was completely and totally overwhelmed still trying to process what was actually happening, while trying to decide if I was really going to spend the night in a Ugandan jail cell. I stood in front of the guard in utter disbelief with my mouth on the ground and my mind blank, his arm outstretched reaching for me to come with him or hand over my camera… thankfully, Lauren took advantage of the awkward silence to explain who we were and why we were in the country. When she mentioned that we were here to serve and help the community, that we would be living in Lugazi and that we knew the mayor, they left us alone without any serious repercussions, other than fear!
That night, Lauren had a friend call from the States that had previously lived in Uganda for about a year and as she was telling her our experience of almost being arrested, she gasped on the other line and said “I’m so sorry! I can’t believe I didn’t tell you! In Uganda, taking pictures on bridges is totally illegal!” Her statement was confirmed by some members of our trusted partner orgs… they had a good laugh about that one! I can laugh about it now, but it sounds like a ridiculous law that should be in one of those crazy books that people read while going to the bathroom!