Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A Moment of Magic

 

"When we look at a photograph, a moment of magic occurs. It is as if someone had laid a sheet of translucent paper over our thoughts and made a tracing of our memories."

Tom Bentkowski

 

Museveni.inaug23

 

Sorting through a bookshelf full of albums this morning with the intention of putting our pre-digital photographs on CD for safe-keeping before we move house, I paused for a moment when I saw this photo of Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, taken at his inauguration in Kampala in 1996. Ah yes, I remember the day well…..

 

kampala.sunrise

The mist curled like a gossamer ribbon through the valley and as the sun kissed the hills above it, Kampala came into focus like a city from a dream. The mosque dome shone like a polished jewel in its encircling crown of ivory minarets and the air smelled of wood smoke and eucalyptus. Clustered buildings glowed pink in early morning light and red kites soared above them like shadowy angels on gentle thermals.

Luca, our askari, waved his AK47 in the air with enthusiastic vigour and did a stomping dance of delight as he opened the gate for us. “Yoweri Museveni!” He bellowed, “FreeDOM fighter!” Then, wiping a hand down the front of his khaki jacket and smiling his familiar wide white smile, his eyes sparkling with merriment, he shook hands with each of us in turn.

As we walked from the house to join the crowd on the airfield, I heard the whack-whack thrum of a helicopter overhead and watched as its gleaming underbelly loomed large and then disappear down behind the line of trees in front of us. A gangly marabou stork, looking for a grasshopper breakfast, pecked at the grass on the verge beside the road and gave us a mad, lopsided stare as we passed him. Once the sound of the helicopter had diminished, birdsong swelled again like a cresting wave.

Idi Amin and Milton Obote had soaked this lush, sylvan country with the blood of several hundred thousand people until Museveni and his heroic bush army saved it from total devastation. This was the day he would be officially inaugurated as President of Uganda and we wanted to be there when it happened.

The airfield was ablaze with the swirling, vibrant colours of the Ugandan traditional dress and highlighted by the dazzling white kanzus which men wear for special occasions. We joined the crowd and people around us smiled and shook our hands, their faces alight with the joyful anticipation of a new day and a new dawn. The agony of decades of civil war behind them, they surged forward, taking us with them and making us theirs. We heard the pulsing drumbeat of victory and the high, melodious chant of beautiful clear voices which grew louder and stronger as we moved forward towards the podium.

Suddenly the crowd parted and in the space they left between them, a line of tall, powerful Karamojong warriors danced forward making a deep, sonorous hissing sound which rose higher and stronger until it sounded like the bottom note on a cathedral organ. Behind them, in a large, slow moving truck Museveni stood proudly, holding on to the roll bar with one hand, waving and acknowledging the surging crowd with a warmth that was palpable. He looked every inch the statesman.

As he reached the podium and climbed the steps to the microphones there was a sudden silence. I looked around at the sea of faces and, for the first time since we’d joined in the celebration, I realized ours were the only white faces amongst them. We were mazungu….but nobody had noticed. Or if they had, they had disregarded it and embraced us as theirs. My heart swelled with pride and I turned back to face the podium to listen to a hero speak.

ugandan.dancerws

Back to the present and strict word to self, “stop reminiscing and get back to work….!” Oh, but before I go, here is a novel by the Ugandan writer, Goretti Kyomuhendo, which you may enjoy as a departure from the ubiquitous ‘Last King of Scotland’ by Giles Foden.

waiting

Dissecting the vile consequences of life during and after civil strife can lead many authors into the quagmire of the blame game. With her novella Waiting, Kyomuhendo overcomes the need to induce universal guilt; instead she draws the reader into evocative and provocative prose that flits gently between the real and the surreal. Her haunting and gritty tale is set in Hoima, a rural town in western Uganda, during the madness-marked reign of Idi Amin.

36 comments:

lakeviewer said...

Tessa, thank you for sharing your memories, for adding a picture of celebration, for suggesting a good book, and for creating that presence we all need to Never Forget. I'm looking forward to reading more and more; I'm hungry for personal narratives such as those you provide.

Our bookstores and libraries rarely display stories of Africa and its struggle. I read Dave Eggers, What is the What, a first person narrative by one of the Lost Boys from Sudan, a riveting, stunningly raw and cruelly honest account of a young boy who made it out of Sudan, into Somalia's refuge camps and finally to the United States where he now studies and helps with refugee issues.

I shall look for the book you suggest.

staceyjwarner said...

Wow, please share your stories along with your old photographs anytime, both are stunning!

much love...

Renee said...

Tessa how brilliant and what a magnificent picture of the dancers.

I remember the news of what we heard of a certain monster at a certain time, Idi Amin.

Love Renee xoxo

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Tessa - what incredible memories! The joy that spills from your text matches the pure joy on the faces of the dancers. What rich life experiences.

Titus said...

Tessa, what a wonderful post and what a privilege to have been there, then.
It was a privilege to read about these events, and the photographs are amazing.

And I will seek that book out, thank you for the recommendation.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

It's hard tim imagine, but your photos and narrative brought me into the moment. I am familiar with The Last King of Scotland, but had not heard of this book. Thanks for this remarkable post.

DEB said...

When we look at YOUR photographs, magic happens! I went through a bunch recently trying to find a good reference for a self portrait and it wasn't magical. I ended up painting my daughter instead!

steven said...

tessa - at the moment i saw the face of the dancer i read the word "pride" and saww in this extraordinary post so much that i miss as a safe white middle class resident of this continent. i feel no guilt. i feel a longing of missing what is so essential. thankyou for your incredible postings. i feel certain you realize just how extraordinary your experiencing of life has been but i am grateful for being given the grace to follow some features of it through your blog. steven

pink dogwood said...

Have I ever told you that I love the way you write? Well, in case I hadn't :)

My husband's sister is living in Kampala and has fallen in love with the place and the people. I am hoping to visit her next year.

I will look for the book - love the artwork on the cover.

Reya Mellicker said...

Packing up to move house always brings the past into the present. We are lucky that you're willing to share these amazing stories with us. Thank you so so much!

Silke said...

Oh, Tessa, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and memories with us! Your beautiful words and those gorgeous photos - wonderful!! Hugs and love, Silke

languageofpoetry said...

These photographs are wonderful. They captivated me, leaving me craving for more. They are very well composed, so artistic they keep your attention even though they are simple. It is the simple things that truly matter, after all. A moment of magic indeed! Bravo!

Signed,
Alias Rxalel Ariabelle

R2K said...

: )

linda said...

this was like a wonderfully pungent and deeply felt memory of MINE!

thank you, my dear, for sharing your impressions so brilliantly and beautifully as only you can....I could see the color of the pink and hear the sound of the warriors' thrill...I was touched when you mentioned yours were the only white faces, an additional moment forever etched in your amazing memories....how fortunate for you and how fortunate for us to get to live in this vicarious way through your weaving the stories of your abundant life...

bless you...

the max sains said...

"A Moment of Magic"
nice article

Carol said...

I felt as if I was there with you celebrating the dawn of a new beginning....what an amazing thing to have been a part of!!

Thank you so much for sharing that with us all

C x

Ps. Will check out the book. It sounds right up my street :-)

MONICA said...

Hi Tessa! thanks for share this wonderful photos and suggesting a good book. Make me smile :)

jinksy said...

Your photo's brought your words immediately to life- or do I mean that the other way around?!

Van said...

A moment of magic... I love that quote. Your post reminded me of my memories... it's kind of funny because memories are in your head and you're using your head all the time for about everything, yet some of the most beautiful memories are forgotten until you come across things that remind you of them. Sometimes life is hard but a quick thought of old, nice moments can result in cheerfulness. Thanks for your post!
Van

Cindy said...

Tessa,
You already write the most beautiful narrative! I felt like I was there! Thanks for this post :)

Cindy

Renee said...

I agree completly dearest Tessa. I will never understand it.

Love to you dearest beautiful, full of life and love Tessa.

Love Renee xoxo

Sarah Laurence said...

What wonderfully evocative prose of an historical moment. I love the photo of the dancers. Waiting sounds like an interesting book.

Fun house hunting below – it is funny how one can call to you. A very special home indeed. You make me nostalgic for the British countryside.

The McCarthy Post said...

Magnificent blog Tessa. Beautifully written and touching. Keep it up.

The McCarthy Post
www.themccarthypost.blogspot.com

A Cuban In London said...

Wonderful review, powerful and vivid memories and beautiful photos to boot. What's not to like? Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Nishant said...

please share your stories along with your old photographs anytime, both are stunning!

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Sujatha said...

Lovely post Tessa. I'm so glad you stumbled on that photo that triggered all these rich memories!

Mama Shujaa said...

Thanks for sharing your memories so beautifully. Great photos.

Dr.S.P.Padmaprasad said...

Yes,your thoughts and similies are quite novel and agreeable.A good photograph, for atleast a moment,takes us in its hold and occupies our imagination and thoughts. If it doesn't happens so, he must be a tasteless person

K. said...

Beautiful writing and photos! Congrats!

Denise said...

I once got an e-mail from Museveni. It was a personal answer to a silly question I wanted re: Uganda. Since was back in the early 90s, and I couldn't find any sites for Uganda apart from the president so I wrote there, and he replied, very sweetly answering my question and suggesting a website that would tell me more.

I thought it was just so sweet of him, I've been an admirer ever since.

Björnik said...

Hello Tessa. Thank you for sharing your experience. You wrote it so well that I felt I was part of the whole ceremony.:)

I have seen the Last King of Scotland after a year in my computer archive. It was really a surprise that the movie turned out to be good. I hope I can grab a copy of Waiting too.:)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Val said...

the moment of magic happens when i read your lovely blog - that description took me right there; the mist, the excitement building, the hopes - and those wonderful photographs. Do tell us more! thank you

Bella Sinclair said...

You transport me completely with your pictures and words. What an adventure. I could feel the pride. Thank you.

twister said...

You've live a very exciting and adventurous life. It puts me in mind of the first line of a movie appropriate for you; "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." Perhaps if you decide to compile your writing, one day your life will be cinematically captured for future viewers, for future readers.

Lori ann said...

I wonder what happened to my comment? hmmm, and now I can't remember what i said...i'm sure it had something to do with how brilliant your photos and words are and just your life in general. I LOVE your blog and you. Take good care dear Tessa.

Yoli said...

Thank you for sharing and I will be reading that book.