Schooling under Wartime, and Explaining that to my American-born child


He asked me, “Did you go to school in war?”
“Yes, until when it was no longer a wise decision to go outside the house,” I told him.
I grew up in Kampala, Uganda during the war that ushered in the current president and national government. [Please believe it; some presidents stay on for over 29 years!]
I told my son that,
“Similar to our routine, my mom loved reading to me. One day, while we were reading outside our house, two soldiers walked into our yard about six-thirty o’clock in the evening. Just as my mom was about to run away, one of the soldiers told her, “Do not run, there are several more following right behind us.” Indeed, seven more followed and casually entered our house. They took about everything we owned, including plates, curtains, blankets, beddings, kitchenware and clothing. Once they were done, they asked my mother to walk them to the neighbor’s house and ask the neighbors to open their house; to get robbed too!”
 
Visibly overwhelmed, my son asked, “Wow! Weren’t you scared?”
 
I told him that I was scared, we were all scared. But life went on. In fact we went to school the next day.
He asked again, “How did you survive? You are here!?”
I told him that we went to school until it became extremely unsafe to continue, or keep living in our hometown. I explained to him that the soldiers did not always roam our neighborhood during the day. Either because they were sleeping off the exhaustion from robbing people’s homes at night or they were out terrorizing other neighborhoods or mounting roadblocks to hijack motorists and passengers.
He was visibly shocked and scared! More so, when I told him that soldiers killed and robbed people!
     “I thought, soldiers are nice?” he said.
     “Well, the current soldiers [in Uganda] are quite different,” I told him. “They are more disciplined.”
He asked me, “What does disciplined mean?”
     “To behave well. They behave better than ones we had growing up [in Uganda],” I answered.
  “You know the soldiers were terrible! They walked into people’s homes, stole property and often shot people to death. They shot and killed people on the streets for no specific reason.”
When I was little and living under war, we could not even turn on the lights or put drapes in our house at night because we did not want the soldiers to know there were people living in the house. Most of our neighbors had abandoned their homes and moved out of the country. We ate dinner using kerosene lamps [showed him a google picture of today, the typical kerosene lamp used in plenty of Africa], sitting in the corridor, where it was hard to see the light or movements inside the house. Immediately after dinner, we went to bed. In fact I slept under the bed all the time, out of fear that soldiers would see me on the bed. Most of my family lay on the floor at night.”
              “Wow mom! That is scary! And you are still alive? You are here!
Yes, it was a terrible experience, and to anyone else reading this! Amazed, as well, how we survived through it and lived to tell our story! For us, it was “business as usual”: We went to school everyday, returned home alive, cooked and dinner and fell asleep. In fact, my brother and I walked to school, not far from home. Since I was still in elementary school, I always got back home earlier than everybody else. Then, I would climb up and sit in the tree in our yard, waiting for my mother and older siblings to return home. Interestingly, my family and I were oblivious to the possibility that anybody passer-by, could easily see me up in the tree and try to harm me. Or that the soldiers could shoot me down!
Until that near fatal morning, when soldiers went door-to-door looking for rebel fighters, and killing and raping everybody they came across. In a rush and intense fear, we forgot to lock the door leading outside, when the soldiers approached. By a strike of luck, we survived when a soldier called his friend, who was about to open our door, to a proceed to an open house in sight! Thereafter, my family decided it was too risky staying in my hometown, so we joined the trail of ‘refugees’ fleeing their homes in war-torn Uganda. One of our neighbors was not lucky to escape, fatally shot, as he was rushing to the latrine to relieve himself of diarrhea.
I can go on about growing up and schooling in war time. Even that incident, walking home from school against the advice of the school principal, two days before the current government took over, as soldiers of the old regime were retreating from the main capital. When I got home and knocked at the door, my mother thought it was the solders; she opened the door wailing. She told me that one of our neighbors was raped by a soldier.
N’way, this story was for my six-year old American child, to let him realize that, playing guns, bombs and making people dead is not fun! It is not funny fantasy, as his play circles and Growing Up American, seems to make him believe. I am glad he is able to reach deep inside and get shocked. I am glad he has proposed on his own, to avoid guns and shooting games. Instead, he will build houses, hotels and more fun meaningful stuff in Minecraft. And at “S”’ party this weekend, he is not going to play, “making people dead”; he will play something else, so he said. Hopefully, he can pass on this education about the deadly not toy weapon to his friends and future generations.
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