KAMPALA

The first time I traveled to Kampala, capital of Uganda, I was convinced I’d experience Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and meet Kurtz, the ivory trader, and Charles Marlowe the intrepid narrator of this iconic tale of suspense and intrigue up the Congo River into the outer reaches of deepest, darkest 1890 Africa.

Kampala-from-Old-Mosque2Not hardly.

With a table-spoonful of dashed expectations, I landed at Entebbe International Airport, on the shores of Lake Victoria, only to find a modern airport with landing gates crowded with the colorful logos of British Airways, Air Qatar, Jordan Aviation, Kenya Air, Air Emirates et al.

The terminal building sparkled as yet another indicator of Uganda’s economic development to go along with her flawless internet service and stunning monuments.

All this to camouflage the reality of her indigenous depression.

Uganda, like so many countries in the developing world, presents a facade to the developed world. She hides the reality of poverty, suppression of human rights, and economic equality. Her government is a faux democracy that enables the political leadership of an elite administration more interested in economic development than in human development, they leave that to foreign aid allocations from the developed world.

The United States has invested millions in the social and economic infrastructure of this impoverished country. Once you leave the commercial bubble of her English speaking capital of Kampala, you find the indigenous tribes making up the majority of her 43 million people who speak  Bantu and thirty different languages.

The political elite in Kampala operates as a separate country, they negotiate with western powers who want to establish a presence here for the sole purpose of polishing their foreign aid resume’s and knowingly contribute exorbitantly high percentages of their budget to the “use fees” demanded by the Kampala government which line the pockets of the President and his elite enablers.   This is the description of corruption, the cancer infecting the leadership of the developing world.

What’s left of the foreign aid budgets trickles down to the masses in the form of charity, not economic development. The US Peace Corps is well-meaning,  established by President John Kennedy in the early 1960’s it provided an opportunity for idealistic young Americans to lend their talent and education to a cause greater than themselves. Unfortunately, the percentage of American aid allocated to the Peace Corps is pittance while the bureaucracy of the USAID program sucks up the lion’s share of the US commitment to the poverty, health, and education of the developing, aka the third, world.

While working as a minor player on a USAID project in Uganda, I had the opportunity to interact with our Peace Corps, I was overwhelmed by the commitment of these young people, men, and women from elite US colleges and universities many with sophisticated family backgrounds living and experiencing the poverty of third world existence.  Some would say they’re “do-gooders”, suggesting US funding is better served by local government; I would say they’re heroes in the global war against poverty and oppression.

A MAN ALONE

PRELUDE

A strange title for a man surrounded by people. And yet, loneliness isn’t about people, It’s about a state of mind. It’s about memories filling your consciousness like a stalking horse concealing reality. Loneliness is not a place, it’s a controlled feeling. We can feel isolated in a crowd, ignored by peers, pitied by family and friends or selfless, depending upon our state of mind.

I just had a birthday, a time for reflection and ignoring the passage of time with thoughts of ambition and new beginnings. The resistance I feel is palpable, like an immovable object against an unstoppable life force. 

I begin this essay with trepidation, fearful and alone. I’m not sure what will happen as my thoughts become words, tumbling out in a cacophony of emotions, struggling to express feelings about my life, an enigma, a mysterious riddle searching for answers.

Intamacy with the public is a gamble, will it be accepted as inspiration or rejected as the incoherent ramblings of a man alone with too much time on his hands.

This story is creative non-fiction, if told in third person narrative it would read like an adventure novel.

Why now, why in the twilight of my life would I be thinking of writing a story that may disappoint those I love and titillate faux friends who scavenge after gossip like crows to shiny objects.

I haven’t been infected with COVID-19 but the preventive medicine being prescribed can be worse than the cure. Self-quarantine, no friends or family, isolating yourself in a bubble without human contact. Sounds easy right? Close the door, pull a book from the shelf and let the world go by.

I’ve done that, I’m on my sixth novel and countless essays and short stories not to mention narrating a daily podcast on social media and two new audiobooks.

After five months of isolation I had a primal scream. It was one o’clock in the morning after grinding through another chapter of a book that was boring me to tears.

It was then I decided to write my own book, one that proves the old meme, “life is stranger than fiction”. Writing is personal, it engages memories, emotions, fears and loves. When you read you’re out of the story looking in, entertained, educated, or envious, when you write you are the story  

It was late, the night was hot and sultry, I was on the patio, the sound was not human, it was more like a wounded animal caught in a trap.

,

Why every light in the neighborhood didn’t go on with a squad car in the driveway flashing red and blue I’ll never know.

The scream was a mental cleanse allowing me to regain equilibrium after five months of isolation.

Julie stood in the open doorway with a terrified look on her face. All she could say through the tears is: “do you want me to call 911?”. I waved her off with a smile and a gentle suggestion that she go back to bed, “I’m fine my love, just having a low budget therapy session”.

After that scream, I decided to let the chips fall where they may and write this essay. A work of non-fiction, a first-person narrative written by a man alone.

Chapter 1

The Search

It’s 1957, I’m a freshman at the University of Notre Dame and feeling sorry for myself. My father, a Norte Dame Alumni, along with uncles and brothers in law are devoted Irish fans. My application to Georgetown was rejected by my Father, not their admissions committee. As far as he was concerned ND was the only school in America worth considering. His attitude was simple, go to ND I pay, go to Georgetown you’re on your own.

Georgetown is the oldest Jesuit University in the country and the natural extension to St. Ignatius Prep, where I studied with the Jesuits. They educate the man, they teach you how to think with moral certainty, with conviction that there are absolutes in life that won’t tolerate compromise. They teach a college preparatory course of math, history, science, language and theology driven by a moral compass. This is a classic liberal education, it’s not a political label, it’s the enabler leading you to decisions in life based upon what’s right not what’s expedient

Matriculating at Notre Dame was a disappointment. The Holy Cross Brothers are fine educators but not in the same league as the Jesuits. My motivation was lacking. I was convinced that ignoring the Jesuits for college was dumbing down my prep school experience. St. Ignatius Prep brained washed me, not a bad thing when the washers are Jesuits.

(stay tuned, TBC)