I was in a taxi yesterday, seated behind a Sudanese man and woman. They were talking and laughing and sounded so happy. As someone who works in an area that houses a lot of these refugees, I wondered about them briefly. Were they brother and sister? How much had they lost in the war? What was it like adjusting to Uganda? Eventually, I got bored and went back to reading my book.
I glanced up twenty minutes later when the man and his female companion were leaving the taxi. But what was this? No longer was he smiling and laughing. He was furious and it looked like he was about to beat the taxi conductor to a pulp. His female companion tugged at his arm, trying to calm him down.
I think they didn’t understand that since it was peak traffic hour, the fare was more expensive than usual. But since the fellow didn’t know English, and the conductor couldn’t speak Sudan, they were at a stalemate. Luckily, the conductor found help.
A big burly Ugandan next to me (let’s call him Nationalist) snarled, “You’ve failed to fight in Sudan, now you want to come and fight here?”
Other passengers in the taxi took up the cry, screaming at the young man and woman.
“You people are barbarians! Fighting is the only thing you know! This is Uganda. We don’t behave like hooligans!”
Considering the people saying it, I thought that was debatable.
Nationalist ontinued to lead the battle, shouting again and again, the veins popping out of his neck, “Go back to Sudan and fight! You failed to fight there, now you want to fight here!”
The Sudanese girl dragged her friend away. The conductor hurled some anti-Sudanese talk at their backs while he closed the door, and we were on our way.
I waited for tempers to cool, and the insults to die down. When the taxi was quiet once more, I turned to Nationalist.
“Why were you telling the man to go to Sudan and fight?”
“Because he wanted to fight with the conductor”, he snapped.
“I want to fight with conductors often” I said. “I’ve seen lots of people want to fight with conductors. That’s nothing new”.
“But don’t you know these people have no manners?” he asked me.
“I meet bad mannered Ugandan men and women every day”, I said. “Don’t you?”
“I’m not talking about Ugandans”, he was getting angry. “I’m talking about Sudanese!”
“I noticed, when you told him to go back and fight”, I said. “But you know refugees traditionally run away from fighting, yeah? After which, there’s usually a bit of trauma involved. Starting over, having nothing, not speaking the language. Why would you say something so hateful as go back and fight?”
“Are you Sudanese?” he asked me, angry. “Why are you defending them?”
“I’m defending them because you’re being a racist”
“Do you know that I may be a Sudanese who knows what he’s talking about?” he asked me.
Hahaha. WIth that accent and nose? You so Muganda.
A soft sweet voice piped up, startling both of us. It was a pretty light skinned young lady next to us.
“Actually” she started, and paused before continuing. “Actually, I have some Sudanese friends and they’re very nice people. I think it’s all about character and perhaps how they were affected before coming here”.
“Take away your nonsense!” the man behind her said. “99.9% of these people are animals!”
Nationalist was thrilled at this new development.
“Yes, animals!” he declared.
“You, sir, are a racist”, I repeated. “If that had been a Ugandan fighting with the conductor, and not a Sudanese, I bet you would not have opened your mouth even once”.
He did not deny it. A minute of silence reigned before Nationalist coughed and said gruffly.
“Anyway, let us forget the matter for now”.
I am aware that many Ugandans dislike this influx of South Sudanese into the country, particularly because of the hostile reception that Ugandan nationals have received in Sudan, and what I’ve heard is the infamous volatile nature of the people in general.
But does that mean we’ve got to be dicks ourselves to settle the score?