Colonel Idi Amin had recently taken over power from President Milton Obote. He staged a coup d’état while Obote was attending the Commonwealth conference in Singapore. Initially, Idi Amin was seen as a reasonable replacement as Obote’s socialist tendencies had worried the business community. But the Indians knew they were always vulnerable as a minority and watched him carefully to see how he would treat them. The clock was ticking….
One afternoon, I was playing with Sher when the gardener Ochieng rushed over and excitedly went to call the rest of the household. He held Sher’s metal chain so he wouldn’t run onto the road.
“Amin na kuja, Amin na kiuja, Amin is coming. Amin is coming. Come and see.”
We all ran to the side of the road. Even Tuma came with all the servants, and the ayah brought baby Rehana in her arms. All the traffic had been cleared. There were armed police on either side of the road. People lined up on the footpaths, and outside their houses, we waited for a few minutes. First, some motor bicycles driven by soldiers came roaring ahead of the motorcade.
Then Idi Amin himself came. He was sitting in an open military jeep looking ahead and smiling and occasionally waving. He was very dark-skinned with broad features, and his green uniform was decorated with rows of shiny medals. He was tall and heavy and filled out the uniform. Two pretty African women in army uniform were sitting on either side of him in the back seat. In the front were a driver and an armed guard while three jeeps with soldiers in uniforms and berets carrying big machine guns followed just behind. A line of black Mercedes with black tinted windows brought up the rear.
So this was the man I saw on the T.V. all the time. I shouted “jambo” loudly when the procession was a little way away from the house. I was used to shouting out when Kenya’s president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta drove by our house in Nairobi, and I thought it would be polite to do the same thing here.
Idi Amin looked at me and signaled for his driver to stop. The whole motorcade came to a halt.
“Come here, little girl.” I paused, unsure of what to do.
“Yes, you. Come here.”
Finally, Ochieng and I went to the jeep to talk to him. Sher was watching Amin with bared teeth and giving low growls. Tuma watched us nervously and padded behind.
“So you are waving to your President. Maybe all of you people are not so bad.” He smiled showing those big, white teeth in a dark face.
“What is your name?”
“And you live here in this nice, big, big house?”
“No, no, I live in Nairobi. I am visiting my grandmother, and I am Kenyan.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, you people, you muhindi are all over Africa, you have spread everywhere.”
He smiled again, but now I didn’t like him. His smile reminded me of a crocodile’s, the hungry smile before they ate you up. He looked haraami, so evil. His eyes were bloodshot as he leered at me.
“Do you want to come to the palace with me, pretty girl? I have a big swimming pool you can swim in. You can play there.”
“I can’t. I am going home.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Thank you. I mean no…I must go back.” I said, remembering my manners.
“Okay, I am a very busy man. You may go.” He dismissed me with a wave.
Tuma grabbed me fast and held me to her bosom. We moved away from the jeep, and with a loud roar, the procession went on its way. Everyone slowly went back into their houses. Tuma scolded me, “All those haraami men with guns could have taken you away. How would we have stopped them? Why did you have to shout, “Jambo”? We are Indians here. We are not Africans! We are not Africans! Stay with me now.”
Already rumors of Amin’s cruelty and sexual perversions had begun to spread through Kampala, and my grandmother was terrified of what he could do to a young, Indian girl. When she told my uncles that evening, I got scolded badly again.
“You stupid girl, have you no sense? “ Rashid, Uncle shouted at me. “Do you know what he does to little girls? Why did you have to say anything?”
“What if he comes back looking for you?” Adnan Uncle added. I burst into tears and went to Tuma for comfort.
“She is too young to understand these things. Just send her home on the first flight tomorrow morning. Buy her a new ticket, don’t worry about the cost,” Tuma said as she put her arms around me.
I was abruptly woken up at four the next morning, and my uncles grimly drove me the two hours to Entebbe Airport, where I had to travel alone on a small, propeller plane on East African Airways. I went back home and back to school. Life went on as before though I had nightmares about Idi Amin and the crocodiles who were linked in my mind.
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