I’d just received an ominous phone call. It was one of the War Child staff on the other line. “I heard your Super Custom got in an accident and one of your staff was hurt.”
An accident? In town? “No, it can’t be us,” I told him. “Jolly just took the Super Custom over to Pajar, and it’s just 4km. No way he could have gotten in an accident in such a short distance in a small town with no traffic. Thanks for the concern though!”
For a few minutes I felt better. Then as I left the staff training, I noticed a crowd of people had gathered in the distance. A crowd in Africa is never a good sign: either a politician is giving a speech, a thief is being lynched, or there’s been an accident that everyone is staring at, and none of those are good.
I started walking faster.
The scene was terrible. A crowd of at least 100 slack-jawed Karamojong onlookers was gathered around the mangled ruin of the Super Custom, which was lying on its side five meters off the road. The car was destroyed almost beyond recognition: the front completely smashed in, one tire hopelessly crushed beneath the twisted body of the car, most of the windows shattered. Police were shooing away the curious crowd and warning them not to take anything from the car. Jolly was not there.
“What happened??” I asked the onlookers, gaping.
“An old woman stepped in front of the vehicle,” one man told me, “and the driver swerved. He went off the road and overturned 3 times. Some people have taken the driver to Kaabong hospital. He is not talking.”
Frantic, I was about to rush to the hospital to find Jolly, but the police stopped me. They were calling a truck to tow the car away, and needed me there to follow it to the station. A clash of priorities: do I go visit the person in the hospital, or stay to protect the car? Well there was nothing I could do for Jolly now, he was in the doctors’ hands. So I resolved to follow the van to the police station where it would be kept.
Then I realized, I’d left my backpack in the car, with my laptop and about UGX 600,000 cash. My girlfriend’s camera, with which I had taken all my pictures of the trip, was also there. But I could not see any of them: no backpack, no laptop, no camera. No big deal perhaps; the car was so mangled they might still be somewhere within the wreckage. I scrambled through one of the broken windows to have a look into the lower reaches of the mess.
It must have been quite the sight for the Karamojong standing around, to see a muzungu upside down in a wrecked van with his feet sticking out the window. The children laughed. I did not think it was funny.
David had arrived by this point, and helped with the search. We managed to get most of the rest of our goods out of the car—two BBOXX solar systems (still in tact and functional), two lightning arrestors, and the warranty contracts I had just finished signing. But it was clear that neither the backpack with its laptop and UGX 600,000 nor the camera were there. Someone must have snatched them from the wreckage before the police showed up, or else they were thrown from the car as it rolled.
But that’s Africa. Despite most people going to church, you’ll find few Good Samaritans. It’s typical that whenever there’s a car wreck, the onlookers steal as much as they can from the scene of the accident, even looting wallets and phones from the pockets of unconscious victims. No one wants to use their precious airtime to call for help. Life is hard and valued little. Death is just another part of life—or just another opportunity to make money.
Fortunately for us, there were at least a few good Samaritans, who helped us greatly. A car from the French NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) passed by some 20 minutes after the accident. Jolly had been trapped in the car unconscious the whole time, and none of the onlookers had helped or called for assistance. But the ACF staff stopped and pulled Jolly through the window of the car and carried him to the hospital. They even left his wallet and phone with him. All this before I had gotten there.
The headmistress of the Komukuny Catholic girls’ school where we had been installing at the time also came to our aid. She stayed with us up to the evening, then woke up at 6am the next morning to boil water for tea. Unasked for, she came to the hospital before I had even awoken, carrying tea and chapatti. Seeing that the unconscious Jolly’s clothes and bed sheets were soiled with dirt from the accident, she lent him her blanket and washed his. She stayed with us the whole day and helped us negotiate with police and other parties in the vain search for my laptop. I told her I knew she must be Christian, because surely that is a purer example of what Jesus would do than all the grandstanding pastors judging others about their own sins. When I was sick, you came to visit me. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat.
David Sekandi the head technician, who stayed with Jolly through the first night in the hospital, continued the search for the laptop even after I’d gone back to Kampala, negotiated with police for the eventual release of the car—all despite the fact that time spent away from finishing the installations meant that he and his team had to spend an extra day or days in Karamoja just when they had thought they were going home, no doubt delaying his business back in Kampala. David went the extra mile.
The War Child staff who knew about the accident even before we did due to their network of contacts in the area, and offered their support to make sure we were able to take care of Jolly properly.
There are some good people in this world.
But many of those events had not yet happened. At this point I was still standing by the wrecked van figuring out what to do.