Walking speed is common topic of conversation between the researchers I am helping to train and me. Two of them enjoy that I walk quickly, so when a researcher asked if I’d like to go walking after lunch, I was game. He said his cousin’s sister lived down one of the roads nearby, and we could go visit her. Given that it was Sunday, our only day off this week, I figured a brisk walk would do me good. 2.15 miles later I was hot but happy after the number of waves and shouts from kids far outnumbered the strange and questioning glances I got.
Henrietta, his cousin’s sister, came out to the road to greet us, with one baby on her back, and a young boy, about four and a half, running along beside her. We settled into her living room, for what might have been called a social call in the Old South. We simply took our seats and chatted about everything from the weather to local politics to U.S. politics (they’ve got their fingers crossed we re-elect Obama) to culture in Uganda and in America, with them asking if America has any culture. I explain some of the things that currently form part of the American culture, while emphasizing that many people also continue traditions from the culture of the place their families are from.
She then set out a meal for us, white rice, chopped greens, and meat in soup (unidentified... I’ve got my money on liver). While my colleague and I ate, she sat to the side, but continued the conversation. She is an assistant district attorney, and began to share some of the stories of what she had seen pass through the courtroom.
In one story, there was a boy who ‘hacked’ his grandfather to death, in front of his mother (the daughter-in-law of the man killed) and his grandmother (the wife of the man killed). This boy was immediately arrested and kept in jail for two years, pending his hearing. The evidence was overwhelming, but the testimony of the eyewitnesses was key to a conviction. However, as the mother came up to testify, Henrietta could tell that the mother was having great difficulty testifying against her own son, who had killed his grandfather. The wife of the deceased was asked what she wanted the outcome of the trial to be. She responded that since the incident, her daughter-in-law and grandson had barely seen her, nor had they every apologized for the incident. She said that what she really wanted was an apology, and enough money to start a business, since the breadwinner of her household had been killed. She asked for 300,000 Ugandan Shillings, or $136 USD. The parties left to try to mediate the case. They returned the next day, the mother of the boy who had killed his grandfather bringing the money, and the two parties reconciled, as the grandmother was glad to be able to start a business and the mother was glad her son would be released from jail. This is an interesting instance of pursuing reconciliation in the name of peace and harmony in a community, rather than pursuing punishment in the name of justice. What if you were one of the people in this scenario? What would you prefer? What would usually happen in a case like this where you live?
“And what caused this boy to ‘hack’ his grandfather to death?” was my first question at the end of the story. The boy’s father was sick and in the hospital, and had a very high fever. When the boy went to visit him in the hospital he heard his father crying out “My own father is killing me, he is doing this to me!” The boy interpreted this to mean that the grandfather was a wizard, or someone with special powers, often believed to be conferred by the devil, and had put a curse on the father in order to make him suffer and die. Following this line of reasoning, the boy encountered his grandfather with the intention of killing him, in order to release his own father from the spell, thinking he was saving his life.