My day with Pope Francis in Kampala, Uganda started out with reservations about access and traffic.
I applied for accreditation as a journalist weeks ago but only collected my accreditation card at the very last minute on Friday, then spent hours weighing whether to cover Namugongo or Kololo – I didn’t see how I could possibly cover both what with the numbers of people involved and the traffic.
My special hire taxi guy was skeptical about our chances of getting to Namugongo, and when I flashed my accreditation tag at the security chaps at different stops the fellow saw me in a different light that I hope will result in fare discounts.
We got stopped, eventually, and I hit the road walking alongside hundreds of others. And as we walked I started recognising some of the people standing by the roadside, waiting to catch a glimpse of or wave from the Pope.
One family had even taken up seats outside (their?) gate and were settled admirably:
When I got to Kyaliwajjala, I realised I had an opportunity for a shot nobody else was ready for, and took up position just below the junction where @Pontifex was definitely going to drive past.
Ten minutes later, I saw the first outriders take position and whipped out my cameras – one phone video camera in the left hand and one still camera in the right hand.
And I learnt a fairly harsh lesson that also came up in discussion with a journalist friend at the close of the day.
This is the video I captured: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmaDU5407eo&feature=em-upload_owner
I could not believe it cut short JUST AS THE POPE GOT TO ME – especially because he actually held me with a direct look as he went past, and I was the only camera on that road, having left @echwalu up on the main road. Cloaking my mind with sensibility, though, I entered journalism mode and soldiered on seeking another opportunity. I was so disturbed I ignored the convoys of the Kabaka and Salva Kiir (was he the one, mpozi?)
And that’s how, as I was walking past the first gate to Namugongo, I paused a bit and Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba rolled up and started briefings with his officers. A couple of shots later, I uploaded a (different) photograph of @mkainerugaba at work:
Inside Namugongo itself, the size of the crowd was not daunting as we have become immunised by the political campaign crowds, but it was quite something to behold.
I went straight to the choir, accessing the restricted area quite easily by way of a staircase and probably due to my gray hair and girth – those overlay name tags apparently stand out better when positioned on top of a large chunk of belly fat.
Within minutes I was taking up-close shots of the choir and recording video:
The sound was even more incredible than my little video presents, but I found that I was in a highly restricted zone and besides, @Pontifex was about to arrive so I shuttled over to the other end of the lagoon.
Ten minutes later, the crowd went wild as the first cars in the convoy descended and dropped off security and protocol – raising in my mind those same thoughts about how we still need highly trained, armed gunmen to protect a holy man of peace who is the representative of God Himself here on earth.
The paradox was as confounding as the humility of this Pope against the insistence that we all sustained in treating him like a God even if the Ten Commandments themselves makes it clear that we shouldn’t be this way; from the swooning in the stands to the national leaders scrambling for a handshake with the Holy Man, it was a little disturbing.
But just to a few of us – I had to focus, meanwhile, on getting shots out on Twitter under #PopeInUganda, and taking some video evidence for my family to account for the Saturday absence.
This time I stayed firm and even did test recordings just to be sure I wouldn’t lose the plot – and I was successful! The video (one of MANY) worked out fine.
Plus, he came round again and due to some nifty journalistic skills I found myself standing right at the front of the Procession of Bishops waiting for the Holy Father to finish changing and then lead the walk to the alter set in the lagoon at Namugongo.
Both sets of security were obviously a little confused as to my seniority, and let me be long enough for @Pontifex to emerge and make himself available for some close-up shots from five metres away – but the crowd of security and bishops frustrated visibility and clarity, so I don’t have much to report on that front, except, maybe:
Now, the above is not just to prove how close we were to @Pontifex, by this time, the rest of the media corp that had found their way onto the pavers above the lagoon had joined me and were snapping away.
Shortly after the above, a female photographer to my right entered into an altercation with a security guard, and was joined by a male colleague.
“You security guys should stop blocking us!” they shouted, sustaining the to-and-fro for a couple of minutes as the procession made its way to the altar. When I was tired of listening to the conversation, I suggested to them that since the Pope had left perhaps the issue was now moot.
“No!” she responded, ” He is still inside there!” and pointed at the small building within which he had changed his garb.
They hadn’t realised that the Pope had changed his clothing and was now up the aisle…
Much later on, I found myself joined up with the international press corps as they left Namugongo for their hotel en route to Kololo, and I was amused at how much time they took off to shoot photos of a couple of ladies and their children, sitting outside their modest house in Namugongo.
The ladies were equally amused, and as I took footage of them taking footage, one lady laughed, “Eh-eh! N’omuddugavu atukwaata?!” (‘Even the black one is filming us?!’) Of course, I understood their enthusiasm for these shots, as the women and children looked more “Africa” than most of those inside Namugongo or sitting on the verandahs of the shops across the road:
In fact, some Ugandans even own their own buildings and had branded them like:
A few metres after that little family, one female journalist, @pgovejero, took a keen interest in a fenne (jackfruit) tree and it’s offering but the fellow standing next to her began to say something about her probably not taking to the taste of the fruit so I jumped in quickly to explain its amazing food nutrition value and sweet taste.
Long story, short: I called out for the owner of the fenne tree, a gate opposite the tree opened up and a lady stepped out with her three children to explain that it was all raw – but, she added, she had some ripe fenne in her fridge.
I waited a precarious three minutes as she left to check her fridge and the journalists boarded the buses and their convoy lead car lights flashed up. The lady returned in the nick of time and handed me a plastic dish covered carefully with clingfilm wrap – surprise! Not kaveera – clingfilm.
In my hand was a Ushs2,000 note on the ready but in her mouth was a refusal of any payment.
“Nkuwadde buwi, ssebo. Twaala!” (I’ve given that to you free of charge; please take it!”)
I was licked. I couldn’t pressure her to take it, this had nothing to do with the international journalists, and I didn’t want to miss the ride into town just because of this fenne that they had not even asked for. Quickly, I turned to her children and quizzed them about Christianity, then gave them the money to spend as they wished but told them to thank God for giving them a generous mother and bringing the Pope to Uganda.
In the bus, @pgovejero liked the fenne – and since everybody else was probably afraid to try out new food “in Africa” or had sensitive stomachs, she did a good job of it, sparking in my mind ideas we had discussed days earlier about the many opportunities we could have taken advantage of during the Pope’s visit (to come later).
Ten minutes later, we were at the Imperial Royale Hotel (nanti we had a lead car even if we were not with the Pope at the time) and it was STILL MORNING HOURS – and @Pontifex had THREE MORE FUNCTIONS TO GO before calling it a day…
…more later, but for now please admire: