Finding Denis, Part 1

The boda driver killings in Gulu began on May 28th and on May 29th I received a frantic message from my boda driver, Denis, that a rebel group had entered Gulu and was killing boda drivers in the cloak of night.

Denis’ message to me was quick and to the point.  “A group of people are killing boda boda riders in large.  And they are using guns.”

Messages from my other loved ones in Uganda came in frantic bursts.  The number of drivers killed was nearing twenty.  A mandatory curfew was put in place over the town.  The police were vigilant in their pursuit of the rebel group, but drivers continued to be shot and killed.

I called Denis.

And messaged him.

And sent my son, William, out to Denis’ village, Bungatira, to find him.

His phone was disconnected.  He didn’t reply to messages and worst of all, he was nowhere to be found in his village.

For weeks I tried to find him.

Then weeks turned into a month.

Time kept on growing and still no word.

The pit of my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I thought of the voice in my ear telling me to let go.

No, I would not let go of this.  I would not let go of my friend.  I spewed angry prayers from between clenched teeth.  I am not letting go of my friend, God.  NOT LETTING GO.  So You and your voice are going to have to help me find Denis.

I wondered if Denis was alive.  And if he was alive, why wasn’t he home?  Why was his phone, his life line, not working?

Something was terribly wrong.

Since the summer of 2013 I’d heard from Denis at least every other week.  He regularly filled me in with reports on his pigs and reports about the village treasury.

And now nothing.

I arrived in Gulu and tried calling Denis countless times to no avail.  I planned to go to Denis’ village the following day to figure out for myself where my friend was and whether he was alive or not.

I can’t tell you how happy I was later that day when I picked up my phone and it showed a missed call from Denis’ number.  I kicked myself for having it on silent.

Again I called and didn’t get through.  Later William called and talked to Denis.  Denis was in Te Okot, the land of his clan.  William reported that Denis was walking to Gulu to come and see me.

Again alarm bells sounded.  Te Okot is 2-3 hours from Gulu and that’s if you go by motorcycle.  Why was Denis walking?  Why was he so far from home?

I called Denis and can’t express how overjoyed I was to hear his voice for myself.  I fired questions at him.

“Where have you been?  You scared me to death.  I thought you were dead.  Why isn’t your phone working?  What are you doing so far from home?  Aren’t you in school?  Where’s your boda?  Why are you walking from so far?”

“I’ll explain it all when I reach you.  I’ll be there around midnight,” Denis replied.

“Why don’t you take a boda?  It will be much faster.”

“It’s expensive.  I can’t pay for it.  My pigs were all poisoned and died.  My future has died.”

“What???  Who killed your pigs?  How much is the boda ride?”

“40,000 shillings.  I’ll explain everything when I get there.”

40,000 shillings is roughly $15.

I told Denis I’d pay the boda driver, that he should just come and come quickly.

Then I waited one of the longest hours of my life.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which I will write when there’s electricity again.

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