Almost every window in Uganda is protected by bars. Pretty, decorative bars, but bars nonetheless. The doors too are barred. While I am used to only screen doors protecting my regular doors in the States—if anything at all—most regular doors here are protected by bars. Alternatively, the regular door itself is made from heavy duty metal.
In Busota there is barbed wire everywhere. Barbed wire tops the walls that surround the more expensive homes. Fences are made from barbed wire strung between wooden posts. At Mustard Seed Secondary School there is barbed wire strung between some bushes to stop you from walking between them. Between most of the bushes the barbed wire is not visible, but even where it is visible I have almost walked into it several times. Next to the school canteen there is a triangle made from barbed wire. Until this weekend, I could not figure out why this exists. The wires hang too high for a corral—besides I never saw an animal inside. There is only grass inside the triangle that is the exact same as the grass outside it. The area is too small to be useful for any kind of game or activity I can think of. On Saturday, when we arrived at school to plant trees around campus with some of the students, several of the boarding students were doing their laundry. They were hanging it on the barbed wire triangle. So that’s what it’s for. It seems like such a bad idea. One strong gust of wind and your shirt is torn. I watched someone tear a sock open just hanging it. For me, barbed wire would be my emergency clothes line—not the material I put up specifically for drying my clothes. I guess you don’t need clothing pins though. That’s one advantage.
With barbed wire everywhere and most of the windows protected with bars and those who can afford to erecting walls around their property, Busota can feel rather threatening. It’s not as if anything has happened. It’s not like I’ve even felt in real danger here. Quite the opposite. The people here are more than friendly. We cannot arrive at a new location without chairs being gathered for us—even if we are only staying five minutes. Teachers go out of their way to greet us each morning. We are invited to our neighbor’s homes for meals. The owner of our guest house took a few hours out of his Sunday to give us a tour of the area. It was not the case in Kasese, but in Busota we rarely feel we are being given a “muzungu price” in the market. Busota is welcoming.
But the near-constant presence of barbed wire and barred windows makes me feel like I should be on edge. Is Busota dangerous? There is a reason why people here feel the need to use them right? I guess it shouldn’t be that jarring—knowing Uganda’s history. It wasn’t too long ago that Idi Amin’s government reigned in terror—when anyone at anytime could be pulled from their home never to return. It wasn’t too long ago that in the wake of Amin’s reign that Muslims could be massacred by their neighbors in fits of misguided vengeance. With this terror in living memory it’s no wonder that Ugandans want to surround themselves with barbed wire and live within homemade cages—not to lock themselves in but to keep the bad guys out.