“You’re not allowed to enter the palace grounds or take photos unless you first go to Mengo Palace in Kampala and obtain a letter of permission.”
I turned away in disappointment from the Kabaka’s Palace in Bamunanika. Last month, I had been promised that I could re-enter the palace for the last time and take photos in the ruins of the palace. However, this time a new army guard was hired who adhered to some sort of rule that prohibited me from entering the palace grounds. I started to get upset because this was a place that I loved to show my visitors and PCV Hannah was my guest for the week. I had also lived here for almost two years, and this one guard wasn’t allowing me to pass. Part of me believes that this has to do with the Ugandans who attempted to steal the fence surrounding the palace about a month ago. Another police officer attempted to arrest me back then.
We descended the small hill on which the Kabaka’s Palace lay, and made our way towards the much larger hill overlooking Bamunanika Town. Over the past two years, I had gazed at the hill with its rocky crags and wondered if it was possible to climb it. Since Hannah was visiting me, I decided that now was the best opportunity. As we approached the base of the hill, about a dozen Ugandan children started to follow us. Soon enough, they started to lead us up the hill. I laughed at how Hannah and I kept stumbling over hidden rocks, or stopped when faced with a very steep rock to boulder. But the barefoot children would just run up the mountain as if they were running down a paved road.
The view from the top was beautiful, because it showed us the entirety of Bamunanika Town. Sure, I love the mountains and foothills of the Rwenzoris and Mt. Elgon but this was my home. It wasn’t just rolling hills; instead I could see the layout of this seemingly random town appear from the matooke trees and bush of the Luweero Sub-County. The children became our tour guides and showed us various sites on the hill. We stopped by a grassy clearing near the top called “Shaolin Temple” where the kids would mock fight in imitation of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. Another stop was a rocky outcropping that gave another view of Bamunanika Town and an abandoned factory by the outskirts.
After a few minutes at each site, one of the kids would say, “Tu gende?” which means “Should we go?”. The final site was a very steep rock that sloped down for about 25 feet. Hannah and I stood on the sloped embankment as the children picked up leafy branches and the plastic bases of jerrycans in order to sled down the hill. I couldn’t believe that this was a game that the children would play. Kids of all ages would slide down the smooth rock of the hill and then come to a halt when they crashed into the piles of grass and leaves near the base. I had fun categorizing the children and imagining what they would become when they grew up.
One of the kids led the group and helped form some sort of system of who would ride what and when; I assumed that he would become a takisi conductor. Another kid kept laughing, riding really fast, and making fun of the other kids who were crying and I felt that he would become a most wonderful bodaman. At one point this girl continued to ride on the leaf sleds even though only the boys were riding on them. I had a feeling that she would become a very empowered school teacher or sassy nnyabo.
The kids ushered us on to the final stop, which was an abandoned factory near the side of the hill. We avoided the woman who had made her home behind the factory, because she purportedly beat the children whenever they came near her. Near the local mosque, the children, who numbered around 25 by this point, said goodbye to us. After all this time I couldn’t believe that there was still something new to see in my hometown.
Honestly, it disappointed me not to enter the Kabaka’s Palace for the last time. But given the choice I would rather go rock sledding down a hill with barefoot, Ugandan children tour guides than walk through a gated palace with guards that don’t want me there.