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Cannibal Night Dancing

Journal Excerpt – January 29, 2013 

The power is out and I decide to go for a short walk. Isaac is very protective of me and is always sure I’m with someone at night. I shrug it off because I’m not going far and, truth be told, everyone here looks out for me. The villagers call me Doctor Ssali or Commando Ssali, depending on which movie they had just seen. The youngest call me Doctor Commando, because they think I’m both. They can’t yet separate me from the characters they see in Isaac’s films. The name is awesome, especially when you hear it from a child, but for me it’s tinged with melancholy. It speaks of their innocence.

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I say Hello to David and order a Rollex, in Luganda. A Rollex is thin two-egg omelette with diced onion and tomato, rolled up like an area rug. It is prepared and served exactly the same way no matter where you go in the ghetto. Conformity is a driving force in Uganda. Everyone has the same hair, the same clothing, etc. Isaac says such conformity is tribal, it is Bugandan. And it’s what makes Wakaliwood so anachronistic. They are punk rock in 70’s London.

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I circle back home and the door is open. Mama Racheal is placing labels on copies of The Return of Uncle Benon, by candlelight. She was burning films when the power went out. Wakaliwood lost 8 DVDs in the outage.They will need to sell an additional 4 dozen to make up for the loss. That’s how narrow their margins are.

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adding labels by candlelight

Outside, under the moonlight, the children are playing Night Dancer, kind of a cross between Hide-and-Go Seek and You’re It. The Night Dancer is the Ugandan boogeyman: part cannibal, part witch doctor. Young Isaac Newton is naked, waving his arms about, chasing all the children.

Over their laughter I look up at the stars and see Orion. I ask to borrow the tripod to take a long exposure. Isaac is very interested. A long exposure is new to him and he wants to see the process.

Isaac stares at the photo, fascinated. You can feel his gears turning, but I also realize this may be the first time in years that he has seen the stars. His eyes are going. He doesn’t talk about it, but I can see it.

And then that the lights come back on. A cheer rides across the slum as if Uganda just scored the winning goal. Then there is a sigh of relief from hundreds of bodies still hidden. You would never imagine the slum held so many voices.

And then it’s quiet again, and dark again, and the village goes to sleep.

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