Not everybody in Uganda knows Kung Fu…
Not everybody in Uganda knows Kung Fu…
Isaac loves to blow stuff up. I think that’s safe to say. “Destruction is the highest form of creativity,” is one of my favorite quotes of his.
I’m putting together promotional videos and realize we have to delete a scene. A ragtag team of Ugandan commandos is traveling the world via attack helicopter (of course), destroying everything in sight while searching for whoever killed Captain Alex. When they come to Paris they mistake the Eiffel Tower for a missile launcher.
Pretty funny, but not after the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo. Wakaliwood is very sensitive to destruction amidst tender memories of violence. When the commandos attack NYC, for instance, they avoid such monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge, and instead blow up Katz’s Deli (a monument in its own right, to be fair).
All Isaac wants to do is entertain and share his love for movies. And life intervenes. Quite often, sadly.
Journal Entry – October 5, 2014
I got some internet time and downloaded Friedkin’s Sorcerer for Isaac. Thought he’d get a kick out of it. Like First Blood, it’s stuck in that period between the gritty realism of the ’70s and ’80s popcorn action.
Saw it myself last night and my god that movie is my life right now. I wound up in a 3rd world country with no way to get home (Scheider) so I take on a life or death mission to carry a crate of explosives (Captain Alex) across the border (the West) with slim chance of success.
It doesn’t end well.
January 19, 2015
Turns out my new neighbors, the ones I liked so much because they are quiet, left in the middle of the night without paying rent for the past 3 months. And they trashed the place – before locking the door from the inside, forcing Isaac to hire a mechanic to cut the door open.
They were a couple boda-boda drivers who slept in shifts with their motorcycles inside (as the pools of oil testify). Last night a woman banged on the door in the middle of the night and cursed to high heaven when she found the place empty. Didn’t stop her from sleeping on the cold floor, tho’.
The previous tenant was a nightmare. She played music at all hours of the night, and that combined with in-house rat fights, drips of condensation that fell on my head from the steel roof, and cockroaches the size of baby shoes zipping about, made my life feel complete. She also ran up the electric bill, forcing Isaac to evict her while still owing months of rent.
People in the village think Isaac is rich because he has a couple rooms like these to rent. And also because of me living here. Right now I’m happy when I have enough money for a Coke. I mean that. Really happy.
Ebinyebwe ne lumonde (brown nut sauce and sweet potato)
The sauce is flavored with small sun-dried dried mudfish.
I weighed 205 lbs when I arrived in March, 2014.
I now weigh 150 lbs.
Journal Entry – September 8, 2014
There was a crowd of older women – mothers and grandmothers – gathered around Isaac this morning. The tone was sombre. I know to leave him alone at times like these. He is becoming a village elder and there are times when Wakaliga needs him more than I do.
He told me that Lutelo, one of our Kung Fu guys, has disappeared and that his family fears the worst. People disappear all the time in the slum, but they are usually just escaping their day-to-day lives to find fortune elsewhere. This is different. Isaac fears he was murdered.
Wakaliga is a relatively safe place. Children play freely and everyone knows each other. Kampala can be different, tho. And Lutelo works as a bouncer.
He knows how to handle himself. Lutelo has that confident-yet-gentle demeanor that I’ve see in many Sifus and Kung Fu masters. But all you need is that one person. And if they are from another African country, say South Sudan or DR (Democratic Republic of Congo), the Police will do little if anything to interfere or investigate. Or, so I am told.
I walked by his home at sunset. It’s right where I took my first dive into the raw sewage, three long years ago. Women were crying and digging for clues in his clothing.
The family is hopeful. Isaac is not.
Journal Entry – September 29, 2014
Stumbled across this missing person’s sign in downtown Kampala, posted by Lutelo’s family. I was picking up a batch of the new movie posters.
I’m reminded, each and every day, that we’re on a mission. Nothing is going to change without the films. Without getting Alex out there. Isaac is fond of quoting President Museveni, when times are tough. “You don’t stop fighting until the war is over.”
Alex will mark the beginning of their story, I think. A beginning that was 10 years in the making. Or maybe it’s just ‘the beginning of the beginning,’ as Isaac likes to joke.
Journal Excerpt – December 21, 2014
Nothing. Still nothing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Journal Excerpt – Monday, September 9, 2013
Morning. Still no electricity or running water, but the night was cool and I finally figured out how to fight the mosquitoes. Just keep the window open. Sounds counter-intuitive, but they fly in and out that way. Had my first peaceful sleep in weeks.
It’s a five-minute walk thru the mud to Wakaliwood. When I arrive I see Bukenya Charles (Uncle Benon) teaching Kung Fu to a small group of children. His classes are normally on weekends, but school is out. He’s making himself available every day this week to help the local kids stay out of trouble.
“Do you hear the AK?”
I look at the Kung Fu scene he’s been editing. “No.”
Isaac laughs. “No. Outside. But of course you don’t. US is M-16. Here we are AK. You hear it now? POP POP POP POP. It sounds like popcorn.”
I hand Mama Racheal the empty mug. “Well, I need to go to Kampala to print out your confirmation. You need it for the interview.”
Isaac is focused on the computer screen. He does that. You can have an immersive, completely satisfying conversation with him and his attention will never slip from what he is doing. He’s not being rude. His mind can be in two places at once.
“Noooo, you cannot go. There are protests. Demonstrations. It can be very dangerous. Believe me. Believe a Ugandan when they tell you.”
I go anyway.
It wasn’t until late that evening, alone in my room at the Boom Motel, without lights, water, or the bother of mosquitoes, that I realized what I had done. There was machine gun fire and angry mobs in protest, and I drove thru on a motorcycle just to get a damn photocopy.
It’s amazing what we’re all going thru. I just pray he’ll be able to come to the US.