Saturday, October 10, 2009


In my time in Senegal and Uganda, I have now witnessed the aftermath of two accidents, one in each country. Thankfully the most recent one in Uganda was not as bad as the one in Senegal that resulted in the death of a young boy, but it did bring up some similar feelings of frustration and disbelief.

To set the scene; I was jogging in Kololo (an affluent part of town that is home to embassies and diplomats) with my friend Dan. As we came up one of the many hills that make Kampala such a joy to jog in, it was clear that there had just been an accident. A crowd of about 20 people had already gathered including one other American who had witnessed the accident. A man was laying in the middle of the road, unconscious, wearing the uniform of a security guard. It was quickly recounted that the guard had been riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi (boda-boda) when a car nearly hit them and the boda-boda swerved to avoid the car, knocking the passenger off.

Cars had stopped, thankfully stopping traffic. This is rare in other parts of town because once any car stops they are often blamed for the accident, fined and sometimes subject to an angry mob. The man woke up and started to move. Dan and I were both yelling to him to stop moving but he didn't listen, he sat up and spat out some blood. At this point we had no idea how bad his injuries were but he insisted on trying to stand up at which point it became evident that he had, at least, an obviously broken leg.

Several guards from other companies were among the group that had gathered, when I asked them to radio for help, they refused. Eventually a man from the victim's company came by but he was totally worthless. After some shouting (on our part) we finally figured out that if anything was going to happen, we were going to be the ones to instigate and pay. We needed to get him to the hospital, his guard company wasn't going to do anything for him. Neither Dan nor I had a phone or money with us so we couldn't call for a car, though nearly every other person in the group had a phone in their pocket. One man was finally convinced by my yelling and got the phone out of his pocket just in time for us to decide to send a motorcycle to bring a car.

Since the victim didn't have any money, Dan and I rode to the hospital with him, waited for quite a while for them to bring out a stretcher, as the man was moaning in agony. We told the doctors what we knew while they were interrogating him about whether he was drunk. We had the taxi drop us where our things were, where he ended up charging us double what he should have.

The truly frustrating part is what always seems like a lack of value for human life to the outsider, though I know that's not the case. The crowd of 20 standing around staring at the accident victim, not doing anything to help; the bus full of people that just ran over a boy and won't tell me what number to call when I'm screaming at them in their own language and offering to make the call. A Ugandan friend told me, when I recounted the story, that it's not uncommon for these crowds to rob accident victims if they are unconscious or dead. It is so difficult for me to fathom this behavior but I also come from a culture that learns first aid and "steps in case of emergency" from a very young age, I also, incidentally, come from a family of lifeguards and EMTs. The communal "it takes a village" mentality rules over much of Ugandan and Senegalese society but is oddly absent at other times. I'm still trying to figure out which is which.

As we left the man in the hands of the doctors at Mulago Hospital, I wrote down my phone number for him, trying to be a good samaritan. In two days I was called and told to come to a specific market to pay for the crutches he was having made and a few weeks after that I was sent messages and called to deposit money in a bank account because he was "in crisis." I didn't buy him crutches nor did I deposit money in the strange bank account.