Never Hit by Lightning, No Matter How Hard I’ve Tried

Is it me? Am I really so poor at estimating risk or do I just ignore it? Pray for Me! No, on second thought, don’t waste your prayers. I appear to be incorrigible. Anyone who would go to Uganda against State Department advice in 1988 will clearly run across an open landscape in the middle of a thunderstorm 33 years later. This morning, in fact.

Enemy Territory, etching made by Makerere art student Andrew Okol in 1988

In 1988, Robert Caputo of the National Geographic called the Uganda I was determined to enter the “Land Beyond Sorrow.” It was home to a series of genocidal tyrants who killed more than a million people in violent, despicable ways, each crueler and more twisted than the next. And since the mid-1980s, it had been home to a virulent unidentified disease called Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Sure I want to go! Who wouldn’t? So what if the US State Department advised against all travel. Pre-internet. Danger never felt so imminent as it does today.

Rain, hail. It wasn’t there when I set out this morning, but they were predicting it. I ran outside anyway. The treadmills at the Y are so boring! The closer I got to the dam, the grayer and more ominous it became. I ran down from the dam overlook, across the dam, down to Stewart’s Pond and was starting back across the dam when I heard the first thunderclap. To say I picked up my pace is an understatement. It has been years since I’ve run so fast.

Some people never change. For some reason, I’ve been protected all these years. Never hit by lightning no matter how hard I’ve tried.

By the way, do you know what you should bring if you ever move to a wild, untamed country that’s barely achieved any peace. Guess!

A cello! No kidding! Not exactly true. The cello I brought with me wasn’t blue. But it was a cello, none the less. In the words of WH Auden, read as our wedding vows 17 days before Arlin and I left for Uganda at the end of December, 1988:

“See without looking, hear without listening, breathe without asking: “The Inevitable is what will seem to happen to you purely by chance; The Real is what will strike you as really absurd; Unless you are certain you are dreaming, it is certainly a dream of your own. Unless you exclaim ‘There must be some mistake!’ you must be mistaken.”

Promise I’ll tell you more tomorrow. For now, stay safe, warm and dry.

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