There is a moment for a lot of us. For some it passes with but a whisper. For others it thunders through them like a herd of zebra on the Serengeti Plain. For others still, it is somewhere in the middle; A sort of delicate mix between the serenity of an African sunset and the explosion of color and noise that typifies a downtown market in any African city.
It is that moment when the world goes from being an abstract place that you visit from time to time and becomes a tangible place. Like that picture on the wall that always looked like it was missing something and then one day you recognize that the missing piece was you. Like that moment of déjà vu where you are convinced that you have been in a place before and all that is missing is that one person to walk into the room to complete your mental image.
My “moment” came as a lot of my epiphanies come, with all the forewarning of that visitor who always shows up as your family sits down for dinner and with all the subtlety of Lady Gaga costume.
The setting was the Namboole national football stadium where Uganda was set to play Nigeria during the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup. The streets were lined with people and flags. The radio stations and newspapers were filled with predictions about who would start and what tactics the then head coach Lazlo Czaba would have to employ in order to get a crucial result against the Super Eagles.
In essence, Uganda has fallen head over heels in love with her national football side again and Namboole would be the venue for the wedding vows.
Eager not to be left out of the potential blockbuster of a reception, I made my way down to the stadium. This was to be the first time that I watched Uganda play live and the buildup that the game got in the national press only served to further whet my appetite for the upcoming spectacle.
Arriving at the stadium, I made my way in: past the masses of people that were trying desperately to con their way in with tickets that their “cousin” had procured for them.
Wandering about the stadium with my cousin, I was struck at how many people from all walks of Ugandan society were represented in the crowd. There were Muslims, Christians, rich, poor, famous, non-descript, sober, drunk, white, black, Indian and somewhere in between, all rubbing shoulders as they dashed about looking for the best angle to watch the game.
I put this down to the power of football to create a spectacle that draws people in and didn’t think much of it beyond that.
We finally found our section and made our way up the stairs. Now, for those unfamiliar with the layout of the stadium it would be worthwhile to note that one cannot see the pitch or the stands without first ascending a flight of stairs. The stadium is shaped like a bowl with the walkways running in concentric rings beneath the seating area.
So while I could hear the people above me chanting, I couldn’t actually see anything until we ascended the steps to the main level.
And on that last step is where it hit me.
Looking out over the stadium packed close to capacity with 40,000 people, I understood. This feeling that I could never explain to people satisfactorily finally coalesced in my minds eye. I had my Orijin moment.
In that unruly mob of people, that kaleidoscope of color, that heaving mass of humanity, that cacophony of noise; I saw reflected back to me an idea that I had hitherto only paid lip service to.
Like the words to that song you declared was “your” song with a significant other are not just words. They carry with them a meaning of a time and place that might hold no relation to the actual lyrics themselves.
Prior to that moment on the steps of Namboole, Ugandan was like the lyrics of a song that I had heard but never really paid any attention to. A lot like how one can say they have a liver without thinking too much about it unless the doctor has cause to examine it; That important unacknowledged part of you.
On the steps of Namboole that day, I had my Orijin moment. Being Ugandan went from being a concept in my head to a living breathing feeling that I could touch and see.
It was like a jumble of puzzle pieces that suddenly became a complete picture.
I was home.