NKUMBA

Let’s pretend it is 2009.
The cracking sound of the door flying open interrupts the stillness of the night. Soldiers stream into the room carrying ”rungu”. I’m awakened by the strange presence in the room. Rubbing my eyes, I sit up in bed and try to focus my thoughts. Am I dreaming? Fear grips me. Then, out of the darkness comes an unrecognizable voice…the frowning commander shouts Everybody up on your feet…now! Form a line at the rear of the building, walk quickly to the compound

I jump out of bed, put on my uniform and boots, and run to the compound. For those with a petite figure like me, finding fitting uniform seemed impossible. The pants were extra extra large. The boots were big. Probably double my size. I zombie-d in them. Imagine trying to run in them. Utter failure! One morning I stayed behind with some other girls while others had gone for the morning run (gutega). To our bad luck, the Captain who had stayed back at the camp came few minutes later.
“Kimbia” he commanded. And there I was, will-lessly zombie-ing in the large boots. I was lagging behind and hoped that the captain would give up and leave me alone. But he stuck to my ass…until I tripped and fell down. I saved 2 other girls who carried me back to the camp. Hehe.

Back to the compound, we all assemble. It’s still dark outside. Probably 1AM or 2AM.
“Kaa chini” a shouting voice commanded. And we all sit down, on the gravel. I sit stunned, desperately trying to make sense of what was happening. Perhaps it was a tasteless practical joke. Or a cruel dream.
3:12 AM. It was real. I wanted to believe that I was having a nightmare but I wasn’t. I wasn’t dreaming. I was in Ingando camp at Nkumba.

I, like many other students joining university had to undergo civic education in ingando. Ingando camps for students used to be 3 months in duration, but at our time, their duration had been decreased to 3 weeks (Thanks Heavens). Attending ingando was mandatory for those attending university on government scholarships. Now itorero is mandatory following high school graduation. After completion, every participant obtains a certificate showing that they participated.

Ingando was not fun, for me. If there’s a time I’ve bitterly loathed in my life, it’s the 3 weeks I spent at Nkumba. The very first day we got there I thought I wouldn’t survive the place. Canes here and there, for no good reason. As soon as we got off the buses, they began hitting us. Just like that. I almost cried. I prayed for divine intervention. But nothing.
Ingando camps were organized into companies, platoons, and sections with leaders called commanders.
The language of command was Swahili. Swahili to me is like Chinese. I had trouble grasping what they were saying and there was no way I was going to ask them to repeat. I watched and imitated others. If they stood up, I stood up. The soldiers gave commands shouting as if they were angry at you. Every time they gave a command, my heart skipped a beat. I had countless mini heart attacks. Nkumba was misery.

Each day was scheduled from early morning till bedtime.
Very early in the morning, there was mucaka which was the morning run from the camp to some place I never knew. I didn’t run to the place cause I wasn’t in the f*cking olympics. I always dodged mucaka by staying behind.
After mucaka we would all gather in the playground (kiwanja) for some exercises and military training. Plus beatings, of course. And not forgetting the various forms of physical punishment:
•The basic kind of punishment was to be caned with a thin, short wooden stick. The cane brought such terror to me that even the mere hint that a caning might be imminent was enough to make me tremble. I would rather be punished in all the other ways but not caning. Hehe.
Then there were other forms of creative punishments we had to endure:
•Crawling from one position to another (sometimes we would crawl from the playground to the dining hall).
•The frog jump: squatting and hopping from one position to another like a frog. This got our muscles burning.
•Kuviringita which involved rolling on the ground. I must admit that this was my favorite, as long as someone’s boot didn’t land in my face.
•Kneeling on gravel and moving. The pain caused by sharp stones digging into your knees made moving quite a challenge. The cane was waiting for you if you stopped. Hehe.
•Kwikorera isi: pretending you were an athlete about to run, get into the get set position, and remain in that position until your leg muscles gave out.
Ah, the memories!

After the training, we’d a short time for showering, then move to the main hall for lectures. Lectures from government officials which included history, civic education, education on unity and reconciliation and government programmes. From lectures, we had lunch (inkoko n’amababa yazo! Hehe).
And to end the day, the tiring dull gitamaduni. One thing I hated the most was Igitamaduni. I was always physically present but my mind would be somewhere. I would drowsily sit there on the gravel, wishing for it to end and go to bed.
By bedtime I would be so very physically exhausted, that I would fall in bed and immediately drift away.
And EVERY night I’d dream of what I wanted the most: leaving Nkumba. It was like a cruel trick waking up to the morning whistle and realizing it was fake!

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