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Soldiering On...

July 21, 2017

We were on the gold smugglers road to Bundabugio (pronounced boon-de-boogey-o) Uganda, the border town with the Republic of the Congo whose capital city is Kinsasha. There was no danger of getting lost as there was only one lonely and winding dirt road, whose narrow path penetrated its way through the early fringes of the great east African rain forest.

James, an American missionary, positioned himself in the back seat with the lovely english girl Hillary and new tensions wound their way into the fabric of the “404”. Per, my protege' and confidant, was from Oslo Norway, joined me up front. I was the much older and wizened, I thought, being only a few weeks shy of turning seventeen, while Per was reporting his age to be fifteen and a half. An amazingly large Scandinavian that stood about six feet four and with light skin and hair. His vegan diet added somewhat to his paleness, but he was certainly robust and grand for his young age.

We continued in silence until a sudden nerve shattering high pitched shriek from Hillary, provided some balance. A “hot water ant” turns out had gotten into the car and bitten her on the buttock. She was in some discomfort but thankfully only for a short while. We all inspected the bite for medical, scientific and further reference reasons.

I should mention that the road blocks we encountered that had been previously manned by police demanding a bribe were replaced with the victorious agents/soldiers of the Ugandan army, that had only recently taken over the country, demanding a bribe.

The two soldiers were drunk and belligerent, and waved their guns in my face, the driver, while shooting sharp loaded questions at me, and followed everyone on my innocuous responses with the same accusation: “you're lying!!” The usual and obvious conclusion being that we were spies, spying for the deposed former president Milton Obote, who went from a valorous hero to a bum, over night, as reported in the Ugandan national newspapers. Popularity is fragile in Africa and allegiances mobile.

Anyway, I was terrified of the road blocks. After it was ascertained that we were, “lower than snake belly” spies, they offered us clemency for our miserable lives for a half a million schillings; but with James skilled and somewhat red faced haggling in Pidgin English and Swahili, the wallet was only reduced by twenty shillings ( three bucks), and a couple of bright red packs of Sportsman cigarettes. Both road blocks we encountered followed the same pattern, on the way and on the way back.

There was no medical marijuana being administered in those days except by herbal doctors. After suffering for years from asthma with nothing to alleviate it to any great degree by modern science, I had stumbled on its cure in the foot hills of Rwenzori's, and, after confiding in my friend Per , decided to visit a tribe of Pygmies that smoked cannabis or marijuana from bamboo bhangs in the Ituri forest. The irony of the situation was not lost on me even at that young age, and I wondered how something so obviously natural, a health giving herb like marijuana, could be so maligned and made illegal?

Though now, I felt like a novice sky diver whose high fevered courage from the previous evening with the pals, was being untimely sobered faced with the daunting open hatch of the airplane and the impending hurtle into the abyss of uncertainty, the morning after.

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