Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image


African Jams and Tom’s Two Wives

After our ‘hijacked’ Monday in which we felt our ‘whiteness’ was leveraged at the police station and boarding school, Storm and I were exhausted, as you can imagine. However, once back in the car Tom and his first wife’s cousin thought it would be really good if we met Tom’s first wife Joyce. As we had already visited the home of his second wife, Tom made the mistake of referring to the home of his wife Joyce as his second home, which made Joyce’s cousin really upset. Storm and I were already wondering how the relationship between the two wives would be, if there was any jealousy, but it wasn’t until Joyce’s cousin (I forgot her name) became annoyed with Tom we had a glimpse of possible tension between the two wives.

Even though I realise it must be very common for a man to have multiple wives, I can’t really get my head around it. How does it work practically? When does Tom sleep where? Do they both live in the same house with all their children or do they have separate houses? And if the latter is the case, do they meet each other and let their children hang out with each other, because they are half-brothers/sisters? Are they jealous of each other at all?

Whilst the 5-minute drive to Tom’s first wife took us at least an hour, since we were stuck in a typical African traffic jam (Jam), I had plenty of time to think about this issue of polygamy.  Tom married his first wife when he was very young. She is from the same tribe (Madi) as he is and he has three children with her. He married his second wife later in life, she is from the President’s village (which I think means he married someone with status) and he has one daughter with her. Arriving at Joyce’s home it felt to me as if it was a mansion compared to Lilian’s home (the second wife). The house is a compound with a gate and its own garden. We met Kristen and Robert, Tom’s twins who were both extremely happy to see him. After drinks with the first wife, we went for supper at the house of Tom’s second wife. A typical Kampalan home cooked dinner with chicken soup, Irish (!) potatoes, Ugandan vegetables, rice and noodles.  It was absolutely lovely! It felt a bit weird however, that the women of the family were eating their dinner outside and Tom, Storm and I were sitting inside watching Nollywood (from Nigeria) films while eating our dinner.

It seems to me, but I may be wrong, that most of the money goes to the first wife and Tom spends most of his time with his second wife.  It was anthropologically very interesting to observe the workings of a legitimate polygamous relationship. Of course a woman can never be married to more than one man at the same time. I’m sure you know what I think of that!

Thursday we will be leaving for Juba where new exciting adventures will be waiting for us!

From Government of South Sudan to private boarding school to police station to women’s prison…

Monday must have been the weirdest day ever! In the morning we went to apply for our visas for South Sudan. As I wrote earlier, Tom is quite an important man in the Sudanese community and that benefited us immensely at the Consulate of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). The Ambassador came out of his office to shake his hand and so did his Deputy. We only had to fill in a form, hand over our passports and a photo and within 10 minutes (of which only 2 had to do with our visa application) we were in the car on our way to the bank. No letters of invitation or recommendation or copies of all kinds of complicated documents necessary. I have never experienced such an easy visa application.

Before we made it to the bank, Tom stopped at a Pakistani car dealership to inspect the Minister’s car he’s supposed to drive to Juba, Sudan for the minister. How exciting! We were treated as guests of honor, which was extremely nice and we now know how to get access to a used Japanese vehicle anywhere in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Always handy to know! Tom offered us a lift to Juba in the Minister’s car, but unfortunately our visas were not going to be ready in time.

After the interesting visit with Khurram Abbas (the Pakistani car dealer) we made it to several banks, one of which is in the Sudanese heart of Kampala what also must be the busiest part! Here all cargo for Sudan gets stacked into big trucks, people get on busses to Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan, and a lot of other business happens on the street. It was a bit difficult to take pictures, but what a sight to see!

Off we went again, outside Kampala to pick up someone’s son to take him to a private boarding school. What a beautiful drive! When we arrived at the compound and we were inside the principal’s office, Tom said he needed to speak to his white sister (me) and it appeared he did not have enough money to pay the school fees. He asked us to pay the remainder, which we did, but my goodness, we were so worried we wouldn’t get our money back! Thankfully we did get the money back the next day.

Both Storm and I felt we had quite the day, but it wasn’t over yet. Tom picked up his first wife’s cousin and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the Kampala police station pleading the case of the son of Tom’s first wife’s cousin who was hit by a car after the driver of a motor bike (bodda bodda) he was getting a lift from drove through a red light. He was in coma for seven days and may never be able to walk again. We were sent from office to office and no one in the police station was willing to take the case. To prevent an altercation between the mother and one of the detectives from happening, we had to leave the police station quickly, listening to rants about corruption and how it is impossible to get justice in Africa.

On our way out, we passed a women’s prison and I found that quite shocking as the prison was nothing more than a hut from some kind of metal with a small opening with bars. A crying woman was holding the bars and trying to get our attention. When I asked Tom who is put in that prison he said: ‘Bad women who killed their husband with acid or an axe or through poisoning. Bad women, Jolien, bad women.’ And he gave me a rather ominous look that stopped me from asking more questions…

Moving around with a guy named Tom…

And that was all I knew before we left for Uganda: that we were going to be picked up by a guy named Tom from Entebbe Airport and that he would take care of everything. After a nine-hour flight to Entebbe, I had to look out for something with a giraffe in order to find him at the airport, but the quality of our phone call was so bad that I didn’t know what to look out for!! But after a bit of harassment at the airport, Tom appeared to be the guy with the big friendly smile and a giraffe t-shirt 😉

And Tom took good care of us indeed. He found us a lovely and affordable place to stay, close to the house of his second (!) wife and close to various interesting parts of the city of Kampala. And what an adventure it has been so far! Tom took us with him for a few days when he was ‘moving around’. That basically means we drove with him when he went about his business.  And what an adventure it has been so far! Tom is quite an important man in the Sudanese community of Kampala. He is the chairman of the Sudanese Madi Community and therefore carries a lot of responsibilities and knows a lot of interesting people!

On Sunday, he took his second wife Lillian and us to the Kampala Motorbike and Car Rally in the garden of the King’s Palace, 15 minutes away from where we are staying. We were right in the middle of the crowd who had brought their homemade beer and liquor, nuts, fruits and candy with them. The atmosphere was great! And quite dangerous, as it was quite easy for people standing next to the track to get hit by the racing vehicles, but this only seemed to exhilarate the crowd even more! The only people slightly scared were the only ‘whites’ in the audience, us!

There is a lot more to tell about our time here in Kampala, but I will do so over the next few days!