By Henry Mutebe
This is my favourate photo while we were on the flight to Nairobi with the good old man Wilson Dhabangi. I will tell you why.
Even after we had gone through security and boarded the plane, in what I will admit was an extremely emotional moment, Dhabangi had not yet fully processed it. He kept asking if we were really going to fly. The staff of Uganda airlines and airport crew were very kind and let him and me move ahead of the queue and board.
In fact when the plane got airborne, for those first minutes when its pushing through the canopy of clouds and brushing against the winds, Wilson brought his hand and firmly wrapped it around mine. I could feel the anxiety but most importantly the trust. And I thought about this thing called life. 24 years ago, I remember I would wrap my hand around his as he was riding me to school or away from school. As his hand firmly gripped mine, he asked, ‘Is the plane shaking because I am on board?’ I laughed and re-assured him, No, the first few minutes are always bumpy but its absolutely okay and we would do just fine in a bit.
Then there is that feeling when the nose of the plane goes up and its belly kind of drops and you feel like its falling. While he was surprisingly firm, he still asked, ‘Is the plane failing to go up? Is it falling?’ I gave him all the reassurances. For a moment, he was quiet, curiously observing.
Before he knew it, the plane had stablished and was flying flawlessly. The sky was crystal blue- as pure as our dreams were 24 years ago.
As the plane stablished and the ‘storm’ seemed to have calmed down, he breathed a sigh of relief, sending teardrops falling. Dhabangi cried. I took this photo, when he was crying but also smiling. As we scaled the heights and the white blanket of clouds below us came into view, Dhabangi looked through the window…slightly bending down to catch the view of the crazily weaved shapes of clouds, in a fashion that felt like a man that had found redemption- a form of rescue from a life he had known for life.
Looking at Dhabangi, in that moment, you saw a teary man, in the evening of his life, experiencing the soft touch of the hands of fate. It almost like, for a moment- while in the sky, he had stepped out of his own life story. From where I was, Dhabangi nodded his head in disbelief, like a man who had found a last-minute rescue from the beatings of life. His act of kindness, 24 years ago, had gone around and gathered storm and come back to him with a bang- expanded.
I have received hundreds of messages and calls. People are telling me how the story of Dhabangi got them crying. But I can tell you it has been as emotional for me as it has been for you. For me, the fact that every decision I was making was re-writing his story, and that I had to be with him every minute, attend to him, see people’s reaction- both those who looked at him with sympathy and those who felt, ‘where is this old man going?’, the feeling of both was deeply breathtaking.
I must admit, in some sense, the fact that I was part of this story, in a way that felt like nature or fate was using me as an agent of action- bringing to life an amazing experience for Dhabangi, in a manner so involuntary- was very thrilling. I am proud to have been the one young man he helped and I will forever be grateful.
I have over 200 photos and videos of this thrilling 24 hours from the time Dhabangi is told to come to Kampala, unaware that he was going to fly to the time we touched down at Entebbe and he remarked, ‘Tutuse e Uganda? Mwana wange, buti ni bwenfa, kino teri kyerabira obulamu bwange bwona bwona’ (Have we arrived in Uganda? My son, Now I can die. I will never forget this for the rest of my life.’
In the next couple of weeks, I will share with you a detailed account of the story for you to join me, belatedly, on that journey and step into my position, to see and feel the 24 Hrs with Dhabangi. While I was part of this story, I have tried to step away from it, and read it from far.
Looking outside in, I can only tell you one thing- Life can be tough…things can delay…but some day, in some way, life has a hankie for all of us- someday, the hand of fate will touch you in a way unimaginable, that even if you were told before, you would never believe.
I think that when things are not adding up, life seems to be passing and nothing is coming your way…but you have done your best…just keep going…keep going, so much is hidden in the fold of time.
In two weeks’ time, you will have a minute by minute account of the moments that froze the life of Dhabangi and re-wrote his memory. Before your next teardrop falls, remember the story of Dhabangi and know that so much is still possible.