by Parker Vige

Whether it was the African heat or the lack of ventilation, I sat in an uncomfortable pool of sweat, as if someone was breathing hell’s fire down the back of my neck. Wait? Someone was breathing down my neck. I turned around to find Moses, my host father, closely following my movements. Slightly taken aback, I inched my body forward on the couch.

“Wow,” he explained, “I couldn’t read that many pages in a whole day.” So that’s what it was, he was watching as I quickly flipped each page of my book.

“You know PAKA, I have a book that I want you to read, let me go and get it for you.”

Before I could open my mouth in opposition, he ran out of the room and quickly returned with his prized possession, “The Last King of Scotland.” He explained that he had never read the book himself but was eager for me to learn of the Ugandan history outlined by this story. Naturally, I agreed to read the book, mostly expecting nothing to come from it at all.

I finished the 352 page book in two days. It was good — no, it was great.

If you are unfamiliar with the title, it is a narrative told by Idi Amin’s personal physician as Amin reigned over Uganda for 8 long years. As I sat up late into the night, my back half broken from the concrete mattress, I was dumbfounded by the words I discovered on those dusty pages. It took only a bit of empathy and imagination to put myself in the positions of Amin’s victims, and even this made my stomach uneasy. This man did not belong to the human race that I knew of.

The next day on our walk to school, the air was different. It remained as dry as autumn leaves and continued to smell of the fresh cut fields, but it was on this morning that I inhaled the same air held in the breaths of millions of tortured Ugandans as they breathed their last.

My silent outrage soon got the better of me and I asked Moses, “Why did the world allow such evils from one man?” This was the spark which ignited a conversation I am never to forget.

Moses brought the story to life, explaining, “Amin was the better of two evils. As a matter of fact, he was one of the greatest presidents in the beginning. He strengthened the military, saved children from starvation, and exiled those who only siphoned from Uganda’s economy, but, you have to remember that every coin has two sides. For example, during this time, I was a fisherman spending most of my days on Lake Victoria. It was during these dark times that the Asian population, who Admin exiled for their greed, would walk right into the lake and never reemerge because they couldn’t afford to leave on the timeline given them. They preferred drowning to gunfire. Sure, our economy grew slightly stronger because their businesses were given to the locals, but they were still human beings.”

As he continued talking, my heart sank deeper into my stomach. My thoughts were at a loss for direction. As much as I analyzed the picture Moses had just painted for me, it refused to sort itself out neatly into the black and whites I have always known.

My faith is very clear in the distinction between good and evil, but this time it had no answer for me. It was beyond my power to break this complex story into smaller morsels fit for one category or the other, and, just maybe, that responsibility was not mine to take on.