Uganda Today: Staying in a foreign environment comes with a number of challenges which one has to overcome as quickly as possible in order to cope with the regulations of the country.
Annah Ashaba, a young Ugandan human rights activist currently in Israel shares her experience with danger alarms in her country of abode. In Israel, alarm sirens are common phenomenon and residents are encouraged to pay heed to them.
Strikes like this one are so frequent
Missile alarm impulses: Tales of caution.
The first thing I do in the morning is to drink water and then prepare for the day. Some of you wonder whether I do not pray or give thanks. Well, I do that as well but drinking water is among the first physical activities. After getting set for the day, I get my phone to check emails and messages. I avoid touching my phone first. Sometimes, I do not check my phone until I finish my tasks. And then sometimes, I do not touch the phone at all. But since I set alarms (though I wake up before the alarm goes off), I get to touch that phone to stop the alarm. I am in a love-hate relationship with my gadgets. I love to stay updated and in touch with my circle but I also love to be free from the phone. There are days when I wish I can just take a break for a week or more from my gadgets. Anyways, I do take breaks, very short breaks from the internet, from the phone, from my laptop.
My routine is starting to change. I have to check my phone first thing in the morning, then reach out for my water bottle later. I will tell you why. When you are in Israel, it is important to keep your phone on and check for updates. This is because you have to be sure that your schedule has not been affected by an event. It could be a strike or an escalation but whatever it is, you have to check for updates. Do not get me wrong, okay? I am not complaining. I find it important to stay updated. I like the enabling internet infrastructure. Minimal or no issues of poor network and by the way, Israel has the world’s best value internet access according to the Global Internet Value Index. Then, why am I talking about my daily routine like it is any of your business? Well, you will soon know why.
On one Tuesday morning in April this year, I woke and as usual, I did not check my phone for updates. What I knew for sure was that it was the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. I also knew that my first activity outside my room would start an hour later than usual because of some activities. And I thought that that was all. After my water-drinking ritual and all the nitty-gritty of selecting what to wear for the day, I went to the bathroom to take a shower. A few minutes later, an alarm, no, not an alarm, a siren went off. You should have seen me run out of the bathroom, naked, my body covered with soap. If it weren’t for my housemate that told me that it wasn’t a missile alarm, I swear I would be at the bomb shelter fidgeting to open it. My heart was in my mouth. My legs were shaking. I wasn’t sure whether my mate was saying the truth or not but when I peeped through my window, I saw people walking and going about their business calmly. Then, I composed myself, took a walk of shame back to the bathroom, and finished what I had started.
My mate told me that the siren alert info was sent via email. Honestly, I had not even thought of checking my mail yet. You see, it was not a bomb or missile alert. It was part of the memorial ceremonies. The sounding of the siren lasts for two minutes. When it is rung, everyone is supposed to stop at silent attention in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. I did not have to wait for an email to know this though. But I ran at the sound of the siren.
During the Easter/Passover festivities, we had been told to stay alert and cautious because political rivalry and tensions may lead to escalations during the Passover break. We were told to be ready to run to the bomb shelter in case the alarm(siren) goes off. We were told that you are supposed to get to the shelter in sixty seconds when that alarm goes off. Out of curiosity, I had asked what the missile alarm sounds like and I was told that when I hear it, I will not have to ask anyone how it sounds. I went and checked out the shelter. Then I packed the essential items in one backpack and I started to work out too in order to be fit to run and get to the shelter in one minute. The workouts were not in vain because at least, they helped to cut the fat and weight that I had been gaining.
I asked a colleague of mine who has been in the promised land longer than I have if he knew how the alarm sounds like. He recounted a story when they had to take shelter when rockets were launched into Israel. He adds humor to his escapades but when he plays me the sound of the alarm, I stop smiling. There is a day I ran when the smoke alarm went off in the next building. I thought that I had gotten used to the smoke alarms but wapi, not after hearing what thee alarm sounds like. I am still collecting adjectives to use to describe what that alarm sounds like. I do not want to sound alarmist but it is so alarming. That is all I can say for now.
Yesterday, it was another fine Tuesday till I checked my phone. See, I didn’t want to reach for the phone first but my alarm had gone off. I had also missed a call from my mother. As I scrolled through to return Mama’s call, I saw a message of caution. There are tensions again and an escalation is expected. A buddy of mine sends me a check-in message and she adds, “Be ready to go to the shelter in case you hear the alarm.” We chat for a few more minutes and I keep my ears up. At this point, I dread the alarm more than the bombs, rockets, and missiles themselves. Don’t get it twisted, I fear those too but that alarm is scarier than death itself. I know that it is a security measure and I trust that the security team is competent enough to try and keep everyone safe. However, I cannot hide my anxiety. Let me tell you, yesterday, even a passing train sounded like that alarm. A bus hooting sounded like that alarm. An ambulance siren sounded like that alarm. Yes, I was that alert. I contemplated going to the shelter but my mates laughed at me. They were on the lookout too but they were calmer than me. At that moment, I was the said coward that dies many times before their actual death. There were a few instances where some of them got scared by other sounds too and when they called me, we laughed at how overly alert we were. To ease the tension, we cooked, chatted, and watched movies together. I promised to write this story if the day breaks and here we are, the day has broken and I am still alive to recount the terror, horror, despair, and hope that was yesterday.
The writer is a human rights activist.