Palace reflects Uganda's history

The first couple of days in Kampala were spent touring the country’s capital to understand the Ugandan people and their welcoming culture.

After learning that touring Lubiri palace, or the palace of Muwenda Mutebi II, was a possibility, our professor worked it into our schedule. Mutebi II is the King of Buganda, one of five Ugandan Kingdoms.

The cream-colored palace is beautiful in its simplicity and symmetry, but even more breathtaking was the view of Kampala from Mengo Hill, the hill on which the palace stands. From here, we were high enough to see thousands of Kampala’s homes, but too far to see the everyday chaos of the city’s streets.

Unfortunately, the palace is entirely void of furniture and no one is allowed to enter it, not even the tour guides and groundskeepers. Although our hopefulness led to a slight disappointment, it didn’t last for long.

Just a short hike down the hill from Lubiri palace was Idi Amin’s antiquated torture chamber, which is no longer in use. Amin was the president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979.

On our way down the hill, we passed the homes of the king’s guards, which lined either side of the grass path. Although the king doesn’t currently live in the palace, his guards do still live in these homes and guard the palace.

The guard’s homes, which serve as compensation for their tireless work, are more than humble in comparison to the palace atop Mengo Hill. The exhausted homes, which seemed to be made of clay and concrete, were consumed with cracks and debased of their original coloring.

However, the children cheerfully played with one another in the grass and smiled as we walked by. One girl – seeing we all had cameras – posed confidently for us to take her photo.

After descending into the torture chamber at the palace, the environment completely changed. The walls of the chamber, illuminated by a stream of sunlight, were covered in phrases such as “I am afraid,” and other explicit comments that could be found in a high school bathroom stall.

While in the torture chamber, we learned that during Amin’s reign, approximately 30,000 people were tortured and killed in the chamber. The prisoners typically died from suffocation or starvation, as they were packed into the cells and not fed.

Although this wasn’t what was planned for our second full day in Kampala, we’ve learned that the realities of the city are constantly challenging our expectations, or what little expectations we may have. However, its realities far surpass anything we could have imagined and excite us for the days to come.