By Steven Candia
KAMPALA - A 15-year-old boy, who was tired of digging for hours at home in Arua, decided enough was enough and set out to embark on a desperate search for a better life, all the way to Kampala.
He decided he would get there by bicycle, only he did not know that Kampala, Uganda’s capital, was a good 564km away.
The day he decided to start his journey to ‘the unknown’, the Primary Five dropout of Jiako Primary School sneaked from home with his father’s pale pink bicycle and off he went, with no inkling of how far it would be.
Fred Okuyo cycled through unknown territory, over stretches of rugged and dangerous terrain, which included dangerous animals in Murchison Falls National Park, in search of an easier life.
The son of Levy Emuzu and Margaret Ejuru, from Jiako village, a suburb of Arua town, the teenage boy started his bicycle journey from Rhino Camp, 64km east of Arua town.
Clad in a yellow Uganda Cranes T-shirt, checkered three-quarter shorts folded up to the knees and dirty car tyre sandals (locally called lugabire), the second-last born in a family of seven rode for six days during which he slept on verandahs and at lorry parks, hoping Kampala would pop up any time.
He had only sh5,000, roasted cassava, bananas and meat.
But after covering some 500km, the desperately determined lad ran out of steam in Luwero, not far from his destination.
So when his energy tank ran out, and felt he could not ride any further, he boarded a commuter taxi which brought him to Namirembe Road Police Station.
The bicycle was impounded, until his relatives paid the sh20,000 fare.
The boy attracted plenty of attention as a group of curious people in Kampala inched closer to listen to his localised version of 'Tour de France'
“I was tired of digging,” he told a crowd that mobbed him at the police post a day after his arrival.
“We dig every day, from 6.00am and return home earliest at 1.00pm.”
He hoped to join his elder brother, Charles Feni, a car dealer in Kampala. But Police established that Feni had long left the city.
The taxi driver and his tout wanted to sell the bicycle to recover their money (taxi fare), but feared it could be stolen property.
“We intervened and impounded it. We have handed it to the boy’s uncle, Jackson Bileni Drapari, whom we found at Arua Park. The uncle cleared the taxi fare,” said Harriet Kako, a police officer at the Namirembe station.
Okuyo said he still felt strong enough to ride. The scariest part of his journey, he told a curious crowd, was the national game park, where he saw elephants and other wild animals.
His first rest for a night was in Nebbi. The next day, July 26, he rode to Pakwach, before embarking on the journey through the game park. He slept at a rangers’ post at Ayago River.
On July 28, he rode to Karuma, then to Kigumba the following day and to Luwero on the next.
His visibly relieved uncle said he would stay with him for a while and send him back to Arua. But that scared the boy.
“I do not want to go back.”
(PHOTOs by Richard Sanya)
Fred Okuyo, 15, told of his adventure . . . how he decided enough was enough with the too much digging back at home in Arua, and ran away for a better life.
His uncle Jackson Bileni works at Arua Park, and he was called in by the police at Namirembe police station to pick the bicycle that had been impounded.
The teenage boy, wearing a yellow Uganda Cranes T-shirt, perhaps for his love of the national football side, narrated his journey to a group of visibly curious people at the busy Arua Park in Kampala.
He said the creepiest part of his audicious journey was riding through the Murchison Falls park, where he saw the world's largest land animals, the elephants, and other game.
Murchison Falls is home to a variety of wildlife, including hippopotamuses.
Okuyo, when told by his uncle that he would be taken back to Arua, made it clear that "I do not want to go back". If indeed he is taken back, his very daring six-day journey on a bike miles from home will have been all for nothing!