Smuggling to survive

Victoria Isadrru, now a middle-aged
woman with five children, was born
in the “Pearl of Africa:” Arua District,
Uganda.

Vicky witnessed Uganda’s most recent
war firsthand as a teenager and
barely lived through it. She reflects,
“When they came, they were killing
everything that was alive.”

She traveled between Uganda, Sudan,
Kenya and the Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC) to provide
for her family.

Vicky is one of the few Ugandans
who has kept a successful career within
the government despite its chaotic
history – but this achievement came
at a price. Vicky’s story is one of inspiration
and intrigue, but it is most of all
about a woman with such passion that
no matter who or what tried to bring
her down, she prevailed.

Idi Amin became the third president
of Uganda from 1971 to 1979
when his military coup overthrew
President Milton Obote. Amin’s replacement
resulted in one of the most
deadly dictatorships of our time.

During that time, up to 500,000
people were killed, and countless human
rights atrocities were committed.

In the midst of the war, Vicky met
and fell in love with a doctor named
Dominique. Despite the state of their
country and Vicky’s lack of education
at the time, they decided to get
married.

Vicky and Dominique lived at the
hospital for one year. It was at the onset
of another guerilla war against
the Acholi people that they had to
flee from the hospital with their oneweek-
old baby in hand.

With soldiers invading the northern
district, its population stayed in
hiding for two days. Vicky recalled two
vivid images. One was the support received
from the United Nations as they
dropped boxes of emergency aid from
airplanes in the sky.

The other image was not as pleasant.
Vicky remembers mass graves:
one for the women, another for the
men.

As the civilian death toll rose, a
popular saying was born. Vicky explained
that “one man, one bullet”
meant that not a bullet could be shot
without killing someone.

Although the Red Cross offered to
send people from the DRC to Canada,
Vicky and Dominique declined because
of their love for Uganda. Dominique
found a job that allowed him to
provide his family with a home and a
car, but he wasn’t happy. Vicky said
that Dominique started drinking and
beating her. This forced Vicky out of
her own home at times.

“Me and my baby had to stay in the
bush [in front of our house] sometimes,”
Vicky reminisced with slight
laughter. But she couldn’t handle it
any longer.

At 23, Vicky, who was then expecting
a second child, and her firstborn
fled to the DRC, which was 15 kilometres
away. Vicky met a man who
sympathized with her situation and
provided her with a place to live and
some money each month.

Vicky began saving her money and
took on a job of her own: smuggling
medicine across Ugandan and Congolese
borders.

Instead of keeping the drug money,
Vicky would buy gold and sell it for
triple the price in Kampala.

She risked paralysis by swallowing
the gold in order to smuggle it across
the border.

Vicky explained that after swallowing
the gold “you would eat lots of cassava,
drink a litre of water and the next
day you poop it out.” She claimed she
“became rich,” but it wasn’t enough.

After many years, Vicky decided to
find her mother in the Arua District.

She did, but with two dependents
and her mother recently widowed for
the second time, Vicky began looking
for a new way to support her family.

Vicky said she told her mom to take
care of her children and continued, “I
went to Nairobi, I sold my gold and I
bought cocaine.”

Despite the risk of death as a penalty
that comes with possession of cocaine,
“I felt I didn’t have enough food
for my family,” Vicky said.

On her way back to Arua, Vicky
passed three roadblocks with little inconvenience,
but almost didn’t make it
through the fourth and final one.

It was just five kilometres from her
home.

Vicky had been taking advantage of
traveling with dead bodies, pretending
that two of them were her brothers. At
the last roadblock, the soldiers opened
the caskets to check the bodies.

Flies swarmed and a stench
that was too awful to bear drove
Vicky away from the car during the
inspection.

Vicky pretended she was a madwoman,
leaving the soldiers with no
choice but to avoid questioning her.

Although she passed the final
checkpoint, Vicky gagged as she
reminisced.

“The smell of [the dead bodies]
got to me,” leaving her with a loss of
appetite for one week and no desire to
eat meat for a year.

Vicky’s recovery from her past
has helped her to become who she is
today.

She completed her schooling in her
late 30s and, in May, President Yoweri
Museveni appointed Vicky Chief
Administrator for the National Resistance
Movement (NRM). Vicky’s
strong faith has led her to believe that
God is awarding her and that “everybody
will support [her] because of
Jesus.”

Today Vicky sleeps in a humble
home with her family in Arua,
Uganda.

She recognizes the corruption
among many members of the current
political party but responds to her income
ethically.

“I have money but it is not for me, it
is for the community,” Vicky states.

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