French Fries: The Best Thing Since Common Law
From time to time you'll still wake in the middle of the night (half-naked, swimming in humid air) mystified by your surroundings, briefly - if only briefly - startled and gasping at the sight of a large net trapping you onto your bed. Where am I? And how can it be eighty-degrees at one in the morning?
"Jinja – its on Jinja road. Do you know it?"
To use the phrase of my Sudanese friend and fellow law student Moses, I looked "smart" in the grey suit and red tie. British colloquialisms are common in this part of Africa. A Ugandan gentleman asked if I was British – but to his surprise I told him that his 'British' was better than mine.
Well Moses, place me, grey suit and all, with backpack, straddling the back of a boda-boda, whipping and twisting between cars and cabs, bouncing at times on the cracked-uneven streets: Not so smart anymore – but having a ball. Taking lost gravel roads of green-orange at 20, 30 miles per hour for a moment, and back out on the main street. "Oh – ooh. Ah. Eh…don't ram into that car. Oh, can we not slip between the coca-cola truck and the cab turning left? Uh… ok. Let's just do that then…. two thousand shillings?! No friend, one. I got one thousand for ya."
Not that my able driver would have understood my concerns had I vocalized them: that's just how you get from A to B in Kampala.
A couple weeks ago, we all attended Justice Kiryabwire's Rotary Club banquet. Wouldn't you know that I'd have to travel all the way to Africa to experience my first Rotary Club event? Like any banquet, it began with a series of speeches. Don't get me wrong: speeches are good. And the work of the club sounds pretty important, and should be talked up. Of course, it was the meal we were after.
Actually, there's not much to African cuisine – if you can call it that. Arabic, Indian, Ethiopian and Chinese food can be found all around Kampala; but the authentic-African is rather bland. Avoid the posho. Its much like flavorless paste. Go for the chapatti (a kind of doughey-tortilla).
Before leaving, I was told a hundred times how much I'd miss American food after a while. I guess none of my friends have been to Africa. Actually, I have had more opportunities to eat french-fries – chips – in the last few weeks then I typically get in America. Truly, Ugandamust owe a debt of eternal gratitude to mother England for, if nothing else, her gifts of common law and fish & chips (I have to wonder if the Brits brought the posho too).
At the Rotary Club, we enjoyed our most authentic meal of the trip – though it was a combination of Indian and African dishes. We also created a memorable spectacle, as we Mazungas (White people) often do.
Indeed, it was in classic Mazunga fashion when I, Dan, Marie, Nicole, Ali and Rachel docked our boat at a fishing village in Jinja last weekend. (Well, I should start a bit sooner than this.).
Last weekend, the whole group made a trip to Jinja, the adventure capitol of Africa and source of the Nile River. We spent Saturday whitewater rafting. How do I describe it? When we arrived at the dormitory operated by the rafting company (a hostile-like environment buzzing with adventure seeking tourists), there was a breakfast of chippati, coffee, pineapple, honey and toast and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. We geared up, piled into two large open-vans (forty or fifty of us) and headed off to the river. As we drove through the village excited children came running out to wave and give us thumbs up.
On the river, we rowed, flipped and swirled through the rapids. 'Right forward, left back; hard forward!' chanted our trusty guide (well, maybe). In a word, Alex is completely nuts. Indeed, who better to guide you on your first whitewater adventure on the Nile River?
At lunch we drifted our rafts along the flat river and tasted the best pineapple of our lives while taking in the cleanest air we've breathed in Africa (Did I mention Kampala's gas-guzzling boda-boda's?). Beer and BBQ against a backdrop of green and verdant flowing onto the river topped-off the evening as my lightly burned skin settled over me.
Suddenly it was midnight. I huddled in back of an open-air truck driven by… well God knows who, along with Mike, Shane, Rose and four or five travelers I had just met rafting, bouncing up and down on half-paved streets in the middle of a remote, lush Ugandan village on my way to drink one-dollar African beer and talk the night away. Life only deals a few moments like this. Rarely does it hand us a weekend full of them.
The next day, a few of us boated to the source of the Nile. A long slender motor boat made of wood covered with an awning a bit like the one "African Queen" carried us passed waterfront villages surrounded by greenery and sugar cane. "Incredible" I thought. No, not the source. What was incredible was that it was just a large ripple on the water at the beginning of the Nile River.
For thousands of years, whole civilizations were built and sustained on it – the pyramids rose next to it; Alexander, Caesar and Tutankhamen may have all rinsed their hands in it – and its source is just a twenty-square foot ripple.
After leaving the source, our guide docked at a fishing village. Dozens of children surrounded us as soon as we stepped off. They clung to our hands and fought to have their pictures taken. When we showed them their faces on our cameras laughter erupted. When children who have nothing – some lacking shoes; some surely in need of medicine – are jumping for joy just at the chance to see you and get their picture taken, humility creeps on quickly.
I can't imagine the lives they lead; nor can I imagine why the homely site of yours truly caused such a ruckus. They weren't asking for anything. Some were so young I doubt if they know the poverty they live in. And yet all they wanted was to hold our hands and laugh at us. I've never seen anything as true and honest as their smiles.
Details aside, most of the cases I've read at the Court of Appeals have involved crimes against children in small villages. I hope for the rest of my time here (and for my life) to have those laughing faces in my mind. It's their cause that makes the law an honest profession.