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Uganda: Week One

It's best to come to a place like Uganda without any notions of what to expect.  For starters, I booked the wrong flight and showed up a day later than the Pepperdine group. I also forgot to secure a hotel room for the twelve hour layover in Dubai. (I was later informed by Henry, a court registrar, that I would be the last one to make it to Heaven. Well, given my flight and hotel blunders, I'm just about getting used to doing things the hard way.). 

In the Dubai airport, I enjoyed five dollar Starbucks coffee (funny, it tasted the same as two dollar Starbucks coffee.). No refills sir. I also met Asif, a Persian fellow who lived in Johannesburg, studied law at Ohio (a Buckeye, he happily informed) and now works as a CPA at the U.N. World Food Bank. He was on his way to Rome, where his office is based. We talked about law, his teenage sons, young people in America , American education, foreign affairs, and of the Persian perspective on American policy in the Middle East.

Of Kampala, a place where Asif had once been stationed with the U.N., he only warned that I should avoid the dangerous boda-bodas (motorbikes.). Too late Asif. But he was delighted about Pepperdine's internship program, and shared my excitement for engaging with a young and evolving legal system.

In Entebe, Uganda, there was no terminal connecting the plane to the airport, and so I was immediately struck by the moist air. Inside, I had to fill out a Swine flu information card, and quickly got the feeling that Ugandans aren't big on waiting in orderly lines. Thankfully, Fred and Pricilla redeemed my first impression of Ugandans. Pricilla asked me if I needed a cab. I told her I needed to get a hold of my group. Pricilla offered her phone, dialed the phone numbers which I had frantically scribbled on an envelop and waited for me. Of course, Pricilla probably wanted my cab-business. But I have certainly never had an American cab driver offer his own cell phone. Pricilla was gracious.

She turned me over to Fred who drove me to Kampala. Fred pointed out the president's mansion, Lake Victoria, a local brick factory and some other points of local interest. I listened and watched the sharp colors of landscape dance about behind the open markets and stores along the road. It was only two-lanes, but Fred and the other drivers didn't let this get in their ways. Driving on the wrong side, carving out third lanes, dodging boda-bodas and pedestrians within a hair's breadth, Ugandan drivers make L.A. streets seem like bumper cars. I white-knuckled the hand-grasp above and prayed for a safe ride – notwithstanding the small issue of now being last in line to Heaven, I prayed indeed.  

Fred and I also managed a nice chat during our death-defying ride. I could tell he was proud of  Uganda when he pointed out the president's mansion and spoke of the local sites. Odd as it might seem to point out to a tourist, I caught on that the brick factory must have been a source of steady jobs for Ugandans. Justice Kiryabwire of the commercial court later stressed Uganda's commitment to the spread of economic infrastructure and facilitating market activity. The loss of a single dollar, he said, meant all the difference to the average Ugandan's daily life. And so it is important that the courts keep a firm and steady hand over the enforcement of contracts. It is important to quality of life of people like Fred and others that jobs remain stable, and that local commerce thrives. 

Fred told me that Ugandans are free to move and go wherever they want, implying a great change from the Uganda of twenty years ago – the Uganda that most Westerns still have in mind. It's best to come without any notions of what to expect.

" Uganda is free," Fred proudly declared. To which I replied with excitement that I would be looking forward to working for his courts.

-Robert Coleman