“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Winnie the Pooh
During a really slow day at work I decided to read an Agatha Christie novel. And Then There Were None. Considered by many to be her masterpiece, and one of the best-selling novels of all time (apparently only behind The Bible and works of Shakespeare). The story is about ten people who are invited to an island. On the island, they hear a recording that accuses them of committing murders. One by one, members of the group starting dying and the remaining members of the group try to find the killer. It’s a great read. I’d recommend it.
I’m bringing this up because I couldn’t help but think of the book as I was forced to slowly say goodbye to the team. Shelby left two days before us. Saba the day before. We left Jenna behind since she left the next day. Morgan had a connection to make in Dubai. Greg was on a different flight than we were. DT got her luggage first and said her goodbyes. At that point, the group of eleven had dwindled down to five. Me, Matt and the Blondes (Cat, Missy and Ems). The Blondes all left around the same time. Cat found her parents, and Ems her fiancé. I don’t know if Missy found James, but Matt and I had to get our ride so we said goodbye to her. In a few hours, I have to say goodbye to Matt and go back home. And, at that point, the group will have officially dispersed. It’s really sad to think about….
So, enough of that sad s***. Let’s have some fun! Since this will be the last blog post I write, I need to make it special. This will commemorate my Top Eleven Memories from Uganda. A memory doesn’t have to be a specific moment. It can be a whole day, a setting, etc. It’s sort of cheating, but hey. It’s my list. If I make the rules I can make the loopholes too. Why Top Eleven? Well, in addition to being a big Nostalgia Critic fan, eleven lets me add an extra memory, and it’s also kind of symbolic. There were eleven of us in the team. This isn’t one memory per person, but it’s kinda fitting in its own way. Anyway, I think that’s enough build up. Here we go. Top Eleven Memories from Uganda.
Number Eleven: Chicken Run. This is the memory that made me upgrade my list from ten to eleven. It was just really solid. So, I was having a meal with the group at the Mosa restaurant. I think it was lunch. And I think everyone was there, but I could be wrong. At some point during the meal, we saw a chicken start running around. He was squawking and fluttering. I’m pretty sure he was pecking too. Basically, he knew his time was coming to an end. But damnit if he was going to let himself get shuffled off the mortal coil without making an effort. And he put up a great effort too. But, alas, he was captured. This wasn’t a life changing moment or something I can take back and be proud about. It was just solid funny. But it was way too memorable to not be included on my list.
Number ten: Book Stuff. I feel bad putting this on here because it doesn’t have anything to do with Uganda. But it did happen in Uganda, and it’s really important to me. So, I compromised by putting it really low. Essentially, I made a lot of progress in my works. I finished writing one chapter and two whole chapters from scratch in one story. In another story I edited the entire second book and made some progress in book three. And in another story, I finally figured out what it was about. I came up with the idea about four years ago, and it’s been in the development stages for that long. And the story keeps changing. Hell, the genre keeps changing. But I decided to not care and just write. And things started happening. Random scenes that I didn’t think were important came together. New characters were showing up that really helped to change the plot. It was like I was planting seeds that bloomed into something special. Again, I feel kind of bad for putting this on here at the expense of some really solid Ugandan experiences. But, this was really important to me. So, yeah. Next one.
Number nine: Goat Leg. This is a weird one to put on the list because, honestly, it’s actually sort of a low for the trip. But I know I have to put it on here. Some background information. When Professor Gash and Jenna DeWalt got to Uganda, they took us out to dinner on Pepperdine’s treat (Thanks Pep!). One of the things on the menu was goat leg. As in, an entire leg of goat meat. Now, me being the carnivore that I am, I wanted that goat leg. They said it would take an hour to make it though, so I decided I’d get it another day. Gash told me I shouldn’t though. Not because it was bad or anything. But he said I wouldn’t be able to finish it by myself if I ordered it. It was too much meat. It could feed three people. So, me being me, I didn’t take that as a warning; I took it as a challenge. I’m pretty sure I even told him, challenge accepted.
And on Thursday, the penultimate night in Uganda, I ordered that sucker. And at first, it was great. Slowly but surely, though, I began to realize Gash might have had a point. There was a lot of meat. And I mean a lot. What I thought was going to be a walk in the park was a trudge through a quagmire. There was a point where I looked at Matt and said something along the lines of, both of us know I’m not gonna finish this. The real question is how far am I gonna get. But at some point I got an idea. I asked Matt to play some music, because maybe I could get pumped up enough to finish this thing. And the first thing I heard was a cover of the theme to Skyrim, and I got my heroic second wind. But then my foe became too strong. And I realized there was only one thing that could help me: Hamilton. And through the combination of Hamilton, water bottles and a will of tungsten, I got through that goat leg. And I felt two main things after finishing. An extreme sense of pride. And I felt exhausted. The exhaustion, and general feeling of self-disgust at eating that much food, makes me consider this a low for the trip. But it was such an experience that I felt the need to include it. Also, because I accepted a challenge. And I owned it.
Number Eight: Goodbye Meetings. On our penultimate day in Uganda (counting the day we left as the final one) we had three meetings. One with the Chief Justice. One with the Principal Judge. And one with the Deputy Chief Justice. I don’t really have much to say about these, but they’re on the list because of just how privileged I felt. Greg said it best. In the States, we wouldn’t be invited to sit with John Roberts in his office to tell him what we’ve learned. Maybe if we worked for him directly, but none of us worked for the CJ. It all comes back to Ugandan culture and making people feel “most welcome.” Each one of them wanted to know how our trip was, and what we learned. It was just a great honor.
Number Seven: Viva La Resistance. One of the best things about Prison Week was getting to meet the lawyers. They were all really cool people. I went to the Mosque with most, I think all of them actually, and I watched Game of Thrones with some of them too. But the best part was playing Resistance with them, Joline and the team. I’m too lazy to explain the rules, and they’re a bit complicated, but it’s basically like Mafia on crack. And, honestly, I do think it’s more fun. Mostly because no one dies so you get to play the whole time. And playing a social game with a great group of people is definitely worthy of being on my list.
Number Six: Taco Tuesday. When we found out about Taco Tuesday, we decided it was going to a group thing. So, of course, we only did it once. But it was just a real fun experience. I also remember that particular Tuesday was a really solid today (Except for the part about the Warriors beating the Thunder in Game 7. That was stupid). And capping off such a day by hanging out with everybody and eating cheap food was just really great. I don’t think that was the first time we all hung out and had dinner, especially since that was week two or three, but it’s one of the times I really remember.
Number Five: Chief of Animals. There are some really great moments with Andrew. Our first picture of him with his stone face. Him asking where I was while we were taking a picture (I was standing right next to him), the way he pronounced Greg’s names, etc. But, by far, my favorite Andrew moment is the Chief of Animals story he told me. Megan and I were both working in the office, and Andrew saw that we looked really focused. And it reminded him of a story (story, story story). Like with the rules of Resistance, I’m way too lazy to write the story out, but it was…-interesting to say the least. What made the moment so special to me wasn’t the story itself. It was the fact that Andrew sat us down just to tell us a story. One he had heard from his Grandmother. I really appreciated the intimacy there. It was one of the early moments in the trip where Andrew became less of an intimidating figure (again, he had a face of stone in our first picture with him) and more as my friend. And at this point, I can most definitely say that Andrew is my friend. And I can’t wait till he comes to Malibu in October, so I can take him to one of my favorite places in the whole world: Jack in the Box. I’m also looking forward to telling the story to some of my friends back in Malibu. Dat ending do.
Number Four: Murchison Falls. The best way I can describe Murchison would be to play the opening scene to The Lion King. Because there were so many animals! I saw a herd of elephants. I saw two elephants fighting. Another elephant I’m pretty sure wanted to kill us (and I lost a few years off my lifespan from sheer terror). I saw some lionesses after the hunt feasting. And you’ll never guess what we…-SPOTTED. Ha ha ha. Yeah, that was a terrible pun, but I thought it was funny. Yeah, we saw leopards. Yeah, plural. Not one. Not three. But two. Deuces! Oh, and we also saw giraffes. I really like giraffes. Some baboons, who actually really creep me out. Warthogs, who I didn’t know travel in families. And I didn’t expect to be as cute as they were. Hippos, crocs, buffalo. We went a rhino sanctuary and saw freaking rhinos! I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to see a rhino in Uganda. Well, screw that I did anyways! Murchison was phenomenal.
Number Three: Art Party. Yeah, if you read my post for that day you might be surprised to see this only at number three. I said that was my best night in Africa, and that the whole day was an onslaught of awesome. And both of those are true. But when I stopped to reflect I realized it really wasn’t in my top two. I was just on a high from all the fun I had, and maybe a high from the fumes for the flames, but it’s for sure my number three. I think the best part was being able to turn off my switch. I stopped being self-conscious and decided to just have a ball. People are here to be entertained. Well, I’m an entertainer. The band is asking for dancers. Well, the music is fantastic, and I’ve got some “moves” I can bust out. There’s a really beautiful girl. Well, why not ask her dance? The fire dancers are asking for drummers. Well, why not? And I think that pretty much describes my night in all honesty. Me asking myself, “Why not?” Then responding with a shrug and doing the thing. Being able to stop being so self-conscious is always a plus for me. Being able to do it at such a cool event while having so much fun definitely earns it my number three spot.
Number Two: Sipi Falls. I said in my blog for this day that it was legitimately one of the best days of my life. Art Party was a phenomenal night with a really good day. But this was start to finish one of the best twenty-four hour periods of the…-too lazy to do the math, but a lot of days of my life. Just a few highlights from the day. Being literally somewhere over the rainbow. Going up and down a hill in muddy terrain while wearing shoes with literally zero traction (Which made me feel like a complete idiot and a total badass at the same time). Getting closer to the first waterfall than anyone else and feeling the spray of the water. And, of course, the second waterfall. I got to meditate under a waterfall. And you know what? That s*** really hurts! A lot! But it was sooooo awesome. I had a lot of fun that day just hanging out with everybody and enjoying nature. For me, that’s pretty much a recipe for a perfect day. And that night we got to see a series of cool Ugandan dances, and then we danced too (what a workout that was). And to top it all off, I got to take a bucket shower with cold water. Guess I can cross that one off my…BUCKET LIST! A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…-I’ll stop talking now.
And my Number One Memory from Uganda is…-: Fort Portal. I came to Uganda for a handful of reasons. I had some friends who were going, I needed something to do over the summer, and I hadn’t been to Africa since I almost died (asthma attack at six months old). But more than that, I felt a pull. Something in me was telling me that I needed to go to Uganda. Not that it would be a cool experience like those other reasons, but that I needed to be there. That pull only became stronger after I watched Remand, which was even stronger after I met Henry. It’s easy to watch a documentary, appreciate that the subject matter is real, but then sort of forget about it because it was a movie. But meeting Henry really emphasized that this was real. This wasn’t just a story. What I saw was part of his life. Something he would always carry with him. And if I went to Uganda, I could help people the way Jim Gash helped Henry. Yeah, I needed to do this.
I won’t lie. Prison Week was tough. The days were incredibly long. Piercing the gate at around six, getting back at around seven or eight. Thursday I got the Africraps, and I was pretty much sidelined all day. And, honestly, losing an entire day of Prison Week is my low for the whole trip. I hate feeling useless anyways. Everybody does. But it’s something that really gets to me. And being useless with such a golden opportunity to help people…-that didn’t sit well with me. And on top of the physical toughness, there was the emotional drain. Aggravated defilement after aggravated defilement. Six year olds. Five year olds. Men raping young girls. Sometimes their cousins. Sometimes their daughters…. Excuse my language, but it’s pretty fu**** up when I felt lucky to have a murder case because it wasn’t another aggravated defilement. Or, God help me, to feel lucky when the victim was over ten years old. Feel lucky to have a rape victim that was eleven years old is a really dark state of mind to be in. I still feel horrible thinking about it….
So, why am I saying all this in a list about favorite memories? Especially for my number one? Because, context. My number one moment really can’t be appreciated without understanding the scope of Prison Week. Yes, it was physically tough at times. Yes, it was an emotional roller coaster. And, yes, there were intense moments of soul searching throughout the whole thing. But I had a special moment at the end of the first day.
You see, after defending a slew of child rapists, you start to feel like pond scum. You wonder if what you’re doing is a good thing. I remember talking to Ricky (who was my partner, and a phenomenal one at that) about a case. We were saying we could probably get a guy ten years: eight if we did our jobs well. We both shared a laugh, and then we felt really terrible about ourselves. If I’m doing my job at the best of my ability, I can let a child rapist walk the streets in a few years. Granted, we’re not talking about days, weeks or months. These are years of someone’s life. It’s not trivial. But at that same time, it just didn’t feel right. It, just…-ugh. Sorry, venting. Prison Week does that.
But at the end of day one I started talking to the Resident Judge of that area. Justice Batema (I have no idea if I’m spelling that right, and I feel really bad that I’m not). He sat down close to where I was sitting. He was looking around the prison and at the prisoners. He pointed to them, and he asked me a question. “Do you know what I see?” He paused, and then he gave me an answer I don’t think I’ll ever forget. “I see hope.” He told me that us being there was giving hope to the prisoners. People who had been on remand for years were finally getting their stories heard. People who had no idea how long they would be staying in prison were given certainty. Backlog was getting reduced, which meant people who were innocent would actually have a chance of getting a trial. I was bringing hope to people. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do in Uganda.
I’ve talked about this memory a few times. The first time I did, I almost started crying. I hadn’t realized how much it actually meant to me until the waterworks started. And every time since, I’ve gotten choked up. I’ve had to talk really slow and controlled so I don’t start crying, but it’s actually hard. I…-there aren’t words. There really aren’t. I mean, everything else on this list our fun memories. Of dancing, of hanging out by a waterfall. Of eating a leg of goat. But that’s all they are. Memories. I’ll look back on them and laugh. I’ll remember the good ole days. But over time, they will fade. *insert all just a distant memory joke here:p* But this is more than a memory. To use a term from Inside Out, this is a core memory. This is something I know I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Also, on the second day at Fortal. I got to see a crane strutting about like he owned the place. Given that he’s a literal symbol of Uganda and touching cranes is a criminal offense, he pretty much did own the place. The moment I won’t forget was when we got close to each other. He chased a lot of people off. But there was a moment when the two of us stood close together in the rain. He looked at me. I looked at him. I’m pretty sure I bowed to him. He didn’t mess with me. He just kinda stood there until I walked away. It just felt…-majestic.
Number Zero: My Family. Yeah, remember how I was limiting myself to just eleven things? Well, do you also remember how I blatantly admitted I could break my own rules? Exactly. Besides, I couldn’t put this as number one in good conscience anyway. While ranking something as number one crowns it as the best, there’s still something that comes before one. That’s what zero is, and I believe zero acts as the foundation. And the foundation for me having such a phenomenal time in Uganda, and the reason I was able to make it through Prison Week was the people I had around me every step of the way. Everyone has said they’d be willing to spend more time here because two months was just too short. I whole heartedly agree. But I know I wouldn’t feel that way if I was alone. I would still enjoy myself, and I would make friends. But I can’t imagine being in Uganda without the rest of the team. The most important thing in law school is relationships. I may have doubted that during the first few days, but I understood pretty quickly that it was one hundred percent right. Law school wouldn’t have been the amazing experience it was, and will continue to be, without the people around me. My CLS group. My Section mates. My crew. And now the Uganda team.
Missy-the hardworking team mom.
(Captain) Morgan-the funniest member of the group.
DT-the queen of giving and taking sass.
Ems-who always carries herself with dignity and grace.
Shelbs-who’s basically like a sister to me. (A sister who also makes really good garlic bread.)
Matt Chung-Cogsworth himself. The most dependable and awesome roommate I could ever ask for.
Grenna-a power couple who are equally strong as individuals.
Greg-Lois! One of the most sincere and caring people I’ve ever met.
(Her Majesty) Jenna-someone is equally driven and a great leader.
Saba-my partner in crime at Andrew’s with a smile as sweet as her tooth.
Cat-our resident sleeping beauty, who’s actually really cool when she’s awake.
And even though they weren’t part of the Uganda team, I have some other people to include.
Nicole-the best senpai we could have asked for.
Kyler-my sister from across the Red River. Go SOONERS!
Megan-our companion from Baylor, whom we really didn’t get to spend as much time with as we would’ve liked.
Mark-an absolutely solid dude.
Ricky-my Prison Week compatriot, who I share a frequency with.
And, of course, Andrew. The king of dry humor. A hard working man who really cares about his subordinates. He’s a great boss and an even better friend. The man. The myth. The legend. Andrew.
And every one of them has a heart of solid gold. Through regular conversations, highs and lows and Prison Week, I really learned how amazing everyone is. How dedicated they all were to helping people. And just how much I loved each and every one of them.
I think the only way I can properly end this post would be to quote the group song. “Three Little Birds.” I say it’s the group song because it just seemed to play a lot, especially when we were in groups. And I remember it was the first full song to play when I got on my flight from Dubai to LAX. Really cool how that worked out.
“Singin’ sweet songs. Of melodies pure and true. Sayin’, ‘this is my message to youuu.’ Singin’ ‘Don’t worry ‘bout a thing. ‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.’”