By: Missy G.
(in no particular order, except #1)
- The People
Yes, I know this is broad – but seriously, my favorite part about Uganda 2016 was the people. We interacted with a wide range of individuals too – each other, employees at our respective courts, judges, lawyers, US lawyers, prisoners, Uganda Christian University (UCU) students, staff at the various locations we visited, boda boda, drivers, merchants…just to name a few. Everyone I interacted with was respectful, welcoming, and interesting. I don’t know that foreigners could say the same about visiting the United States.
- Prison Week
For those who may not be familiar with prison week, it is the week that the Pepperdine students are placed into groups with an American attorney, Ugandan attorney, and UCU students to interview prisoners about their crimes and help integrate plea bargaining into the judicial system. Hundreds of prisoners sit on the ground around the groups waiting to be called to discuss their sentence. Some have been on remand for a few months and others up to four or five years. Our goal is to extract any mitigating factors to develop a fair sentencing range and negotiate with the DPP. If everything goes as planned, the sentence is determined, a plea agreement is signed by the DPP and the prisoner, and then later that week (hopefully the next day or two), the prisoner and his/her signed agreement are brought to court for the judge to approve the sentence. That is the best case scenario, but as you can imagine, there are several factors and situations that can alter that experience. The process is only a tiny fraction of what makes this week so special, though. Yes – it is amazing to learn about plea bargaining and to help integrate it into the Ugandan judicial system to help reduce backlog, but the best part is actually working with your assigned team and getting to know each prisoner and his or her story. It’s an experience that cannot be explained on paper or even in conversation. In an attempt to summarize the week, I would say I learned a lot about human nature, deprivation, patience, love, hope, and I learned about myself.
- Marabou Storks
If you saw “stork” and immediately thought of one of those beautiful, white, angelic birds that delivers babies – WRONG! One of my classmates googled, “ugly bird in Uganda,” when we were trying to figure out what this bird was, and the marabou stork was the first hit. This bird looks terrifying, can be up to 4 feet tall, and eats garbage, rodents, dead animals, and even flamingoes. But for whatever reason, I became fascinated by these birds! I loved watching them in their nests from the High Court, and they really became one of my favorite things about walking around Kampala. My love for the ugly birds continued growing UNTIL we went on a safari boat cruise in Queen Elizabeth National Park. A group of us were standing on the top level of the boat watching thousands of birds along the shore. Beautiful birds were diving for little fish along the surface of the water. Some of the birds on shore would get lucky enough to find a fish to enjoy for lunch and then…a towering, monster-like marabou would steal it. Yes, steal it. These little, average-sized birds put all of their energy into catching a meal, only for a marabou stork to steal it right out of their mouths! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Time after time, a little bird would catch a fish and a marabou stork would stomp over and steal it. In fact, the marabous didn’t do anything to catch food – they purely stole it. Needless to say, the marabou storks were crossed off my list of favorite things in Uganda, but still remain memorable.
- Washing Laundry By Hand
Everyone should try this at some point. Two buckets – one with soapy water to wash and the other with clean water to rinse. Seems like a fairly simple process, but it is actually pretty laborious, and really makes you appreciate the convenience of having washers and dryers at home. Also, you have to plan it properly because it can take 2-3 days for the clothes to actually dry. Some students dried their clothes on the clothesline outside, which was probably more efficient than drying inside, but rain comes very quickly in Kampala and it would usually be impossible to get your clothes off the line before they were soaking wet from the rain. The rain was particularly gunning for one student, Greg Lewis, the entire trip. Poor Greg…it was hilarious and I don’t know how he ever had dry clothes to wear, but every time he would hang clothes to dry on the clothesline, heavy rain would roll through and completely soak them again. This literally happened at least four times, but Greg has a good spirit and always laughed about it. If Greg declared he was going to do laundry, we all knew that it would rain.
- The Stomach Bug
This will be brief. I’m sure everyone on the trip has a story (or stories) about having a less than happy stomach. There’s something about this experience that seems mandatory though. It’s like a right of passage and no one can escape it. So, if you’re headed to a third world country anytime soon, look forward to this experience and make sure you bring some antibiotics.
- Things We Take For Granted
Among the most memorable things about the summer are several conveniences I learned that I completely take for granted in the United States. A few that come to mind include: access to WiFi, public restrooms (especially clean ones), using sink water to brush your teeth, garbage cans, driving, air conditioning, staying on schedule and respecting time (although not perfect in the United States), shower curtains, conditioner, dishwashers, and washer/dryers. When I got home, these things really stood out to me and I felt like my apartment was luxury! The first time I did laundry, I actually told my husband the washer was broken because my clothes were too dry after the spin cycle.
- Andrew Khaukha
This also falls under #1, but Andrew is such a unique and memorable person that he truly deserves his own space. Andrew is the Technical Advisor to the Judiciary. From working with him over the past two months, I gather that his position is like a hybrid liaison-project manager role. He works with all of the judges, magistrates, and leaders of the judiciary to ensure initiatives are implemented properly and successfully. Andrew is literally the hardest working person I met in Uganda, and he would also compete with Americans I know that work incredibly hard. In addition to being dedicated, loyal, and relentless, Andrew is hilarious, hospitable, and helpful. I had the opportunity to work with him, and it all happened by accident. My judge was out of town the first few weeks we were in Uganda, so I started working with Andrew at the Criminal High Court to fill the time. I was exposed to several projects Andrew was working on – sentencing guidelines, census report, mediation proposal, to name a few – so we worked very closely, and I ended up reporting to the Criminal High Court for the majority of my internship. Andrew made us feel like we belonged in Uganda, with the judiciary…like the Pepperdine crew was his own family. For example, we decided to plan a trip to Sipi Falls. When Andrew found out about this, he decided to negotiate prices for us and help plan the trip, but “helping” was an understatement. Andrew planned everything from transportation to daily activities to tours to accommodations, and he did so knowing that he had an endless amount of work to get completed. Another example – one of the students I had the pleasure of getting to know, Shelby Warwar, expressed that one of the items on her bucket list was milking a cow. Andrew heard about this and happened to own a ranch, so he invited Shelby to his ranch during the weekend and she was able to milk a cow and enjoy some tea with the milk! It was such an amazing experience for Shelby and something she talked about for the rest of the trip – all because of Andrew! There are so many other examples, and I can write them all, but when it comes down to it Andrew is just a very special person. He is a rare human and I feel so blessed to have met him and worked with him. I will forever be his friend.
- Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are hundreds of animals, and every scene is picture perfect. Murchison Falls is solely worthy of a trip to Uganda. We went as a group and stayed at a place called Sambiya River Lodge, which had wild animals (including buffalo) on the property. We had to schedule armed security to walk us to and from our cottages in the morning and evening, in case we were confronted by an animal. Sounds a little terrifying, but it was one of my favorite weekends and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Uganda.
- Family Dinners
Early on in the summer we established Wednesday nights as family dinner nights. Every apartment or individual would make a dish and bring it to share. Dishes ranged from pasta to garlic toast to peanut butter covered oreos (yum). By the end of our trip, family dinner had grown from 11 to 25 people. We made so many Ugandan friends and continued to invite them on a weekly basis. It was great to have others included, and two of our new friends from UCU, Brian and Ritah, taught us how to make chipati and rolexes. If you’re reading this because you’re going to Uganda in 2017, I would highly recommend establishing family dinners with your group. We got to know each other, had fun, met new friends, learned about each court, and really just enjoyed our time to the max. Honestly, if it were possible, I would have the same group at my house every Wednesday for dinner; family dinners are a part of the summer I will miss tremendously.
- Highs and Lows
Highs and lows were a part of every dinner, especially family dinner. This is a Griffin family tradition that I shared with the group where each person shares his/her high and low of the day at dinner. The only rule is that you can’t have any repeats (and a second unofficial rule is that I would choose who went first :). Going through highs and lows every evening helped me get to know everyone on the trip, made everyone aware of any struggles or celebrations anyone was experiencing, and also exposed us to different job responsibilities at each court. It was also a great way to recap the trip in general and served as a constant reflection of the work we were accomplishing, the things we were learning, and the people we had the pleasure of meeting. Although this also circles back to #1, I have to reiterate that this is the greatest group of people I could ever imagine being together and I wouldn’t change a single thing about the experience we shared. I feel so lucky to have been apart of the Uganda 2016 trip, and I know I’ve gained experience, education, maturity, appreciation, love, and lifelong friendships because of it.