Three Weeks In

By: Andrew Kasabian
Kampala, Uganda

After three weeks in Kampala, there is no easy way to explain my experiences, so I will stick with random musings and stories:

iPhone games are universal
     Our group went to see a traditional Ugandan performance by an orphanage, known as KICK and co-founded by Pepperdine Law alum Ryan Aikens, on a Sunday.  Prior to the performance by the Uganda children, which was amazing in its own right, we had a chance to get to know some of the kids and spend some time with them.  They were so excited to talk with us, learn about the United States, and talk about their lives in Kampala.  But as soon as they found out we had smart phones with games on them, we lost them to the games.  They were enthralled by iPhone games, huddling around in circles and taking turns playing whatever games they could find.  It became difficult to track down your phone, because the kids were really clever.  They would give you a bracelet or headband of theirs, and would somehow get your phone and disappear until the battery was about to die.  They clearly were better at sharing than we were because we were all trying to track down our phones at one point or another.  Just goes to show that 1) everyone loves technology and 2) it is not just my generation in the United States that is obsessed and distracted by all the games we have at our fingertips.  You don’t need to grow up in a household filled with computers, Internet, and smart phones in order to be attached to them.

Lawyering is quite similar to the U.S.
     Now, even though the laws in Uganda appear to be clearer than laws in the United States, a lot of the “lawyering” that takes place in the courtroom is similar to that of the United States.  As my partner Alex and I were sitting in our judge’s court sessions on one Wednesday, I would laugh during some of the arguments, as I was reminded of Torts and Criminal Law where we spent so much time trying to figure out who is “the average reasonable person” or what “immediate” means.  Notably, one of the best quotes in the Ugandan court session was an argument by a lawyer arguing the meaning of the word “immediate.”  He began with a classic introduction, reading its dictionary definition, and capped it off with “even in ordinary English, the word immediate means immediate!”  While his delivery was undoubtedly funnier than mine, it also illustrated that certain traits of being a lawyer are universal, regardless of the level of sophistication of different legal systems. 

You know you’ve made it when you get the “special Ugandan handshake.”
     In the United States, the value of a “strong handshake” can’t be overstated.  In Uganda, there isn’t a competition to see who has the most painful, bone-breaking handshake.  It is more of lightly shaking each other’s fingers.  This makes handshakes actually enjoyable.  But we all quickly learned that Ugandans have a special handshake for friends that you really want to strive for.  It’s like a made-up handshake that two best friends would have, but everyone in Uganda seems to know it.  There’s a sort of swivel move after the initial handshake and then back to the handshake.
When interacting with children, they really like to give that handshake to anyone as they yell “Mzungu!” (Lugandan for foreigner) at us.  But it is a real achievement when you get the handshake from an adult.  So when the first person at my court gave me that handshake, it was really hard not to cheer until they left.  Especially considering that my partner did not get the same handshake (sorry Alex!).  To me, it seems like that is the sign of friendship.  So receiving that handshake makes you feel connected to the community.          As I have thought about that handshake, it really puts my role and what purpose I am serving in Uganda into perspective.  We talk about the importance of supporting the rule of law and helping with a lot of the backlog of the Ugandan judicial system as the primary purpose of this program.  But I think one of the main reasons that this program is so important is because it is a way for us Americans to serve as friends to the Ugandans we encounter and create a connection that brings two separate cultures and worlds together.  People can sit in class or read on Wikipedia and become “experts” on a country and how to help “fix” it.  But truly impacting people and a community not only requires that academic expertise, but also an understanding and connection with the people on the ground.  So, to me, even if I do not create some revolutionary program in the Ugandan judicial system, this experience will be a success if I can at least say I formed relationships and friendships with some Ugandans I came into contact with.

The Ugandan experience so far has been an eye-opening one, at least for myself.  It is impossible to describe the essence of the experience, other than random tidbits of information and stories that are just bouncing around within my mind.  Oh, and for those that were curious: Temple Run was the most popular game and Candy Crush Saga was the least popular.