Hold on Tight

Tricked out motorcycles and flowing beards littered the music video of one of my favorite songs when I was just waking up to rock and roll.  Unfortunately, adherence to ZZ Top’s lingering directive to “Hold on Loosely” transformed my iPhone into a “bye-Phone” last Thursday night on the way home from a pizza dinner with our student interns here in Uganda.

Allow me to explain (and stay with me here).

I can’t fully articulate the philosophical underpinnings of the solution to Bart Simpson’s timeless Zen-infused riddle of, “How is it possible for something to suck and blow at the same time?”  I can, however, provide an irrefutable example — Kampala traffic.

As my colleague Jenna and I were steeping in the suck/blow phenomenon in a circa-1980 Toyota Corolla, I lowered my window to half-mast to compensate for the taxi’s comatose air conditioner.  We were dead still, and had been for about ten minutes, so I pulled out my iPhone 6 Plus and started thumbing away at my e-mail backlog.  Because the phone is so big, and because I generally type with the phone in the vertical position, I hold it near the bottom as I type.  And because I am a huge ZZ Top fan, I hold on loosely to the phone while typing.

As I did so, I acquired a new friend who spontaneously materialized from the darkness and reached through the window to generously relieve me of the burden of responding to my pile of e-mails.  He then darted through and around the coil of traffic and vanished almost as quickly as he had appeared.  I was so momentarily befuddled by my unhanding, I fumbled with the door lock and latch long enough to permit myself only a fleeting glance at the back of his head.

This most unpleasant turn of events presented me with the singular pleasure of discovering how to locate and erase my “lost” iPhone.  Hint: substantial delays inject themselves into the process when one forgets the answer to the two supposedly simple security questions necessary to log into iTunes from another continent.  Apparently, I don’t remember EITHER my best friend in high school OR my first car, though apparently these answers were supplied by me when I was in more lucid state.  This bout with early-onset Alzheimer’s earned me the opportunity to enjoy Apple’s “hold music” for the better part of an hour.  Surprisingly, the Easy Listening selection failed to temper my rising frustration.  Ultimately, the Genius who brought an unceremonious halt to my impromptu sing-along session with Simon and Garfunkel was able to assist me with (i) locating a signal from my erstwhile prodigal phone, and (ii) triggering the “erase” feature on said phone.  I briefly contemplated hiring another taxi so I could locate and assist my new friend as he answered my e-mails (at least that’s what I assume he was doing), but as I zoomed in with the GPS locator, I realized that it could only mark out a 100-yard radius in a neighborhood with, shall we say, lots of room for improvement in the safety category.  And no, I didn’t call the police.  If you have ever been to Uganda, you know precisely how effective that would have been . . .

The next evening, after the closing ceremony of a spectacular week-long mediation training program delivered by Mitch and Selina, I had the opportunity to demonstrate just how mentally gifted I really am.  The forum for my display of intellectual prowess was on the way to the airport to pick up my wife and about ten others flying in from all over the United States and from Rwanda.  Because so many Uganda rookies were coming in at the same time, I decided to accompany the driver in the court’s thirty-passenger mini-bus to go and fetch them.  I also invited along one of our students interning in Uganda who is a bit sweet on one of our other student interns currently based in neighboring Rwanda working for the Chief Justice of that country.  Let’s pretend her name is “Shelby.”

Shelby and I decided not to tell her boyfriend “Ricky” that she was coming to the airport with me so it would be a surprise.  In fact, we affirmatively lied to him.  (Lying is OK if it is done in the name of love, right?).  Luckily for Shelby and me, we got to experience the suck/blow traffic again.  This time, however, I didn’t roll the window down, but opted instead to slide the windows open as buses are designed to do.  As Shelby and I were talking and looking at her computer, a shady looking dude approached the motionless bus from my side and peered into the window from his tippy toes.  As I slid the window shut, the dude’s buddy lurch-reached into the bus on Shelby’s side and swiped her purse.  Like his compadre from the night before, he disappeared into the darkness as I yelled out the window, “Stop the thief, he stole a purse!”  The onlookers stared at me quizzically, likely confused by the claim that my purse was stolen.

Guess what was in Shelby’s purse, besides credit cards, a debit card, cash, and her driver’s license?  Yep, her iPhone.  She quickly activated the tracking software and erased her phone.  The moral of this story?  Jim is a pee-brained idiot.  (And yes, I know I spelled pea-brained wrong, but I was being ironic).

I added an exclamation point to this truism just moments later when Ricky e-mailed me as he boarded his one-hour flight from Rwanda to Uganda to let me know all was well.  My inner Einstein typed back (on my internet-connected computer BECAUSE MY iPHONE HAD BEEN STOLEN) that Shelby and I would see him soon.

“Wait, you just told him I was coming with you to the airport?” she sadly asked.

See?  I am an idiot.

I am also unspeakably cruel.

In an effort to make up for my spoiling the surprise, I had Shelby hide while I greeted Ricky and the other intern from Rwanda after they landed.  Ricky gave me a hug, even as his eyes skipped and darted around and among the other airport greeters.

“Did you get my e-mail about Shelby coming?” I asked.

“Yes, just now,” he said with a blossoming smile.  “Where is she?”

“Sorry, Ricky, I was just kidding,” I said with an even bigger smile.  “She’s back at the hotel waiting for you.  That was mean, wasn’t it?”

“Are you serious?  She’s not really here?” He looked like a kid whose puppy had just been snatched up by an owl.

“Actually, she is here, but she is hiding,” I said, as I pointed to where she had been earlier.  Only she wasn’t there, she had moved a bit and was still not visible.

“Where?” he asked frantically.

When I didn’t see her, I plumbed the depths of depravity even deeper by saying, “Just kidding, she’s not really here.  Got you!”

I thought he was going to hit me, but Shelby thankfully jumped out and hugged him, thus saving me what would have been a well-earned bloody nose.

A few minutes later, Joline arrived with lawyers Aaron Echols (Dallas-based Pepperdine Law grad whose wedding I was honored to perform), Austin Watkins (Nashville-based Pepperdine Law grad who lived in my house when I lived in Uganda in 2012), Mike DiReda (Utah judge with whom I graduated from Pepperdine in 1993), Brad Siegel (Los Angeles Public Defender who has helped host several delegations of Ugandan and Guatemalan judicial officials on SoCal study tours), Darren Gardner (DC-based Kirkland & Ellis associate I met during the Divine Collision and REMAND tour earlier this year when we showed REMAND at Kirkland’s DC office), Brian Serr (Baylor Criminal Law Professor I also met on the Divine Collision tour), Jon Wood (Ohio-based corporate lawyer who roomed with one of my Pepperdine colleagues while in law school), and Avery Wood (Jon’s daughter who just finished her freshman year at U of Alabama).

Shockingly, nothing was stolen on our ride back to town.

Saturday was a day of shopping and sightseeing by the group.  Joline and I ducked out twice – first to catch up with good friends from Baylor with whom we are exploring and implementing joint global justice projects (more on that in later posts), and second to spend some time with my God son and his family – the Kiryabwires, with whom Joline and I have become quite close over the past six years.

The K Kids

The K Kids

On Sunday morning, thirty-three of us (including four drivers and two armed body guards) piled into a mini-bus, a van, a truck, and an SUV.  The destination was Fort Portal where our one-week prison project would launch the following morning.  For lunch, we stopped at what should be considered one of the eight wonders of the world – a sprawling resort constructed from logs on a ridge overlooking a breathtaking crater lake and valley.  Lunch was great, but the views from Kyaninga Lodge are other-worldly.

Jim and Joline at Kyaninga Lodge

Jim and Joline at Kyaninga Lodge

Prison Project Team

Prison Project Team

That evening, we were joined by 13 Uganda Christian University law students and then broke our group into seven teams to review thirty-one sets of photocopied police and court files we had just received.

The next post will begin with our entry into the Katojo high security adult prison, which was built for 318, but currently houses 1247.  Just over 1,000 of them have no lawyer, no court date, and dwindling hope as the months and years have dripped away.

The African prison rookies sported wide eyes and a tight hold on their computers.  As they soon learned, however, the roller coaster they were boarding required them to hold on more tightly to their emotions and to their conception of reality.

More soon.

2 replies
  1. Kris Gash
    Kris Gash says:

    Bummer about the iPhone dude. : ( Thanks though, for making me and I am sure many others have a good laugh at your expense (yeah, double entendre). My three kids had fun with Joshua and his buddies today at your parents pool. I hope your trip improves. John’s Asia trip took a bad turn when his back went out yesterday in Singapore. Jerry had to stand in line just to get a whole 12 Advil because it’s apparently a controlled substance there!!!!

  2. Kari Coppinger
    Kari Coppinger says:

    Sounds like you had a bad day losing your phone and then Shelby her purse but that some 1000+ people have a worse day every day. Bless your group as you bring light to the prison this week. And may a new phone be brought your way asap. As for Shelby, well if she had money in any other location, it’s a perfect time to go shopping for a new purse.


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