Tag Archives | uganda

Photo of the Week: “Waiting for His World to Change”

Waiting in Jail in Uganda

My photo of the week again from the archive on my recent trip.  I took this photo and liked it, but once the color was corrected, it’s power really came through.  This was another boy we met in the prison in northern Uganda.  They just sit and wait all day.  The look on his face captured the pain of waiting, wondering what’s next, and wishing you were back home in school.  The light is from the doorway and I particularly like the way it illuminated its outline on the back wall.  The lighting is what makes the photo.  After our work, the boy has his case dismissed and went home.  I shot the photo with my ultra-wide angle lens.

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Photo of the Week: “Boys Behind Bars”

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I am starting a new blog series, “Photo of the Week,” where I will share a photo from my archive and tell the backstory.  Some may be recent photos and others may be old photos that I’ve rediscovered through new post-production techniques.  Simultaneously, I’ve changed my photography workflow, so I’m going back to revisit and re-master favorites from the archive.  Photos will come from a diverse range of themes, but predominantly a thread I plan to curate, “Images of Justice.”   I’m not a ‘photographer’–those are professionals.  I’m just a lawyer using a camera to tell a story.

“Boy Behind Bars” was shot at a tiny, rural prison in Uganda.  After our juvenile justice work concluded, I went back out for a final visit and brought my camera along.  It’s often too chaotic to shoot when we have 10-15 people visiting out there.  On this trip, it was only three of us, so it was calm and I could capture routine moments of the day.  I spent some time talking to these boys in the jail–many were accused of pretty serious crimes and I was locked in the cell with them for awhile.  We had a good chat and they agreed to let me take their photo.  I wanted a photo of them through the bars with the lock and I got exactly that.  I like the colors and I like the asymmetry of their positions: looking between bars, looking around bars, hands up, hands down, shirt on, shirt off.  Yet, their current conditions are the same.  Both boys were acquitted and/or released after our work.

 

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Five Reasons to Visit Uganda

Yesterday, I was a guest on a radio program talking about our recent juvenile justice work in Africa.  One of the initial questions was about the “perils” of visiting Africa: Is it safe?  Is it a major endeavor?

Life on the outskirts of Gulu

I think most people want to visit Africa at some point in their lives–if not for some humanitarian purpose, then at least to go on safari or see the mountain gorillas.  Africa is indeed an amazing and diverse continent that is not to be missed.  Uganda, in particular, is a great country—I just made my fifth trip this.  If you’re considering a visit to Africa (or you’ve never desired to visit Africa, but might unexpectedly find yourself there one day), it’s a good place to start any journey.  As a matter of fact, Lonely Planet ranked Uganda the #1 travel destination for 2012Rwanda is also at the top of my list–and I recommend seeing both countries on the same trip.  With Rwanda fast-paced development, it’s surpassed some of the “rustic charms” you might expect from Africa.  Kigali feels like a European city–an example of the direction much of Africa is heading.

Here are five good reasons to visit Uganda:

  1. It’s Relatively Safe and Stable – Uganda is relatively.  In the 6 years that I’ve been sending large groups to Uganda, the only incident we had was a stolen laptop once.  I suspect we would be hard pressed to have the same results in Europe.  It’s also relatively stable.  I say relatively because there is the occasional protest—we watch things carefully, but no political situation has yet stopped us from going.  But, if you look around Uganda, it looks like a safehaven.  Congo: basketcase.  Sudan: Basketcase.  Burundi: basketcase.  Kenya: Mixed—as I left Uganda they had terrorism warnings.  The only neighboring country with stability is Rwanda—a personal favorite to visit.
  2. Safaris – Kenya and Tanzania typically get highest marks for safaris in the region.  While I haven’t had the chance to go on safari in either country, the gave drives in Uganda have not left me disappointed.  When I bring groups, we always make the 5 hour drive north to Murchison Falls National Park.  Entering Murchison is like driving into Jurassic Park on red dirt roads through a dense forest.  You finally arrive at the Nile where you have to take a ferry to the delta where the animals make their home.  No trip to Murchison is complete without a boat ride up the Nile to the base of the falls.  If you’ve ever been on Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride, you will feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t real, but some Imagineer’s version of Africa.  I recommend staying at Paraa Lodge—everything you would except from a game lodge.  Then, early in the morning, you rise to go on a game drive.  Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and even—this year I finally saw them—lions.  The only missing animal in Africa’s big 5 is the rhino—they no longer live in the wild in Uganda, but there is a rhino farm if time permits.
  3. Diverse Cultures – Uganda has diversity.  We learned from our work with kids that there are dozens of actively spoken languages and dozens of self-identifying people groups.  Northern Uganda is not like Kampala, and it’s definitely not like Karamoja.  Those who live in the south sometimes can’t understand a word spoken by those from the north—they could easily be different countries!  With so much in such a small country, it makes for an interesting visit that will keep you on your toes.
  4. Adventure – Uganda has a growing adventures tourism industry, with a lot of room for more.  My favorite thing to do in Uganda is go whitewater rafting on the Nile River—some of the world’s best Class 5 rapids.  In addition to rafting, there are the game drives, bungee jumping for those comfortable with local safety inspections, visiting waterfalls, climbing mountains, and, of course, simple travel throughout the country is an adventure in itself.  I would bet that the adventure travel industry sector in Uganda is only getting started.
  5. There’s Even More to Do – Despite visiting five times now, I’ve always got more to do.  I want to climb Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains.  They are fairly serious climbs—no day trip from Kampala.  I learned of some islands in Lake Victoria that I would like to visit one day.  I’ve never been to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari and I still want to visit Karamoja.  I guess I need to go back–several more times.

As Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase remarked mid-way through our recent trip, “I would have never thought about bringing my family on a vacation Africa, but now I wonder why not.”  Try it for yourself–you might be surprised.

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Wrapping Up the Masindi Project

The third and final day of the Masindi Project was busy.  We started at 9 a.m. on Wednesday with most of the team calling final witnesses in for interview.  I went out to the Remand Home with two students, Steve and Megan, for some follow up projects.

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We called the two boys for follow first.  We asked our driver, whom we had just met, if he might be willing to translate for us (since none of us spoke Swahili, Arua, Acholi or any of the various local languages.  He happily agreed to help.

While the interviews began, I took photos and video around the Remand Home.  I haven’t made a documentary film in about two years, so I’m feeling eager for a new project.  I’d like to do something on the remand situation, but I haven’t put much thought into yet.  I also worked with Steve to take photos of the kids that we would print and give to them later.

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Day 2 at Jail for Kids in Africa

We are very busy here. The Remand Home project (jail for kids) in Uganda is moving along quickly with many cases in need of attention. We got on the road early to arrive at the Remand Home and work through several interviews.

The boy's remand building

On my team’s first interview, we called for the kid and about halfway through the interview we realized that another boy with a completely different case had come instead. The case was simple theft of an old wooden door by a boy who needed money to pay for school. The owner of the door saw him take it, retrieved it immediately, and had him caned. Then, on top of that, the owner had the boy arrested and he’s been waiting in jail for several months. The boy just wants to get back to school. You hear a case like this and you shake your head that it came to this.

Our next two cases were (aggravated defilement) rape of girls until 14 by older boys. In both cases, evidence was incredibly thin, but the boys both seemed believable that they had not committed the crime. In one instance, a feud had broken out between two sides of a family. To seek revenge for the boy of one side who had been arrested for stealing money, the other side accused him of defiling their younger daughter. It’s hard to say what really happened and I will be digging into the case file momentarily.

In the final case of defilement, the boy indicated that he might be a neighbor randomly accused. The girl had apparently not come home and her father beat her until she told him with whom she spent the night. She gave the neighbor boy’s name. We also interviewed the boy’s uncle (whom he lives with) who corroborated the story and said he was with him the entire day and they slept in the same room. The seemed so frustrated with the scenario and said, “I’ll just tell them I did it if it means I can go back to school!” Answers like this give me reason to believe he’s telling the truth.

These are just a sampling of the cases with which we’re dealing. Other cases range from death by poisoned insects to witch craft. We run the gamut here.

If you know Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church, I think they’re enjoying their time. Michael is definitely on top of things during the interviews. We’re not on the same team, but occasionally I hear him switch hats from lawyer to pastor and bark out something like, “Okay young man, now you tell me how you’re going to change your behavior around women.”

For those who know Carol Chase, she’s definitely in her element here. The fact patterns we get are better than law exam questions with all sorts of complex procedure and evidentiary problems. It’s criminal law professor’s dream and she’s loving try to solve these complex cases. “I want to come back here and do this again!” she blurted out after we finished today’s round of interviews.

Tomorrow is the final push—we need to get everything wrapped up and filed away. It will be a busy morning.

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Back in Uganda: The Masindi Project 2 is Beginning

I am back in Uganda this week for another installment of the Masindi Project—a juvenile justice initiative Pepperdine conducted in 2010.  On this trip, I’m joined by Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase and Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church.  Michael is a lawyer turned pastor.

The long road back to Kampala

So far, things have been very busy.  We arrived in Uganda late Friday night and slept 3 hours at a hotel before departing to head north.  When I bring groups to Uganda, I like to start the trip with a quick safari over the weekend to get us out, active, and over jet lag.

On top of that, Paraa Safari Lodge is one of my favorite places in the world.  I looks like the kind of lodge that Disney would design, except that it is a real safari lodge!  I also love it’s celebration of African explorers—the walls are covered in paints of Livingstone, Speke, and the great Nile explorers.

The night we arrived at the lodge, we did the Nile cruise.  Again, much like Disney’s jungle boat ride, except that it’s all real.  Along the river banks you see cape buffalo, warthogs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.  It’s calm and relaxing.

Early, early the next morning, we arose for the game drive safari—you head out before sunrise.  I had one mission this time: see lions.  They had eluded me the past two visits.  We drove out quickly, blowing past the elephants and giraffes to try to find the lions early.  Thankfully, we were not disappointed.   A pride was spotted and we tracked them for a while.  We saw 4 or 5 lions up close—within 10 feet at one point.

After the safari, it was back to Masindi—a long 2.5 hour bumpy ride on dirt roads.  We pulled into town about 3 p.m. and checked into the Masindi Hotel, another one of my favorite hotels in Uganda.  It claims to be Uganda’s oldest hotel (built in 1923) and lays claim to being frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his trips to Africa.  I think they even claim he recuperated here after he crashed in an airplane.

We were also joined by all of the Pepperdine Law students and Professor Gash on Sunday night at the Masindi Hotel.  We briefed the team on what to expect the next few days as start the Masindi Project.  By evening, the local legal aid lawyer, Susan, and probation officer, William, arrived at our hotel and brought a few of the available case files.

The boys' remand building

My team will have about 7 or 8 cases.  So far, we have two files.  Both involve teenage boys accused of rape and imprisoned at this jail.  One of the victims was 3 years old, the other was 12.  The file also always thin, so our job is to figure out what happened in build the case for justice to be done.

For the most part, the kids here have been held for 1-2 years, far over the 6 month maximum that you can hold a child under Ugandan law.  A few have even crossed the 2 year mark, which means they arrived soon after I left on the first Masindi Project trip.

We head out to the jail in just a few short hours.  I will keep you posted on how this week transpires.

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My Five Favorite Photos of the Year

2011 was a fun year for photography.  Between new camera equipment and trips to Thailand, Uganda, Rwanda, Peru, and Tahiti, there was plentiful ground for photos.

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Today, I looked back through my archive of the year to revisit what I had taken.  I wanted to select what I felt were my five most iconic of the year.  It was much harder than I expected–the first three were the only completely obvious choices to me.

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Tired of Buying Useless Souvenirs? How I Started Collecting Art.

On a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago, I recall walking through souvenir shops the day before I left.  I didn’t know what to buy.  There was a lot of choose from.  I wanted to bring something home.  But what?  What would I actually put on my shelf?  What wouldn’t end up in a box in the closet??  I walked around for an hour before I settled on a couple small items.  But what was really causing my indecision?  There was no purpose behind my search.

A year later, on a trip to Bangladesh, I met a guy about my age who told me that everywhere he went, he bought a decorative box.  He didn’t know why, he was just collecting something and he collected a small box from every country.  Something about that idea made sense–he wasn’t buying random items, but collecting a theme that had meaning to him.

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Artist at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

My next major trip after that was to Haiti in 2008.  I had read that Haitian art was particularly notable.  Indeed, they had a large art district near the center square in Port-Au-Prince.  Out in front of my hotel (Hotel Montana, which completely collapsed in the earthquake) there was a stand with a couple art dealers.  I walked out one day and negotiated for the piece: $20.  Naturally, it went up on my wall at home immediately.  And I loved it.  It was a reminded me of the places I visited, I had met the artist, and it was a great talking point when people came to visit.

On ever subsequent trip, I try to buy art.  My goal is to one-day have a house full of unique art from around the world that reminds me of the places I’ve been and people I’ve met.  I never pay more than $20 for a piece and I buy direct from artists–usually in markets.  Often, the basic frame that the piece later goes into costs 3-4 times more than the art itself.  This goal is actually coming to fruition rather quickly–we already have more art than wall space.

I highly recommend this practice of collecting something–if not art, then boxes or handbags or masks or carvings.  Collecting something provides purpose rather than a compulsion to buy a souvenir.  The following is a glimpse into my art collection through my five favorite pieces. Continue Reading →

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Why You Should Adopt a Country

Have you ever thought about “adopting a country”?  Pick one country–or even a city or neighborhood–to be fully committed to.  You network in those circles, learn everything you can about the country, and ask how you can be helpful.

For me, that country is Thailand.  I love it.  It’s a place that changed my life and I keep going back.  there was no agenda behind adopting it, but occasionally the fruits of that friendship begin to bear themselves.

With Thai Consul General Damrong Kraikruan

How?  This weekend, for instance, I was invited to join to the home of LA’s Consul General of Thailand to celebrate the 84th birthday of the King of Thailand.  I was one of the few attendees who was not a diplomat or of the Thai community.

In this post, I’ll share some of the strategies I employed in adopting a country. Continue Reading →

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