The phrase “You are what you eat” apparently dates back to a French doctor who, in 1826, said “Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.” If this is true, then I am a Chick’N’potle Bell. When I got off the 25-hour flight to the United States three weeks ago for a one-week whirlwind trip home, I immediately satiated my desire for American food. I drove straight to Chipotle. It was so good that I craved a cigarette after it was over. (That’s a joke, mom, I haven’t taken up smoking). Over the course of the week, I hit Chick-Fil-A, In-N-Out, and Taco Bell – “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”
The admixture of emotions this week delivered made it one to remember. Seeing my newest nephew for the first time and catching up with two of my sibs would have alone justified the trip. The focus of the trip, however, revolved around fond farewells. I attended at least three send-off gatherings for Tim and Lucy Perrin, as they traded Malibu for Lubbock. Tim was recently appointed President of Lubbock Christian University. For Joline and me, losing our closest friends was bad enough. But losing them to West Texas caused us to question whether our fondness for the Perrins was reciprocated.
At the end of the week, graduation marked the transition date not only for 200 of Pepperdine Law’s finest, but marked the official end of my seven-year stint as a law school administrator. As I read the names of each student and watched them cross the stage into the next chapter of their lives, I wondered what the next chapter of mine would include. I never anticipated coming to Africa; I pray that God has some new surprises in store for my family as the page turns.
I landed back in Kampala late Sunday night, now two weeks ago, eager to greet the ten Pepperdine law students who had arrived two days earlier for their summer internships with members of the Ugandan judiciary. The plan was to connect up with the students first thing on Monday morning and then take them to meet each of the judges for whom they would be working for the next eight weeks. But this is Africa where things seldom go as planned. I have lost about twenty pounds since coming to Uganda, so I was swimming in the two business suits I had brought with me. During my trip to Malibu, I swapped out my “fat suits” for two normal ones in my closet. As I watched the luggage carousel empty out on Sunday night and looked down at my empty luggage trolley, any empty feeling overtook me as I realized that my closet was empty of any clothing remotely appropriate to meet with Ugandan judges because my luggage was still in purgatory.
Fortunately, Shane Michael, one of my former students who is here with me in Kampala, was able to manage the students’ first work day while I waited for a call from the airline. I did arrange, however, to have dinner with the students before I headed to the airport to pick up (i) my tardy suitcases, and (ii) some old and dear friends from my law school days in the early 1990s. Fortunately, all three of my suitcases made it (including the one with lots of chocolate chips and other items requested by my family, the Gregston family, and two Ugandan judges). Additionally, the Alan and Holly Brown family also arrived on time. Alan and I overlapped both at Abilene Christian and at Pepperdine Law, and Joline and I attended a Bible study with them during Alan’s first year of law school. Alan’s father, Dale, recently joined Pepperdine University’s governing Board of Regents, and had connected with Tim Perrin at a baseball game a few months ago. Dale (and Alan’s mom Rita) mentioned to Tim that Alan and Holly were in the process of adopting a Ugandan child and would hopefully be traveling to Uganda to pick him up later in the year. Tim told them about my family being in Uganda. Shortly thereafter, Joline and I reconnected with Alan and Holly. And then the world got smaller.
Within minutes of our Skype call starting, we realized that not only did I know the Browns’ lawyer quite well, but I also knew the Registrar who would be scheduling their hearing date. She had been the Registrar in Masindi during Henry’s earlier trials and tribulations. (This allowed us to quickly move forward with scheduling a hearing that often takes quite a while). We also soon realized that Joline and the kids actually knew the orphan the Browns were adopting. There are reportedly 2.6 million orphans in Uganda, 40,000 of whom are in orphanages. And not only did they know this 2 year-old boy, but they had pictures of him that we sent to Alan and Holly. The orphanage where Moses (Big Mo) was living is run by Africa Renewal Ministries, which is the organization the Gregstons are working with for their medical mission work. As a result, Joline and the kids had accompanied the Gregstons on a prior visit to the orphanage for medical checkups for each of the kids. Since the Browns were new to Uganda, and since the Gregstons had vacated the apartment immediately below us after being burglarized, the Browns decided to move into the vacant apartment.
The Browns’ four kids (Allison – 17, Annie – 14, and AJ and Abby Claire – 12) became fast friends with our three kids. After arriving late Monday night, the Browns spend Tuesday and Wednesday loving on Moses in advance of Thursday’s hearing to determine whether they would be granted legal guardianship of Moses. Even though I have worked quite a bit with a quite a few families, I had never attended a court hearing.
While stressful and tense at times, the hearing went exceedingly well. In addition to the lady who found Moses abandoned near her home and the social worker for the orphanage, the judge called Holly to the stand to testify. He peppered her for about forty minutes about her family, her home, and her motives for seeking to add Moses to the Brown family. At one point, the judge pointedly declared, “so you have come to Africa to visit and you want to bring home a souvenir.” Holly shot back, “We will bring back souvenirs from Africa, but that boy (pointing to Moses) is not a souvenir. He is a precious child of God in need of a family and we will be his family.” She was crying, the rest of the Browns were crying, and I was crying. Almost imperceptibly, the judge nodded and flashed an ever-so-brief-but-completely-satisfied smile. That was the right answer and it was clear he would grant the application. As is the practice in Uganda, the judge scheduled a hearing the following Thursday to announce his ruling.
As we left, the social worker from the orphanage told the Browns that since the hearing had gone so well, he would permit them to pick up Moses the following morning. After dropping Moses off at the orphanage, the Browns decided to have a celebratory dinner on the way home. From the beginning, Alan had decided (with my encouragement) to drive himself while in Uganda. Because Ugandans are allergic to street signs, directions can be tricky and Alan found this out the hard way. A U-turn caught the unwanted attention of a local police officer. After some back and forth and profuse apologies on Alan’s part, the nice man in the police uniform instructed Alan to accompany him to the police station. That’s when Alan called me. I had a nice chat with the nice police officer and did everything I could to convince him to let them go. I told him who I was, what I did, who I knew, and even complimented his excellent police work. He was, indeed, quite nice and seemed to recognize the names I dropped, but gave no indication of whether the call had made any difference.
Joline and I chatted for a second and then decided to drive to where they were to see if we could be helpful. Just as we were pulling out of the driveway, Holly called back and let us know that they had been let go with just a warning. The Italian food the Browns ate that night was extra tasty because it wasn’t the beans and posho they would have been given in jail.
On Friday afternoon (nine days ago), two lawyers (McLane and Christine) from Virginia arrived in Kampala. These two lawyers have represented close to a dozen American families whose legal guardianship cases had gotten tangled in the spokes of the American visa process after the families had been granted legal guardianship over Ugandan orphans. Over the course of the past three months, we have had countless phone calls and exchanged innumerable e-mails as I tried to assist them in navigating the political and legal processes in Uganda in these cases. I had previously hosted a Skype call to introduce them to the Ugandan lawyers who handled the Ugandan side of these legal guardianship cases. At one point, I suggested they come out to Uganda so they could meet directly with the people I was liaising with on their behalf. Soon thereafter, a plan was hatched, tickets were purchased, and meetings were arranged.
On Friday evening, Joline and I had our first Game Night at the Gashes in Kampala. We had a houseful, including eleven Pepperdine law students, one future Pepperdine law student, the Browns, the Gashes, and McLane and Christine. Joline previously posted about this gathering here. Over the course of the next week, McLane and Christine met with the key members of the judiciary, the Ugandan lawyers who handle legal guardianship cases, the head officer at the US Embassy in charge of issuing visas, an important member of the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, the former Ambassador to the United States from Uganda, the lead drafter of the proposed amendments to the law governing legal guardianships and adoptions, the personal assistant to the First Lady of Uganda (who is very involved in adoption issues), and seven families who are currently in Uganda in various stages of their efforts to adopt a Ugandan orphan. I joined them for most, but not all, of these meetings. It was a very busy and successful week.
This same week has been a critical week for the juvenile justice pilot program Shane and I have initiated. Much of what is happening in this regard is happening behind closed doors, so I am unable to provide much detail. I will say, however, that we are exceedingly pleased with how things have gone so far, and I should be able to provide a full summary in the next week to ten days.
As I write this, I am in the passenger seat of a safari van on a dusty, bumpy road in Northern Uganda. Joline, Joshua, Jennifer, and the Browns’ twins (AJ and Abby Claire) are out cold on the seats behind me, having taken Dramamine about an hour ago. Directly in front of me in another van are Alan and Holly, Alan’s parents (Dale and Rita), and Allison, Annie, and Moses Brown. Two days ago, a safari company picked us all up at 6:00 a.m. and we set off for Paraa Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park for two “game drives” and a Nile River Cruise. A couple weeks ago, Dale and Rita invited the Gashes to join the Browns on this trip and have generously covered our expenses! (Jessica and the Gregstons came up separately to go on the same adventure).
Joline will be posting shortly with pictures and a full description of the animals we saw and the things we did, so I won’t extend this already overlong post.
I promise to resume posting on a regular basis, and thanks for reading all the way to this point.