Thursday, July 8, 2010

Students on the way!!

Two Park University students, Andria Enns and Keith Taylor, are stepping on a plane as we speak, and are on their way to Uganda. Once here, they'll sit in/assist at my first two peace journalism seminars. The first is in Fort Portal, and the second is in Gulu, in northern Uganda. We'll also have some fun at Queen Elizabeth national park. Stay tuned for updates about their activities.

NEW--Video blog

Click here
to see the first of many video blogs about my Ugandan experiences.

Semimars start July 12

The first of 24 (!) Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism seminars around Uganda will take place starting Monday in Fort Portal, in western Uganda. It looks like everything is planned out and ready to go, thanks in no small part to my smart, dedicated assistant Gloria.

Getting, and giving, the boot

From the Parkville Luminary


KAMPALA, UGANDA—As I reluctantly climbed abroad the boda-boda (a small motorcycle/motorbike), my knees were literally shaking so bad that I thought I’d fall off the bike before the driver even started moving. As the boda-boda began to accelerate, I put my arms around the driver’s waist, and yes, he and I spooned. I was too terrified to even ponder the homo-erotic ramifications.

How did I end up on a boda-boda?

This ugly tale begins several hours earlier when I got ambitious, and decided to take my new aircraft-carrier sized SUV downtown to a great coffee shop called 1000 Cups. I was proud of myself as I wheeled through traffic on the left hand side, with no wrong turns, and steered into a good parking space along the road.

I enjoyed a good cup of African tea (similar to the milk-based masala tea) and a meaty slice of pumpkin bread, and took my time perusing newspapers and listening to what sounded like Aretha Franklin on the stereo.

After about an hour, I left the coffee shop, and decided to take a walk around the downtown area. As I walked past my car, I noticed something amiss. My left rear tire was fitted with a boot (called a club here)—a heavy metal device that can’t be removed from your car. A boot always means you’re in trouble with the parking cops. Upset, I tried to call three different Ugandan friends for assistance, but was unable to reach them. So, I talked to the boda-boda drivers lounging nearby, and asked them what happened to my car. They said that I got a ticket for not paying to park on the street. Of course, I didn’t know you had to pay—there were no signs, meters, or attendants who I could see. I’ve since learned street parking costs about 25-cents.

Anyway, when the meter maid ran my plates, I guess the computer lit up the way a slot machine goes berserk when a lucky player hits a bountiful jackpot. As my plates came up on the screen, I imagine steam whistles tooting gleefully and bureaucrats high-fiving at parking headquarters. It seems that my car had registered a prodigious 34 unpaid parking violations. Remember, I bought the car just a week ago, so none of these violations were mine, save for the fresh one that I just received. Yes, the *&%hole who sold me the car also sold me 34 unpaid parking tickets.

So here I was, in the middle of Kampala, unable to reach help, staring at my booted car. Taking matters into my own hands, I got directions to the parking office about a mile and a half away, and hoofed it there. When I arrived, I was shocked to learn about not only the ridiculous number of unpaid violations, but the cost of clearing things up and getting the boot removed. A polite clerk told me it would cost 103,000 shillings—about $45. That doesn’t seem like much to us, but believe me when I say that, for Uganda, this is a king’s ransom in unpaid parking tickets.

Naturally, I did not have 103,000 shillings on me. My ATM card was also at my apartment. So, not seeing any taxis around, I hailed a boda-boda, and told the driver to head for Kololo, the Kampala district where I live. I was nervous not only because I’d never been on a motorcycle before, but mostly because Kampala’s boda-boda’s are notoriously unsafe. Indeed, boda-boda “chauffeurs” usually drive like maniacs, zipping in and out of traffic, cutting off cars, etc. Many Ugandans have told me that the hospitals are full of boda-boda accident victims, and I believe it.

I picked out a driver with a helmet, thinking that at least he might be predisposed to driving safely. As we started out, I told him that I would pay him extra if he went slowly. He took me literally, and went about half as fast as he normally would have, thank God. The driver was very safe as we went to my apartment and back to the parking office to pay the tickets and get the boot removed. My knees stopped shaking after a few minutes on the boda-boda, but I kept hitting my glasses on the back of his helmet. As I said, we were spooning.

I believe that fate allowed me to survive this ordeal so that I might hunt down the former owner of my car like the dog that he is and apply my own boot to a sensitive part of his anatomy. Then, I’ll collect my 103,000 shillings.

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