I was going to let the events of earlier today go by with just the tweets shared from my court experience, but then a group of tweeps threw the #UGBloggers7Days challenge my way and the literadrenaline was let loose.
Since I’m deeply involved in the case I can’t speak about the facts surrounding it, but today I was in the witness stand of a courtroom for the first time in my life, thanks to a lawsuit brought against MTN Uganda andSMS Media Uganda by former Mayor and almost-Minister Al-hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.
Briefly, Sebaggala claims that the two made a ringtone out of his speech and have raked in billions of Uganda shillings, infringing on a copyright that belongs to him.
Legalities aside, why are we NOT spending more time hanging around court rooms for our general entertainment?
The curtain-raiser was seeing this massive maroon Uganda Prisons bus sidle alongside me and try to squeeze into the queue entering the commercial court, the way Kampala drivers tend to do as if the cars are just an extension of their bellies.
After realising that the bus wouldn’t fit, the driver drove on a little bit and parked by the side of the road to let the following alight:
It took me a couple of seconds to understand what I was seeing, and by that time she was walking right past me and all I could snap was:
#BadBlack, I tweeted.
“Maybe #BadBrown!” someone replied.
Everyone at the Commercial Court was a comedian, for some reason – even the askaris who exchanged looks, comments and giggles as she walked past. In fact, #BadB herself was joking with that blouse matching her skin complexion.
The bus driver had started it all, though, having driven an entire damn bus all the way from Luzira just to drop this one prisoner with her guard.
Inside our court room, the opportunities for laughter were countless – even before we saw the playback of Seeya’s famous video recording (find that here or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmJ7AzBQB7c).
I doffed my hat off to the judge for not guffawing out loud as most other people did throughout the day, even though his face broke up more often than not.
At one point I mentioned that I had offered Sebaggala’s team refreshments when they came to SMS Media offices, to which his lawyer responded, “…you say you gave them groceries…”
“No, my Lord, refreshments. NOT groceries!” I quickly corrected the fellow, lest the court record indicated that I had attempted to bribe Seeya with some shopping items…
Then, at another point the same lawyer asked, at a very unnecessary (to me) point: “The content was the same but the codes were different. By different, what do you mean? What do you mean they were different?”
“Er…they were not the same.”
“They were different?”
“What do you mean?”
I turned to the judge for help, but realised I could try one more time with, “They were not the same.”
He appeared to finally get it.
Drawing to the end of an entertaining cross-examination, the second lawyer said quite distinctly at one point, “You claim you got the recording and created an altercation which you call a CRBT…”
“I did not!”
“Yes, you did. You made an altercation out of the recording!”
“Surely not an altercation, my Lord!” I interjected, again.
The lawyer, however, was off on a tangent and not to be interrupted, so he went on for a bit while the rest of us tried to work out what chaos the ringtone had caused, besides this outburst…
“…an alteration, you mean?”
As did everybody else in the room – including Seeya himself.
Would that all court appearances were this amusing; or that I were being paid to attend them…
Today’s helping came from my regular supplier, Bruno.
He has a humble soul to match the sharpness of his intelligence, and his comedic value far outweighs the irritation that accompanies it.
I don’t use him every day, but sometimes find myself ceding on-road vehicle management to him.
Part of his usefulness is in ensuring that vehicle parts are not popped off the vehicle while it is parked, and that valuables and other not-so-valuables do not disappear from the vehicle when my wife and I are absent.
As he dropped me at the Jubilee Insurance Centre on Parliamentary Avenue, I gave him the usual life-or-death reminder regarding my laptop: “Do not let it out of your sight. Do not leave it in the car. Do not let it get stolen.” twice in English, and twice in Luganda.
I pointed at the bag. I made him turn back to look at the bag. Then I made him look at me to see how serious I was, as usual, about this issue.
“Now go to the Parking Lot and please wait for me there. I will tell you when I am done with the meeting,” I said, and left after he had confirmed comprehension – which never really means much.
Two hours later, my meeting over and done with, I switched my phone on as I was walking out and saw an SMS indicating that Bruno had tried to call me not fifteen minutes earlier.
I felt a sense of dread come over me. The only reason he would be calling would be to tell me he had changed his location or to report an issue.
You would only understand the depth of my fear if you knew the full story of Bruno and his absolute inability to give or follow directions (which you might hear about later on). This shortfall makes it almost impossible to do anything with him if you are not physically in the same place.
But the next three minutes confirmed that he is improving.
I called him back praying that he had not been sent anywhere else or gotten lost between the front of the building and the Parking Lot.
“You tried to call me?”
Silence as I waited for him to tell me why he had tried to call me.
Silence as he waited for me to tell him (again) why I had called him.
“Yeah, Bruno. What is it? Why had you called?”
“Sir,” he said, “I had called to tell you madame sent me to fix the tyre.”
“Okay,” I replied, afraid that he was now probably in Entebbe or Mityana, trying to fix the tyre, “So where are you?”
*Here it is*
And he said: “Shell.”
Pause, at this point, and appreciate that where I was standing, on Parliamentary Avenue, smack in the centre of Kampala, being told that he was at ‘Shell’ was as descriptive as any other word in the english language at that point. Among words he could have said and been equally informative were: ‘Chicken’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Bricks’, ‘Cement’…and even places such as, ’Take-away’, ‘Restaurant’, ‘Hotel’, and so on and so forth.
But I picked out the silver lining in my situation as I stood in the hot sun working out which ’Shell’ he was probably at and worked up the courage to pursue a line of questioning for more details:
You see, just a month ago, Bruno always answered the question, “Where are you?” with the precise and prompt response: “Here!”
I always planned that when I found myself down in the dumps I would call him up with this question so he lightens the mood.
He had improved from “Here” to, at least, saying the name of the place.
So, calculating that the nearest Shell to where we were was probably the one above Grand Imperial Hotel, I hurriedly started my climb uphill and continued my line of questioning, but first by ascertaining that my bag was still safe.
“Do you have my bag, Bruno? Are you watching it?”
He had been waiting for this question, I could tell from the glee with which he answered: “Yes, sir! I am having your bag with me!”
Great! I slowed my pace down a little bit at that news, which was a little lucky because then I asked him which Shell petrol station he was at exactly and he answered:
*I am not making this story up. You may wish to meet Bruno and spend a little time with him if you want to verify his general embeera (the way he be’s).
“Bruno! Which Shell?!”
I stopped in my tracks.
“Total,” he said, “Opposite Uganda House.”
IN dealing with the countless frustrations that come with supervising work of any kind in this town, or understanding what one reads in newspapers, sees on television or hears on radio, I draw on the words of one of my wife’s former co-workers.
This employee, whose name I have never been interested in storing to memory, was a constant source of angst for my wife because he held a university degree, appeared to have lived in the city for a considerable period of time, and was an adult. Yet in spite of these three straightforward factors, he consistently made errors that she would have found irritating, incomprehensible and irrational even in a child.
It was only in the most extreme of circumstances that she failed to restrain herself and it was after one of those that I picked up the phrase, “Don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”
His statement to her at that time went something like, “Madame, we might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”
Of course, this guy presents no threat whatsoever to Jesus Christ, Confucious or Sun-Tzu regarding their positions on the list of most quoted wise sayings.
But he is on my list because he spoke a very prominent truth in this society, even though it is ridiculous. The idea that one can ‘understand’ something wrongly is so mind-boggling that it must be true (see paragraph one above).
His eruption, by the way, was a result of my wife lambasting him for yet again being difficult (it would be impolite to say “stupid”).
You see, he had addressed an envelope wrongly.
Not by writing the wrong name or address on it, but by addressing it wrongly in all other ways: He had picked it up, presumably, placed it upside down on the table, flipped it somehow so the open end was facing him, and then written the name and address on the back. Yes – the side where the flap closes over. Yes – upside down, moreover, but I still don’t want to use the word “stupid”.
And, apparently, whereas along the way in his thirty plus years on earth he had probably been told how to address envelopes, he believed he had not understood how to do it the same way everyone else in the world did.
In the past, my ignorance of this fact about how we understand things differently had led me to agonise greatly whenever I issued instructions such as “Please wash that car” or “Clean this room” and returned to find no evidence of said instructions having been heard or followed.
Ever since I heard what my wife’s colleague had said I had undergone an education and re-oriented my thinking. I had my own understanding of the instruction “clean” and the cleaner had his. Why had I not thought of this before? I would have saved myself countless headaches and litres of bile building up at the back of my throat!
And so last weekend, I found myself happily sharing that small pearl of wisdom with a poor man who was beside himself with anger at an electrician, a team of builders, and a TV repair man.
All three had made promises to be in position early one morning fixing very visible problems ahead of Easter celebrations, and none had shown up by the time breakfast was done.
It had been wrong to assume that they had understood the concepts of “being there” or “first thing in the morning” or, indeed, time in general.
Then, three days later, my wife went back to her clinic to collect the results of a set of some rather serious medical tests (as opposed to the casual, jocular by-the-way tests, I suppose) and was told with a small chuckle that there were none.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Sorry, madam,” she was told, by a clinical employee who recalled her so well from her visit just a couple of days prior, “They didn’t do the tests.”
Refusing to believe that this employee knew immediately that the tests had not been done, without having to check with any laboratory official, or doctor, or even pretending to consult a file or computer app, she persisted with her query.
“Madame, they didn’t do the tests. The doctor didn’t order for them,” said the employee, continuing without much prompting, “Yes, he called and told the lab but he didn’t follow-up so they threw the samples away.”
“Without doing the tests?!!!”
During a very long #eish moment, my wife thought up a couple of questions such as: 1. Why didn’t the laboratory follow-up with the doctor so they could do the damn tests he had ordered by telephone? 2. Why didn’t the laboratory take action as soon as they realised that the doctor had not put his request in writing? 3. Wasn’t clinic bureaucracy going to affect her health, because how was she going to get the right treatment without a proper diagnosis of her situation? 4. What (the heck) do we do now?
The clinic staffer had responses for all three respectively: 1. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 2. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 3. Well, yes… 4. Please come in and take the tests again.
To which she pointed out that the tests would probably not make sense now because the situation she was in when she came in to do them was very different.
“Yes,” said the clinic staff, “they would probably be useless.”
Another #eish moment ensued.
We might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood them in the same way.