30 Dec 2024 From a 2023 Perspective
So, where do we begin? It’s always a challenge, attempting to capture the magic and splendor of the year while shedding light on the more mundane moments of life. The end of the year is always a time of mixed emotions. It offers the promise of a new year filled with opportunities, the joy of Christmas holidays, candid reflections on the closing year, and the optimism that comes with the dawn of a new one. Yet, for some, it serves as a reminder of the loved ones that have passed on and the opportunities lost. Before I get into those intricacies, let me start by congratulating you upon navigating through another 365 days, filled with lessons and growth. Yes, you! You may have closed certain chapters, found meaning and purpose, bid farewell to that job, started or ended relationships, ignited some fires, and extinguished others. In the immortal words of Adele, ‘We could have had it all’.
2023 held significant meaning for me. It is the year I reunited with my family and loved ones, completed my Fulbright Award, explored various parts of the United States, and eventually, returned home to Uganda. These experiences have profoundly shaped me, providing a deeper appreciation of the diverse shades of life. I write about these experiences in this blog and I hope you can endure another detailed year-end recap. Buckle up!
Chapter I (Exploring America)
At the beginning of the year, I found myself in Ann Arbor, Michigan-United States. The daily call of winter gloom was hard to miss, and the biting cold became a constant companion as I pushed through deadlines and assignments for my program and fellowship. While I had encountered snow during my time in Oxford, it was nothing compared to the magnitude of the winter I experienced in Michigan. In Oxford, the snowfall lasted barely four hours in one morning. This virgin experience of snow turned out to be underwhelming—it barely covered the ground, and I could still see the grass in the college quadrangle. Dissatisfied with this fleeting encounter, I yearned for more snow. It felt as though a part of my U.K. visa conditions had promised me a snow-filled experience. Instead, Oxford greeted me with constant rain throughout the winter days, shattering my hopes of capturing a picturesque snowman scene to send to my mother and siblings in Uganda.
No amount of warnings could have prepared me for the Michigan Winter. Numerous emails and reminders from the Law School, friends, and church members emphasized the importance of stocking up on winter clothing. One of my mentors even said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.
The chill in Michigan persisted, and with the onset of winter, the once beautiful snow turned into a real problem. While snow may be aesthetically pleasing from a distance or on a YouTube vlog, navigating through 11 inches of it was a nightmare. I found myself layering up, often wearing nearly three layers of clothes, topped with a heavy winter jacket and massive boots. Rushing to class became a battle against the elements; the biting wind would sweep heavy snow into my face, covering my glasses, My boots were frequently encased in a white, watery substance that resembled snow. Walking through this winter wonderland demanded extra caution. Underneath the seemingly innocent snow, treacherous patches of ice lurked, threatening slips and falls. Every step became a careful dance to avoid hidden hazards beneath the snow because I wasn’t Princess Elsa.
Even during a snowstorms, classes continued without interruption. The romanticized snow experience I had yearned for, as portrayed in movies, took a harsh turn. Winter, unlike the vibrant summer I had experienced earlier, brought about a stark contrast—fewer to no outdoor events, no football matches, and most people retreated to the warmth of their rooms. The Michigan cold nibbled away fragments of me. In the absence of lively outdoor activities, homesickness hit me like never before. I longed for the warmth and familiarity of home, specifically a temperate evening with Uganda Rolex in hand. What would I have given for that!
2023 swept by in a whirlwind. My Google calendar was packed with many academic, professional, and social events, leaving little room for spontaneity. Every day was meticulously planned, and adhering to my schedule was important. The year took me on several journeys across the diverse landscapes of America, from the bustling streets of Washington D.C. to the vibrant cities of Chicago, Tennessee, and even Topeka, Kansas. Among these travels, my visit to Washington D.C. stands out as the most memorable.
As an avid reader of history, exploring Washington D.C. was an incredibly fulfilling and enriching experience. The colossal concrete buildings, reminiscent of ancient Greek architecture, served as imposing symbols of power. Bold and daring in their beauty, they made a lasting impression. Washington revealed itself as a true metropolis.The primary reason for my visit to D.C. was the Salzburg Cutler Fellowship conference. While I won’t delve into the details extensively here, as this isn’t a LinkedIn post, I’ll provide a brief overview. The Fellowship was established to honor the legacy of the renowned “super lawyer” Lloyd N. Cutler, acknowledged by The New York Times as a “Counselor to Presidents” and one of the founders of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale, leading international law firm).
The essence of the Fellowship was to bring together outstanding students from America’s leading law schools. The overarching message encouraged us to be entrepreneurs in our own careers, to negotiate our terms, and to fearlessly explore less traveled paths, all while remaining focused on solving the problems in our respective spheres. The seminar proved invaluable, offering a gauntlet of wisdom from accomplished professionals and leaders. It was a transformative experience that not only enriched my understanding but also provided career guidance.
During my time in the Capital, I had the opportunity to visit numerous American historical places, including the White House, the United States Supreme Court, the Congress and the Department of the Treasury, among others; these immersed me within the captivating stories from the annals of history. The narratives painted vivid pictures of the past. To add a personal touch to the experience, I enjoyed dinner and met up with fellow Ugandan colleagues in D.C., creating a connection that bridged the gap between home and the vast expanse of America.
My crowning achievement in 2023 was completing my Fulbright Scholarship. For my graduation, I was joined by a close friend’s family from Illinois, who had graciously hosted me for Christmas in their wonderful home in Urbana-Champaign. Despite the challenges of a demanding academic year filled with numerous writing assignments, it felt like a full-circle experience. One of my fondest memories revolves around attending football games at the Big House. In America, football is more than a sport; it’s a cultural phenomenon. From the spirited marching band and cheerleading to the week-long hype leading up to the game and the vibrant tailgate parties, the experience was immense. My stay in the United States was enriched by incredible people, including those from my local church, classmates, professors, and colleagues I connected with through the Ugandan community.
Chapter II (Home Sweet Home)
I returned to Uganda as the year approached its last quarter, reminiscent of my position in 2020 when I came back from the United Kingdom. This time, I was theoretically more prepared, armed with a list of gifts for family and close friends. While unspoken, there’s a “serious” expectation that international travelers bring back something for their family—it’s a tangible tradition, even for those on a student budget. Having purchased most items weeks before my journey, my travel logistics were well sorted, and I felt well-prepared.
At the Detroit airport, I checked in my luggage and, upon seeing my flight number, I grabbed my handbag and headed to the boarding gate. The journey took us through the Netherlands, down to Rwanda, and back up to Entebbe. The stark contrast from the size and development of the airports from Detroit to Entebbe is the perfect illustration of how far apart countries can be. At the airport, my brother and friend, Daniel, eagerly awaited my arrival. It felt wonderful to be back HOME. My first decision upon arrival was whether to take the northern bypass express route or directly through Kampala. I had seen videos of Uganda’s elite “flying ninjas” jumping and robbing cars along the Express route. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to brave that particular course.
My initial excitement about being back home was short-lived, overshadowed by lingering questions about what lay ahead. Settling back into life after an extended stay in another country proved to be a challenging transition. It took a couple of weeks for me to readjust to Uganda, especially as I reconnected with close family and friends. Additionally, I caught up on my trial cases, only to confirm my skepticism that litigation in Uganda is not as fast-paced as in other places. A case I had left a year earlier had not even been scheduled for a hearing. The Ugandan justice system moves at a slower pace than most. As the year progressed, I began exploring career-defining opportunities. This involved resuming a part time teaching role at my alma mater and practicing law in Uganda.
My experiences in Uganda, the United Kingdom, and during my Fulbright journey in the United States were remarkably diverse. Having had the opportunity to travel across three continents, I feel fortunate for the insights gained. This year, I delved into the intricacies of American culture, as detailed in my blog post about the American promise (accessible here). The enormity of the United States was evident in everything, as I had been told – from the expansive streets, to the preference for driving huge pickups commonly referred to as trucks. The public transport system, however, proved to be less than satisfactory for me.
During a train journey from Michigan to Chicago, I encountered disruptions, with the train being canceled more than twice. Faced with uncertainty, I ended up paying for both a bus and train, unsure if either would operate. To add to the challenge, I’m still awaiting a refund for the canceled trips. This experience sharply differed with my time in the U.K., where the train system, at the time, operated efficiently. On a positive note, the legal training I underwent in the U.S. was enriching, and interacting with American JD students in the law school and other departments provided valuable insights. However, I also had to adapt to the mandatory tipping culture in the U.S., which was a notable difference from my experiences elsewhere. Let’s just say in Uganda, I have adjusted back to factory settings.
Chapter III- (Reflections)
Life has proven to be an ongoing learning curve, marked by each birthday ticked off, cycle, event, and even the challenges encountered along the way. With every passing year, knowledge has emerged, shaping my understanding of the world. As I anticipate the coming year, I find comfort in the notion that it is merely an expected progression, an opportunity for additional learning.
In this journey, we absorb lessons from every experience, and with each lesson, we evolve, making different decisions based on our past outcomes. Above all, I find solace in the belief that God guides our steps, providing a source of strength and wisdom throughout the twists and turns of life.
As the year draws to a close, my reflections and time spent with my family are moments of gratitude. This year, I am fortunate to be with my loved ones, acknowledging The privilege of such moments. Yet, in the midst of my blessings, I can’t help but think of those unable to share this time with their families and friends. Every Christmas brings a poignant remembrance of my friend, Sam, whose absence is deeply felt. His presence radiated with the vibrant hues of life in all its beauty. I reflect on how different things would be if he were still here, his infectious joy noticeably absent at every turn. The void created by his departure raises questions about moving forward. How do we navigate such gaps in our lives? The answer, perhaps, lies in the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.
As I consider the loss of my friend, I am aware that this year has brought about various losses for many – opportunities, connections with family and friends, and more. Life, with its unpredictable nature, throws both challenges and blessings our way. In recognizing our experiences, whether positive or negative, let us acknowledge the intricate tapestry of life.
I write this blog not just as a reflection but as a wish for a Happy New Year. Let us collectively reflect on the year that has passed, embracing both its trials and triumphs. Life may present us with unexpected twists, but I hold hope that 2024 will be a year of healing and positive transformations. I am excited about what it may hold, and I believe that, despite challenges, we have the resilience to face whatever comes our way.
And yes, in the spirit of optimism, “We can have it all”. Cheers to a brighter and more fulfilling year ahead!
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are opinions of the author and do not reflect those of any institutions or organizations mentioned.