I have touched down once again in Uganda after a 28 hour trip through several changes and stops. For the first time, my plane stopped in Kigali, Rwanda, but, alas, we were not allowed off the plane; I don’t think that 60 minutes on the ground inside the plane qualifies me to say I’ve been to Rwanda now. From there, it was just a short hop into Entebbe, Uganda. I finally arrived at my overnight hotel well after midnight.

My driver picked me up Thursday morning and we began the laborious journey through the endless traffic jams of Kampala, the capitol city. The most unusual cultural experience of the day was traveling behind a Ugandan hearse for a number of miles. This was unusual in that it was the old style – and now illegal, I am told – Ugandan hearse, not the modern-style hearse that we are familiar with in the West.

This “old style” is a makeshift affair that is more affordable to the typical family who need to transport a deceased loved one between cities or communities prior to burial. What they do is strap a board across the handlebars of a motorcycle – or boda boda as the cycle taxi’s are referred to here. Then they wrap the body in a tight wrapping, much like the shroud of Bible times, and strap it to the board. When they are ready to go, the driver heads off through traffic with what is very obviously a body balanced precariously in front of him.

I am told that sometimes the driver will not use a board, but simply seat the body as if it is a passenger, strap it in place, and carry it to its destination like any other customer. In either case, though, I admit it is disconcerting to travel behind such an arrangement along the highway. In my case, the shrouded head extended to the right of the driver and the feet to the left as it lay across his handlebars.

The government has outlawed this practice as it adjusts to a more modern approach to such things, but the culture, as everywhere, lags behind legislation. And, of course, as everywhere, actual practice is more driven by economy than legislation. A counterpart in the U.S. is Obamacare, where medical insurance is now legislated, but even so, many still cannot afford it and so do not have it, even though it’s technically required by law.

From this and similar experiences, I observe that Africans, sadly, remain on more intimate terms with the Grim Reaper, and he visits them more frequently, and life is more fragile here than in the U.S. It is good to be reminded of that on my first day back among these wonderful people I have come to love.

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