Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dr. Jacob Mbuga Matovu

We said good-bye a few days ago to my good friend, Jacob Matovu. He fought hard the last few years to stay alive, but finally, on Nov. 16, 2013, could fight no longer.

As he lay dying in Watauga Medical Center in Boone, N.C., I am told he had a priest and his family by his side. He was serenaded by the music of Celine Dion and Reba McIntyre.

Not a bad way to go out of this world.

I had visited him a few days earlier in ICU and he squeezed my hand, mumbling "Hello Larry."

Jacob was from Uganda, Africa. He had taught mass communication at Appalachian State University for 25 years before retiring in 2010.

He and I met in the graduate program at the University of Iowa.

Ironic how it works out.

He went to school and I connected with him in cold, snowy Iowa. I reconnected with him several years ago in cold, snowy Boone.

These are some of the things I remember about Jacob:

1. When I arrived in Iowa in 1981, I knew not a soul in the entire state, save for Ken Starck (previously at the University of South Carolina where I earned a master's degree). Ken, always a good friend/colleague, had become director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the UI. It was scary and unsettling being way out there in the Midwest--pretty much all alone with no family. And then I happened upon Jacob. If he could live and work in Iowa--so many thousands of miles away from his family and loved ones in Uganda--so could I!

2. Jacob once presented a research paper on African drums as a form of mass communication. It was part of his work toward his Ph.D. I sat there entranced as he spoke about something I knew absolutely nothing about. (I had heard drums beating in Tarzan movies years earlier, but Jacob definitely expanded my understanding of this vital form of communicating on the African continent.)

3. Jacob loved to eat. He shared many meals with my family in nearby Tennessee. My Dad (who passed away in January 2012) had never met anyone from Africa, and he was especially intrigued by Jacob's stories. Dad knew a bit about the vicious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and he always wanted to know more. Jacob obliged, and Dad loved it.

4. Jacob once took a group of Appalachian State University students with him for a "study abroad" experience in Uganda. He wanted me very much to join the group and teach journalism in his home country, but I declined, saying: "What on earth would they think of a little white man in Uganda?" Jacob's response: "They would love you, Larry."

5. Jacob loved his family, his homeland of Uganda and his church (St. Luke's Episcopal) in Boone. And that's where he was laid to rest last week--just a few feet from the church's main entrance. It was cold and windy that day, but it seemed somehow fitting. I met him in the cold. We buried him in the cold. In the background, maybe a mile or two away, a marching band played merrily. It was "game day" for the ASU football team. My friend from Uganda would have smiled at the incongruency of saying last words over his burial site while the band played on.

Farewell, Jacob Mbuga Matovu. I will never forget you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What happens to our time?

I'm retired now (have been for several months) but life keeps me busy. So where does the time go? A chunk of it is gobbled up by shopping.

I'm talking mainly here about shopping at Walmart. Today, I visited a Walmart in Johnson City, Tenn., and confronted, as I always do, a jam-packed parking lot, exasperated, tired fellow shoppers and long lines at the checkout registers. An aside: Why is it that Walmart has a dozen-plus checkout lanes but only two or three of them are active?

Here's an attempt at documenting what you must do to buy $67 worth of groceries at the big box store. Nothing scientific here; just my personal take, based on my shopping excursion today, on getting what you want done at Walmart.

Step-by-step shopping at Walmart.

1. Get in car
2. Start car
3. Drive to Walmart
4. Find parking space (not always easy)
5. Get out of car and lock it
6. Enter store and get shopping basket
7. Take out your list (if you have one) and traverse the store (can be several blocks of walking), and get your needed items
8. Find checkout lane where line seems manageable
9. Roll your cart into that lane and wait, wait, wait… Read trashy tabloids while you wait.
10. Watch others in line ahead of you slumping and moaning and sighing in frustration, waiting for their turn at the checkout register
11. When it’s your turn, extract your items from shopping basket and put them on checkout line conveyor belt
12. Watch tired, miserable checkout person ring each item up and put in bag(s) for you
13. Scan your debit/credit card
14. Choose debit or credit. If debit, enter your secret code. If credit, sign your name. (I just scribble mine. Who cares how sloppy or neat you are?)
15. Hit “Okay” at bottom of read-out counter where you scanned your card.
16. Get your receipt (and some useless coupons for items you'll never, ever buy.)
17. Smile when tired, miserable checkout person says “Thank you and have a nice day.”
18. Put all your bagged items in shopping cart.
19. Roll/push shopping basket to your car in parking lot.
20. Unlock the car
21. Load all your bagged items into your car.
22. Start car and pull out (carefully), exiting crowded parking lot.
23. Return home.
24. Stop car. You'll inevitably have an urge to hit the bathroom!
25. Unload all your bagged items from shopping trip, and try to assure your barking dog that he'll have your attention very soon.
26. Put stuff you bought on shelves or in cabinets or in the refrigerator or wherever…
27. Sit down and say (like George Bush famously did on that aircraft carrier) “Mission accomplished!”
28. And then, of course, you have to cook or otherwise prepare the food items you purchased, do the clean up and throw away leftovers. Days later, you’ll make YET ANOTHER trip to Walmart and repeat steps 1-27 above. Long as you're breathing, steps 1-27 are repeated over and over and over…