Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ordinary Lives of What?...Ugandans

Finally, I am able to write an entry for you. I have had quite a bit of challenges with internet on this trip and had a tragic turn with my computer. Let's just say the lesson here is to not give Ugandan IT (especially at hotels or guest houses) your computer even if it is just to troubleshoot a wireless connection. Fortunately, I have my files intact even if I cannot access them.

You may be wondering at the title of this post. The title comes from the Ugandan way of using the word "What" in their sentences. They ask the question and then answer:

"We need to go to What? the market, to buy some What? mutoke"

It can be used in any What? context. It is really interesting to hear and it is such a part of their conversations that I not sure they are even aware of it and how different it sounds to foreigners.

Well, this is my second trip to Uganda this year. I always find the second or third time around that a country feels more familiar like you are visiting a cousin or grandparent. The people feel like old friends. I start to interact with the local culture and do what "the Romans do" per se. People open themselves more to you and you do become a little more apart of their world.
I did a number of interesting activities that was not part of the ususal tourist's itinerary. One such activity was attending a pantomime. This comes from the English and involves taking a children's story, adapting it to local context, parodying it and having community actors perform it. The cast include both Ugandans and ex-pats (expatriate--one who has taken up residence in a foreign land). Audience participation and commentary is integral. It was quite hilarious with the male lead role played by a woman and the female lead role played by a man. The one I attended was "Robin Hood". It is becoming a tradition with my old graduate advisor and her family. She moved her family (husband and 4 boys) to Uganda and is head of research at the Infectious Disease Institute in Kampala. It is a small world because I see her more working in Uganda then I did in the states. In addition to the pantomime, I went with one of my collaborators to a special church service that was geared to women. It was a speaker from the states and the church was huge with about 6000 members for that location. From what I gather it had been a presence in the area for 25 years. The pastor is white but the majority of the staff, ministers, and congregation is Ugandan. The speaker was Lisa Bevere. What I gathered was the following:

  • It is not what you inherit but what you leave behind--your legacy
  • Marriage does not add or subtract years from a woman's life, but it adds 10 years to a man's life; therefore, a woman should be very choosy in which man she gives an extra 10 years.
  • Anything a man gives a woman, she will multiply it.
  • Women hold a great deal of influence and power
As you can see it was quite uplifting. Other notes that caused me to pause was how Ugandans use their heads and their bikes. So much is transported on the head, which you will find in many African countries, including wood, bowls, water jugs, luggage. Often times you see a woman with a baby on her back and some substantial item on her head and in her hand. Their use of bikes is even more extraordinary. You will see mattresses, large rice bags, bricks, two or three persons, furniture. Think about it and it can be transported on a bike. I even saw another bike being transported on the utiliatarian bike. During a visit to a rural area where some of the study activities occured, I learned a lot about Ugandan culture:

One thing is that women kneel when they greet someone whether a man or another women. The younger always kneels to the elder of the two. A woman will sit lower than her husband.

When you go to someone's house no matter how small the means of the family they will provide you some food and drink. We were given ground nuts, like peanuts, and jack fruit during our visit.

A household is based on where you eat your meals and who you eat your meals with. A South African teacher living in Uganda told me that it is bad practice to walk and eat. Ugandans consider this very very rude and will tell you so--which is quite out of character. Ugandans are quite agreeable and really patient considering the traffic and chaotic driving environment they must endure--I wasn't even driving and had road rage.

If you provide a good justification or act like you did not know, you can get away with certain laws including property taxes. I stayed at Mums Hotel which was nice but was still having significant construction going on. We were told that it may be a hotel, or a school or a residence. The owner wasn't "sure", so that if, and this is a big if, a government official came to check than they could not say it was definitely a hotel and subject to tax. He can probably get away with this for years. This approach can go for quite a number of things. One can talk themselves out of a ticket, carrying alcohol, or any infarction. You just need an excuse. A main staple of there diet is mutoke which is green banana. They boil it and make a type of mashed dish served with everything.

    Many of the people in the villages subsist on farming the land. They wake up very early to tend their crops and then rest in the heat of the day sometimes gathering to play games.

    Traditional garb of Ugandan women. Although most young women wear western clothes, it is a requirement when going to see parents and when considered old.

    Soccer is a popular sport as with many places in the world except the U.S.

    This Muzungu's (any foreigner but initally referred to Europeans) next stop is Mozambique which is a new destination. I am actually writing from there now, so check back in a week for my window into this world. It will be juicy.