It’s very difficult to encapsulate this into a written thing. I don’t know where to begin.
When most people come to Africa for a short term trip and go home, they see materialism as the first thing that’s different in their worldview. I’m sure you can imagine the thoughts. “How can these people be so content with so little when we are so priveleged and have so much?” They get off the plane back into dulles and see the difference all around them. “And people are so ungrateful.” Yeah, I’ve had this experience but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
I think first off, I’ve been put in a lot of unusual situations, having to go into people’s mud huts and treat it like a nice living room or to buy clothes or food from women who spread it out on the market street. That changes the way you see things. But I don’t want to do the take-pictures-of-babies-in-dirt thing and make you sympathetic either. I’ve seen a lot of that, but that creates a stigma of “these people need help.” No, they don’t need help. With their tribe they are perfectly capable of caring for everyone’s needs, it’s just that we think all people should live to the same comfort standard we do and when a human isn’t doing that, they must be unhappy. So when I run past poverty every day, my reaction isn’t “gosh what can I do?” But I would like to spend time with the people.
How about food. The fact is you can’t buy a sandwich in this town. What do you eat? You eat what the locals eat. Rice, beans, banana, watermelon, mango, passion fruit, plantain mash, millet, corn meal, stew, fish, chicken, and goat. Except maybe not the fish, you don’t want to know. Their fast food includes rolexes (chapati bread with egg), somosas (fried triangle meat), and chicken on a stick. You start to realize you’re going to need to live like they live, or else get out of here. Western life isn’t going to work.
How about a developing nation. We as American people are so steeped in our success. We are very successful and have devoted our whole lives to one thing – we are experts, but we also carry an aura around with us. In America, we are somebody. There aren’t too many somebodies here. Most people are glad to have a job and bring home the bananas. There’s no reason for big ego, most have never thought about it. This isn’t to say there isn’t pride or stubborness because there’s plenty of that, but in terms of being known for your job or your skill set, everyone seems to be on an equal playing field except of course politicians. And also the new biker gang that just rolled into town. One bike read “Cash is king, and so is Solomon.” I guess he didn’t read all of 1 Kings.
You don’t see gyms, you don’t see joggers, but you also don’t see obesity and overeating, really. You don’t see big cars or flashy clothing too often, and believe it or not, none of my students had ever seen a McDonalds. A few had heard of it, most had no clue what a hamburger was when I drew it on the board. Had to change it to a salami sandwich. There are still places on the earth mcdonalds hasn’t reached.
Ugandans love to party. You’ll see vans driving down the street with loud music and people blowing whistles. They are intensely social and community driven. They love speeches. They LOVE speeches. They talk all the time and probably way too much, and probably could use some help seeing that actions speak louder than words. Idi Amin said that, and you would have thought they’d figured out he didn’t do it. Nearly once a week I hear the shouts and cheers from some kind of rally in town wafting up to my apartment.
Ugandans depend on each other in great ways. I love this part of tribe culture. It is not unusual for a neighbor to come check on you to say hello for any reason. You should welcome them in immediately. If you don’t hold the handshake for around a minute or make solid eye contact, you’ll be written off as a westerner. In mooreland farms, if a neighbor came up to the door without any food, we’d probably say “yeah, so what do you want?” Family is much more than just your nuclear one. It’s everybody in the neighborhood. But they also share food here, and lunch is the big meal of the day. They are always talking and sharing and want to know how you are.
Bandits. Bandits and night crime seem to be a big deal. It makes you grateful for a police force that takes justice seriously. Also for an ambulance system. If you break down or get hit out in the bush, you’ll be walking to a hospital.
TIA. Ugandans are never on time, and it’s okay because people aren’t all that busy. They sell blackberries in town, but are you kidding me, they don’t need them. Church starts within a thirty minute time block – leaving for a trip could take anywhere up to an hour. It means everything is so laid back, and shops stay open late. Teachers don’t have email. What! How do you communicate? They don’t need it, it all happens in person in the common room. This was probably the biggest adjustment for me. Because of Ugandan time, the days just roll one into another, one sunset after a sunrise.
The mslms seem to be on time though. I hear the prayer caller yelling outside my window now.