Monday, April 19, 2010

“Normals” of Uganda, Part 2

I started this series a couple of weeks ago, so if you want to read the first part, keep scrolling.

I was standing in line at the bank a few weeks ago and came up with quite a list of “normals” of Uganda. These are things – mostly practices and behaviors, which are considered entirely common and normal here, but would likely be conversely “abnormal” for those of us from the U.S. One of my greatest challenges since arriving here is trying to understand the culture. The longer I am here, the more I realize how different it is from my home environment and culture, the way I was raised and the way I was taught.

The following is meant to be humorous and to help you catch a glimpse of Ugandan life.

Being carried to the boat.

  One of my favorite phrases to repeat here is “Hurry up, and wait.” Time is definitely not as strictly followed here as it is in more developed countries. For instance, this past week I was with friends who were going to catch a boat from the island. The boat was expected to arrive at around 9:30 a.m., but didn’t show until after 10 (mostly because of the morning rain. Rain can delay many things – see the first part of this series for more on that.) The following day, when I wanted to catch the same boat, I arrived around 9:30 a.m. and found the boat ready to leave the shore. I nearly missed it. Another morning I rushed to another camp where the boats are usually pretty punctual. I sat and sat and sat, for an hour as several boats passed by. I finally left on a boat about an hour later. So, you may be rushed to do things, but may also find yourself only having to wait for the thing to actually occur.

“Queues” or “Lines”
  I commented to Amanda yesterday, as we stood in a Jinja restaurant, “That is one thing the Ugandans didn’t learn from the British, is queues (lines).” We were picking up food for a friend and I thought there was some kind of an order of being served at the counter. But as people kept coming in behind us and filling any openings at the front, I realized I was being passed by and needed to be more aggressive in making my order. It seems only in banks, where they have signs and ropes to tell you to form a line, do people here actually seem to make them. For me, who was taught to be courteous from a young age, it is hard for me to think about being pushy and to tolerate those who don’t seem to understand, “first come, first served.” Ah, I guess just more opportunities to learn flexibility and patience. : )

Worship in an island church.

“Church Services”
  If you asked me to describe the Ugandan church services in one word, I would say “joyous.” On the island we know church has begun by the sound of the drums. As we walk closer, we hear singing and shouting coming from within. There is very little, if no sitting during the praise and worship part of the service, but much movement – swaying, clapping, greeting, dancing and even jumping. These are the people’s expressions of joy – joy to be in God’s house, to be in His presence, to be alive and able to praise the awesome God who has given them life. But, it really only makes sense that we should respond to our God with such joy and excitement!

  If you want to get a Ugandan really talking, ask about their favorite football team. This is football as in soccer, not American football. It is the sport of Uganda – others, less “noble,” are left far in the dust. I like soccer and have played a little, but have never really watched much on television, so unfortunately, I can’t contribute much on the topic. A few weeks ago, I was part of a SHIM team visiting two islands further into the lake. Lufu seemed well-organized, even having “streets” and many iron-sheet roofs. However, I was still surprised when I spotted a large satellite dish there. My first thought was “Oh, so they can get television here.” But, I was told that “It is for football.” A satellite dish just for a sport?

“Painted Shoes”
 I was sitting in a bus a couple of months ago and spotted a very interesting site out the window. The bus was parked in an area of business, including the seller of used shoes. The shoes arrived at the seller of various colors, but when offered to the customers, most of them were black. I learned that many shoes are painted because black shoes sell better. Pretty industrious, eh?

My friend Flex holding a cellphone.

  Nearly every Ugandan owns a cell phone. There are few landlines here so the best way to reach anyone is via cell phone. Of course, though, airtime costs you and not everyone can afford to keep enough time on their phone to call and talk to their friends and family. So, they resort to “beeping.” This means you call someone, letting it only ring once or twice, with the expectation that the person you “beeped,” and who you assume has more airtime than you, will call you back so you can talk. This term of “beeping” can also be used when you visit someone for only a short time.

   I don’t have a long list of pet peeves, but there is one that is very near the top of the list – typographical errors - typos for short. I know I am definitely not exempt from making such boo-boos, in fact I invite you to please tell me if you see typos on my blog here. My mom, and former teacher, is good at catching such errors. ; ) Typos are abundant here in Uganda – on signs, on vehicles, in newspapers, in brochures, in school information, etc. – just about anywhere you might look. “Inconvenience,” “receipt,” “welcome” and “compliment” are all commonly misspelled. Having been in the newspaper business and often proofing my fellow writers’ work, I find it often difficult to not let out a cry of anguish when I see such glaring typos. I can make exceptions for the common man, but not for those who claim to have higher education. Ah, well, I guess the world can only be fixed one word at a time. : )

Monday, April 12, 2010

One Step at a Time...

  A Ugandan beauty

 Some encouragement from one of my favorite devotionals, "Streams in the Desert."

 "This is the blessed life - not anxious to see far down the road nor overly concerned about the next step, not eager to choose the path nor weighted down with the heavy responsibilities of the future, but quietly following the Shepherd, one step at a time.

 "God is in every tomorrow,
Therefore I live for today,
Certain of finding at sunrise,
Guidance and strength for my way;
Power for each moment of weakness,
Hope for each moment of pain,
Comfort for every sorrow,
Sunshine and joy after rain."

Source: "Streams in the Desert," pages 32-33.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Normals" in Uganda

Note: The following is meant to be a humorous piece, so please don't feel I am in any way "bashing" the Ugandan culture. It was also written more than a week ago, so the introductory paragraph is a bit outdated.

  As I ran to catch the boat to leave the island this morning, navigating puddles and squishy brown mud, I thought about how what I consider normal here in Uganda, would not be normal for those living in the U.S. So, I thought I would share a few "normals" with you. Enjoy!

 "Public transport" - This can mean cramming into a taxi (like a Volkswagen bus), which says "licensed for 14 passengers" on the side, but can really hold about 21 people, plus bags and maybe a couple of chickens. "Public transport" can also mean riding in a large wooden boat, packed with soda crates, bags of maize (a type of corn) or fish, maybe a live animal or two ( I have at different times ridden with a pig, goat, duck and chickens), luggage and a number of other passengers. It can also mean boarding a large bus and hurtling down a dirt road as you question whether or not the driver has ever had any training and pray you don't tip over in the ditch or crash into an oncoming vehicle, which may be in your "lane."

 "Public behavior" - It is perfectly normal to pick your nose and to openly breastfeed while in public. However, if you are a woman, you should not show your knees.

Our "toilet" - pit latrine.
  "Trips to the PL" - To use the pit latrine (an outside toilet - it is actually just a hole), it may mean putting on your skirt over your pjs, your raincoat if it is raining, grabbing a handful of toilet paper (which is kept in your bedroom, not the room that houses the toilet), perhaps taking an umbrella, putting on your sandals, going outside, greeting anyone you may encounter, and walking half a block to the toilet. It may also mean meeting various critters while you are in there. The other day I scared a lizard so bad that he fell down the hole. And, this morning a bat flew in and hung right over my head. I just tried to remember that he was probably more scared than I was. : )

        Ants climbing the wall - literally.

  "Ants" - It is quite normal to encounter little sugar ants pretty much anywhere - on your food (just brush them off), on your clothes (just brush them off), in your food (a little protein won't hurt anyone), attacking a crumb or small bit of food left on the table or that has fallen on the floor, and/or ones climbing your walls - literally.

A Ugandan rainstorm.

 "Rain" - Rain can stop almost anything in Uganda. It can delay chores, travel, meetings, etc. It may be just a sprinkle, but sounds so much worse on tin roofs. It is always a good excuse to stay inside and do quiet work. : )

 "Greetings" - It is very normal and expected to greet nearly everyone you meet on the island or the village, whether you know them or not. This also usually means stopping - stop walking, stop working, etc. - to talk to the person. As an American, I have to make myself think about this and stop. To rush by or not take the time to talk is very rude here. By the way, your greeting changes depending on the time of day. "Waszaotya" means "How are you?" in the morning. "Oliotya" is used in the afternoon or any time of day, and "Osveyotya" is used in the evening.

         Ugandan shillings.

 Paying in "1000s" - Ugandan currency is shillings. One U.S. dollar is equivalent to about 2000 Ugandan shillings, so it is not uncommon to pay in "hundreds" or "thousands" and to talk of "millions." It does make one feel rich. : )

 "Conveniences" - Having Internet, but not running water is normal on the island. Having a cell phone, but not a landline is normal. Having a fridge, but only one that can run when the sun is shining, is normal.

     Me riding a boda-boda - a motorcycle.

 "More on Travel" - Riding on the back of a motorcycle (a boda-boda) is normal. Riding without a helmet is also normal. Haggling with the driver over the price to get from here to there is normal.

Our bathhouse - boys on the left, girls on the right.

 "Bathing" - Normally, bathing on the island means filling my solar shower with rainwater from a collection tank several hours before I want to bathe and setting the shower in the sun. The bath house is an outdoor cement structure, with walls, but no roof or door.

Even Flex enjoys a good cup of Ugandan tea. : )

 "Teatime" - Having hot black tea in this hot climate is very normal. Uganda was once a British protectorate, so taking black tea and biscuits (cookies) is common. Teatime is more common in the mornings or after you have been traveling. And, it is normally served to guests who come to visit.

  Okay, so these are just a few of the "normals" I encounter every day. Perhaps I will come up with some others for a future blog post. : ) Thanks for reading!