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 It was also written more than a week ago, so the introductory paragraph is a bit outdated.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!


  1. I loved this post! It gave me a great look into all your adventures. I especially thought it was hilarious that women breast feed and do other things in public but can't show their knees! I wonder what ironies we Americans have in our culture?

  2. Wow--that was very enlightening, humorous (at times), and educational! There's good and bad in all cultures, huh? It got me thinking that Americans should be a little better at stopping to chat with people.
    Are you getting familiar with the language?

  3. Lauren and Mikaela, I am glad you enjoyed the post! Lauren, I too have wondered what ironies we have in our home culture - I am sure some we wouldn't even give a second thought about. :)
    Mikaela, I am not getting as familiar with the language as quickly as I would like to. I really need to spend some dedicated time in learning. I know greetings, which come in rather handy. :)

  4. Great post Ruthie! Yes the ironies of the cultures! I remember we had a missionary who was originally from the states who was now somewhere in timbucktoo, (can't remember where). Anyway her and her husband were sharing at our homegroup and I left the room to go nurse in another room. She later came up to me and was asking why I did this. She did not understand the modesty issue or that it might make others uncomfortable, or even just showing deference to others. She had become so ingrained in the other culture she lost what was "normal" here in the Christian circle. I thought that was interesting. She was trying to talk me into going back in the other room, I mean really trying!
    Hope all is well. Stay safe and know we love you! ♥

  5. Hi Mrs. Cash, : )
    Thank you for commenting on my post. : ) Your story was interesting and I can see how that might happen if you have spent a long time in another culture and have your own set of "norms."
    I also hope all is well with you and your family! Love to you all! : )