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.
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?
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. : )