Sunday, December 19, 2010

8 Things You're Not Likely to See in the States...

I've been writing a monthly column for my town's local newspaper (back in PA), so this is the one I wrote for November. It gives a colorful glimpse into my daily life and the crazy things I see in Kampala!

8 Things You're Not Likely to See in the States
After five months of living in Kampala, Uganda, the unique, quirky cultural things I witness around me become more and more normal. Yet for you reading this in Pennsylvania, this is not the norm, so please be entertained by this glimpse of Ugandan “normality.”

You name it, a Boda can carry it!

Bodas are a motorcycle form of transportation, but they carry much more than just people. I’ve seen bodas transport a large bed (frame included), crates and crates of bottled soda, a refrigerator, and my personal favorite: at least 20 chickens. Don’t tell PETA! Since the chickens weren’t even flinching, I thought they must be dead, but my Ugandan friend assured me that they were still alive and kickin’. It was quite memorable to see chickens strapped to a Boda, tied together like a bouquet of flowers. That can’t be comfortable or enjoyable.

Communicating Via Eyebrows

When conversing with a Ugandan, you must be astute. If you ask them a question to which the answer is “yes,” then there’s a good chance they will give a simple eyebrow lift instead of verbally answering. Amazingly enough, this also comes in handy if you need to signal a Boda for a ride. A quick eyebrow raise and they somehow see it from down the street!

The Truth Hurts

Ugandans can be very blunt about things that we Americans tend to sugarcoat. For example, if they think someone is gaining weight, they’re not afraid to tell them. But that’s also because, in general, they mean it as a compliment. If someone is large in size, it shows they eat well which means they most likely have money.

Of course, it’s not ALWAYS meant as a positive compliment. A few weeks ago I walked out of my apartment complex to a little shop across the road to buy some eggs. The following conversation took place between the shop owner and customer (both Ugandan women).

Customer: “Hello, I’d like to buy some posho” (a local food).

Shop owner: in a critical tone of voice exclaimed, “You’re THAT size and you want to eat posho?? Don’t you care about your figure?”

I felt quite awkward and just stood there twiddling my thumbs, wondering what would have happened had the conversation taken place between two Americans!

Unbelievably Cheap Produce

Kampala’s fresh, local fruits and vegetables are spoiling me. Not only are they incredibly cheap to purchase, but they taste far better than what I buy at the grocery stores back in the U.S. When the pineapple truck pulls onto my dirt road, I eagerly choose a ripe one for approximately 50 cents, depending on its size. Tomatoes cost about 8 cents apiece, mangoes 10 cents, and a large avocado is no more than 20 cents.

Ugandan Men are Not Shy

To state the obvious, women from western cultures stand out here. When such women walk down the street, Ugandan men often shout bizarre things like: “Come here, my wife!” (usually their voice rises about three octaves which never fails to make me giggle.) I’ve been “proposed” to multiple times, and my American friend almost sold me off to a young man for three cows (as a practical joke, of course.)

I’ve found that ignoring is usually the best policy, but if I’m in a feisty mood, and they overstep their boundaries, I’ll tell them, “Tonta wanya!” which is Luganda for “don’t disturb me” and that usually does the trick.

African Time

It didn’t take me long to realize that if an event (a work meeting, a wedding, etc.) is scheduled to start at a certain time, it most likely won’t. If you’re lucky, it might begin 30-60 minutes after the original start time. The culture here is laid back, so if you’re running late, most likely everyone else is, too.

As I write this, I’m wondering why I leap out of bed and rush to get to church on time, because the reality is it “begins” at 10am but at that time there are only the other Westerners (who are time conscious) and a handful of Ugandans. By the time our 40 minutes of worship is over, then MOST of the congregation has arrived.

Run, Don’t Walk

At times, I think it’d be safer to walk blind-folded across a New York City street than to dodge the taxis, bodas, trucks, and people in downtown Kampala. When crossing the downtown city streets, you literally have to run or you don’t stand a chance. My trick to surviving is to find a Ugandan who is crossing and then follow in close proximity. They’re more aggressive and much better at crossing the busy streets.

You need it, the taxi park has it!

In the city of Kampala, you will find two separate taxi parks. Each contains a maze of hundreds upon hundreds of taxi buses which is a common form of transportation here. But you can shop while you sit inside the taxi and wait for it to depart. Vendors forcefully shove their goods through the window in hopes that you will make a purchase. Craving ice cream? Need a book that translates Luganda to English? Want some apples or bananas? You can buy it all through your taxi window!


[Just a small portion of the massive taxi park--each time I leave the city to head home, I weave my way through the organized chaos!]


[Cheap veggies/fruit at the market!]

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