Things I have learnt in Uganda
I have compiled a list of funny experiences in Uganda, there were loads so I highlighted 13 things that I learnt that kind of sum up the more comedy aspects to my time here and give you an insight to what it's like.
1) Eating the same thing for every meal is ok
Ok so this was kind of a shock to me coming from our varied multi-cultural food habits. I know that doesn't speak for everyone but even people who aren't very open minded in their diet still eat a few different things. There are staples on the menu in Uganda and those largely aren't deviated from. Matoke (plantain), beans, posho (maize flour mash), rice, cassava or sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes (we just call them potatoes), maybe some meat, g-nuts (a paste made from ground peanuts), greens, maybe pumpkin. I loved trying all these things and didn't love so much gaining weight from so much carbs/fat, but I did wonder if there was a desire to try other foods and whether this one diet was due to what was available. And I think yes it is due to only these things being available, but I also think that that breeds a nation of people satisfied not to deviate, which I still couldn't get my head around. Some people would try, and enjoy, the alternative things I would cook, but most were just ok with their staple meal. Which actually makes things a lot simpler I guess, and although I did really enjoy trips to Kampala for some different foods, I also did embrace eating cassava, sweet potatoes, beans and veggies a lot - happy vegan over here :)
2) The driver and passenger seats don't have to be only for one person
On a trip to Kisizi Hospital to help one of the guys who works for Project Uganda, I had the experience of a taxi for 8 meaning a small saloon car crammed with 8 people. I couldn't comprehend what was happening as we were already 5 of us in a taxi and the guy pulled over to collect 3 more people to make his trip more profitable. Ok so I get that people have got to make money, but risking people's lives isn't worth any money! And I was questioning where these other 3 people were going to go? Well naturally 2 in the front and 1 more in the back. Yes you heard correctly - 2 in the front, which means 4 in total. Apparently sharing the drivers seat is possible, even if you have to hang out the window and get your buddy to do the gears lol. I refused to travel like this and so they asked me to pay more and then didn't add anyone on in the back, just the front, which wasn't any better really was it? Haha.
3) The louder you shout and scream in church, the more God loves you
The house that Anne and Rod have built was later joined by a neighbor - The Rukungiri Community Church. This is a Pentecostal based church and unfortunately the loud theme of these types of churches has been amplified by the Ugandan culture and misses the soundproofing of the churches that you get in America. The result being, a deafening mix of music and angry shouting (in tongues), and when I say deafening, I mean deafening! Now in the day this was disturbing and didn't allow you to think, but they also treated us to their insanely loud shouting all through the night on a Friday from 7pm until 7am, and also Sunday early morning at 7am. Both of these made it even harder to bare, and even the mattresses stuffed in the bedroom windows plus earplugs didn't work, it was like if you went to a rock concert and then tried to lie down in front of the stage and sleep.
So the background of it was even more frustrating as they had been driven out of the center of town for being too noisy, and Rod and Anne's, plus the neighbours and 4 schools who were nearby had all complained to the environment officer and police and had got as far as a meeting where the church was told that they had to reduce the noise, and then the same continued...being in the church with money can be a very powerful tool :-/
We complained again to several pastors but they said that it was their right to break the law by going above the legal noise levels, and said it would be impossible to turn the volume down. Imagine what it is doing to their ears inside the church! This was just not acceptable, annoyingly the case goes on and as it stands they are still really not loving thy neighbor!
4) Children are children no matter what their circumstance
One of my wonderings before I came to Uganda was about children and whether when faced with much more responsibility than perhaps children should have or I am used to them having, does this stop them having their innocent playful nature? And the answer is no. Perhaps in light of great trauma this may not always be the case, but generally speaking kids seem to always have this beautiful energy and fresh look on life. Time and time again I came across children who were missing school to go to work rearing cows or looking after goats or even staying at home to care for siblings, but they all always had that cheeky smile, a happy word to say and would run along with me as I walked and explored the area saying hi and wanting a hug. They made my trip, their genuine happiness to see me and with life, really moved me.
5) You don't have to say goodbye at the end of a phone call, just hang up
This makes me laugh even after a few months of this happening. At first I would call them back and I just got confusion as to why I was calling when we had ended the conversation haha. So apparently in Uganda when you have said what you needed you just put the phone down. This still seems odd to me because it gives no chance to tell the other person you have more to say, and also can leave you clueless that the conversation is coming to an end. No matter what I did I couldn’t embrace this, but we don’t have to change ourselves just because we are staying somewhere where the norms are different.
6) People who have the least can also give the most
I have seen this happen all over the world, whereby people have nothing and are struggling to get by every day, but will shower you with whatever they do have. I visited different families and schools over the last 5 months and they would always want to feed me, no matter when I arrived. I would even take lunch or snacks with me but told they would be offended if I didn’t dine with them. This is opening your home to the world, something I’m lucky to experience wherever I go!
7) English may be the second language here, but it trumps my English!
Several times I would hear a lot of bad English, which of course is fine, we don’t want the whole world to only speak English! The thing that really amused me was when I would be saying something and someone would not understand me, and then we would write the word down or somehow understand each other and I would be told I was saying it wrong. Love it! Clearly 30+ years in England did not refine my English skills enough.
I also began to say phrases that I learnt here and not finish sentences. Anyone living here for a few months will understand this. E.g. now if I want to say I have arrived, I will say 'I've reached'; if I want to explain where something is I can say "it's the other side", and immediately the person will understand.
8) What can you transport on a motorbike? ANYTHING!
I think this was one of the first things I was amazed at. Ugandans prove you can move pretty much anything on a motorbike, and it doesn’t even have to be yours, it can be a taxi bike or boda boda. A mattress rolled up? Yep. A huge sack of beans? Yep. A TV? Yep. 5 people? Yep. Babies? Yep. An oven? Yep. Car parts? Yep. 15m long wire cables? Yep. You name it, anything will get on there.
9) If you have money, you can do whatever you want.
So this is one of the sadder things I learned, and it’s based around corruption. Sadly the police are not paid so well here, and this seems to be part of the fall into corruption. That and general government issues that lead the way for this sort of thing, and its now become the norm. I had a friend whose house was broken into by armed robbers, two of who were caught. He then had to pay the police to come and take photos of the break-in for evidence and also for a court date and for the case to proceed, both of which are part of police work and should not have to be supplemented. Sadly this means that a lot of the time people don’t have the money to get justice or things happen that really shouldn’t. It’s sad.
10) Road rules are obsolete; the biggest vehicle wins
Driving into Kampala for the first time 6 months ago, I watched as there was traffic chaos, few traffic lights or road signs and absolutely no rules. For example, if you’re approaching a roundabout, we know that you slow down and the traffic on the roundabout gets right of way, but not here! If you’re a bus and there are cars coming round the roundabout, the bus will just pull out and the same goes for cars doing this in front of bikes. The bigger vehicle wins. And there is no road rage from what I’ve seen. Bikes nearly slide over as cars pull out on the main road in front of them and no one beeps or swears or shouts. Perhaps its fear of what they might do, or perhaps it’s just having that done 20 times a day and so you just accept it. It makes for dangerous conditions though because those are unwritten rules and not everyone follows them so it’s kind of a guessing game and a bit of over-confidence to know either way what might happen. It explains the horrendous crash rates here, which is something that needs to be addressed more urgently.
11) Rain stops everything
For a country that experiences very heavy rain every day for several months, you would think in general everyone would be ok with the rain, but they are really really not. When it rains people don’t work, they won’t go to gatherings or parties, they just want to stay in. As a Brit who is not shy of being rained on, this was another learning curve. I would put on my rain coat and be expecting to get on with things (it’s not cold either), but everything would stop. It was nice to have a break due to this but sometimes this could be a hindrance when trying to get stuff done. This was my western habits coming through wanting things done on time and by a certain plan, which leads me to my next point.
12) Relax, time is an illusion
This is what I feel I had to learn here. Now anyone who knows me will know I am often one of those annoyingly optimistic people who tries to cram way too much in and this makes me late a lot. I do hate being late though and always feel apologetic if I make anyone wait (sorry family!), but here it’s kind of expected, which leads me to wonder why they give a time at all if they know it won’t be kept. For example, even a doctor will be late for the appointment he gave you, and when he arrives he is rarely sorry and sometimes was actually taken-aback by someone questioning why he’s late. This did not happen in all instances but I felt that when they did apologise or were on time, it was only because they knew my expectations were different, and were usually late for everyone else. It also occurs when someone is already late and you call them and they say they are ‘on the way coming’. If anyone has spent time in Uganda (and I have been told this happens in general in a lot of places, not just here), then you would have heard this phrase a lot, and for me it is one of my pet hates! If you say you are coming and are on the way and you live 5 minutes from me, then why does it then take you 25 minutes to arrive; don’t say you are on the way if you are not! I asked a few people about this and they said sometimes that can even mean they will turn up 2 hours later!
So a big dose of relaxing had to happen, and not making set plans for after you are meeting someone or waiting for them for something. Perhaps something we could all learn a bit at home?
13) Friendship is everything
I have made some lifelong friends in Uganda, I have loved every minute with you all. Uganda has a place in my heart forever now, mainly because of the people. You know who you all are, and I know we will share many more adventures together. I'm one lucky girl :)
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