Saturday, June 21, 2014

By Any Other Name

I've written previously about the confusion with names here, specifically the pronunciation and spelling. Though most Ugandans have a "Christian name" in addition to their local name, the English names topping the charts are quite different from the ones typically used today in the West. For example, many girls here are called Gift, Primrose, Favor, and Doreen... with the occasional Shakira. Boys are often Livingstone, Immanuel, January, and Ronald... with the occasional Obama. 

While many of our Western names might still be unfamiliar in Uganda, my name presents a whole slew of challenges for the native Runyankole speaker. As a refresher, L's and R's are interchangeable and most words in Runyankole end in a vowel sound. My name contains an "L" and an "R" and doesn't end with a vowel sound. Thus, when a shop keeper fills out a receipt for me, I never know what name will be written there when it's handed over. Even when I've spelled it out, letter by letter, these are some of the gems I've received:


Carolyne and Calolyne

Caroline Semellie


And my recent favorite...


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No Simple Task

It's incredible how much I can get done in a day when I set my mind to it. Errands can be run all over town, people can be picked up and dropped off, meals can be made, jobs can be done, a workout gets fit in, and then at the end of day there's still time for friends. It's amazing and efficient and normal!

And then I moved to Uganda.

(cue record scratch)

It's hard to explain daily life here. Without experiencing it for yourself, it's difficult to understand why exactly going to town is such an ordeal. How do I communicate the mental gymnastics I perform on tasks that should be mundane? (What's the safest way to accomplish these four tasks today? How can I cross the street as few times as possible and still be efficient? Sidestep the open sewage. Can I manage to avoid any extra harassment and attention? Oh, watch out for the boda driver speeding up the narrow sidewalk! Is my purse safe right now? Should I stop in to see Shakira or Alex while I'm over that way? Why do strangers insist that they love me? Careful. There's an uncovered, debris-filled pit in the sidewalk.)
I know it's hard to understand how completing four tasks, all within walking distance of each other, could possibly consume so much of one day. But I'll try to shed some light on it. 

For starters, there are the normal factors that come with living in a relationship-oriented culture, like stopping to greet people along the way and the obligatory chatting with each salesperson you interact with...

Me: Hello. How is the day?
Her: The day is fine. How is the day for you?
Me: It's good, thank you. But it's becoming very hot.
Her: Oh, yes. Very hot. Too much sunshine these days. How are you finding Mbarara?
Me:  It's wonderful. I enjoy it. How is the family? Are the children okay?
Her: Yes, the family is good. The children are in school, so they are happy.
Me: Wonderful. Everyone is healthy these days?
Her: Yes. But we've had some flu. You know, this weather causes too much flu.
Me: Sorry to hear that. I hope you feel better soon.
Her: Yes yes. Today you are wanting what? 

But those are the normal and expected factors that you can count on. There's no such thing as quickly running into the store to grab something. You must have a conversation, as well. Yes, it makes each errand a bit longer, but you can expect these things. 
The real lesson to be learned is: always expect the unexpected. This should be covered in "Ex-Pats in Africa 101." If you can internalize this one simple rule, then you'll spare yourself a lot of frustration and annoyance.

Let me attempt to bring this to life through one small example. 

This week I wanted to print a document in town. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.
It actually went a little something like this:

Walk 15 minutes into town.
Discover that power is off in town, and they're currently working on starting the generators.
Sit around in the print shop hoping that they get the generator running shortly.
After 5 minutes of waiting in the semi-darkness, the power flicks on for a few seconds, and then goes off again. 
After waiting another 5 minutes, ask the manager if power will be coming soon. He responds by saying the generators aren't strong enough to power to the computers right now, so the electrician is on the way coming.
Wait around another 5 minutes, see a man walk in holding a pen and a screwdriver, realize that no progress will be made any time soon, give up and go home.

Go back to town three days later to try again.
Notice that power is off again.
Go to the print shop anyway to see if they're able to print. They are!
Wait around until an attendant is free to help. Give him the flash drive and show him which document to print. 
Explain that you want it printed on white "hard paper" (a.k.a. card stock). He pulls out a piece of mustard yellow paper asking if this one is okay.
"No, it's not okay. I'd like white, please. The one with the small design, like you had the other day."
He looks around for a bit, asks the owner, and she leaves. 
He attends to other customers, and I wait.
She comes back with one piece of forest green paper with a rose design, a piece of cream with a paisley design, and a piece of white with gold shimmers all over. 
I choose the white, shimmery one. She calls the attendant over, hands him some money, and he leaves. 
I wait.
He comes back with the correct number of papers for my document. He loads them into the printer. He disappears behind the printer for a minute and emerges with a plug. He snakes it around the side until he can reach a power strip. He plugs in the printer and turns it on.
Now we're in business! Or so it seems.
He returns to the computer to print my document, but notices that the yellow ink needs replacing. 
He returns to the printer, asks the manager for his keys to open the printer, takes out the yellow ink cartridge and shakes it around for awhile. He replaces the cartridge, locks the printer, returns the keys, and returns to the computer.
And voila!
Thirty-five minutes after entering the print shop (for the second time), I have my document in hand.

And that is how you run a "quick errand" in Uganda. Ad infinitum.

One thing on the list: check!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Be Encouraged

“Why do you tell your child a thing twenty times?” asked some one of a mother.
“Because,” said she, “I find nineteen times is not enough.”

Now, when a soul is to be ploughed, it may so happen that hundreds of furrows will not do it. What then? Why, plough all day till the work is done.

Whether you are ministers, missionaries, teachers, or private soul-winners, never grow weary, for your work is noble, and the reward of it is infinite. The grace of God is seen in our being permitted to engage in such holy service; it is greatly magnified in sustaining us in it, and it will be pre-eminently conspicuous in enabling us to hold out till we can say, “I have finished the work
 which thou gavest me to do.” 

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon