Thursday, September 25, 2014

Traveler Tips & Tricks

If you're planning a trip to Uganda any time soon, here's a small collection of tips for your time spent traveling in East Africa. I can only speak from my own experiences and observations, but these seem to be common issues for tourists in our area.

Better Bartering: 
Don't try to barter prices in well-established stores. Yes, many shops and markets have flexible
prices, and as an outsider, it's a good idea to discuss a more reasonable price than the first one you're quoted. But when you're shopping at a large supermarket, ordering at a restaurant, or purchasing an item any place where the prices are clearly labeled, please don't try to bargain for a lower price. That really is the price, and it's not negotiable. 

Don't Be Ignorant About Idioms:
If someone offers to "give you a push" or to "push you a bit," don't be offended! This is actually a very nice thing friends do for one another. It simply means to walk with you for awhile. I'll give my friends a push to the gate or the road when they're leaving my house. Sometimes if I'm walking back from town, and my boda driver passes me, he will offer a little push to at least his boda stage. Things are not always as they seem, so take some time to find out what's really being communicated.

Save Your Savior Complex:
Please don't go around the towns and villages saying, "Ooo! I would adopt all of these kids if I could!" Those kids you see are definitely, most likely, not at all orphans. They have parents or relatives or a caregiver that loves them and is expecting them home soon. I understand that all those kids are so cute, and your intentions are good and passionate and heart-felt. But if you were to adopt even one of those children, it would probably be kidnapping at best and child trafficking at worst. 

The Long and Short of It:
Find out what's culturally appropriate to wear... or actually, what not to wear. When it's tourist season in Uganda, I often see foreigners streaming out of coach buses or freakishly large safari vehicles wearing outfits that shock even me. And I have to wonder if they did any research at all about what's considered appropriate dress in this context. Here's a hint: shorts are not okay on anyone unless you are a man going for a jog or a child dressed for PE at school. Women seen in shorts are effectively considered naked and will be punished (usually via mob justice), and men in shorts aren't respected because only children should wear them.

Thanks, But No Thanks:
As for the missionary groups that pass through, please don't pack clothes "that you don't care about ruining" (which are actually clothes that you plan to so generously leave behind for the locals). While I can't speak for other African nations, Ugandans tend to dress very nicely all the time, and I sometimes feel under-dressed in my jeans or knit skirts and cotton t-shirts. The younger generations are typically very put-together with perfectly accessorized outfits, from their skinny jeans to their neon skinny belts and matching sandals. The older generations are very dignified and often wear traditional clothing or suits and dresses. Unless you're coming to work long hours digging in the fields, you can bring nice clothes. Ones that you might even miss a little if you were to leave them behind as a gift.

Blowing Smoke:
Smoking in public is highly frowned upon. Don't do that either. Especially while wearing your short-shorts. Ya hear me, Europeans?

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These "tips & tricks" are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but they're real issues you would be wise to consider if you're planning to do some traveling in Uganda.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Local Savings Account

"... the unfinished house is a common sight in sub-Saharan Africa. These structures are not on their way down, but on their way up. Without access to finance, millions of families build homes literally one brick at a time. It's a self-designed installment plan: when liquid, families invest in cement bricks, which, over years, will be sufficient to complete a modest home. Safer than cash, a 'halfway house' is an unusual savings instrument. Brick by brick, even the very poor are doing their level best to build assets"

- Dayo Olopade,

Friday, September 5, 2014

Things You Can't Do When You're Not In Uganda

Have you seen this video yet or one of its many knock-offs?

This video is pretty funny, and if you've spent any time with toddlers, you'll know it's also very accurate. But after I watched it, I was surprised to realize that it actually reminds me of my life here in Uganda.

Living in a different culture kind of makes me feel like that grown-up-toddler all the time. Even when I'm at my best and trying to be very culturally aware and sensitive, I'm sure there are social cues and nuances in Ugandan culture that I'm just not picking up on. There's a quiet but powerful stream of undertones to conversations and interactions that I'm aware of but not always a part of. Because of this, I probably wind up looking like an unruly, egocentric toddler. Everything from body language to vocal intonation to acceptable social norms and expectations are different here. My American tendencies don't all translate into this context, and I must work to adapt in order to deepen relationships and gain respect..

But the longer I live here, the more I realize that the reciprocal is also true. Many things that are perfectly normal and acceptable in Uganda would be extremely strange or offensive in an American context. Often, as I go about my normal day here, I think to myself, "If someone ever did/said this in America, it would be so inappropriate/embarrassing/confusing."

"Socially Acceptable Ugandan Habits That Don't Work in America"

1. Referring to someone as the "very black one," "the somehow brown one," or greeting a stranger by saying "How are you, white?"
2. Asking how much money someone makes in one month.
3. "Beeping" someone's phone (allowing it to ring once or twice before hanging up) so that they call you back and use their own minutes.
4. Pointing out someone's weight or referring to someone as "the very fat one."
5. Picking your nose in public, while having a conversation with someone, walking down the street, sitting in someone's home...
6. Shouting out a foreigner's perceived nationality, language, or passport country as he or she walks by until you get a response. "American!... Brazil!... German!... Omuhindi!... Chinese!...England!..."
7. Not showing up for work or coming hours late because it was raining.
8. Sitting down at a cafe or restaurant only to find out that more than half the menu is not available right now.
9. Handshakes that go on and on and on...
10. Being invited to someone's home for a meal and bringing along an assortment of friends and relatives without first asking, or at least informing, your host.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.