Saturday, November 27, 2010

Equatorial Hospitality

While Ugandans might have a skewed perspective of Westerners, they’re probably the nicest group of strangers you could live among.
Some Western customs that are kind of going ‘beyond’ what’s expected of us, are expected behaviors among Ugandans. For example, in the US if you have visitors, you might offer them a drink. Here, you have to eat something at anyone’s home you visit. If you don’t have time to eat a whole meal, you have a snack. If you are waiting for any considerable amount of time before the meal is served, you are offered tea and a snack while the food is prepared (this confused me a couple of times because I thought the pre-meal snack was the meal itself).
At home, it’s a nice gesture to help someone carry their things. Maybe a gentleman would do it to impress a woman or a young person would help someone older or less-abled. Here, it is expected for you to help someone carry their things if they have an armful and you cross paths. Even if they’re going the opposite way, and especially if they are your elder. Time here is much more flexible than Western standards, so I assume these kinds of community/group-centered practices are part of the reason. My culture guide also attributes it to the area historically (and somewhat currently) revolving around agriculture.
In the US, if a man says hi and asks how you are as you walk by him on the road, you’re kind of taught to wonder what his bad intentions could be. Here, it’s just accepted that strangers say ‘hi.’ But also, people here don’t creep you out with the WAY they say hi, like some do at home.
There is a general attitude of consideration for others that I really appreciate here. The other day I had walked up the road to a market to buy ‘airtime’ as they call it, to recharge minutes to my phone. This time of year is the end of the rainy season, what they call ’short rains’ and I got caught in one of those showers so infrequent at home, when the sun is shining as clearly as possible while it poured, even hailed, out of nowhere. There was an overhang which I had no problem standing under until the storm passed, but a lady from the next store over came out and told me to come in. I walked into her salon and she told me to sit down in a chair for the customers. Then everyone went about their business. I watched the rain, wishing I could eavesdrop on their gossip (if only it were in English!) for a few minutes. The storm left as quickly as it came, and they just smiled when I left and thanked them.
As simple of a gesture it was, I realized it was something that would have been pretty out of the ordinary in the US, where people just mind their business, or get an innocent laugh out of other people’s misfortune. And considering how little they have to give just makes me appreciate the hospitality even more. I’ve been taught how to be more courteous by example of many selfless Americans, but it would still be nice to be able to recognize (and better practice) these habits as a part of my own culture at home.

Welaba, Lucy

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