Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


U g a n d a    T r a v e l    T i p s

Cultural Shockers

Isn't it the little things that shock us most when we visit a new culture. Here are but a few:

1) Nsenene- People eat ants and grasshopers. The ants are known locally as nsenene and they are a particular variety of ant that grows wings and is very tasty to eat. The nsenene is fried in tomatoes and onions and taste like bacon rinds. When they are served to guests it is a real honour. The season for this delicacy is May to June and November to December.

2) You've grown fat! Although I can't believe it myself sometimes but when people tell you you've put on weight they are actually complimenting you.(Although I have noted that this is not always the case in the younger generation of "campus girls") They tell both men and women so don't feel singled out. When you come back from a trip you will deffinately hear this gem. Fat is a symbol of prosperity but it is also a double edged sword where it is sign of corruption. (Hence pot belly is "corruption belly". Breath deeping, smile and thank them for appreciating. A similar compliment that might catch the girls is "your legs are big" which is a translation for Luganda that sounds offensive but really means you've lovely legs with a cute curve.

3) Kneeling: For Baganda kneeling is paramount in culture. Women and children kneel as they greet elders, husbands, parents and important male and female figures. It is a sign of upmost respect and when someone doesn't do kneel they cause great offence and lose out on more browny points than they ever imagined existed. Other situations that require kneeling is when a female presents a gift or when children or females say goodbye though the later is not always done. When people kneel for you it can be very strange. Sometimes you go with it if they are children, don't want to teach them bad habits but when old women kneel to greet the muzungu it is very jarring. If they give you a hand you can pull them up a bit and finish the greeting but to respect their culture you should let them finish without fussing or letting your embarrassment show. Easier said than done. As for me, I honestly struggle with the kneeling issue although I kneel for FX's parents and they really appreciate the gesture. For us I've come to realise we (Irish, correct me if I'm wrong) only kneel in church for God. I know I will have to kneel during my wedding reception in Uganda and I'm getting used to the idea. I hope it won't shock my family too much.

4) Be my friend- When the guidebooks write a paragraph on Dangers and annoyances in their write-ups about Uganda they fail to mention one pheonomen that is especially annoying. "The stranger that wants to be your friend" may not be a paragraph in a guidebook that would arouse your fear but be afraid. You are an upsuspecting tourist or person sitting in a taxi or walking along the street when some smiles at you like a stalker and tries to open a conversation with such lines as "I want to come to your country", "be my friend", "how are you? I'm fine. Give me your phone number" These openners are followed by a barage of intrusive stalker questions like where you live, what you are doing in Uganda, how long you have been, where are you going right now and so on. If the openners didn't freak you out then you might not realise the extent of the danger. Ask yourself, would you ask a stranger all sorts of personal questions and not return any answers? You'll begin to squirm in your sit at the rudenes of the stranger and if you are like me you'll feel obliged to reduce embarrassment by being polite. You'll soon find out that this person doesn't want friendship but naively sees you as a ticket to riches. This will become, if you let it, a long road to harrassment. If you naively give your phone number you will find yourself inundated with calls or rather beeps. The stranger will become obsessed and continue to ring and ring or even come to where you live. Some misguided individuals in Kampala think Muzungu have endless amounts of cash and that at a whim you can lend your midas touch to their lives fullfilling their wildest dreams of "going out"(abroad). It's really sad that they think we are so dumb that we don't see through them. I've become a little rude these days to these people but never as rude as I'd like. When someone next says "I want you to be my friend" Lord please don't let me say "Fill out an application form!"

5)Food glorious Food: Don't feel bad when your host wants to encourage you to eat a mountain of matoke,rice,potatoes and meat attached to lots of bone (not the dainty pork or lamb chop that you have in mind). Eat big. When it's hot in Ireland we tend to munch on a salad and eat light but in Uganda it is hot all the time so why starve. Eat up :O) 6) Jumpers in 28oC Heat: It will sweetly surprise you to see Ugandans walking around after a rain shower in thick cardigans, bomber jackets, coats and jumpers. You might see me also as it can feel cold here once you get used to the heat. 7)No Hugs The Baganda keep hugging for the bedroom or if know about another cultures need to hug whilst greeting. A lot of other forms of public affection because members of the opposite sex is highly frowned upon. 8)Pothole Country: The roads are full of potholes, the size of craters. Ssanyu Fm are currently running a competition called "The Golden" road that is asks listeners to ring in if they can identify a tarmac road without potholes. 9) Squeeky Clean: Spotless and perfectly ironed. It may shock us visitors but maybe it should. Maybe we do need to make more of an effort. 10)Homophobic: Steer clear of the topic because you'll be shocked by the responses you'll hear. The Ugandan Maryters were killed by the Baganda Kabaka (king) when they refused to have sex with him. One outrageous response to this was "He wasn't born gay he learned it from the Arabs!". No matter what personal beliefs and insights you may hold on homosexual relations, they will fall on deaf ears. I have not yet found a tolerant Ugandan and I find it's not worth challenging them anymore. PS If you see men holding hands it's not because they are gay. Perhaps these cultural shockers aren't so shocking but they are more designed to give the traveller a head's up if they come to Uganda. For all the above there are countless more as I've only touched on the Baganda and there are tons of other tribes out there. My explanations are not exhaustive and if you are interested I'd advise you to do more research before you visit Uganda. Or if you are like me just throw yourself right in there and learn on the job.

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