Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


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Wash Your Hands

Avoid faux pas, impress the locals and dodge Delhi Belly by washing your hands before you eat!

Wash your hands before you eat- anything!

Whenever I come back to Europe after a stint in Uganda I get a weird feeling everytime I'm in a situation where I have to eat food without washing my hands. Lots of things run through my mind but most urgent is the need to find somewhere to wash my hands. Now I'm not Jack Nicholson in 'As Good As It Gets' or a clean freak where I go nuts thinking about the germs or cysts hanging out on my hands. I don't know statistics about how clean a toilet seat is compared to our hands or any of the jazz but while living in Uganda I have come to observe the horror in people's faces as they see a foreigner attempt to eat with their hands without first washing them.

It doesn't matter if you are eating with a fork, or washed your hands in private only minutes before, because if you haven't washed your hands publically then the general populice will be agast. Though they'll never say it openly they will just confirm to themselves that yes foreigners are indeed very dirty and unclean people and perhaps they don't even bathe at all (as believed).

For as long as anyone can remember it has been etiquette to wash your hands before eating at the table or just before service at a buffet. The Baganda don't let you go wandering off to find a loo but bring a basin and vessel with, usually, hot water to you. Mostly someone will pour the water onto your hands from the jerrycan and there might even be a knob of soap. You have to use the 'running' water and resist the urge to dip your hands in the soapy water below. Ugandans are edept at cupping their hands to keep water in them and with a little practice, foreigners can too. The person with the basin might have a towel on their arm for you to dry your hands with or they may have an individual towel for you if it is a special occasion.

I wonder if this etiquette could help tourists avoid getting the dreaded Hong Kong Dog or 'running stomach' that they take as being unavoidable in the tropics? When in Rome or whereever do as the Ugandans do too- Wash those hands!!!!

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