QE park june 2012 070>>>>>>> what have I learned in my first year living in Uganda……………..

I have learned that even though I live south of the equator, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. But what I have discovered is the night sky is something very different…. I love to stand in the middle of the soccer field with no lights for miles around, and stare at the night sky full of brilliant diamonds which appear to be so close that I could reach out and grab one. The sky is covered with a new set of constellations to explore; comets and satellites to watch out for.

I have learned that I took many things for granted in Canada which do not exist in Kibaale. If I am going to do more than just survive…… I need to remember to pump water when the generator is on; remember there are no lights in my bathroom except when the generator comes on; and that sometimes the generator does not come on because there is no fuel. Therefore, I need to ensure that my solar panel flashlights, and lamps are always ready and charged.

I have learned that not everything in Canada is available in Uganda…….. like mushrooms, feta cheese, red wine vinegar, sour cream, cottage cheese, apple sauce for example… Some of these may be found in one of the grocery stores in Kampala, but then maybe not, or maybe not on the day you are there. I am still learning to live on what is available…. all recipes have to be adapted. Here is an example, I wanted to make some cookies. I went onto the internet in search of a recipe where I had most of the ingredients. I found a cookie recipe with a glace. The glace required one tablespoon of lemon juice. Well, I cannot buy a lemon in Kibaale; a might be able to buy one in Masaka and definitely I could purchase one in Kampala. What was I going to use?… I looked around my house and found one lonely passion fruit and decided to try it in this recipe. To my surprise the cookies taste great.

I have learned that even though the clinic is suppose to be open at 8 am … it may be after 9 before the clinic staff arrive and this is especially true when it rains during the night or in the early morning hours. If at 8 am, it is still raining then I am unlikely to see anyone clinic staff or patients until after the rains have stopped. Why you may ask…. it is because everyone has to walk to the clinic; no one owns a car, very few own a raincoat or jacket and only a few own an umbrella….. this is the way it is in Africa.

I have learned that sometimes you can barter over the price of bananas, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and anything else which is sold in the market place. I am fairly certain there is a mzungu (white man’s) price and an Ugandan price. The staff at the clinic get very upset and even angry when I am over charged. Therefore, to keep the peace and the staff happy I frequently ask them to purchase certain items for me….. It is not that I am lazy but it helps build relationships.

I have learned the folks in Kibaale town and on the compound frequently greet me with “good morning my mzungu.” The first time I heard it I was shocked, confused and even upset. I was not someone’s property. But I quickly learned from the staff that it is a term of endearment. They are giving me respect and acknowledgment for living and being part of Kibaale and Kibaale Community Centre. You need to understand that I am the only white person for at least 20 to 30 kilometers in any direction.

I have learned that Kibaale is an extremely beautiful place…. One of my favourite places to sit is on the porch at the entrance to the clinic where I can see for miles, the rolling hills, many types of trees and watch the various birds fly down the valley at eye level…. like the national bird of Uganda, the grey crested crane.

I have learned there is a big difference between how time is used and understood in Uganda…… Time has a different meaning for each person and in each new situation…. the Ugandan frequently use the word “now now” which we might translate as immediately. It can mean anytime within the next few hours to anytime in the next few days. They are not trying to be disrespectful but the exact opposite… they want to please and do the right thing and it may take some time.

I have learned even when I say what I mean and mean what I say…. it is almost always misunderstood… it seems that it has a different meaning for each person. I have worked hard to teach those who wish to travel with me that when I say I am leaving the gate at 12 o’clock I mean that I will be leaving at 12 o’clock. On Dec 22, I was going to be traveling to Masaka… and I told everyone that I would be leaving from the front gate at 8:30 am…. …… Six people asked for a ride…. I spoke to each of them, repeating the information and ensuring that each one of them understood the departure time………. And still on that day, I arrived at the front gate at 8:30 and no one was present. At 9:15 three people arrived and told me they were on time…. then 10 minutes later two more arrived and finally at 9:30 the last one called to say I could pick her up on route out of Kibaale. I would have normally left at 8:30 but this was a special day since everyone was trying to get ready and travel to his or her village for Christmas. I waited patiently.

I have learned the people of central southern Uganda are from the Baganda tribe….. Now, here is a story. It is the week before Christmas, I asked one of the nurses to check and let me know if there are vaccines available for our outreach the next day. He came back and stood in my office, I asked him if he needed anything but he said “No!”… nevertheless, he remain standing in my office. Finally, after a number of minutes, I asked him if he need some airtime to make the calls; he took a few minutes to respond with the answer “Yes!” I could not help myself, I had to ask him why he did not tell me immediately that he need airtime. He gave me this response….

“A friend will come to your house and he will sit down and talk with you. You will ask him if he is hungry and he will say “No.” He will continue to sit and wait. You will make some food and you will offer him some but he will say “No, thanks.” But you will ask him again and again if he would like some food. Finally, very reluctantly he will take some of your food and you will be very surprised at the amount of food he has eaten.”

This nurse leaves and I am totally confused…. It just so happens another nurse has been sitting in my office and she had heard the whole story.. I ask her for an translation or an interpretation………………… After a few minutes, she starts “The Baganda people like to play the game of pretense….. Of course, the person was hungry but he was not going to tell you the truth. It is part of how we are brought up… We have learned our lessons well from our mothers, and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmother and grandfathers. No one tells you the truth. It is especially worse with the cell phone (as she points to mine). I heard a person talking, telling the person on the phone that he was just about to arrive in Nairobi and was not sure if his phone would continue to function and then he rang off…He was not in Kenya but in Masaka, Uganda only a few minutes from his friends village.”

I would say I still have lots to learn but I think it has been a good beginning. I have spend the year working to build relationship with each member of the clinic staff and many in the school and in Kibaale town. I know that even a few months ago, neither one of the nurses would have helped me to understand their culture in such as interesting way. At least we are talking and I hope this helps us work together to move the clinic forward in the coming year……..as well as help me become the person I need to be to help support these changes.