Friday, January 29, 2010

Losing the Culture Clash

As my home stay comes to an end, I’m back on campus for the rest of the semester; I have realized that I will miss my family. I am still glad I decided to live in the dorms and am happy to be moving back in because they allow more freedom and are more fun as I get to build relationships and spend time with Ugandan students as well as American. But it has been nice to spend time with a family and experience more of the culture. My parents were Ananias and Deborah and they have four children: Daphine (11), Desmond (10), David (5), and Douglas (3). One of the things I got to learn a lot about was the school system here because Ananias is an art teacher. More than explicitly talking though, I learned simply by observing and living with them. Family is very important and can and does visit anytime without warning and for any amount of time and are always welcome. The same is reciprocated as we had aunts and cousins visit, as well as the two oldest children going and staying with their grandmother for several days. Families also share everything; the emphasis on personal possession is very much taught by culture and not something innate in you. I never once heard the children argue over whose toy was whose. But I have learned to appreciate other things about our culture as well: such as bedtimes and meal portions! Each night we do not eat until sometime after 8:30pm, by which time the two youngest boys are often falling asleep and quite fussy. It is a fight almost every night for them to eat and drink their tea before going to bed. Also, even though it is late, supper is the largest meal of the day. Sometimes it can be a struggle to even eat a portion of the food on my plate. And the stereotype that Americans always watch TV is not quite accurate. I was surprised to find that if a Ugandan family owns a TV, then they watch it ALL the time. Literally any time that my family is not working (whether that is cooking, laundry, washing dishes, fetching water, or buying food to cook) they are usually sitting in front of the TV. It is also completely normal and acceptable to watch it all evening long, whether there are guests or not. It is seen as a form of sharing to watch together. And it is interesting the variety that their channels carry. I have seen American Disney movies, African news, and Spanish soaps dubbed in English. It is not that bad though, because in the evening I usually play a game or two of UNO with Desi and David and almost always have Doug curled up in my lap. I am much more integrated in the family at this point, and even got a tribal name. My family is Baganda and specifically in the Lion clan, traditionally the clan that protects the king. My name is Nakasaaga. Ananias also explained to me that they kneel to serve food when I was serving him dinner one night and so I knelt the next time and got told that I was now a “good Ugandan girl.” On Saturday morning, he even taught me how to make chapatti’s by hand, which are their version of tortillas. Also, it was fun because last night, my last night with them, they had brought home a new one month old puppy they named Scooby Doo and I got to play with him. It was especially fun because most Ugandans do not like dogs and animal cruelty is not uncommon here, but isn’t much of an issue when there are so many more human rights issues to focus on. So a family that wants and likes a pet is refreshing. However, throughout the night as the puppy cried and I brought it in to sleep with me off and on I did appreciate it quite as much…

By living with a family, I have more rapidly grown accustomed to the culture. I know that I have further to go, but that will come with time, but I don’t mind helping the acclimation along. Last Friday, Laura, my roommate, and I went exploring in Kampala just the two of us. It was fun to not feel quite as touristy as the week before simply by travelling in a much smaller group. We got off the taxi in a different location and ended up wandering around lost for 45 minutes. But we didn’t have anything particular that we wanted to do so it was fun to explore and see different parts of the city and by asking for directions we eventually ended up in an area that we knew. We had to ask several people to get the right directions, and could sense that Ugandan women really are not as friendly as Ugandan men when talking to American women. We also got to see the Parliament building, which was cool. We then treated ourselves to an American lunch of hamburgers, fries, and an ice cream sundae. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping for American food to cook for our families. I got spaghetti, sauce, and bread to make garlic bread, all of which I made them Saturday for lunch over two charcoal fires. I was glad that they enjoyed it because it was definitely more work than normal. Today we went again, and this time we explored a local craft market. It was so much fun to wander through and we both ended up buying African dresses to wear while we are here and once we return home. We once again treated ourselves to lunch out and especially enjoyed the diet cokes. We even got another later and sat on a rooftop enjoying the afternoon before returning home. We then enjoyed celebrating our return to campus with several other USP girls by watching “She’s the Man” on a laptop and eating some dessert. This weekend should be fun, as well as helping us to grow closer to the Ugandans we live with, because we are going on an overnight retreat to a resort in Jinja tomorrow. We will see the mouth of the Nile, Lake Victoria, and go swimming in a pool at our hotel. Plus, it will mean two days away from rice and beans- the food is rapidly becoming the hardest thing for me to get used to, as shallow as that sounds. I’m just used to smaller portions and lighter food and have really begun to miss vegetables. Also, I was sick the past week from food and so now am a little more hesitant in trying and enjoying it…

Life is quickly becoming normal here. I am continually glad to be in Uganda and have this opportunity. More and more I am discovering how good the classes will be for me. They are not academically challenging and the work load is pretty light, but the concepts are already starting to stretch me more than I fully expected or realized they would. Much of the material is about questioning our beliefs and values, specifically those that are cultural. Already we have begun to get into some deep discussions and thought processes that will not be quickly solved or forgotten. But I am appreciating this approach because it is making me want to learn and think about the issues more than ever before. One of the biggest issues on my mind after a class discussion this morning is the theology behind God and pain, as well as depending on God. Some interesting viewpoints were brought up by a book we are reading, The Primal Vision, written by a European missionary on Christianity in Africa. It is challenging because it is startling to see just how much culture can influence beliefs more than we recognize. But I am appreciating the discussions that are coming out of the thought-provoking ideas and know that my views really will be stretched by my time here.

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