To never have to start a sentence with "I wish I would have..."


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cultural Differences

I’ve never been to summer camp before much less been a camp counselor before. Nest week I’m privileged to be able to participate as a counselor for camp GLOW (girls leading our world). It’s a week long girls’ empowerment camp for Ugandan girls 13-15. There are about 150 girls from all over Uganda who will be attending the camp. We’ll teach them multiple lifeskills topics including HIV/ADIS facts and myths, puberty and taking care of their bodies (the topic I’m teaching!), arts and crafts, team building, self esteem, public speaking, etc. The best part is, it’s free for them to come!

Last weekend I went to a training for all the counselors who will be at the camp. Each American counselor will be working with a Ugandan co-counselor. During training, we all stayed in the dorm we will be using during the actual camp. I live with Ugandans but I have never before spent the night in a dorm setting with one. After sharing close quarters with Ugandan women I got a deeper insight into the Ugandan culture and just how different it is from the American culture. Below are some things we’ve had to adjust to as well as some things we just don’t see eye to eye on. The first couple are from the weekend at training and the rest are things I have learned my last 9 months here. Hope you enjoy…

-It’s not uncommon for Ugandans to get phone calls (and answer them!) at 3 or 4 in the morning while sharing a room with 40 other people. Apparently the talking rates are MUCH cheaper during this time.

-It’s not uncommon for people to “flash” your phone (call and hang up before you answer) because they want to greet you or they just don’t have enough airtime to spend on having a conversation with you so they want you to use your airtime to call them back.

-In a professional setting it is socially acceptable for a woman to bring her infant child with her. I can understand this, especially if the baby is breastfeeding (which is also VERY socially acceptable to see on taxis, in church, during meetings, in your living room…) What I don’t understand is bringing your toddler to a camp counselor training where you have to spend consecutive nights in the same room with a large group of people…especially when your toddler likes to cry at night.

-It’s a common belief that water treated with Waterguard or AquaSafe will upset your stomach. Some Ugandans fear this so much they will refuse to drink treated water. They insist boiling is the only way to treat your water.

-Ugandan women are surprised when American women “cover themselves” when changing to go and bathe. Apparently, they want to see the “bazungu breasts.”

-I don’t think I’ve seen a Ugandan sneeze. EVER.

-Nose picking is very common. I mean obvious, finger in the nose, digging around nose picking. While carrying on a conversation!

-While it’s ok to pick your nose, if you blow your nose with your napkin after finish lunch it’s absolutely taboo.

-“I’m fine” is an appropriate response to just about anything.

-Never show up to a meeting on time. 2 hours late after the set starting time is more likely to be closer to when the meeting will actually begin.

-I bring a book with me EVERYWHERE and I’ve found that it’s completely acceptable for me to read during class, during a meeting, while at a big important social event, just about anywhere a group of people will be meeting. (See above…meetings never start on time).

-Ugandans tell me cold drinks cause cancer.

-If I am feeling a little under the weather, it’s not uncommon to be asked if I have “a little malaria.”

-Greetings are the most important part of social interaction. If I don’t greet someone or forget to greet someone as I’m walking past and later need to ask directions from that same person, it wouldn’t be surprising if they gave me incorrect directions because I didn’t greet them.

-Everyone who is anyone has a visitors’ book and will make you sign that visitors’ book not once but every SINGLE time you visit the person’s house, organization, church, office, etc. At first, I felt like I was being asked for my autograph and it was kind of cool. That got old fast…about after the 30 thousandanth book I signed.

-I’ve grown accustomed to waiting anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours for a bus or taxi to actually leave after I board it.

-Dogs are dirty animals and should ride in the boot of a car but you can hold chickens on your lap and people won’t even give you a second look.

-I’ve eliminated the word “no” from my vocabulary. A straight out “no” response or answer is usually interpreted as rude so now I find myself saying “somehow” or “God willing.” Everyone knows both of these responses mean no but they’re somehow more polite…somehow.

-I eat bugs. Both by choice (it’s currently grasshopper season here) and because I don’t really have any other option. If ants are in my rice and beans or have gotten into my bread I just consider it another source or protein.

-People think my dog needs a visa to get back to the states.

-It’s totally acceptable for a Ugandan man to tell you just how much he wants to marry you and how you are “his size.” Absolutely hate this one.

-Children like to greet me by saying “Bye-eeee!”

1 comment:

  1. Okay, some of these I just don't know...guess we will have to get used to it. Thanks for sharing, as we can prepare ourselves, so we won't be too surprised. Some I find amusing, but as you have pointed out, can get old very quickly. At least annoying.
    Well, the countdown has truly begun, as we have less than 2 weeks and we will be visiting. Can't wait to share all of these experiences you write about. How lucky for us to have you as our own personal tour guide. Take care, my loved one....will see you soon!