Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"...and that's why I punched the guy in the face, officer."

OK, so I haven’t punched anyone yet, and I probably won’t but nonetheless I feel like I could or at least I intensely want to and that’s saying a lot because I’m about as violent as your average fruit fly. At first it didn’t bother me but the more it goes on the more it wears on my last nerve. And I guess it shouldn’t. It doesn’t carry the same connotations as labels we use in America. It simply means ‘white traveler’ and nothing more. It’s a descriptive term when it’s translated into English.

Let me give you an example. I ride my bike into town and the first sign of civilization I pass is a slummy looking area where there are usually no less than 10 men standing around looking at 5 bicycles flipped upside down being worked on. Mechanics here fix bicycles for a living. As I speedily approach, I begin to hear it, “Eh! Eh!” which means they’ve seen me coming and they can’t believe there’s a white man coming on a bicycle wearing a large funny shiny thing on his head. It’s also to let EVERYONE around also know that there’s something coming up the road that EVERYONE should stop to stare at. It’s usually soon followed by, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” There’s usually an, “Iwe (EE-way)! Iwe!” in there somewhere and sometimes a “Gwe! Gwe!” as well. Iwe means You in Runyankore, and Gwe isn’t even Runyankore, it’s Luganda which is spoken in east Uganda! So in essence they’re yelling “Hey You! Hey You!” And what they want is for you to look over there at them at which point they’ll just wave or laugh. It’s like a 4 year old child that CONTINUALLY calls to their father to (and I think you know where this is going) “Watch me, Daddy! Watch me!” The first few dozen times you do it, too. And then you realize that they want you to watch them doing EVERYTHING from stacking block #1 onto block #2 to watching them climb into the chair across the room (talking about the child here, not the African). After a while you just can’t divert your attention 20 times every 3 minutes or you’ll completely lose your insanity!

You hear it 6 times going in any direction. By 6 times I mean from 6 different people. Sometimes they throw a Jambo in there which is Swahili which they teach in some schools. People who are flying by on mopeds will yell it. If they’re riding in the back of a truck they’ll yell it. People just passing you on the street will yell it, and it’s yelled at a decibel level that nearly makes you jump out of your skin sometimes. It really is somewhat frightening at times.

Additional calls that I get:

tsss –this is common. It’s what they do instead of whistling. It’s also the same way they call their dogs.

Give me money –most often from kids but also from adults. This one usually comes once a week. I typically respond by telling them to give me money in Runyankore and then telling them they have bad manners (in Runyankore). This might sound like a cruel response but it seems to shut them up pretty quickly and they apologize. One PCV told a story where he was wanting to know what white person ran through the streets Uganda throwing money out to all of the people to give them the idea that when white people come they just reach into their pockets and start giving money away.

Brian-ee –this is how they say my name, so if they know it and can get my attention using this method then they’ll try it.

How are you? Which sounds more like a robot saying “Awa U.” Like it’s the name of some African University. They all know enough English to know a greeting like this. They also know enough English to greet you in the evening by saying “Good morning, sir”

Also staring. It’s not rude to stare here so they do. A lot. Apparently they never had 3 older sisters constantly reminding them, “Brian! Don’t stare at people. It’s rude!”

If you’re walking or biking behind someone and they turn to see who it is, they always do a double take. The first look is to check who is coming then once they’ve seen you and realized that you don’t posses the same dark pigments in your skin as the ‘normal’ people living there it’s followed by a second and MUCH LONGER look back as they walk. Secretly I seem to be hoping they’ll step in a hole or trip on a rock sticking out of the ground as they’re staring backwards and walking forwards, but it never seems to happen. If they pass on a moped then the driver will stare back for a short time but the passenger will stare back for significantly longer.

Now with children I don’t mind so much. I can’t. They’re too cute and it’s totally different with them. The first thing they do is stop whatever they’re doing, run to the edge of the road and stand and wait to speak until you are almost ready to pass them. To them, you are like Ronald McDonald or the Easter Bunny walking through their town and when you wave at them after they’ve been yelling ‘Mzungu’ or ‘Agandi’ (a-GAN-dee) which is a greeting that means ‘what news’, they smile and turn and skip away feeling so good that the guy with the red curly hair, yellow jumpsuit and big clown shoes just waved at them. And they’re done yelling at that point as well. Unless there are other children near by, then they realize that they didn’t get a red-painted smile and a white-glove wave so they begin to call too until they get the aforementioned attention. And then once you’ve done it one day as you’ve passed, then you must do it every day that you pass. And they love it. It makes their entire day, every day when you just wave and acknowledge them. But the adults…grrrrrrr.

So what have I done about the adults? Well, I tried ignoring it. Hasn’t helped, but Jacob insists that it will. I’ve tried saying “African” the same way they say “Mzungu” but that hasn’t done a thing. My newest thing is to yell back “Iwe (you)”. So what if it’s childish, it’s what I’m trying. I’ve considered a couple of other options as well. One includes whenever anyone says anything to me I casually stroll up to them and introduce myself, ask who they are, tell them that I’m not called Mzungu and then be on my way. A kill-them-with-kindness method if you will. My favorite option that I haven’t tried is to take on an alternate personality and just have fun with it. For example be a loud, friendly American cowboy personality “Howdy! How’s y’all doin’? I show do appreciate all this wonderful welcoming y’all are giving me here in this town!” Just the loudness and friendliness, I think, might just freak them out enough to think I’m weird and leave me alone… or it could make them do it more, which is the likelier of the two.

4 Comments:

At 15 August, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Brian, that decription is funny, totally priceless and it makes me feel like I'm there and am experiencing it with you. I don't blame you for wanting to punch them (anything like that to a point would probably push me too far), but it still sounds like a good learning experience (don't you hate it when people say that!).

Glad you've kept a blog going. It's great reading about what's going on.

-CarolAS

 
At 16 August, 2006, Blogger Jennifer Noble said...

Hahaha...um, based on what you said before about how they handle crime there, I'd suggest not punching anyone. But, that's just me.

 
At 17 August, 2006, Blogger Chris & Chrissy Miller said...

that's hilarious man! that would drive me nuts too. glad things are going well over there ...

 
At 18 August, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, toooo funny. i feel bad laughing because i'm sure you don't think it's funny anymore (and i will probably be in your exact same position in 6 months - so i better be ready for karma to sneak up), but it's funny to know what's going through your head. i can just picture it. i think you would really feel bad if someone staring at you tripped in a hole and got hurt:) i'm amazed at the level of sarcasm that develops in 6 months in Uganda (God help me). you're a great story-teller. i leave for burkina in 5 weeks! then i, too, can write funny blogs of my frustrations with african life for people back home to laugh about.

nanette

 

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