Culture is an incredibly important part of each of us — how we greet people, what we believe, and our views of the world, have a great impact on our lives. During our time in Uganda, we have not only learned many of the cultural traditions that are commonplace in the region, but we have also realized what we value as a part of our cultural heritage. Enjoy a glimpse into the culture of the CARITAS children in Uganda!
From the moment we stepped off of the plane, we realized there were many differences between the United States and Uganda; but the first experience we had with Ugandan culture came on our drive home from the airport. We stopped along the way to visit a little girl who had just become sponsored through CARITAS For Children's child sponsorship programs and would be starting school the next week. When we arrived, her mother saw us and told her child to greet us. The little girl, Joan, then came to us and knelt with her hand in mine and her head bowed. Not understanding what was happening, we both knelt down with her and tried to talk a bit. Later we learned that this was a very respectful greeting that children and women do to acknowledge those in authority. What a wonderful gesture to welcome us to Uganda (even though we had no idea what was happening at the time)!
Joan, the first child we met when we started our internship in Uganda! Liz and Manny have decided to sponsor a child so Joan's mother will get the help she needs and have her daughter's school fees provided.
Another tradition that became immediately apparent was the term “muzungu”. This term roughly means “white person” and is used very, very frequently. Children will come running at any hint of a muzungu, and will shout “Muzungu, how are you?!” However, the term is not only used by children – adults will also use it to get our attention or when they are talking to us. Thankfully, it is not meant to be offensive; it is simply a way of giving a name to a foreigner. Admittedly, it did take a lot of getting used to, but we have developed a fun way to respond to it. When anyone yells muzungu, we shake our heads and say “Nze Muganda!!” (I am Ugandan). This never fails to cause some slight confusion and then mutual laughter.
Traditional dance performed for the “Muzungu” while traveling in Fort Portal, Uganda
Every day, a woman who works nearby comes to our house to chat and let us hold her son, John Paul. John Paul is three months old and claims the title of the cutest baby I have ever seen. He smiles and coos, and wins over our hearts every day. However, we noticed that John Paul always has black strings tied around his wrists, ankles and waist. We asked Flavia, our friend and housekeeper, what these were. Apparently, it is traditional to tie the strings so that the wrists, ankles, and waist form and become more defined as the baby develops. The strings do no harm, but is a very interesting practice!
Amber with John Paul
Finally, we have realized that the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is very much a reality here. Children come and go in our house, even though we have never met the majority of them and their mothers don’t know us either. Mothers will let us hold their children when we first meet them, and some men in the village will drive to pick up children to bring them to school. Although this would make mothers a bit nervous in our culture, here mothers trust their neighbors and want their children to be tough and independent. I admire this trust greatly, and it is wonderful to meet new children as a result of this!
I could go on and on with examples of moments when we experienced a bit of culture shock, but I will end on what we have learned from these moments. Every time that we realize our differences, we learn a bit more about ourselves and about our neighbors and friends here in Uganda. It is a wonderful time of discovery, but in the end people share so many things despite our differences, and even half a world away from home we now have lifelong friends and memories that will shape our futures. We know it is not feasible for everyone to spend an extended period of time here in Uganda, but we encourage you to find ways (sponsor a child through CARITAS perhaps?) to experience new cultures. We are confident that you will not only learn about the other person and their culture, but also about what makes you your own unique you!
If you would like to sponsor a child, please click below to find out more about CARITAS For Children's child sponsorship programs.