August 8, 2009
“Speak when you are angry–and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” (Laurence J. Peter)
Many people are guilty of speech under the influence of ANGER. On numerous occasions I’ve opened my mandible and allowed words to come out my mouth while my inhibitions were lowered under the influence of ANGER. After some time has passed, I would analyze the situation and the response till I feel I should be diagnosed with OCD. In the end I would tell myself that I could have saved a few brain cells if I could just remember to slow my tongue before my cerebrum processed the consequences of the words. Speaking under the influence of anger is like trying to walk while one’s drunk.
On the other hand, choosing one’s words carefully requires tact and forethought. While a person is infuriated, if there’s something that could remind him/her of the dire consequences of words or actions, so the impulsiveness to respond is delayed, then perhaps we can avoid burning bridges.
Using fewer sharp words aid in the building bridges among various people around the planet. Back home in the USA, people take special pride in making direct comments. Comments that tell another exactly how they feel. Well, maybe, too direct. The directness in sharing one’s opinions, beliefs, or feelings is not appreciated in every culture in the world. People in these parts use caution to avoid breaking bridges. Perhaps that’s something one needs in every relationship: professional or personal. Relationships are not forever, so perhaps we need to take care of them like we should maintain a nation’s bridges.
May 20, 2009
April 12, 2009
I sit patiently in the front office of Fractal’s NGO in the heart of Fractalville. We dropped in for a few minutes to ask some wholesome advice into turning the depressing dump into a habitable home. We’ve a grand vision for our 3-room iron sheet-roofed concrete home: energy-saving solar panels that power 2 small lamps and charge our cell-phones, our ENO hammocks that provide solace, hanging tables that are convenient and simple, and bookshelves that are mounted on the wall. Things, we discovered, aren’t as simple as going to Home Depot, purchasing a power tool, drilling a hole, and inserting screws into the sheet rock.
An hour later, I was still sitting in the office. Seated across from me, the NGO accountant extended her hand to give us an invitation to her niece’s introduction ceremony. We graciously thanked her. A bit unsure of attending a ceremony where a stranger would introduce her fiance to her parents, I tried to cover my surprise when Sara told me that I should wear a busuti and Fractal should wear a kansu with a sports jacket. The gomesi, or a busuti, elegantly conceals any semblance of curves and makes the beautiful voluptuous figure of an Ugandan woman into a mass of shiny fabric that disapprovingly hides any skin. A busuti with its silk folds, high peaked sleeves, and huge bowed sash would swallow a petite person (like me!). Hannah, NGO board member, assured me that I would look smart.
A few days later, I got a call from the NGO secretary, who informed me to come into the office for the measurements for the gomesi. What! MEASUREMENTS FOR THE GOMESI! When I arrived at the office, 2 NGO colleagues greet me with the maroon fabric. They informed me that the chairman of the NGO decided to purchase the fabric for the gomesi and kansu. This, they say, is the African way.
Soon after that they ushered me into a seamstress’ shop. The tailor wasn’t there, but her assistant looked me over and retorted that the gomesi would be ready the next morning (just a few hours before the event). When I inquired whether she should take my measurements, she assured me that she eyeballed the measurements correctly when she looked me over. As I leave the Africa’s Best Tailoring Shop, I’ve images of the GOMESI engulfing me.
The next day we waited eagerly to be picked up at nine in the morning. The chairman, the treasurer, the program director, and the secretary arrived at one in the afternoon, and Frank the treasurer excitedly handed me the gomesi. I thankfully accepted the kind-hearted gift and I proceeded back into the house to be helped by the secretary into the six meter river of cloth. I decided that the gomesi was a cross between a sari and a Victorian-era dress. Anna first wrapped me around the thick shawl–the kind that aunties of my parents’ Orthodox church adorn in winter. Then I stepped into the gomesi with its PUFFED sleeves. Since Anna wasn’t well versed in wearing a gomesi, the gargantuan sash took twenty minutes to be fastened around my waist.
We arrived only three hours late, and the ceremony hadn’t started. A crowd of smartly dressed women and men clad in both traditional and western attires waited uncomplainingly under a white tent embellished with pink ribbons in the roasting sun. Not even an hour in the gomesi, I felt I stepped into a sauna. We were escorted right to the front. Since there was no room inside the tent, we sat bathing in the warm sun. After singing the Ugandan and the Busoga anthems, we tolerated (for the next seven hours) the conversations between two professional gabblers, who represented the two families and who were employed by them, for the event. The first–couple of hours–was the greeting. The children, the adolescent girls, the teenaged boys, middle-aged women, the senior-women danced their way into the aisle between the two tents. They welcomed the groom’s family. The families shared their Busoga kingdom membership donation certificates to verify that they were from different clans. The last hour the groom’s family, who came bearing gifts, covered every inch of space with gifts: baskets of tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, rice, sugar, onions,the leg of a cow in a burlap sack, matooke, soaps, sofa, goats, and chickens. The chairman informed us that the material goods have replaced the traditional monetary bride price.
Right after sunset, the buffet lunch was ready. As I stood up to walk to the line, the sari part of my gomesi came undone. Frank motioned to me that my dress was dragging on the floor, and I gathered it together without showing my embarassment. I was too tired to care about it after a few minutes, but was glad to see the food.
As I used the chapatti to scoop up the sauce, I watched Fractal furtively try to avoid the video camera as he attempted to sneak the rice into his mouth with his fingers. The last three years Fractal has been finessing the art of eating with his fingers. Even though he impressed relatives in India, he was still self conscious of his fine motor skills.
We got back a little after nine. With a new perspective. I decided that our hour and half long wedding wasn’t that bad.
May 7, 2009
Hearing “muzungu,” can fill some people with dread. MUZUNGU. FOREIGNER. Calling someone muzungu isn’t insulting. Stating the obvious (physical attributes) isn’t offensive here. People generously use words like fat, thin, small, big, tall, short, black, white, and red to describe others. Once I was taken aback when someone refered to the person standing next to me as “that fat one.” I wanted to apologize to my neighbor on behalf of the speaker.
If you don’t look African, then the term “muzungu” applies to you. Once upon a time, the great Muzungu greeting was probably reserved for white folks, but now it refers to anyone who’s non-Bantu. The term also suggests that one’s loaded. Yes, if you’re white, then you’re a walking wallet; but if you’re brown as I, then you’re a stingy walking wallet. There’s a significant number of business owners from the Indian subcontinent in Uganda. A well-intentioned volunteer informed me that I should be wary of those Ugandan business owners who would assume I’m an Indian Ugandan and would resist giving a good bargain. Now I can bargain. I bought 3 bell peppers for 100 shillings. I even tried to bargain the price of some cheap candy. Yes, bargain I can. It must be in my blood.
I don’t want to be entitled to any special call-outs. Though the word challenges me. I honestly want to stop in my track, turn to the person, and say, “musoga.” (a resident of the Busoga kingdom) Once I said “muzungu” back, and got perplexed looks. Fractal was concerned that I might offend the children by calling them something they weren’t. I changed my tactic. When children call Fractal & me “muzungu,” I stick out two fingers to suggest there’re two of us and say, “buzungu.” At least, I can teach them some grammar. After all, I’m a teacher.