Monday, July 23, 2012

Back to Basics

Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda, "the Pearl of Africa." Now that I've been here for just over a month (and exactly five weeks to go), it is high time to fill in some general observations I've collected so far, in no particular order:

I. Ugandan phrases/idioms
  1. When called (to enter a room, for example, or on the phone): "Yes please?"
  2. To greet someone into a space: "You are (most) welcome."
  3. Whenever something drops, someone trips, any small accident occurrence: "sorry sorry!" (as in, if I drop my bag, someone else will say "sorry sorry!")
  4. Referring to another location far away: "that side," or nearby, "this side"
  5. Referring to an indeterminate time in the past: "those days" or "at that time"
  6. "Flashing" is when you call someone and hang up right away so they'll call you back - which makes the call free for you. (Apparently the US is one of the only places where cellphone companies charge to receive calls and texts!)
  7. Electric outlets: "ports" (and they usually have an on/off switch - much more energy efficient!)
  8. Electrical outage: "power shedding" 
  9. God bless you: "Obanga mi goom"
  10. How are you? / I'm fine: "Kopango?/ Ko-peh"
  11. Phrases/sentences are punctuated with "what?" - as in, "I will go to the market for what? For passion fruits (which are AMAZING, by the way) and beans."
II. Advertising
  1. Here in Lira, I've seen ads mostly for beer and paint. There are tons of paint ads everywhere I've been so far - billboards, on walls and fences, shops. One company, Sadolin, has a series of ads for their many shades of paint that says "when it has to be _________" - variations include cherry, peanut, and lime. There's also a Berger paint company with occasional ads around!
  2. By far the most frequent format for ads is in shop signs, which makes it looks something like "Coca Cola presents: Jocelyn's Grocery." 
  3. Large billboards are vertically/portrait orientated, rather than the horizontal landscape version more common at home. There are not that many of the large format ones here, especially not in town itself, though right outside of town on the larger roads leading in and out, there are a few. Around the corner from my street there is a large billboard with a picture of a young woman in a cap and gown with red, yellow, and black war paint-like stripes on her face, looking very sad. It says something about many tens of thousands of youths graduate every year without a job - combat unemployment through family planning. This ad is sponsored by USAID.
  4.  In Kampala there are more frequent large billboards, many of which have messages about safe sex/HIV prevention, banks, mobile phone providers, and a few political ads. I also saw one for the Ugandan national football (soccer) team where the players look very fierce and it says "this is war!" - which I thought was too much, too soon. There's also one from the National Electoral Commission that says "Power is the People's. We are all Ugandans, voting should not divide us. Reject Ignorance. Analyse and vote." (Although I think this is meant to decry election violence, another interpretation could be that the ruling party just wants all the votes.)
  5. At home it bothers me to be surrounded by so much consumerism and marketing all the time, but seeing the dearth of ads, it seems to be an area for significant private sector growth and potential revenue. 

III. Roads

Dusty. Bumpy. Narrow. Unpaved in rural areas. Many others are partially paved and full of potholes. For a cars to pass, on many roads, one must pull over to the side, basically off the road completely. No shoulder to speak of, and very few sidewalks.
  1. The roads in Lira are much more manageable and navigable than in Kampala, thankfully - since I ride a bike about 3.5 kms to work every day. Roads are occupied by large trucks, smaller pickup trucks sometimes piled with innumerable people, cars, shared van-taxis (mutatu), motorcycles (both private and for-hire), bicycles (also both private and for-hire), people pushing wheelbarrows, and pedestrians - many of whom are women with babies strapped to their backs, carrying large parcels on their heads.
  2. Such parcels include, but are not limited to, buckets full of prepared food (such as fried bread or chicken, or chappatis), g-nuts (groundnuts aka peanuts), maize, or cassava; jerry cans full of fuel or water, sewing machines, and reams of fabric. Items strapped to bikes or motorcycles include but are not limited too: live animals (today I saw a pig), lumber/timber, enormous sacks of dry goods, rolled-up foam mattresses, and furniture.
  3. Large trucks and shared vans often have slogans written across the front or back windshield: "Jesus Christ Born Again," "Mashallah," "Oldies are Goodies," "Please Keep Time" (particularly ironic considering the flexible concept of time prevalent here), and "Covered by the Blood of Jesus." Personally, I'm covered by Aetna.
  4. Sights on the side of the road: welders wearing great big alien-eye sunglasses, merchants grilling maize or chappatis for sale (and sometimes 'rolexes' - a chappati wrapped up with an omelet inside, the Ugandan version of a breakfast burrito); parked wheelbarrows full of packets of laundry soap/toothpaste/random assorted plastic containers for sale/mobile airtime; loads of boda (bicycles or motorcycles for hire - a boda from my house to the center of town is about 2000 shillings, or 80 cents) drivers waiting for their next fare; curtains tied to fences for sale, blowing in the breeze; and puddles. In Kampala, where there are some full sidewalks, I saw women sitting in the shade of their newspaper stands, selling the daily headlines. What strikes me most on the roads, though, is the absence of beggars, and the profusion of people ready to smile and say hello, good morning, how are you. I like that part a lot. 

IV. Assorted Items

  1. Lots of second-hand western clothes for sale and worn here. I've seen people wearing t-shirts from Stanford and Camp Tamarack, a Cleveland Indians hat, and little girls wearing shirts that say "I'm cute 24/7" and "Someday I'll be the Boss of You." ! 
  2. Vehicles keep their engines on while filling up with petrol.
  3. There are tons of butterflies everywhere! Amazing! 
  4. Most cars are Toyotas, many of which look just like the ones we have at home, just with the steering wheel on the right. One that looks a lot like a Camry is called Corona, another one is called Ipsum.
  5. Toilet paper roles are sold individually packed, and the beginning of the paper does not adhere to the roll. 
  6. Light switches work in the opposite direction.
  7. Padlocks are more common than locking doorknobs. 
  8. ATMs are usually in a little booth, not just open against a building. 
  9. Garbage is burned, not collected. The smell of fires burning is constant. 
  10. Geckos are everywhere. One lives in a little window in my room.