Tuesday, September 29, 2009

High school dances all over again and...I'm being courted by a 38-year-old??

It is impossible for me to describe the extent of what it means to be a mzungu (white person) here in Uganda. So I leave you with a couple of stories...

The first question that ever came out of his mouth to me was this: "Do you know Brooke?" Upon my head nod he proceeded to ask, "Have you seen her baby?"

Now Brooke is one of our professors while here who married a Ugandan and has a mixed baby. Beautiful, no doubt. But a hysterical conversation starter.

The conversation ended fairly quickly as I briskly walked away. This was the beginning of several encounters all of which I discounted readily. Until one day, I began my 1.5K trek home and heard my name being yelled from behind. I turned around to discover he who we shall call "Victor" running up behind me and asking if I had time to get some tea and chat. Luckily, it was nearly 7, the time I am required to be home. Sigh; I had a legitemate excuse.

"May I buy you a boda-boda then?" (a ride home on a motorcycle). "No thank you, I enjoy walking;" simple response. But one thing you must know is that African men are persistent. "Well, then I shall walk you." "Really, I'm fine," I pleaded. But like I said, African men are persistent. So he proceeded to walk me all the way home, questioning about my major, education, etc and telling me all of the ways in which that would fit perfectly here in Uganda.

As if that's not enough, he stopped by the side of the road and bought corn and asked me to wait. Little did I know it was for my family! He proceeded to talk himself up and say he had to be honest and let me know where he stands; he wants to get to know me. And to all of this I clearly responded I was interested only in friendship, would be returning to America in December, and certainly would not date him. And was I ever relieved as I finally arrived my house and came up with an excuse not to give him my number.

So, the next afternoon, he came to my house! Luckily, I was not there. And now I know not what to do. Would he have ever initiated a conversation were I not a mzungu? Arguable, but I say "no" pretty confidently.
And for a second story:
Dani and I were standing outside of our brother's school dance party which we had promised to come to when we exchanged looks of anticipation as we had no IDEA what to expect. Upon enterring the room, the music stopped, all the guys gathered around us wanting to dance, and all we could say was "Where's Peter?"

For one of the longest minutes of my life I stood and semi-danced, overwhelmed by the focus of attention until FINALLY--Peter's hand reached through and grabbed us out of the crowd.

Would this happen if I were not white? I dare to say no.
In addition, on any given day at any given moment you hear "Mzungu! Mzungu!" as you walk down the streets of Mukono and the boda-boda men inevitably make some smart comment: "Mzungu, I love you!," "Obama!," or Yes, please!" Honestly, what does that even mean? When kids see you they A) scream B) yell "Mzungu!" C) jump up and down D) cling to their parents, or E) a combination of the above.

Ask any given person on the street in Mukono where they would go if the sky was the limit and 99.9% of the time the resounding answer would be, "America!" Here in Uganda there is an idealization about America--they LOVE Obama. Seriously; there are t-shirts with Obama on the streets. And because we have a black president they assume that America is a utopia. It's funny; everyone over here claims him as their own and love African Americans, but how many African Americans even have a passing thought involving Africans?

It is inarguable that America influences the rest of the world, or at least Uganda. Did I think I would hear Backstreet Boys blaring from the sports bar as I walked down the street? Not quite. And while it's really humorous, it's kind of heart-breaking.

The things which have in the past defined their African culture are quickly disappearing and I am left to wonder what it will be like 50 years from now...

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