By Sanraj Mittal
In the past 24 hours I have started to become more aware of several cultural differences between the one in which I live and the one I have become a part of.
Bed time last night proved to be particularly eventful. My roommate and I were in the process of winding down when we noticed what, at the time, seemed like the biggest bug we had ever seen in our lives careering around the bedroom and seemingly relishing dive-bombing us in a frenzy of calculated attacks! What proceeded was a combination of shoe throwing, shouting for help, and hiding under the blankets. After about 15 minutes of cowering in fear, Golden wandered past the door and heard the commotion. "What is going on here?" he enquires. He walked in, saw the problem, sauntered towards our malicious attacker and simply grabbed the bug with his bare hands, just plucking it directly out of the air! And of course, being Golden, he was laughing all the while. "It is harmless," he chuckled as he left the room, and turned and added with a cheeky smile, "Do you cowards need any more assistance? I thought you were men, not boys!" I cannot imagine anyone I know dealing with such a mammoth sized bug so nonchalantly. We tend to make much ado about nothing, and that has definitely become clear here in Bukinda.
Today happened to be laundry day. After last year's trip I thought I would have this laundry thing down pat. Sadly, I was mistaken. Washing your clothes here involved scrubbing, rinsing, scrubbing, rinsing, scrubbing... well you get the idea... our extremely dusty clothes in cold water, all whilst trying not to waste precious water. The TPC children laughed at my every attempt to wash my shirt. Whenever I thought the shirt or the sock in my hands was clean, I was greeted by a chorus of "no!" from the kids themselves, again amidst fits of laughter. This is one of many of their chores, which include washing the dishes, cleaning the latrines, sweeping the floors of the orphanage, looking after the younger children and sometimes even digging in the field to help cultivate crops for dinner. These are things that none of us ever do. We all have our washing machines and dishwashers and on top of that, many of us have Ayis that even use the machines for us. We don't even have to turn the switch on! When I return to Shanghai I very much doubt I will be doing any of these chores on my own and by hand, but knowing that the children here have to do this on a daily basis will at least make sure that I don't take a clean plate, a fresh pair of trousers and a clean toilet for granted.
A final major difference between western culture and life in Bukinda that I observed today is the alcohol culture. Back home, it is normal for adults, or even teens, to have a glass of wine with dinner or a drink or two on a night out. People are able to drink to relax, and drink in moderation. In Uganda, it seems as though you either stay sober or you are a drunkard. There is no in-between. This was brought to our attention in our cultural training sessions before we came to Bukinda, but even knowing it doesn't quite prepare you for seeing it first hand. Today while working in the middle of the day, a drunk man noticed the muzungus (white people/foreigners) doing done manual labour and in his excitement, decided to serenade us for half an hour. No one took him seriously. In Shanghai, it is rare to see someone intoxicated in the middle of the day, but it is normal to see people having the odd drink. It is almost like the drunkards here do not take themselves seriously. Their predilection to alcohol is what defines them in the way exceptional kindness or expertise at a particular skill may define anyone else.
There are several differences between life in Bukinda and life in Shanghai. It is clear in the little differences in daily life like dealing with a "monstrous" bug and in the noticeable differences in lifestyle. I'm enjoying having my eyes opened on a daily basis and having various preconceived notions on life challenged.
Who are we?
A team working alongside Golden Magezi in Bukinda, Uganda, running an orphanage that provides kids with love, family and an education.