It is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Q&A blog. Before diving into the questions and answers, I want to share a story. It is my hope that you will interpret my answers to your questions in the context of this story.
The world is so small. On Friday evening a few coworkers took me and my fellow Scholars to a bar called Mojo. In a lot of ways, Mojo was like Oasis – a local sports bar in Halifax. There was music, sports on TVs, pool tables, and even a little bit of alcohol. The only difference between Mojo and Oasis was that the former was outside while the latter is located in a basement. We had a fantastic time at Mojo. Our discussions covered an array of topics including: philosophy, geography, poetry, education, law, and of course love. I’ve yet to talk to a Ugandan for more than 15 minutes without the topic of love coming up in some capacity.
Lovely as the night was, the most thought provoking moment occurred winding through the streets of Kampala on the way home from Mojo. Our discussion in the van was abruptly interrupted by a loud screeching sound coming from the radio. The ear-splitting screams emitting from the speakers convinced me that the rapture was upon us; however, I quickly came to the realization that it was just “Roar” by Katy Perry, the “singer” that became famous by shooting whipped cream out of her bra. What a deserving artist. Anyway, once I regained spatial awareness and asked forgiveness for all my sins, I noticed something: my Ugandan coworkers knew every word to Ms. Perry’s masterpiece. In fact, they were singing along quite enthusiastically. My immediate reaction was one of surprise and confusion. After all, these coworkers were two grown men who have spent their entire lives in Uganda. Yet in that moment they could have fit in with a 9 year-old girls soccer team.
After giving it some thought, I came to the realization that I had just witnessed globalization first hand. We are told in liberal arts classes that globalization is a phenomenon where the world ‘shrinks’. The ‘shrinking’ effect is not physical, of course; rather, it is ideational. In a globalized world, ideas are shared at an unprecedented rate and the result of such sharing is interconnectivity. Interconnectivity can bring about a number of negative consequences such as: cultural imperialism, environmental degradation, Katy Perry, and some might even say the onset of global terrorism.
Conversely, there is also a number of positive aspects attached interconnectivity. Among the most prominent of these aspects are the unusual connections that humans make with each other in a globalized world. Such connections allow us humans to appreciate our similarities rather than dwell on our perceived differences. For example, who knew that two fully grown Ugandan men had so much in common with every 9 year-old girl in North America? Now, everybody can sing Katy Perry together! Gee, thanks globalization.
Here’s what I want you to take from my story: every answer that I will give should be understood in the context of globalization. You will be surprised to hear just how similar some aspects of Uganda are to Canada, and how different others appear. Also, please be cognizant of the fact that I am just one person giving one subjective opinion. If you want objectivity, go somewhere else. Please do not let my answers shape your entire opinion of Uganda and remember that I’ve only been here for two weeks!
Question #1: Do you like matooke?
Matooke is a giant carb. For those of you who don’t know, matooke is a staple food in Uganda. It is made by steaming bananas, mashing them up (usually by hand, that’s the fun part I hear), wrapping them in cassava leaves, and then cooking them over a heat source. The bananas used to make matooke are not sweet like the Cavendish bananas we eat in Canada, but rather starchy and better suited for cooking. Matooke is a staple food in Uganda. In fact, most Ugandans say that “it is not a meal without Matooke”. The best way to describe the taste is, well… thick. It has the same consistency of mashed potatoes and tastes like a mixture between squash, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Here’s the fun part: matooke is served with a purple sauce made out of walnuts. Although the sauce is tasty and visually stimulating, it only adds to the thickness of the dish. As a result, you are usually full after a few bites of matooke. So, do I like it? Kind of. I definitely do not crave a spoonful of the stuff in the middle of the night, but compared to some other Ugandan foods it is quite tolerable.
Question #2: People of my age associated Uganda with the dictatorship of Idi Amin; and the Entebbe Airport with the PLO highjacking. When you describe the democracy that Uganda is now, I wonder how they got from where there were to where they are. As well, is there something distinct – politically, historically, economically, geographically – that have allowed them to follow this democratic pathway relative to their surrounding African neighboring countries?
This is a pretty loaded question that I could probably write an entire doctoral thesis on. However after seeing what a PhD can do to someone, I will opt for the short answer as I value my health and enjoy seeing sunlight. Since colonial powers left the African continent after the Second World War, a number of African countries experienced a series of tyrannical dictators. As a result, lots of people in the so called ‘developed world’ share the common misconception that African countries are not capable of sustaining democratic, transparent, and accountable governments. However, the idea that African countries are incapable of good governance is ill-founded. It is not Africa’s fault that so many of Her countries have gone through hell in the past 60 years, it is ours. Let me be as clear as possible with this one: colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and neo-liberalism are all just as responsible for tyranny on the African continent as Idi Amin or any other past dictator.
To be honest, I have no idea why Uganda is doing better in terms of democratic reform than neighbouring DRC and South Sudan. All I can say is that each African country has a distinct history, and for most that history is unfortunately tainted by colonialism. As far as Ugandan democracy goes: it is far from perfect. I was talking with a journalist today and he was telling me about how radio and TV stations get shut down by the government if they interview members of opposition parties. Uganda claims to have free, fair, and open elections but presidential candidate debates are non-existent and large parts of the rural population are systematically excluded from the political process. That’s not to say that it’s all bad. Uganda is still legally a constitutional democracy, its percentage of female parliamentarians is staggering compared to many countries, and living conditions are improving for many.
I think that the biggest force that will keep Uganda on its “democratic pathway” is globalization. Thanks to the widespread availability of internet and cell phone service, Ugandans are able to connect with people all over the world in an unprecedented way. In a globalized world, the best way to help other sovereign states achieve democratic reform is through appealing to the people via internet technology. Uganda’s path to democracy has been long and it is far from over, but it is definitely on the right track.
Question #3: What is a typical meal?
Option 1: Eggs, toast, fruit. Option 2: Toast, peanut butter, jam. Option 3: pasta, sauce, cheese. Option 4: any combination of the latter two options. Still on a student budget, but lucky for us lunch is provided at work. Lunch usually consists of matooke, rice, potatoes, every carb ever, and either fish or beef.
Question #4: What do you do in the evenings?
Evenings are spent reading, writing, doing yoga, watching Rachel and Shelby do exercise videos, animal chasing (See epilogue), and discussing everything under the sun. We usually stay in the apartment after I get back from the pool, which is around 7:45 PM. The work day wipes us out so quiet evenings are nice!
Question(s) #5: How are women considered in Uganda? Does there seem to be Ugandan women in the workplace and if not is there a trend with younger woman to become educated? Are there equal opportunities?
A sad truth in Uganda is that some negative gender stereotypes are still perpetuated and tend to be the norm in a lot of settings. I cannot speak for Uganda as a whole, but in my limited experience Ugandan women do not enjoy the same respect here as they do in Canada. For example, some people were surprised to hear that I, as a male, cooked my own meals every night given the fact that I live with two females. That said there is a great deal of women in the workforce in Kampala. In fact, my boss is female and she has to be one of the most incredible people on the planet. Further, there are a lot of female parliamentarians and women are holding a larger share of jobs in the private sector. There is still a long way to go, but it appears that some steps are being taken in the right direction. I cannot speak to trends in education and equal opportunities as I have not been here long enough to pick up on that.
Question #6: What is the predominant religion in Uganda?
Once again, statics will do a much better job at answering this one than I ever could. I have noticed that there are A LOT of Christians (both catholic and protestant). Uganda is a pretty conservative society with regards to family values and marriage practices, and I think that most of these values are underpinned by Christianity. That said, I’ve also noticed a lot of Muslims in Kampala. There are probably a bunch of other religions out there, but Christianity is definitely the most prominent in Kampala. Thanks, Liz!
Question #7: Are there outward signs of poverty in Kampala? Are they restricted to certain areas?
You read my mind! I plan to address this question in my next blog post. Stay tuned.
Question #8: You are a university student in Uganda, what is the biggest culture difference from the “Canadian way” of doing things to the “Ugandan way” amongst people your age.
Great question! The term ‘culture difference’ kind of irks me because it assumes cultures are static blocks that do not interact with one another. The reality is that cultures are a mishmash of different ideas and practices – and globalization serves as a catalyst to cultural mishmash. I think that Ugandan university students and Canadian students are not all that different. Most of us in the NGO sector are Poli Sci/IDS students and graduates; we are in debt, like pasta, and drink a little more beer than we should.
An interesting difference between Canadian and Ugandan students, however, is our ‘life schedules’. Lots of the Ugandan students that I talk to say they want to get married and start having kids sooner than later, whereas most of my Canadian friends would rather skin themselves than talk about starting a family. I also think that the students in Uganda are a lot more passionate about politics. People in Canada talk about the weather; people in Uganda talk about politics. As a result, students are a lot more engaged in current issues. Canadian students tend to be pretty apathetic and cynical towards political activities. Uganda students on the other hand are not afraid to tell you what they think! Man it’s nice to be in a place where people have opinions.
Well, that ends question period. I hope I did a better job than our Honourable Members of Canadian Parliament. If so, vote Jeremy in 2019! I’d like to do another one of these in a few weeks, so keep the questions coming.
Signing off from mission control,
Epilogue – The “tail” of Grecko, Kampala’s Green Gecko
WARNING: THIS GETS A BIT GROSS
Shelby’s trip from the kitchen to the dinner table was interrupted by a gecko (named Grecko) crossing the floor. The sound that escaped her mouth was a cross between a banshee and a Michael Jackson song. The sound that came out of mine and Rachel’s mouths was laughter. Our laughter was quickly replaced with fear when Grecko left his position on the wall and sprinted towards Rachel’s room. Given Grecko’s speed, it is evident that he and Usain (RIP) must have been training partners at the “Scare the Living Shit out of Canadians Academy for Gifted Little Crawlers”, or STLSOOCAFGLC for short.
The chase was on.
We burst through Rachel’s door, guns-a-blazin, and by guys I mean bowls from the kitchen. Grecko pulled a ‘Kansas City Shuffle’ and headed for Rachel’s closet while we searched behind her toilet. Unfortunately Grecko was not a very light-footed gecko so his stomping quickly gave away his position. The three of us (me, Rachel and Grecko) rendezvoused by a pile of Rachel’s shorts. Shelby was outside the room presumably calling a Canadian Forces helicopter to come rescue us… oh wait, she isn’t Peter MacKay. ZING! Grecko made a break for the chair. At this point I was on the floor at his level, literally pleading with him to jump in my bowl so that I could escort him to our balcony. Rachel aptly reminded me that geckoes don’t speak English, even if you do call them by their name. I guess I will never be a gecko whisper; all that training for nothing.
By this point Grecko had escaped under the fridge. While under the fridge Rachel and I strategized: Rachel would find the keys to unlock her door (which led to the balcony) and I would trap Grecko under the bowl. Break. In a final burst of energy Grecko ran out from under the fridge towards the door and I lunged forward with the bowl.
HIT! Oh wait…
“F****!!!!! I CUT OFF HIS TAIL! F*** F*** MOTHER F*****! HOLY SHIT IT’S STILL MOVING! HOW IS THE TAIL STILL MOVING?!?!” I exclaimed. Rachel and Shelby came running into the room to witness my accidental amputation of Grecko’s tail. “What the F*** happened?” said Rachel. “He’s in the curtains!!!!! Well, everything but his tail” I answered. About thirty earth seconds had passed since the amputation and the tail was still moving abruptly. I say earth seconds because by this time I was so petrified that I my soul had actually left my body and I was witnessing the ordeal from above. To all of our surprise, Shelby calmly approached poor tailless Grecko, put the bowl over him, and ushered him out the door onto the balcony. After the balcony door was sealed Rachel and I swept up what was left of Grecko’s tail.
Grecko is currently being treated for PTSD and PTTLS (Post-Traumatic Tail Loss Syndrome) in a local Ugandan military hospital. He is being considered for the Victoria Cross and has already won a Congressional Medal of Honour. Turns out John McCain still has a lot of sway in Washington. As for me: I’ve since returned to my body, but have yet to regain full control of my bladder.