Christmas in Uganda
Here are some of the unique gifts I will be enjoying this Christmas in Uganda;
The Gift of Calm in the Midst of Chaos. When I read that it is culturally unacceptable to express anger in public in Uganda, I did not really believe it. Coming for the US, where people routinely drop “F” bombs in public, where TV and movie plots always seem to involve violence and rage, and where the 24 hour news cycle is dominated by shouting, I found the notion of a society devoid of public anger unimaginable.
The guide books are correct. The people of Uganda are amazingly calm and unruffled. They do not shout. They may have swear words in the local language, but I can tell you they are not uttered in anger.
It is amazing how remaining calm helps you endure the inconveniences of Ugandan life. Imagine being cramped in the back seat of a crowed, sweaty, 14 passenger “taxi” van stalled in horrendous traffic where not a single person in the vehicle complains. Uganda has reminded me that getting upset does not improve the situation. In fact, when you complain, things only get worse, or hotter, or more uncomfortable. This comes from a hard charging American who finds it impossible to play 18 holes of golf without swearing at himself and his golf ball multiple times. After a month in Uganda, I don’t even think swear words, let alone say them.
The Gift of Real Family Values: In Uganda, family comes first. I am told funerals are a two day affair. The first day is to bury the dead, and the second day is for a family meeting to decide how to “look after” the survivors. If a woman loses her husband, the family decides who will care for her. When children are orphaned, the family decides which member or members will adopt them. Children are raised with the concept of multiple parents. Their mother’s younger sister is “little mother” and her older sister is ‘big mother”, etc (This nomenclature can get quite complicated in large families).
Despite crushing poverty and the constant threat of fatal disease, children grow up in Uganda secure in the knowledge the family will provide for them. You can see evidence of this on the Kiva website. Poor women borrowers applying for tiny loans for their humble little businesses often have an orphan or two to “look after” in addition to their own children.
Family values extend to aging parents also. When I asked a local Baptist minister about retirement homes in Uganda, he laughed. His eyes widened as he said that even if there were such institutions in Uganda, you would be CURSED for sending your parents to one. In Uganda, the family stays together from birth till death.
The Gift of Cooperation Not Competition: If you read my blog entitled Microfinance Plus Plus, you saw how farmers in Uganda work together for their common good.
Back home, I do business with dairy farmers in up-state New York. These are some of the finest, most productive farmers in the world. They have turned milk production into a science. The problem is when they make more milk, the price per gallon goes down. These rugged individualists ultimately turn to the government for support programs to stay in business.
In Uganda, there are no government support programs. Ugandans utilize cooperation as a business survival skill.
The Gift of Forgiveness Not Retribution: In a country where violence and turmoil were common for decades prior to the 1990’s, Ugandans understand the value of forgiveness. Fighters for the Lord’s Resistance Army, a shrinking but violent band of rebels currently holed up in neighboring Republic of Congo, are welcomed back into Ugandan society when they lay down their arms and apologize for their actions. Although this forgiveness will most likely not be extended to the LRA’s tyrannical leader, he may someday be a General without an army.
Wouldn’t it be a different world if we looked for reasons to understand and forgive our adversaries rather than creating an ever expanding category labeled “terrorists”; to be feared, avoided, insulted, or imprisoned without a trial?
The Gift of Life Without Nicotine. Uganda is truly a smoke free society. My unofficial estimate is that somewhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 Ugandans smoke. One day I stood on a crowded Kampala street corner waiting for the first smoker to pass. I gave up after 15 minutes, during which time thousands of pedestrians walked by without a cigarette in sight.
When I ask westerners about this, they invariably cite economics as the reason. “Cigarettes are too expensive for Ugandans”, they say. That doesn’t make sense because there is significant variation in income here, but no smoking. Also, in the US, destitute people find the money for cigarettes. Finally, Ugandans purchase beer, which is a discretionary expense not unlike cigarettes.
I got a different explanation from two Ugandans who cited the same reason for not smoking. Ugandans don’t smoke because it’s just not the thing to do. Smoking was popular in the 70’s and for some unexplained reason it went out of fashion.
This highly unscientific explanation gives me reason for optimism for the remainder of the world. Wouldn’t we all be better off if smoking was just not the thing to do?
The Gift of Abundant Heat, Light, Water and Air. What more can you ask for than 12 hours of sunlight year round, warm (but not hot) days, cool nights, enough rain to keep the countryside lush and green at all times, and no snow, no earthquakes, no hurricanes and no tornadoes?
Seasonal Affected Disorder will never be a problem here. You never need to change your clock or your wardrobe. Some Ugandans set their clocks to 00:00 at sunrise (7 am) so 12:00 arrives at sunset (7 pm). The sun shines brightly, but Uganda’s 3,000 foot elevation tempers the equatorial heat.
Now don’t get me wrong. Uganda is an extremely poor, under-developed country. I’m not ready to move here permanently and I have no doubt many Ugandans would rush to the United States in hopes of capturing a share of the “American Dream” if given the opportunity.
On Christmas I will be thankful for many gifts in life; my loving family, my economic prosperity, my health. This year I am especially thankful to Kiva.org for allowing me to experience the unique gifts of Uganda which will remain with me for a lifetime.
Merry Christmas to all!/>