Yesterday, while walking home from work, my husband and I fell into a rhythm that kept pace with a young man who was walking in the same direction. In the big city I come from, people tend to avoid making eye contact when they chance upon strangers in the street. In a country town, people tend to acknowledge each other with a friendly nod or brief smile. Ugandans will smile openly, say hello and ask how you are. They will even wait for your reply and expect you to enquire the same of them. And then, if your Luganda is good enough, or if they speak English, a light and friendly chat will take place. So of course when this happened yesterday, it came as no surprise. Nor was it unusual that the Joseph, as the young man introduced himself, was gently spoken and so very polite. I should point out now that Uganda appears to be an incredibly safe country, where we can walk without fear along most roads – knowing that the laptop in your bag would prove to be a curiosity rather than a potential windfall. So we feel very comfortable ignoring our mothers’ advice about talking to strangers here.

We told Joseph that we were on our way home from work and asked him if he was doing the same. He was well dressed, with perfectly polished shoes, so it seemed to be the logical assumption. Joseph was in fact going to his brother’s house, where he was staying for a while until he found work. He explained that his brother had a job, but was struggling to support his own wife and children so he could only impose on them a while longer. Joseph told us about his home town in the east of Uganda. How beautiful it is, and how he plans to stay in Kampala for a few years to make some money and then return there to start a family.

While he told us his story, Joseph spoke positively, with the confidence that he would find a job soon. His hardship was simply a fact of life in Uganda and nothing to be pitied. In fact, Joseph said that he was very lucky to be blessed with the ability to read and write English well and the strength to do many physical jobs. He also had the good sense to make the most of this chance meeting with two Muzungus – Joseph asked if he could give us his phone number in case we came across anyone who might be hiring staff. I couldn’t think of a more reasonable request. And that’s the Ugandan way – gentle and honest, with no hint of aggression.

This is not the fist time a Ugandan has asked if we know of anyone who can give them a job, but it is the first country where I have heard this request so many times. And I find this quite incredible. In one of the world’s poorest nations, we are not swamped with beggars or children demanding pens or sweets, or by people eager to show us their medical conditions in the hope that we will pay for their treatment. Just the dignified request for an honest living.

Something to ponder anyway…

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