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Letters from Abroad

Mukono, Uganda: Feb. 23

There’s something I’ve noticed about the Africans I’ve met here: they are incredibly polite and generous. Though it’s great to be in a culture like this and to feel welcomed and appreciated, it has brought about several funny circumstances.

First of all, greetings here are very important. If you walk into a room with 10 people, you have to go around and greet everyone. By greeting, I mean saying hello, asking how the person is, asking what they did during the day and how life is. The funny part comes in when you know that in Luganda-the language they speak here-there is only one word for “Hello, how are you?”

So in a typical conversation, I’ll walk by someone and say, “Hello!” and she’ll immediately say, “I’m fine, thank you, how are you?” A bit taken aback, I say, “I’m fine, how are you?” And then she’ll look at me strangely because I asked her twice how she was doing in the span of 20 seconds. I’m learning quickly to say “Hihowareyou?” immediately so that that discomfort doesn’t occur.

Another thing I noticed early on is that Ugandans apologize to each other all the time. I mean, if I forget to bring a pencil to class and say something like, “Oh shoot, I left my pencil in my room,” a host of voices will say, “Oh, sorry!” At first it was kind of weird, but now I appreciate it and have started picking it up myself. When my friend trips on the way to class? Sorry! When that guy ate dinner too fast and now feels uncomfortably full? Ohhh…sorry!

I’ve tried to push the boundaries to see just what everyone will be sorry for, and I realized that you can even blow your nose into your own hand and accidentally lick it, and people will apologize to you, instead of thinking you’re a psycho. It’s great!

And finally, last weekend we went to rural Uganda to stay with some missionaries. As part of the program, we visited local people from different tribes to see how they lived.

Throughout the course of the day we were given many gifts from the hosts, just for showing up and “gracing” them with our question-asking presence. We left in the morning with 14 Americans and two Africans, and we came back with 18 Americans, 10 Africans, two bags full of eggs, two pineapples, two papayas, a chicken and a goat.

Show me hospitality like that in America, and you can bet what I’d say, “Ohhh…sorry!”

Andrea Priest is a junior at Eastern who is currently studying abroad in Mukono, Uganda. As a former editor, she has agreed to send updates of her journey.

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