As obvious foreigners to any area save the US embassy here in Uganda, PCVs are often the annoyed recipients of an endless barrage of shouts and stairs… from a distance. As we approach, the shouts give way to silence. And while the stares often remain, they quickly give way to something special as we engage our cheeks and shoot back with the only weapon our government has armed us with: a smile. As soon as we show that big toothy cheese, our bodies are seemingly illuminated with a bigger, brighter, more sincere smile than most are used to seeing. We are in-light-ened with joy.
With varying degrees of frequency, when we are not bustling off to our respective jobs, we are also given the opportunity to sit down, grab a soda, chomp on a banana and, well, kick back and shoot the shit.
The conversations, short or long, all seem to begin the same with the perfect stranger. How is the day? How is your family? You are from where? Do you enjoy Uganda? How long will you stay? What is your religion? Do you have a wife?
Similar questions mean similar answers:
“Baliyo kurungi.” (They are there well, i.e. they are doing well back home)
“Ngonza Uganda muno. Uganda eina abaantu barungi!” (I love Uganda very much. Uganda has good people!)
“Ndi Catholic.” (Clearly, for all those who know me, a simplified answer to keep me out of a hotter seat)
Do you have a wife?
Simple enough answer, right? I have no wife, so the answer is clearly “no.” But this is usually where the Rutooro stops and the English begins, as this answer opens the flood gates… and I believe that I’ve discovered a chink in the chauvinist armor of this male dominated society; an opportunity to educate (maybe).
Facts: In Uganda…
…a man is allowed to cheat on his wife with other women. If a woman does this, it is grounds for divorce.
…a man is allowed to take multiple wives. A woman cannot.
…the population most responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS is the middle-aged married communities on account of the social acceptance and therefore propensity of the couples to obtain side-dish(es), sexual partners on the side. This has become known as “the sexual network.”
“No, I do not have a wife, but I have a girlfriend.”
To this, the most common response is shock. “Eh! But she is so far away. You try a Ugandan woman.”
“Try” is often substituted with “taste” which invariably turns my stomach while my mind conjures the American twisted view of the Ugandan mindset: a Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors with a line of hungry men trailing out the front door, each with a tiny pink spoon in their hands eager for a sample, for a “taste.”
“No! No! I can never do that! I love her too much!” … to which the reply is a skeptical look followed by, “no, it is ok! She is so far away. You can find a woman here. How do you know that she will not find another there?”
And here, I hope, is my chance to give a glimpse of what the love and mutual respect of a relationship means where I come from. Without turning this into Nicholas Sparks essay, I’ll say that caring, friendship, respect and trust are all topics woven into my argument for maintaining a committed relationship with only one person.
Two weeks ago, I was waiting for the Kampala-to-Kyenjojo taxi to depart when a man sitting behind me brought up the subject of wives. Initially expressing the same surprise at my response to remaining faithful to one woman, this man took things to the next level… he began carefully explaining each of my points to the other men in the taxi in Luganda. Instead of shocked “Eh!”-s I watched as the men pursed their lips, raised an eyebrow and nodded their heads. It looked as if in this instance, I was rubber, they were glue and a few of my words may have stuck.
Exhausted from my time in KLA and on the verge of passing out, I lacked desire to push the conversation any further, so I concluded:
“It took me twenty-five years to find Michelle. I don’t want or need anyone else.”
A quick translation, smiles, and more head nodding.
Where am I going with all this? Hard to say… AH! Got it!
Jim Carrey as Bruce Almighty once said, “behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” Now I refuse to suggest that I am anything but “pretty cool, somehow”, but I am saying that I’ve got a truly fantastic woman behind me. You all know her as Michelle. So do I, actually. (And she rolls her eyes… A LOT.)
So here’s to you, baby! *Tssssst* (I just popped the top on a warm Eagle beer). I could not do what I do, be what “I yam” and all that “I yam”, without you. Thank you for putting up with my wandering ways and general shenanigans. You are a pillar in my life, and by keeping me around, you allow me to lead by example here in Uganda.
Bleh! YUCK! SappppyGrossMUSH!! (Torri just Yacked)
Thanks for reading!
I love you all (but especially you, Michelle)