Saturday, November 12, 2011

My life is a giant Cultural Misunderstanding

I'm deciding that the next year or so is the perfect amount of time for me to cultivate a whole host of bizarre hobbies. (And yes, cooking/baking somehow lies under this category). So far, I am working on:
-successfully using a clay stove that burns charcoal
-predicting rain/weather patterns
-dodging stray lightning bolts
-sweeping/mopping/cleaning. weird, right?
-taking pictures on a real camera
-having a garden
-staring at anything that wanders past my field of vision
-predicting whether the rumbling noise we hear is a. thunder b. trading lorrie or c. motorcycle
-being in the sun
-making coffee
-communicating successfully with other adults
-saying no
-hiring children to fetch beer for me
You may say that many of these hobbies are not so much hobbies as they are general life skills--- well, there is no time like the present, as they say!

In addition, I am also considering
-archery (people here keep bows and arrows to kill birds, and also because bows and arrows are much more frightening than guns)
-sea-monkey raising
-minor whittling
Open to other suggestions. Heck, I can even make a decent syrup from scratch.

In other news, the only projects that I am actively involved in at this slow end of the school year, are a female adult literacy project, and a poetry contest for World Aids Day. You may be nodding now and praising my noble efforts towards development, but let me assure you that on the ground, it looks a lot different. I think that everyday I am here, I am surprised/shocked/dismayed/embarrassed by some sudden and illuminating cultural difference that I run/jump/fall/dive/bump into. It's a "oh hey, we are from incredibly different places and were raised in wildly different ways, aren't we?" sort of moment. Yikes. I'm trying to keep a running list of times when differences of expectation or culture lead to interesting things, so I'll give you a brief preview below of times when I realize, suddenly, just how I am on a different page from anyone around here. Heck, we are reading different books. I'm reading John Barth, and they are reading Jane Austen. No fault of anyone. (Please note: this is not a negative observation, merely another glimpse of how Peace Corps includes a head-on collision of cultures, and how peace corps volunteers are continually learning from their mistakes, blah bla)

Illuminating examples of culturally-derived differences in expectations:

1. Reading Clubs
to Ilse this means: Lets all get together and read whatever books we want to read outside on the grass and enjoy reading because reading is great!
to Uganda this means: Lets all sit in a classroom and silently read designated passages, without moving lips at all, and then answer pointed questions and read passages outloud to ensure correct pronunciation.

2. Poetry
to ilse: Poetry is great because you get to express yourself and also be creative. We should all try to learn about poetry and do it because it will enrich our lives and let us be creative and even teach us things about the world and ourselves. No prescribed form is necessary, just write whatever you want!
to Uganda: All poems must start with repeating a word three times, for example if the poem is about AIDS, the poem should start, "AIDS, AIDS, AIDS", and then directly address the title in a series of questions such as "where do you come from?" and "why are you destroying our families?"

3. Religion
to Ilse: We should all be/believe/think whatever we want! yeah! If you believe in God, then I may believe in pesto! And, that's okay! ALl forms of worship are great, as long as you are tolerant and open-minded!
to Uganda: Everyone is either Protestant or Catholic (or maybe Muslim). It is what we structure our lives around, and is easily the most valuable pillar in our lives, and being atheist or non-religious is not even a possibility. Moreover, all foreigners are probably missionaries. And should go to church.

4. Food
to Ilse: ....should be delicious!!! and flavorful!! and most likely, uncomfortably spicy! and eaten at any times!!! curry for breakfast!! devilled eggs for dinner!!
to uganda: must be cassava/posho/matooke plus bean/meat/fish sauce, and eaten at specific times, 10:30 am, 1:00 pm, and 7:30 pm, and if anything else is eaten, it is not truly "food" but only a snack and will cause us to go to sleep hungry.

5. Daily Interactions/Conversational topics
to Ilse: Should be random and informal and most likely awkward!!
to Uganda: Must stop every person you meet to ask them: "Yes Please how are you? HOw is your family? Your wife, is she okay? HOw is your home? HOw is work? How are your crops? Where are you going? Where are you from?"

6. Privacy
to Ilse: is important! It's okay to stay in your room/house for several hours if necessary, in order to read or play guitar or just stare at the wall.
to Uganda: ????!!! Where is Ayikoru?! Is she sick?? SHe must not be well!! SHe has not been seen all day!

7. Mornings
to Ilse: can start at anytime! They can even start at 11:00 am! Whenever I wake up!
to Uganda: 7:00 am. Everyone is awake and out of their houses. 8:00...people start to suspect foul play or death.

8. Gender Roles
to Ilse: are irrelevant! I like soccer and frisbee and not-cleaning equally as much as I like mascara and dresses!
to Uganda: Women=cooking/cleaning/hauling/digging, men= sitting/drinking/talking

9. Animals
to ilse: ...are amazing!! I love goats! I love dogs! I love lions! I love beppo! I live chickens! I love birds! I love spiders! I love to pet and love and nuzzle them!
to Uganda: dogs= watchdogs, cats=eat rats, goats=delicious, birds=excessive

10. Safety Precautions
to Ilse: I don't ride motorcycles or ride on the back of trading trucks and yes, I wear a white helmet when I am biking.
to Uganda: if there are less than 4 people riding a bike/motorcycle, then it is a waste.

11. Phones
to Ilse: are awkward
to Uganda: it is okay to hang up at any time without a forewarning, and also not necessary to identify yourself at any point.

12. Public Speeches
to Ilse: gratuitous.
to Uganda: anything less than 25 minutes is disrespectful.

These are just a few examples of how conflicting my expectations are with people who live around me.


  1. This is my favorite blog post of all!!! i get it - Uganda is wonderful and every day is a revelation. You are discovering amazing things about yourself and liking what you discover. And...what a journey you are taking. Love, Mumsy

  2. Great post Ilse, you had me laughing at the Ilse vs. Ugandan perspective. You're a good writer! I miss you a lot..keep cranking out the posts. I get around to them. Also, the pictures are great quality...whose camera??

  3. I loved this post, Ilse. Your comments and unique perspective on your life there is so interesting. Makes me wish I could visit. Miss you!!!

  4. Laughed throughout almost the entire last part of this post...sadly because I could relate at many points. Life is often a giant cultural misunderstanding...whevever you are in the world.