RJ Retrospective


5 things I learned in East Africa

For the first time ever, when I was making this list, I wanted to be an ignorant American. I would love to write that I learned how Africa is super diverse, or that the people are a lot more hardworking than I had thought. Regretfully, I already knew that Africa was not one country before I left, along with a lot of other things. I have scraped the depths of my mind for truthful things that grownups actually want to here (in other words, not my new algebraic skills). I hope my desperation doesn’t show too blatantly, and that you can pick up a drop or two of knowledge from my list.

1. I am not good at keeping up with myself. Diaries, blogs, phone calls - half the world wanted to know what was up in the land of many colored birds. I tried my best and made a valiant effort I’m sort of proud of, but this trip really brought home to me the fact that I can’t keep a journal. My attempts at an Africa Journal were dismal two-sentence notes every week or so. Finally, in frustration, I deleted the whole darn thing. I don’t know what I will grow up to be, but it’s not a diarist. (Do these have to be positive?)

2. Culture blending takes awhile. America is such a diverse melting pot, with so many hybrid cultures that are clearly parts of a whole. Uganda almost seemed like America a hundred years ago. I mean that the cultures were coming together, but they didn’t quite fit together. The blending led to Luganda hip-hop, so it could be compared to a melting pot with half the ingredients in, and they’re just starting to mix. It’s an ongoing challenge for leaders to hold the mixing pot together.

3. Stereotypes know no nation. I knew all about the false assumptions Americans have about Africa as a war-torn, dictator-ruled land purged by starvation. What I didn’t know was the stereotypes Ugandans themselves had, whether about Westerners, Indians, Kenyans, and even each other. Case in point, I heard Southerns talk about Northerners (of Uganda) as barbaric, uncouth, uncivilized, fierce, vulgar, rude, and tasteless. Some Northerners then hold that the Southerners are deceitful, devious, dishonest, hypocritical, untrustworthy, disloyal, treacherous, capricious… you get the idea. I learned that racism and stereotypes are a problem all over the world, not just in America.

4. Life under a semi-dictatorship: You’re not in trouble unless you make too much. One case of American ignoramus that I luckily did have was something of an inability to realize the vast gray area between dictatorship and democracy, and Uganda was a great place to learn about that. If their President made the people’s yoke too heavy, they would rebel, so he allows them small victories in Parliament, though the Presidency is securely his. I was shocked to see a soldier in the airport holding a semiautomatic rifle at the ready. I was also surprised to hear people openly talk about corruption and bribery in the government at school and at home. I have more of an understanding about the different levels of democracy that can be found all over the world, not just in Africa.

5. Mosquito nets stop mosquitoes. Okay, so this is the other thing I learned. I couldn’t really think of another character arc for me to make in Ignoramus 5, but I’m not going to repeat something earlier. This is for all the things I may have learned otherwise, but I may not remember. Now I know how to write persuasive essays, tuck in a mosquito nets, the different ways to carry a water jar, what Fanta tastes like, et cetera.

RJ Carney