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Thursday,September 24,2020 17:26 PM

New Yorker finds Kampala different

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd May 2009 03:00 AM

LAST week, Rebecca Harshbarger, a journalist from New York, narrated her experience of a stay in a rural Busia home as a study requirement by the School of International Training. Each school semester, the school brings American students to study post-con

LAST week, Rebecca Harshbarger, a journalist from New York, narrated her experience of a stay in a rural Busia home as a study requirement by the School of International Training. Each school semester, the school brings American students to study post-con

LAST week, Rebecca Harshbarger, a journalist from New York, narrated her experience of a stay in a rural Busia home as a study requirement by the School of International Training.

Each school semester, the school brings American students to study post-conflict transformation and development studies and places them with rural and urban families to get a hands-on experience. Rebecca now narrates her experience with an urban family in Kanyanya, a Kampala suburb.

For most of my time in the programme, I was living with an urban family in Kanyanya.

But before that, I had to be taken through a couple of hours of etiquette training at Makerere. All of the things I now take for granted in Ugandan life were completely new to me then. The crash course in Ugandan etiquette was extremely useful, fine-tuned to help us adjust gracefully to living with people we had never met before, in a society that was new to us. Some points included phrases we might not understand, such as “being lost” (disappearing, not seeing someone for a while), or “taking a short call” (no need to spell this one out).

Similarly, our Ugandan families were given instruction in dealing with their new, confusing children. If their student asks to see the bathroom, they really want to use a toilet—they don’t want to bathe.

We had been in Uganda for almost a week, and had been staying at a modest hotel in town. The night before we joined our families, we were given the names, occupation, and number of children that our new parents had.
My new mother was an accountant, named Justine Kasozi, and her husband worked abroad in the United Kingdom.

She had six children, and lived in Kanyanya, near Gayaza Road. I had no idea what to expect, but was looking forward to playing with her kids—as the only child of divorced parents, I had always wanted brothers and sisters.
Although my mother relied on a taxi to get to town, the family spoilt me on my first day by having her brother pick us up in his car.

I piled into the backseat with five of the kids, who giggled and stared at me. I was the fourth student the family had hosted so far, and though they were shy, they were used to the drill. We had eaten some food before leaving to their home, but I quickly regretted every bite I had taken before entering the family’s home.

Mrs. Kasozi loved having American ‘children’ stay with her, and she expressed her love in cooking vast quantities of food.

The plate she offered me was stacked high with matooke, Irish potatoes, beans, rice, sweet potatoes and chapati. To wash down the feast, she had squeezed passion fruits and oranges by hand, adding extra whenever I took a sip, which she said was ‘for love.’

When they asked if I had bought any crafts in Uganda so far, I showed the traditional dolls I had bought at the Source of the Nile. My new family burst into laughter: “Is that really what you want to bring to the West?” asked Mrs. Kasozi, looking at the cloth doll I had bargained so anxiously for.

Whereas in the United States I lived in a dormitory on campus, waking up and eating breakfast at my desk, guzzling coffee before heading to class, my mornings with the Kasozi family were very different. In the morning, I ate bread with Blue Band, drank hand-squeezed juice and had fried eggs. Several of her children went back to boarding school, but two children, Queen Latifah Nakalembe and Ramlah Nabwegamu, remained.

For as long as I could remember, I had dreamed of having sisters, and I spoilt Queen Latifah and Ramlah endlessly. Queen Latifah was in P1, and I would move around the house, carrying her on my back, joking and playing games. Ramlah was very bright and mischievous, and we often got in trouble together. For instance, although I liked eating posho and beans, I just couldn’t get used to eating matooke and Irish potatoes.

At first, I would drown the matooke in groundnut sauce, which helped a little bit, but I would end up wasting a lot of sauce and my Ugandan mother’s energy. Then, I began smuggling the Irish potatoes and matooke to Ramlah, who would oblige by lending her appetite.

Another change I experienced by living with my new family was taking bucket baths and using a pit latrine. Whereas I was used to bathing once a day in New York, usually when I got home from class, my new family expected me to bathe at least twice a day.

Sometimes I would try to dodge this by leaving the house quickly in the morning. This always horrified Mrs. Kasozi, who would call me back, exclaiming, “But your water is almost ready! And there is bread and Blue Band on the table.”

Caught in the act, I would return to eat breakfast and bathe like the other members of the family. When I went back to the US, I kept up the habit of bathing twice a day for awhile. My parents were not totally thrilled with how much water I exhausted by bathing frequently, and eventually I went back to the way things were before.

Living with children, and adjusting to different cultural methods of child-rearing, were all new experiences with me. Although I had younger cousins in the United States, my father had moved to New York when I was young to work, leaving the rest of my relatives in California and Utah. The first night I stayed in Kampala, my homestay mother invited a niece my age to stay with me, afraid that I would be lonely.

In her culture, it was bad manners to let a guest stay alone. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that as an only child, I had been sleeping alone as long as I could remember. The following nights, Ramlah and Latifah slept in my room, which I loved. Latifah was only six years old, but tried to teach me Luganda before Mrs. Kasozi switched off the lights.

They told me that they wanted to be nurses and pilots when they grew up, and would sometimes dress up as me to surprise me. They would lather themselves in sunscreen, wear my sunglasses, spray themselves with insect repellent, and walk around the compound, crying, “I’m Becky! And me, I’m Becky!”
Sometimes, my group would do travel excursions, such as to Busia for a rural homestay experience, and Rwanda to get another side of East Africa.

I would call my Ugandan mother on my mobile phone, letting her know that I was all right. When it was time to go back to the United States, I felt devastated about leaving her, and helped her set up an e-mail account so we could stay in touch. I would buy phone cards in New York and call her often, asking her about the soap operas she loved watching, CHOGM preparations, and how my little brothers and sisters were doing at boarding school.

Now I am in Uganda working as a journalist, and her house is still always open to me. When she visits me at the home I live in now, I love to offer her chai—even though it can never be as delicious as the tea she prepared for me when I lived there.

I am deeply grateful to her for showing me a side of Uganda you can never experience by reading books or visiting tourist sites, and for offering the love of a friend and mother to a woman thousands of miles away from home.

New Yorker finds Kampala different

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