A Travellerspoint blog

September 2014

Forget the cupcakes...

A local birthday bash

semi-overcast 27 °C

Forget cupcakes, bunting and musical bumps

… replace with hired pews, speeches, and a mountain of thick brown millet, and you have a local 1st birthday bash.

Lilian has helped us in various ways (from watching the kids, to having far more success with a charcoal stove than I could ever dream…) for the last 2 and half years and has a baby boy exactly the same age as our Scamp. Lilian has been planning her baby’s party for weeks and was clearly excited about the event.

Lilian teaching Am and Ash how to harvest bananas

Lilian teaching Am and Ash how to harvest bananas

We had been looking forward to the party as we might finally get to meet the father of the baby, who Lilian assured we would know immediately as he is a ‘photocopy’ of the baby.

We arrived fashionably late and were ushered to seats of honour, (a row of hired plastic seats rather than the hired rows of wooden pews) which is always a bit awkward. David arrived even more fashionably late on his bike, sweating, frizzy-haired and carrying a water bottle which had a hole and was spilling water, cue a chorus from the crowd of guests: ==‘sorry, sorry, sorry…’== and helpfully pointing out ‘your water is spilling…’ -no chance of a quiet entry as David was led to his seat.

To be fair to my squirming children, it wasn’t their best time of day, 5pm is usually the start of meltdown hour, but their wriggling and giggling seemed very obvious amongst all the other kids sitting still as though they were playing musical statues.. .(without the music). We are always amazed at how local kids can keep so quiet as to render them almost invisible, a direct contrast to ex-pat kids who are obviously allowed to express themselves more noisily…

Then came the official opening! From the few kids’ birthday parties here it seems speeches and having a ‘programme’ is very important. And so it began… ‘I am here to represent the biological father at this programme, as the biological father is not able to be here at this very moment, so I am standing in as the representative to the Boy …’ Everyone around us nods earnestly. I was thinking how fuming I’d be if Hairycraig sent a representative Ash the Bash’s birthdays, but here it doesn’t seem to matter. The ‘representative’ didn’t know the baby’s name and kept calling him ‘boy’.

Then the speeches and the cake. And then the 1- year old was given a big, sharp knife to cut the cake which Lilian had proudly baked using our oven. His birthday gift from the parents was a super smart black suit and gold tie, so he looked like a mini-adult all suited and booted and walking around solemnly. He suddenly seemed years older than our Scamp, who still can’t walk and was crawling around in a grubby vest.

cutting the cake

cutting the cake



age-mates a few months ago

age-mates a few months ago

Meanwhile, Am and Ash are bored, loud, and hungry and resort to chasing mangy looking ducklings, and I’m not feeling like the best mum in the world with the disapproving glances.
Quite honestly, cross-cultural parenting is often a challenge, and events like this highlight such differences in expectations and worldviews.

The ‘biological father’ turned up just in time for food (served after cake) and gave his apologies. Next item on the all important ‘agenda’ was ‘the Happy Birthday Song’ and Sunday School choir to close. By this point it’s nearly dark and our kids really need to have a bath and get to bed, so we give our gifts and head home.

[lilian and her boys

[lilian and her boys

Think we will forgo the millet and speeches for Amelie’s upcoming birthday and enjoy a round of cupcakes and home-made lemonade...

Posted by africraigs 10:30 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Shoulders hunched, head lolling, eyes averted...

(I really am listening) Trying to understand Lugbara body language.

rain 25 °C

They say that our body language (facial expressions, gestures and postures) accounts for 55% of how we communicate our feelings to one another. It’s incredible that in this case, what we actually say accounts for only 7% of how we communicate, the other 38% is through the tone we use when we speak.

This means that our body language often gives us away. We say 'you can tell she liked him' or 'he seemed shady' or 'he seemed friendly' from the way that someone is acting. Detectives watch for suspicious behaviour at airports to catch terrorists or to decide if someone might be lying under interrogation. . In the Boston marathon bombing, people later realised that the bombers carrying backpacks were acting very differently to the rest of the crowd watching the race that day. This should have given them away if anyone was paying attention.

In Lifeskills class at the YWAM base on a Wednesday morning, I teach such things as positive body language as part of good communication. For example, it means learning how to actively listen to someone by holding good eye contact, nodding, saying 'mmm-hmm' and even mirroring the other's posture. Being confident when speaking to someone shows that you have nothing to hide. Standing with your feet pointing towards the person who you are talking with shows that you are really engaged with them.

In the African context, however, body language is a completely different thing. Instead of being seen as assertive, a woman who looks into the eyes of a man when she is speaking is seen as rude and 'bad mannered'. A woman who wants to speak to the man or serve him food will kneel down. To show respect to someone older, men and women will avert their gaze and bow slightly, and shake hands while one arm touches the other. Children here curtsy as they shake hands with an older person (Amelie is already doing this, we didn’t prompt her!). Putting your hands on your head shows that you are in mourning. In conversation, friends will sit next to one another and chat without looking at each other. A man who goes for a potential job will show a very submissive body posture, it isn't right for him to come across as confident. Social hierarchy plays a very prominent role in the way people interact.

When I teach Lifeskills in this context, I find it very frustrating. Students in a class give a great respect to the teacher by keeping quiet, having their heads bowed and averting their gaze. To me, therefore, they seem very disengaged, bored and disinterested. It’s really annoying and demoralising! And anyway, my teaching flies right in the face of culture. One lady in the group who shows more assertive body posture to men (such as looking them in the eye) has been labelled by her husband’s friends as ‘stubborn’.
Former classmates looking disinterested

Former classmates looking disinterested



While doing teacher training class recently, Emma was asking a student to demonstrate a ‘sad’ posture. Asking the class what the girl was communicating with her head bowed, hands in pockets and slouched shoulders, the class was silent for a long time. Eventually, the boldest in the class spoke up “She is telling us she wants sex”! It is therefore very easy to make a wrong impression or misinterpret someone…

The Western way of doing things is so different to the Lugbara context in so many aspects. Parenting, marriage and communication are opposite. Culture and worldview have much to say about how society works and our culture's views are very different!

It also brings home to me how often we Westerners can come across as rude, forthright and abrasive in a culture which can display much more deference in many social situations. Western women in Africa, emancipated as they are in the West, are especially prone to mis-understandings.

We chose to come and work in Uganda in the hope of making a difference in small ways amongst those that are suffering, however such deep-rooted cultural differences such as those in communication and body language can bring unexpected challenges and misunderstandings.
Who knows what we have said with our bodies without realising it?

Posted by africraigs 11:22 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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