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The Unspoken Rules of Being Ugandan "Part One"

To be Ugandan is to be so many things all at once. There is no one-size-fits-all mold that all Ugandans fit into. With 56 tribes all with varying cultures, languages and norms inhabiting this beautiful country, it’s no wonder that we’re all so different.

And yet, because we have survived and continue to survive so much madness together (including but not limited to escalating fuel prices, a questionable education system, mudslides, flooding, non-existent drainage system and bars charging ridiculous 200% mark-up on liquor thus ruining our enjoyments), we have gained a sort of kindred spirit of sorts. It’s because of this kindred spirit (of sorts) that we have managed to come up with and live by unspoken rules.

Boarding school

The trauma 😪

It’s almost a rite of passage especially after primary school. Most of us attend boarding school. Most of us hated it. But we go anyway and dread nearly every waking day. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like the food or the tiny bed you are given. You just have to endure it until you either finish school or your parents realise that life is too short to subject a child to this madness or you immigrate out of the country (whichever comes first).

The teachers are your gods. The prefects are demi-gods of sorts, and likely your worst nightmare. You make bonds that will last a lifetime. You sit with those friends and laugh about the things you went through. You quietly share your trauma but never call it that. Then if you’re lucky, like me, you write about how much you hated boarding school.

Repeat the word for emphasis.

No, we’re not stuttering. It’s for emphasis. It’s also likely because our native tongues do repeat words and we’ve just transferred those rules into English. Because why not.

So, when you hear someone say, “She was there smiling-smiling.” “I’m okay. As if-as if.” “He’s one of those rich-rich people.” “Around there-there.” There’s a reason why. There’s nuance in that tone, in the repetition. There are subtle cues as to what they are saying without being blunt. There’s a message between the lines. For most Ugandans, the layered meaning is obvious.

How we give directions.

First off, lots of Ugandans can’t give good directions to save their lives. And what’s interesting is that some don’t know the difference between left and right, not even in their native tongue. Yes, I’m talking about the adults.

But it’s fine because we have landmarks that we will always use to give directions: the charcoal, 3 humps, the pile of rubbish, the transformer, the mobile money duuka, the mango tree, the mvule tree, the avocado tree. Fam, you need to know your agroforestry. You have to be alert. Your eyes and senses have to be open for: the boda stage on the left, the open field, the butcher on the right before the turn onto the murrum road that has just been graded.

We laugh to avoid crying

*sigh* There’s so much that is so very wrong in this country. How we even find the humour in it all is astounding. We might all have high-functioning depression and anxiety but I’m no professional so I’ll leave that at that. If we didn’t find even a speck of humour in everything, if we didn’t laugh, we would cry…a lot and often.

Motorist signals.

Boda bodas use their arms to show they are turning left or right. Then there’s the lights. There’s a signal for “slow down, the police are up ahead”. There’s one for “your lights are too bright, you’re blinding me and I can’t see the road”. There are quite a few out there.

And yet…we have the biggest heads when it comes to actually using our indicators. *blinks*

Don’t annoy taxi conductors

How Ugandans look at you when you get a taxi conductor's wrong side

If you want to hear an insult that will not only be known to you but your ancestors and your descendants, just bother a taxi conductor. Give him a “large” note after he very specifically asked if there was any one that needed change. Insist on giving him less money after he specifically told you how much the fare was. Make some snide comment on him as an individual because something about the taxi Try it. Test him. These ninjas be packing these poetic backhanded insults.