Friday, September 27, 2013

A Lesson in African Culture

We have now been in Uganda exactly 3 months, so I don't claim to be any sort of expert in African culture. But I thought you might enjoy reading about some of the things I've learned from other missionaries and my own observations:

  • Africans live in community. I think Americans would have trouble envisioning what I mean. Not knowing you neighbors would be unimaginable for them. For example, greeting is of utmost importance. You would really offend someone if you did not take the time to shake hands and ask after their family...every time you see them. There is very much a "what's mine is yours" mentality.
  • Planning for the future is an unknown, most people live day to day in the here and now. For example, we've had a lot of work done on our house and we've found that it is very difficult for our workers to estimate how many supplies they will need or how long it will take.
  • Money management comes into play when I talk about planning for the future. Community, especially family, takes precedence. For example, lets say a man has been saving money for repairs on his house or for his children to go to school. If a family member were to come to him and say, "my child is sick. I need this money you have." The man would be obligated to hand over his money. It would be very offensive not to. For this reason, we keep money that our workers want to save in our home safe so that if a family member demands it, they can honestly say, "I don't have it."
  • Getting married is a difficult thing. The man must pay a dowry for the woman he wants to marry. This is usually anywhere from 1-10 cows, each costing up to $500. This is a fortune in African terms! On top of that, the groom is expected to pay for the wedding, which is also expensive. 
  • Upon marriage, the couple is expected to begin having children right away. If they don't, people will consider the woman barren and the man may decide to get a second wife. 
  • There is no such thing as credit here. Everything, no matter the amount, is done in cash. This has been hard for Chad and I to get used to. We're not used to carrying cash!
  • This is something that breaks my heart: there is a lot of separation of families, even in Christian communities. Often a man will move to an urban area to go to school or for work and leave his family in the village, visiting them on the weekends. And children are often sent to boarding schools. These separations often lead to unfaithfulness and polygamy. 
  • This is something I really appreciate: a slower lifestyle. NOTHING happens on time. We call it "African time" Taking the afternoon off to go to the pool with friends is perfectly acceptable. Being an hour late because someone needed to talk to you is an everyday occurrence. This can be irritating to us Americans who believe that "time is money." But it's actually been a really nice change and we have come to appreciate it. 
Hope you enjoyed my little culture lesson! Stay tuned for more in the future....

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