A bit about local culture
English is often a third language for most Ugandans and when not understood, the locals will often reply with a ‘yes’ when they can’t understand you so as not to feel embarassed. Greeting is important and its best to start any conversation with “how are you?” rather than a request for information such as “where is…?” etc. Most will answer “fine” and that’s a good start to any dialogue ~ even when ordering food and drinks or buying something from a shop.
A gentle handshake when standing is always most welcomed, although if the person you are greeting has unclean hands normally because they are working, they will offer their wrist instead which you can shake. Ugandan males are very tactile and its is usual to see them walking handing in hand which signifies nothing more than friendship and/or a sign of respect.
Often Ugandan children will not use common expressions such as “please” and “thank-you” although their look will express pleasure. Similarly, asking for something in Ugandan culture is quite normal, and a friendly ‘no’ will be taken at face value with no offence taken. That said, avoid being a muzungu who walks round dispensing gifts ~ when given out it can cause resentment and encourage children to beg. Also never make promises you can’t keep as this will cause offence. Be open and honest and explain why you can’t do something.
Ugandans are very hospitable and you may well be invited into a family home. If you are, it is expected that you will take your shoes off first. On entering the home you may be offered the family photo albums with each person present wanting you to view their own album, so be prepared to stay for a while and remember when having their photos taken most Ugandans prefer to look solemn!
If you attend the local church be prepared for very long ceremonies ~ often two or three hours. However unless a prayer is being said, its quite okay to turn up late, leave early or simply wait outside for a while. Please remember to take a couple of thousand shillings (50p) for the collection. During the service envelopes are handed out which you can put your donation in. (Many write their names on the envelope which is given back each week.) At the end of the service an auction is held of excess food stuffs which the locals have donated. The money raised from this is given to some of the poorest parishioners.
In the light of the “misunderstandings” that can occur from time to time we would like to point out that visitors, especially women, should model their behaviour and dress on that of the local villagers, rather than westerners, to avoid causing offence or giving the wrong message to locals. Please make sure that skirts and shorts are at least knee length especially when in school or outside of the main Lodge compound. It is likely that this will soon become law with those wearing skits/shorts above the knee facing arrest.
To mirror our own local teachers, the wearing of smart clothing is preferable when helping in the school or the hospital. Strappy T-Shirts and vests are slightly more acceptable but short skirts or shorts are definitely not. If you wish to wear shorts when on safaris please keep a sarong or long skirt/trousers for using when you are out of the vehicle in villages and towns. You should always carry your money, phones and cameras in a waist bag or find another way of keeping them on you. Do not take a loose handbag out to social gatherings especially in towns as one of you will be sure to leave it unattended on a chair at some stage, and it will disappear. Even at the Lodge or in classrooms please do not leave bags with money, iPods, phones and cameras in them lying around.
We ask that volunteers always let a staff member know when they leave the Lodge, where they are going and who with, especially if it’s late in the day or at night. It is unwise to ask for or accept offers of lifts without the knowledge and agreement of the project co-ordinators and never if you are alone. Staying out and drinking at local night-clubs after midnight is strongly discouraged and can reflect badly on the project’s esteem within the small community of Ruhanga.
Villagers in Ruhanga and nearby Ngtangamo see a steady stream of camera equipped volunteers passing through their community, and whilst the children often enjoy having their pictures taken, many adults are understandably awkward about it, preferring not to have their photograph taken. Its always best to ask, or even better to wait until some rapport has been developed before taking photos. If a child asks for a copy, please explain that it won’t be possible rather than promising to send one ~ even if you were to actually do so, there are no actual addresses in Ruhanga and charges are made for any delivery say to the Lodge itself that the local can’t afford.
Any items that you are able to leave behind at the Lodge are welcomed. We ask that you do not give individual children, staff or families money or presents (unless they have performed a particular kindness to you) as it easily causes jealousy and discontent amongst the villagers. With free schooling the distribution of malaria nets and the gravity scheme now providing clean water we are doing things that will benefit everyone rather than a few individuals. Of course, we welcome donations towards the water scheme or for equipment and upgrades at the school but please discuss any ideas with Denis, or Ann first before giving. Even with children’s clothing it is better to wait until we can give every child at school one item. Contributing towards an occasional medical screening at the school is a good idea. Fruit, sweets, and slices of bread or chapatti are all suitable to give out to children but please – one only each – and request a ‘Thankyou’ afterwards. Tipping is not the norm in Uganda but is welcomed by our own staff. Just as an example of how what seems like a good idea can have unintended consequences ~ one child who had cut his foot was given a pair of shoes by a volunteer to help protect the wound. Later other children started cutting their own feet with broken glass in order to get shoes as well.