September 18 – Connections
Walking along the beaten path to the worksite, we always attracted attention, from families, from schoolchildren, and from other kids wandering around the Ugandan village. We were foreigners. Being from America, we were viewed as strange, almost extra-terrestrial beings by the Ugandan children. But despite this, we made connections on many levels with them, connections independent of the two very contrasting cultures that differentiated us.
On the first day walking from the worksite, a little boy ran up from behind me and grabbed my hand. I was told that hand-holding is a common sign of friendship in Uganda, and I was happy to have made a new friend early on in the trip. I asked his name; he responded, “Atukeben.” I asked his age; He responded, “Yes.” For every subsequent question I asked him, he responded, “Yes.”
As time passed, we made more connections with the Ugandan children. Despite my limited ability to speak Swahili, and his limited ability to speak English, Atukeben became my close friend. Every day, he and I would walk to and from the worksite, hand in hand. I would try to teach him some English phrases, and he reciprocated by trying to teach me some Swahili. A friend and I would occasionally count to three and swing him up over potholes in the road or broken glass, but mostly just for fun. I, along with the other “Bazungu,” or white men, learned more Swahili phrases from the other children and tried to communicate with them. We sounded awful. They laughed, and we laughed with them. They were fascinated with our cameras, and, after we taught them how, were thrilled to take pictures of their friends, including us.
How could these two groups of people so dissimilar eventually get along so well? Although skin color, language, clothes, facial features, religion, etc. all create a façade that defines us, beneath it lies a trait common to all peoples. We are humans. As such, we share common interests—interests that no specific culture can define. It is this human factor that creates unity among the most diverse peoples.
Chris Xin is a senior at Ames High School and traveled to Uganda with a school work group in June of 2009.