Now that I have established friendships with many of my coworkers, I’ve been learning a lot about love, weddings, and babies in Buganda. It is interesting to me that upon learning these cultural facts, I was not in the least bit surprised. Within the context of life in Buganda, these things make total and complete sense. In fact, my learning about these traditions led me to discuss with my Ugandan friends about the way these things work in America, but out of context my world seems ridiculous to them!
Why are Kaggogwe and Nakayima not K-I-S-S-I-N-G?
I had previously held the opinion that due to the very strict, yet unspoken, PDA (public display of affection for my readers who are not in the know) rules, most Ugandan couples must be doing a lot of kissing behind closed doors. However, it is apparently very rare for Ugandans to kiss at all. According to a few of my UG friends, kissing is something reserved for “only the most rare and mature forms of love.” Two people can be married for a lifetime and rarely (if ever) kiss.
I told them that even young kids who begin dating in middle school are known to kiss. It is practically on the same plane as handholding and first hugs. I was a late bloomer and didn’t have my first kiss until 9th grade…I still remember getting teased for it because I was one of the last of my friends—and we were the nerdy NHS, golf team, honor roll kids. I was even further behind the “cool kids.” My UG friends were shocked. Kids kissing? Scandalous.
Yet, many kids here “play sex” which usually involves putting his parts near or inside of her parts—because they have seen mommy and daddy do it so many evenings in their one room home. Scandalous is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.
First comes Love…
The kissing discussion led me to wonder about love. Not that the two are always interconnected, but they are certainly related in my mind. It is not very common to hear men and women say they love each other, even in reference during conversation about said loved one. This isn’t surprising, since a man and woman who have been married for years act like total strangers in public.
After a very interesting discussion, I learned that being in love is not a requirement to being married. Money, status, good genes, and number of cows he has to offer your father—those are great requirements. Love, not so much… Even as I write this, I see that it may seem like Ugandans are selfish, materialistic people. It is so much deeper than that. To quote a friend, “Okay, maybe they love each other for two years into the marriage tops, but then she starts asking for money and he says forget about it, I don’t love you anymore.” He will stay with her (maybe not exclusively) but he doesn’t feel bound to the marriage by love.
I brought up the extremely common scenario in America, where two people are so in love, they get married while neglecting the fact that they have no money, no education, bad genes, and not a single cow or goat to offer the Bride’s father. You would have thought I was trying to convince them pigs could fly. Why on earth would they get married without those things?
I am too much of a romantic to imagine marrying without love. I’d rather take the no money/no cow scene than the no love for life one. However, most of my friends here disagree with that sentiment.
…then comes Marriage…
Two people who I have come to know and love (haha) in Uganda are George (my supervisor/co-worker/friend) and Mugabi (my sometimes driver/friend/translator/brother), both of whom have upcoming weddings in October and December, respectively. This has given me the opportunity to see how wedding planning works in Uganda.
For those of you that don’t know, when Ugandans get married, it comes in two parts. They generally have an “Introduction” ceremony—in which the man essentially provides an offering to the woman’s family in the form of livestock (amount depends on her worth). This is traditionally something he spends weeks/months negotiating with her family about a reasonable price for both parties. I have heard Introductions include music, dancing, food, and traditional performances. Usually this is done a long time (sometimes a decade) before the wedding. However, a man and woman are viewed as married within the culture once this ceremony takes place—they can now live together and produce kids without it being a scandal.
When the wedding takes place, the purpose is to finalize the marriage in front of God (a remnant from the missionary days in Uganda). This ceremony is more like the ones we have in America. It includes the white gown, big wedding party, and festive reception to follow the vows. However, it also includes a budget that the groom hands out to his friends and family months in advance to let them know what they will donate money towards in order for the ceremony to take place. Consider this the cordial invitation. Most families even pitch in to provide the livestock offering during the Introduction. These ceremonies are very much a community ordeal—the bride and groom typically expect at least 300 people in attendance and everyone who comes has probably made some contribution or another towards the day!
I had a blast explaining that my father would most definitely not accept any number of cows, goats, or chickens to “buy me” from the family! I explained gift registries, which they thought were abominable and selfish on our part. I talked about how usually the bride’s family is responsible for paying for the whole ceremony (sans the rehearsal dinner right?)—the men thought that was hard to imagine but at the same time a spectacular idea.
I can’t help but laugh at the image of me sending a wedding invitation out to my friends and family with an insert that tells them the amount of money they will put towards the cake, flowers, and my gown. Like that would go over well…
…then comes the Baby carriage!
Several women in this organisation are currently pregnant—or so the rumors suggest. Pregnancy is not something that is openly discussed. In fact, one of the nurses accidentally let slip to me that somebody else was pregnant and almost instantly said, “Please don’t ever tell her you know!” I thought for the first two months that she was doing what many American couples do—wait until you are out of the first trimester to share the news with loved ones, just in case. It has been 4 months now, she looks like she is entering the third trimester, and yet everyone acts like she has just gained a bunch of weight. Seriously, I have been around her on so many occasions where people say, “Wow, you have really put on!” I’m standing there thinking, “Are they being funny or is the denial running that deep?”
There are many reasons for secrecy. I only know a couple, and speculate about others. One, it used to be (and in some regions still is) common for somebody to “cast a black magic spell” upon the unborn child causing a miscarriage—keep it a secret and nobody can cast an effective spell. Two, (in my amateurish opinion I think it is the same as one,) miscarriages are common due to malnutrition, stressful living conditions, infectious diseases, and life in general. Three, even after the baby is born the risk of dying is still high, so why have a 9 month build up to a painful disappointment if you can avoid it? Four, (and to me, the most interesting) women often feel ashamed of being pregnant because, by nature, it is evidence of that thing she must have done to become in that state. Ugandans so rarely discuss sex that it actually becomes embarrassing to walk around with an enlarged belly as if she is waving an “I did it” flag out the end of her new outty belly button!
I told some of my friends here that the moment friends and family find out about a pregnancy, we shower her with gifts and treat her differently. Her employer becomes lenient when she needs to increase her doctor’s appointments and take months off for maternity leave. Not really things that exist here. However, there is a lot of support once the baby is born. The infant is wrapped in a dozen layers of white blankets and carried with such delicate care. Friends pour in to support the new mother with baby gifts…but only after the baby is born are we allowed to acknowledge the situation.
One thing I cannot help but think about is that in America, we have so much more control over when we have babies. Easy access to birth control, condoms, Plan B, and (in some cases) abortion helps Americans decided exactly when we have children. Even married couples utilize the dozens of different birth control/family planning methods. Many of these methods exist in Uganda, but misinformation spreads rampantly and many women fear using even the least invasive methods.
When I mentioned that women who aren’t ready for kids take measures to prevent from having them, my Ugandan girlfriends were surprised to hear how meticulously we are able to plan that element of our lives. To me, it just seems natural. To them, it seems over-controlling.