Friday, August 21, 2009

Get Smart

- or -

I do not think it means what you think it means

Last week I shared a few of my favorite cultural run-ins involving language. However, I don't want to leave you all with the impression that Ugandans are the only ones who get tripped up while doing their best to communicate in a different language than the one they're accustomed to. Those of us from the other side of the pond sometimes have the same problem. You see, we tend to think that if we're speaking English and they're speaking English, then we're all on the same page, right?


We might not even be reading the same book. Almost any Englishman will happily tell you that Americans do not speak English. After living here for a year, I sometimes think they're right.

Case in point: A few weeks ago I was having an earnest conversation with Benard, one of the guards at the school compound. "Benard," I said, "I really wish you would take courses at MTI."

Big smile from Benard. "Maybe someday, Mama."

"No, really, Benard. I want you to go. You are so smart."

Quizzical look.

"Yes, Benard. You are very smart, and you should go to school."

Extremely puzzled look.

"Don't you believe you are smart? I do. I hope you will decide to go to school."

Downright confused look.

(Perhaps he's not as smart as I think he is?)

At this point, a friend standing nearby quietly said, "Mary Beth, I hope you realize you're saying he should go to school because he's a snappy dresser." Benard smiled and nodded, and everyone laughed while I turned a couple different shades of red and wished that one of the "hot dogs" (see previous post) would come drag me away. Score: British English 1; American English 0.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Okay, I have to say this up front: I believe that any honest Westerner living in Uganda, no matter how much they love, respect, and admire the people here, will admit that sometimes when Western culture crashes headlong into Ugandan culture, the results can be, well, funny. (The results can also be frustrating and infuriating, but that's another blog.) I have resisted talking about these clashes -- most of which involve language -- because I have wanted to avoid any appearance of disrespect. After all, this is their country. I am the visitor here. Also, when it comes to language, however much they struggle with English, they speak it much better than I speak Luganda, Lugisu, Swahili, or any of the four or five other languages spoken in this area. So I have decided to share some of my favorite "culture moments" with you, but don't you all be taking that as license to dis my favorite people, okay?

"Beware of Hot Dogs"

This ominous warning is scrawled on the wall just outside the compound that houses the MK (missionary kids) school and the teacher house. I saw it for the first time just after I arrived last year. I spent quite a while pondering just how scary a wiener can be before someone enlightened me to the fact that over here a hot dog is an angry pooch. Since many Ugandans are terrified of dogs, the night guards at the teacher house consider this sign their first line of defense in protecting the premises. And so it is, even though the main thing you're in danger of with these dogs is being licked to death.

"Jesus is a --" what did they just say?

Along the same lines, at church a favorite praise and worship song has the line, "Jesus is a winner." Except Ugandans pronounce "i" with the long "e" sound. Mull that over for minute or two. Jesus is a wiener? I'm sure the Ugandan choir was wondering why all the white folk began to giggle every time we sang that song. Finally we explained to the worship leader that what we're hearing, basically, is "Jesus is a sausage." Not sure why, but we don't sing that particular song much anymore.

"You are gradually invited"

On salary day yesterday, I was given a notice to hand to each worker as they were paid. I am reproducing the note as faithfully as possible below:

Messiah Theological Institute
P.O. Box 1790
14th august 2009
Re: Workers meeting
You are gradually invited to attend workers meeting due 14th August 2009 Mbale church of Christ at exactly 4:00pm.
Note you are invited to attend in person without fail.

Yours pastor MCC

William Mbulakyalo

I've discussed this with a couple Mzungu friends, and our guess is that William was aiming at graciously inviting the workers, but we're not totally certain of that. Feel free to come up with an alternate hypothesis. Also, do you notice that the meeting starts at exactly 4:00 pm? NOTHING in Africa starts at exactly anything. I am willing to wager that the meeting started at exactly approximately 4:48 pm. But they still added the word "exactly," probably because they've seen it written that way somewhere else. No doubt on a Mzungu notice. To me, though, the most interesting cultural marker here is the "You are invited to attend in person without fail." Ugandans do not like to phrase things in the imperative. William is telling the workers as clearly as possible that this is a mandatory meeting, and they had better be sitting on a church bench at exactly -- well, exactly whenever it starts. This is his effort to phrase that polite command in English, and when you think about it, he got his point across quite well.

Wow, look at the time! I guess this blog entry just turned into Part One, because I need to get back to work. I'll share a few more stories in exactly one week.

Greetings from Mama Mzungu in Mbale, Uganda, where God continues to bless her with an incredible (and sometimes an incredibly funny) adventure!

Monday, August 3, 2009

APRIL 18??

What do you mean, I haven't posted a blog since April 18? I must have. You don't think I'd miss writing about the absolutely incredible University Advisor's Summit held at the end of April, where I -- little Mary Beth Bodiford from Fort Worth, Texas -- not only had the privilege of meeting wonderful men and women from all over Africa who share the vision of LivingStone International University, but also got to have dinner with Dr. Sarah Ntiro, the first female college graduate in Uganda? Weren't you paying attention when I told you about getting goosebumps when Dr. Ntiro matter-of-factly explained how she had escaped from Uganda during the Idi Amin era by crossing the border on a Sunday morning, counting on the fact that the guards would still be drunk enough from Saturday night not to realize who she was, but knowing if they did recognize her, she would be arrested and killed? And you couldn't have missed my hilarious account of getting up and dancing with the African Teso band during the Summit or my not-so-hilarious account of thinking that I'd lost $200 that belonged to one of the elders at my church who was attending the Summit. Of course not.

And then the Metroplex team visit in May. You must have read my highly entertaining but also quite serious account of the group of pastors and church leaders who came from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to visit Mbale specifically to learn more about the university and to prayerfully consider how God would have their church be involved in the building of LivingStone.

Oh, and don't even try to tell me that you missed reading about my flying back to the States at the end of May and of that intensely moving moment when I walked through the doors at DFW Airport and got to hug my daughter for the first time in over a year. Or when I took the Africa pendant necklace from around my neck and placed it around hers and thanked her for allowing me to go to Uganda.

Right, and I'll bet you totally skipped over my ongoing "Vacation Food Journal" in which I regaled you with a day-by-day account of the Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and Chinese food that loving friends and family insisted on feeding me while I was in the States, of the FOUR different times I had ribs while I was home (and would have happily had more!) and of sitting down at my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, ordering catfish, and KNOWING that I was back in Fort Worth, Texas. Oh, and I'm absolutely certain that I told you about my best friend bringing me fried chicken livers from that same restaurant for my last meal on American soil before coming back to Uganda.

And after all that, now you're going to mumble something about how you didn't read my most recent essay where I talked of tearfully saying good-bye to Jenni, Jonathan, Noah, and, yes, Baby Carroll (who will be born around Christmas), and of resolutely turning my face southeast to return to serving the Lord in Mbale, Uganda.

And of the joy I felt when I saw the face of my Ugandan friend Peace light up as she said, "Welcome back, Mary Beth. We are so happy to see you. How is your home?"

Well, I'm certain I wouldn't have forgotten to write about such important things. So all I can say is, how did you miss reading about them?