Something which may strike the first-timer coming to Kampala is the seemingly crude behavior towards the traveler. I won’t go so far as to say that everyone in the city is a prick (I am no fan of sweeping generalizations, and it’s simply not true) but it’s grinding on the psyche to be subject to stark impertinence by complete strangers on a daily basis. Is it because I’m white? It sure seems that way, at least partly, and thus the sour breath of racism issues from people’s mouths with every insolent remark. Also, being an impressionable person, I am afraid that the rudeness of others towards me is something which I adopt without trying, and it sickens me.
It arrives frequently in the form of demands for money or food. While begging is one thing – mostly silent requests for money with outstretched, cupped hands by people who are obviously destitute – the tactless demands by normal people are actually more frequent and infuriating. Often these people have jobs, wear western clothing (like everyone else) and drive cars. The women have their hair done and carry handbags.
“Muzungu, give me money.” whimpered a guard at a border post. Not only does she have a job, but she was working at the time. I pointed this out to her and asked her why she didn’t have any money. “Ohhhh my children… my family… school fees…” etcetera, came the reply. Same old story. I told her I didn’t have a job and to please get out of my way.
“What have you brought for me?” anyone might ask upon your arrival to anywhere. “My friend,” might be tacked onto the end of this presumptuous opening line to sweeten the deal. But in fact there is no deal, and most of the time, I have no notion as to who the person is, nor do I care. I just came here to buy some phone credit, and I’m being felt up verbally by idlers become tax collectors. “Not a damn thing,” comes my reply, “who the hell are you?”
“You bring me one.” Another blunt demand, this time by a well dressed woman who actually paused in her stride to demand a banana and await my reply. Are you kidding? “Buy your own fucking banana,” my temper would peak quickly and flare, “who the hell are you?”
There seems to be an unwritten law which states that any demand for anything posed to a foreigner will surely return a wealth of money or food. Forget it. I’d sooner give my spare bananas and shillings to the silent beggars. At least they have manners.
Many of Kampala’s complete strangers have a need to build their own esteem by cutting down those around them. Being shameless, and a foreigner, I feel I am often the subject of pointless scrutiny.
“You don’t know how to dance,” said a man of roughly my age out of the corner of his mouth, passing me on an otherwise empty dance floor. I was dedicated to dancing for my Norwegian friends, which for their upbeat tunes, I felt they deserved. “At least I am dancing,” came my laughing reply. The punk didn’t dance a step all night, yet I still daydreamed about punching his face a little bit.
The same night a regular at the bar made the same comment. This lady is always around, pointing out my unshaven face and my other imperfections. I shook my booty vigorously in her face to give her observation some truth.
“We’ve got to raise the children elsewhere,” my old friend Jja Jja (grandpa) told me. People in the city no longer have any respect for others, he says, learn no politeness. He’d rather have his grandchildren raised out in the villages where a strong tradition of respect still exists – a relic of pre-urban, pre-western Uganda.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly soft when it comes to this kind of behavior. I’ve been harassed for being the odd one out in a dozen languages, and I’ve asked for it every time. What else can I expect? It’s part of the game for any traveler. But Kampala wears on me. The onslaught of insolence never ceases, never changes. The overly blunt, unbearably presumptuous aggressions become very tiresome. Not to be a jerk, but honestly, despite of all the friends and good people I’ve met here, Kampala has been the least welcoming, least friendly place I have visited.
And to worst part? It rubs off on me. The urge to fire back on buttheads grows as my temper shortens, and I become a butthead in kind when I can’t hack it anymore.
Just sayin’. What? Did you really think this web log was going to be a bunch of ‘top ten…’ lists and pretty descriptions of places and people? Fat chance. Anyway, take comfort in the fact that this bit of prose has done it’s part to keep me from losing face.