Traversing around Uganda, one is never far from a stereo blasting the familiar, upbeat tunes known to all Ugandans, with people tapping their toes, nodding their heads, or even uninhibitedly dancing away to the music nearby. The music, always happy, always danceable, and always about God, love, or the beauty of life, never fails to move its listeners to celebrate the melodies, and people are never ashamed to do so. While Americans might be shy to dance in public, dancing to Ugandans is as natural as breathing or walking. As I ride through Kampala on a taxi van, I might look out the window at a few men dancing with one another to a nearby store’s booming beats, or a bunch of children enthusiastically stomping and clapping to the beat of a marching band. Even in church the songs are danced and clapped to, always upbeat, unlike the typical, slow hymns one might encounter in a traditional church in America. Here, people seem to manifest their joy and love for life through dance, and it is a beautiful thing to observe.
Just as I never hear sad, slow music playing here, I never see people crying, despite the horrible conditions in which I have met many people. It is socially unacceptable to cry, pretty much unless somebody near to you has died, and even then I wonder how often people cry over death. When I was living in Eastern Uganda for our rural home stay, the mother’s mother died during the short time we were there (really unlucky timing), but neither her nor any of her children seemed to shed a tear. I was really shocked at how little they reacted to the death. So, one might wonder, why are Ugandans so happy when they face so many issues…or are they just better at hiding their anguish? I only wish I knew the answer!
I can hypothesize that maybe they find their strength and happiness in religion. I have found that the majority of Ugandans are very faithful people: about 12% are Muslim, while nearly all of the rest are Christian. People’s faith in God has seemed to carry them along in life, keeping them filled with hope and appreciation. My home stay mother shared the lyrics of one of her favorite gospel songs that “inspires” her and “reminds [her] that God is near.” The lyrics say that even if times are hard and you want to lose hope, you never should because God is there and will take care of you. She can accept the days she doesn’t make any money because she knows that God will take care of her future. By putting so much investment in religion, Ugandans are able to look at challenging times as a part of life that will pass.
Even if people weren’t so religious, though, I have a feeling that they would retain their celebratory, appreciative attitude towards life. People value the little things in life—as we Americans always have to remind ourselves about—because it is often all that they have. Families are the most important part of life here, and while Americans might say that, I feel that Ugandans actually practice it. Ugandans leave their doors open, embracing anybody who might need a place to stay and a meal to eat. My home stay family’s home, for example, houses my mother and father, their children, my mother’s sister (and sometimes her two boys come to stay here), another woman’s daughter, and two children who might be distantly related. Recently, my mother’s niece gave birth and spent a few weeks living here for support. I could never imagine my family turning somebody away, even if they do not have tons of money to support everybody who might need help. The concepts of hospitality and compassion dictate peoples’ lives and actions, and that means people are taken care of.
While I find that people in America might have all of the money in the world, or at least live in extreme comfort compared to most Ugandans, they do not always appreciate their opportunities, luxuries, and even families—maybe they do not feel that they have enough? Or maybe their lifestyle of having luxuries is also accompanied by stress and excessive responsibilities…whatever the reason, I have to believed that the saying, ‘less is more,’ is actually quite right in regards to material wealth. Here, people just appreciate a good meal, having their loved ones around, and of course, dancing along to the music of life. In reality, what more could anybody really want or need from this life?
~ Kasey Wooten
Editor’s Note: This entry was first published on The 195.com, and is re-printed here with the permission of the author.