Why?

This week I've been asked why? an awful lot.

"So, why are you studying Luganda?" Asked the (very nice) hotel owner at the place I visited over the weekend. "And why is your research about Uganda??"

"Why Luganda? It's not a very useful language. I mean, Italian's more useful!" Said one of my Italian housemates.

"Lwaki osoma Luganda?" (Why are you studying Luganda?) asked one of the artisans at Uganda Crafts, my former place of work.

The curiosity, and to some extent, the skepticism, makes sense to me. So few foreigners put any work into learning Luganda, or any of the other local languages here. Uganda's status as the most ethnically diverse country in the world means that a wide range of languages proliferate, and though Luganda is dominant, it reaches a fraction of the total population of Uganda.

I am reminded of this fact frequently. My second weekend here, my husband and I went to northern Uganda to visit some friends. We spent a long weekend there, and during that time the only language used was Acholi. We passed through many districts and spent time with many different people - all Acholi speakers. The following weekend, we escaped to an island in the Nile River, an area dominated by the Basoga people, who speak another language, Lusoga.

Oftentimes I'll greet a driver or a shopkeeper in Luganda, and after a little bit of conversation they'll reveal that Luganda is their second language, or that they actually aren't fluent - they are originally from a different part of the country.

In fact, the cook at the guest house where I am staying, a wonderfully friendly guy named Ivan, is one of these cases. One morning I greeted him in Luganda, he responded appropriately, and then I went on to request a fried egg. After I asked that simple question he said, "I think you'll be fluent before I am!" Turns out he's a Mugisu, from Eastern Uganda.

All of the questions have forced myself to explain myself, and to people from very different perspectives. Sometimes my response, that "I'm a PhD student, and I want to do my research on women's economic development" is enough. Sometimes, though, people want to get more information - what kind of people I hope to interview and how I expect Luganda to help me in that process. Sometimes that conversation leads me to say that, at this point, I'm not totally sure exactly how it will play out, but that I think that knowing Luganda is going to help no matter what.

In a recent conversation, this response felt a little insufficient. So I got personal.

Why Luganda? Well, ten years ago I visited Uganda for the first time, and something about it captured me. I recently rediscovered my blog from my first research visit in 2006 (which I will not link to now, in an attempt to preserve my dignity), and in it I mention that I am working on picking up Luganda. Ten years later, I am still fascinated by this place, and now blessed to have met many Ugandan friends. Most of them speak English but some of them do not. After all this time, I just want to have a conversation with them without relying on intervention. And I want to achieve the mastery of a language that I've been flirting with for far too long.

So of course, there are clear academic reasons for being here, and I do believe that they're solid reasons. But this week, more than ever, I'm reminded of the personal motivations that bring me here, and I feel confident that those are just as valid as the professional ones.

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