finding joy in Luganda during a tough week

Greetings from a warm and quiet Kampala. Everyone is tucked into pubs watching the Euro Cup final game - I can hear cheers from nearby crowds - but I'm taking advantage of the stillness of the guest house to reflect a bit.

It's been a strange week for me. I have been very distracted by what's going on at home, and very upset about the lack of progress and acknowledgement of structural racism in our country. I've been craving time with other Americans, to discuss and mourn and process alongside me, but my life here has been spent with Ugandans most of the time, and Europeans the rest of it. The shooting in Minnesota has been particularly painful for me, as it happened mere blocks away from where my mom attended school, and a 20 minute drive away from my own home. Meanwhile, however, my Luganda has been going very well this week, and I've had a couple of moments of language-learning exhilaration. It's been a week full of low lows and high highs.

My successes this week feel in some ways like a response to my anxiety of last week. Getting over my cold certainly helped things, as did more forcefully throwing myself into lots of situations to use my Luganda. There have been a number of times that I've been able to recognize real progress.

The most significant moment of Luganda progress this week happened on Friday at Uganda Crafts. I spent the early part of the day sitting and chatting with the women as I usually do, noticing with pleasure that I can increasingly understand what they are talking with amongst themselves. At some point I stood up to move to chat with another group, and I found an Australian woman sitting down with some of the weavers. I greeted her, and we started to chat. The woman recently started a small business buying ethically-made and eco-friendly products and selling them online; she was planning to purchase items from Uganda Crafts and wanted to spend some time with the artisans as a way of getting to know the company a little bit better.

Betty was very busy tending to business - speaking to the women one-on-one, checking for quality, and paying people. And so this woman needed a bit of help in getting to know the artisans.

It started off small - I casually just introduced her to one group of women and explained why she was visiting that day. But very quickly, I became a translator.

Granted, this very nice Australian woman didn't speak any Luganda whatsoever, so even the most basic of knowledge was helpful in this situation. However, I found myself working as the go-between as the women exchanged greetings and then information about children, spouses, and work. The woman was hoping to take some photos, which the weavers happily consented to doing; in return, they wanted to take photos alongside her. They complimented one another's clothing, and exchanged questions and answers on a range of topics. There was a lot of laughter and a good amount of joking.

And I somehow managed to translate all of this - at least enough of it that I think all sides were clear on what was being communicated. Honestly, I'm not sure if I've been so proud of anything language related in my entire life.

That was the highest high of the week, definitely. But there were others. I navigated the fabric stalls and Owino market on my own, using a lot of Luganda. This opened up a LOT of friendly conversation with vendors. I met two "sisters" from my adopted clan, Lugave, who gave me hugs when they found out.

I was told that I speak with an English accent, which I took as a compliment. After all, you can only have an accent if you're able to actually speak the language.

I purposefully - and successfully - only used Luganda on several taxi trips around town.

I have started to forget words in English and think of them only in Luganda. Enanansi, pineapple, and Luzungu, English, are two examples from dinner tonight.

And today I visited the home a friend and then several of his friends and family. After the visit, he called to thank me for the afternoon, and he asked me, "How did you learn to be so polite in our culture?" I told him that I just observed people and tried to learn from watching. "Olimba!" (You're lying!) he responded. "Someone must have told you."

So, six weeks down and one week to go, I think I can generally say that it's been a successful summer.

Like all knowledge, the more you know, the more you know you don't know. My work is far from over. I have a lot of vocabulary to learn, and a lot of grammar to work on. I still feel miles away from my Fairy Godmother Lindsay's level of proficiency, much less actual fluency. But I will work. The next time I come back to Uganda, I can't imagine what I'll be able to do with my Luganda, but whatever it is, I know I'll have a lot of fun with it.


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