Monday, February 16, 2009


There are over thirty languages spoken in Uganda and many more dialects on top of that. The official language is English, but the most widely spoken is Luganda. It's the language of the Buganda tribe who are located predominantly in central Uganda.

Contrary to what I had read from several sources, very few people here speak Swahili. I came prepared with a small Swahili vocabulary under my belt and a pocket phrasebook, but quickly found that I had no use for them. Apparently, when Idi Amin was in power, he forced the Swahili language on people and attempted to make it the official language. As one of my colleagues explained, "Swahili brings back painful memories for many Ugandans."

So, I've tried to quickly acquire a bit of Luganda. The first work that I learned wasn't hello, goodbye, or thank you. It's the word that I've heard spoken more frequently and with more force than any other. "Sindicat!" The midwives and nurses would yell at women in the second stage of labour, "Sindicat!" I didn't have to ask for a translation that first afternoon on the labour ward. Sindicat means push.

Over dinner, I told some of the priests at CANLET about learning my first Luganda word. They found this hilarious. But in seriousness, one of them said, "When those women hear you saying that in their language, I know it gives them great strength to push." I'm not so sure about that, but I've certainly sensed a lot of surprise and appreciation for the little Luganda that I have learned and practiced thus far.


  1. I'm a bit disappointed not to get the chance to use my favorite line from the Swahili phrasebook, "See-ta-kee koo-ka-joo," or "I don't want to ride on the top." I can only imagine why the authors decided to include that one.