Monday, March 2, 2009

Leave me alone or I'll call my father

I don't wear much jewelry, but the few pieces I do have are very special to me. In 2003 I purchased a hammered silver ring from What on Earth in Fredericton. Its intended purpose was to serve as a "wedding ring" while I was in Rwanda. Someone had recommended this strategy to me and my Canadian traveling companions as an easy way to avoid harassment from men. It turns out that I never really felt comfortable with this and so ended up wearing it on my left middle finger, where it was a better fit. In a pinch I would call it into use saying that, "in my culture," we wear our wedding bands on the middle finger.

This is only the ring's second trip to Africa as I lost it for a period of time. But, as I was traveling with a man in 2007 it was less of a necessity. I was happy to find the ring and since then have worn it every day. People in Uganda often ask me about it. To the hospital staff I confess that I can move it over to my ring finger, "in case of emergency."

I tend to still be a bit naive about my interactions with Ugandan men. Generally I give them the benefit of the doubt when they ask me if I'm married. Over the course of the last week, I've found myself regretting this honesty and reconsidering the placement of my silver ring.

One of the doctors at the hospital invited me out to dinner after a long day at work last week. Seeing as there was a group of us, and as I had not had anything but mashed bananas, rice, and stewed beef all week I gladly accepted. However over the course of the following few days it became clear that I had made a grievous tactical error. Dr. P started calling incessantly and sending text messages referring to me as, "baby" and, "sweetheart." I confronted him about this, telling him that I was neither available nor interested and that his behavior was professionally inappropriate. Despite feeling satisfied that I had made myself clear, the text messages continued and I wondered whether the ring strategy would have made any difference.

This is just one example of the "interest" bordering on harassment that Uganda men pay me on a daily basis. I think their interest going beyond beauty or physical appeal. There is something about white women that they find inherently attractive. Whether it is a result of their exposure to western culture through Hollywood film, music, music videos, and magazines, I'm not sure. But, I often have the feeling that they see no difference between me and Britney Spears. To date, three Ugandans have told me that I look like Drew Barrymore. Moreover, it's my impression that the same goes for Muzungu men. After telling a colleague that I have two unmarried brothers she became very interested and confessed that she had, "always dreamed" that she would marry a white man. These desires may simply be linked to the desire for a ticket to the good life, but I sense that there is a more complicated explanation.

Because opposite sex friendships with Ugandans have been nearly impossible to achieve, I've truly appreciated the companionship of my female collegues and that of that of the priests at CANLET. The priests make a great date and are even gracious enough to always invite along another female companion (often one of their sisters) when we've been exploring Kampala's nightlife.

My female colleagues have been an excellent source of support and have provided some helpful advice. I shared a text message from a male colleague, (a different one) with one of the female interns who confirmed that it would not be socially acceptable by Ugandan standards. "Some of those guys can be very cheeky! You just need to tell them to leave you alone or else your father will be coming to Kampala." While I haven't had to employ this strategy yet, I love the idea. I have a picture of my Dad and brothers with me and I'm just waiting for the moment when I can pull them out of my pocket.

1 comment:

  1. And if that does not work, just tell them Uncle Malcolm will get them....or one of your other big uncles or your Truro cousins.
    You must be visiting your friends in Rwanda by now. Keep safe!
    Love and prayers.