A French-Canadian woman who sings about love of titanic proportions is the It Girl of Uganda. Next to the football-crazy Cranes, this superstar has the entire country under her spell. She is Queen Celine. Diva Dion. The woman who, on every radio in the heart of Africa, goes on and on and on.
It is hardly surprising that I have heard my fair share of Celine by now. Cassettes, radio stations, televisions. She is everywhere, coming on day and night, rain or shine. In fact, most mornings start out with Celine blasting out from the main hotel building. Uganda’s version of a wakeup call, I suppose. Needless to say, Celine is often stuck in my head. So much so that I may leave Uganda as the crazy mzungu belting out “The Power of Love” during any and every walk into town.
The woman has practically seeped into everything. My ears, my head, my vocal chords. Even my attitude. Yes, to help immerse myself into Ugandan culture, I have even learned to adopt the Celine Dion attitude. The That’s-The-Way-It-Is view on Life. Not surprising, it has proven to be quite handy.
Take last week. I had a very stimulating conversation with a born and bred Ugandan. Over lunch, we swapped questions and answers in table talk about many a topic. By the end of the chat, I could begin to paint a distinct (though incomplete and albeit generalized) picture of what goes on inside the ordinary Ugandan mind. It is a world that I don’t fully understand, one that has as much allure as it has challenge. Just like any other culture (including the red, white, and blue one I find so familiar), there are good, bad, and ugly things. There are beautiful and darkened sides of the cultural coin. And there are je-ne-sais-quoi pieces that make little sense to outsiders.
The picture that I was beginning to paint had humor and honesty. Parts were refreshing and quite revealing. Others were offsetting, even intimidating. It was a picture that viewed Americans as heroes for fighting the Arab world and tricksters for honoring shady marriage norms (read here: prenuptials). A picture that focused on the nurture side of the origins of homosexuality debate and posited gays and lesbians as the products of choice. A picture that had definite views on Indians and Arabs. On the all of the West (read: America). On blacks around the world. On mzungus far and wide. A picture that brought out laughter at one moment and, at another, unearthed quibbles deep down in my insides.
Of course, any picture of Uganda painted by yours truly would – as they say in the world of art – carry a perspective all its own. It would be Picasso-like, a hodgepodge of observations and puzzling thoughts. And it would certainly have the potential to showcase judgment. To emphasize my picking and choosing of what makes up Uganda rather than to portray the country in a truer light.
So instead of painting pictures, I tried to end the chat in the way I imagined Celine Dion might. After all, when in Uganda…do as the Celine Dion-loving Ugandans do. Respect instead of judge. Soak up information rather than dish out commentary. Recognize that differences exist.
Realize that I am me.
And Uganda is Uganda.
And that’s the way it is.