Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Muhindi in the Baganda Kingdom

I find myself walking around Kampala and comparing every aspect of it to Indian cities that I've been to. Both Kampala and many Indian cities are very similar in that traffic circles usually dictate traffic. There are absolutely no traffic rules, which up until recently used to be the case in all Indian cities. Both countries also have a huge gap between the standard of living of the rich and that of the poor. Granted, I have seen this gap disappearing over the years in India. However, in both contries impoverished people usually live in slums along the railroad tracks, children come up to cars and beg, there is an accumulation of rubbish along the streets, and there are holes and other obstacles that pedestrians must watch out for. The cars in Kampala are the same as those in India as well, and the rich usually have drivers. I don't know if it is fair for me to compare Uganda to India, but India is my best frame of reference.

In the region of Uganda where I am currently (central), most people are from the Buganda tribe.
The local people have several names for ethnicities that are different from theirs.
For example, a Mzungu is a white person. Everywhere we go, people yell out, "Bazungu! (plural) How are you?" Even African Americans who are not as dark as local Ugandans are called Bazungu. An Arab person would be called Murabi. Since my family is from India, I'm called Muhindi, which means Indian person. Today somebody yelled out, "Chinese! How are you?" (because of my short hair?), but that's beside the point. I have a special classification because Ugandans can recognize people of my heritage.

It's hard to go anywhere in Kampala without seeing Indian people, who seem to be an elite class of people in this country. There is a huge Bank of Baroda and a Bata store, both ginormous Indian corporations. There is a Delhi Public Schools International Program, and there are Hindu temples and a Sikh temple here. In the malls there are Indian jewelry stores and shops that sell Bolywood movees. Also, chapatis and pilaf are part of the normal diet here. I could go on and on about the influence that Indians have in this country.

I noticed that Indians in Uganda cling very tightly to their heritage. They have preserved their language, and Indian women wear sarees and salwar kamees. I thought this was interesting because Indians have lived in Uganda for over 100 years, but they preserve their heritage more than many first generation Americans like myself. Perhaps this is because Indians in Uganda were persecuted by Idi Amin, who froze their bank accounts? I'm not sure.

At any rate, seeing how Indians in Uganda behave has made me think about how my heritge plays a role in who I am. I identify more with mainstream American culture than with Indian culture, but at home I eat mostly Indian food and I have lots of Indian clothes. I'm also interested in Hindu philosophy. Still, I consider myself more American than Indian.

Uganda has made me realise how much my Indian heritage is important to me. I surprised myself when I went to the temple in Kampala. I thought it would be a good way to honor the Bahindi (plural) who were persecuted decades ago.

No comments: