It is a culture norm that if something happens to someone in Uganda another person says sorry. Whether this is someone running into a desk, tripping on a cord or burning themselves over an open flame, they will receive a ‘sorry’ from someone near by. These are a few instances that I have received, ‘sorry, sorry.’ At first I thought to my self, ‘how polite. How kind.’ It took more time to realize the truth behind this endless charade of kindness.
I was walking home from the office when I realized the truth behind this, at first glance, pleasantry. I had stopped and bought some food on the way home. My bag had a few more documents in addition to my oversized water bottle, computer and notebooks. I also bought some groceries before the food. My hands were full and my back had a little extra weight. The sun was going down at its predictable time and I had made it to the top of the hill with enough light to receive me safely home. Unluckily it had rained during the day. The broken up, half paved, half red clay road was slicker than usual. The burden of my errands left me with the appearance of a tightrope walker in the middle of a stunt.
I used the inner courage of the tightrope walker and steadily made my way down the hill. I would adjust my arms with the various bags to counteract the previous movement. I hung close to the side of the road, trying to make use of the flattest portion of the narrow strip. To the right of me was a little downward slope where the run off water had eroded the road into it’s own ways.
Two guys were walking up the hill. They were talking and enjoying the soothing fresh breeze that had picked up. We eyed each other as we stepped closer to each other. There was no threat in our looks to one another. We just had nowhere else to look.
I shifted too far to my right and started to slide down the groove. My slick shoes shuffled into a whirlwind. My years of practices slippin’ and slidin’ on the ice in New York allowed me to successfully regain my composure and find solid footing.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” one of the two boys said to me. I began laughing out of embarrassment. It had to be a funny site. My arms flailing, a ‘oh shit’ face and my legs creating a new dance of their own. I gave them a nod and said, ‘thanks, I’m ok.’
They joined in my laughter and walked on past me. It was not until then I realized what had really happened. To explain what really happened we have to switch mindsets. We have to see this story in the other party’s eyes.
I was walking from home to town. Majid and I were going to catch the football match and play some pool with the boys. It should have been a good enough night. I was excited to get out of the house. Mom has been hassling me to get my Uni application done and I had just been caught up with the little intricacies that are involved in it.
I can’t stand this hill sometimes. Hah, here’s the Mzungo that lives in Kiimanya. It seems like he has his hands full today. It’d be pretty funny if he slipped and fell. I don’t want him to get hurt or anything. It would just be a funny situation to see.
Oh wow, it happened. I made it happen. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Jeez I feel really bad that just happened. I didn’t think it would actually happen, but it did. That was weird. I never knew I had that kind of power.
So, I must explain — no, reveal — the truth behind the innocent sorry that you receive when a clumsy accident occurs in Uganda. They’re mind hacking life and using you as a puppet. There is no other logical explanation to such a polite and sincere exchange of sorry.