Today was our fourth day in Uganda, and it started out like the days preceding it. We met at MUBS and as we drove onto campus, we noticed there was much more security than usual. Although nothing was mentioned at the time we drove in, during our breakfast there was quite a bit of commotion as there was a helicopter landing on the futbol field at MUBS. There was speculation that Museveni, the President of Uganda, was landing on the field as he sometimes does, but this time around it was his brother. We also had the pleasure of meeting Godfrey, a wonderful man selling even more wonderful art. Many of us had the pleasure of buying beautiful souvenirs from him at a very reasonable price.
After breakfast, we headed off to the Equator, a first for many of us! We had the distinct pleasure of experiencing what road construction looks like in Uganda, and needless to say, it took us a bit longer to reach the equator than originally thought. There were a few times when Maggie and Damali (two truly amazing MUBS students) instructed me to pray, because we were on a notoriously dangerous road. After a bit of a treacherous drive, we arrived at the Equator! There were many pictures taken with one leg on the Northern Hemisphere, and the other on the Southern Hemisphere, as well as looking at an experiment involving the way water drains on the different sides of the Equator. We were also able to explore some shops with local art, clothing, and other souvenirs, which is where the main theme for this post begins.
There have been many times where members of our group have been referred to as a "Muzungu", which is the word commonly used for white people. The direct translation, however, is actually "one with privilege." I was a little put off when I first heard this translation, because, as members of our group have expressed, we do not wish to be seen as special, and certainly don't consider ourselves as being better than anyone else. We are extremely privileged to be in Uganda, and to have the wonderful classmates, professors, and colleagues that we do, but we don't want to be treated any differently than the average Ugandan.
We have seen two different sides of being considered a privileged person, one being yesterday at City Secondary School, and the other today in the shops at the Equator. At city secondary, we were welcomed with a brass marching band, heightened security provided by the school to keep us safe, were given t-shirts to be used in a beautiful art project, were served the special meal that students only receive on Sundays, and were even given a cow as a gift. This made many of the students, including myself, feel slightly uncomfortable because if anything like this would happen in the U.S., President Obama, Beyonce, or an entire professional sports team would have to be present. It is still unclear if this had something to do with the color of our skin or our country of origin, but Professor Senteza did enlighten us on the fact that Ugandans have a sense of hospitality heightened so far above that of Americans that it would be expected us to be a little shocked. Despite a bit of uncomfortableness, it was still an exceptional day.
Today, we saw the more negative side of being considered a privileged person. At the market, we were expected to pay higher prices, and had very little luck bartering prices down, despite our prior understanding that bartering is a very common practice in Ugandan markets. As a group we came to understand that this is because Americans are all seen as having an excess of money, and should be able to pay higher prices, instead of the fair prices offered to Ugandans. So I have two questions related to this: Is it ethical for shopkeepers to charge higher prices to some than others, or should they be able to charge what they want? Why or why not? Also, would the bartering structure used in Ugandan markets function in the U.S., apart from small scale seasonal farmer's markets? Why or why not?