A Lonely Planet slogan says “Do something great for your country: Leave”. Is it a clichéd idea, to talk about the importance of getting to know cultures other than one’s own, breaking bread with a family in the Andes, learning at the feet of a tribe of monks in the Himalayas…? What was I talking about? I think I got carried away on my around-the-world-in-50 stereotypes trip.
Clichés, they exist because they are true, and there is something to be said about the narrow-minded nature of a society whose inhabitants “defend” their own religion by burning others’ holy books and protesting their prayer rooms. Small-mindedness doesn’t apply only to American religious fundamentalists, I would say the same to Ugandan girls who think that dating a whiteboy is somehow the key to wealth, health and future happiness.
Small-minded behaviour does not have to be a big-ticket, shit-on-my-rainbow-parade item. It can be as simple as the American waitress who corrected me after she finally understood my drink order; “Oh! You mean Waaahder”, or asking the new international student what the African National Anthem is (if you see nothing wrong with that statement please stop reading immediately and go back to licking windows).
Bigots can be young, like the girls at the Bowling Green quarry whose Mean Girl comments about my skin and ass made me really glad I didn’t go high school in the U.S:
“If I were her I definitely wouldn’t be tanning”, and “Y’know a bunch of guys we know would look at that and be like, Oh my God what is that?! But it’s actually kinda fabulous,”
Most importantly though, the ignorant and the intolerant are dangerous, like the Ugandan Member of Parliament trying to push a bill mandating the death penalty for homosexuals.
Travel does not solve everything of course. I am not suggesting an exchange visit between Al-Shabaab and the Westboro Baptist Church … would bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. I had an American friend stay with me for three months and I almost killed him and caused a diplomatic incident between our two countries. Cultural sensitivity cannot always be taught. Among a million different annoyances and adjustments trying to fit him into an African family, one time I was sitting in a car with a friend who asked him what he thought of Ugandan music. He answered, “well, it all sounds the same” … [pause]…
Hey I can understand not being able to tell the difference between Kadongo Kamu, Lugaraggae and whether not GNL Zamba rather than Rocky Giant is really the pioneer of Lugaflow (Luganda rap) after only 3 months. But for fuck’s sake pretend rather than be the galumphing, inconsiderate American too dense to avoid offending his hosts.
What am I trying to say here really? Mostly that Americans can be really dumb…. and annoying. Four years in your country failed to divest me of that particular stereotype. But if I am to be totally honest (and politically correct) I have to add that Ugandans are dumb, Maldivians are dumb, Zambians are dumb, Cambodians are dumb, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. But it is only when we stop believing that we are smarter than everyone else and attempt to learn about each other that we can do anything about it.
- Ugandan Paper Identifies Gay Men, Encourages To “Hang” Them! (perezhilton.com)
- American Rolling Stone: That Wasn’t Us Printing Names of 100 Ugandan Gays (queerty.com)