Spunky women and other things lost in translation

February 4, 2015

This is from Peter, a Ugandan music teacher explaining one of his first interactions with his future bride-to-be. These two youngish Ugandans were around our dinner table last night. Their initial conversation went like this:

Her: Do you remember my name?

Him: No.

Her: What kind of teacher are you that you don’t remember your students’ names?

Him. Well, um.

Her: Are you married?

Him. No.

Her: Why not?

Him: I’m waiting for the right one.

At which point she put her hand on his forehead and said, “God, help this man see I’m the right one!”

Apparently even in a conservative culture like Uganda’s, women can be forward enough when they need to be.

How much more the expatriate women, even the young ones, over here? Take, for example, Scout, the American school girl in Uganda who one day asked my son Jon if he ever kissed a girl on the lips. Jon was just 7.

I suspect she’ll now be all the more brazen because her name is about to be known and re-known by millions who are about to read and read again To Kill a Mockingbird, that American classic narrated by one spunky girl named Scout.

Millions will fall in love with that book all over again, along with Harper Lee’s other new release that is going out to the public in July, her first book to be published in 50 years.

It came up this morning when I saw Scout and her father at the kids’ school.

And then again in our parents’ coffee, how this old manuscript of Lee’s, one that pre-dates To Kill a Mockingbird, has been “found” at a time when Lee is now 88 years old.

“I just can’t get that, how they “find” manuscripts like that after they’ve been around for 50 years. How can they be “lost” for so long?” asked one parent.

Hey, it happens, especially now with thumb-drives that are so easy to lose.

“I’ve already lost a whole bunch of best-sellers,” I said, looking into my coffee.


Continuing on with excerpts from my 2014 Hamilton address on The Nature of Peace, see below for Excerpt 5, or this link here.


If nothing else, when we cross borders we’ll be misunderstood. I remember once we had some Canadian visitors in Uganda and they needed a ride to the airport to fly back to Canada. The driver was late so I asked Jean for his number – his name was Henry – and I called and said “Henry, the Canadians are waiting.” And he said, “Yes, I’m on my way.”

Some time later Henry still hadn’t arrived and I phoned again and he said again, “Yes, I’m on the way. I’m nearby in Seeta,” about 10 minutes away.

Finally, after some time he still hadn’t arrived and I phoned again and said “Henry, where are you?! The Canadians are going to miss their plane!”

He said, “Oh, I’m in Miremebe Hall. I’m lecturing.”

I said, “What? What are you doing lecturing?! You’re supposed be driving the Canadians!”

Well, as it turned out, Jean had accidentally given me the number of the wrong Henry. All this time, I had been talking to Henry a professor, not Henry the driver, who eventually came late because of mechanical trouble, and got the Canadians to the airport.

Now you’d think Henry the professor at some point would ask me, “Why are you calling me about driving the Canadians to the airport?” But no, this is not how it works in Uganda where in order to preserve the relationship and ensure everyone can save face and all that, you don’t want to embarrass the other person.

So Henry was speaking a different cultural language. When you’re a peacemaker, you learn these things. You learn that are there linguistic languages and cultural languages that you have to learn.


By the way, when I said the word “Yemen” before, what did you think of? Well, one thing I think is when I’d walk the streets of Sana’a I’d often hear some Yemeni yell “Welcome!” And you know what? That one word would likely be the only word of English they knew.

And I’d say “Asalum walay come, Achri,” which means “Peace be upon you, brother.”

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February 4, 2015 • Posted in
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