Monday, 12 March 2012

Stereotypes

Generalizations, Blanket Statements, Assumptions, Stereotypes: All Formed for One Legitimate Reason or Another, but Made to be Broken!

As most of you are aware, I am living with a wonderful host family in Mukono for an entire semester; they are wonderful but not even close to what I expected. Apart from the physical location being much “nicer” than I anticipated, my family members do not fit my previous conception of a typical Ugandan family. I did not anticipate they would fit exactly within the mold we tend to put them, but I did assume they would to some extent, at least in more ways than they do. One dominant ideal in Africa that is discussed in my department at school is that of patriarchy. Africa is considered a traditional society that is extremely patriarchal in countless ways, from perceptions of who does the cooking to men buying their wives with cows. In my family here, my papa knows his way around the kitchen; I am told that once, when my mama was bedridden, a maid ran off because she could not handle sharing kitchen work with a man. He is a reverend by profession; in Uganda, that means people are expected to serve him whenever he goes anywhere. (Traditionally, the more glorified a leader is, the better off his people consider themselves.) But my papa understands Jesus’ mandate to serve as one that applies to him as well as the layperson. One time, he even begged me to let him serve me something, even if it was just a glass of water. The patriarchal stereotype is further broken during our family devotion time. My first Sunday with them, we did not attend church because we were exhausted from a function on Saturday. In the evening, we had a mini church service in our living room. I was nominated the preacher, for some strange reason, my sister the sermon director (not sure how this is different from preacher, but it meant she read from “Our Daily Bread” devotional and I read the Scripture passage), and my other sisters the intercessors. Such practice is typical of our devotion times; he sometimes takes the verbal lead, but he is more often the silent leader, not what one expects to encounter in a society that is labeled patriarchal.
My sister Hannah also proved to be not what I expected. When imagining a young African woman, even one in the city, what do you envision? One who is tough, not easily grossed out, super conservatively dressed, maybe dirty nails, most likely married by age 23 with a child, and certainly more than able to handle a few chickens? That’s what I would have said before arriving here. The reality is that Hannah is super gorgeous. She likes to paint her nails and gets her hair done frequently. Her wardrobe is adorable, and I would wear anything in it in the States (some of her skirts sit an inch or two above her knees). She does not want to be married anytime soon, and she does not want a houseful of children when she does get married. And she definitely needs some practice handling the chickens she owns!
Recently, she is in the process of beginning a small business on the side of raising and selling chickens. Since she works in Kampala, the family pays some guys to tend to the chicks throughout the day. One night, we all strolled down the trail to the “farm” to check on the little animals. Upon arriving, my papa told Hannah to hold one and tell him about how much it weighed. She stepped inside the coop, and bent over to grab one. It flapped its wings rapidly; she squealed and jumped backwards. We all laughed. She tried again, same result, “How am I supposed to catch one?! They fly away! And they feel nasty!” Papa said “You just grab it quickly,” as he demonstrated with his hands. Hannah’s expression persisted declaring, “There’s no way this is happening. Why do I have to do this anyway?” Papa then turned to me and nudged me to give it a try. I stepped inside, took a small breath, bent down and attempted to grab one. This first try was similar to Hannah’s, without the intense squeal (shocking, I know). Then I took a deep breath and told myself that I was smarter than the half grown chicken, lunged quickly, and succeeded in scooping it up in my hands! I then turned to try to give it to Hannah so that she could hold it and estimate its weight (in kg). She again tried to hold it but instantly backed up with an additional look of disgust when she felt the thin layer of feathers against its warm little body. Her quick movements made the bird react with flapping wings, so I set it down. Papa still wanted a weight estimate from Hannah, so I again captured another chicken, hoping she might be able to take if from my hands. She again did not. We left the coop laughing hysterically as I declared we were both born in the wrong country. J

 Reina Allbritain (Spring 2011)

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