Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Every day I walk to work along a meandering footpath through hills, bush and farmland. It is Ugandan custom to greet pretty much everyone in sight, and when you are the only white person for miles people will literally come running to make sure they get their dues from you. The kids are always especially excited, and I try to tell myself that it’s not just because they think I am going to give them the sweeties that they have been misguided into thinking all muzungus carry.
On this particular day a band of boys came running up to me, even more excited than usual. “Davidee!” (I haven’t figured this out yet, but when pronouncing Western names people tend to add long “e” sounds to names that shouldn’t have it and drop them from names which should i.e. “Davidee,” “Sister Doroth”) they shouted. “We have for you! You come!”
I am used to being asked for things, but this was the first time the kids were offering me something. “Mulina ki?” (you all have what?) I asked in broken Luganda.
“Monkey tail! Monkey tail!” they shouted back, jumping up and down now and waving frantically, trying to will me to quicken my pace. Wow, I thought, monkey tail… I wonder what they mean? Probably slang for some kind of toy or maybe even some bizarre food. I followed them, almost matching their excitement, anxious to see what this monkey tail was that was causing so much excitement.
The boys stopped in front of a rock and turned around to beam at me while one went around to retrieve my gift. The boy returned holding something. “MONKEY TAIL!” he screamed, holding it high and waving it around his head in circles. Oh, its some kind of vine – that makes sense. He offered it to me and I reached out to take it. Monkey tail… that’s a clever name for… THE TAIL OF A FREAKING MONKEY!?!?!
My hand retracted, and, as I stared down at the hairy, bloody tail that I had mistaken for a vine, my initial reaction was to think they were having some fun with me. When I looked around at the smiling, nodding faces though, I realized that this was not the case. In these boys’ eyes, this was the most precious gift they could possibly give me. I could tell they were so so proud to finally have something to offer me. I was torn between not wanting to hurt these kids’ feelings and not wanting to touch the dismembered tail of an animal which, according to my vast knowledge of movies and bestselling novels, was credited for starting some of the fiercest tropical diseases known to man. It also occurred to me what a great re-gift this would make to some unsuspecting member of my family at Christmas. In the end, a combination of disgust and hygiene won out over good manners and the potential look of shock on my aunt's face. I declined their offer as politely as I could.
“No, no. You remain with it. I am already having,” I lied in my best Ugandan-English. “Webale nyo nyo,” (thank you very very much) I added as I turned to continue my journey to work. They looked a bit disappointed, but when I looked back not less than a minute later I saw that they were already chasing each other around with the tail, laughing and having fun.