The Cultural Exchange

I find myself thinking more and more of Uganda lately. It’s been two years since my last trip and almost four since my first. I miss it dearly and as it seems I won’t be able to travel there for another year, I am thinking about some of my most cherished memories of my time there. The following happened in 2006 during my first trip to the Pearl of Africa.

It was my first solo trip from the village where I lived in Nsumba to the nearest town with internet access and chocolate, Mukono. I was a bit nervous because I had never navigated the taxis and wandered around Mukono on my own before that and it was only my second week in Uganda. The nerves were for nothing though, as I had no problems at all finding my way to Mukono, using the internet, and grocery shopping. I was sitting in the taxi on the return trip, (I say sitting but it was more like perching because though the taxis are only supposed to hold 14 people this particular one  had more like 23 and there was very little room for sitting properly), daydreaming away as usual when I realized we had made one of the many stops taxis make along their routes. At this particular stop vendors would come up to the windows of the taxi and sell things like roasted maize and roasted sweet bananas. A little boy sitting between me and his Mother reached into his worn trousers and pulled out a couple hundred Ugandan shillings. With a hundred shillings you could buy one roasted sweet banana, he bought two. I smiled at him because he looked so proud to be buying something with his own money. He smiled back and offered me one of his roasted bananas. I was shocked. He had just spent all his pocket money on two sweet bananas and he wanted me to have one. Perhaps it sounds silly but never in my life have I felt more honored. He continued to insist that the Mzungu next to him should have one of his purchased sweet bananas. His Mother looked at me and smiled and I could see the pride she had in her generous and tender hearted son. I accepted the banana, the first I had ever eaten roasted. It was delicious. Every bite tasted better than the last and as I finished it my heart felt like it would burst from the emotion I was feeling. Here was this little boy who was growing up with so much less than I ever did and he wanted to give something to me. I remembered my groceries at that moment and realized I had two large bottles of coca-cola. I offered him one. His Mother refused and told me it was too much but I insisted. She accepted the bottle from me and opened it with her teeth, which I though was particularly impressive. She handed it to her son and he took a long drink. His eyes lit up and he thanked me over and over again. Wa bali nyo. Wa bali nyo. The little boy’s Mother told me he had never had Coca-Cola before. In my entire life I have never felt so connected to this world as I did then. In that moment, which took almost no time at all, my entire being felt peaceful and blissful. It was the absolute perfect exchange of cultures. Roasted sweet banana for a Coca-Cola. We didn’t speak the same language, didn’t even know each other’s names but in that moment we were so connected to one another. That sweet child gave to me without expecting anything in return and I don’t think he could ever know exactly how much it was that he gave me, it was so much more than a banana. Whenever I am having a dark day I think about that moment, that brief beautiful moment, and I feel the shadow of what I felt then and it is more than enough to keep me going. To this day there is nothing that tastes so sweet to me as a roasted banana.

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