On Politeness

If you are an adult of a certain age, then you have most certainly experienced one of those mind-blowing, frustrating, and yet oh so confusing moments when you realize that a belief you once thought simple commonsense, isn’t shared by your intellectual brethren. For me these moments are always about culture and faith. I realize now that my parents – as strict as they seemed in my childhood – are way more open-minded than most people’s and I am sure my sigh of relief can be felt all the way up to the heavens.

Allow me to provide some context. I am currently doing my Masters of Medicine in Ophthalmology (apparently that’s not common knowledge enough, no matter how often I’ve written it, so in the future I’ll just give this here link to all who ask) and there are not enough ophthalmologists in Africa to deal with the disease burden. So what my university does is try to ensure that they train people from all over the continent and that means that it’s not a first-apply-first-admitted situation with this course but rather one based on where the need is. As a result, I found myself in a class filled mostly with people who were foreigners to Ugandan culture.

At first the conversations were filled with amused laughter as they asked me whether welokam was a new English word (some of them are from Francophone countries) and there was some disbelief as one of their daughters insisted on pronouncing Q as chu and R as ara, like her kindergarten teacher. It was funny and Uganda has so many colorful accents, it really is a joy whenever others find as much fascination with them as I do.

Luck rarely holds out – as is always the case with that cold woman – and things turned south when one of my Congolese classmates asked me, as we were practicing our suturing techniques, if he could visit with me. He lives about 5 minutes away (at a strolling pace) from my apartment complex and I had no problem with him walking over so long as he gave me at least 24 hours of notice. I told him as much and the he paused in his work and stared at me in disbelief. I was happily humming away at that point, pleased with my work – because I have a killer suturing technique if I do say so myself – and it didn’t hit me for a few seconds that the room, which was filled with a low hum before, was now suddenly quiet. I looked up and found all other 5 of my classmates giving me that eerie horror-movie stare and I swear, I almost started chanting that Latin exorcism speech from The Conjuring.

I instead managed to croak out a startled “what?” only for one of the others to respond, with confidence and smugness as if he speaks for me, that I wasn’t serious and was just joking. At this point I was beginning to suspect that no one agreed with my 24 hours policy but hey, tough, I was sticking to my guns and I told them as much. That is when my Congolese classmate asked me whether this was a common practice in Uganda and I , with all my naivety, declared that yes indeed, it was. In my defense, this has been a practice of mine for years and no one ever complained. Everyone who interacted with me knew that they had to inform me at least 24 hours in advance before any physical interaction or else I wouldn’t show. I mean, it was only polite.

Apparently I was wrong, or so the only other Ugandan in the class assured me. Everyone in the class agreed that I was rather strange – what else is new though, amIRight? – and that it was perfectly acceptable for someone to just show up at a friend’s house without prior notice. And the conversation went on and on but well, I still had plenty of ammo in my guns as I stood my ground, insisting on my directives as such. Before anyone even considers calling me up and wanting to meet, they must at least give me 24 hours of notice and even if they were in my apartment complex visiting someone else, they can’t just drop in. I mean really, did they not know that they’d be visiting that particular person the day before? I’m not someone who generally likes being around people and my apartment reflects that, so I have to be given some time to clear away and store the bear-traps, put my demons back into their cages, and to wear a fucking bra!

All paraphrased, however, worry not.

Fast-forward to a month or so later when I actually do get visitors (who’re not my friends) over. First let me say that it really bothers me whenever people I’m not friends with and who have no intention of friendship either, want to come over to my home. What is your intention if not to scout out my place? Why make both of us uncomfortable and doom us to awkward conversations about politics – yes, he’s president again – and which schools I went to and why? Just…why? Ahem, so these people decided to come over because I was sick at the time.

I had the kind of sickness that was induced by the devil’s monthly waterfalls, as I later found out, and involved bouts of pain that weren’t responding to painkillers but instead just kept increasing in frequency and intensity. In short, I was a mess. These people thought it appropriate enough to come over that day though and had told me as much the day before, so I couldn’t complain. Also considering that I’d barred them from coming over, numerous times in the past, I was starting to feel rather obligated at that point. As I sat through their light conversation, twisting and contorting in pain every five minutes – I’m telling you, there’s nothing like pain to help you into yoga positions – I wondered why people visit the sick at their homes.

I mean it’s understandable if the sick person has an attendant who’ll usher you in, give you a drink or so, nod with you sympathetically as you try to prove you’re a good person by saying some nice things, and then usher you out. This is me however, and the fact that I live alone is no secret. I’m sick and in pain, so you decide to make me play host instead and casually chat for over an hour, as I struggle with pain right before your very eyes because outright chasing you away is extreme, even for me. That might sound a bit ungrateful but when you’re practically sweating with the effort it takes you to not grab that bucket and barf in it as you repeatedly swallow the bile back, you’ll understand.

I’m sure you can now guess that I’m alone a lot, but that’s the way I prefer it; ‘tis no exaggeration whenever I say I’m a recluse. That particular visit ended with me practically gasping out that I needed to sleep and limp-escorting my visitor to the gate before I overdosed on painkillers. Yes, it’s a shame indeed considering that I should know better but in my opinion, I thought I was a hardass and that the devil’s waterfalls knew to not mess too much with me. They did however and came with their buff f(r)iend, Pain, who challenged me and I just couldn’t back down. It’s truly a wonder that I am alive even now and that’s in part thanks to the fact that I have no cats, which would have eaten my unconscious body after I passed out thereafter.

Cats are not polite.

Written by Denise Kavuma

I AM DENISE!!! nuff said!

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  1. Oh I hear you loud and clear. Giving someone notice of a visit is the least a reasonable human being can do. People don’t seem to get the concept that you need to plan psychologically, physically, financially and in every other aspect where you’re used to having just yourself in mind but now have a couple of other people to think about because they’re going to be in your space.
    I guess your Ugandan classmate that said you’re alone in this is the sort that turns up unannounced at his friend’s houses.

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