Friday, July 07, 2006

Yesterday I went with one of my teachers, Waalabyeki Magoba, to his parents' house. All of his siblings were there (the ones in-country anyway--some of them live in Philadelphia) and some of their children were there. It was a family reunion to be sure. We arrived and went through a lengthy greeting process on which I had been coached since I arrived two weeks ago. There's about ten minutes worth of niceties that if you don't know them, people will get offended (or at least know that you're a tourist and not a scholar interested in their language). I made it safely through that, and they were thrilled that I am in Uganda learning a local language. The couple I was greeting was very old: the woman was 84 and her husband was 96-- both still very sharp and he got around better than most 75-year olds I know. Remarkable. Dude could still remember his exact date of birth after he lost all his teeth and hair. Not fair with my grandparents mostly dead and yours quickly losing their minds, I know, but that's life.

We proceeded to a lengthy meal with the entire extended family, all of whom had come to greet the special guest (yours truly) and make him feel at home (which I did). Following the meal, I was invited to open a pinapple, in which they had made a wonderful fruit salad with passion fruit, pineapple and mangoes. Following the Equatorial specialty dessert, there was a naming ceremony in which I was inducted into their clan (Ffumbe--the civet cat clan). See, they don't use family names, only clan names. So each sibling in a given family shares none of his or her name with the others--only their common clan name. Further, when you meet someone who shares your clan name, that person is automatically your relation, even if it is the first time you've met. Each clan has a set of names that other clans don't name their children. It's complicated and I still don't know the whole extended clan relationship system, but those are the basic parts. Anyway, this naming ceremony must be performed by the grandmother (jaja), and usually the child must sit on her lap. As she is very old and I am very large, we improvised a cushion in front of her and she named me Kigozi, after which she demanded many hugs and she was very happy. So I am now Kigozi Peetero of the Ffumbe clan. No shit.

We then proceeded outside to the front yard (or compound), where it was time for the youngert set to welcome me to the family. Magoba's youngest child was the MC, and there were many steps to this process. First, while we waited for all of the siblings and cousins to get the spread ready, my new uncles showed me around the garden. All kinds of plants--chamomile, small red peppers, maize, matooke (a species of banana) and many other species of bananas, etc. I also saw the traditional method of roasting goat meat, which was pretty cool. Then they put the goat meat on the spread, which was complete with chapati (flat bread), salads, beer, wine, whiskey, and sodas. They had heard that Guinness was my fave, so there were a couple of those, too. The uncles proceeded to chug alcohol while Magoba's last born, Setiimba (who now calls me Baaba Kigozi or Elder Kigozi--he's 20) welcomed me for the 1000th time and invited me to be the first to take some food. I obliged in spite of a stomach already full of lunch from only 2 hours earlier, and we proceeded, during which time the uncles encouraged me to pound Guinness as quickly as possible (Holy shitballs, batman! I'm full).

Then it was time for me to cut the cake. That's right, they made me a birthday cake to welcome me into the Ffumbe clan. When I told the MC dude that I felt like it was my birthday, he actually said, "That's because it is. You are born into the Ffumbe clan today." No shit. After I cut the cake, I had to serve everyone present some of the cake before the ritual cutting of a chicken, which was a gift from Jaja. Do these people ever stop eating? That garbage in the international media about Africans starving is totally bunk as it pertains to Uganda. These folks eat all day!

I was then required to get up and do some moving around (light exercise) with Setiimba the MC man (he said, "it's not good to eat all day and not move around, you know"). I told him that exercises at this time of day should really only involve your arms and a beer, but I obliged. That was pretty much it. It was totally wild, and I plan to tell you more when my fingers hurt less from typing all this. For now I have to go to my Luganda lesson.


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