At the beginning of a conversation it is pretty common to have an extensive small talk. A talk normally starts like this: “How are you?” – “I am ok. How are you?”. This is also used while simply going past someone on the street. It is seen especially positively if you use the local language Jopadhola by saying “I tiene di” to ask somebody about their well-being or replying “A tierma bery” to tell the other one you are feeling fine. As we have never heard a negative answer to “I tiene di”, we believe it is simply a rhetoric set phrase.
The short greeting on the street ends here. If a further conversation is wished, the next step is reached by saying “We’ll be back”. The aim of this phrase is to tell the other one you are looking forward to meeting him or her again at another time. On the opposite site, the other person can show his or her affection by saying “Thanks for keeping” or “Well kept” to you. Father Robert apparently has the task to protect and look after the whole Iyolwa region because everyone salutes him with the phrase “Thanks for keeping Iyolwa!”. Another typical phrase is the question “How is here?” which is mostly answered with a “It’s ok”. Alternatively, the local words “Calee Calee” are used and with them the laughs are on your side. This expression is applied in a lot of parts of Uganda, despite the different local languages.
It is common to use some of these set phrases before actually starting the real talk, be it at the market or at an important meeting with a business partner. The purpose of this introduction is to observe the interlocutor and thereby get to know him or her a little. A simple question, as where the next greengrocer is, can here be asked problem-free. Also at important meetings the following course of the talk is about general topics and little by little you draw closer to the main question which is meant to be resolved in the meeting. If you enter to fast into the “important” part of the talk it can easily happen that the other people answer monosyllabically and the positive basic mood is slowly ruined.
Though we get used to this kind of communication, it gets pretty difficult to break our habit of “acting directly” when the matter is really urgent and crucial. Furthermore, there are problems because of misunderstandings, although English is the national language. This is because of both we Germans and the Ugandan often don’t understand the other English accent.
In order to facilitate the intercultural conversation we make use of visual methods. By that we gain valuable information which would have been overlooked in a casual interview. For example, we met after the church service the local politician Opendi Anthony who showed us the political structures in the sub county. During the conversation we unfortunately didn’t understand the explanation so we offered him a piece of paper where he could draw the people and their relations in a diagram, so that we could visualise better his explanation.
In order to get an overlook of the villages in the surrounding area of the school we ask the worker Opio to draw us a map. Out of his selection of streets and buildings we can guess the relevant places. From this method we also got the requirement analysis for the infirmary. From the nurse Brenda we find out a lot about the diseases which appear often and how they are treated. While she writes down her point of views and her specialist knowledge we get the confirmation for the building project and we get also important ideas of how to improve the plan for the infirmary. One very positive side effect of this visual method is the fact that the whole conversation is well documented.
In order to get in touch with the locals and their routine life we participate deliberately in a lot of activities with the people. During bike tours, spontaneous drum sessions, football matches and a lot more activities, we experience incredibly much. At the choir we met Bonfast who graduated recently from the Secondary Schools with the A-levels and now pays of his study fees by working as a day laborer. Here the idea came up to integrate him into our project in order to support and guide him in his future academic life.