Saturday, December 6, 2014

To Freshen Up or Okufuka Wa?

Her butt and one that had none of the touches of an African butt – as in no flesh or curves but, flat as an ironing board had barely sat down next to me and I already knew she came from Iowa in the US, that her grandparents had fled Budapest, Hungary shortly before the Iron Curtain went up, she was an Orthodox Jew, has four sisters and two brothers, she misses her cocker spaniel dog and that she is doing volunteer work somewhere in the backstreets of Luwero. 

How she managed to throw out all those words in between mouthfuls of pasta, glasses of wine and a cheese cake dessert was a feat that even the ‘motor mouth’ – Andrew Mwenda that is, would not have been able to pull off.

Somewhere down the line, she leant over and politely excused herself saying: “I am going to freshen up.” “I am going to freshen up” is an imported saying to Uganda and I don’t know who brought it here – the Europeans or Americans?

As she marched her-no-flesh butt off to the washrooms there was time to ponder what exactly “I am going to freshen up” means. Was she going to pee? Wash her face, armpits and apply more makeup? Perhaps she went to brush her teeth? Could it be a worst case scenario of wanting a change of underwear?

Whatever it is that she went to do, even if she had said it out loud, it was polite, subtle, and warm and there would be no need for anybody to say: “Did she really have to say that out loud?”

As it is, she came back looking fresher with colour in her cheeks along with a fresh coating of perfume.

We all have different ways in asking to go to the toilets. When I returned to Uganda in the late 90s I was at Yakobo’s pork joint in Ntinda and politely asked Waitress where ‘the bathroom’ was. I said it because it was what I was used to saying in England. She swung me a quizzical look and simply stood there waiting for me to reaffirm what I had just asked her. And I did. Hesitantly, she asked me to follow her round the back of the building and pointed at a door.

Inside the door, there was no toilet or urinal, but a shower head and a basin with a scrubber and a tablet of Imperial Leather soap on the window still.

This was no toilet and when I came out in a flash, she was standing there still, with a quizzical look. “Toilet?” I asked to which she pointed to a different door.

Ugandan men on the other hand, at least ‘the uncouth - I didn’t go to school types’, always feel the need to announce to the world their intentions. And yes, they won’t ask for the washrooms. Instead, they stand up and shout ‘eewe’ or ‘gwe’ to the nearest waiter or waitress and while tugging at their crotches, they bark out: “Okufuka wa?” (to pee where?). Some take it a step further by holding on to their bottoms while shouting out: “Toilet, toilet wa?”

But why the need to ask while tugging at the crotch or holding on to ones bottom? Does that tug at the crotch ram the message home faster to whoever they are asking? Do Waiters or Waitress need to know that we want to go for number two? No they don’t.

Suffice to say that that even some of the lowly class Ugandan women will say they are going to freshen up. But the Ugandan man, he still has a long way to go.      

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