As “mzungus” in Uganda, students are privileged

Clothes hang outside to dry while rural women are hard at work in their homes. (Nadia Ibrahim | The Media School)

We have been in Uganda for three weeks now, and you would think that is long enough to get used to a place. But every day, we learn something new, and every day is unpredictable.

Throughout my time here, I have asked Ugandans if they see Uganda the way we do: beautiful, lush and unpredictable. I know as an outsider it is easy to feel a certain enchantment about a place that isn’t your own, and that is definitely something I feel here.

Clothes hang to dry outside the king’s palace, where some of his maintenance workers live. (Nadia Ibrahim | The Media School)

Everyone I’ve asked has given me the same answer, which makes me realize how impoverished this country really is and how privileged we are. They all say it’s beautiful if you have something to do, meaning if you have a job and make an income that will buy you the bare minimum. The average person here lives on $1.25 per day. Can you imagine?

While you sit in traffic every morning and late afternoon, children will come up to your vehicle and look into your eyes and beg you to buy the packs of gum, newspapers or drinks they are selling, or simply beg you for a little cash. It never gets any easier to say no. As white people, or “mzungus,” meaning foreigners, we stick out like a sore thumb, and because of that we are easy targets for these street sellers.

A boy passes by a shoe stand outside a home. Shoes commonly are sold on the side of the street; many Ugandans do not have proper or durable footwear. (Nadia Ibrahim | The Media School)

Another encounter I had just the other day after an interview with a young man also put my privilege into perspective. He mentioned how he once had a conversation with a group of students from New Jersey who told him they were poor. He sounded angry as he spoke, saying university students in the United States don’t know what poor is. Maybe he’s right.

Bottom line: Poverty in this country is very different than poverty in America. Technology is less pervasive, and the lifestyle is more nomadic. Ugandans wash their clothes by hand. Many have to travel far for running water. Mothers sacrifice their own nutrition to feed their children and put them through school, and taxi drivers essentially must rent their taxis for the day, making money only if they collect enough fares to break even on their payment.

This trip has put a lot into perspective for a lot of us and after talking with my fellow students, this perspective will change how we live our lives for a long time.

Street markets display bright-colored clothing. Most of the shops sell similar clothing and trinkets, so competition runs high and loyalty is greatly valued. (Nadia Ibrahim | The Media School)