How Do You Say “Home” in Rukiga?

Pictured Above: A view of my family’s compound from the dining room. The blue door across the way is the entrance to the kitchen. And in the blue bucket to the left are thousands of coffee beans, all just roasted naturally by the sunshine and ready to be packaged! Yummy!

As we drove to Kasese, a town two districts to the Northwest of Rukungiri, I found myself missing home.

There are many entrances into the compound, all red iron doors that are locked by a padlock. The compound is big, I think I counted 12 rooms, but I could be wrong. Concrete lays in the center of the compound which is opened to the sunlight and moonlight. As I walk into the house back from my weekend travels, I yell “hello I’m home!” I hear my host mom (Maama) yell “Agandi” as a way of correcting me by not using the language, Rukiga, and after yelling “we missed you.” I then hear another voice yell “JULIANNAAAAA” as if my name was perfect to be sang in an opera. My host dad (Taata), loves to say my name every chance he gets and after my name is said, he responds “feel at home.”

I threw my bags into my room, a perfect square with a big pink mat on the floor, a red sparkly blanket on the bed and hooks hanging along the left wall. My room is next to the dining room, which is a series of blue and white plastic lawn chairs along a wooden table with a flowery table cloth. Already they have placed a mug and coffee on the table, knowing it is my favorite regardless of the fact it is late at night. They had waited to eat dinner until my return at 10:00 p.m. so I did not have to eat alone. Although Ugandans typically eat dinner late because they have tea time at 5:00 (colonized by the British), 10:00 was still considered a late dinner. Dinner time is my favorite. Our conversations around the dinner table often never stops when we are together. We always have questions for eachother, things to laugh about and enduring topics to discuss.I sit at the head of the table as my Taata sits to the right of me and my Maama sits one chair down and to the left of me.

My Taata, Tigandenga William, who was nicknamed Marnix at a young age, stands tall and built. He always wears the nicest shirts except when he changes to his dirty shirts, where he must always remind me it is because he has to tend to his pigs. As if I could ever think less of him regardless. He worked for the British American Tobacco Company for 27 years and has never smoked in his life. He is a very successful man as he owns land, pigs, goats and cows all around Rukungiri District. He took me to a vast part of his land once, high in the hills of Buyanja, as his goal is to show me the beauty and development of Uganda. As well as force me to speak the local language as much as possible. He calls me his daughter who has finally returned from America.

My Maama, Tigandenga Jocelyn, is the perfect image of a Mama Africa. She loves to laugh, cook and has many friends. She asked me “have you been biten by any mosquitos yet?” I replied “no, they do not seem to like me.” She laughed so loud the roaster next door responded and every cackle was followed by an “AHH.” This went on for three minutes as she finally replied “it is because you are too skinny” and she threw more potatoes on my plate. She works in a public school across the street from where we live. She teaches English and History. Most teachers who work in public schools do not really go to work beacause the pay is too low whereas the government does not provide enough funds. Yet my Maama has not missed one day of work, she finds education to be most important.

I am definitely the only white person in Buyanja. Not only does everyone stare at me, children run down the streets with wide eyes to touch my hands, hair or just yell “mozungo!” (Meaning white person in Uganda) Some kids stare at me for so long that I think their eyes may fall out, I then know I am the first white person they have ever seen. As of now, I am the Kim Kardashian of Buyanja. And yes, it gets overwhelming and uncomfortable at times. I went home one night sat down and said to Taata Marnix, “everyone stares and runs after me, it is so weird.” He sits down next to me, takes a long sip of his honey/ginger/coffee/hot water concoction and says “Ahh, Julianna what if they ran away? That happens to people you know? Julianna, you must remember, you are loved.” In that moment, for the first time ever, I did not know what to say. Instead, I held out my hand. When one shakes and holds hands with another it is a sign of happiness. Hand shaking and hand holding is symbol of caring in Uganda. And in that moment, that hand shake was a symbol of love.

Thank you for taking the time to read. I will become a more frequent poster, I promise.


Julianna Gordon

P.S. Pray for me as I beg my Taata not to sell the new piglet runt. I think I may take her back to the States with me instead. I know my American Mama will oblige!

Pictured below: A few of Taata Marnix’s piglets. He said we cannot name them because they will have to leave soon. I named them anyway! I named them all after my little sister, Gracie. You’re welcome my little piggy!

(Gracie, Gracie G, Grace and GG)



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