Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Ugandan Lies

Uganda, I am sad to say, has turned me into quite the liar. I'm not talking about everyday, pedestrian American lies. I'm not telling people their new hair looks smart when I really think it looks like a chicken threw up on it. I'm not saying, "Oh! This matooke is really good! And the gnut sauce! Oh my! Pure heaven!"* I"m talking about hard-core, big time lies.

In Uganda I've managed to split myself into several different people; I really only let fellow PCVs see much of the true me. And even then, I think Peace Corps and Uganda have changed me so much over the past seven months (SEVEN MONTHS!) that I'm not really the same person anymore. With Ugandans, who I am depends solely on my relationship with them. With co-workers I'm a more religious, nicer, more accommodating person. With female strangers I often lie about where I work (not really a full-on lie, more like a specifics!) and often I lie to them about my marital status/living arrangement. When talking with men, typically just the bodaboda drivers or secondary school/University students ("professional" men - men who work in offices - generally don't proposition me the way bodaboda drivers and students do), my lying becomes more extreme. I've somehow invented a completely different life for myself. In this make-believe life I have a husband and sometimes children. Occasionally, to a particularly creepy and/or aggressive guy, a completely different name and occupation.

In America this type of lying would be nearly unthinkable, but in Uganda it's common. I once invented a boyfriend back home to ward off a particularly amorous library patron and felt bad about the lie afterward. However in Uganda I hardly ever feel bad about my lies. They're not just a coping mechanism we Volunteers have adapted, but a survival skill. When a bodaboda driver finds out I have a husband, he (the boda driver) will still tell me I'm pretty, but he will be far less aggressive and annoying. We can joke about it now. And I can get through the day.

Lying in Uganda is far different than it is in the States; it's expected that someone will lie to you here.** A fellow aid-worker friend once told me about a conversation she had with some Ugandan school girls. She asked them how often they lie to one another (their friends) and the girls responded, "Every day; all the time." In conversations I expect the person I'm talking to to lie to me. They do it not to be mean, but to be nice. Many Ugandans believe it's much nicer to lie to someone they care about than it would be to tell them the truth. Some of this belief even extends to America - those little "white lies" we tell (why yes, that dress is so pretty! Wow, you look so much thinner than the last time I saw you!) exist here in Uganda too, just in greater numbers. Here, lying is just part of the culture. Usually it's just harmless little "white lies," but often it can extend into larger lies.*** If a man tells me he's not married and then proceeds to explain that he's always thought Muzungus (white foreigners) are beautiful, I can be pretty sure he is in fact married and lying about it.

I'm beginning to feel the same as those school girls. In my opinion, it's much nicer to lie to someone - to tell them I'm married for example - than it would be to tell them the truth: that I have absolutely no interest in them whatsoever, which may cause them to become angry at me or hurt...and nobody wants that. In training we were instructed that oftentimes when Volunteers turn down "relationship" requests Ugandan men will just see them as playing hard-to-get and will try harder. I've found that if I tell them I'm married they will take the hint and won't proposition me again.

And anyway, they probably just already assume I'm lying.

*fyi: I hate matooke and gnut (peanut) sauce. *vomits*

**Don't misunderstand me, not all Ugandans are like this. Many Ugandans that I meet are very honest and truthful. This is just one aspect of my life here.

***Aren't I supposed to be integrating myself into the culture?


j said...

keep lying, I didn't and god a god damn stalker

I will love you if you lie to me!!!

P.S. The "word verification" word I have to type is "caunt" know what that looks and sounds like!?

Andrea said...

I wounder if this true for all PCVs worldwide. I find myself also doing it more, the yes I have a boyfriend now leave me alone to get out of situations. But also Bulgarian tell white lies also "yes that dress looks good" but more on the American level then it seems Ugandan. I also lie about my name, where I live since its such a small village not far from the capital and only American. Sometimes I tell but I lie and use bigger towns around me.
It would be interesting to see just how many of us lie in the PC.