Every week I went to get a large jug of drinking water for our apartment at Gapco. The man that works there is an Indian man and he seems very friendly. On this particular day as I was waiting for the water he asked me how long I was going to be in Uganda. I told him and he told me he would like to take me on a date. I was caught completely off guard by that and wasn’t sure how I was going to answer, then he asked me if I would be willing to meet him at the Rainforest Lodge. We can have something to eat and go swimming if you like he told me.
The Rainforest Lodge is a beautiful lodge in the middle of the rainforest. I had never been there before but I had heard about how incredible it was. I also knew it was the most expensive place in town and that I probably wouldn’t afford a trip there on my own. I was also pleased that he wasn’t suggesting that he pick me up but that I meet him, in a public place, so I figured what would it hurt, I might as well go.
Joseph and I had been talking on the phone for a few minutes every night so I told him that I would be coming to the Rainforest and since it was almost halfway to Jinja I might as well continue on and come see him. It had been several days since we had seen each other. So we agreed to meet at the chapel near Two Friends.
That morning I went to a school to volunteer for the day. It was good but also a little overwhelming. There were so many children and each one of them wanted to hold my hand. At one point there were about 60 children all clustered around me, each one trying to get closer than the other and all of them trying to hold my hand, or my dress, or touch my hair. For a person who doesn’t much like to be touched it was pushing my boundaries about as far as I could take them.
Finally when they got so many and the weight of them started to make it impossible to walk, I found myself losing my balance I started falling over so I stopped and made them let go. “Gende, Gende” (go away) I said, and then feeling a little bad I felt like I should explain “You are too many!” Then 60 little voices followed me all around the school chanting “you are too many, you are too many” I had to smile.
It was touching and also a bit saddening to see the conditions of the school. The crowded classroom had no lights, just the light that came through the openings for windows that had no glass. Benches resembling those that children in Colonial America had used were crowded with far too many children. There were no books, except one little notebook for each child. The children sang for me and I taught them some new songs.
Finally it came time for me to leave the school and head to the Rainforest lodge, Although I wasn’t really interested in the guy, I was still excited about the date. The long walk to the lodge was beautiful, I saw monkeys swinging from the trees and everywhere was beautiful butterflies in the most vibrant of colors. I arrived before my date and recognized a friend who had come to enjoy the quiet of the lodge to get some work done. We visited until my date arrived. The lodge was comfortable and clean in a way that I hadn’t often experienced in Uganda.
My date arrived and we decided to head to the swimming pool to do some swimming, we would have dinner later. As we were walking through the beautiful, secluded pathways he reached for my hand, I pulled it away, but he tried again. I pulled it away again and said “no.” I felt so uncomfortable; I had never had to do that before on a date. We continued to the pool and I enjoyed cooling off in the water as I hadn’t been swimming since I arrived. Again in the water he tried to touch me and to hold my hand and each time I pulled away shaking my head and saying “no” Finally I couldn’t take anymore so I told him “you know what I need to be heading back, I have another appointment.”
He offered to drive me but I told him that my work had already sent a boda boda to get me. He asked if we could take a picture together and I agreed. He stood behind me and put his arms around me hugging me to him and putting his cheek against mine, I tried to pull away but he held me there. After the picture he continued to hold me close to him and we started walking. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to get him to let go of me without bringing it to a full fight and I didn’t feel like I would win. I waited until we were in a more populated area and then I pulled away from him more forcefully. He finally let go of me and I headed to the front gate. I found a boda boda and started driving back to the main road. I felt like crying.
AS we rode the boda driver said, “Mazungu, are you married?” I told him I wasn’t and he asked how old I was. I told him and then he said, I think you are good for me. You should marry me and take me to America. People often made comments like that to me but after what I had just been through I didn’t feel capable of laughing it off. “Why?” I said, “You don’t even know me all you see is my white skin and you think I have money, that’s all you want. How do you know I wouldn’t be a horrible wife? How do you know I wouldn’t beat you and yell at you? You don’t want to marry me”
He laughed, “You would be a good wife, I know” he told me, “Why won’t you marry me?”
I couldn’t believe he was asking this as a legitimate question and I wanted to just get off the boda and walk the long way back to the road, but I couldn’t.
“Do you know how many times a day I get asked that question?” I asked him. “I wish people here would see more than my white skin.” He continued talking but I was finished with that conversation and I just listened refusing to argue any further with him. He dropped me off with a friendly smile and a wave and left me to board the taxi headed for Jinja. I would be so glad to arrive and see Joseph.
On the taxi, they had squeezed five of us on to a seat made for 3. The man seated next to me kept getting closer even than I felt he needed to. He kept trying to lay his head on my shoulder and touch my hair. Finally he said, “Mazungu, give me your contacts.” I stared straight ahead, afraid I would cry if I had to go through this all over again. Who knew that adoration could also be a form of racism? I was DONE being “Mazungu” being loved for the color of my skin, being shouted at everywhere I went from children, to adults, I was tired of being told to buy people drinks or to give people my watch, or being hassled by shop keepers and taxi and boda drivers, I was tired of my race defining who I was.
The man continued in spite of my refusal to talk to him. “Mazungu, I love you he said, give me your contacts.”
“Why,” he asked
“Because I don’t want to. I don’t know you and I don’t want to know you. ” I thought perhaps my curt reply would put him off but I was not so lucky.
“Just give me your contacts” he continued, just give me your number that is all.
Others on the taxi were starting to look at us. I continued to refuse to look at him and eventually stopped answering him altogether. Finally after what seemed an eternity I arrived at Two Friends and got off the taxi. As soon as the taxi left a man approached me. “Mazungu,” he said, “be my girlfriend.”
“I have a boyfriend already,” I exaggerated the truth a bit. I am here to meet him.
“No, you can be my girlfriend”, he persisted.
“No, you leave me alone. “ I said,
“One day you will dream of me, I know,” he said as he walked away.
I stood on the corner waiting for Joseph and fighting back tears. I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to stay here one more minute. I didn’t even want to see Joseph. I didn’t even know why I was going on a date with him anyway. He was no different than all those others; I had just somehow fallen for his advances when I hadn’t the others. I needed to put a stop to all of this and I needed to go home. I closed my eyes wishing that when I opened them I would be home and praying that no one else would speak to me. If one more person told me they loved me I would probably gauge their eyes out with my bare hands.
After a few minutes Joseph arrived, He looked so comforting and refreshingly put together, I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and have a good cry. I forgot about him being like all the others.
“I’m sorry I’m late” He said, I was on the taxi and it was taking so long I almost jumped out and took a boda boda to try to get here faster. But I brought this for you.” He pulled a Snickers bar from his pocket and handed it to me. I had told him on our first date that I loved Snickers, but I had not seen one in Uganda. I was impressed that he had remembered and tracked one down for me.
As we walked I poured out my woes about my day. Starting with the children, pulling on me and almost tackling me in the desire to be close to me. As I told him he laughed. “Why are you laughing?” I asked genuinely perplexed as to why my sorry situation would have him in stitches.
“I’m sorry I don’t mean to laugh,” he said “keep going”
I continued with my story and by the time I finished telling him about that man’s parting comment of “You will dream about me, I know” he was laughing so hard he almost couldn’t stay standing.
“It wasn’t funny! It was horrible!” I said.
“I know, I’m sorry” he said, trying to keep a straight face, “but you have to admit it’s kind of funny. I keep picturing you trying to fend off all those kids, telling the boda driver you might beat him, ignoring the man in the taxi as he is putting his head on your shoulder, and it’s kind of funny!”
I started laughing; there was some humor in the situation. “I’m sorry you had a hard day though,” he said more seriously.
I squeezed his hand. “Thanks, it’s getting better now.”
He took me to Forever Resort and we sat on the banks of the river and watched the sun go down. He told me about his Grandma who had died recently of Alzheimer’s. He said that towards the end she didn’t remember anyone. The last time he had gone to see her she had been unable to feed herself and he got to sit and feed her. As she ate she opened her eyes and looked at him, then she smiled “Joseph, she said, you look so much like your father, he always loved you best.” She died the next day. Joseph told me he would always cherish the fact that he got that chance to care for her and that in that final moment she remembered who he was. It was a beautiful story and I made a mental note to watch The Notebook with him.
We ordered a pizza and some sodas and sat and ate and continued to talk. He told me about how shocked he was when he returned from his mission in South Africa and saw the living conditions in Uganda. Even though it was his home he was ashamed and embarrassed to see the contrast of how people here lived compared to how they did in other countries. His own family had suffered some serious financial losses and he returned to find his home and everything they had owned gone. He spent his first night home sleeping on the floor.
I took a late taxi and returned home later that night. Joseph promised he would see me on Sunday as he was coming to Lugazi to speak to our branch.