“Enculturation” experiences

27 February 2013

A young Italian girl shares her experience, after spending some time in Kampala, Uganda, where she discovered the value of the person in African traditions.

From the 10th to 13th May 2013, the little town of ¨Piero” in Nairobi (Kenya) will host the “Enculturation School”, a workshop that this year will have as the main theme ¨The Person” in various African traditions. Besides, a group of young people will take part in the first stage of the Project “Sharing with Africa”. In preparation for this event, we publish Giulia´s account of her Ugandan experience.

«Malpensa Airport, 2nd August 2011: destination “Kampala – Uganda”. I felt extremely excited although I still couldn’t imagine that in the coming four weeks I would have one of the most beautiful and important experiences of my life. For a month I lived together and shared daily life with another Italian girl and three Ugandans. This obliged me from the very beginning to put aside all my “western” habits, every way of doing or thinking, in order to be open myself to them and their life. But what at first were just small sacrifices soon became a treasure, a new way of thinking and relating to people around me.

I was touched by the African concept of person. For them, the person, the other, is at the centre of each event and action, and not time, doing things in a hurry, commitments. Therefore, for instance, a meeting will start when everyone is there, and not simply when the clock says its time, or buses will leave when they’re full and everyone’s on board, and not at a given scheduled time. “How can you westerners base your daily life on the flow of time, when it does not belong to you and you cannot control it in any way?” It’s a question that still echoes in my mind when, overwhelmed by the frantic rhythm of my daily routine, I risk to become indifferent to those around me.

A typical concept in Sub-Saharan Africa is “Ubuntu”, an expression that could be translated as “I am what I am because of what we are all together”. Nelson Mandela explained it as follows: “Ubuntu does not mean to forget ourselves; rather it means to ask ourselves: do I want to help the community around me to become better?” How wise these words are! And they are not mere words, but real life, daily life lived from the viewpoint of the “we” and not only of the “I”. Everything is shared, everything is done together, the neighbours´ children are like your own, and even a complete stranger who happens to knocks on your door by mistake, immediately becomes a part of the family.

I will never forget the emotion I felt when I was invited for lunch to one of my flatmates home: a house without a toilet, in a neighbourhood not very different from a slum. But the table was set and the food abundant, because no sacrifice is too big when you invite your daughter’s friends for lunch. Hospitality, reciprocity and sharing with the other are more important than anything else.

I left Uganda feeling richer than before. For weeks I was the foreigner, with a different skin colour, a different language and different habits. But I had always been welcomed, I always found a smile and an open hand, and I never felt discriminated, or out of place.

Now, when I meet on the streets many immigrants who live in my city, I look at them with new eyes: I try to put myself in their shoes. This portion of Africa that every day disembarks in Europe deserves that same, huge welcome that I, a foreigner and a white, had received in Uganda in the first place. It’s made up of sharing, of reciprocity, of Ubuntu; it’s something that goes far beyond simple respect for those who are “different”. Different, from whom? A few hours of flight and the “different” one is you, and you realize that we are much more similar than what we may think».

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