I have been in Uganda for about two months now, and I have never failed to notice that when I ask a Uganda how they are, they invariably respond with a simple “Fair.” Sometimes if the person is in a good mood he will even bust out a “fair-fair,” and the double-fair seems to be better than just a single fair.
I thought this was just some kind of quirky thing specific to this area of Uganda and that it didn’t actually carry that much meaning. I had a similar experience while I was living in Zambia; and when I asked the same question of people in my village they usually would respond with a “Just OK.” I came to find out that “Just OK” was actually very good. At least that’s what I told myself when I asked someone how my beard looked and they grinned and said, “Just OK, Mr. Bryan.”
To get back on track, it turns out though, that when a Ugandan person tells me that things are fair, it means just that: fair. Not great, not awful, just fair. I asked my colleague, Fred Semakula, why he always answered me with “fair” when I asked him how things were going, and why he never said that they were good. I was actually a little shocked by his answer.
He looked at me and said, “Because things are never good in Northern Uganda.”
Apparently, I opened up a Pandora’s Box of politics, health and even basic communication issues every time I asked someone how they were. In my life, I tell people that things are good no matter what is happening. It’s an instinct, a reflex that doesn’t have anything to do with reality; I probably do it because, overall, things are pretty good in my life. Maybe that would be different if I grew up in Northern Uganda. Maybe Ugandans don’t really think when they respond either; but things here are, overall, closer to fair than they are to good.
I guess it’s better than having the reaction to say “bad” when someone inquires after you, but still it’s a little worrisome. It seems to me to be the psychological effects of two decades of war and violence. Your general outlook is affected; your overall state of being is reduced from “good” to only “fair.”
How long does it take for this to present itself? How long until the effects are reversed? I don’t know, I only just realized that they existed. I am hopeful, though, because I have had the privilege to meet dozens of incredibly resilient people in Northern Uganda. If anyone can fight through this phenomenon and turn the table back towards the positive, it is the people of Uganda and the myriad organizations, Survivor Corps and The Advocacy Project included, that are working every day to do just that.
Posted By Bryan Lupton
Posted Jul 30th, 2009