Touch. Care. Friendship. Community. These all seem to be intertwined in Uganda. Though they seemingly belong together, I believe that touch, between friends and colleagues, is more accepted here than what I am accustomed to. In the United States, yes, we believe in touch as one of the five “languages of love,” but, this is usually just restricted to romantic relationships. Touch at the workplace? Touch between friends? These are often interpreted as not respecting “bubbles,” as harassment, rude, or annoying. Though sometimes these things can be true, there does seem to be reluctance to accept well-meaning touch to belong in anything other than romantic relationships – or – as academics like to put it, America has a “low-touch” culture.
Here, touch is not just a sign of romantic love, but also of friendship, community, and life. Daily, extended handshakes (or, more accurately, hand holding) to greet colleagues in the office. A young boy falling asleep on your shoulder on the long drive to Kampala. Using the boda driver’s shoulder as you climb the bike. A mother breastfeeding her baby at work. A long hug from a friend to say hello or goodbye. Two men walking down the street holding hands. Bouncing a baby on your lap during a meeting at the office. A stroke on your arm in jest during conversation. A child holding your hand on the street. These are all commonplace in my Ugandan life.
To me, this seemed a random observation that I was beginning to notice. But, finding myself far from family and close friends, I slowly realized how refreshed I was by these small gestures. I came to find myself thinking about how drastically different this was from home. And appreciating this touch as a symbol of my blossoming relationships with my neighbors, coworkers, friends, and community.
In writing this, I don’t mean to elevate one culture as more “right” than the other, in this aspect. But, rather, as a subtle observance of the difference and how I, personally, appreciate it as meaningful and comforting, among a world of new people, places, and things. And, there does seem to be some science behind it: “Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much” – New York Times, 2/22/10
But, for now, it is back to the US for two weeks! I’m headed to Lake George, NY to celebrate with my brother and lovely soon-to-be sister-in-law at my first ever Indian wedding. Wish me luck with my Bollywood moves! Expect a brief blogging hiatus but will return with a full recap of the festivities. 32 hours of travel home, starting tomorrow: Entebbe, Uganda –> Dubai –> JFK –> Burlington, VT.