The Cultural Learnings of a Ugandan in America

By: John Wanda, co-founder

Last week, at a company retreat, we got asked a simple question – what is your favorite ice cream? It was not a serious question. It was meant to let employees make small talk and open up about themselves. My friends around me brightened up as they discussed their favorite flavors and how the question alone made them re-live many childhood memories.

For me though, I couldn’t stammer out a single word. I do have some childhood memories, but they are memories from another place, another life, from a place called Bududa. While my friends around the table were remembering chasing the ice cream truck in their neighborhood before they started school, all I was remembering was picking mushrooms and bamboo shoots in the local forest. My favorite food then was bean paste (magira) and bananas. My favorite food preparation moment was watching my mom steer and churn a pot of local maize floor into corn meal as she strutted over three cooking stones with a hot fire and us kids helping by holding down the pot with wooden sticks. She often served the food with the mushrooms we had collected from the forest. I did not know there was a thing called ice cream until I was 32 when I came to America, and my first experience of it was bad. I had never eaten anything so cold.

But now, I feel, I must learn about ice cream, because the question will come up another day. Just like I have learnt to walk on the right, look people in the eye when talking to them, call a boy a he and a girl a she, remember that cousins are not the same as brothers or sisters, that not every guest who comes to our house is an uncle or aunt. I have to remember that 8:00am means 8:00am and not 10:00 am, that you can actually eat dinner at 6pm and can go to bed before it is dark outside, and that when you say “I will try” people actually expect you to do it.

Ahhh, these cultural learnings that Sasha Cohen encountered! Do I really have to learn about ice cream now? And to like it? For starters, how many flavors are out there? 4, 5?

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