Monday, October 24, 2011

“Same, Same, but Different:” Women, Men, and Rural Life

One of my favorite nights in Pader so far, Nighty invited me over for a soda. I am not normally a soda drinker, but with few sugary items available, I jumped at the chance to try a pineapple flavored Novida.

When I arrived, I was hurried into Nighty’s thatched-roof hut, away from the drinking men surrounding who always love my visits. Inside, Nighty had carefully swept her dirt floor and cleared her belongings to make room for three plastic chairs and a worn wooden stool. Her other guests awaited my arrival: her vivacious and opinionated 24 year-old sister named Alice, and her sister’s friend, Sange.

We spent the evening chatting and joking like childhood friends. Outside, Nighty’s customers drank and listened to spirited African music, and every now and then, the women and I would suspend our conversation to teach one another how we would dance to the beat. They laughed and laughed at my attempts at mimicking the tidal movement of their gyrating hips as they demonstrated the traditional dance of the region.

Of course, in a room of young women, the subject of conversation eventually turned to men. Did I have a man? What is dating like in the United States? Do I plan to meet the family of the man I have most recently dated?

I quickly learned that in Northern Uganda, a woman may be courted for as short as a few days or as long as a year before she introduces her suitor to her family for approval and marriage. I explained that I once dated a man for two and a half years, but decided not to marry him, and that I could reasonably date many men in my life for long periods of time before deciding I wanted to marry.

“Why do you think it will take such a long time?” Alice asked. “Western men are supposed to make very good husbands. Me, I am waiting for a Western man. White men know that an African woman will be very obedient and make a good wife, so they like us too.” The others all agreed, they were waiting for Western men to come to the village and ask for their hand in marriage, and even Nighty—the one with children among us—said that she would take up a Western man if she had the chance.

“Why do you like Western men so much?” I asked, amused by their interest in those I am quick to dismiss. I was expecting an answer involving money or looks, the superficial qualities that girls in the U.S. fawn over, but was surprised by their response. “One of the main causes of death for a woman here is beating. Sometimes, a woman is beaten badly, but there is no money for the hospital, so she dies at home. We have heard that Western men do not beat their wives. Also, we are told that they are not players and they do not drink as much.”

Humbled by their response, I agreed that it is not culturally acceptable for a man in America to hit a woman, but I shared that even some men in America do, that others can be “players,” and still others drink too much.

Sipping our pineapple bubbly, we allowed the conversation to return to lighter things, to dancing, travels, and what life is like back home.


  1. Very interesting exchange. An anthropological and ethnological look on african 'mores'. Still the question of mirror. From which ethnic group are these women?

  2. @ anonymous: by your writing style, smart questions, and intellect, I know exactly who you are, but I will keep your secret. ;-)

    These women are Acholi-Lwo, living in Acholiland in Northern Uganda. The ethnic group is Nilotic and stretches up into southern Sudan.