This the fifth of several excerpts from an address I gave in Hamilton, Canada in November 2014. Excerpt #1 is here and #2 is here and #3 is here and #4 is here.
If nothing else, when we cross borders we’ll be misunderstood. I remember once we had some Canadian visitors in Uganda and they needed a ride to the airport to fly back to Canada. The driver was late so I asked Jean for his number – his name was Henry – and I called and said “Henry, the Canadians are waiting.” And he said, “Yes, I’m on my way.”
Some time later Henry still hadn’t arrived and I phoned again and he said again, “Yes, I’m on the way. I’m nearby in Seeta,” about 10 minutes away.
Finally, after some time he still hadn’t arrived and I phoned again and said “Henry, where are you?! The Canadians are going to miss their plane!”
He said, “Oh, I’m in Miremebe Hall. I’m lecturing.”
I said, “What? What are you doing lecturing?! You’re supposed be driving the Canadians!”
Well, as it turned out, Jean had accidentally given me the number of the wrong Henry. All this time, I had been talking to Henry a professor, not Henry the driver, who eventually came late because of mechanical trouble, and got the Canadians to the airport.
Now you’d think Henry the professor at some point would ask me, “Why are you calling me about driving the Canadians to the airport?” But no, this is not how it works in Uganda where in order to preserve the relationship and ensure everyone can save face and all that, you don’t want to embarrass the other person.
So Henry was speaking a different cultural language. When you’re a peacemaker, you learn these things. You learn that are there linguistic languages and cultural languages that you have to learn.
By the way, when I said the word “Yemen” before, what did you think of? Well, one thing I think is when I’d walk the streets of Sana’a I’d often hear some Yemeni yell “Welcome!” And you know what? That one word would likely be the only word of English they knew.
And I’d say “Asalum walay come, Achri,” which means “Peace be upon you, brother.”
Thomas Froese newspaper columns