One of the best parts of my job is being immersed in Ugandan culture. Being thrust into a new culture causes you to stretch and grow. You end up having thoughts, experiences, and conversations you could have never imagined yourself having. We see it when Empower students travel on a Spirit of Uganda tour, when a new Ugandan scholarship student arrives in America, and when American visitors come see our work in Uganda.
Personally, I also get to see it in my own children as they experience the complexities of living in a different culture.
Recently, our family returned to Colorado for Christmas. It was our first trip back to America since we moved to Uganda a year and half ago. A week or so before leaving for the U.S., my wife and I were in the kitchen talking one night when we heard our son Finn, age 6, shouting from the shower. “Guys! My tooth is getting looser … it’s getting REALLY loose … IT CAME OUT!”
He had lost his first tooth. He came running down the hall bare naked, dripping wet, with blood running down his lip, and his tooth in his hand. He was jumping up and down and in tears he was so excited. But then he stopped. He realized he had a dilemma. Should he follow Ugandan protocol and leave his precious first tooth in a corner of our house for a rat (yes, a rat) to leave him money? Or, should he keep the tooth and bring it to America for the tooth fairy? Who would pay more? It was a monumental cultural conundrum for our little first grader.
Cultural side note: You may laugh at the notion that Ugandan children believe rats collect teeth and leave money for children, but it actually is much more believable than a little fairy that slips under your pillow, isn’t it?
Finn went with the tooth fairy. Once in the U.S., he wrote a carefully crafted letter to the tooth fairy, explaining that he would like to collect his money and keep the tooth. The next morning, he was thrilled to find $2 and the tooth.
“Dad, how much is $2 worth in shillings?” he asked. I converted it to roughly 5,000 Ugandan shillings, to which he pumped his fist and said, “Yesssss!” He was confident a Ugandan rat would not have paid that much. He had made the right decision.
What a privilege it is to step outside of our own culture and learn about another. It expands our understanding of other people, it opens us up to new ways of thinking, and it presents us with the opportunity to see the good and the bad from our own culture. It changes us. That is why creating connections between Americans and Ugandans is a critical element of what we do at Empower African Children. And it is a playing a pretty important role in shaping the lives of two little American boys, too.