Mzungu Memoirs

Happy 4th of July from Uganda

I know as Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it, but we are all still born into certain cultures.  And as an expatriate, I struggle with balancing learning about this new culture we have immersed ourselves in and honoring the culture from which we come.  We are not really part of the culture here, more of observers and occasional participants, but we’re not really part of the culture we come from either, at least not physically.  And as the mother of a TCK (Third Culture Kid), it is very important to me that I share with my child about my native culture and that he understands the culture he comes from.

Which brings me to the 4th of July.  It is just another day here in Uganda, just like the 3rd or 5th of July.  But to an expat American, Independence Day is probably the most important holiday of the year.  Notice I specified “American” as opposed to “Christian.”  There are many Christians here, both Ugandan and fellow expats although not necessarily American, who share the important holidays of Easter and Christmas although the traditions may be different, but that is the subject of another blog.

In the weeks leading up to the 4th of July, I really wondered how we could mark the day as special when no one else around us would be.  Because we work with an office that is predominantly staffed by Americans, we decide to have a good old fashioned hot dog roast/potluck.  This also gave us the opportunity to share our important holiday with the Ugandan staff and help them understand a little bit more about our culture.  We had some very American pasta salad and baked beans, and I even found paper plates with a picture of the American flag on them for the occasion.  I’m not sure the Ugandans were really all that impressed with the hot dogs and baked beans, but they sure seemed to have fun with the s’mores that we made afterward over what was left of the fire.

We ended up having our little office potluck on Saturday, July 2nd because the American Recreation Association (ARA) was having their Independence Day Celebration on Sunday, July 3rd.  The celebration at the ARA was an interesting mix of American traditions like fireworks and hamburgers and hot dogs and cultural presentations by Ugandans of singing, dancing and drums (they do like their drums here).  There was a march through American history presented by The Patriots, a club comprised of American expat children organized for the purpose of teaching about American customs, history and holidays that are not taught in the international schools.  I was very impressed with their performance.  Of course, we had the presentation of the colors by the Marine Corps and the singing of the American National Anthem as well.

It really was a nice celebration, attended by American expats as well as other expats and some Ugandans.  There was even an impressive little display of fireworks set to music even.  I’m sure they paled in comparison to the displays that were shot off in the States, and the musical choice seemed a bit odd (“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen?).  But Caleb, who had never actually seen a “professional” display of fireworks before, was duly impressed, and I enjoyed watching his reaction to them.

For some, it was really just an excuse to get together and have a party.  But the thing that impressed me most about the whole celebration was the little speech given by someone representing the American Embassy.  She talked about it being the 235th birthday of the United States, and she reminded me of why we celebrate the 4th of July.  Yes, it is our American Independence Day.  And yes, it’s a pretty big deal and a good excuse to have a party.  But sometimes I think we forget that on the 4th day of July, 1776, a new nation was born in a way no nation had ever been born before.  It makes me proud to be an American and unashamed to share the culture from which I come.  Of course, I still want to learn about this culture that I now live amongst, but I don’t feel so bad about holding to the roots of my American culture and teaching my son about them.

Happy Birthday, America.  God Bless the USA… and Uganda and the rest of the world as well.

“And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.”

— Lee Greenwood

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