Good Times!

For the last nine days I’ve been in Uganda, teaching at a school for three full days and staying at the family home of the gentleman who runs the school, Pastor Godfrey. On the last day Pastor Godfrey took me to a restaurant a few streets away from the village school. The waiters in Ugandan restaurants often bring a bowl of cold water to the table with some soap and a little ladle, just before and after the meal. You hold your hands over the basin and hold the soap, and the waiter ladles some water over your hands. It’s very pleasing, actually – the African equivalent of the pre-meal hot towels at Japanese sushi bars.

This particular restaurant was well outside downtown Kampala, and my impression was that they hadn’t had many white people (muzungos) in that restaurant before. I washed my hands without incident before eating, and then we ate our lunch, and then the waiter brought the after-meal wash. I held my hands over the basin, and the waiter, looking so eager to please me, poured the boiling water over my hands.

My brain had no idea what was going on. It thought spiders!, and I jumped up, knocking over my chair and shaking my hands frantically to get the spiders off. Pastor Godfrey and the waiter looked at me, surprised. By then I’d realized heat, not spiders and said “The water’s too hot.”

Pastor Godfrey dipped his finger in the water and got angry at the waiter. “It’s too hot, man!”. The waiter tried it himself; to test it, he put just the tip of his finger onto the very surface of the water a fraction of a second at a time, with an puzzled expression that asked this is too hot? He left to get us cooler water, and this time I tested it before letting him pour it. A bit better, but still, way too hot! I told him just to bring some cold water and after that everything was fine.

Talking about it afterward, Pastor Godfrey and I weren’t sure exactly why this happened. Our theory is that the waiter had never brought the wash basin for a muzungo before, and he knew that muzungos liked hot water, but he overestimated just how hot we like our water.

The funny thing is that every time I looked down at the red marks on my hands for the next few days, I was delighted more than anything else. And telling this story still delights me.

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