Becoming ‘dad’ is life changing. My resources, time, energy, future have all become focused on the tiny person that squirms and screams a few feet from the place where I used to sleep. This transition is a shock to the system, but thankfully I have inspiration to draw on. I can already identify parenting habits adopted from the positive role models of my own father and my grandfather, as well as using tips from friends and even examples of fathers from literature and popular culture. In short, the raw material for becoming a British father was available. Yet nothing could prepare me for becoming ‘Taata Patience’.
Being a British ‘dad’ is at times far removed from the Ugandan expectations of being ‘taata’ (meaning father in Annet’s native tongue of Luganda). Annet and I are parents to a child that will be raised in a household of two distinct cultures and, once back in Mozambique, will be living in a third. This also has implications for our daughter’s sense of identity, and recently we have taken to calling her ‘Muzungu Muganda’ to reflect her combined heritage. Muzungu is a word widely used by Bantu peoples to refer to a white person, and a Muganda is a person belonging to Annet’s own tribe, the Baganda people.
I have included below for your amusement and/or consternation, some of the Ugandan contributions that have recently surprised Taata Patience:
- Whilst placing Patience in her car seat I was warned by a passing mother that the seat “is dangerous for a young baby and would break her back”. The same mother then hopped on to a motorbike taxi clutching her own new-born and was carried off at high speed.
- Having specifically bought a fan to help cool the room for Patience I have been repeatedly told by horrified visitors that the fan will spread disease.
- Other visitors have come bearing money for Patience, which they give to her directly, pressing the note firmly into her tiny hand. Apparently, she will grow up poor if this is not done.
- You must throw the baby into the air and catch her each day from birth in order to banish her fear of heights. I have heard it proudly proclaimed that no Ugandan has a fear of heights, and this practice is the reason why.
- A string of beads must be placed around the baby’s waist in order to give her an attractive figure when she is older.
- I asked a friend if she liked the beautiful yellow dress that Patience was wearing that day, which was a gift from the UK. She replied that if a baby wears yellow it will go blind.
- I found a relative pulling on Patience’s legs. When I asked why she replied that she was making sure that Patience would be tall when she grows up.
- Breastfeeding is a perilous activity in Uganda. It is said that if milk gets into the baby’s ear she will go deaf, and milk left on the baby’s face will result in an outbreak of pustules and sores!
- And the winner for most frequently cited reproach is… for not placing Patience in a full set of winter clothing including gloves, woolly hat and several layers of blankets. As the full force of the equatorial sun blazes overhead I am repeatedly told that our already sweating baby is cold and in danger of catching pneumonia.
Of course we bear the above comments and practices with good humour and sometimes a friendly explanation as to why we cannot follow that particular piece of advice. We have been blessed by a great number of visitors who come bearing gifts and good wishes. I have also noticed glimpses of respect from relatives and friends who observe the active interest I take in my child. As I aspire to be a good father I realise I must incorporate and balance both British and Ugandan elements in my parenting style, and Annet also faces the same challenge as Maama Patience. Only then will our baby daughter grow to appreciate and even revel in her dual cultural inheritance. Only then can she be Muzungu Muganda.