Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Africa and the quest for gold.

I am a pretty adaptable person, and I've gotten used to tons of local customs that the average bear might not have been down with. I am now a world class heckler, despite loathing the custom with every inch of my being. I chewed chat with the locals in Ethiopia, despite the bitter taste and long duration of the "ritual". I ate cow stomach in Palissa, despite it's wet laundry smell and texture. I ride boda bodas hands-free, despite visions of flying off at ever pothole.

However, there is one custom that I will never get used to. It grosses me out in such a basic, fundamental way that despite the regularity of it's appearance, I can't help but cringe each time I'm confronted with it. Yell at me for being culturally tone deaf, but if I never see another Ugandan pick their nose it will be too soon.

I'm not talking, a casual wipe here, or a flick there, or even a kid exploring his nasal cavity. I mean, grown adults, shoving half of their finger up their noses, prying out disgusting gobs of phlegm and then flicking that phlegm in any odd direction.

They don't just do it when they think no one is looking. You could find yourself in the middle of talking with someone (say the dean of a university, or a member of parliament) when, without dropping the conversational thread, they push their finger up their nose and wiggle it around. With authority.

Even worse, some of our interview subjects go at it while we're in the middle of an interview. As casual as you or I would run our hands through our hair. It's really unnerving and nearly pushes me into uncontrollable giggles every time. Which can be inconvenient when discussing abject poverty with someone who is living in abject poverty. Not exactly the time for a chuckle.

I guess you never see anyone here rearranging their crotch, as is the fashion in the United States. But I wish the good old American value of using tissues and privacy to extract clingy boogers would cross the Atlantic already.

Not to mention, it makes me very wary of shaking peoples hands.

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