Saturday, May 26, 2007

Weighty matters

The biggest compliment you can be paid here is “You have become fat.” Actually, that’s not strictly true. As a woman, it would be “Your husband has become fat.”

Thinness in Uganda is associated with poverty and ill health. Especially with the severe wasting seen in people with advanced HIV, it is feared as a precursor to death. Women discuss how they can put on a few kilo’s, and particularly want to gain weight around their hips and buttocks. Our mzungu neighbour Dan marries his Ugandan girlfriend Alice next month. His future father in law, in accordance with tradition, wanted to confine Alice to a hut and feed her milk and meat for the next 30 days to make her suitably fat for the wedding. Dan has had quite a job persuading him (successfully) that it is not vital to their marital happiness.

None of this is surprising. Even people employed in relatively well paid jobs have no sense of food security. The bitterest arguments I’ve witnessed at work have been about food, for example allegations of ‘being greedy with milk’. I no longer take in biscuits because of the trouble it causes. Sugar and salt are taken to houses as presents in the same way I would take chocolates or flowers.

Exercise, particularly walking, is also regarded as a sign of poverty. If you have any money at all, you take a boda.

This can make giving health advice difficult. I do see people with high blood pressure or diabetes. Often they are overweight. My standard “Eat less and do more” advice is not only unwelcome (lets be honest; it often is in the UK too), but is sometimes insulting. I’ve had interpreters point blank refuse. “I can’t translate that. He is the big man in the village.”


The 27th Comrade said...

Hehehe. And I'll confess at this point that I do prefer my women rather weighty. Especially about the hips and butt ... And I find the thin models reviling, at best. ;o)

Annie said...

My husband and I are probably doing 2 years in Uganda beginning in Sept. As usual I've been on off and on a diet. Maybe now I can just decide to be satisfied with my weight which isn't too much to be unhealthy but is more than I'm happy with. As my husband is naturally thin except for a wee beer belly, he'll be pitied by locals I suppose!