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  • Writer's pictureMansi Boegemann

All the things.

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

This is a list of fun things that I've heard, smelled, seen, or learned in Uganda, as seen by an East Tennessee girl. Buckle up kids, it's gonna be a wild ride. (PSA: most of these words are likely spelled wrong, as I have never seen them written but only heard them spoken.)


*Pro tip: All words spelled with "ki" actually make the "ch" sound. Kali (You're welcome).

*Pro tip: All words ending with "ye" actually make the "ay" sound.

"Mzungu" -- White person. Not derogatory, but more of a "whoah, would you look at that!"

"Have you been lost?" -- I haven't seen you lately.

"Aren't you cold?" -- The temperature varies so little here that a five degree difference is a big difference. People walk around with winter coats and scarves around their faces when it's 70 degrees. This makes me laugh.

"Slope down" -- Walk somewhere

"What what" -- Yada yada

"It's okay" -- This bothers me. It sounds like "oh, don't worry about it," but it's really "yes, please." But then sometimes it's not, and I'm never right.

"Sawa" -- Alright, in Swahili

"Where do you stay?" -- Where do you live?

"Kabalagala" -- Known as the Las Vegas of East Africa. Luganda for "pancakes." Sure.

"Is that guy peeing on the street?" -- Yes, yes he is.

"Upcountry" -- Like upstate

"Karibu" -- Welcome, in Swahili

"Short call/Long call" -- Bathroom break, depending know

"Sae bo" -- Sir

"Nye bo" -- Madame

"Wye bolye" -- Thank you, in Luganda

"Asante sana" -- Thank you, in Swahili (but you Lion King fans already knew that)

"Susu" -- To pee

"Bonga" -- Fist bump. I have a friend who calls me "Bongamann" because of this.

"Jangu" -- Come, in Luganda

"Kali" -- You’re welcome, in Luganda

"Kitufu" -- It is true, in Luganda

"Aliotea" -- How are you, in Luganda

"Mwamba" -- Rock, in Luganda. There's a song I love where the literal translation is "Rock. Rock. Jesus is our Rock." Doesn't quite sound as good in English!

"Amina" -- Amen, in Luganda

"Jesu" -- Jesus, in Luganda

"Balungi" -- Good, in Luganda


Matooke -- Kind of like a baked potato without the skin except not at all. Apparently it's weird to eat this with beans, but I promise I didn't know any better.

Cassava -- A mix between a massive steak fry (maybe a potato spear?) and a chunk of fried yucca. Sometimes with spices, but always with salt.

Chapati -- A thick, oily tortilla. Delish and my favorite.

Rice and beans -- So much better here for some reason?

Gonja crisps -- Banana chips. The package says "soft taste," but I still don't know what that means since they're crunchy...

G-Nuts/ground nuts -- Peanuts, always roasted and with the skin (They also have boiled gnuts, for my deep South friends)

Sim Sim -- Sesame seed bars held together with honey. I'll answer that for you: nasty.

Milk -- It comes in a bag. Or you can get the long-lasting kind that's out on the shelf.

Bread -- Two kinds: sweet bread (kind of like our white bread) and salted bread (can't even describe it). Bet you can't guess which I prefer.

Maize -- Grilled corn. Street food at its finest.

Rolex -- "Rolled eggs." Scrambled eggs rolled up in a chapati, with whatever veggies and meats you want. These became super popular for university students who needed a filling meal for cheap. Can anyone say family dinner?

Posho -- Maize flour that kind of has the consistency of Play-Doh. Locals will often form it into the shape of a spoon or scraper to pick up their other foods.

Kikomando -- Chapati shredded and put into soya beans. So very yum!

His Grace Pork Joint -- Located very close to where I stay. The name just makes me laugh.

Dadis -- A bread/cracker thing. Kind of like a sweet crouton?

G-Nut Sauce -- Peanuts put on heat with milk until liquidated. Typically gets poured over matooke.


Boda boda -- The most common form of transportation. When people were traveling they would hire a motorcycle driver to take them from "Bordah to bordah" (meaning from the DRC border to the Kenyan border), and now everyone rides boda bodas.

Rock Quarry -- There is a rock quarry near the place that I stay where they blast three times per week. Translation: a very high pitched noise hurts my head three days a week. (Although I did just learn that you can go rock climbing on weekends...)

Yawning -- If you yawn in public it means you're hungry.

Hiccups -- Some people believe that the hiccups are a sign of a heart condition and you could die. People often go to the hospital when they have the hiccups.

The Thinker -- If you have your fist under your chin then people honestly believe you're on to something and should be left alone.

Checks -- If you don't specifically ask for the check in a restaurant, the waiter will leave you there forever. It's considered rude to interrupt guests while they're talking and eating.

Africa Time -- It's real, y'all. That's all I can say.

Matatu -- Another form of public transport. You flag down a white van and hop in with about 15 other people and then let them know where you want off. Probably safer than a boda, but I live for danger. (Note: they are different from the matatu that is found in Kenya.)

Freshman -- Not a word here. People look at you crazy. University students are identified by their year. "Firs' years, don't be shy."

I would try to explain the primary-high school grade names, but I still don't get it. Stay tuned.

People here hold hands a lot. But girls with girls and boys with boys.

People also shake hands everywhere they go. I'll teach ya how to do it proper when I come home.

Sarcasm -- Not a thing here. So my jokes are useless.

Compounds -- People don't "live in houses," but they "stay on compounds." Each legitimate home has a wall around the property with barbed wire and a watchman 24/7. Don't worry, I'm completely safe.

House help -- It's very cultural to hire a house helper to come to your compound multiple times a week, or every weekday if you have a big family. Cleaning and cooking take much longer here than in the States for a number of reasons, and so you need a house helper. Even the house helpers have house helpers.

Money -- Roughly 3,700 Ugandan shillings to the USD. Bills come in one (orange), two (blue), five (green), ten (purple), twenty (red), and fifty thousand (yellow). Coins come in 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 shillings.

Dduuka -- A metal shack that is typically located along the side of the road. They each have their specialties, but the most common ones you will see sell "airtime" for your phone. I've seen others that sell food, clothes, etc.

Jerry can -- Used to fetch water.


University Discipleship Movement leaves for camp TOMORROW!

The Heritage International high school students are traveling to retreat, also TOMORROW!

Alicia from Tutapona is preparing to head to a refugee settlement in order to train people how to do trauma therapy with the residents.

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