It did not take me many days in Kampala to get familiar with the so common and encouraging phrase “Jebale!”. But little did I know that this phrase would become significant in my acquaintance with Kampala.
Basically it means something like “good work” and it is used for so many everyday situations. But to fully figure out the meaning of the word is a puzzling quest I tell you! Not surprisingly it can be used when someone is obviously practicing hard work, such as washing clothes at unearthly hours or jogging in the blazing sun. Encouragement seems to be the Ugandan melody and the phrase is basically standard in all interactions from dawn to dusk.
The first time I got one of those “Aha!” experiences was when I accompanied a group of women to sweep the streets in their suburban area. An activity carried out every second Saturday as a local initiative from the women to keep the neighborhood clean and healthy. Before our efforts, plastic bags were scattered all over the place. As we swept, both the area and our faces change in character. Afterwards I exchanged many handshakes and “jebale!”, or “jebale nnyabo” to be more specific, nnyabo meaning lady or madam. I left the place with a thin layer of dust and a big smile on my face that afternoon, thinking to myself that this is the secret of good work, good women team work.
As the temperature rose in Kampala the relationship also became more intense. Work, being a big part of the intensity. In the swedish setting I have many times been called ambitious. But I think I have never before worked as hard as I am working for a Ugandan NGO. For your information this is totally my own initiative, as I really am inspired by the field of work. Although even if I try, I could never compete with my colleagues who spend not less than 13 hours everyday at the office and most often even Saturdays. And... hold your horses, at a volunteer basis! What crosses my mind is that you will have to be really lucky to find this dedication among Scandinavian youths. Really inspiring for me to be in this creative setting, which makes great use for “jebale” several times a day at the office.
To the second part of the phrase “Jebale nnyabo!”. Nnyabo meaning lady, I am often called either lady or madam in Kampala. Which is a really rare event when in Scandinavia. But I am trying to adapt to my surrounding and my struggle to adapt have become reason for many good laughs. At work it became a quest to try to "ladify" me during my stay. This included replacing my Scandinavian trend-proof cotton bag and “Fjällräven” backpack with a real ladylike handbag. Second lessons included a small lecture on how to clean my shoes to keep them smart. A Ugandan habit I will happily bring home is how to properly take care of your belongings. From now on whenever am washing my shoes I think I will smile and recall the phrase which will keep on encouraging me to do a good job.
So the intensity in the relationship between Kampala and I came accompanied with passion for the field which makes the relationship grow steady, challenging us both. Next I will share with you some of my Ugandan traveling experiences.
Sula bulungi! Have a good night! Ha en trevlig kväll!
Street sweeping to keep the neighborhood clean and healthy by women
Jebale moment, carpenting in Jinja
Dedicated youth and Sanna at the office
Many broom on a bicycle, an obvious jebale moment
Lady carry handbag and not backpack in Uganda "My new lady bag"
All pictures and article by Sanna Ström
Skandik Afrik ( firstname.lastname@example.org )