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Part of integrating into a community is learning the language. Living in the central district of Uganda, Luganda is the local language. A big part of my time is spent working on health outreaches in the more neglected villages, and knowing some Luganda is essential to communicating with our clients.

One afternoon, I was practicing some useful phrases with my co-worker. It was pretty hot and I asked how to say, “Can I have a bottle of water?” The word water in Luganda is “mazzi,” but if you put the emphasis on the wrong syllable, you are essentially saying excrement. I practiced this sentence over and over again to make sure I had it right, I did not want to make that mistake.

I must have been saying it a little too loud, because about 10 minutes later an old woman showed up with a charcoal stove and a metal kettle. A young girl was trailing after her with a small jerry can of water. This old woman had been waiting for her HIV test results and heard me requesting over and over for water. Confused as to why no one was doing anything about it, she had gone home to bring the supplies to boil some water for me to drink. Needless to say, I felt pretty bad for the misunderstanding, but now I can confidently request water and know that’s what I will get.