Inside an Ugandan Internet cafe

John, the Internet cafe manager, explains me that the VSAT connection is not stable; one moment it is quick, the other moment it is very slow. They usually have a cache system which regulates certain traffic by blocking downloads that are bigger than for example 50 mb. The cache box had a problem, so the speed depends now on the amount of people and their activities. Sometimes he goes around the café to see who is doing large downloads and to tell them that it is not allowed.
He explains that their speed is also related to Europe. When Europe wakes up and start going online they immediately experience this in a decrease of speed. Between 1.00 am and 10.00 am they have the best connection; actually you only get a proper connection when you visit the Internet café between 07.00 and 10.00. John always spends his whole Friday night on the Web, because only then he can achieve a lot online.

In Europe people don’t have this problem and in this sense they don’t relate to another society’s usage. In Kampala, this represents an awareness, at least under the cafe owners and managers, of a western society ‘that goes first’. We’re in the same pool, but the space is unequally divided. He shows the cables that are already installed by the provider who is going to deliver the broadband in July. That will solve frustrations.

When I look around in the Internet café I see a girl in the corner who was sitting there because she called in sick to work. She had brought a huge headphone set and started listening music on the Internet. She listened to R’n B from the USA, e.g. Rihanna, Beyoncé etc. Like me, she new from news on the Internet that Rihanna got beaten up by her boy friend, Chris Brown. I noticed that she listened the same songs over and over again. She wanted me to listen to ‘If I were a boy’ from Beyoncé, she thought it really appealed to her because she could fully identify with it. I thought this was really interesting, realizing that her identity is not solely formed in local context, but also in context of global popular culture.

I encountered another form of global identification, when I was eating at a local family’s place. We were looking at the engagement video, which showed how the two families negotiated and did some rituals and dancing. It was interesting to see that the different families followed different religions, one Muslim and the other one Christian. The chiefs of the families negotiated and decided that the couple itself should decide what religion they wanted to follow.

The bridegroom, who was sitting next to me watching the video, told me that these days it is pretty common to have mixed marriages. ‘This used to be different, but now we are in a “global village” things are not that strict anymore’. Also here we find an example of identification in a global context in which different views on life co-exist.

It starts feeling a bit naive thinking that there would be still places that have not yet been reached by the impact of technologies like television and Internet. I am looking at a society that redefines itself within a space which encompasses not only the traditional and the physical, but also the modern and the virtual.


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