I landed yesterday (Thursday) among the wonderful Ugandan people for my second time in 2013. This trip I will be here in Jinja for six weeks. Gail will join me for the last two weeks. This will be her first time in Uganda, and she is excited.

My fifteen hour flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Dubai was uneventful. The only exception was a pleasant change of policy regarding long holdovers between connecting flights. I had a twenty hour layover between my arrival in Dubai and my connecting flight to Entebbe the next morning. On my last adventure in Dubai, I spent the night in an uncomfortable lounge chair. This time, Emirates Air, at their expense, bused me and a whole passel of other overnighters, to the five star Millenium Airport Hotel, where they put us up overnight in very spacious and comfortable rooms.  Now this is the way to do missions! I really can’t say enough good things about Emirates Air.

The only caveat to the relaxing evening, free meals, and very comfy bed – and I’m still trying to figure out if it was good or bad – was what happened during check-in at the luxurious hotel lobby. As I stood in line behind ten others who had ridden the same bus in from the airport, a hotel-uniformed clerk approached me and one other guest and pulled us aside. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but he escorted us directly to the check-in counter, around all the other people. Stunned, I looked at him and said something like, “Wassup, dude?” Actually, it was more like, “Excuse me, what is this about?” He looked pityingly at me and replied, “The hotel allows old people to go the front.”

In retrospect, I’m starting to accept my advanced stage of decrepitude, but as a citizen of the “I’m forever young” culture, I was sorely tempted to be insulted, like any good American. But then I observed the long line I had been standing at the end of and where I was standing now. And even though I’m absolutely sure some of those apparently “younger” people in the line actually looked older than I do, and that this young hotel clerk, who looked 14 by the way, surely needed his eyes checked, I decided that he was showing me the respect due my hoary head. So I smiled and said, “Right on,” or “Thank you,” or something like that. I may have high-fived him.

The truth is, many cultures tend to regard their senior citizens with a great deal of respect and honor. I find this attitude refreshing and…well, often convenient – certainly in this case.

Not to worry, though, that this behavior might go to my head or that I will want to transplant this cultural attitude back home with me. I was put firmly put in my place this morning in the grocery store in Jinja. Being a regimented and fully acculturated westerner, I had forgotten that Ugandans don’t really know what lines are for, or maybe they don’t see any point in them. I dutifully took my place behind two gentlemen ahead of me at the check-out counter. I stood there, patiently waiting my turn in line, just like my mother, all my teachers, and my Air Force drill instructor trained me. Suddenly, a lady with three items pushed around me, cut directly in front of me, shoved her way in between the two at the counter, and plunked her items down in front of the cashier. He, a skilled multi-tasker, spoke three prices one right after the other to his three customers who actually wanted to buy something and collected their money. Then, as they moved off and cleared the way for me, still standing obediently in line, he looked at me as if to say, “You gonna buy that stuff, or are you just a tourist.” So much for my ancient white-haired dignity.