NGO workers acquire business cards like a teenage Joel Hedges acquires zits; their pockets become stuffed with them seemingly overnight. Microfinance institutions, development organizations, HIV/AIDS health centers, womens advocacy groups, all employees, no matter how yeoman, pass out their cards like candy. As a result, my colleagues here at MAPLE and I have amassed a considerable number of business cards during our tenures here in Uganda. Now, being the organizational nut that I am, I felt it prudent to find us a holder for these cards.
I might just be the only NGO worker in the entire world without his personal business card. Thus, when I went door to door at Mbale’s two hundred stationary/secretarial shops looking for a holder, I of course had nothing to show them. Hah! A lack of example is no match for the power of clever observation. Early on in my search I realized that the term “business card holder” was not in the everyday Ugandan’s vocabulary (either that or they couldn‘t understand English when it is mumbled, which is just as likely). I did, however, observe multiple signs declaring “success cards” were now on sale. “Success cards must be what they call business cards here in Uganda,” I thought, then patted myself on the back for keen observation and logical deduction. The workers at the next twenty seven stationary shops all failed to understand business card holder, but their eyes lit up when I mentioned success cards:
"Do you sell business card holders?"
"Umm, sorry sir."
"You know, like a Rolodex?
(Confused blank stare.)
"Success cards, are they there?"
"Ahh, yes we have!"
"Do you have something to put them in, like a book?"
"No, it is not there."
Finally I came to an Indian man’s shop, just as I was about to admit defeat, who pulled out, lo and behold, a small book for holding business cards. That’s it, I said. Give that to me now, sahib, just name your price! He told me that, unfortunately, he could not sell it to me, as it was his only one. He did tell me, to my elation, that his brother was in Kampala that very moment, possibly even already searching for business card holders, and he could have one brought to me here in Mbale as early as the next business day. Success! I told him I would come by on Monday to pick up my order.
Monday rolled around and I went to the Indian man’s shop. At Sam's Stationary, I was informed that the business card holder was not there. I then proceeded to stop in on his shop every single day for the next two weeks just to be told that it had not arrived until we finally exchanged contact information. Another week elapsed until I received a phone call from a man with a heavy Indian accent. Despite the more or less unintelligible conversation that ensued, I gathered that an Indian man was calling me, and, using that keen power of deduction of mine, he must be the only Indian man I have met thus far here in Uganda, which so happened to be the one with my business card holder. Sure enough, Jaime, who was already at the market (and by circumstance in the general vicinity of Indian Business Card-man), was more than happy to pickup the holder for me. Just later that day I held the elusive book in my hand. Astounding success!
While bragging later to my friend Eddie, who is Ugandan, about my exploits, I learned an interesting little factoid.Our conversation went a little something like this:
“Hey Eddie, check this out man. Look what I got today. I finally got my success card holder! Bask in my glory!”
“This? Noo, man, this is not a success card holder.”
“Then what for Pete's sake do you call this?”
“You know, man, I think something like this is called a business card holder.”
“Drat! Then what in the name of all that is holy is a success card holder.”
“Something that holds success cards.”
“Hah! Exactly like this, right?”
“No, I don’t think you are getting what I am saying. This holds business cards, not success cards, man. Success cards are the cards high school graduates receive from friends and family for finishing their exams.”
For future reference, I can now say, with certainty, that there are no success card holders in all of Mbale, Uganda. How many business card holders there actually are, I have no idea.
PS: MTN mobile service provider Joke-O‘-the Day, “I just bought 500 Sadam t-shirts, they’re a bit tight around the neck, but they hang well!”