Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


B l o g

The 'Rat' that gives money for teeth

25 Jul 2006

Do all the little children of the world believe in the tooth fairy? Well here in Uganda they believe in something but it's hairier than your average fairy.

I can’t remember exactly how I found out about Uganda’s version of the tooth fairy but I have a feeling it was when a mouse darted past a few of us at work (We have a shop cat so we don’t usually have a mouse problem but low and behold one day there was a mouse in the shop). Electricity had gone out so we were busy having a chat when the tiniest little mouse you ever did see ran from the office door to the office cupboard.

N hoped behind me screaming “Ah a rat!” using my body as some sort of mouse shield. I tried in vain to chase it out of the shop (for Ns sake) as it soon found a neat hole to clamber into.

We got talking as I tried to calm her down. “It wasn’t a rat”, I kept repeating. We had a quasi argument about what the creature was called with N insisting in a good humoured way that the mouse was in fact a rat. Others joined in to tell me that "rat" is what they call a mouse here in Uganda. To this day I am puzzled because what do Ugandans call a rat if a mouse is known as a rat? Just to confuse me I saw a monstrously huge mouse today in my compound that was the size of a rat (I wonder what they eat)!

To end the argument N told me that if a child loses a tooth he or she hides the tooth somewhere in the home. She gave the example of “under the sofa set” or “under the leg of a chair” but not the usual “under the pillow” as I was expecting. The child goes to bed and in the morning the “rat” has taken the tooth away and replaced it with some coins.

At first I was grossed out, then I thought it was really sweet and then I moved on to over analysing it and thought it out a bit too far: “So when a kid is freaked out by the mice in the house, the mother just tells the kid that they have to keep the mouse around because who will take away the teeth and give the children money?” I’m back to thinking it is so sweet. It may be hairier and less pretty than a doe eyed fairy but it does deliver the moola!

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