Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for May, 2011

To Market, To Market

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

To market, to market, to buy a fat hog,

Home again, home again, jiggety jog.

While I haven’t been buying any pigs or hogs, there are certainly places here you can.  You can also buy chickens, goats and cows, but that is not really the type of place I prefer to shop.  I prefer to go to the butchery shop, such as Rosa’s Butchery, to get my pork and beef.  I’ve pretty much given up on buying chicken.  When it costs more than steak, it just isn’t worth it.  Chicken is the most expensive meat here, with beef being the cheapest and pork somewhere in between.

Actually, you can get just about anything to run the average Ugandan household at the typical Ugandan market.  The Kansanga Market just down the road from us in the heart of Kansanga is a good example.  (Kansanga is the name of the little suburb or neighborhood we live in.)  Essentially, it is a row of little shops, each about the size of a storage shed, with a bunch more stuff set out front on tarps or wherever a vendor can find a spot.  In the row of storefronts you can find clothing shops, usually separated for men, women and children, appliances, household goods, hardware, etc.  Out front, you will find overflow from the shops as well as shoes, produce, livestock, and whatever else you can’t find inside the shops.  In amongst the row of shops, there is also a pharmacy and clinic, a restaurant or two, and at least one Ugandan butchery where they have sides of beef hanging and you just go up and tell them where you want them to carve off a hunk for you.  Out with the sidewalk venders (I use that term loosely as there really aren’t any sidewalks here unless you go downtown), you will also find food vendors selling chapattis, rolex, mandazi and meat-on-a-stick.

While we have bought a couple of things from one of the little shops (a fan and a radio as they were much cheaper than anything we had found at the mega stores downtown) and I would like to check out the clothing shops as my clothes shopping endeavor downtown was less than successful, we don’t usually frequent the market.   It is all very chaotic and a little overwhelming to the reserved mzungu mindset.  For furniture, one can peruse Kampala’s “Furniture Row” as we call it, where carpenter’s build and display all kinds of furniture.  There is also a very large market downtown that I would like to go sometime just to experience (it is kind of seen as a novelty).  But mostly, I prefer what they call supermarkets and the little neighborhood shops and stands that are a little closer to home.

As I mentioned in a blog entry not too long after we had arrived in Uganda, what they call supermarkets here are definitely not what you would think of as a supermarket in the States.   They are usually much smaller, more like convenience store size.  But they are crammed full of stuff from floor to ceiling.  Aisles tend to be a little narrower, so while they do provide small grocery carts it is easier to use a hand-held basket for ease of maneuvering.   I haven’t figured out any rhyme or reason to stocking methods here as sometimes they will have something you are looking for and sometimes they won’t.  Mostly, they have canned and dry goods, some meat and refrigerated products like milk & cheese (although I get the “long life” box milk as Caleb doesn’t care for the “fresh” milk they have here), some household items and a few items of clothing as well.  Supermarkets typically do not have produce, unless it is an imported item like apples or sweet oranges.  Produce is typically sold at a little independent stand just outside supermarket entrances.

There is a small supermarket about half a mile from our house that Caleb and I walk to and then call a boda to take us home.  I typically shop there as it is the closest, but if I’m looking for more “mzungu” type items I have to venture a little further from home to the larger supermarkets that cater more to mzungus in general.  These require a boda ride both ways as there are none within walking distance.

Usually, when we walk to the supermarket close by, we will stop by Rosa’s Butchery Shop before calling the boda.  This shop is a more mzungu style butchery (they have cuts in meat cases rather than sides of beef hanging) but it is a little more affordable than the really nice mzungu butchery shop further down the road or the meat counters at the mega stores.  I really like Rosa’s for their pork cuts.  I used to get mince (ground beef) there, but I have found that I prefer the mince at the Italian supermarket up on the other side of the hill we live on.  We have also found that we prefer the beef cuts from the Italian supermarket as well.

On the way home from our trips to the supermarket, I usually ask the boda driver to stop at a little fruit stand that is just down the street from us.  Sometimes, if we need fresh fruits and veggies but not anything at the supermarket, Caleb and I will walk.  There are stands that are closer, but this one is larger with a little more variety, and he usually has very nice produce.  Besides, the guy that runs it has gotten to know me and what I like.  Our neighbors both in front of us and behind us have produce as well, but their stands are definitely not as big.  The neighbor behind us sells a little bit of everything from cabbage (which I have bought from him) to airtime.  The neighbors in front of us have a little table from which they sell a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as charcoal which they make right there on their property.  I have bought a pineapple from them (one of the best I have ever had), and at some point I intend to buy some charcoal from them as well.

One last little shop that I haven’t mentioned yet is Christine’s.  She is the Ugandan equivalent of the corner convenience store.  Other than the neighbor’s, she is the closest shop/stand to us, and she sells everything from rice and potatoes (in bulk) to bread and mandazi to soap and matches.  I get my eggs (which they don’t refrigerate here), beans (you have to be sure to pick through really well for bugs) and rice (which sometimes comes with rocks) from Christine.  She is close enough that I can send Caleb on an errand for a kilo of potatoes or a half dozen eggs (which are also sold in bulk).  Although the first time I sent him for eggs, he told Christine that he wanted a half kilo of eggs (which works out to 5 eggs, apparently).  Christine and I both had a good laugh about it later.

There are much larger stores downtown more like the stores you would find in the States.  They are “mega-store” chains from Kenya and South Africa.  If they don’t have what you are looking for, it probably can’t be found in Uganda.  But they are all the way downtown and require a longer boda ride, so we usually reserve those trips for the weekends, particularly for Sundays when Robert can drive us on our own boda.

“She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.” – Proverbs 31:14

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Not By Bread Alone

It was recently requested that I blog about some of the local foods we have eaten.  Actually, food is kind of on the forefront of my mind right now as I have been asked to help the cook at the eMi office develop a three to four week menu rotation that includes both Ugandan and mzungu dishes.  Both the cook and I are excited to learn each other’s recipes.  I am also very excited about the chance to finally get to plug in a little bit somewhere.

When we first arrived in Uganda, I had grand aspirations of eating and learning to cook all these Ugandan dishes.  My intentions were quickly put into check when on our very first day in Uganda we had the very mzungu meal of hamburgers at the office.  I quickly realized as I began the process of stocking our kitchen, that while my cooking habits would need to adapt to the ingredients that I have available, I would basically be cooking the same sort of stuff that I would back in the States.  The variety of meals that I fix is not quite as extensive, but mostly it is just like home which is comforting.  Although we eat mostly mzungu type meals when we eat out as well, we have been introduced to a variety of Uganda dishes that are really quite tasty.

Matoke is the quintessential Ugandan dish.  It is a type of green banana (or plantain) that is more starchy than sweet and must be cooked before being eaten.  It is a major cash crop in Uganda and can be seen transported on everything from large trucks to bicycles (yes, there is really a guy on that bike behind all the matoke).  Matoke is traditionally steamed in the leaves of the plant on which the bananas themselves grow.   It can also be boiled if you don’t have any banana leaves handy.  It is then mashed and served with some sort of sauce made of vegetables, ground nuts (g-nuts, similar to peanuts) or some kind of meat.  It tastes a lot like mashed potatoes, although I feel it could use some salt.  The first time I tried it (made by the eMi cook) was with a meat sauce kind of like a thin beef stew.  I have also tried it with g-nut sauce which I thought was pretty good.  However, matoke is not one of Robert’s favorite Ugandan dishes, so I probably won’t bother learning how to make it.  Caleb has at least tried it, but doesn’t really care for it either (although I’m not really sure he got enough in the bite he tried to actually taste it).

One of Robert’s favorite dishes is samosas.  It is a filled pastry snack that, according to Wikipedia, can be found in one form or another all the way from Asia across the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean and throughout Africa.  In Uganda, it is a fried triangular pastry.  The ones we have eaten have been filled with meat with a little bit of onion and carrots and sometimes green pepper throw in.  I have also seen frozen ones with vegetable filling at some of the shops I go to, although I’m not sure what constitutes the vegetable filling.  Caleb is also quite fond of samosas, although he prefers to break them open, pull the filling out, pick out the vegetable, eat the meat and (maybe) eat the wrapper.

One of Caleb’s favorite foods is chapattis which are round, flat, unleavened bread similar to tortillas.  Apparently, they are common in Western Asia, particularly India, but they are also popular in Eastern Africa, especially among the Swahili people and in Swahili-speaking countries (which they do speak here in addition to Lugandan).  I have been told that chapattis are fairly simple to make.  Essentially, all they are is flour and water with a little salt thrown in.  Then you toss them on a well-oiled griddle (as opposed to dry for tortillas) and fry them.  I haven’t tried my hand at making them yet.  It’s kind of hard to get myself motivated to make them when Robert can run down the road and pick up three rolexes (fried egg with maybe a little onion and tomato wrapped in a chapatti) for he and I and a couple of plain chapattis for Caleb for less than one McDonald’s value meal.

A new Ugandan food that we just discovered is mandazi. It is fried bread similar to doughnuts (donuts) although they are not as sweet as U.S. style doughnuts and do not have a sugar glaze or icing.  They are typically eaten with tea or coffee for breakfast or for a snack anytime.  Caleb was just introduced to them yesterday when Grandma Maggie bought him one as a special treat for going to the local convenience store with her (I’ll talk more about the stores and markets next week).  We thought they would make a nice Sunday breakfast, and since I didn’t have anything else planned for this morning, Robert and Caleb ran over to the same little store and got us all some.  As far as Ugandan breads are concerned, it’s one of the better varieties, but it doesn’t really have a whole lot of competition (the breads here really aren’t that great).

There is one more dish that I would like to mention before I close: bamboo soup.  This particular dish was made by Grandma Maggie’s housemate, Florence, and it is really only made in eastern Uganda in the area of the village she comes from.  I’m not exactly sure how it goes from the ground to being ready to cook, but you have to boil it to make it edible.  Then you add some onion, tomato and mchusi mix (a common spice mixture used around here) and let it all simmer for a little bit.  It was really good when Florence made it and sounds very easy to make, so I’m eager to try my hand at preparing it with some of the boiled bamboo she gave us.

I’m sure there are many more dishes that we will get to try while we are here, some we will like and some we may not.  But I’m game.  I’m willing to try just about anything once.  Well, maybe not bugs.  Grasshoppers are a delicacy here.

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3

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Caleb’s New Ride

Not too long after we moved to Uganda, our neighbor, Grandma Maggie, suggested to Caleb that he should build a cardboard General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard.  This is not an unreasonable suggestion for a creative 5 year old, unless you live in an area where construction materials, particularly of the cardboard variety are hard to come by.  It was one of the few times that I haven’t been thrilled with one of Maggie’s suggestions.

So we started collecting cardboard boxes.  When we were visiting Heritage International School in anticipation of enrolling Caleb for the fall, Caleb saw a box behind the desk of the lady we were meeting with.  I don’t remember if he point blank asked the lady for it, or if he just mentioned that he was collecting boxes.  Either way, the box was offered and gratefully accepted.  And it was a fairly large one too, at least by Ugandan cardboard box standards.

One box down, but we still needed a bunch more.  Then I remember seeing a large cardboard box in our garage.  But since we are renting the house and everything in it, I wasn’t sure if we could use the box, especially if we were going to cut it up.  Upon inquiry, Maggie (who was the one responsible for setting up our household before we arrived and therefore the person I figured best to ask) said it would be fine.

Now we had two large boxes, but we still had a long way to go.  There was a new addition to the eMi full-time staff that was having to outfit and furnish her apartment and had several smaller boxes from purchases she had made which she brought over to Caleb.  I also saved all the boxes I emptied from the kitchen, which was not as many as your average American kitchen produces but definitely more than produced by your average Ugandan kitchen.

Finally, enough boxes of various sizes had been collected and construction began on a lazy Saturday in mid-April.  The bulk of the construction was completed over the course of the weekend.  Robert even fashioned a hood and an “engine”.  Of course, he didn’t have to worry about doors “because the doors on a race car are welded shut.”  But there were still some details that needed to be completed, most notably the color.

Thus began the search for orange spray paint.  This endeavor took several more weeks.  Caleb bided his time constructing some of the finer details such as the confederate flag for the roof of the car and the license plates which he made of Ugandan flags (after all, we do live in Uganda not Georgia).  Finally, we found some orange spray paint at Game, the South African Mega store where we found some of the needed supplies for the clothesline repair.  At 20,800 Ugandan Shillings (about $9), it was quite the splurge, but we had come so far on the construction of the General Lee we just had to put the finishing touches on it.  We decided to get one can and just do the best we could with the coverage.

Caleb wasn’t going to let that can of spray paint collect too much dust, however, and was able to convince Robert to paint the cardboard car within a few days of its purchase.  The coverage wasn’t too bad.  The General Lee was now definitely orange, even if you could see some of the original markings on the boxes.

So we now have a cardboard General Lee sitting in our garage, and Caleb proudly displays it to anyone and everyone who comes to visit (I think Daddy is pretty proud of it too).  I believe construction has been completed, but every now and then Caleb comes up with one more detail to add.  The latest was the trunk.  He asked Robert to make two cuts in the rear of the car so that he could open and close the trunk.  He also had to add rear view mirrors (ya gotta know what’s coming up behind you, especially if you are running from Roscoe P. Coltrane), and he had Robert cut out a cardboard key so he could start the engine.  I wonder what he will think to add next.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19

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The Saga Continues…

Robert does not particularly agree with my blog subject for this week, but since we kind of left you hanging with the last one I figure I better give you an update.  That, and life must be starting to become mundane and routine here in Africa because I’m beginning to run out of ideas to write about.  Suggestions or blog spurring questions are welcome.

So, at the end of the last blog, we were still searching for steel pipe and high strength wire.  Apparently, steel pipe pretty much only comes in one size around here.  Maggie, our wonderful neighbor and guardian angel when it comes to all things African, instructed a boda driver she often hires for running errands to go down to the local welding shop and have them cut a pipe so it could fit inside the support pole of the clothesline.  She sent him off with part of the pipe that Robert had cut from the clothesline pole to use as a guide for the diameter of the new pipe.  I don’t think he really understood what she was requesting because he came back with a pipe that was cut down the length for about 6 inches and then looked like it had been cut down the rest of the length but had been welded back together but was the exact same diameter as the piece of the pole she had given him.  It would not fit in the clothesline pole and it certainly would not fit in the pipe that was buried in the concrete that Robert had worked to reshape and was now slightly oval rather than round.

This is where I got involved.  When the boda driver came back with the pipe, I took him to the back yard to show him what it was we were trying to do with it.  After much discussion, more on the part of Maggie and I as this guy is not a talker, and some serious time studying the problem, I think he finally understood what we were after.  We marked the pipe in some of the places we felt that it could be cut (it was little too long as well as too big in diameter).  He took off again with pipe in hand (actually it was tied to his boda, and I wish I had thought to get a picture of it).  He returned with a pipe that essentially had a slit down the length of it.  Unfortunately, the “diameter” wasn’t really all that much smaller, but with a lot of grunting and elbow grease, we were able to work the new pipe into both the piece of pipe that was left in the concrete and the support pole of the clothesline.  I say “we”, but actually it was mostly the boda driver hammering the new pipe into the pipe in the concrete and then the clothesline pole onto the new pipe sticking out of the ground.

So, now the clothesline pole was once again standing erect rather than lying forlornly on the ground.  However, I still couldn’t use it because I didn’t want to string the lines until Robert had a chance to install the guy wires to prevent the support pipes from bending under the weight of the wet clothes again.  It took a couple more evenings to get that done simply because the available daylight after Robert gets home from work is limited.  Being right on the equator is nice because are days and nights are pretty consistently equal, which means we don’t get the short days during the winter but it also means that we don’t get the long days during the summer either.

By Friday, our second house help day for the week, the clothesline support poles were fully operational once again and even had one line strung between them.  Our house help for the day took it upon herself to string another line which was just enough to hang the moderate amount of laundry we had for the day.  Unfortunately, almost immediately after she had hung it, we started to get a serious threat of rain and had to bring it all in.

Robert was able to string a couple more lines with the wire that we already had (we never did find any high strength wire, I don’t think it exists here in Africa) which gave me a total of four lines.  I am hesitant to put any more on even though the thing is designed for six lines as I don’t want to overload it which is what I think happened to begin with.  I was all ready for laundry on Tuesday, or so I thought…

Today (Tuesday), our house help was hanging clothes on the line when one of the masonry anchors holding the guy wire pulled out of the concrete.  Fortunately, it was on the pole opposite the one that had originally bent.  However, it was still bending in towards the lines under the weight of the wet clothes, so the day guard helped me tie the guy wire back to an exposed rafter on the shed the guards use to help straighten out the support pole.  So now we have to figure out if we are going to put another masonry anchor in the weak concrete or try something else…

“But come on, all of you, try again!  I will not find a wise man among you.” – Job 17:10

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Repairer of Broken Clotheslines

When we lived in the States, we had an old but reliable Kenmore washer and dryer set.  Robert had inherited it from his grandmother before we were married.  Because they were older, they were fairly easy to repair (not as many parts as the fancy models today), and Robert was a whiz at working on them, particularly the dryer.  He replaced the heating element and belt several times and even the bearings once.  The old models were built so much better than the new ones in the townhouse we bought that Robert had aspirations of switching them, but a very tight stairwell with a 90° turn in the townhouse convinced us not to.  It was a sad day when we decided to sell the old washer and dryer with the last house they were in.  We just couldn’t justify the space they would take up in storage.

In all the years of keeping our trusty Kenmore dryer running, I doubt seriously Robert ever thought he would be working on our dryer in Africa.  “I thought you didn’t have a dryer” you say?  Well, I guess you are partially correct.  We do not have an electric drying machine like you would find in the States.  They do exist here, but they are very expensive, not as big as the ones in the States and belong primarily to the wealthy and elite.  We have a good old fashioned clothesline on which to hang our clothes to dry.  And apparently clotheslines need occasional repairs as well, at least here in Africa.

I had already been through several rounds with our day guard of replacing and tightening wires.  These were minor “repairs” compared to what was to come.

We get house help (local Ugandans hired by mzungus and affluent Africans to help out around the house) two mornings a week.  This last Tuesday, Stella, our help for the morning, was working on a particularly large pile of laundry.  Friday the week before had been a holiday, so we had not gotten any laundry done.  Plus, we had been out of town for the weekend, and that always seems to generate extra laundry.  Stella was hanging clothes on the line when I heard her call for me in a rather surprised tone.  I ran around the house to find Stella holding one of the supports poles for the clothesline up.  It had bent at the base under the weight of the wet clothes (Ugandan metal isn’t very strong, a serious design problem in many ways).  I took over holding up the pole (actually, more like preventing it from bending any further), while Stella quickly removed all the laundry she had already hung on the line.  Then we proceeded to move the wet clothes to the lines I had strung in the garage, the bathroom, the neighbors line, pretty much anywhere we could think of to put them.

Redistributing the laundry was the easy part compared to the repairs that Robert was now faced with.  Nothing is easy in Africa when it comes to repairs, well mostly.   It’s not like we have a local Wal-mart we can run down to get what we need.  And it certainly is not as easy as running to the appliance store and bringing a part home to install.

First Robert had to saw the bent pole at the base close to the ground.  Then he sawed the bent section out of the pole.  That was actually the easy part…  Next came a trip to our neighborhood hardware store.  Robert needed a missing chuck key for the drill he was borrowing, some masonry eye bolts, a slightly smaller tube to sleeve inside the clothesline support pole and some high strength wire to anchor the supports.  He found none of these at the hardware store, but was referred to several downtown stores as well as local welding shops.  With Robert frustrated at the seeming inability to find any of the necessary items and with Caleb, who was riding on the boda with Robert, getting thirsty, they just came home.  After church on Sunday, we did some shopping downtown at Nakumatt and Game, Kenyan and South African versions of Wal-Mart, and found some masonry anchors and a drill chuck.  The search continues for the steel pipe and high strength wire…

One of Robert’s favorite verses is Isaiah 58:12, and it talks about being called “Repairer of Broken Walls.”  I’m sure Isaiah would be mortified that I am even thinking of comparing this verse to repairing bent clotheslines, but I hope he will grant me some literary license.  I’m very grateful for my Repairer of Broken Clotheslines, Restorer of Laundry Facilities, and I sure am glad he is willing to fix them for me.  Because in Africa, handymen are kind of hard to come by too.

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12

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