Mzungu Memoirs


As I’ve mentioned before, matooke is essentially the national food of Uganda.  It grows everywhere: on plantations in the countryside, along roads in town and in our neighbor’s yard.

Two weeks ago, Samuel, the guard we share with Maggie, came over to ask Robert to help cut down some matooke that was ready for harvesting.  Hanging precariously over the dogs’ shed, there was concern about getting it down without crushing the shed, the dogs or the matooke.  Harvesting matooke is really a two person job, even when it isn’t in such an awkward location.

As matooke sap is quite sticky, difficult to remove and stains terribly, Robert prepared for the occasion by removing anything he didn’t want stained or permanently sticky.  This included his shirt and, most importantly, his glasses.  He learned from the last time he helped harvest red bananas that the sap is almost impossible to get off.

Once Robert was ready, we all traipsed over to “help”.  Really, it was just Robert who was helping, but I of course had to document the occasion.  And Caleb, well, I don’t really remember what Caleb was doing, probably playing with the dogs.

When we got over to Maggie’s side of the wall, Samuel was already standing on the dogs’ shed cutting leaves off the matooke plant.  When matooke is harvested, the entire shoot or stalk that the bunch has grown out of is taken down.  This is easier done in pieces or sections.  First, the leaves are taken off.  Then the matooke bunch is cut down.  Finally, the rest of the stalk is cut down and chopped up into pieces.

Samuel was cutting off the leaves and tossing them over the wall to the neighbors’ goats.  The neighbors whose property lies behind our property and Maggie’s raise goats, but they really don’t have a whole lot of vegetation in their yard to feed them.  They apparently used to let them graze in an open field across the street from Maggie that is now an apartment complex.  Often, you will find them tethered along the side of the road munching on whatever they can find within reach.  I think they seemed very happy to get a special treat of matooke leaves.  They were contentedly munching on them anyway.

Once the stalk had been stripped of most of its leaves, it was time to figure out the best way to get the matooke bunch down.  Robert climbed up on the dog shed to assist Samuel.  Samuel held the matooke bunch while Robert cut at the stalk holding it to the plant.  Because of the orientation of the bunch and how they were standing on the dog shed, Robert had a hard time getting at the stalk with his left hand, so he first tried using his right but quickly went back to his left using a sort of cross over action to get at the place where he needed to cut.

Finally, the matooke bunch came down landing on the dog shed roof with a loud crash.  The landing wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it could have been with Samuel breaking the fall.  Matooke, being full of water, is quite heavy when you first harvest it, so you don’t really catch it as much as guide it to the ground.

Once the bunch was safely on the ground, it was time to take the rest of the stalk down.  The remaining leaves were cut off and tossed to the goats, and the stalk was cut up and thrown into Maggie’s compost pile.  Normally, you can just cut the stalk at the base, as close to the ground as possible to allow and encourage new growth, and let it fall to the ground like a tree, but because the dog shed was in the way Samuel and Robert had to take it down in chunks.  At the base the stalk was quite large, maybe 12 inches in diameter, with the inner part being fibrous.  It reminded me of cardboard.

The whole process was quite interesting, and I’m glad Maggie allowed us to be a part of it.  I’m sure at this point the matooke has all been consumed.  Maggie kept some for herself and her housemates; they make lots of yummy stuff with it.  Then she divvied the rest among the three guards who I am sure were happy for the extra bonus for the holidays.  She didn’t offer me any, but that’s ok, I’m not sure I would have known what to do with it anyway.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Timber!

Comments are closed.