Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Uganda Wrap-Up

The week of working in the Kampala PSI office went quickly. The staff was very friendly and I think they appreciated that I had been sent to lend a hand. They were generous with their time and enjoyed teasing me about my American habits and also found my hair quite curious when I wore it down one day. Although I didn’t see much of Kampala, what I did see is a beautiful city. It is currently the end of their rainy season and everything is lush, green and fertile. Outside the city, I saw healthy tea and sugar cane plantations and in the city, beautiful lawns and gardens. I was staying at the Sheraton, a hotel known for its beautiful gardens. On Sunday, I saw four wedding parties have their photos taken against the background of the garden - the bridesmaids as colorful as the blooming flowers and trees. I read in the local paper that many Ugandans have returned to their home country after years abroad, to help rebuild. This current period of peace and relative prosperity has led to an increase in the marriage rate, and subsequently, the birth rate is higher than earlier projections had anticipated.

My Ugandan culinary experience was oddly limited to Mexican, Chinese and a burger, although I did have a couple of typical lunches. Susan, one of the PSI staff, encouraged me to eat from the selections that are prepared each day by the kitchen staff and set out in chafing dishes on the porch.

There are a lot of starches in the African diet as protein is expensive and hard to come by for average people. The only things I’ve eaten here that I don’t care for are two of the staples, ugali and matoke. Ugali is corn meal that has been cooked, a bit like grits, and then spread out about an inch thick to harden. It’s served with most meals here because, although it has absolutely no taste (it could seriously benefit from some salt, pepper and olive oil!), corn grows well in even the harshest conditions, it is very cheap and fills up hungry bellies. In Uganda, the similar staple is matoke, steamed mashed plantains. Again, it’s totally flavorless, but very much stick-to-your-ribs. A lump of that will stay in your stomach for hours and hours.

Typical 40 Cent Nairobi Lunch. Ugali Under the Fried Egg

My Ugandan colleagues demonstrated their hospitality in preparing a large plate of food for me on my last day. It was smoked fish in groundnut sauce (similar to peanuts) - a typical Ugandan dish. My new friends showed their generosity by heaping the plate with ugali and matoke, as well as a large portion of fish. The fish was tasty, but was not filleted, leaving me with a mouthful of bones. The sauce wasn’t bad (although it was purple and didn’t taste anything like nuts), but the combo was a little odd. I just couldn’t eat the ugali and matoke and felt like a little kid trying to hide it under a pile of fish bones and skin so as not to insult my hosts.

The trip went quickly and I arrived back in Nairobi Thursday night. This time, I was delighted to see Alex the Driver at the airport. Arriving in Nairobi had a very different feel than it had a mere two months ago - it felt familiar and like home, although I wasn’t looking forward to my bed - the one at the Sheraton was pretty darn close to perfection.

1 comment:

The Life and Times of Donovan said...

Marge- I so admire your positivity in all this. It sure sounds like one adventure after another...btw, did you offer your wedding services to any of the 4 happy couples?