Uganda Week 9

This week’s theme was gifts of food. Note: food-borne illnesses do not apply to gifts. On Tuesday, while walking home for lunch, a group of men in the trading center called me over. One of them held out a chunk of jackfruit, and I took a piece, telling them that I like it. (A jackfruit is green, spiky, and larger than a watermelon. On the inside, it’s filled with what look like closed yellow flowers, each with a big seed inside. You eat the “petals,” and it tastes kind of like a banana.) The man then gave me the piece, and I walked home sharing it with my friends (of course I walked to Derrick’s house to give him some). One my way back to school, one of the neighbor families was harvesting groundnuts, which are like peanuts but taste much different when cooked. They gave me a handful, and again I shared as I walked. On Wednesday, as I was walking to school after lunch, one of the little boys gave me a cracker. While walking home that night, there was an ice cream man in the trading center. One of my students bought me some, and it was a fruity slush of perfection. The best day was Thursday. Cornelius went to a burial and left the car with me and Uncle Sandy. Since Uncle Sandy doesn’t drive, I got to whip the old van to the other villages. Having the wheel on the right side of the car took a bit of an adjustment, and I’d describe driving between these villages a bit like skiing. However, instead of just avoiding bumps downhill, it’s constant up and down, swerving around potholes, chicken, goats, people, bodabodas, and the occasional cow. We went to one primary school, and after I finished teaching the younger kids, half of them scattered. I taught the older kids, and then the younger ones returned. They surrounded me and gave me armfuls of fruit. Then, just as I write that it’s the dry season, the sky opened up and we watched the lightning over the mountains. The rain added another level of difficulty to the driving, but it was a lot of fun having to spin the wheel back and forth as the car slides through the mud, feeling like an amusement park ride. We then went to talk with a women’s group, and they too gave me assorted fruits afterward. I then drove us to town, and we met Cornelius at the internet cafe. I’ve never felt like more of a Muganda than when I actually knew how to get from one village to another and then through town, and navigating these “roads.” However, that woven banana leaf mat was quickly pulled out from under me. The nearest bathroom to the internet cafe is at a gas station across the street, and crossing that road at night is the only time I ever feel fear here. The Ugandan roads have no lights, no lines, and no rules. My fears were justified when I was walking back to the cafe, and turned and saw a bodaboda without its lights on coming straight at me. We had one of those moments where we both kept trying to avoid each other in the same direction, but the stakes were a bit higher here than if we were just walking. Luckily he was braking, but I still had to put my hands on the front of it and jump back. I then quickly crossed the street, and the metalworker that built the basketball hoop, in typical Ugandan fashion, grabbed my hand and said, “Sorry, sorry, sorry! How are you, my friend?” I was so flustered I only responded in rapid English, and he didn’t understand much. What a mzungu. I rebuilt my pride quickly when we got home and I went through my gifts. 1 mango (rare this time of year but still delicious), 5 papayas, 21 passion fruits, 10 feet of sugarcane, 29 ears of maize, and 63 avocados. I am so humbled by the generosity of these people, especially with food, as I know they must be hungry. I’ve tried to share as much of the food as I’m given, to pass on the friendliness.
Very early Saturday morning, Cornelius and I went to Kampala for the weekend. I’m glad that I got to see the largest city in Uganda, but I definitely prefer the village. Every bodaboda ride is a near death experience as you almost get sideswiped by a van into three other bodabodas, the sidewalk is an acceptable place to swerve to avoid a speed bump, and those sidewalks have beggar children passed out in the middle of them. The capital is a massive sprawl that does have some skyscrapers, but is mostly small shops and slums. We saw the Ugandan Parliament, the Kabaka’s parliament, and his palace. We went to the shrine for the Ugandan martyrs, where Christian pilgrims from all over the world visit on a certain day in June. We walked through the equivalent of a super Wal-Mart and Cornelius and I marveled at the deli section (I stared at the steaks for a very long time). We visited the Kasubi Tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has the graves of the four previous kings of Buganda but was torched in 2010 and is currently being rebuilt. At the tombs I met another Kateregga. He is a grandson of one of the kabakas and he shared some local brew (beer made from bananas) with me. Finally, we made the mistake of trying to go to some falls on the Nile between Kampala and Jinja. We got there at sunset because we used taxi. Here, the taxis are small vans that are “licensed to carry 14 passengers,” but clearly that statement painted on each one is simply a suggestion. At one point we had 21 people in a vehicle no larger than a minivan, and if there were more passengers who needed to get on they would’ve found room. We had to stop every few minutes to let someone off or pick up another passenger. It was musical chairs, except I was a chair that had to move to allow people by and then often be sat on. The way back to town at night was even worse, as I was in the very back where I most certainly did not fit. Even the rolex in my hand and the two passengers trying to marry me (“But mzungu, I love you!”) could not placate me.
The only thing better than getting 63 avocados this week was that for the first time in 65 days, I used a real shower at the hotel. I’m convinced that’s what heaven feels like.
Somehow, it’s already my last week here. Last Friday I was ready to leave when, on my one day to sleep in, the baby at home’s crying woke me up at 6, and the rat running around my room kept me awake.Even if that happens again, I know won’t be ready to leave this Friday.

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