Fish and chips

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Last week had to go to the capital of the state of Rakai, where the village of Kibaale is located to the town of Rakai to do some business. Every three months, the clinic received a significant amount of money from a certain fund but since July of last year no one knows for sure how the money is suppose to be spent. Each nurse or clinic employee has given me suggestions or information they believe to be a fact. I am expected to spent this almost 1.3 million shillings or approximately $600 US and produce receipts for my spending each quarter…… since I know nothing about this fund, I decided to go and ask the person who hands out the cheques and ask her the rules and regulations as to how the fund suppose to be spent.

I did the driving and took with me two other individuals, Samalie, a Kibaale community leader and Asaph, one of the clinic nurses. Due to some road flooding, we had to take a longer route to Rakai….. but we made it in time for our 11:30 appointment. BUT like many things in Uganda….. it is always depended on African time and not on Canadian or American time…… we had left Kibaale before 10 am which is tea time and now that it is 11:30 and we were all a little hungry. We waited until after 1:30 to speak with this individual…. but I got the answers to my questions…… I now know what I can and cannot spend this money on…. and I must have receipts for everything.

Once the meeting was over it was 2:15 and we were all hungry….. we could not get back to Kibaale in time for lunch. So, Samalie suggested to stop at a restaurant called the Hilton for something to eat. We drove for about 20 minutes towards Kibaale and this restaurant. I was somewhat anxious….. this was going to be my first Ugandan restaurant….. would I be able to find something to eat…. or would I have to eat matoki and rice. The outside of the restaurant gave me hope….. the place looked like something I might have tried in the American south since a large portion of the restaurant was open to the sky and fresh air……

I was given a menu and saw fish and chips……… that was acceptable to me. So, I told Samalie and she states that it was available…….. within minutes two dishes arrived at the table. Both of them were exactly the same….. a large plate of matoki (a starch made from a various on a banana or plantain) with rice and slices of tomato and a large bowl of soup with a fish head in the centre. My two colleagues enjoyed there food but my was yet to arrive…… in fact they both had completely finished their food including picking the meat of the fish head and my food was no where to be seen…. I was starting to wonder why fish and chips were taking a long time.

Samalie………..ventured out to the kitchen a few times to check on my food…. only to be told there was no electricity but that the food was coming. I could not help but tell the joke about why my fish was late…. it was because the cook had to go out and catch the fish first……… well, a few minutes later a plate of home made chips arrived with a large tomato salad (in other words… large slices of tomato with green peppers and red onions). I was so hungry that the whole plate of chips disappeared quickly. But as I was finishing the last of my chips and my hunger was now satisfied….. I thought about the fish. Maybe they forgot……. it was just then that a large plate arrived with a complete fish including the tail and head it was deep fried and about 7 to 8 inches long and 4 to 5 inches wide…..

I had asked for fish and chips and that is exactly what I got….. not the Canadian version or the American but the Ugandan version. I had two or three bits of the tasty Tilapia and was not able to eat another mouthful. I took the fish home and like most Canadian and American…. I had leftovers the next day for lunch.

Uganda’s drink of choice is ……… tea.

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Each morning around 10 am, the staff of the clinic as well as the staff from Kibaale Community school have tea. I watch as one individual after another carries large thermos of hot water from the cook house to their classrooms or into the staff room of the clinic…… tea is what is enjoyed.

Over the past few months, I have learned a lot about the importance of tea. Tea comes in many shapes and sizes. These small packages are filled with loose tea leaves. About a month ago, I hired a new receptionist for the clinic and she is doing her very best to ensure all is working well including making sure there is tea each morning…….she came to me that other day to let me know that there is no tea….. I had to assume that she was asking me to buy or purchase tea. Since I know nothing about buying tea for the clinic staff….. I buy large boxes of tea bags…. but that is not how the staff of the clinic drink their tea, I asked her how much would tea cost? She did not respond….. so I knew that I had not asked the correct question….. So how much do you need for tea? I still did not get a response…… I was stumped….. what was the question……….

How much does a package of tea cost? with that question I got my first response….. She did not know the cost but would go and ask. There is a small convenience shop beside the clinic….. so off she went to discover the cost of a package of tea…… the cost for one package of tea was 150 Ugandan Shillings. Now there are 2,500 Ugandan shillings to one US dollar. So, a package was worth about 6 cents. My quick calculations told me that one package was not enough tea to supply the clinic staff…… So I gave her 2,000 shillings. The Ugandan currency comes in 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 shilling notes. So I gave her a 2,000 shilling note and sent her off to buy tea. I had no idea how many packets of tea could be bought for 2,000 shillings since I was giving her about 80 cents. I did not expect her back in my office…… it was only 80 cents of tea. BUT she returned to my office with 13 of these small packages…. and for the next 45 minutes to an hour she tried to calculate that 13 packages at 150 shillings would cost 1,950 shillings with 50 shillings back in change. She wanted to make sure that I got the correct amount of tea packets and the correct change. I told her that she had done a good job….. but she would not quit until she was sure that I had received the correct number of tea packets and changes….. One hour was spent on buying tea.

But they do not just have tea at 10 am but they want something to go along with their tea….. Let me start with the statement that not all words have the same meaning….. and that is true with the word the Ugandans use for an accompaniment with tea.

It all started a month or so ago….. Charles, one of the clinic nurses came up to Joyce another clinic nurse and asked for money for escort…… now this was strange to me. Joyce gave Charles some money. I observed over the next few weeks that Charles was asking all the females nurses if they wanted an escort. Each time he asked the question…. the nurse handed over some money……. I can truthfully say…. that I was very slow in finally understanding that the word escort means the snack or food that goes with tea.

10 am tea is loose tea leaves covered with hot water and many spoonfuls of sugar plus an escort…. some kind of food such as cassava chips, small two inch discs they call pancakes, or chapattis. I have tried each of these food groups and I can tolerate cassava chips when they are hot and chapattis but the pancakes are like pucks….. which could break my teeth.

I refuse to try the tea…… they drink the leaves along with the sugar.

I still enjoy my cup of coffee….. Uganda makes great coffee….. and since the Ugandan people seems to support the tea companies…. I will support the coffee plantations.

To each one……. enjoy of cup of tea or coffee but make sure you have an escort too.

It is 5 pm in Kibaale…..

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It is 5 pm and the clinic is closed…. there maybe some folks completing the last of their intravenous loading dose of quinine for the treatment of malaria…..most of the hundred or so patients have gone and the business of the day had finally calmed down and now the last of the work needs to be done….. one or two of the nurses will stay behind and complete the work while the rest of us go home…. It is only a 5 to 7 minute walk from the clinic to my humble abode but I am in the middle of a school…. and everything seems to start at 5 pm……

I move from sickness, disease and sadness to energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Once I leave the clinic compound I move into the realm of the school grounds and anything goes…..

Today…. the first section of green grass was being used by the senior girls playing a game of basketball on grass. I am not sure how it works but the yelling and screaming was enough to stop me….. I watched the activities for a few minutes… was just as much fun watching the guys jumping up and down screaming at the girls to do something or other…. as it was to watch the girls run and pass the ball and throw it into the small loop at either end of the field.

On the other side of the path were two groups of senior guys doing exercises prior to a game of soccer. Once the warm up exercises have been done… then the game begins……like all sports there are always the spectators… and there are always a large number of girls watching the game ready to scream and yell at the various actions of the different players….. You do not need to watch the game to know what is happening….. the comments from the player and the spectators is a commentary of the game and how good someone is playing or how someone should have played….. it is always high energy and exciting to watch and today so no exception…..

Except…. there was a lot of very loud music coming from my house…. well that is where the sound was coming from…. bit in truth is was coming from the students dining hall… which is just adjacent to the back of my place. It sounded like praise and worship music…. but for the youth. My curiosity got the best of me and I walked the extra few feet around the dormitory to see what was happening…. the dining hall was filled with one or two hundred primary students singing and dancing to the music…. it was high high energy with lots of excitement…… There is no way to describe the mass school blue uniforms moving, jumping, swaying, running, waving and ….. to the music. The positive excitement was captivating…… and I watched the activities for some minutes before I headed home…….

I pulled up my chair with a large glass of cold water and watched the soccer game and listened to the music….I recognized some of the words or some of the songs… but here I was in the middle of the world of energy, where all is well and everyone is enjoying life. It is a perfect way to end each day….. I do not dwell on the diseases or pain and sorrow but rather on the youth……

My adventures in cooking…..

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This is a photo of Kamulari (pronounced come-la-lee). I was given these very small bright red peppers by one of the teachers…. it all started a few weeks ago. I should say that my cooking in Kibaale is not anything close to how I would live in Canada. First of all, I am not eating meat. Meat in Kibaale is found hanging on a hook covered in flies. The nearest meat store that I know about is in Masaka… and that is for ground beef if it is available which is not often. Kampala is the closest and that can be anything from a half day’s ride to a full day of traveling depending on your mode of transportation…. In Kampala you can buy frozen packages of meat and then work hard to keep it frozen all the way back to Kibaale. It is a lot of work and the few times I have bought meat it was semi thawed by the time it reached Kibaale. So…. I am eating semi vegetarian. I have cans of sardines, and tuna along with cheese which I bought in Kampala otherwise the rest of my foods are local….whatever is available: tomatoes, potatoes, red and green onions, cabbage, carrots, garlic, beets, avocados and green peas occasionally.

One of the things that excited me about coming to Uganda was the food…. well, it was my memory of the food my cook made for me when I lived in Zaire (now known as the Independent Republic of the Congo). He made this very tasty dish of beans and rice. I was told that at noon beans and rice are served daily for the students and staff in Kibaale…. So I thought that it would be similar to the dish my cook made me years ago….. I was totally wrong…. the beans and rice are very bland and tasteless. Well, for me it is. I have not been to anyone’s home yet for a meal nor have a eaten out at any local restaurants. In Masaka, I have eaten out at a Danish establishment where they cook specifically for the foreigners.

So… I have been asking the staff in Kibaale and at the Timothy Centre if there is such a thing as a hot pepper. Finally, a week ago… the matron of the Timothy Centre told me about this pepper called a Come-la-lee. I worked hard to remember the name and on my return to Kibaale asked the staff of the clinic….. but it maybe my pronunciation because they did not know what I was talking about. Finally, one of the teachers understood my question and arrived a few days ago with these few branches. He told me that it was not very hot.

So… last night I decided to cook up a dish using these peppers. I was going to have a stir fry of cabbage, carrots, red onions, tomatoes and these peppers. I cut one up smelled it ….it seemed mild. So, in the end I put three in my stir fry…. remember it was a portion only for me.

I started the stir fry and got hit by the heat…. the aroma was wonderful…. it reminded me of Zaire and my taste buds came alive….. but the intense heat from the flumes brought tears to my eyes. Well, it was too hot…. it scorched my tongue and mouth…. it caused me to cry and my nose started to run…… I could only eat 1/4 of the amount of food I cooked. I thought about my friend Daisy who loves the hot foods…. she would have enjoyed this dish.

This morning…. Karl came by. He has lived in Uganda for a few years. He knew what they were and somewhat surprised by my story of last night’s dinner. He suggested the next time I start with 1/2 and increase with each new dish until it is what I want. I have many peppers…… I will be giving a few to Karl to enjoy. He wants to grow the peppers because he sees that there is a market for them……

So… why is the beans and rice so tasteless and bland in the dinning hall each noontime? I do not know but it is clear to be that it is not the whole story of what the Ugandan people eat at home. I will have to wait and see…..

My shy friend…….. Benita

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Benita is an 11 year old student in Primary 3 in the Kibaale Community School. She lives with her grandmother and 6 others siblings and cousins….. you see her parents are both dead. Her aunts and uncles are dead and the only person left is her 72 year old grandmother…. I sponsor her and have been supporting her with her studies for the past few years. When I was here in Kibaale last July…. I got to go and make a home visit and meet her precious grandmother…. that is when the picture was taken.

Now… that I am living in Kibaale for a year, I wanted to let her know that she is welcome to come and visit me. Since I did not know if she spoke English or not…. I arranged for one of the sponsorship office workers to translate for me…… Benita was very shy and never spoke a word except to quietly say her favourite class was English…. otherwise the ten or fifteen minute meeting was a dialogue from me. I gave her a bright pink rain jacket and a few of the pictures I took last year….. and she left.

About two days after…. it was Friday afternoon about 5 pm when I heard a light tap on my metal door and heard the words….”may I come in.” It was Benita…. to my surprise. She came with a friend. I welcomed them in and like a good hostess….offered the standard Ugandan “would you like a glass of water?” to which she shook her head. After providing them with water, I offered them some store bought packets of cookies and their faces gave forth a smile. A few minutes later, I saw a head popping up from behind my hedge…. guessing it was a friend of Benita’s asked her in and gave her a glass of water and a packet of cookies. Then I heard a loud voice at my door…. a young man was telling me he was Benita’s brother…. he also came for a visit… had a glass of water and numerous packets of cookies.. then with little or no words the four of them left.

The next day…. it was cool after the night rain…. and I saw the bright pink jacket coming across the field….. but it was not Benita who was wearing it but her brother.

Yesterday….. Friday afternoon….. I saw Benita staying at the end of my walkway trying to decide if she should come in or not…. I went out and invited her in… along with her friend…. then over the next few minutes one girl after another came to my door and in very quiet voices informed me that they were friends of Benita. In the end I had 10 little girls for water and cookies….. I tried to have a conversation but it just did not work…. then I asked them questions like ….. what is the colour of my top… or my skirt… then we counted and did the days of the week and months of the year….. so we had an English lesson and they laughed and drank all my boiled water…. but what an amazing hour visit. I was uncomfortable giving them more cookies so pulled out bread from my freezer and gave them bread, margarine and strawberry jam (from the Timothy Centre). Smiles were on everyone’s face.

My shy little friend has little and what she had seems to be shared with her other siblings and cousins…. but she has been able to come and visit the white mazungu lady…. Maybe one of these days, she will feel comfortable visiting on her own and speaking the little English she knows…..

I was blessed and I hope each of the girls were as well……