Some people think of each photo before they take it, contemplating the shadows, the light, the profile of the people. As a member of the iphone generation, I just point and shoot. Often from the window of a car as I pass by interesting – or what I see to be typical scenes of daily life.
Uganda does not have quite the street food scene that flourishes in Senegal and Mali where every corner has someone selling fried dough balls, bananas, or bad bread. But here, there is chapati and with chapati there is ‘Rolex’. Took me a minute to realize but ‘rolex’ aka ‘rolled eggs’, is essentially an omelette rolled in a chapati to be eaten like a burrito. Stands with a man preparing and selling this 30 cent, very filling meal.
First, what is chapati? Probably derived from the Indian influence, chapati is flour dough they make and leave over night in small piles to be rolled out with a small wooden rolling pin and then lightly fried on the stove/pan featured below. Chapati alone is also sold everywhere, cheap, filling and efficient. Also bland when eaten alone but I cant complain.
The following is an explanation of the rolex making process. First they make the dough, flour, water, salt the typical that they leave in these little piles over night and until they need to make more chapati.
Next, they roll out the dough with a pin as shown by this gentlemen who is a typical, rolex stand guy.
He then puts oil on the pan to his right, flattens it with his hands and fries it up. Voila!
So the omlette is made right there too. Cut tomoto, onion and if you are lucky some cabbage into a cup.
Pour it on the same pan as the chapati is made on…
Fry it up real good and flip it with your hands or a proper tool…
Next, and the most important. you add the chapati on top of the omlette so it also heats up and gets some extra oily juices.
Roll it all up nice and tight- aka rolled eggs- and back it in a plastic bag to go!!! The cheapest and most filling brunch you can imagine. I will miss it dearly!
From my experience in West Africa the main carb, or food in general, is either rice or some sort of boiled corn. In Southern Uganda it is matoke, a small banana like tuber. It is has more flavor than rice and really fills you up. It can be grilled, boiled, fried…. Eaten with peanut sauce, cooked with meat, served plain, served with rice… It is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The possibilities are endless. I am currently in the North of the country where there is not matoke and the agriculture and plants are more similar to West Africa but with much more variety in food and easier to farm as there is more rain and 2 harvest seasons in the ‘dry north’. But, as you can see it is plentiful.
Above is a market in the South, close to the trees which are everywhere, meaning matoke is easy to grow. One of those stalks is sold for less than 15,000 shillings here, or about 5 USD.
So from there they are sold to a middle man who brings them to places like Kampala where they are sold for about double the price.
Overall, the produce here is slightly cheaper than in West Africa, especially the bananas and pineapples. One kilo of bananas in Senegal was over a dollar at a banana plantation. Here I got all the fruit featured below for about 3 dollars USD.
I am living in the gated and guarded compound of a widow, Lydia. She speaks excellent English as she spent five years working in Boston as a nurse and is a highly successful business woman in Kampala. When rented out, she receives a large chunk of money from the apartment that has previously been occupied by other foreigners like me whose organizations are willing to pay the steep price for the Western accommodations- it is 800$ a month. You are paying for the appliances that other places would not have, an electric stove, a microwave, a fridge and even a washing machine. She also offered to lend me a stationary bicycle for my spare room. But rent from the apartment hardly registers for her as a necessity as her real money maker is an impressive catering business.
Known in Kampala as ‘good sauce’, she commonly caters for weddings, funerals and events at large organizations like Oxfam (how we found the apartment). A large wedding in the states is attended by 200 people, but here that would be small and exclude key individuals like forth cousins, neighbors, long lost friends and friends of those friends. So Lydia ‘good sauce’ often cooks for 600 people.
The staple of these meals, and most meals here in Uganda, is matoke- the green bananas cut and steamed into a paste, served with meat, a thick and tasty peanut sauce, vegetables and rice. To prepare for 600 she hires about 6 people, who I have watched work from 8 am until past by bed time at 11 pm the day before. It depends on the order but for one of these events I observed two goats being killed, over 30 chickens grilled on a banana peal fire, 50 kilos of rice and a massive sack of cassava cooked to perfect. From what I could tell, the biggest task is peeling all the bananas, which amounted to over 1,200 and economically come from her own fields, land purchased outside of Kampala. Thus, rather than buying most of the input, she is able to get it from her own production.
For the morning of the event the sou-chefs are back at it by 6am as only the meat and matoke can be prepared the day before, the cooking happens at night in 4 massive broilers. Making rice, frying up final additions and getting the food warmers and dishes ready are early morning tasks, loaded into 2 square, basic vans that live in our compound. I am constantly impressed the work of the food prepares and scared to ask how much they are earning.
Lydia also cooks Western dishes for the smaller wedding party upon request. For one event making lasagna, chocolate cake, a watermelon salad, avocado salad and apple pie. I was thrilled to be invited to a feasts at home when her ‘brother’ came to visit from Colorado. She made a spectacular Ugandan meal, taking all the typical dishes and making them with non-traditional spices like basil from her garden for the the fried rice and meat, chives and curry powder in chipati bread and mint in a watermelon smoothie. Previously, I have disliked the matoke, but hers changed my opinion as a perfect balance of sweet with the richness of the peanut sauce, steamed greens and delicious chicken cooked in banana leaves to add flavor. I did not need to eat for 24 hours following.
Like anywhere in the world, with successful parents children are more likely to be a success. All of her children have been or studied abroad. Her son, who is currently living in the apartment above mine, studied engineering in the UK and worked there for many years until his father passed away. His two elementary aged children still in there with his wife. In Kampala he has a cleaning business that works at the airport and government offices- once again, with connections and the initial capital, there is big money to be made.
I have had extensive conversations with Lydia about work in Uganda- it is clear she has been very successful and she insists that anyone can do it, there is money to be made here. Like other upper class Africans I have met, all of who have at least one maid, a guard and other employees, they complain about their ‘help’ who come from the bush and do not know how to cook properly, fall asleep during their 18 hour shift or never works hard enough for their liking. She claimed one of her helpers recently ruined one of her microwaves. I defended them saying that they probably did not know how to use it, she said of course not, but they need to ask. Which is easier said then done as they are all terrified of her, tip toeing around the compound and whispering greetings to me when she is there, but smiling, shaking my hand and asking me questions when she is not present.
She claims any of these people can become successful like her. While, I certainly agree, the business potential here is massive: Land is extremely fertile, the population is growing by the minute and investment is pouring in, the connections and the initial finances are essential. She would not have the ability to cook as such if she had not been to the states. She would not get these jobs had her husband not been in government and she would not have had the funds to purchase all of the necessary equipment had it not been for her family wealth.
In the outskirts of Kampala, on top of one of the city’s many hills, rests a Baha’i temple. Peacefully perched with the luxury of not being crowded by tin roofs and half built hotels, the temple’s nine sides stands amongst lovely acacia and palm trees with a sloping landscape of well groomed gardens. I arrived at 11:07 Sunday morning after a long goose chase with the taxi trying to locate the temple (like men in America, Ugandan men dislike asking for directions).
I expected the 10:30 service to have started according to ‘African time’ but was
disappointed to see a stream of Ugandans, whites, and people of unknown colors and nationalities coming out of the sanctuary. As I stepped through the crowd I shook hands and was greeted by an overwhelming number of individuals. Many asked if this was my first time, apologies for my missing the service, and assurance I could still go in and pray.
More interested to learn about the history of Baha’i in Uganda, I was directed to one of the oldest members, a man with severe burn scars all over his face and neck. He has been Baha’i since 1965, and like many Ugandan Baha’i was raised Christian. With 22 other Ugandan Baha’i he traveled to Israel in 2014 on a pilgrimage to Haifa. He spoke of his journey there with such pride and longing, recounting the open gardens and inclusion he felt with the community there.
Baha’i first came to Uganda in 1952 and slowly found a following with at the place of worship pictured, completed in 1958. It is one of only seven similar temples in the world, and the first in Africa. There are Baha’i in many other cities but not a center of worship such as in Kampala. According to my Baha’i historian, the goal is to build a school, library, university, hospital and house of worship all in one. Additionally, this center was forcibly closed from 1977-1979 because the president wanted to make Uganda a Muslim nation. He claims they did not fight this but he accepted the closure as a path from G-d, praying at home during this time.
I spent over an hour talking to a Congolese Baha’i- evidently the country with the 3rd largest Baha’i following. He spoke strongly about his religious beliefs, saying that he supports the religious choice of all individuals. Even his children he allows a freedom of choice, but all he can do is show them a way. He emphasized the power of g-d, saying that “perfect things only g-d can do”. I kept inquiring into the religious tensions he has experienced, wanting to know more about what other Ugandans and Congolese think of the Baha’i. He insisted that he holds no prejudice and has felt none towards him. Honestly, most people even living close to the temple are unaware of its religious affiliation. I have heard other speak negatively towards Muslims, making reference to recent attacks in the US and globally, but he intelligently stated that this could have been from a Christian, Jew or Hindu, it is not the religion but the person.
All of the people I spoke to were kind, open and welcoming, excited to tell me about their beliefs and the oneness of humanity. The basic testament being that they share a love of G-d, peace and unity. The program for the service had passages from the Qur’an, new and old Testament as well as the Baha’u’llah and was in English and Luganda. While it is clear that there is a slowly growing following of Baha’i in Uganda, most of the attendants were like me, merely excited to sit in a peaceful part of the city, away from the traffic and smog. The space is open daily from 8 to 5pm and is well visited as there are no public gardens in the city that are open to people of all socio-economic levels, at least from what I can find. Several couples were sitting picnicking on the grass, a Middle Eastern family came to take photos in front of the flowers and a High School aged boy sat studying his books.
Kisoro is a sleepy town in the Southwestern corner of Uganda. About 500 kilometers from Kampala it is primarily a passing point for travelers going to Kigali, Rwanda or for those who are willing to shell out 600 USD to do a ‘gorilla trek’ in one of Uganda’s national parks. Nestled in the Virunga mountain range, with spectacular views of 3 mountains shooting up 11,000 feet in the sky, I felt the warmth and friendliness of Ugandans creep out. It is a slow movement in comparison to the boisterous and occasionally annoyingly friendly greetings of West Africans, but Kisoro made me realize that perhaps my West African bias will melt away the more I spend time outside of Kampala.
Aside from paying an arm and a leg to see gorillas for one hour or mountain climbing (topic of my next blog), it appeared as if Lake Muyenga is a less visited tourist destination. And for selfish reasons, I was very happy about it. I spent a day virtually undisturbed day walking along hillsides, through small villages and mountainous fields to get to the lake shore and a well kept but seemingly rarely visited eco lodge.
Any bird watchers dream place, the lack of tourists and large hotels made Lake Muyenga a perfect spot, so long as you dont mind some more rustic living.
So when someone asks me what I think of Kampala so far I use two adjectives: its fancy and its easy. The ‘easy’ part is harder to describe but for the ‘fancy’ all I have to say is that there are golf courses here! One of which is in the center of town, nestled at the bottom of several hills and far enough off the road to drown out the noisy traffic.
I love that you can just walk in, with paths through the well groomed grass and signs about avoiding golf balls which were accompanied with people shouting at me to watch out. But even at the golf course, you cant avoid some women sitting around trying to sell bananas and peanuts as their child runs after the white person, trying to shake your hand or grab your clothing