It probably doesn’t take much to tell from my posts that I’m ready to get out of Busonga. I’m bored with this village and I feel stifled by Tata.
To Tata I am a girl (not a woman, not an adult) that must be protected. A few Sundays ago, I told him I was hoping to go see the nearby river (which he told me he would take me to, but has “never had the time”) with my friend Michael—my host cousin and my only friend here, one of the few people I’ve gotten to know this entire year who is my age.
Tata (with a huge grin on his face, as fricken’ always) rejected this plan, telling me he did not want me to go to see the river without him. And he, still grinning, reminded me I always needed any “prior arrangements” approved by him beforehand.
That beautiful, sunny afternoon I sat at the house, flipping through my Kindle, my pangs of boredom tinged with sore annoyance with Tata. But I told myself Fine—it’s not like I have a social life that can be cramped by his domineering host-fathering. On principle, I was frustrated, but in practice, his mandate didn’t really make a difference.
Until last week. Michael asked me if I would like to meet his best friend, a maternal cousin who lives a few villages over. He proposed we walk there on Sunday after church. When I asked Tata for permission, he told me he’d “think about it” and then 5 minutes later he called me to the dining room table where he lectured—grinning, so much grinning—for a half hour on how he has a commitment to protect me. And what if I start feeling ill while I am with Michael? What if I’m walking and I twist an ankle? He promised my father, he said, to take good care of me. And he is a man, he said, that fulfills his commitments (he said this as if he is the only person in the world who does so).
And so I wasn’t allowed to go to meet Michael’s cousin.
And so I spent another Sunday afternoon hanging out with my Kindle.
Want to know what my American dad said when I told him I had won a Watson fellowship? (After, “What’s that?”) He asked me why I wouldn’t go, why I wouldn’t ship off to Africa for a year.
Here I am in Africa, not allowed to take a walk because my host father is afraid I’ll turn an ankle.
In that same conversation, when he told me I couldn’t go anywhere without him present, he told me I’m lucky he allows me to go on my 20 minute run in the mornings. Without him, he means. I’m blessed he allows me to go to the high school to type in the staffroom. Without him, he means.
He is a man who stands by his commitments, after all.
Oh, and I’ve reminded him a couple of times that I’d really like to see the river before I leave Busonga. We still haven’t been.
Whether or not I see the river, I’m ready to get outta here. I’m wishing Busonga goodbye next Monday morning—5. More. Days.
In light of my late frustrations and also my recent post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would be liked to grow up here in Busonga, to live my life as a woman in rural Uganda.
I couldn’t do it.
For as long as Maawe and Tata have been married (since 1980, 34 years) Maawe has lived in Tata’s home village of Busonga, “holding down the fort”—caring for the compound, tending to the gardens, raising the kids before they were old enough for boarding school. Tata, on the other hand, spent the majority of those years living in Mbarara, one of the larger towns in Uganda, where he taught carpentry and where his kids attended school. And where he took a second wife with whom he had two daughters. He would return to Busonga every few weekends.
In broad strokes: Maawe has had little control over the general landscape of her life; she did not attend much school, she got married, and she’s lived as a housewife in her husband’s clan’s village ever since. The life she has carved out for herself here, though, is spectacular. This community clearly adores her. She has loyal and loving best friends. She is a leader in the church. She is involved in development projects. She attends political gatherings. Also, she is in control over this household and even Tata insofar as it/he depends entirely on her; her controls over what and when we eat is as powerful as it is basic. She is much more than a damn good housewife. And at the core of her dynamic identities is a golden heart, a heart I believe—when she laughs or greets me just after dawn or dances in church—is truly happy.
Then there are my broad strokes: college educated and sponsored by a foundation that filled my bank account and said GO. What’s at the core of my dynamic identities? A constantly conflicted, often frustrated spirit that catches fleeting, wondrous happiness, but is—shamefully? lamentably? productively?—rarely satisfied.
The hardest part of this year for me has been passing the reins of my everyday life into others’ hands; to immerse myself in the way that I intended for my Watson project has required me to give up a major degree of independence. For eight months now, other people (on and off) have controlled my daily schedule, my energy output, who I associate with, how I travel from place to place, what, when, and how much I eat! My siblings and I grew up with pretty much no rules (responsibilities, yes; rules, few); with my bike and my allowance from lawn mowing or my paycheck from Atkins, I have been my own agent, defining my own “self” for as long as I can remember.
What does it mean that in the year that I am explicitly told to hit the road, take the reins of your life, be independent, go for it, I put myself in the passenger seat? As I’ve toiled on rubber farms and in bread kitchens and at coffee gardens, I’ve mentally bucked up against the seat belt holding me in place, wondering why in God’s name did I do this of all the things I could have done?
…and that immobility has taught me probably as much as all the “mobile” things I’ve done before this year. But—of course, never satisfied—I want to know more, I want to know still more:
Why is it that something is so much sweeter when it’s been worked for? When it’s enjoyed with hands that were just mud crusted? Or when it’s scarce? Or when it’s far away? Or long ago?
Is happiness something that’s attained or is it something that’s believed?
Should we live gently, pole pole, empora empora, or should we grasp life with both fists and see where we can take it?
Can we be happy with both fists clenched?
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say with this post, to be honest. I needed to vent about Tata. I wanted to try to show you, again, just how admirable Maawe is. I’m aching for answers to questions there are no answers to. I’m aching for control when I already know that doesn’t promise me the solution I’m looking for, not that I even know that is.
What I do know is that I want to unclench these fists. I know that this place and these people have been good to me, and that I want to enjoy my last few days here. I want to see the river and celebrate Easter with a loving family. And I want to bottle Maawe’s laugh and her gratified gusto and sip it empora empora—slowly but surely—for the rest of my whole damn life.
I want, I want, I want, I want. Will I ever stop wanting? Is that a solution?
Friggin’ question marks.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Tata’s school where he teaches carpentry. The visit wasn’t worth writing about because all I learned was that Tata’s government job is essentially a joke. He is paid as a full time teacher, though he’s required to report only on Mondays and Fridays, and when he arrives (most often late), he “teaches” only two students. His instruction consists of writing a few measurements on the board and waiting for his students to hand-saw and plane wood accordingly. Most of the time, he admits, he dozes to pass the time. He is terrifically proud of this “responsibility.”
I promptly stopped evaluating Tata’s job as indication of his hard work ethic and instead wondered why he always claims such exhaustion after a day of naps.
Today,I “went to work” with Maawe. Today is worth writing about.
Traditionally, men in Uganda are responsible for not very much other than finding wives and making babies with them. Nowadays, men should be the ones responsible for cash crops and paying their kids’ school fees. Women, meanwhile, are responsible for…well, everything else. Chiefly, that means food production and preparation. While Tata grows avocadoes and coffee for cash, Maawe takes care of all of the food that the household eats. She grows millet, matoke, maize, cassava, potatoes, pumpkins, beans, and dodo, leaving the ingredients she buys in the markets to just tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, garden eggs, eggplant, fish, sugar, and fruits.
“Today you see my land,” Maawe said as we meandered down the mountainous trail that leads to “Kaieyto,” an area where people in Busonga have their gardens. I couldn’t see her face, but I was sure she was grinning ear to ear. “Agnes, she has taken lead.” Agnes is Maawe’s very best friend, and witnessing the camaraderie between them as they gossip away in the kitchen regularly warms my heart. And, oh, do they make me laugh—Maawe and Agnes have no use for phones like most girlfriends, since they live only a (loud) shout away from each other. And loudly shout they do. Never angrily and never without a response. They’re best friends, after all.
I’m not sure how the logistics of their friendship works, but they both lean heavily on each other. Agnes, a widow, regularly works for/with Maawe on Maawe/Tata’s land, and Agnes seems welcome to whatever matoke, potatoes, firewood and whatever else she might need from their gardens. Their relationship is a constant, incalculable give and take that only best friends can pull off.
“Eyyyyyy Kyomugisha!” Agnes called to me when Maawe and I arrived at the plot. “How are you?”
“I’m good, Agnes! How are you?”
She responded with a boisterous laugh. How are you?—and not the response—is the extent of her English.
Throughout the morning, Maawe, Agnes, two younger women (one with an infant in tow), a small boy, and I dug our hands and hoes into the deep brown soil of Maawe’s garden. Gradually—empora empora—we cleared the garden of the dried remains from the last harvest, which we piled up and set a match to. Next we set to planting cassava. The fertile soil felt obscenely good slipping through my fingers—a tactile softness I found hard to believe was as unrefined as could be: dirt. There’s something so basically rejuvenating about planting food—not rubber, not coffee, but something that’s going to nourish a human being in just a few months’ time. The energy I took to plant that cassava will multiply ten-fold, one-hundred-fold, a-thousand-fold, and nourish who-know’s-what?
After we harvested a bunch of potatoes and tied together bearable bundles of firewood, cassava, and potatoes, it was time to mosey our way back to Busonga to cook lunch (fresh as potatoes get—mmm mmm!).
I’ve complained plenty about picking coffee in Tata’s gardens. I don’t like the chore one bit. It’s boring and it’s especially aggravating knowing that the job is made so much more tedious by Tata’s neglect—the trees grow tall and bushy, and what could and should be a neatly trimmed plantation more resembles an overrun forest. Just yesterday I “inspected” a garden with Tata and found that he had uprooted dozens of garden egg bushes that now clog the already-weedy space between the coffee trees. I asked Tata if we would clear them away, maybe burn them, so the garden would be “smart.” Tata said no, no definitely not, he doesn’t have time for that. It would probably take about 2 hours some afternoon, and it would make the garden infinitely easier to move around in…
Maawe, though—now Maawe is proud of her gardens. I could see it in the way she meticulously, yet swiftly, cleared old plants from the rich soil. I could see it in her neatly mounded potato plants, the cassava growing in a grid, the way she picked any weed she spotted. Her empora empora (“slow but sure”) movements murmured diligence and patience, and the meals we eat every day serves as proof of the payoffs.
Best of all was Maawe’s unending cheeriness as she plugged away. She called out to people—me, Agnes, any passerby at all—asking them how they were doing, thanking them for their work. Her greetings were not unusual; African cultures are much more intimate than the look-at-the-ground or check-the-watch “greeting” etiquette found in many so-called communities in New England. Additionally, Maawe has a knack for injecting into anything and everything an invigorating dose of gusto and joy…of life. She dances and she sings and she hugs and she thanks with incredible genuine energy and emotion. Yesterday at Palm Sunday service she was so overcome by the music at one point she started a movement in the whole congregation to stand up and dance before the altar.
I love it. Her vigor, her wholesomeness. Her love for people, for her neighbors, for me, for her best friend. Her unceasing faith and her hardy dutifulness. Her laugh. Oh, her laugh. I honest to God love it.
To write about farming coffee with Tata without writing of Maawe would be to ignore a fundamental element that makes Tata’s production possible. It’s impossible to understand where coffee comes from without meeting the very backbone of this household, the motor that makes Tata’s operations plug along as they do. And yet, in the giant “black box” that so many “stories” are lost—where does coffee come from? who’s responsible for that product? you mean that comes from a tree?—women like Maawe are arguably the most silenced victims. Women like Maawe probably most deserve to have their stories heard.
Women like Maawe…
Maawe’s feet have grown wide from walking long paths to and from gardens and carrying loads atop her head, from supporting her family. Maawe’s hands don’t blister from hoes, they don’t burn from hot plates, they peel matoke, cut potatoes, and gut fish with rapidity honed from years of wifehood. Her forearms ripple with muscle grown from gardens. Her face creases where a lifetime of compassion, prayer, sun, and smiles as wide as the gap that could separate us but isn’t has left its beautiful mark.
One of the major shortcomings of my experiences so far has been the absence of women in my life. I mean that for personal reasons—a girl’s gotta have her girlfriends!—and also for Watson-project-reasons. Most of the “stories” I’ve shared have been those of the more dominant sex here in Africa. I’ve gotten to know more men than I have women, partly by chance, and partly because men tend to be more educated and consequently bolder and more able to interact with a mzungu. I’ve admired some of the men I’ve worked with and I’ve learned from many of the men I’ve met… but I’m so very sure I could learn worlds—and really enjoy doing so—from African women, but a language barrier silences many of these lessons. There are means of communication other than language, something I know so very well from the time I’ve spent abroad, but there are some things we can learn from each other only if we’re able to trade words we both understand.
Nevertheless, we might have only a few dozen words in common, but the morning I spent with Maawe and Agnes, two best friends, was much needed girl time. In the last 8 months, I’ve become frustrated time and time again by the unproductiveness all around me, by imbalanced gender divisions and standards, by, quite frankly, many African men. We had no nail polish (unless you count the dirt that caked my fingernails), no Starbucks (we did have tea before we left), no gossipy long-run (the walk back did take a while), no cheap wine (no potential substitution for that one)… but this morning was a redefined girl time, invigorating in its own way. A fresh, fertile way. An empora empora way.
A Maawe way.
Today, today was worth writing about.
My dad’s white work van smelled like peanuts, sawdust, and that not-unpleasant sweatiness that sticks to baseball hats. He sometimes took me to his worksite and would let me “help.” Scrambling up scaffolding, handing him nails, traipsing between rooms in wall-less houses-to-be, I had an absolute ball.
Dad sometimes used to let me steer that old van. He controlled the brakes and the gas, but that steering wheel was alllll mine.
I didn’t mind letting him steer (and pedal) when he would buckle me into a seat on the back of his 20-speed and we would go on bicycle rides together on summer evenings every now and then. We would stop at the gas station on the way home, where he let me pick out a treat. Flintstones orange sherbet push pop. Every time.
One year, my dad had the grand idea to make a hockey rink in our backyard. Throughout the Fall, we spent long afternoons outside attempting, with shovels, to level our yard’s rises and gullies. I’d never been, and never again will be, more excited to see the weather channel predict frigid temperatures, when finally Dad flooded the “rink.” That rink and its lumpy ice came back again and again for the next 5 or so winters. January nights were never better.
I knew I had the coolest, strongest Dad in the world when he used to punt a soccer ball high, so high, straight up into the air after Saturday morning soccer games at the Crocker Farm fields. I and all the kids watching in awe would scatter in glee as the ball came crashing down toward us at breakneck speed.
Mrs. Andrade and Mr. Kurtz were pretty taken aback when I came into my 6th grade classroom lugging a 3’ long model of the Parthenon. My dad and I built the masterpiece out of scrap wood, PVC piping, and mock-marble spray paint. The looks on my classmates’ faces were well worth the hours I spent drill-pressing holes to hold the columns in place. Definitely got an A on that project.
My dad isn’t a perfect man or a flawless father, and his childrearing was haphazard at times, but I can honestly say I love him more than words can do justice. By most American standards I was not spoiled as a kid—I worked for my allowances, wore plenty of hand-me-down clothes, never got “Lunchables” no matter how many times I asked—but when I think of the way my parents (I have plenty of brilliant mom-memories, too) loved me, I sure feel like I was. They might not have had big salaries to spend on me, but they spent obscene amounts of time and energy not just on me or for me, but with me.
In fact, when I think of the most painful moments in my childhood, I remember moments when time wasn’t given to me—that night I made pasta from scratch and my dad came home hours past dinner when it had turned cold and crunchy; the Frisbee games when I looked to the sidelines and not more than twice saw my father among the supporters; the fact that my dad has traveled two times to Africa but has never asked me what I wrote my senior thesis about. I write these words and feel something inside of me flare up, tighten, grind. Despite the fact that for every Frisbee game my dad didn’t go attend, he took me to 100 hockey practices; for every meal he was late to, he cooked me a dozen …I somehow feel entitled to still more of his time and energy.
Observing childrearing, specifically fatherhood, in Africa on one hand shows me how blessed I am to have the parents that love me as they do… but on the other, it simply and wholly breaks my heart. The fact that my father loves me has nothing to do with geography, class, race, whatever—he just loves me, and I know and I’ve always known it. I find it hard to understand why that fact shouldn’t equally apply for kids here.
Here, from what I can tell, the duty of a father is to provide shelter and school fees. If a father puts a roof over his child’s head and that child attends school, he has succeeded in his role. Often, that roof is at the house of a relative, who has offered to raise the child to relieve the parents of a burden. Ideally, that roof is at a boarding school, where some Ugandan children go as young as 7 years old. Tata, who is acclaimed by others and himself for being a commendable man and father, lived for only a few years with each of his children before they moved to school or, in his second son’s case, to his sister’s. He does not expect to meet his children’s significant others until they intend to marry. I can’t remember a single time he has mentioned one of his kids unless it was related to the fact that he paid his or her school fees. He has not spoken to his youngest son, Victor, since before Christmas; he has no idea where Victor is; he has not reported Victor missing to anyone…and he has spoken of this just once, when he admitted he “hopes” Victor is alright.
Tata’s children all have or will attain Bachelor’s degrees, and that is to have succeeded.
Oh, you want to know about the bad dads in town? They’re the ones who hang out at the trading center drinking liquor every evening. They splurge on meat and fish and bread and booze during the coffee harvest season instead of paying their kids’ school feels. Their children pick coffee in the gardens on Mondays and Tuesdays and every weekday, wear soiled t-shirts instead of school uniforms, will not learn how to speak English (Uganda’s national language). These children are all over and everywhere.
Maybe in urban, wealthier, more developed areas it’s different. I don’t know. But I do know the majority of Ugandans live in villages much like this one. And around here, the thought of a father attending a football (soccer) game to cheer on his kid, or making breakfast for his children on a rainy Sunday morning, or taking his daughter to work on a non-school day because she asked to … hah, the absurdity is cruel.
I adore the memories of the days I spent at work with my dad. Kids around here, if they’re going to work with their parents, it probably means they’re not going to school. It means their labor is needed to put food on the table. It means that if they didn’t go, they’d be left at home to fend for themselves (at 4 years, 5 years, 6 years old) which happens plenty often, also.
I’ve been asked many times why Americans tend to have smaller families than Africans. I know that the answer to this is very complicated and is rooted in culture, religion, economics, and history, so I don’t really attempt at an explanation. But the conversation often results in me simply saying that parenting and family dynamics are very different in Africa than they are in America.
And the conversation often concludes with me thanking god I was born to my family in America.
Where it’s a parent’s job to brag about their kids’ artwork/softball team/musical talents. Where parents tuck their little ones in at night and, if the kid’s lucky, reads them a bedtime story. Where dads take their daughters fishing. Where moms bellow “You’re So Beautiful!” at Track meets. Where fathers cook killer omelets. Where mothers drive daughters to ice hockey practice on Friday nights.
In some ways—how elderly parents are never sequestered to nursing homes, how children are expected to contribute to their household’s functioning, how extended relatives (great-maternal-thrice-removed-second-uncles included) are known and appreciated—Africans have Americans beat. I don’t look around me at families here and glorify my own American one; we are not perfect—not as individuals or as companions. But I wouldn’t want the perfect family…not that I even know what that is. I’ve learned from our mistakes. I’ve laughed at our faults. Our bizarre and broken and beautiful stories are the hearty cords that knot my life’s convoluted tapestry together.
I hope that families are simply something that can’t be understood from the outside, and that the families I see in Busonga, Tata and Maawe’s included, are bound by love and care in a way I just can’t see.
I know that I’m incredibly grateful for my own family. And when I raise children of my own, they will know that they’re “so beautiful”; they will know how to cast a lure into a weedy fishing hole; they will know that No, they can’t have a Lunchable, but that I love ‘em all the same. Because I’ll have told them and taught them so.
Because my family taught me, among a helluva lot of other things, how, with time and energy and passion and joy, to love.
Sitting in the smokey kitchen while Maawe perfects supper’s beans or dodo or groundnut sauce.
Gulping water from my Nalgene after carrying a dozen kilos of fresh-picked coffee back from one of Tata’s gardens.
Dressing in my nicest skirt and shirt for church on Sundays.
Munching on jackfruit following a sweaty afternoon walk back from Kichwamba High School.
Holding an albeit brief and basic conversation (okay, that’s an ambitious term) in Runyaruguru.
These are the entirely ordinary moments when I realize with distinct, overwhelming clarity how much I’m going to miss this place.
Drum roll please.
Yesterday, I had a SMOOTHIE.
A cold smoothie made with real dairy yogurt, fresh cut tropical fruit, and ICE.
My cup might have been empty in about 3 minutes flat, but fear not, I savored every sip.
That’s not really the point of this post, but I can’t deny that it was one of the big reasons I went to Kasese, a town about 40km from here on the foothills of Mount Rwenzori. The reason Tata thinks I went to Kasese was to see the coffee processing factories there. This was an important part of the trip, but it wasn’t why I was so excited for it. I was just stoked to get away from the village for a day.
So, yesterday morning (after a ridiculously cold night…I wore a sweatshirt, pants, and wool socks to bed!), I hopped on a minibus and hurtled northward toward Uganda’s tallest mountain range. After descending into the rift valley, we drove past flocks of antelopes, families of baboons, and a herd (word choice?) of elephants. That was pretty cool, but my lack of surprise at seeing them graze roadside was a bit disconcerting for some reason. When did elephants become old news?
After typical transport delays (I wonder how much the driver bribed the police to ignore the old tires which the officers seemed to have such a problem with) I arrived in Kasese at 11am. I realized I had no idea where I was going, so I strolled over to a nearby petrol station where a cheery attendant pointed me in the direction of the coffee processing mills. A row of 5 factories was a 2 minute walk away, so in about 4 minutes I was talking with Francis, the Coffee and Cocoa Department manager of Bukwanye Trading Company.
The power was out, so I wasn’t able to see the factory in action, but Francis was happy to show and explain to me the function of the machines.
I’ll be totally honest…factories don’t exactly thrill me. Back when I toured the rubber factory in Ghana, the people who showed me around didn’t seem all that excited by their jobs, and Francis wasn’t so different. At least he seemed glad to have a mzungu interrupt his routine. Still, I apologize that, like the time I wrote about the rubber factory in Ghana, I’m not sure how to make this all that interesting, so I’ll at least be brief.
- First, traders deliver dried coffee berries to the factory. They goes through a machine that removes the shells. If the berries aren’t dried enough, the machine can’t properly remove the bean from the shell, so the factory must dry them further in the sun, and then run them through the machine again.
- Next, the coffee is sorted. Outside of the factory’s main warehouse, a couple dozen women sat on tarps beneath a pavilion with sacs of coffee beans between them. In groups of three or four, the women picked through the sacs to remove any black/rotten beans. The job looked painfully dull to me, but they seemed content enough chatting amongst themselves. Apparently they can make up to 6,000 Ush ($2.40) per day, depending on their speed. (This isn’t a terrible wage; teachers at Busonga Primary School make ~240,000 Ush per month for teaching 5 days a week…with about 50 kids in each class.)
- After the coffee has been sorted, it’s put into another machine that…another drum roll…sorts it. This time the coffee beans are separated by size. Apparently consumers request a certain size bean when they purchase coffee from a factory. The size correlates with quality and flavor, but Francis wasn’t really sure how…so I’m not sure how, either.
- The coffee is exported after it’s sorted. Bukwanye Trading Company sells its green (non-roasted) beans to South Africa and London. It’s usually sold for 6,000-7,000 Ush (~$2-3) per kilogram, depending on the quality. (Recall that a kilogram of freshly picked coffee is worth 1,200 USh, and the drying, transport, shelling, and sorting are the only value addition processes that happen to almost all of the coffee that is grown in Uganda.)
- Somewhere in South Africa or London, some company roasts and grinds these beans, then a barista cooks ‘em into a killer cup of Joe! Sold for how much, I wonder?
Ideally, I would have chatted with more people who work at the factories I visited (I went to one more after Bukwanye), but the people I saw…well, it was hard to tell whether they were working or just thought the grounds around the factories were convenient places to sit in the shade (except for the women who were sorting the beans, who plugged along while they sat). Maybe it was because the electricity was out, but considering this is the season that much coffee is harvested here in the Western region, there didn’t seem to be a lot of commotion at the factories. Not too different from the sleepy nature of an African village.
So I moved on.
I was really excited about my next destination, though. I had first read about Jambo! Café online when searching for the locations of the processing coffee mills in Kasese. My search was fruitless for the intended reason (shout out to the petrol station man who made maps unnecessary, anyway) , but I came across an article on a business in Kasese that is “Making Life Sweeter,” as their slogan goes.
From what I learned online, 6 Ugandan women in Kasese got the idea to open up a European-style café to tap into the (albeit pretty small) expat/tourist market in Kasese (it is near both Mt. Rwenzori and Queen Elizabeth National Park). For months and months and months, each woman saved 500 Ush (20 cents) every day. Meanwhile, they took baking and cooking lessons from a British missionary and learned recipes for things like cinnamon rolls, focaccia bread, and grilled cheeses. After close to two years of saving, they finally were able to get a loan. They bought a storefront, a couch, and some basic equipment to open the café (at first, they relied on their missionary friend’s kitchenware to make the baked goods).
After leaving the factories, I asked a few people if they knew where Jambo! was, but had to resign to wandering until I found it. Living up impeccably to my Ugandan name—Kyomugisha, meaning “Fortunate”—I randomly wandered down the correct side street (without a single false turn!) and arrived at Jambo! in about 5 minutes.
I stepped through the jangly beads hanging from the café’s open doorway and was greeted with an incredible and unmistakable aroma of baking brownies. A woman wearing a dark green apron looked up from her stove-side bustling and greeted me like an old friend. “Hello, dear,” she said. “Come in, come in!”
“Something smells amazing,” was the only response I could manage.
Her stressed face creased into a knowing smile. “Tuesday is brownie day,” she said.
“I chose a good day to come, then.” I eyed the expansive menu (okay, expansive by African standards, where most “restaurants” usually have about two options, only one of which is available). Fruit salad, cappuccino, pizza, mac n’ cheese, pasta salad… Sweaty and parched, one item stood out to me above all others. “I think I’ll have a smoothie.”
I soon learned the woman in the apron was Alice, one of the owners of the café. Although only two other women were customers at the café at the moment, she was swamped. Brownies were in the oven, cinnamon rolls were on deck, two grilled cheeses were on the stove, and a smattering of other ingredients waited on the counters to be turned to Western wonders.
I sat down next to a bookcase stuffed with used paperbacks and handmade crafts for sale, totally willing to wait however long it took for Alice to get around to blending my smoothie. In the meantime, I chatted with the other customers, two Australians who are staying briefly in Uganda to volunteer at a couple of orphanages. Over iced coffees and sandwiches, they gushed about the adorable children and inquired curiously about my project.
I wonder if Alice saw the pleasure gleaming in my eyes when she brought me my banana-pineapple-jackfruit smoothie. As I slurped it down much too fast, my fellow mzungus chatted about how much they missed salads and how they didn’t much like the food—especially the chicken—here. (Hah…I’m looking forward to Easter dinner when Maawe’s planning to cook up a cock.) Maybe it was the chill of my drink or my first taste of dairy in a few weeks or the swirling chocolaty smells, but the whole scene felt surreal.
Eventually more mzungu customers arrived, and I realized that I was never going to catch Alice in a down moment to chat with her about her business as I’d wanted to. I ordered a brownie to go, paid my bill, and then explained to Alice that I had read about her café online, and that I really admired her accomplishments. She was clearly surprised and flattered, and seemed equally disappointed that I had to go before we could talk. After thanking her for brightening my day with a taste from home, I stepped back into the hot Kasese sun.
I wish that I had the chance to talk with Alice, but my happiness for her and the business’ clear success far outweighs my disappointment. I definitely recommend taking a look at the articles I’ve put links to in this post. Alice and her friends started with nothing but a serious dose of boredom and ambition, and now they’ve got a business that keeps them on their toes, earns them a great profit, and fills tummies with delicious servings of delight. Also, they serve solely Good African coffee, which is grown and processed (!!) right here in Uganda—the first and largest company in the country to turn beans into a drinkable product.
Now this—this—is something Uganda could use some more of. People with an idea, people with a plan, people with a product. People like Alice and the folks at Jambo! People like Andrew Rugasira at Good African. People who invest for themselves, for their future…and then who give back to the community in the process. People who take pride in what they do, and in making a damn good cup of coffee (or smoothie or brownie) are making a life for themselves.
After Jambo! I ran a couple more errands in Kasese before moseying back to the taxi park. Stuck waiting for the minibus back to Kichwamba to fill up, a few Ugandan gentlemen, including the driver, entertained me with their lugubrious compliments, curious questions about America, and pleas for my phone contacts. Eventually I convinced my driver to leave early (without a full vehicle) in exchange for my phone number…and I promptly gave him a friend back home’s cell number. “Call me sometime soon!” I told him as I climbed down from the van’s passenger seat when we finally reached my stop.
“Love you!” he called just before driving away.
With a chuckle—I don’t think I need to feel guilty—I began my walk back to Busonga.
A successful day away from the coffee farms, if you ask me.
A three-story rabbit palace at my friend’s Michael’s house. I forget how many he said he has–roughly 60? Not many people can afford to eat rabbit, but apparently the meat is “sweet!” His family sells them to the local hotels, which cook them up and serve them to wealthy people, like tourists. Or so he says…
A picture of a picture: Maawe and Tata on their wedding day! (August, 1979) Check out those bell bottoms on Tata! As for Maawe’s facial expression, I wouldn’t be too pleased to have a life of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and getting cheated on, either. But she is a 55-year-old woman in 2014-Uganda, and this is the life she has known…and her laugh is still one of the brightest, most robust I’ve ever heard.