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You Need a Bigger Table for a Leg of Goat

semi-overcast 25 °C

After lunch today, I went for a walk in the garden that sprawls down the gentle hill outside the hotel. Statue honouring King George V in the centre, with a monument to independence just outside. Fence around the garden (public but not), people lounged on the grass, dress shoes off, eating lunch and poking at mobile phones. In the centre, a little building with a veranda where, as I watched, a group of people picked themselves up, suspending a meeting for lunchtime, dragging a flipchart with the heading "Sony" indoors. My work, in African garb. Kasese at the core.

It's complicated, taking in how global and businesslike a city like this is, simultaneously what I expected and completely surprising. As traffic-chaotic and exhaust-filled as I imagined, boda-bodas -- moped taxis -- flinging themselves suicidally at people everywhere, dust-covered toyota mini-bus taxis stuffed with overheated people, cars edging into any available space, pedestrians leaping into the middle. It's built on several hills, Kampala is, and is threaded through with traffic circles and cheek to cheek businesses, people dressed formally in office wear weaving among the sim card sales stalls, people selling random books and pens and jewellery on blankets on the sidewalks, curbside shoeshine businesses. These bait the passerby with shoes placed at the curb. There's little of the open air market or beseeching shills I imagined there would be -- just commerce and people going about their business, a random beggar here and there but nothing compared to toronto, sun beating down and exhaust fumes and red dust clouding the bustle over with a slight haze.

I met A today, our partner here in Kampala, and reflected again that I am incredibly privileged to have real work to do here, to not just be wandering as a tourist. He came and met me this morning, took me to have my money changed and for ugandan food in a shady garden for lunch. We talked about the kids, our families, the program, english football (he's an arsenal fan), wars and guerillas and powermongers, HIV and reproductive rights, while we ate matoke (plantain), avocado, rice and a perfect tilapia.

I drank a beer at lunch, reasoning that I knew it was safer than the water. (I have developed something of a paranoia about water, suspicious both of bottled water and my purifying tablets. No trust in chemistry, apparently). A was over the moon delighted with the laptops I'd brought, rhapsodizing about how this would change their work, let them work in the field.

After lunch, I went for a long walk through the city, surprising myself at how comfortable I was, realizing that if I got lost, I would feel quite content hiring a boda boda to take me back to the hotel. I did not get lost (unlike Rome, Copenhagen and every other european city I've been in recently), and did manage to find a tourist-oriented coffee bar and craft shop where I gave in to tourist-type impulses and sprung for an espresso. (My verdict on "african coffee," a mix of scalded milk, tea and nescafe: not yet ready for starbucks). Bought some inexpensive sandals and a bone bracelet ("cow bone" the woman assured me), then sank even further into tourist-type impulse and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the very cushy pool at the hotel.

I find myself hovering somewhere in a complicated in-between space about how to position myself here, still. Not a backpacker, not a business traveller, but uncomfortably aware of the relational space of being one of about a dozen white people (all others european) lounging half naked in the sun drinking cokes served by ugandans. In the american equivalent, in an afternoon like this, I might have sprung for a pedicure on noticing how fish-under-water my toes looked in my new sandals. But this made me queasy, the idea of having a ugandan woman buff my heels in kampala -- in a way that having a vietnamese woman in the Beaches in toronto never does. And yet, my money in the economy a good thing. Just part of the complexity, I guess.

C&J arrived while I was doing my lounging about, and A came to take us out to dinner. It was a gorgeous outdoor restaurant that had a lot of grilled and roasted meat and tandoori on the menu. I hadn't realized there was so much of what I think of as indian food here in Uganda. We had a masala of a meal, featuring butter chicken, naan, basmati rice, steamed vegetables, grilled pork chops, tomato salad and -- the highlight -- half a roasted leg of goat. After we ordered, our server moved us to a bigger table. "You need a bigger table for a leg of goat," said A.

There is a sign on a butcher shop in my own neighbourhood that boasts of fresh goat meat, but I had to travel 8 time zones to eat it. I am assuming that this goat here was cooked as well as goat could be. It tasted ... like goat. (And I have to confess I was already a wee bit queasy before the goat -- maybe just travel, maybe water, maybe the malaria tablets -- but not iron tummy YUM GOAT ready).

Our talk at dinner turned sobering, back to war and leaders who will not leave power, and the Rwandan genocide, what followed, and whether Uganda is already furtively involved in the current conflict in Congo. A believes they are, and laments the government that can't be trusted to protect the people. He told harrowing stories of bodies in Lake Victoria after the Rwandan genocide, and horrific details from the war in the north of uganda, more searing details of genocide. We talked of the kids' origins, and how they've come to be in our care, and how we have a mix of Hutu and Tutsi children, among others. I try not to imbue this with too much audacious hope.

We meet the children tomorrow, after a long drive. They are feeling more and more real to me.

I'm not sure how much internet access I'll have after tonight, and whether I'll manage to post any pictures. This is a borrowed computer, and when I tried to load pictures from my camera, it just sort of yawned at me gently. I'm trying to download software, but it's an extremely slow connection, and sleep may overtake the process. My head is full, as active as our wobbly table at the lunch restaurant. "The table is dancing," said A, as he asked our waiter to move us to a different seat. The phrase encapsulated my day, wobbles either tiny or grappling at a level of global complexity, but completely, utterly, fascinating.

Posted by CateinTO 21:24 Archived in Uganda Tagged volunteer

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I love how you describe your varied and sometimes conflicting feelings about your trip, Cate.

I'm also glad to hear you are well and safe, save for some minor tummy upset and goaty experiences. I do look forward to hearing about the children. :)

Happy Adventuring!

by wintermoon

I too am enjoying reading about how you are processing these conflicted feelings.

The children! I'm really interesting in learning more. Photos, if you can?

by marneyw

Very exciting, Catherine!

I would (a) continue with the beer (b) avoid the goat, and (c) look both ways before crossing the street. But that's just me!

by G-Hop

(Oh, G-Hop is ME, of course. My name was already taken!)


by G-Hop

I learned to love Indian food with a true passion when I lived in Congo! Though as you get further out from the cities, it's less common. Still, a bunch of curry powder and pili-pili can help you learn to love the flavor of goat.

Foods are a strange thing, in that what first seems too odd and foreign and makes you seem queasy can grow on you and become a part of your routine. A metaphor for other cross-cultural experiences?

by ReneeinCO

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