Monday, August 10, 2009

Look, Feel, Taste and Smell


My points of reference for observing the Ugandan landscape was Cameroon and Nigeria.

Kampala region was reminiscent of Cameroon. the dirt was very red and staining and the vegetation was lush and entangled. What I didn't see was a lot of organized farms. There were small-space gardens in odd available spaces all over the city, but outside of the city didn't really seem any more organized. It wasn't until we got further north that farms seemed more intentional.

The houses were different from Cameroon and Nigeria in interesting ways. The only ones with mud brick and grass roofs belonged to the poorest. The next step up from that was mud brick with corrugated metal roofs. From there they upgraded to baked bricks with concrete mortar and corrugated metal roofs. We saw men making bricks from clay and it appeared that people would order clay bricks to be made and stacked in their yards. The base of the stack always had two tunnels and they would plaster the side of it with mud. That done, smoldering fires were started in the tunnels and the clay bricks were baked. After the baking, the pile was uncovered and construction could begin. Building of anything so expensive is done on a pay-as-you-go basis. So it can take a very long time to build a house or a store. The houses usually had verandas on the front and the businesses had tall flat fronts to create a high place for signage.

The northern region seemed more reminiscent of Nigeria. The dirt was lighter and grayer and, consequently, so are the bricks and homes. That was also where we saw a whole lot more mud huts with thick grass roofs. The vegetation was drier and at one point I saw a lot of elephant grass. The whole area was transitioning to savanah. We saw baboons, gray monkeys, a black and white monkey, and a lot of typical, long horn cattle. At the furthest extreme, the cattle seemed to be a shorter horned variety.

The variety of palms all over, was really interesting. Some of them were familiar (coconut and raffia) and others were ones that I had only seen in botanical gardens or photographs.

There were some very unusual trees that we called "Dr. Seus" trees due to the way the foliage formed puff-balls at the tips of the branches. One of the things I particularly enjoyed was walking past the hibiscus bushes at night. Their scent was very intoxicating then. There was a fair amount of bougainvilla around as well. One of the smells that seemed very much in place was the smell of burning. The scent of the smoke was always present in Kampala.

One thing I don't miss about the trip was the constant attack of mosquitoes. Since one cannot keep clean in Africa, it is best to bathe at night before bed. When possible, we did so just before dinner since we usually ate quite late. So, it was necessary to thoroughly cover up with clothing as I couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in bug repellent.


Meals were always interesting.

We ate breakfast at 7 am most days and at the resort it was a buffet from which I usually chose fried plantains, fresh pineapple, fresh passion fruit, hard boiled eggs, homemade yogurt, and lassi. I washed it all down with hot tea with milk and sugar.

"Tea" was served at noon and it varied a little depending on what was offered: water, milk cookies, bananas, fresh ground nuts, and cookies.

Lunch was usually at 2 to 2:30 pm and usually had most of, if not all of, the following: water, rice, Irish potatoes, matoke, ground nut sauce, chicken, lamb (goat), soup (sauce), groundnut sauce, pineapple, and bananas. Some offered soft drinks as well such as Fanta, Krest, and Coke. All with sugar, of course.

Supper was always late, about 7:30 or 8 pm. We often didn't finish until 9 or 9:30 since the service was leisurely, allowing for proper conversation and digestion of our food. The chef at the resort was Indian, so the cuisine was what I call Ugandan-Indian fusion. When we stayed at the hotel in Lira, the food was Ugandan all the way.

The one food we had which was not generally offered at our meals was the avocados given to us by a woman at the first child development center we visited. Our tour leader would cut them up as they ripened and put them on a plate to pass around at our evening meal. They were huge and very sweet. My one food regret is that we never got any guavas. They were out of season along with the mangoes.


One of the things that struck me about the people was, in particular, the women. We wore skirts since we were going into very traditional environments, but we did see a few women wearing pants in the city. It also was not at all uncommon to see women drivers in their own vehicles, usually small personal cars.

The common way of greeting was to softly take the hand of the visitor in both hands and slide off. Women often added a slight curtsey. Men had a funny little grasp and shake that was firmer and made me think of secret handshakes and brotherhoods. They were all soft spoken and I had to pay attention very closely to hear anyting at all some times.

When we went to the projects, we could always tell the project children from the rest. They all had uniforms that seemed to be school uniform bottoms (shorts or skirts) and usually t-shirts with a saying or verse on the back. And so, when we would drive up to a project, we were always greeted by an array of bright colors, usually red, blue, green, or yellow.

The Ugandan women had an interesting traditional dress that I never quite finished figuring out. The wrap skirt was pleated so that the bottom was wider than the top, but I couldn't see how. The top was quite elaborate with mid-length sleeves which were magnificently peaked at the shoulders. The neckline was square, buttoning closed on the left side. The fabric of the lower half continued on around the waist to be loosely secured by a sash with the excess shirt fabric draped over it. The men we encountered simply wore dress pants, dress shirts, and a tie if they owned one. Naturally, most everyone we were introduced to were dressed in their very best clothes.

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