Monday, October 3, 2011

My Market (Akatale kange).

I'll begin this post with a sing-along.

"Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries,
sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."

When the stresses of this two year existence get me down, I'll often escape to the cherished serenity of the mountains. There, I am one with the hills, nothing more than just another trudging mammal, quads burning, sweat streaming, steam rising. In the depths of the green, my skin color loses all meaning. The only thing begging for me to look their way are the rolling hills peaking through clouds in the distance. The only creatures staring are the startled monkeys peering from behind limbs. All the while, spectrum-colored birds flit about me.

Lately, I find that another place will brighten my day. Paradoxically, I escape the stress of being surrounded by jumping into a deep pool of activity. I return to the one place in Kyenjojo where quite literally everyone knows my name.

I go to my market.

For a new PCV, the market, any market, is a scary and exciting place. Transactions are happening all around you. You're dodging people, vegetables, carts and mud-puddles. And when it comes to making your own purchases, you just never know when you're getting a Mujungu-price. Your market, after all, didn't come with an instruction manual:

"Tomatoes should be 1000 shillings for a stack of 5 'big' ones and 500 shillings for a stack of four 'smaller' ones. Often, a woman will offer you 'enyongeza' meaning 'bonus' just because she is happy with your business and your attempt at speaking her local language. If not offered 'enyongeza', it is fully acceptable to ask for it using the phrase ‘Enyongeza?’, as the women often find it so hilarious that they'll give a bonus-'bonus' because you are just so damn cute!"


No. No instruction manual.

When you first arrive in town, the market is shark-infested waters. Everyone is trying to make an extra 500 or thousand off you. Why? Well... why not. They don't yet recognize that there is a dramatic difference between you and the other white guys that are driven to the market by black drivers of white Land Cruisers.

With time, however, perceptions change. It becomes known that you are the water-sanitation work/teacher/health-worker from America, that you're here as a "volunteer" and you just want to help a little bit. You're no longer seen as a mark, but, if you’ve played your cards right, a friend.

I love my market women. When I enter every Monday, I am greeted with giggles and shouts of “Osiibire ota, Amooti?!” (How have you spent the day, Amooti?!) I do my best to carry on using the extent of my language skills. My progress is slow, but every step is noted. “Nokyayega, kurungi!” (You are still learning well!) they say through bright smiles. They defend me against those calling me Mujungu. “Onu, ali Mutooro!” (This on, he is a Mutooro!)

When I’m happy, I leave the market happier.
When I’m upset, I leave the market happy.

Last week provides a great example: a man tried to overcharge me for a SIM-card for my phone. It was the first run-in with a shark I’d experienced in months, and I was absolutely livid. A ‘Mujungu-price’ is nothing more than racism packaged in a pretty box with a card that reads: “Don’t worry, it happens to all white people in Africa. It comes with the territory!”

In seconds, I went from stoked about life to pissed off and filled with loathing. Sadly, my disgust with one asshole spilled over in a sickening display of transference. Leaving the store, I wasn’t just angry with one person. I was angry with “these people.” I had pigeonholed an entire society in a span of just 5 minutes.

I resolved, even in my angry state, to go to the market to get vegetables (I had had pancakes for the last 5 meals and was in need of change).

On entering the market, I was met with the same cacophony of greetings. I tried to smile and greet back, but I just wanted to get in, out and back to the seclusion of home. I walked quickly to my friend Abwoli’s stall and told her what happened…

“A man just offered me a terrible price on something only because I am white.”
“Oh, nooooo. He should not have done that.”
“I’m just so angry! I’ve not felt this mad for a long time.”
“Are you sad?”

No. I was angry. Was I sad also? I had to think about it. Yes. Yes I was very, very sad.

“Yes, I’m sad. I’ve worked so hard to be accepted here, to be thought of as one of you. It hurts my feelings when someone treats me like a stranger.”
“Otofaayo.” (Don’t mind.) “He is a bad man. Forgive him.”

Forgive. I hear it a lot. “Forgive us.” “Forgive him.” “For me.” And something in Abwoli’s eyes sparked it in me. She then poked some fun at me, and soon we were laughing.

I spent the next 20 minutes making my purchases, catching up with the women behind each stall. With every smile, the weight on my chest reduced, I felt it easier and more natural to laugh. And on leaving, I had all but forgotten why I’d been upset to begin with.

Of course, I still remembered. I had come into contact with an asshole. But my market experience reminded me that it was only one asshole among many, many beautiful people.

I’ll say it again. I LOVE the women at my market.

I’ve often talked about the freshly-picked and incredibly affordable vegetables I eat every day, but as far as I know, I’ve never actually shown them. Surely, I’ve posted pictures of markets around Uganda (out of respect for the women at my market, I’ve never ventured there with a camera), but I never got into details about what is available, prices and how they are called here. This post is meant to remedy that. Last week, I took my camera to my market, reluctantly removed it from my bag and began to inform everyone around what I was doing.

“Nkwenda kusomesa ab’omuka mu America hali ebyokulya mu Uganda, nka ebijuma, fruits, hamu n’enyama…” (I want to teach people back home in America about food in Uganda like vegetables, fruits and meat.)

They were beyond receptive. Many, who I had thought would shrink from the camera, were asking for their pictures to be taken. They sent me to other stalls to “take their pictures!” Kids in swarms crowded around me asking to have their pictures taken. And of course, there was all the food.

So, against my fingers wishes, I’ll now cease typing. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and as always, if you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me (deevo at vt dot edu).

[FYI: The current exchange rate is 3000 Ugandan Shillings per 1 US Dollar.]
My market!

These three pictures sum up why I am a vegetarian at site. If I really missed meat (I do not), I would probably cave, buy it, and boil it for a few days before eating it. It could be done. But again, I could care less. That said, it is always nice to have a burger or a cut of meat from a nice restaurant in Kampala or Fort Portal every now and then.

Beef - Enyama y'ente (6k /kg, ($2.00))

Fillet, anyone? Actually, my buddy has really taken advantage of the fact that butchers here haven't a CLUE as to what a "cut" of meat is (they simply take a machete to whatever slab of animal is in front of them). He pays a bit more to get meat without bone in it, and he brings his own knife to do the cutting. In doing so, he's getting fillet at less than a dollar per pound! I asked him, on average, how much meat he eats per week:

"Oh, it varies from week to week, but usual around 6 kilograms."
Guy is extreme.

Banana(s) - Ekitooke, Ebitooke (12k/bunch, ($4.00))

Bananas are steamed after being removed from these green skins. The finished product is like hot mashed potatoes, but instead, it is bananas. It gives me horrendous heart-burn, so I rarely eat ebitooke.

After being shipped in, produce is stored in these big, lockable bins. The women pay 25k shillings each to a security guard who prevents theft from the markets at night.

A typical stand: a few poles covered with scraps of fabric and plastic. I feel for the women when the harsh rains move in. Everyone gets wet on those days.

Tomato(s) – Orunyanya, Nyanya (Small pile (4): 500 ($0.17) or Big pile (5): 1k ($0.33))

Abwoli. This is the lady who sets me back on track on the down days.

Orange(s) – Omucunguwa, Emicunguwa (1k, ($0.33))

You may not see the oranges. That's because they are GREEN. A bit more tart than those in the states but no less delicious. The best are those random ones without seeds.

Egg(s) – Ihuli, Amahuli (7000k tray of 30, ($2.33))

There are two types of eggs: Village Eggs (free range) and large-scale chicken farms. The villagers are partial to the free range eggs, as am I. They are a bit smaller than the others and a bit more expensive, but the yokes are tremendous and nearly fill the shell. They remind me of the $5/carton eggs Michelle and I would get every now and then back home.

Devil onions. Smaller than a quarter, and wickedly hard to peal, every volunteer I know has made the mistake of buying these bastards on more than one occasion, declared they'd never buy them again (aloud and in texts to other volunteers) and then, of course, they buy them again after forgetting just how miserable they are. BAH!

Millet – Oburro (1.5 – 2k /can, ($0.50 - $0.67))

This is pounded to remove the shell and then ground into flour. Mixed with cassava flour and then boiling water, you get a sticky gob of food called "carro" which is served with "felinda" a soup made by removing the skin on beans and smashing them into a fine liquid. Sounds strange, but it is my favorite traditional Ugandan dish.

Irish Potato(s) (lower picture) – Ekilaya, Ebilaya (500 – 1k /stack, ($0.17 - $0.33))
Sweet Potato(s) (left and right center) – Ekitakuli, Ebitakuli (1k, ($0.33))
Cassava (upper right) – Muhogo (1k, ($0.33))

Starch, starch, starch!

Mushroom(s) – Akatuzi , Obutuzi (1k, ($0.33))

Cheese! After mutiple "Seka! Seka! Seka!"-s (SMILE! SMILE! SMILE!-s), I finally got one with some teeth. Getting Ugandan's to look anything but serious for a camera is truly a challenge. But as soon as the camera is down, they RADIATE.

Ginger – Tangawuzzi (500, ($0.17))
Avacado(s) – Vacado(s) (200 – 500, ($0.07 - $0.33))

Bean(s) – Ekihimba, Ebihimba (1 – 2k /basket, ($0.33 - $0.67))

Looking down the main isle. This is the route I take every Monday or Tuesday, jumping this way and that to share a laugh at the stalls. Notice the obstacles...

Salt – Ekisura (500, ($0.17))

This salt is taken from a lake in the middle of Queen Elizabeth National Park. There are some gnarly stories about the workers who mine this stuff (salt does terrible things to your reproductive organs when all you do is swim in it day after day). Interestingly, this gray, seemingly un-pure salt is more popular and more expensive than the iodized salt available in shops around Kyenjojo. My neighbor couldn't get the translation out. She just said that the white iodized salt is "thicker" than the gray stuff.

Carrot – Carroti (500, ($0.17))

Onion(s) – Akatunguru, Obutunguru (500 – 2.5k, ($0.17 - $0.83))

Pea(s) – Ekaho (2k, ($0.66))

Cabbage – Cabbagee (500 – 1k, ($0.17 - $0.33))
Pineapple(s) – Enaanaasi, Enaanaasi (1k – 2k, ($0.33 - $0.67))

Charcoal Stove - Sigiri (3.5 -10k, ($1.17 - $3.33))

This is how the average Ugandan cooks EVERYTHING. A small pot, clay or metal, filled up with charcoal, boils the water than steams their posho (corn meal), beans or ebitooke. I ran the numbers when I bought my last propane tank, and based on the price of charcoal vs. propane, it is far more economical for a Ugandan family to continue using these stoves or the three-stone fire method than to upgrade to gas. Why? Because everything they eat requires boiling water for hours on end. Gas stoves aren't made for that.

The results are disastrous for the environment: trees are being cut down at an astonishing rate that increases every year as the population explodes. The policy is: Cut down a tree, but plant two. But the policy is rarely if ever followed.

Blasted: They get'em started EARLY in Kyenjojo!

I totally arranged them.

Cassava is often dried after removing the hard outer root covering. After being dried, it is ground into a flour. Nasty, stuff. I can't eat it without a lot of water on hand, as it is so dry it gets stuck in my throat.

Small fish – Mukene (500, ($0.17))

Nasty stuff. Most volunteers crush it up and feed it to their cats or dogs.

Peanut(s) – Ekinyoobwa, Ebinyoobwa (3k, ($1.00))

Dry beans. They are usually around the same price as the fresh beans.

Pumpkin(s) – Ekikeke, Ebikeke (But we call it Omwongo where I stay.) (2k – and up, ($0.67 – up))

The lady at this stand tried to charge me to take a picture of her pumpkins. She is new to the market and clearly does not yet understand my place in Kyenjojo.

Green Pepper – Green Peppah (200 – 300, ($0.07 - $0.10))
Eggplant(s) – Biringanya (200 – 500, ($0.07 - $0.17))

A beautiful stand of vegetables. It took me a month to get the word "Mujungu" to stop coming out of this lady's mouth and to stop charging bad prices. We've since reached an understanding, and she is one of the ladies who stands up for me. We have a very teasing relationship.

More bananas.

Charcoal – Amakara (15k – 17k/HUGE bag, ($5.00 – $5.67))

The baskets that tomatoes are shipped to market in.

The Magical Fruit

Thanks for reading!

I hope you've learned something!

I love you all (But especially you, Michele!)


1 comment:

  1. love this post! how much do you think a person with a stand makes in a day? everywhere we went in Ug i just couldn't understand how in the world they make hardly anything. . . with everyone selling the same thing, and such a small amount. . . maybe this market is better since it's in a smaller area and wouldn't have as much competition. and then i read how much they pay the security guard and was REALLY wondering how they make anything if they have to pay 25,000 per night. wow.