Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pass the Posho, Please!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I was afraid of African food when I visited Uganda last year. My travel doctor had me more than a little worried, to the point that I wasn’t sure I should eat anything. I took quite a bit of my own food and ordered foods that sounded American, only trying traditional Ugandan foods when I had to –big mistake!

I changed my MO this year and indulged in traditional Ugandan cuisine. It was fantastic! Somehow, even the foods I hesitantly sampled last year seemed much tastier this year. As you might guess, due to the fact that refrigeration is limited, the food is extremely fresh. The milk comes straight from cow to you;

eggs are gathered and sold daily;

vegetables are fresh-picked and plentiful; and meats are, for the most part, butchered and consumed the same day.

Rice is part of most meals, and is often topped with a stew of chicken, beef, or goat meat.

The children of Smile Africa drink rice porridge for breakfast

and eat a heaping plate of rice for lunch.

In fact, their diet consists solely of rice, besides the fruit they have been served once a week since our visit last year, and what they retrieve from the garbage when they are on the streets.

Beans are a frequent accompaniment, as are potatoes -either Irish potatoes (boiled) or chips (French fries). But fried chicken is common as well, and tilapia, whether baked or fried, is simply delicious.

Another very common dish is matoke (mah-toe-keh), or green bananas. Green bananas are sold in the markets.

And carried home in giant bunches on bicycles.

They are steamed for hours over a charcoal fire, turning them from white to yellow. Matoke is served wrapped in banana leaves.

Brown nut sauce (which is actually red, tastes like warm peanut butter, and makes just about anything taste good) is often poured over matoke, rice, potatoes, or vegetables.

Fresh fruits were offered daily. Sweet bananas,

watermelon, pineapple, and papaya are common during this, Uganda’s winter season. Fresh squeezed passion fruit juice was a delicious treat.

Samosas are yummy triangle-shaped meat or vegetable filled pouches that could be likened to egg rolls. Pastor Ruth serves the best samosas made in Uganda!

The Prime Hotel makes some delicious ones, too. The most “interesting” ones we had were filled with peas and served for breakfast.

Chapati is a popular, tasty, fried flat bread. Mmmmm! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Ugandans rarely use silverware when they eat (which is one reason why hand washing is always offered in one form or another before meals).

We ate with our hands sometimes, too, although we always had flatware in the hotel. Chapati makes a good “scoop” for rice, beans, and stew.

Vegetables are plentiful, and they are prepared and served many different ways. One of my favorite vegetable dishes was avocado and cabbage salad. We also had tomatoes, cucumbers, greens (warm and flavorful), sweet potatoes (white, not yellow), sweet corn (Iowa's is still the best!), green beans, peas, and pumpkin.

A variety of sodas are available at the hotels, and I have to comment on one that some of us discovered -Novida pineapple. It is amazing!

I did a little research since returning home and discovered that it is made by the coca cola company, but only distributed in Kenya and Uganda. It is considered one of very few “malt sodas,” which might explain why it looks like beer. It’s non-alcoholic, though –really!

Ugandan fast food is definitely an experience! We stopped at Chicken on a Stick on the way to Tororo from Kampala, and on the way back. Chicken, gizzards, and goat roasted on long sticks are thrust into your vehicle from all sides. Roasted bananas and a variety of sodas and fresh fruits and vegetables are also available.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned posho yet, since I entitled this post, “Pass the Posho, Please.” Well, posho isn’t my favorite Ugandan dish. Being from Iowa, I’m a big fan of sweet corn. Corn is grown everywhere in Uganda, too, but it mostly ends up being served as posho. Posho is white, pasty, mushy, tasteless ground corn. It would be easy to mistake it for mashed potatoes in the photo below.

The students of Entebbe Early Learning Center eat posho every day. We were to eat it too, on the day that we visited. I was a little nervous about this, knowing that I needed to be a gracious guest and a good example to the children. Yet I wondered if I would be able to choke it down. Fortunately, the posho at the school was topped with a tasty mixture of beans and vegetables. It was unbelievable how much easier it was to eat the posho when served that way. I learned that it is often topped with stew, beans, vegetables, or brown nut sauce.

“You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say.” In case you don’t read Dr. Seuss as often as I do, that is a quote from his book, Green Eggs and Ham, a book I often read to my students and grandchildren. These words came to mind many times as I tried on this trip to take a more courageous approach to eating in Uganda. It worked! I relaxed, tried nearly everything that was offered, and, in the end I decided that Ugandan cuisine is delicious!

Another quote by a famous author came to mind on several occasions as well. “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” David penned these words in Psalm 34:8 (NASV) I now realize what I missed out on by refusing to taste more of Uganda last year. In addition to all the foods I’ve mentioned so far, I am so glad that I tasted sugar cane! What a treat!

Wouldn’t it be tragic to miss out on God’s goodness simply due to a fear of tasting?

In Uganda the fear of tasting God’s goodness runs deep. Witch doctors, so much a part of Africa’s history and culture, fight their own demise by fueling that fear. Pastor Ruth was instrumental in building a well and starting a church in her family’s home village outside Tororo. The church quickly outgrew their first building. Part of our team visited and ministered in the new village church that now meets under a tent of sorts.

They showered more of God’s love on these hungering and thirsting people. Nearly everyone in the village -even the witch doctor- attended the church service!

Pastor Phillip,

Pastor Steven,

and Pastor Amos (no picture) could all benefit from your prayers. All three of these men are ministering in small villages, serving up heaping helpings of God’s goodness. All three lack formal training and have few resources, even for their own families, yet they all have a passion for serving Jesus! They have tasted and seen His goodness, power, and might.

And I have tasted, too, both in the literal and the spiritual sense. I feel very fortunate to have tasted so many delicious foods in a country where many are starving. I met many children who would need no coaxing to try green eggs and ham; children who are grateful for the same bland cup of porridge, plate of rice, or posho they receive six days a week. I can't wait to return to Uganda and eat their delicious food again, and with only the slightest hesitation I'll say, "Pass the posho, please!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Home is Where You Tie Your Goat

The simple, agrarian lifestyle achieved by most Ugandans holds great appeal for me. I'm not sure why, but perhaps the fact that I was raised on goat’s milk has something to do with it. American families average 2.4 televisions per household, while Ugandan families very likely average as many goats, and perhaps twice as many chickens.

I can’t help but wonder if we are the unfortunate ones in this equation, but that is a topic for another day.

One of the first differences you will note in Ugandan vs. American culture is the amount of time spent outdoors. I typically see my neighbors only in summer, and then only when they are working in their yards or out for a walk. Ugandans garden, work, visit,

...cook and even do dishes outside.

The primary means of transportation in Uganda is walking; streets and roads are lined with pedestrians of both the two and four footed variety. You will rarely see a Ugandan walking a dog, however. Their companions will most likely be goats, cows, or even pigs.

Homes come in many shapes, sizes, and varieties, the most common being a round hut.

Some of these huts are large enough for separate rooms inside, others are barely large enough for all the inhabitants to bed down at night.

We had the opportunity to visit several homes on this trip. One that I had greatly anticipated visiting was the home of ten adolescent girls.

Last fall, due to a generous donation to Heart of God International, I had the privilege of working with Pastor Ruth of Smile Africa to find housing and more appropriate schooling for these girls who formerly lived on the streets. The girls were so excited to invite us in and show us their home –a two bedroom apartment. They were especially proud of their own artwork that graced the walls.

I was pleased to see that the apartment is safe and secure and located very near Smile Africa.

The girls raise their own vegetables and are very self-sufficient. The youngest of these girls is 11, and the oldest 16! It is impossible to express here the love and admiration I have in my heart for these beautiful young ladies.

While in Tororo we were invited into Pastor Ruth’s home for a delicious meal.

She lives in an attractive, comfortable, and modest home with her husband and their three children who remain there.

Five of their children will be attending University this year, and one is working and living in Kampala. Pastor Ruth gives God all the glory for providing for herself and her family. She is tireless in her ministry to the widows and orphans of her city and surrounding area.

Agnes once again prepared a large, delicious meal for our entire group at her home in Entebbe.

She is the headmaster of Entebbe Early Learning Center, and her husband is a doctor. Their home is large, and their property nicely landscaped and gated. Still, she lives humbly and takes in many who are homeless. She is currently caring for an eighteen month old girl abandoned by her mother,

and two sisters who are refugees from Rwanda, trying to work their way through college.

Saphan and Alex, who run a prison ministry and graciously took care of our needs in Entebbe, invited us into their home for an afternoon visit just before we continued on to the airport for our departure. We took turns sitting in their small living room where we chatted and snacked on jackfruit.

The neighbors and their chickens all gathered around to greet us, too.

We observed several other homes from a distance.

The one located next to the hotel just below our deck was often bustling with activity,

and the resident rooster awoke us each morning.

Here are some other homes I observed as we traveled throughout Uganda.

I can say without qualification that Ugandans are hospitable people. They often give visitors what they can’t afford for themselves. Comfortable seating and beverages are offered at the very least, and one only needs to mention something they would like to try and it will most likely be promptly presented.

One such example occurred when Pastor Steven and his wife, Rozelyn, were serving our group of six a meal after church. I had seen many of the children chewing on sugar cane, so I mentioned that I had never tried sugar cane. Pastor Steven called for a church member to come in and then sent him out to “cut, clean, and properly prepare some sugar cane” for us. Several minutes later the man reappeared with a large bowl of sugar cane.

I have to say it was delectable, albeit somewhat challenging to eat! And, as we got in the van to leave, they tied a large bundle of sugar cane on top for us to share with everyone back at the hotel. Besides food, we were often treated to music and dancing –not so much in homes, but in nearly every school, church, and meeting place. How delightful!

Toilets are a luxury in Uganda, and flushing toilets a rarity. We were fortunate to have them at the hotels where we stayed, but we encountered “squattie potties” in most other locations. This was by far the nicest, cleanest squattie potty I encountered!

Running water is also a luxury, and not always reliable even when it is available –much like the electricity. It comes and goes; surges, and wanes. Ugandans take it all in stride. In fact, most don’t even notice because they aren’t dependent on it. Water is drawn from wells and carried home in 5-gallon containers -on a bicycle if a family is fortunate enough to have one,

...on top of the head if they are not as fortunate.

Ugandan homes are airy. There are no screens on the windows, and the light curtains that grace them dance in the breeze until tied in a knot. As I mentioned, most of the cooking is done outside in the open air, keeping the heat out of the house, or in a kitchen located outside the residence, like these deluxe kitchens at Entebbe Early Learning School

and Lubowa gardens and cottages.

Cooking charcoal is therefore a staple for every household.

A garden is a must for every residence as well, since rice and vegetables comprise most of the Ugandan diet.

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, too, just like Ugandan homes. This one is a bag garden, popular for the small space and amount of water and labor required to maintain it.

So, of course, home is where you tie your goats

–to keep them out of the garden.

I have learned a lot from observing the way that Ugandan's live. They work hard and live close to the earth, depending on it and what God provides through it for their daily sustenance. Even wealthy Ugandans live simply by American standards. Still, those who love Jesus are always willing to open the doors of their unassuming homes and share what they have with others. Isn't that exactly what God would ask of each of us, regardless of our culture or our resources?

I hope you return soon for my next blog installment, “Pass the Posho, Please.”