Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bushenyi Gourmet

Cooking in Uganda is a lot more work than at home! At least, it is if you want to eat things other than Ugandan food every meal of every day. One of the things I had a hard time believing when I first got to Uganda was that most Ugandans eat the *exact* same meal every meal of every day from the time they are babies until the time they die! They can’t fathom that when they ask us what Americans eat we have a hard time giving them a short and concise answer! A Ugandan meal generally consists of 2-3 starchy things like matookye (cooked, mashed bananas that are not yet sweet), posho (flour and water made into a sort of dough and cooked), or karo (millet flour mixed with water) and some sort of sauce - usually either beans, peanut sauce, or meat. Although it maybe sounds interesting as I describe it, imagine never having any variety! Needless to say, Ryan and I and our American appetites for variety were more than ready to get cooking for ourselves once we got to site!

And, it’s been an adventure. Despite not having an oven, microwave, dishwasher, kitchen aid mixer (i miss you...), blender, (you get the picture) we’ve managed to make some really great dishes! Deep dish chicago style pizza, fresh french bread, falafel, and more!

But I will say, there are a lot of differences between cooking here and at home! The first is the ingredients available. By far my favorite part of being in Uganda so far is going to the market. I love the community feeling there, talking with my favorite vendors, and seeing all the great veggies and fruits! Every week we stock up on fresh, locally grown tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, green peppers (apparently nobody has yet realized they will change colors if you leave them on the plant!), potatoes, passionfruit, pineapple, and bananas. I absolutely love it! If you want to eat meat you either have to be okay with the giant carcasses hanging around, or kill the thing yourself, so we’ve been eating vegetarian since we’ve been at site! So, there is an endless supply of great vegetables, but no HyVee to stock up on other “necessities.” For example, just to get cheese we have to travel 2 hours round trip, pay about $10 in transport, and spend more on the cheese than we spend on any other item in our kitchen! (It should be said, however, that these hurdles can’t keep us from our monthly cheese splurge!!! I am my Wisconsinite father’s daughter!)

Another challenge we have succeeded in overcoming is adapting to not having an oven. We have been able to improvise pretty well with a dutch oven - 2 big pots on top of each other on top of our charcoal stove (sigeeri). Although it takes longer and there is minimal temperature control, it works! We’ve made fresh breads, cakes, brownies, and even chicago style deep dish pizza (everything - sauce, dough, cheese - from scratch!!!) It’s pretty nifty and we hope to show some of our neighbors all the neat things they can make with their very own dutch oven! Here's a picture of Ryan with our dutch oven and a pizza inside!

Another fun aspect of cooking here is the unanticipated surprises that can be hiding in your food and beverages! Because of different bacterias and parasites, we only drink boiled water. Each day when our milk comes, it gets boiled too. And we are not supposed to eat any vegetables without first thoroughly cooking them. Needless to say, there is no such thing as “fast” food here!

So, we can easily spend an entire afternoon or more working on dinner for the evening! Take, for example, a simple bean and vegetable chili and side of bread. Because the beans are not sorted, you first have to sort through each and every bean to get rid of the grass, sticks, rocks, and other strange things that come along with your beans when you buy a kilo of them at the market. In this picture, you can see the amount of strange nonedible objects in a cup of dried beans. Unless fresh beans are in season, you have to soak the beans overnight so they are ready to use. When it comes time to add the veggies, everything is fresh. At home we’d often resort to canned veggies with our busy schedules, but here we chop up all of our fresh veggies by hand! Then, since we usually like to have some sort of bread product as a side, that gets made from scratch too. The only bread products around here are really dry gross loaves of bread that I would never eat at home! So, we often make homemade pitas or fresh bread to accompany our meals. And, since there’s no rapid rise yeast here, anything we make takes at least 4 hours from the time we start it to the time it comes out of our dutch oven! Luckily, the 40+ hour work week hasn’t yet arrived in Uganda, so we have time to enjoy cooking and savoring all the different steps that go into making a great meal!

I regularly look at those really neat recipe blogs to get good ideas of vegetarian meals for us to eat, and while it’s inspiring, it can also be discouraging! There are so many more ingredients available and nifty kitchen gadgets that we just don’t have! So, we improvise and pretty much anything we come up with is a huge improvement from Ugandan cuisine 24-7.

So, I’m going to try to take an attempt on a one time recipe blog - Bushenyi style! So, here’s one of our favorite semi-Ugandan recipes and how to make it! Incidentally, the stew is also what my Mom served at our going away party! So, enjoy!

Ugandan Groundnut Stew and Homemade Pita Bread (serves 4 hungry PCVs)

Groundnut Stew:

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
4-5 medium tomatoes, diced
2 small carrots, chopped
1-2 large green pepper, chopped
5 medium potatoes, diced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like some heat!)
1/2 c. peanut butter (or, if you’re adventurous, 3/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed)
2 cups of water or broth
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Add everything to a large pot and stir! Let simmer about one hour, or until veggies are soft and stew is desired consistency.

Homemade Pita Bread

- 1 1/2 t. regular yeast
- 7 oz. of warm water
- 3 t. sugar
- 1 t. salt
- 2 1/2 c. of flour, as needed

Proof yeast by dissolving yeast and sugar in warm water. Let sit until bubbly (should bubble in less than ten minutes). Add salt and flour, mixing slowly until most flour is incorporated. Turn dough into floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes. Add more flour whenever the dough becomes too sticky to handle. Oil a bowl, cover dough, and let rise until doubled, about an hour. After first rising, punch down dough and divide into eight golf ball sized balls. Let rise again, 45 minutes or until doubled. After doubled, roll each ball into a flat round. Fry on a dry griddle until bubbles form, flip, fry until browned. Serve hot.

Bon Appetit

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Wedding Ugandan Style

A few weekends ago Ryan and I had the opportunity to go to our first Ugandan wedding! I put a few little clips of the reception in our most recent video blog, but I thought it would be fun to tell you a little bit about it as well.

We were invited to this wedding because the groom was a nephew of the family we lived with during our PST near Kampala. So, while we were back visit our host family during our IST training, we found out about the big event. There was a big extended family get together that we were a part of, and one of the brothers of the groom showed up with a plastic shopping bag chock full of invitations. He started writing them out on the spot to everyone - even people who weren’t related. Ugandan weddings are a big, the more the merrier type of event. So, we said we would be there! We were excited to be seeing our host family again so soon, and to be able to be a part of our first weddign in Uganda! When I asked my host sister what is usually worn to the wedding this was her response, “It really doesn’t matter, but you have to look fabulous!!!”

Before the big weekend came, we realized we would need to figure out a gift for the couple. Not knowing them at all, and having no Target registry to fall back on, we asked some of our coworkers at the college what kinds of gifts are traditionally given. Surprisingly, the first answer each of them gave was “glasses.” So, we wandered into a duka that seemed to have a lot of glasses and asked what a nice wedding present would be. We ended up picking out a tea set for two and were able to get it wrapped for about twenty five cents right then and there! Gift shopping - done!

When we arrived at what we thought was the church, we didn’t see anyone we knew. Our host family had planned to rent a bus (seriously) to drive them all from Kampala to Mbarara for the big event, but apparently they had not yet arrived. As we walked tentatively towards the church, we saw that there was a wedding already in progress. Having never seen the bride and groom before, we figured the wedding we were attending must have already started, despite the time the invitation had stated (time is so relative here!). As we began to walk into the sanctuary, someone asked us who’s wedding we were trying to attend. When we told them the names, they ushered us back out of the church and told us that that wedding was the next one in line. So, the current bride and groom processed out, and a few minutes later our wedding started! And, shortly after our bride and groom walked down the aisle another bride and groom were waiting for their ceremony to start! Our host aunt told us that no weddings occur during lent because it is supposed to be a period of mourning, so the rest of the year is chock full of weddings. She said some churches will have four or five weddings in them in one Saturday!!!

Ugandans have two events related to the wedding and each is a little different. The first is called an introduction ceremony. This takes place before the wedding and is hosted by the family of the bride. It’s a really cultural event where everyone wears the traditional dress, gives gifts like cattle and goats (and even houses sometimes!) and it goes on literally ALL day. This ceremony is the time when the bride is “introduced” to the grooms family, and culturally, the bride and groom are committed to one another. We haven’t been to one of these yet.

Then, the later event is the actual wedding. The wedding is hosted completely by the groom’s family. This was what we went to that weekend. I was surprised how similar it was to a traditional American wedding. They had five bridesmaids and groomsmen decked out in gowns and tuxes, the bride wore a white dress and veil, they did the vows, the rings, the readings, etc. They had a crazy photographer and crazy videographer who were all over the place taking pictures and distracting the guests from the real event. If it weren’t for the lack of English being spoken we might have thought we were at a wedding at home! The only really big differences we saw were 1) they took an offering, 2) There were a couple of pews worth of “mothers” and “fathers” who all were seen as the responsible party in raising the children to be married (it takes a village!), and 3) the bride and groom never kissed. Public displays of affection between couples are really frowned upon here, I guess to the extent that even the newlyweds shouldn’t be seen kissing in public!

After the wedding we headed to a huge reception at the home of a friend of the family. Their backyard was completely decked out with a stage, tents, ribbons, archways, flowers, etc. It was a sight! We started with eating (we were told by an aunt that the Ankole people always eat first!). On the menu: the traditional special occasion Ugandan meal - Matookye (mashed ripe bananas), groundnut (peanut) sauce, rice, meat, cabbage, beans, and fruit. Everyone got a soda, and there were jerrycans full of local brew waragi every where. Then, while everyone ate, traditional dancers entertained us. The bride and groom processed in and danced around a bit. Various family members from the crowd jumped on stage and joined in the dancing. There were lots of speeches, and a big cake cutting! After the cake was cut, the bridal party walked around with huge platters with chunks of cake (not pieces, chunks!) and everyone just grabbed one with their fingers. Another funny aspect was that as the reception was going on, the photographers walked around selling photos they had just taken of the bride and groom at the wedding and before hand. So, no favors but if you wanted you could leave the reception with your very own wedding photos!

All in all, it was a great big event with lots of joy and celebrating! One aspect of Ugandan culture that has been clear to us right from the beginning is the importance of family. This wedding definitely confirmed it - the whole entire extended family rallies around to celebrate and support the union of the bride and groom. It was a great event and a great time to be a part of our Ugandan family!

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Today was one of those no-good-very-bad days. It didn’t involve getting stuck with the blue pair of shoes (is that how the story goes?), but it was something of a crummy day nonetheless. I woke up with what felt like a big cold coming on - sore throat, stuffy nose, you know how it is. I wanted to stay in bed, but instead had to proctor a three hour mock exam for our second year students. (Incidentally, instead of the word proctor, they use the word “invigilate” here - sounds way more exciting than it is!). Then, while at home making lunch, our gas tank ran out. This meant that: 1) we had to eat a flavorless lunch of posho and beans again and 2) we would have to pay 90,000 schillings (about $40) to get a new one and carry the super heavy tank to the petrol station and back. After walking to the petrol station we found that they had increased the price of a gas refill and we didn’t have enough money to buy the refill. So, I rushed back home to get more cash and, in my rush, I slipped and covered my favorite pair of birkenstock sandals in thick, nasty, mud. Back at home, some men appeared in our backyard to let us know that they were disconnecting our water due to nonpayment of our bills. As it turns out, the college has not delivered any of our water bills to us and, subsequently, the water at our home has not been paid for in over four months. Oops! We hoped to relax and get some things done around the house in the afternoon, but instead I got called in to invigilate yet another exam for a tutor who, for whatever reason, didn’t show up to do his job. This meant that in the last two days I had “invigilated” (aka watched with overpowering boredom) twelve hours of mock exams!

But, then, in the midst of small talk with one of my Ugandan coworkers I was forced to think about my situation in a whole new light. I asked if he had gotten his children off to school for the new term, but he said that he had not. Unfortunately, he could not send them back to school because he did not have the money to afford school fees. The reason he could not afford school fees was that his salary from working at the college had not been paid since April. APRIL! He has been getting by, supporting a family, with absolutely no income for over four months!!!

It’s amazing how a five minute chat can make a no-good-very-bad day seem like nothing to complain about at all. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective...


Friday, September 2, 2011

A Birthday in Africa

Today I turned 26! It was my first birthday in Africa, and one of the first holidays (do birthdays count as holidays?!) we've experienced since we've been away from home. (Ryan lost quite a few hours of his birthday this year, as we were flying from NYC to Johannesburg for most of it, so this is the first chance we've had to celebrate a birthday actually in country!)

Although I don't really think of myself as a huge let-me-wallow-in-the-joy-of-my-birthday person, it's amazing how times like this make you miss home and want to have some semblance of normal life! I had lots of warm wishes both in Uganda and from home, and I was surprised to find myself realizing just how much they all meant to me. Since when did I care so much about birthdays? Since I moved to Uganda, I guess! :-)

Our day started out sorta rocky, although in one sense I guess I got my first present of the day pretty early! A parasitic disease! I found out through a visit to our medical office that while rafting on the Nile I (and Ryan too!) contracted Bilharzia, the dreaded fresh water disease of Peace Corps Uganda. It's treatable and not a big concern to me, and actually kind of nice to know why I've been feeling so crummy lately! Happy birthday to me!

From there, the day took a big up turn! Since we were in Kampala for medical, we got to take full advantage of the city for a really special day! Ryan took me out to *real* mexican food (cheese enchiladas!! chips and salsa!), we ate soft serve ice cream (our first soft serve in over six months!!), and we even saw a movie at one of the two movie theaters Uganda has to offer. It was a really wonderful day and I found myself feeling thoroughly celebrated and happy! (And, we'll be sure to make the classic Muir Crazy Chocolate Cake when we get home to make it a *real* celebration!) Like I said, I wouldn't normally make such a big deal out of a birthday, but it just felt so wonderful to be doing things that felt *somewhat* like we were back home!

Thanks to everyone for the birthday calls, kind thoughts, and facebook messages. They mean a lot always, but especially when we are so far from so many people we love! Thanks for thinking of me today, and helping me celebrate my first birthday in Africa!

Much love!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dear Jinja...

...Who are you and what have you done with Uganda?

We visited Jinja this past weekend and this was the thought that kept going through my head! Although we had an absolutely incredible weekend, it felt as if we’d suddenly left the Uganda we have come to know and love and were plopped into another world! It was a crazy feeling!

This trip was our first time traveling East of Kampala. We have a number of PCV friends in the area, and they had organized a trip out East during the time between our IST and upcoming all volunteer conference in Kampala. So we got to see another part of the country, hang out with friends, and take advantage of one of the big draws of the region - the Nile River!!! We had a really incredible time!!!

On Saturday morning we headed out early for a day of white water rafting on the White Nile. The company we rafted with took us on an all day trip, ending in a river side BBQ at the end of the day! It was such a great time to see a beautiful river and hang out with friends. The guides were great, the river was beautiful, the food was delicious! And, of course...the rafting was absolutely amazing! There is no feeling like it! The rapids on this section of the nile are known to be some of the wildest in the world, so it was a pretty high adrenaline, extreme experience! Some of the rafts in our group flipped at almost every rapid! So it was super exciting, super thrilling, and - SO MUCH FUN! At the end of the day they showed us a video of what we had just done, and I could not believe some of the rapids we all went through!!!! It was such a crazy experience. We loved it!

Then, Sunday evening we took a mellower route out on the river. We went on a two hour “sunset cruise” with drinks, appetizers, music, and great views! Although it was a lot less adventurous, it was a lot of fun!

Being in Jinja we got to see a completely different side of Uganda - a successful tourism industry! This was why our experience in Jinja felt so different than our day to day Uganda in Bushenyi! In our part of the country there is very little tourism, so being in an area that has built itself up on the tourism industry was quite remarkable! In Jinja there are local craft stores, a grid layout to the streets, and a number of restaurants that serve super good *nonlocal* food! While we were eating lunch at one of these establishments (Naan and hummus with feta cheese for me, a burger for Ryan! So not Ugandan food!), I looked around and realized there was not a single Ugandan eating in restaurant! It was a weird experience! Just because of where we are in the rural Southwest, this is a situation that would never happen to us at site! So, it was strange! But we really loved being tourists for the day! Because we don’t know Lusoga (the local language there) we really felt like foreigners, which I guess we are! It was just a strange feeling to be in the country I now call home and feel so much like a visitor. But, we enjoyed the brief hiatus as tourists and seeing a great town in Eastern Uganda. up is the All Volunteer conference (all 200 or so volunteers together sharing ideas, networking, making friends!) an appointment with PC medical (do I have a parasite?) and then home sweet home (at last!) Our next term at Bushenyi PTC starts the moment we get back, so we’ll hit the ground running (or as much as anyone runs in Uganda!)

Love and miss you all!

Take care and keep in touch!



Hey Everyone!

Hope you are all well! We are doing okay here!

We've been away from home now what feels like a very long time! We left almost three weeks ago for our IST (in-service training) near Kampala, and haven’t been back yet. IST is a ten day training that takes place for all volunteers after they have been at site for about three months. We started with a training refresher on language and retake LPI test for those who needed it. Then, our community counterparts joined us and the rest of the time was spent training on Lifeskills (decision making, HIV/AIDS education, girls empowerment, self esteem, etc.) and tech training for the Education sector. It was also an awesome chance to connect with the other 42 volunteers who arrived in Uganda with us and have since scattered all over the country.

The experience was interesting. Although the organization of the training started off a bit rough, it got a lot better in the end. We left with some great ideas for HIV/AIDS projects at our site, lots of great ideas for working on lifeskills with youth, as well as new ideas for the classroom and potential secondary projects. We also participated in activities like capture the flag and trivia with our Ugandan counterparts, which was a lot of fun!

However, IST also had its challenges... For one thing, it was a little hard to be sitting still all day for ten days after keeping a somewhat flexible schedule these last few months at site. For another, we spent the training back at the conference center where we did our initial PST. Although the place is nice (and chock full of monkeys!!!) by the end of our 2 week standfast and 10 week training there we were ready to get out of there. Incidentally, because we were staying in close quarters in the dorms, some crazy sicknesses ended up getting passed around and I think about half of our group (myself included) got to experience the joy of that! So, venue was not a big plus in most of our opinions!

Then, there were the cross cultural challenges, though I think we can all be sure they will be an ongoing challenge throughout our service! Primarily, being with all of the community counterparts reminded me just how different perspectives can be at times between PCVs and their community counterparts. I think as a PCV you get used to the perspectives and ideas of those working around you in the villages (whether you agree with them or not!) and being with all of these different, new people with their unique views and ideas was at times really shocking. We had some heated debates about gender, religion, corporal punishment/child abuse, etc. that brought up some pretty strong opinions. I can try to give an example: at one point, we were divided into groups talking about women’s health issues and HIV. In the scenario my group was discussing, a woman goes out to a bar and ends up getting raped. Women drinking is a pretty big taboo here, and many Ugandans are quick to place the blame on women for anything related to their consumption of alcohol. The counterpart I was sitting with said something along the lines of, “If a woman chooses to drink, to talk to men at bars, then of course at the end of the day she will get HIV/AIDS!” He then implied that the men in the scenario who raped her and passed on the virus are not at fault, as she was the one who “brought it upon herself.” Yikes! So, there were many times when I felt myself biting my tongue and trying to stay cool when in my head I just wanted to scream! But....that’s being in another culture for you, eh?

A few of the nights we escaped to Entebbe, the nearest town for some “mzungu” food and time away from the training center. On the way back one evening with five or six other PCVs, we realized we were driving down the same road we first drove down together when we arrived in Uganda, at about the same time in the evening. We had a great time reminiscing on what we remembered from that first drive - sights, smells, and feelings! It was crazy to think back on what we were experiencing on that first drive, and how much we’ve all already grown in our first six months in country.

All in all, IST was a great time to connect with our PCV friends, eat some good Entebbe food (brick oven pizza! Thai food!), and get some new skills and knowledge!

Love and miss you all! Keep in touch,