July 5, 2011 | | Leave a Comment
This is our second week. We’ve divided up into 6 teams, each with a separate project, aiming to improve health and health services in rural communities an hour from Mbarara. Yesterday the power went off in the morning, and did not come back on until an hour after dark. Today everything is running smoothly, so everyone is eagerly intent on finally making some concrete steps forward on their work after a first week of meetings, site visits and orientation talks.
Since everyone is productively occupied, I’ll share a couple stories before passing the journal on.
First this great photo, courtesy of Carrie, which tells most of the story by itself.
It was Anastasia’s birthday last week, so we decided to surprise her. With a jackfruit. What better way to celebrate in a memorable way, that to try a massive, spiky fruit that you have never seen before?
A group of use set out for town in the afternoon. We located the central market, but as we explored the stalls we saw homemade clothes hangers and mousetraps, large papyrus mats, walls of stacked jerrycans, bags of ghee, live chickens, piles of cassava, cask upon cask of matoke bananas, large papayas, sacks of mangoes and green oranges… but no jackfruits!
Genny asked someone if there was someplace we could find jackfruits, and after some confusion we soon learned they are called fene here. Another word for our Runyankole vocabulary list! Eventually a woman energetically motioned for us to follow her. She led us out of the market, across the street, and down one of the many narrow side streets in Mbarara’s bustling little city center. We turned into a large courtyard with a dozen women preparing bananas, more bananas… and fene! We’d finally hit the jackfruit, er jackpot!
I asked the price of a medium sized one. 10,000 Shillings, or $4. A woman across the courtyard asked what price the woman dealing with us had quoted. When she heard, she tried to suppress a smile. Clearly an inflated price for bazungu. I began negotiating slowly and with little success, when all of a sudden Joan materialized at my side, animatedly haggling in what sounded like a very fluent and effective mix of Luganda, her native Lugisu, and the local Runyankole. It was a fun exchange to witness and it brought a smile to see the transformation from her usually quiet and soft spoken bearing. In no time, we were walking back, only 6,000 Shillings poorer, and one heavy jackfruit richer.
We took turns carrying our prize back towards our home on the hill. Apart from its significant weight, the thick rind is studded with points that uncomfortably dig into your arms. When my turn came, I happened to spot a discarder disc made from banana palm leaves, that Ugandans use as a stabilizing cushion when carrying objects on their head. On a whim, I decided to try it out. I was unable to carry the fruit more than a step or two without a steading hand to balance it, but the weight was remarkably easy to carry, and made walking much less strenuous and more comfortable.
Needless to say, as you can tell by the photo, an greatly amused crowd had soon gathered to witness my attempts. As we walked home, every single person on the busy street, broke into wide grins of disbelief as soon as they saw me. Most exclaimed in surprise, and turned to look and chuckle after they passed me. My friends tell me that many pulled out phones and cameras to try to sneak a picture of this most unusual sight. School was letting out, and some children burst out laughing out loud, and were so tickled they couldn’t stop, as they followed from a distance.
I didn’t set out to draw attention, but at least I gave many Mbararans a story to tell, and brought a smile to many lips. In my own small way, a tiny contribution to the world.