Saturday, November 21, 2009

I am Here if You are Here

A tomato plant has somehow found its way out of the concrete ditch that circles our flat. Over the last few weeks it has produced first yellow flowers, then small green tomatoes. Today the first two tomatoes are big and green and more flowers are blooming. It looks like we are going to have a lush tomato harvest soon from our concrete ditch.

I also notice a flowers growing out of cracks in the steps sprouting bright purple heads. Northern and eastern Uganda is in drought but we have plenty of rain here to the west of Lake Victoria. And this fertility in the cracks and crevices, seems a sort of symbol. At the market today one of the final year medical students who did field placements last year with me, recognizes me and wants to talk about a NGO project he is planning for children. We make a date to meet. Sometimes where you think there is little fertile soil, glorious flowers poking out their fine heads.

The colleague sharing the flat with me for the past couple of weeks has gone off to the game park. Lake Mburo is about three quarters of an hour away. To me it makes a wonderful early morning tour followed by a cup of hot tea from a thermos in the early African morning sun. His idea is to spend the whole day, get his money’s worth, he says, so I am glad to have a whole day on my own.

Around two o’clock I decide I need to take a trip into town. Nothing much to do in town other than a need to seek out others. There are of course tomatoes, avocado, onion, garlic, fresh coriander and cumin seed to purchase in anticipation of a visitor arriving on Monday. As well, I remember to pick up a couple of baskets in natural dyes that have been set aside for me by the basket woman in the market. Her stall is being upgraded and the money goes directly from my hand into the carpenter’s.

“Good thing I dropped by today”, I say amidst much laughter.

I pick up some samosas at the Tumweereza Bakery on High Street but pass on the bread which tends to be dry and crumbly. Then I drop by the pharmacist to get some antihistamines and buy some English Leather soap at Pearl Super Shop for my sister who can’t find it in Canada. At Pearl I meet the staff from the newly constructed Catholic pediatric hospital just outside of town and stop to chat.

Today I have been reading The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers, about his ancestor who was missionary among the Mashona in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He mentions that the traditional Mashona response to "How are you?" is:

“I am here if you are here”.

To which one replies, “I am here”.

It seems an appropriate greeting for today and for Africa. You have to be here when you are here.

When I arrive back home, I find I am without the newly purchased baskets. I must have set them down at the last stall I visited. So I head back in to town and sure enough find the stall owner waving them gaily over his head when he sees me heading his way.

The boda-boda driver who takes me back into town asks if he can stop enroute for some ensenene, local grasshoppers, which are spread out live on sheets and in clear plastic bags in front of the university. A bag cost 500 UgS/- approximately 25 cents.

For a long time, like many whites, I didn't eat them. But grasshoppers have always been a special treat for Ugandans, especially good for malnourished children because of the fat content. Now, I too appreciate their sweet, crunchy flavour when fried and salted. I am especially pleased to be able to take a picture of them on sale by the roadside as I sit on the back of the driver's motorbike waiting for him to make his purchase. The green branches to the side are supposed to keep flies away.

This is where I have been today. I am here if you are here!

Photos: tomato plant in ditch; flower in crack, Grasshoppers for sale


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