I was reading over past blogs, and realized that I had promised to show you pictures of how you buy beef here. So I will!
Let me set the stage for my first beef-shopping trip. It's May 6, 2008, my first full day in Mbale, Uganda. I've just spent several hours at Messiah Theological Institute. Well, probably just one or two, but it feels like several hours. I'm suffering from exhaustion, jet lag, missing-luggage worries, rumpled-clothing-and-no-makeup embarrassment, plus, of the two hundred or so people I've just met, only ten speak English in a way that this Mzungu girl from Fort Worth, Texas, can understand. To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure I'm not shaking hands the right way and I'm wondering if that's like a fatal cultural faux pas here. So when Heidi finally asks if I'd like to do some grocery shopping and then go back to Welldone Cottage, I gratefully head for the car.
Heidi shops at "Happy Supermarket," which is considered to be, if not the Cadillac, at least the Plymouth of grocery stores here. It's about the size of a small 7-Eleven, only a lot dustier and no ATM machine. It has exactly four aisles: two are for food, and two are for everything else. I must admit, though, I'm quite impressed with how much inventory they can squeeze onto the shelves in those four aisles. Heidi picks out most of the groceries since I'm having trouble reading the labels (I discover that my French, Italian, Hindi, and Arabic are a bit rusty), but I do comment on the fact that there's hardly any perishables sold there. Heidi smiles and says, "Oh, you buy most of your meat at the market." This isn't the market? Oh.
So now we head a couple blocks away to the market. As we walk down the sidewalk, we go past all these little stalls with goods laid out on their counter, pavement sellers with various foodstuffs spread out on a tarp, and even people wandering around holding wooden rods with hundreds of items attached somehow. Now we're at the market? But no. Heidi suddenly turns in to this dark doorway that really makes me think Black Hole of Calcutta, and voila!, now we're at the market. The market covers a large area of ground (and I do mean ground), but I feel a little claustrophobic because the market is so packed with stalls and people, there's not much room to maneuver, and there's some sort of tin roof just a foot or so overhead. I walk up and down between rows of tables and stalls (being careful not to trip because it's rocky ground) filled with every possible kind of food: carrots and beans and cucumbers and tomatoes and onions and maize and eggs and huge bags of flour and huger bags of rice (who knew there were so many different kinds of rice?) and several unidentifiable root-type substances. I think it all looks very interesting, and evidently the flies agree with me. Heidi winds her way to the what is apparently the meat aisle. She stops at a stall, behind which stands a local butcher surrounded by hanging sides of beef. A turkey is proudly on display at the very front of the stall, where you have a great view of the flies munching down. I make a mental note: tuna fish for Thanksgiving this year. Heidi dickers with the man on the price of a kilo or two of beef, then he grabs a side of beef with one hand and a machete with the other, and whacks off a piece -- after first shaking off the flies, naturally. I watch fascinatedly as he skillfully and securely wraps it in a banana leaf (probably suffocating the last fly or two), and hands us the beef in its eco-friendly packaging. Heidi smiles and thanks the man, we turn to leave, and I wonder where I go to join the local vegetarian group.
When we get home, Heidi opens the banana parcel, after first allowing me to take a photo:
Now really, could YOU do as good a job wrapping a squashy hunk of beef in a banana leaf? I doubt it.
And here's the beef!
Note: Heidi -- after washing the beef in everything but bleach -- made some scrumptious Chinese-style sesame beef, and, yes, I ate it. Yes, I have continued to eat local beef and chicken ever since. I'm trying to get up my courage to eat goat. But no, don't expect to see a photo of a turkey being unwrapped in our kitchen sink on Thanksgiving Day. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere.
Good-bye from Mbale, Uganda, where I'm blessed to be having the grandest of grand adventures!