Life of a Change Fellow; Bududa, Uganda
In June of 2015, the 30/30 Project along with our partners FIMRC (Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children) set out to accomplish providing the community of Bududa, Uganda with a sustainable and safe Health Center. The project, including a Health Clinic and Pavilion, aimed to provide comprehensive primary healthcare for maternal, pediatric, and non-communicable diseases for one of the most under-resourced districts of Uganda.
We are happy to announce that in the first week of February of 2016 we were able to accomplish this goal! Following the finalization of the project and the journey home, we had the opportunity to catch up with one of our Change Fellows, Kassy Scheve to hear about some of her adventures abroad. Kassy shared with us the intricacies of the fine Ugandan cuisine and her journey into a newfound appreciation for the delicacies she never imagined she would love!
One thing my family kept asking me when I told them I’d be traveling to Uganda was, “how are you going to eat?” I am incredibly picky and my mom has a portion of the freezer filled with “Kassy approved” meats that I will eat as opposed to food that a normal person will eat. Three of my most baffling idiosyncrasies (so I’m told) are:
I do not like tomatoes. I enjoy all tomato byproducts such as tomato sauce, salsa and even pico de gallo. But not tomatoes.
I love raising chickens. I hate eggs. If necessary, I will eat egg whites, but I can’t stand the yolk.
Guacamole is delicious. Avocados are not. I know they’re the same. But they’re not.
Needless to say, while I was excited to try the local cuisine, I was also nervous. What was I supposed to do if confronted with a special meal cooked by someone who went out of there way to spend their limited income on me? And worse, what if they cooked meat and there was any amount of fat on it?!? How would I avoid offending them and eat it!?!When we first got to Bududa, the food was simple as I expected. What I wasn’t expecting was our first meal of tomato, hard boiled egg, and you guessed it, chopped avocado. When I tentatively asked if this is the usual diet, I got a resounding “yes, isn’t it great!?! It’s all fresh and grown locally!” …Great…
I was doing well though. The fresh vegetables were a welcome change to our grocery stores and I now understand how Bududa can be the greatest producer and consumer of bananas in the world as they are SO much better then any banana you’ll eat here. However, I was not prepared for the fact that the biggest concern to the Ugandans would be how much I ate. Or in their eyes…how little. The first time I went to the existing clinic for lunch, they made the traditional matoke (steamed plantains), beans and meat. I took a bit of each and ate what I could.
But when I was done they all looked at me with concern and did not believe me when I said I had had my fill. Just to give an idea of matoke, it is a thick, starchy paste that is extremely heavy. In all honesty, three to four bites and I’d had my fill. Not because it was bad, but because it was so filling.
Then we started cooking lunches at the site where our cooks would fill our plates. Since she always filled it to the brim, I had the genius idea that I would eat what I wanted then share the rest with the local kids. However, this didn’t last long since I was not good at doing it without getting caught.
My eating soon became a fascination with the locals. Ugandans aren’t used to having more then one meal a day, and for our workers, they weren’t used to having consistent meals. This means when food is given, food is eaten. There is no such thing as getting full. They eat whatever is provided and do not let anything go to waste.
I didn’t really realize how strange I was until having lunch with our first site engineer, David. We had taken him out for lunch a few time and he was starting to get used to how I would eat the meat, a bit of the matoke, then give him the rest. However when we went to lunch with him and his sister, he made a point of telling her to watch me eat and narrated the process. “This is how white women eat,” he told her in fascination. I tried to tell him that it was just me since I couldn’t eat a lot, but he didn’t believe me.
At the site, the crew and cooks continued to worry about my eating, worrying that I was starving because I didn’t like the food. Though I assured them every day that I enjoyed the meal and had the clinic staff teach me to say “good food” in Lugisu (billio bilayi, just in case you were wondering), they continued to give me more food each day to try to get me to eat it. Finally one day they decided it was time for drastic measures.
A few days previously they had asked what I would eat at the house and I had said we like salads, since it was something I thought they could relate to with all their fresh produce. They weren’t used to eating vegetable raw as it’s instilled in them it’s dangerous since clean water is such a concern. But we had taken our chances with some of our tomatoes and onions and were trusting them thus far.
On this day, they told me lunch was ready so I headed to the kitchen to pick up my plate, expecting our usual beans and posho (maize flour thats stewed, kind of similar to cream of wheat). When I got there I saw our security guard, Siragi, had a bowl with onions, tomatoes and avocado. Excited, since this was the closest thing to salsa I’d seen since arriving, I pointed at it and asked if I could have a bit. He and the cooks nodded enthusiastically, then picked up the whole bowl, as well as a bowl filled with posho, bean AND matoke and said to come. I tried to stop him and tell him I could carry my plate, but he said, “No, both,” and walked away.
It took me a minute. BOTH!?!?!? That’s when they all started laughing. They decided I was not eating enough because I didn’t have enough options. Therefore they were going to make me everything and I’d finally eat.
It was impossible. This much food would have lasted me a week. However, they were all so proud and laughed about it till our final day. I didn’t really increase how much I ate, but finally got them to start giving me smaller portions after that so when they saw me coming they could make the “Kassy approved” bowl. So really, I didn’t have to change my eating much after all!
We are thankful to our partners FIMRC for collaborating with us and making this project possible! We would also like to thank our amazing Change Fellows, Kassy Scheve and Colton Cox, who not only brought the spirit of Construction for Change to Uganda, but also brought back the Ugandan experience and appreciation to share with us. If you still thirst for more stories like this about our most recent projects, we would be delighted if you would join us at our upcoming event, Pints for the PM on April 12th at 530pm in Downtown Seattle.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and to RSVP.