Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Sweet Potatoes, Grubs, and becoming 'Madame Muzungu'

It is not common, after reaching adulthood, to acquire a new name. I suppose marriage might be the exception for a woman, but nicknames and new names are generally in the past. However, here in Uganda, I have received a new name. Benevolently bestowed upon me by shopkeepers, venders and generally anyone trying to sell me something. I am, to them, 'Madame Muzungo' (Mrs White Person). Possessor of limitless amounts of money and obviously being in the need of everything from produce, clothes, sheets, dried fish and even a young white crane. I cause quite a stir when I walk through any market, a trying experience for one never liking attention. I have always preferred to blend into the background. I found out quickly that blending in is a bit difficult here. Although I do it better than my husband and children. Micah's white blond hair in particular is like a flashing neon sign 'MUZUNGO, MUZUNGO, MUZUNGO'.
Speaking of the market, that is where people sell and you buy sweet potatoes. A simple proposition. On my first market trip, after tagging along with a more experienced Muzungo, I decided to break out on my own and buy some sweet potatoes. After considering the number of people in my family, I decided 3 large sweet potatoes would suffice. After approaching a friendly looking lady who unfortunately spoke as much English as I spoke Luganda, I asked for 3 sweet potatoes. After looking puzzled for a moment, she brightened, said something rapidly in Luganda and began filling the largest plastic bag she had with most of her sweet potatoes. After trying various words and gestures to communicate the idea that I did not want kilos of sweet potatoes, I gave up and watched her fill the bulging bag. After the bag was full, she smiled and said "three Thousand" holding up 3 fingers as I had previously done to ask for 3 sweet potatoes. It was then I realized I had ordered three thousand shillings (1.50 $) worth of sweet potatoes instead of three. I also learned that three thousand shillings buys a bag of sweet potatoes big enough so that it is difficult to carry. After smiling weakly at her cheerful face, (she had just sold almost her entire inventory of sweet potatoes to one Muzungo, why shouldn't she be cheerful?) I staggered over to Tim to deposit the bag in stronger arms. To his amazed expression, I said, "I just found out how NOT buy sweet potatoes." I must add, however, that the workers helping us were very appreciative of my mistake as we had several meals of sweet potatoes and beans. Quite good, actually,
Another thing we learned the hard way was the fact that papaya go too ripe very quickly. Which is NOT a good thing, as I will explain to you. Tim and I have enjoyed the ripe papaya here, the kids not so much. I hear it is an acquired taste. Since the kids have not yet acquired the taste for papaya, despite their mother's efforts in that area, we don't eat papaya very quickly. We were told chickens like overripe papaya, which we found odd, but decided to test the theory. I happened to have a VERY overripe papaya on my counter that I decided to cut into pieces for the chicken. I quickly found out why the chickens like overripe papaya. As soon as I cut into the papaya, Juice and bits of the papaya began to fly out at me. Thinking I was being very messy, I cut again very carefully with the same result. Bits of papaya were flying all over, including on my shirt, arms, counter, floor, etc. It was about at this time that I realized that these bits were not papaya at all, but jumping grubs that were rapidly vacating the papaya. It was that point that I realized why the chickens liked overripe papaya, it is because it comes with lots of yummy grubs. (from the chicken's perspective, of coarse) I however was not as appreciative (who knew grubs could jump, anyway?!!!) and my remarks brought Tim and the kids running to the kitchen, well within range of the acrobatic grubs. Before the kids could realize what was happening, I threw the cut papaya into a bucket and yelled at the kids to run it out to the chickens. So the chickens got their papaya and the kids didn't learn what the little flying yellow pieces were until after they came back into the house. Which was good, because they would have never taken the bucket out if they knew. After all, we certainly didn't want the chickens to miss some perfectly good papaya grubs! Kim

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