Day 27: The Cows, The Cake & The Cockroach

The ordinary moments are far from ordinary here in Uganda…

>>> The Cows

Walking home from the Girl Up office we encounter a herd of long-horn cows and the expression, “Share the Road,” (which is found on signs in America as a reminder to drivers to watch out for bikers) takes on a whole new meaning.

A goat with a broken leg hobbles along beside them. A white crane-type bird flies down from the tree branch.  A boda boda drives out of the herd and continues on its way past us. The old boy tending to the herd wears earphones. I wonder what he’s listening to: gospel? rock and roll? traditional African music? He nods his head ever so slightly in response to my smile.

>>> The Cake

All the ingredients have been purchased to make a cake (so we think), so tonight is the night to make it. Baking a cake from scratch here is similar – and oh so different – from baking a cake at home in America.

Linda insists I keep stirring the sugar and margarine in the big silver pot until the sugar crystals all dissolve. “Hear that sound?” she says, referring to the scrape of the spoon colliding with sugar crystals and the side of the pot. “You gotta keep stirring, otherwise the cake won’t turn out.” I tell her I think it’s a myth: that where I come from this would be considered stirred well enough. She insists. I stir awhile longer then hand the spoon over to her.

More sugar is caramelized in another pot with some water and honey because she ran out of sugar. The source of heat: a charcoal fire. A lemon and tangerine are zested. Eggs are stirred with spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. All eventually get added to the pot along with lots and lots of flour. Nothing is measured. Everyone has several tastes of the batter with fingers surreptitiously stuck in the pot when others aren’t looking.

There is no baking powder. There is a long delay as discussions commence about who will go get some. We can’t let the batter sit overnight. It’s dark. Who will go to the store? Somehow, baking powder shows up a little while later. Not sure who went down to a market to pick some up but it showed up.

A splash of palm oil is poured into a smaller silver pot and an unwashed hand sloshes it around to make sure it covers the bottom and sides. A newspaper is torn to line the inside of the pot: first, a round piece for the bottom, and then a long thin strip for the sides. The batter is poured from the larger pot into the smaller newspaper lined pot.

Meanwhile, the small red oven is prepared. It stands about two feet high and less than a foot wide and deep. Charcoal is lit in the bottom and the top. The cake is put on a small silver rack and slid into the oven. It is 8:05 p.m. We are told to check it at 8:30. At 9:00 it’s still not ready. I depart from the kitchen with their promise to bring a piece over to me when it’s done. It’s almost 10:30pm and still no cake.

>>> The Cockroach

There is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Pretty (that’s her nickname) leans over to Linda, “It’s your turn to wash,” she hisses-cackles. Since she made dinner, it’s Linda’s turn to wash. Fair is fair. The three of us look over at the pile at the same time and see it there, perched on the top edge of a white plate: a cockroach.

“Ewww…” Linda recoils.

“It’s just a bug,” Pretty says, with a grin and a poke at Linda’s shoulders.

No one moves towards the dishes. It will be awhile before they get washed.

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