Monday, June 23, 2008

Make Falafel Not War

Tonight we made Falafel.

We have a good menu here at Red Chilli, and a varied one. For a small kitchen, we serve up to 60 meals a shift. And they didn't even have a microwave when I got here.

But even with a variety of dishes that are all pretty well cooked, I run out of stuff to eat.

I can't eat Pizza every day. I came to Africa to lose weight, not pile it on.

I'm not meant to eat red meat as it's actively been linked to breast cancer. So the meat chilli, the spag bol, the beef stew, the burgers, they're all out too.

Truth is, it leaves me with a limited variety of dishes to choose from, day in, day out. So every so often I have the urge to invent something new and add it to the menu.

I generally do this by looking at the ingredients we already have and thinking of new things to do with them.

Now we make our own veggie burgers rather than buy the over-priced and glutinous slabs you get in the local supermarket's deep freeze that are flown in from South Africa. They're carrot burgers and they are delicious. Carrots are plentiful around here and the only non-local ingredient is a cup of Kellog's Cornflakes.

Sadly I cannot take credit for them. It was up in Murchison I discovered them - my equivalent there found the recipe online and introduced it last year and never looked back. Now we serve them at Red Chilli's everywhere. Well, Murchison and Kampala that is.

In a similar vein, I've taught the chefs how to make their own pizza bases and topping sauce, rather than rely on the nasty pre-fabricated bases you can get in the frozen section of the supermarket. So home-made pizzas are now on the menu. We still freeze ours but they are a nice thin home-made base and a rich tomato sauce on top rather than some orange puree.

Sadly it's not always easy to get the staff to follow through on recipes. They are all convinced that pizzas should be grilled, not baked in the oven like I keep encouraging them to do. So our bases come out of the freezer and get slapped under a piping hot grill. The toppings melt and brown quickly enough, the only trouble is the bases come out with the consistency of an undercooked chapatti. It does not matter how many times I suggest the oven would cook the pizzas better, they always end up reverting to the grill when I'm not looking. Old habits die hard and it's how they've always cooked... So when I get back from the UK next week I'm going to lead a little pizza masterclass in the kitchen and demonstrate the difference between a soggy bottomed pizza and a properly cooked oven-baked base.

Anyway, back to the Falafel. Today I investigated a Lebanese shop I saw on my travels and discovered they had falafel mix and jars of some weird pre-mixed hummus. An hour or so in the kitchen later and we have ourselves some fresh falafel balls, with a salad made of grated cucumber, chopped coriander, chopped iceberg and lemon juice and a generous dollop of hummus (the stuff from the can mixed in with fresh garlic, ground cumin, oil and lemon) and some toasted pitta bread.

It may be from a packet in a box, but this falafel tastes like the most exotic and decadent eastern feast.

If the tourists like it too, and it sells, we will add it to the menu and then we can grow to be bored of it like everything else....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ice, Ice, Baby

In about ten days time I will be flying home for a brief visit to attend the wedding of a very dear friend indeed.

So back to the homeland, home of big shops that sell things cheaply (namely Tescos) and home of all my wordly possessions that I don't have with me here...

So what is it that I shall be bringing back? What is it that I should have brought, but didn't. Or didn't bring enough of? I agonised long enough about packing to come out here - it will be interesting to see what I forgot.

1. Three quarter length cargo pants. I can't come up with a more English name for this item of clothing but they are designed for this job, this climate, and this place.

I came out with one pair. I need about seven. I live in them. They have lots of pockets for all the bundles of notes and big bunches of keys I have to carry around all the time. They're long enough to hide a pair of legs the wrong side of 30, and they're light enough to keep me cool in the heat.

I shan't be getting seven, but as it was my birthday I have treated myself to three new pairs in various practical shades (the red earth gets everywhere) and will be hoping to convince various members of my family to pay for them in lieu of birthday presents.

2. Thick soled flip flops. I have one pair with me. They're a trusted pair of plain black fabric thonged reef flip flops with an uber-thick rubber sole. Except I've owned them since 2004 and I've put about as much wear on them in the last three months as I have in the last four years. The thick soles are getting thinner. Rapidly. So I've ordered a new pair. God bless the internet.

3. Non-white underwear. The previously mentioned red earth stains everything. And white clothing is possibly the most impractical thing I've brought with me. It's still nice to save the white t-shirts and linen for a sunny day where I don't think I'll be hoisting boxes around, but inevitably I'll be covered in it by lunchtime. Bra straps that were once white are yellowing rapidly. So, to M&S online and some camel coloured bras. I once told a friend I thought that buying flesh coloured underwear was the mark of maturity as it was so goddamned unflattering and said neither virgin nor sinner about the wearer. I was right, as this is a choice driven by practicality over all else, but since when did flesh coloured underwear start being called camel?

4. Basic toiletries. Our starter supply of lotions and potions is ebbing low. We are not fussy. In most cases, own label toothpastes, soaps and shampoos will do it. But to get anything decent here it's five times the price of the Tesco's economy version. About the only thing we're both fussy about is deodorants. Since breast cancer, I've religiously used a stick of aloe vera. Rich has also adopted a non-aluminium option with a rock of crystal. Except he keeps dropping that on our concrete floors and has very little left. Another one for the shopping list...

5. As for my own belongings, I will be picking up my ice cube trays. The first time I used one here it broke in half. I was expecting some flexibility and it did not budge an inch, so my bending the sides simply snapped the frozen plastic. Oh how I longed for my rubbery, press and pop trays that the ice simply slides out of.

Aaah, home comforts...

Faith U Like

In doing our little tour of Kampala during our last days off, we came to learn a lot more about something we knew very little about.

The Baha'i Faith.

I'd always assumed this lesser known religion was one of the more crackpot belief systems out there. Something crazy but on the cusp of legitimacy. Like Scientology. Or being pro-Bush.

I knew something of the fact it had some followers in Iran. Who had been, or were being, prosecuted.

R even knew someone who was a follower of the Baha'i faith. In fact, even I knew her. Allegedly.

(She was one of the people I met whilst in a chemo-induced stupor and as such, I have no physical memory of her. I've been shown the photos, but you can't prove anything...)

But we knew nothing really about it.

Turns out, it's actually quite a nice religion, as religions go. I mean, don't get me wrong, we're both confirmed atheists, but if we weren't, we both agreed this wouldn't be a bad way to turn.

Their principles just sound, well, lovely. It's an inclusive sort of belief system, one that acknowledges all earlier religions and reckons this is just the latest link in the chain, all stemming from the same source. And they're all for justice, peace and equality. Including that of women, which makes a nice change.

Here are the founding beliefs of Baha'ian faith:

All humanity is one family.

Women and men are equal.
Look, it's right up there, number two in the list of priorities... cool!

All prejudice — racial, religious, national, or economic — is destructive and must be overcome. Most religions manifest themselves in prejudice against other religions... so this can only be a good thing.

We must investigate truth for ourselves, without preconceptions.

Science and religion are in harmony.

Our economic problems are linked to spiritual problems.
Oh Yes.

Abolishing the extremes of poverty and wealth

The family and its unity are very important.

There is one God.

All major religions come from God.

World peace is the crying need of our time.

You said it... About the only two principles I don't agree with personally are the ones with the word God in them. But hey, that's just me...

So, not only do they have a fundamentally sound set of principles which only leaves you wondering just who would want to persucute someone as nice as the people that practice such beliefs, they only have seven temples in the world and one of them is in Kampala.

A few miles out of town, high up on a green and pleasant hill, amid the birdsong and far from the traffic-choked city streets, serenely sits a round chapel like building that hugs itself to the ground.

We were let in to look around, with strict instructions not to speak once inside. It was strangely empty, except for some austere seating and beautiful Persian carpets. We suppressed the urge to giggle (we'd be crap at being religious) but left feeling generally impressed with the whole Baha'i thang.

Far from crackpot, it seems to be one of the most sane religious movements around.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere

When we were in Jinja a few weeks ago, we were tempted by the extreme sports on offer. The town is situated on the banks of the Victoria Nile as it leaves Lake Victoria and makes it's way north to Lake Albert (via Murchison Falls).

It's famous for being a white water rafting centre to rival Victoria Falls and the Zambezi. Around the thriving rafting businesses other extreme sports and activity based operations have sprung up. Quad Biking, Bungee Jumping, Horseback Safaris.

Basicaly, if you can get hurt doing it, you can do it in Jinja.

Sadly, we played the sensible card and decided to pass (we're waiting for our medical insurance to come through and it seemed like it would be tempting fate...).

But we did wander down to Bujagali Falls below our campsite and watched several groups of rafters and kayakers come roaring past, screams optional.

In a month or so's time, once I'm back from my UK sojourn at the end of June, we'll be due some more time off and we'll be going straight back to Jinja to clock up some adventure miles. White water rafting, quadding, horse riding.... about the only thing you won't catch me doing will be the bungee. That's just plain stupidity.

In the meantime, here are some shots of the rafting to whet your appetite.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Death Of A Nissan

It's a sad day. My ex-car has ceased to be.

It is an ex-ex-car.

R and I got the Nissan off freecycle last autumn, and replaced my old Peugeot with it. We donated my Peugeot to two friends due to take it on some madcap banger rally, some time soon and happily clocked up some miles on the Nissan.

We felt momentarily guilty, enyoying it's relative modernity. The Nissan was a year younger than the Peugeot and much flasher. The car was quieter, better built, with switches that worked, a glove compartment that didn't fall open when you went over bumps, and doors that went clunk in that deep, secure-sounding, reassuring way. The Peugeot had rattled and tinkled on it's way. The Nissan hummed.

We had planned, as much as we ever plan, to drive it until it's next MOT and then take it on a banger rally. Maybe Russia, to see the eclipse, or maybe Africa again.

Then we got the call and the offer of a job in Uganda. Even if we thought it would make Uganda, we didn't have a viable route and most importantly, we didn't have the time. It would take at least a month - a month we would rather have spent painting, renting flats, working out notice etc.

So we couldn't take it with us.

We found the Nissan a happy new owner in our friend Ray. He is a friend through banger rallies and always has at least three cars in various states of dismantlement about his property. Back in March, when we were negotiating new owners for our vehicles, he owned an ageing Landrover, an old shell of a Minor, a Trabant, and was also babysitting a Ford Transit van for a friend. What use would he have of a Nissan Sunny, a relatively mundane vehicle by comparison?

He'd recently met and got engaged to a non-driver. A non-driver he was busy trying to teach how to drive. A non-driver who didn't particularly relish the idea of learning to drive in the various decrepit but characterful vehicles Ray preferred to drive himself.

So what better car to learn in than a 1992 Nissan Sunny? Cherry-red nonetheless...

It is sad then, that we learn of the Nissan's ultimate demise.

Driven into the back of something, very hard by the look of it. The front of the car is crushed, and in Ray's words, "I was tempted to get a few big hammers out and see if it could be saved... however there's just 2 weeks MOT left and the fuel tank is empty so there isn't really any good reason to try!".

Before you think he's being too hasty, this was a car that was going to need a lot of spurious welding done pre-MOT. Despite being posher than the Peugeot, the thing was badly rusting away around the rear wheel arches.

And so, rust, running into the back of someone, and an empty fuel tank have combined to write the death warrant for this valiant little car.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dirty Money

For weeks the bank has been refusing to give out any 1,000 notes.

Worth about 30p, these notes go through the wars.

When we get a 50,000 note, it's usually in relatively good condition. Chances are, as a higher value note, it has led less of an active life. It's probably been carefully slid in and out of leather wallets, handed over to pay for something luxurious in some air-conditioned environment.

1,000 shilling notes, on the other hand, have been folded up into tiny little origami packets and shoved inside of shoes, bras, even underpants. No offence to the locals but it's the denomination I hate counting. I feel so dirty after it.

The notes come to us with rips and tears and holes in. Some feel gravelly, like they are coated in sand. Others have been patched up with staples, duct tape, sellotape, whatever materials were to hand.

Because of the state these notes get into, the bank has to reissue them regularly to replace and replenish the tired old currency in circulation. So for weeks they have been smilingly accepting all our old 1,000 notes we deposit but refusing to give any back. We've had to beg and borrow bags of coin change to make up for the lack of notes. It's been a tiresome business.

But today R left the bank with an extra spring in his step. The new notes had arrived!

Four bundles of pristine 1,000 shilling notes. It was like looking out on a clean, snowy landscape, yet to be plastered in dirty, slushy footprints.

Here's a shot comparing the filthy old money to the virginial new notes and you can see just why we got so excited...

Avoid Morning Sex

We saw this sign painted on a shack near Bujagali Falls.

I asked a local what it was all about.

It turns out it's a local practise, a sort of contraception myth.

Morning sex will get you pregnant. Allegedly.

Afternoon and Evening and Night-time sex? Go for your life...

African Time

There are lots of jokes among travellers and expatriates about the concept of African Time.

Attitudes to time here are relaxed. Most people we call in for odd-jobs, plumbers and electricians etc, tell us confidently "They are coming". When we ask when they are coming, they reassure us they are coming now. They can arrive between 5 minutes and five hours later, depending on your luck, the time of day, the weather, and whatever else is going on in their lives.

We had a new employee starting the other day. He was asked to be here at 8am. At 11.17 he turned up in the office.

Then, the other day, whilst browsing an English-Lugandan phrase book, I discovered one possible explanation for this relaxed attitude to time-keeping.

They tell time differently here.

I'm not kidding. It's not just a question of lax time-keeping, it's an entirely different approach to dividing the day into hours.

A Lugandan will divide the day into two portions of twelve hours, just like we do. Except they don't start counting in the middle of the night. Their twelve hour sections represent night and day (the luxury of living on the equator where sunrise and sunset happen at the same time every day). So, a Lugandan will wake up with daybreak at seven o'clock in the morning (as we would express it) but they will call it one o'clock, as it's the first hour of daylight. So midday, in our terminology, becomes six o'clock Ugandan-style. Twelve o'clock, for a Lugandan, is six p.m. in our world, the twilight hour at the end of the day. Then at seven p.m. (our time), a Lugandan starts counting the next twelve hours of darkness.

What a head-f***! No wonder we all confuse eachother and noone is on time anywhere.