Life in Uganda: 'An Evening Chapatti Snack'

I lived briefly on McDoogle Street in between W. 3rd St. and W. 4th St. in Manhattan. When I was hungry for a evening snack, I would walk out the door, turn right, throw a quick look at the drug dealers across the street in Washington Square Park walk one block south, and hit Ben's Pizzeria. Always good for a quick bite. From my new place in Kampala, my journey for an evening snack is much more interesting.

I live in the small guest apartment behind a modest gated house at the borderline between Muyenga and Kansega (more on these neighborhoods in a moment). Across the complex is a small field with several cows soundlessly sleeping. I walk to the front of the house to the road. This is a road with 2.5 foot drops into cesspools; long vertical ditches crossed my horizontal mounds. It is impossible to measure the number of potholes on a road that has no common level to start from. It's the kind of road you would need a seatbelt and a football helmet to drive down safely.

On my way down the roughly 400 meters to the main road, I pass the neighborhood trash dump, which started in a farm plot, but has since spilled awkwardly into the street. Simultaneously, the area is the neighborhood untethered animal hang out (mostly cows, chickens and goats.) I pass two Ugandan phone booths (stand, old office phone, small boy who dials the number and hands you the phone), three thriving Ugandan convenience stores (wooden ticket booths with an array of home and food supplies), and a construction site.

What's extraordinary is that none of these small business outfits seem to have an opening and closing time. From what I can tell, they are open every day, all day, and all night, when much of their business seems to happen. In the few days I've lived here, I've made quite a few acquaintances on this little walk (from what I can tell, our house is the only 'mzungu' [white person] house on the street). However, the challenge in the evening is that it is impossibly dark, and we are hard pressed to make out the faces that wave to me on the side of the road.

I finally reach my destination. The Chapatti man. Eating a chapatti is like eating a huge slice of pizza with no tomato sauce or cheese. It's hot bread, and nice, if you are craving carbs, but you feel like it is missing something. You are left wishing desperately for a condiments stand. Chapatti is salted dough kneaded into a pizza shape then lightly pan fried on both sides. One Chapatti is 200 Ugandan Shillings (roughly 11 cents). A few hundred yards down the road there are more diverse options, but I'm hesitant to go on because my entire journey thus far has been unlit. In the dark African night, I can only see a few feet ahead, so I head home with my fried dough.

As I mentioned, I live on the border between Munyenga (up) and Kansenga (down). From daytime exploration, I've found that each of neighborhoods that my house borders has quite alot to offer. First a general lesson about living on a hill in Kampala:

You Live at the Top of a Hill= very rich, cool, clean, regular garbage pick up, high gates (your choice of barbed wire, cut glass or spiked fence barriers)

You Live at the Bottom of a Hill= not rich (but not necessarily poverty stricken, unless you live in a slum), dust, mud brick, wood or aluminum siding shacks, fairly dirty.

Munyenga (up) has luxury. It has two nice hotels with panoramic views of all the hills of Kampala, a wine store, a swimming pool called La Forchet, an Indian Restaurant and supermarket (with great Indian incense). The streets are clean and the houses gated. There is regular trash pick up.

Kansenga (down) is fairly dirty, but the neighborhood actually provides for the necessities and has a few amusements. Within a 5-minute walk you can reach booths that sell everything from DVD's to stationary, pineapples to beer. There are several restaurants, ranging from a shady, expensive Chinese Restaurant to a traditional Ugandan restaurant, which serves a meal for 1000 shillings (50 cents), and has an adjoining bar with a pool table. There are several Internet cafes and a great Ethiopian restaurant.

I’m looking forward to a year with good work, good neighbors and good times.

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