18 September 2016

The Ultimate Journey, Ft. Food

I traveled to Kampala, Uganda over the past weekend, departing Thursday evening and arriving Tuesday morning. By bus. By ~23-hour bus, each way. (It should have been 17 hours, but traffic and border troubles held up the bus traveling both there and back.)

So that was fun! I like to consider the (in reality, exhausting and headache-inducing) bus ride a brief yet exciting safari for which you're mostly forced to stay seated and denied an appropriate amount of bathroom breaks. I'm deeming it a valuable experience because I got to ride through the big cities, small villages, and beautiful countrysides of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. To be fair to the bus, it was pretty snazzy. Check out just how snazzy.

The bus ride gave me a nice picture of life in these East African countries, and I noticed that many characteristics throughout the region are identical. There are pikipikis and daladalas everywhere, there are ditches on the side of the road to collect water and facilitate its flowing, people fry various crops and sell them on the streets, women gracefully balance heavy items upon their heads... the list goes on.

The main differences I saw between Arusha and the places I traveled through were in landscape. Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda are both much greener than Arusha's area, and the dust is a nice, reddish copper tone in contrast to the dull tan I've become accustomed to. My favorite sights from the bus were the Nile River in Uganda and Mt. Longido on the Tanzanian side of the Kenyan border. The Nile is simply huge and beautiful, and Longido (8652 ft tall) is a gem that I didn't realize is relatively in my backyard.


Another huge difference is the language scene. In Tanzania, Swahili is primary and English quite secondary. In Kenya, Swahili is worse and slang-heavy, and English is used frequently. Ugandan English is quite impeccable in many cases, but almost no one speaks Swahili--Luganda is the Ugandan preference and it's not really similar to Swahili. As I traveled from Tanzania through Kenya to Uganda, Swahili got worse and worse but English got better and better.

So, similarities and differences aside, traveling to Kampala offered a unique experience quite different from my day-to-day life in Arusha. You're probably wondering why I wandered all the way over to Kampala in the first place. I went in order to play in the 9th Annual Seven Hills Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. My friend in Arusha connected me with her team coming all the way from Canada, and we all met in Uganda to play Saturday and Sunday with 10 other teams whose players came mostly from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

In order to avoid rambling too much, I've listed a few highlights of the weekend below.
- I made new friends and connections in the East African ultimate community.
- Our team won the spirit award!
- I got a really cool, fluorescent red-orange Uganda disc.
- Big birds
- Food

If you read my bird-watching post, then you know how much I love birds. Imagine me seeing one more than half my height with a really great mohawk--I was immeasurably happy. Someone told me that these are the Ugandan equivalent of the seagull, in that they reside by water, are ubiquitous, and get in the way. As it turns out, this bird is called the grey crowned crane, it's the national bird, and it's even in the center of the Ugandan flag.

Check out this superb picture my friend captured of a grey crowned crane checking out some ultimate frisbee on the side of our field.

(Image courtesy of the wonderful Naomi Garneau)

Anyway, it's easy for me to get distracted by birds, and I should be talking about what I got from playing in the tournament. It was different from playing ultimate in Arusha (which I'll post about at some point). Uganda can probably be considered the hub of ultimate in East Africa, and it was refreshing to watch the clean plays run by those teams. There's a lot of natural talent and athleticism around this awesome sport in East Africa, clearly shown over the weekend. All in all, my favorite part of the tournament was simply the opportunity to witness the development of ultimate frisbee in this part of the world. It's truly an infectious sport, and most people I know who try it enjoy it and play again. I had a lot of fun yet also enhanced my understanding of the global framework of my favorite sport.

(Image again courtesy of Naomi Garneau)

Finally, I want to elaborate on the "food" highlight I listed. Uganda offered some delicious local foods that I haven't encountered in Arusha. This is rollex, a popular breakfast option that is essentially a thin omelette wrapped in chapati (where chapati, my favorite snack in Arusha, is an unleavened circle of deliciously oiled and cooked dough--similar to a tortilla but far superior).

Below is my plate from the tournament lunch, packed with traditional Ugandan food. That yellow mushy stuff is called matooke, and it's personally my least favorite. It's cooked and mushed banana, but not the fruity kind of banana that I'm used to at home in America. It's a variety commonly referred to as "cooking banana" and it's everywhere in East Africa, but it's more starchy and less sugary than the good kind of banana. Forget the matooke. That yellow ball to the upper left of it was some sort of potato situation I think, and to the right of it you can see chapati once again. Then there's a delicious, purple-brown colored sauce hiding at the back of the plate. It's called g-nut sauce and I could eat it by itself for days on end.

I can't fully convey how ecstatic I was to encounter the scrumptious sambusa in the picture below. Sambusa is basically the same thing as Indian samosa for those who are familiar. Take a delectable meat or vegetable filling and triangularly enclose it with a crispy and delicious shell. Sambusa are quite popular in Arusha, but they're half the size of the one taking up my whole hand (I don't have small hands) that I purchased while waiting for my return bus in Kampala. This sambusa was a great find for a couple of reasons. First, it was hot and I was hungry when I saw the man and his life-giving sambusa bucket. Second, it cost me 500 Ugandan Shillings. In Arusha, sambusa cost 500 Tanzanian Shillings each, but 1 TZS equals 1.55 UGX, so a giant sambusa in Uganda costs less than a much smaller sized one does in Arusha. In USD, my gargantuan sambusa costed $0.15. Mind-blowing. Life is so good.

I have no problem ending this post on a food discussion. The goal now is to learn how to prepare East African foods and bring a delicious revolution to Boston when I return.


  1. So many amazing experiences in just one weekend- that grey crowned crane is so regal! I would love to see them in a flock. Do they fly?

  2. Hey Yesterday, You certainly are making the most of your time in Africa. Looking forward to more stories, recipes and videos!