Sunday 3 January 2010

Old Family Tales from Uganda

Recently I have been obsessed by my East African heritage, first trigger was the picture of Aga Khan Primary School, and then reading these wonderful blogs by:

Kalwant Ajima (East African Asians the new Wahindi)

Vali Jaffer (Viva! East Africa)

Sultan Somjee (Splendours of Dawn in my English Suitcase).

Reading these has triggered many memories from the recesses of my brain.

So I thought I would share them with you, here goes:

Chachi (my mum) was born in Bukandula, Mpigi, Buganda. My grandfather was a dukawalla and sold a wide array of commodities; sugar, salt, soap, kerosene, fabric, medicines. When I visited Bukandula, my mama (Chachi’s brother) ran the shop. In the veranda of the shop were two fundis (tailors) sewing gomezi / busuti for women and kanzu for men. Opposite the shop was the Jamat Khana which doubled as a school. Chachi attended that school, where she was taught by Ali Mohamed Master, the same teacher who taught me at Aga Khan Primary School in Kampala. He is still alive and well and attends North West Jamat Khana!

Ali Mohamed Master (Top line, 4th from the Left)

Of course, as there was no electricity in those days, kerosene lanterns were used for light, and the windows just had wooden shutters (no glass). In the backyard there was a huge water tank to collect rain water, and a cess pit toilet (ewww!). There was also a mapara (guava) tree in the backyard, which was home to colourful weaver birds, and there were hundreds of nests in this tree. There were also a lot of hens in the back yard, I remember running after tiny little chicks in the yard, with the clucking mother hen trying to protect her young.

At dusk, the sky was filled with hundreds of bats. The nights were very dark, and the eerie sounds of the distant drums used to scare me. The best sound was the sound of the African rain on the corrugated tin roof.

My mama used to have a Peugeot box body truck. My mama and mami used to sit in the front and we children would be in the back, where they had put a mattress, no seats! It was a bumpy ride and noisy, the tarpaulin cover of truck would rattle loudly in the wind. Sometimes we would to sing; row row row your boat! It brings back such an incongruous image. Mama used to come to Kampala to get the goods for his duka, and sometimes one or the other of us would go back with him. He always brought a stem of small yellow bananas, which tasted totally different to the bananas we get in this country, we used to call them membu or menvu.

The great thing about the Asians in Uganda at that time was they were pioneers. They built their homes in the middle of nowhere. Unlike Bhuj India, there were no shops to buy anything ready made, food or clothes, furniture etc. Everything had to be made. Women would cook everything from scratch from chevro to athanu (pickle) and papad (papadom). That was why Chachi and women like her were expert cooks. In Kampala my Ma (my aunt actually – don’t ask) had a jhundher that comprised of two mill stones on top of each other. The bottom stone was fixed, the top could rotate, so that when it was spun it would grind everything in between the two stones. This was used to make flour as well as various dals. Ma was also an expert in making athanu – gunda, gor kerri, limu etc. Ma got married when she was thirteen, (she was born in Tanzania) I don’t know where she learnt her skills, but she was the person who taught chachi how to make athanu.

Our kitchen in Kampala had a built-in charcoal stove, chachi used to sit on a low stool (patlo) and make Mani (chapatti) for us. The aroma was so enticing, Malek (my cousin and 2 years younger than Chachi) used to sprinkle sugar on the hot chapattis before giving to us to eat. Kerosene primus was also used for cooking.

The khoja cuisine had to adapt to local vegetables and fruit, such as mogo and matoke. So we loved matoke in peanut sauce, or matoke and bijanjaalo, Fried mogo (dejays style) was a real treat. Local farmers would bring round various vegetables round the neighbourhood, they would scream out whatever they were selling, for example: Mboga (vegetables), Nyana (tomatoes), Bbiringanya (aubergines), Bijanjaalo (beans). Or Chachi or Ma would shout “Lasse ki?” and they would answer with a stream of vegetables they were selling.

I am amazed I have been able to remember so much………. More soon.

13 comments: said...

Happy new year Saju!
You have such fond memories of Kampala. You can stay in touch with the city by visiting - said...

Happy new year Saju!
You have such fond memories of Kampala. You can stay in touch with the city by visiting -

Anonymous said...

There's a wonderful book by Yasmin Alibhai Brown called the Settlers' Cookbook, which is all about her life in Uganda and UK. It's a really really good read!

Saju said...

Thank you Maninas,I will look out for it.

Anonymous said...

wow this is so wonderful..chachis cooking guide has been an inspiration to me , and its so easy to cook now, ofcourse nothing i like cooking like matooke/groundnuts, mandazi, muchomo you name it born and bred in africa , all the foods are just delicious.

falsa said...

Your memoirs are so beautifully etched out. I can relate to the stories because my grandparents share their pre-partition memomries with me. My grandmother's grandmother used to make vermicilli by hand and sold them for 2 anas. Bajro na rotla, is what we eat so fondly with ringra na bhurta.

Saju said...

I just went an had a look at your blog. I am mesmerized by it, you write so well.

vali jamal said...

I loved your story of growing up in Uganda. Thank you for citing my blogspot. I am writing this major book on us people, which has now gone beyond 600 pages. With your permission I should like to include your account in the book. There should be 3-4 more photos. In the one you have posted I recognise Sakar (Toro) and the teacher on the extreme right. My sister Malek I V Jamal was the first trained Ismaili teacher at our school. She passed away in 1966. I taught during my gap years in 1958 and 1961.

Saju said...

Hi Vali,
you are welcome to use my blog entry in your book.
Re pictures, what do you need. We administer the Aga School blog.

Anonymous said...

Terima kasih untuk hal-hal yang baik

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, it was quite helpful and told a lot.

Anonymous said...

Straight to the point and well written! Why can’t everyone else be like this?

alikhan said...

Thanks for sharing,although I was very young when my family and I left Kenya Eldoret I have vague memories of my childhood there,my mom isn't able to tell me too much as she has lost a lot of her memory I wish I had asked her about her past and where here grandparents came from so that I could trace back my heritage, any nice to live vicariously through you.

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