I have finally come to terms with the lamentable lack of Trader Joe’s in Mbarara. If I am going to survive my trip, I am going to have to start making some form of edible somethingorother.
I decide to make a trip into town. I am supposed to take a bodaboda (motorbike), but I don’t even know in what direction is town. On the road outside the University, there is an approachable-looking young woman selling mobile phone airtime in a small wooden booth. I ask her how to get a bodaboda, and which way to go. She shows me, then she says “500 shillings.” She purses her lips and jerks her head toward the bodaboda drivers she has just pointed at, as if to say “Watch out, they will try to rip you off.”
In town, I find a supermarket, of which there are several. Super they are not. They are more like convenience stores with a bit more variety. There’s not much inspiration for me there, as I don’t know how to actually use “ingredients.” Where’s the prepared food section? The Asparagus risotto, BBQ chicken pizza, Gnocchi alla sorrentina?
At home, I find it too taxing to buy pasta and pasta sauce separately – the sauce always goes bad, then you have pasta with no sauce. Or then you buy sauce, not realizing that you’re out of pasta. Here, in No-Trader-Joe-Land, they don’t even have pasta sauce. But they have plenty of pasta. What am I supposed to do, buy tomatoes and make it? Are you out of your mind? That involves all kinds of things, like salt, and garlic and, like, onions.
Forget it. I buy a can of tuna, a can of baked beans and a can of red plum jam. I also buy a thick wheel of Gouda cheese (the only kind in the store), to make my beloved avocado and cheese sandwiches. Avocados here are about 6 cents. That one fact alone may save my life.
While I am paying for my pathetic groceries, I run into Dora, one of the interns who I like very much. She has her daughter with her, who is 1 year and 8 months. The baby lets me hold her calmly, but then she stares at me dumbfounded. I think the only reason she accepts me is that she can’t even figure out if I am human. Dora shows me her mother’s shop, where they rent videos and make photocopies and things. Then she points me toward the bakery, so I can buy bread for my avocado and cheese, red plum jam, or anything else I can think of that one can do with bread.
I want to check out the shops around and explore, but it’s getting dark. I happen upon City Top, a restaurant recommended by the mzungus I met. The sign says they specialize in African and Indian dishes. The owner seems to be the man at the front, a nice Indian man with streaks of white in his short, groomed beard. He helps me choose Chicken Punjab and some parotta (I think), which turns out to be delicious, and not spicy.
Satisfied at having deliciously avoided cooking for one more night, I catch a bodaboda back to the University.