• Eric Li

Visit to Arua

Updated: May 21, 2021

In August 2020, when long-distance buses resumed in a pseudo-social-distanced manner, I visited my good friend Paul’s village house in Arua. There I stayed for a week, and I experienced a lifestyle which was simple and joyful. Having never lived outside a big city, and coming from one of the busiest of them all- Hong Kong, I was so used to having goods and services at my fingertips that I did not think I could live without them. When I first came to Kampala, I wanted to live in town so I could stay as close to the hustle and bustle as possible, though in the end my friend convinced me to stay in Muyenga. The lockdown has changed me. I was surprised to find myself perfectly comfortable staying inside my house for more than half a year. Having more space in the house definitely did help, as I could not imagine feeling the same if I were locked in my tiny apartment in Hong Kong. With the extra time available to me, I gardened, cooked, read, wrote, philosophized, and there I found creativity and peace.

Paul had a small garden in front of his house where he planted some cassava, avocado, mangos and irish potatos. We had a short walk in the garden in the morning when the weather was still cool. Paul taught me how to recognize different plants. He pointed out the cassava to me and told me that different households had their own recipe of making millet bread, their staple food. Some used cassava, some used millet, some used sourghum, and some used a mixture of the above. I looked forward to tasting it. After that, a neighbor came to the house and stayed for lunch with us. I loved the hospitality here. A neighbor could just walk in, bringing with him his latest stories, and the house and the kitchen would always be open to them. The neighbor proudly described all kinds of fruits that were grown in Arua, such as mangos, pawpaw, guava, and some other kinds which they would pick when they were kids but were not found anymore. He reminisced about them, and claimed that the fruits they grew from their local gardens were much sweeter than the ones in the market which were farmed in large-scale. He said he did not need to take any chocolates or sweets when he had these juicy fruits, and I chuckled my agreement.

Then we went to the local market. I was surprised to see to find it quite different from the ones in Kampala! First, most people here spoke Lugbara. It was a language that had tones. Paul taught me a tongue-twister which was a sentence constructed with a single sound but with different tones. This seemed more simliar to Chinese than Luganda! Next, the things that were sold were also quite different. I tried to follow some West African recipes before but I found that it was difficult to find some of the ingredients in Kampala, especially during covid times, such as dried fish, palm oil, shea butter, etc. But for some reason, it was all here in the West Nile. And the dried fishes- there was a section of the market which was full of them! There were so many varieties of the fish that was dried. In Kampala, I saw only mukene, the small silver fish, nile perch, and tilapia. Here, I was introduced to so many new species that I had not heard before. They came in all forms of shapes and sizes, and they were dried in different ways. Some were preserved in salt, some air-dried in the sun, and some smoked in fire. I was amazed.

This reminded me of home. Being a coastal city, Hong Kong was famous for all kinds of dried seafood, such as abalone, sea cucumber, shrimps, octopus, oysters, scallops, squids, and the highly sought after fish maw, the air bladder of the fish, which actually is mainly supplied by Uganda, from fish in Lake Victoria. Like in Uganda, shops that sold the same things were often found crowded in the same street. There is an amazing street in Sheung Wan district which is full of dried seafood shops. The smell of dried seafood brought me back there.

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