SPECIAL TO SIMERG
AN EXCERPT FROM RSVP RICE AND STEW VERY PLENTY
By Nazlin Rahemtulla
As a youngster, I especially adored shopping on the Main Street of Jinja. Simply strolling along the sidewalks was magic. We mingled with Indian women in their beautifully draped sarees of vibrant fuchsias, blues, and magentas; African ladies in gay gomezis and basutis (colourful native apparel); buttoned-down British matrons in conservative English clothing; African men riding to and fro on their bicycles; and Sikh gentlemen in neatly wound turbans.
What we all had in common was shopping, and we bustled cheerfully along, stopping in clusters to gossip with our countless friends and relatives. Whenever we set out on a shopping expedition, we brought along a servant, usually Skinny, to carry our packages in woven baskets.
Rows of dukas nestled next to one another in old one-storey buildings of traditionally detailed Indian design. At curbside, single round columns of cobalt blue and double square pillars of turquoise and cream supported portico roofs that overhung the sidewalks in front of the shops. Next to the porches low, flowering bougainvillea bushes lined the curbs. The buildings were cream, and, while most of the roofs were flat, some sported jaunty red tiles.
As a rule, Indians owned the buildings, and rented individual dukas to Hindus, Ismailis, Sikhs, and Bugandans. Cobblers, bicycle repairers, chemists, fabric retailers, clothing merchants, bakers, confectioners, toy vendors, produce hawkers, and book sellers all jostled cheerfully to attract customers. The wares and services they offered often overflowed from their shops onto the porches.
As we walked and shopped, we soaked up the constant chatter of Indian, Swahili, and British tongues, listened to the whirr of sewing machines operating on storefront verandahs, and inhaled the delicious aromas of spices and fresh-baked goods.
I remember vividly my trips, on Friday or Saturday mornings, to the sokoni with Ma and various of my brothers and sisters. The market was close to the centre of town, about two miles from our home. It sat on a square consisting of several acres. Decrepit wooden stalls pinched against one another higgledy-piggledy. Narrow, dirt lanes meandered around and through the grounds. Acacia and mango trees rimmed the perimeter, and often overhung the stalls, offering a welcome bit of shade.
The bazaar-like atmosphere was intoxicating, a pulsing cacophony of sights and sounds. The air was redolent with a muddle of delectable, pungent, and sometimes revolting odours.
Entering the market was always heart-wrenching. Maskinis (Swahili for beggars) clustered around the entrance in a sorry state, missing limbs and eyes. They had no wheelchairs so they scurried about on horizontal dollies. I became friendly with some of them, and made it my practice to collect change for them. On Friday mornings, they turned out in great numbers, seeking baksheesh (offerings of money) because they knew that our religion mandates generosity on Muslim prayer days.
Inside the square, the hustle and bustle of Indians, Africans, and Caucasians rivalled that of Main Street. I especially loved to watch the African women. They wove their way up and down the aisles in gaudy gomezis, gracefully balancing colourfully woven baskets of fruit on their heads, sometimes with a baby strapped to their back.
Vendors at the market flogged a bewildering jumble of produce and merchandise from goat intestines to nails.
Masses of reddish-yellow mangoes, ripe amber papayas, pineapples with brownish-yellow rinds and spiked leaves, luscious red tomatoes, and other fresh fruits and vegetables overflowed baskets or lay on brown paper on the ground. Huge clusters of bananas hung from pillar to post.
Masses of sisal, a fibre used to make products like twine, cloth and carpets spilled out of baskets. Waist-high white gunny sacks full of peanuts, flour, rice, and other grains lined the lanes in front of the stalls.
Fish from Lake Victoria and the River Nile were abundant. Slabs of yellowish-grey meat coated in flies hung from huge hooks, and vendors hacked pieces from them with machetes for sale to the locals. Ramshackle clothing racks swayed precariously as customers jostled against them. We bought some goods such as vegetables in bunches but hawkers employed large, pan-shaped scales to weigh others. We always had a great time wandering around the stalls to check on who was displaying the best produce, and stopping to socialize with our friends and neighbours.
Senene (Swahili for grasshoppers) are a Ugandan delicacy, rich in protein and quite salty. During monsoon season, we kids shook the trees and hedges, and senene galore rained down on us. We collected them, in buckets and baskets, for Mary to cook. The servants ate the serene with ugali or fried them with onions and pepper. Senene swarmed the street lamps in Jinja as well, and the local kids harvested them. As an adult, Ive learned that they are actually bush crickets or katydids but remembering them simply as senene is more fun.
Date posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012
Copyright: Nazlin Rahemtulla. June 2012.
About the writer: Nazlin Rahemtulla who presently lives in Burnaby, BC was born in Jinja, Uganda of Indian ancestry. Her long-awaited dream of telling her family’s story of migration to Uganda from India, and her own settlement in Canada, as a result of Idi Amin’s disastrous rule in the East African, is achieved with the publication of her autobiographical work RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty, which she has co-authored with Margaret Fairweather. Her story is told from the perspective of her and her family’s deep attachment to the Ismaili Muslim faith, and its ever-present significance in their lives. This strong affinity with her faith also leads her to describe the infinite good works of the late 48th Ismaili Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, and his successor, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV.
To purchase the book please click Friesen Press.
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