I had agreed to cook dinner (read: cooking lesson) for my friend Lucy M, a TV producer (aka Biccy), the next Wednesday night after she’d been shocked at my lack of hearty meals. The things you signed up to in wild Africa.
Tuna pasta, to be more precise. It was her specialty. The ingredients:
I went to Uchumi Supermarket in Garden City that afternoon to buy the ingredients, somehow managing to get two heavy bags of shopping back home on a boda.
By the time I walked through the door I was exhausted. I wondered – not wishful thinking or anything and not that I wanted my friend to starve of course – if there would be a power cut? Ashamedly wondered.
There hadn’t been one at home for weeks and Museveni had recently vowed that loadshedding was history, although this wasn’t the first time that he’d promised this. The bugger. Didn’t he know that a good old power cut could come in handy just when you were about to accidentally poison your friends to death?
The instructions for the tuna pasta went like this:
Fry the onion and garlic. Add tomato paste. Chop the tomatoes, green peppers and olives. Add to pan with a bit of water and make a paste. Boil pasta. Chop green beans and add them to the pasta. Drain water from tuna by pressing down on opened lid (God, the things you did learn in Africa) then add to paste and heat through. Put paste on top of pasta and add grated cheese. Bon Appetit.
This was no Jamie Oliver special, though. This was Cooking with Mzunugus in Uganda.
I managed to start frying both the onion and garlic. I’d also proudly chopped the tomatoes, green peppers and olives and was told by my culinary superior that I was going well.
Just as I was about to start boiling the pasta however there was total darkness. It was followed by total silence.
It was the first power cut in weeks. I couldn’t believe it.
Although I never got that excited at the thought of slaving over a hot stove, I was now gutted that I wouldn’t be able to cook for my good friend. Or was this fate’s way of sparing her life?
After trying to go on in the dark (not a good idea with an 8 inch Ugandan blade in my hand) Lucy and I lit some candles and attempted to continue, only to discover that the gas had now also run out.
I had often thought that I was not a woman who was meant to be in the kitchen. Never before in my life than now did I feel this was true. This tuna pasta, me in the kitchen. None of this was meant to be.
“We’re going to end up having a salad at the Mengo Backpackers,” I groaned to Biccy.
One part of me was upset (I actually felt on the verge of tears, I’m not making this up) that my tuna pasta would never happen and that I was a complete failure. But the other part of me was slightly relieved, as not only would it save my embarrassment but it could also mean that my friend would live to see another day.
Biccy had been a very good friend in Uganda. On this occasion she wasn’t letting me down either, providing me with the encouragement that I needed to go on with my cooking, as much as I hated it and had two kind of legitimate excuses for giving up.
“We’ll go to the neighbors,” she said triumphantly.
Carrying the frying pan, pot and chopping board, we went and knocked on the door opposite us and explained to them that we were experiencing a few technical glitches with making our dinner.
Sheowanesh aka Shewa, who we discovered was Eritrean, was delighted to let us use her gas. By this time, of course the power had gone off again in the entire building, so we continued preparing our food in the semi-darkness.
When the pasta had boiled we thanked her and went back into our flat, lighting some candles and trying to eat as fast as possible.
Eating in the dark was harder than it looked, especially when it was spirally pasta and your candles weren’t that great. At the end of my meal I looked like I’d been in a food fight.
The power did return, just as we were about to watch our ‘dodgy DVD’ of the week, Wanderlust, which the guy at the Garden City video shop had burnt for me earlier in the week for 5,000 Ugandan shillings ($2USD). I’d though it was a bargain, but when Lucy told me she’d had seven burnt for 15,000 Shs ($6) I realised how ripped off I’d been.
We were both excited about a rom com, what with the fast pace of life in Uganda, although hadn’t been able to get through Bridesmaids the previous week, what with the characters’ lips movement coming about half an hour after the dialogue.
When we put Wanderlust into the DVD though we were both very disappointed to actually discover the disk had Big Miracle, the story of a a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. Although we’d pulled of a miracle (i.e. dinner) itself, I wasn’t in the mood for it. II’d be having a word in the ear of my dodgy DVD man.
Now completely giving up on the night, I went to bed.
One good thing had perhaps emerged from the night though – a future slot for Biccy and I on Cooking with Mzunugs in Uganda. I’m still trying to convince my TV producer friend we should do it.
I went over to Sheowanesh’s to thank her the next day. She was busy cooking popcorn but was delighted that our dinner had turned out in the end. She not only gave me her details but her family’s in Eritrea (they even have a PO Box) and told us to call in any time we were there. I can’t wait.