No Struggle, No Reward

When I was little, I went horseback riding with my cousins up near Grand Lake in Colorado. I asked for an old horse because I wanted to go slowly because I had no idea what I was doing. I admired my older cousins because they seemed so outdoorsy and comfortable around horses and I wanted to be like them so I kept my fear to myself. I survived the trek out, away from the stables and was getting rather comfortable as my horse did, indeed, seem old and slow. Well, then we turned around to come back. I know my memory might not be the best because I was so little, but I remember my ‘slow’ horse taking off running as fast as her old legs could go, knowing she was heading back home to the comfort of her own space and maybe a sugar cube or a carrot for a treat.

That’s how I feel right now. Not the old part so much as my body feels pretty good, but knowing the simply pleasures that await me when I get home, I want to run as fast as I can. My kids. My mom’s voice. Brushing my teeth using the tap. My own bed. Popcorn. The lake. A toilet that always works. Heck, toilet paper that works. Hamburgers. Hot showers. Different clothes. Hair products. Reliable internet. Good soap. Doritos. Season 3 of Stranger Things. My favourite riding trails. Anonymity.

But there are also things I will deeply miss: Smiles and nods from everyone I see, the different view of the stars, spending quality time with John without distractions, time to read, the smells of campfire and roasting meat, my friends here, bird choirs, the Ugandan accent when they speak English and chipati, the local flatbread that you can buy anywhere on the street for a quarter.

If fact, I grew to like chipati so much that I asked Cici, one of the hotel hosts, if they could teach me how to make it. She said, “Sure! Meet me here at 6 am because that is when the chef makes it.” 6? Well, ok. When else am I gonna get such a chance to see the inside of a hotel kitchen and what better time to see that reality than right before I’m leaving and don’t plan to eat in any more in restaurants? Chef Ronald was kind enough to lead me through the process and I was taking notes on my phone the whole time of the ingredients and amounts. I would ask him how much sugar to put in. Oh, “just a fistful.” Ok. And how much salt? “About a quarter of a fistful.” Ok. Two eggs. A seemingly random amount of water and milk. A huge cafeteria-spoonful of margarine. Grated carrots. A few blended onions with the carrot ends that didn’t get grated. And about twelve kilograms of flour. It wasn’t until he dumped in six bags of flour that I realized he was making about 150 pieces when I will need maybe four. I’ll have to adjust those fistfuls.

He expertly reached in and mixed it all by hand and then poured oil all over it and kneaded it again. His hands were so quick as he began cutting off pieces with a huge knife and rolling them into balls that were all exactly the same size. As he was doing this, the security guard came in with his AK-47 strapped to his back. He flirted with Cici, grabbed a banana and left. The other boys were busy chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes, making greens and helping prepare the hotel breakfast of pineapple, bananas and hard boiled eggs. I found it fascinating to see how they cooked over charcoal and their systems that all kitchens have, no doubt. I awkwardly just sat in a chair in the middle of the room.

When it was time to cook the chipati, they added way too much charcoal to the fire and the flames were leaping up around the entire cast iron flat skillet. I wondered how often they get burned cooking over open flames but it seemed like a dumb question so I kept quiet. Plus, the cook put a wooden cabinet door between him and the fire so I figured he pretty much had it covered. Ronald rolled out the pieces of dough thinly, and the other cook put them onto the skillet that had been carefully treated with a little oil. He drizzled it with even more oil before he flipped them until they were perfectly cooked. No wonder they are so good. The whole process took about ninety minutes. I know mine won’t taste as good as the ones I’ve had here, but I’m sure gonna try. And mine won’t have the consistent token piece of sand in them, I hope.

John spent the day dismantling the bikes and packing so I took the opportunity to stay out of the way and go see a vocational school nearby that is sometimes supported by the church we attended yesterday. There were two boys learning about electronics and how to fix phones, TVs, etc. Then there was a class of five girls learning sewing and tailoring skills. They had sewn some dresses out of cement bags to show potential customers the different styles that were available for pants, shirts and dresses. One of them wasn’t wearing her school uniform and seemed embarrassed by that when I showed up. She quickly got up, carefully avoiding getting her picture taken, until she had her shirt in and properly tucked into her skirt. Finally, there was a group of five young ladies studying theory for cosmetology. They were gregarious and fun. They only had a single dummy head between all five of them and one mirror. Obviously, their biggest need was supplies. No make up. No hair dryers. No scissors or razors. No wonder they were working on the theory. There were not enough supplies to do the practical applications.

These students are working to learn a trade after not being able to afford further secondary school fees or not passing their exams to move forward into the last two years of secondary. It seems typical that students complete “S4” (four out of the possible six years for secondary) and then drop out, looking for work because they know they can’t afford university. The girls in this particular school wanted to have a skill so they didn’t have to rely on a man to take care of them. It seems rather typical that a woman will get married and have kids and then be abandoned and can’t care for the kids because she has no skills. I admire these girls for being realistic, independent and smart. I told them that the next time I come, we could do some work in self defence and that got them really excited. I hope that becomes a reality. They insisted on walking me all the way back to my hotel, picking flowers for my hair and taking selfies. A policeman who knew them stopped his motorcycle to have a word and commented on their school uniforms not being tucked in. One of the sassy girls showed him that she was wearing a dress underneath so she couldn’t tuck. I liked her immediately. It was really fun and again confirmed my draw towards that age group.

I spent time this afternoon writing the speech that I’m expected to deliver tomorrow at the celebration party. John helped me come up with the analogy of the biking and how hard it can be to get over the mountains and hills in our lives but that if we don’t give up and accept a little push once in awhile, the reward at the top is always worth it. Because it will be translated, it gives me time to look at the cues on my phone as I speak, but I hope the message is not lost in translation. I also kinda hope there are not the 400 guests they are expecting. That’s gonna be super tough, but I want to finish strong and I can always sleep on the plane. We saved a bunch of our Get Schooled frisbees so it should be a good day. And I have to say a public thank you to Lisa Dengel from the US for providing a cake. We are grateful. Tomorrow might actually feel as hard as a 100-km-uphill-all-the-way day for us. But, as I’m telling the kids tomorrow – if there is no struggle, there is no reward.