Tonight, I’m read a piece I wrote about Namuwongo Market at “An Evening of Glorious Travelogues”. Namuwongo is in Kampala, Uganda. I read this to a group of English majors and others cultured in creative reading. I made it back alive.
The night activity is much different from the day. The street transforms. The piles of used clothing disappear. The fruit and vegetables are piled onto carts and wheeled away. The night vendors come and set up their stalls on the side of the street. As I walk towards the glow, the smells hit me first. The woodshop still smells like the sawdust from earlier in the day. Beds, tables, and drawers sit under the night sky. The smell from the welders, still working this late, drifts over. The petrol station is closed, but you can smell the oil and diesel. The wind picks up and I smell the rotting vegetables and the sewer that separate the market from the rest of the street. Boda drivers appear. They ask me “Are we going?” I shake my head no and I continue to walk.
First come the ears of maize roasting over the charcoal. The women are rapidly turning them with their bare hands as I walk past. They talk to each other softly and some of them laugh as they see me. The maize tastes like burnt popcorn to me. The taste is like those unpopped kernels that have a smokey flavor to them.
Margaret’s shop is still open in the background as I walk. I stop in front of a stand and I order a rolex. The man close to my age cracks the eggs into a cup. He uses a spoon to break the eggs and tosses the shells on the ground. They crunch beneath his feet, under the red flip flops. With the same spoon, he quickly ladles oil on the metal. The eggs are poured on as he takes the chapatti and lays it on top, spinning them together with a piece of greasy cardboard. It comes off with a knife and scoops of cabbage are laid on. Slices of tomato are laid on, not big ones, but small ones, cut with the knife that has no handle. He rolls my dinner into a tight roll and places it into the plastic sack. He tosses my coin into the cup and begins to make the next rolex.
I hope to find mandazi tonight. As long as I am eating grease, I might as well eat a lot of it. I walk further, seeing the large pans of roasting g-nuts. People keep saying muzungu. I keep my eyes fixed forwards and try to ignore the calls. I’m at the end of the street food now, at the boda stage. I smile and shake my head as three engines start and the drivers clamor around.
I turn up the side street towards the bars and the meat. I smile to myself as I think how far away from home I am and how wonderful this place really is. I look at the racks of chicken and goat, the long skewers turning slowly by the man with the blue shirt. I ask for goat and he slides the meat off the skewer into a plastic bag and places that into a paper bag.
Margaret isn’t in her shop. It’s her nephew Fred who asks how I am and occasionally asks another question as I drink my soda. I hate to think that I am leaving soon. I like this: the glass bottles, the friendly people, the sacks of rice and maize flour. The music is still resonating in the background.
As I walk back through the crowds, I again have to smile. I feel like I fit in, but I know that I don’t. I find myself walking without noticing that I am different.