A word from Curt
Daily, we’re posting chapters from our new ebook, Trampled Grass.
If you enjoy the stories, please pass them on.
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Blessings on your journey.
Imported Cheese and Rojo the Rooster
You never know what a day in Africa may bring. It often involves surprising and delightful gifts.
Last month featured two surprising gifts: Imported cheese.
And a rooster named Rojo.
Pascal and Juliet with his sister and her husband at Seminary graduation
I drove to Jinja, Uganda, last week for a seminary graduation. My friend Pascal Ndihokubwimana had finished seminary.
Pascal is a brave pastor with a long last name. I’d like to have been there on the first day of seminary when Dr. Sivage called roll.
Pascal persevered to graduate.
Eleven long road trips over three years.
Making the bus journey through a war zone in eastern Congo, through Rwanda and across Uganda.His wife Juliet, whom I’d met in Congo, came to his graduation. She doesn’t speak English and my French and Swahili are poor. She smiled as she handed me a plastic bag.
I peeked in at two perfect rounds of yellow cheese. “You made it?” Pascal answered, “She made it for you.”
I cut a slice off. It was wonderful.
“Thank you . . . or merci beaucoup.”
I proudly brought the cheese home to DeDe.
A recent volunteer team had left behind a can of Spam.
There’s not much I like better than fried spam. Go ahead and laugh and shake your finger.
I know it’s bad for you. And I don’t want to know what it’s really made of.
It’s a comfort food for this redneck man.
DeDe made a toasted spam and cheese sandwich. She slathered on the mayo and mustard.
I sat down with a cold coke and a dripping spam sandwich. Not just any sandwich but one made with imported cheese and imported spam.
Cheese from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And Spam brought with care from Frankfurt, Kentucky.
As that commercial used to say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Timekeeper Chicken roundabout in Adjumani, Uganda.
My second gift started out as a Coca-Cola.
Ethan Bossier (known in Dry Creek as Big E) and I were on our last day in the refugee camps of Adjumani, Uganda. Our friend Joseph said, “Before you leave, Mildred wants to see you.”
“Yes, you met her at church yesterday. She wants to give you a Coke.”
We drove to Mildred’s roadside market store. She greeted us with the warm African hospitality I’ve come to take for granted, sharing hot fried cassava hush puppies from a plastic bucket.
I’m not crazy about cassava. It’s a sweet potato-like tuber that’s neither bad nor good. It’s tasteless. But fried it’s not bad. (I come from a culture where a fried piece of leather shoe would be eaten with relish if you had a little Tabasco and Tony’s.)
Mildred excused herself, presumably to retrieve my Coke.
I hoped it might be cold but knew better than to get my hopes up. Africa’s the home of cold showers and hot cokes.
Mildred returned at a trot, with a big smile and a red rooster tucked under her arm.
I’m slow sometimes but it quickly dawned: she wasn’t giving me a Coke. It was a cock.
She handed me the rooster and a small plastic bag of grain. Its legs were tied and it nestled in the crook of my arm.
Big E laughed so hard I believe he peed in his pants.
Big E with Rojo. (E’s the one with the cap .)
I held back my laughter. I’ve been on the Continent long enough to know this was a serious sacrificial gift.
Africans seldom eat meat with a meal. The gift of a chicken is a sacrifice. A sacrificial gift of love.
The plastic bag contained sim-sim, a sesame seed-like grain that makes great honey cakes. I handed the bag and rooster to Big E.
Mildred gave us instructions on how to keep the rooster well on our long journey across the Nile.
“A little water. A little sim-sim. Keep the windows rolled down.”
It was as if she was sending one of her children off to boarding school. We began our drive to the Laropi Ferry on the Nile. On our ferry crossing
four days earlier, Big E and I had sat by a tied goat on the boat.
This time we had our own chicken. I named him Rojo after a nearly forgotten song of my childhood about a Mexican rooster of the same name.
Big E named him Kojak. I had no problem with that. Everyone in Africa has multiple names spelled in multiple ways.
Rojo/Kojak was a fine-looking rooster. A healthy Rhode Island Red.
Big E kind of wrested ownership of Rojo from me, talking to it all the way along the bumpy road. It sat contentedly on the floorboard pecking at
He (Rojo not Big E) was pretty docile on the entire three-hour ride to Koboko Town.
“What are we going to do with him, Bro. Curt?” “I don’t know. We’ll decide when we get there.”
It was nearly dark when we reunited with our other team members.
I got Rojo out of the truck and took him behind the guesthouse where the chickens roost. They were a sorry-looking lot and I knew my rooster could whip anyone in the yard.
Market chickens on Ssesee Island ferry.
I untied his legs and Rojo strutted through the yard, wings a-flapping. Big E grimaced. “You don’t think anyone will steal him, do you?”
“Nah, he’ll be here in the morning.”
We were eating supper an hour later when a commotion began among the waitresses near the kitchen door. A fast-moving blur darted past them into
the dining area.
It was Rojo. He ran straight to Big E. “E, I believe he’s looking for you.”
We returned him to his roost and that’s where we found him the next morning. We tied his legs and took him with us to Pastor Mark Vukoni’s house. Big E presented the rooster to Rose, Mark’s wife. The Vukoni’s are both Madi and come from Adjumani town, Rojo’s hometown.
At least we left our rooster with kinfolk.
Big E, who’s a load of fun, whispered, “Do you think she’ll cook him for our dinner?”
“I sure hope not. I wouldn’t want to eat a friend.”
Our American team and the local pastors sat in the dim light of the mud hut. It was a wonderful time of prayer and sharing.
About two hours into our meeting, Rose Vukoni entered with a serving tray
in one hand and a covered plate in the other.
It was my turn to whisper. “If our rooster’s under that plate, I’m leaving.” He wasn’t. It was chapattis, an African tortilla.
A month later, we were back in Koboko. I asked Rose, “What about the rooster?”
“It was sure good.” What more can I say? It’s Africa.
Such a land of juxtaposition.
Schoolchildren or strangers putting their hand out. “Give me money.”
Good-hearted people giving you a precious chicken or carrying homemade cheese two hundred miles as a gift.
The gifts of Africa.
Given by Africans.
July 2014: Mzee Luka gives my grandson
Luke a chicken. His brother Jude and Papa (that’s me) look on.
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