no beans for you

The general consensus (general meaning my doctor, my vegetarian friend who also got sick and is also named Rebecca, only she spells it differently, and me) is that I contracted malaria in Apac. I was up there for work, checking out a sports program that GYPA runs in conjunction with The Kids League.

You get to Apac by shared taxi from Lira. “Shared” is used here in the most liberal sense of the word: our driver packed eight people and a baby, plus him, into his four-door sedan. The trip takes about 90 minutes on a surprisingly smooth dirt road, and the taxi dumps you out in the center of town — a pleasant little roundabout surrounded by a bank, a couple of guys selling washtubs in a wide variety of bright colors, and a DVD store.

Howard, the GYPA program coordinator who runs things in Apac, spent a couple of hours running us through the activities there, and then he helped us find a hotel near the center of town. This took us all the way until 1:00 or so, at which point we assured the worried Howard he could leave us and go back to work — we were perfectly capable of feeding and entertaining ourselves for the rest of the day.

Thus it began: the most epic search for food I have ever experienced. We didn’t ask for much: beans, rice, maybe chapatti — something simple and easy, common Ugandan staple food. Our quest took us all over town, onto two bicycles and to six different restaurants, all of which were staffed by women who told us the exact same thing:

“Smoked meat. Fresh meat. No beans. No rice. No chapatti.”

It was an anti-vegetarian conspiracy, developed and manned by a gang of sisters who ran Apac’s food distribution behind the backs of the LC5. An entire city — a district seat, no less — and no beans to be found. Rebecca and I sat in our hotel room for a minute, wondering what we would do.

“Cassava!” Rebecca shouted suddenly. We looked at each other. Of course! It was so simple!

We trekked back to the main road, where we had seen three women selling roasted cassava during our search for sustenance. We acquired two of the tasteless, tubular roots, and then stood for a minute, slightly unsure of how to proceed.

“…and Top-Up?” Rebecca suggested timidly.

“And Top-Up!” I yelled with enthusiasm. The supermarket across from our hotel, which was the only supermarket in town, sold a number of condiments, children’s clothing and drinks (powdered and bottled) but no actual food. Two bottles of Top-Up (one regular, one spicy) and two bottles of water later, we settled into the hotel lobby for lunch.

The matron came by and gave us a long stare. “You like cassava?” she inquired, almost condescendingly. “With Top-Up?” We nodded, mouths full. “I make you something to eat,” she offered. It wasn’t exactly a question. “Smoked meat. Fresh meat.” We shook our heads no, and she walked off, muttering to herself.

The next morning we found our way to the taxi park, which consisted of a single van waiting for passengers to take back to Lira. At some point during the wait, Rebecca tugged at my sleeve.

“Look,” she whispered, pointing out the window.

It was the Apac market.

Note: we experienced an equally difficult search for cabbage in Gulu, until we figured out where they’d all been hiding: in the bed of a truck nestled a few blocks off the main road, just sitting there. Not for sale.