July 3, 2018
It was 6:00 a.m. when I dragged myself out of bed. I murmured a greeting to my girlfriend, but she simply turned over. We run a grocery store and had closed up very late the previous night, so she was still very tired. I whispered to her, “You may have to wait until later when you reach the shop to fix yourself breakfast, there’s nothing here.” There was no bread, no eggs, and as of last night no gas to cook with. The water was frigid. So, I talked myself into missing my morning bath and committed my whole being to it.
I was spending the day getting supplies for my grocery store. I knew I was likely to go hungry for many hours before I could stop to eat anything, so my first order of business was to get a snack. On the narrow road up the hill from my house lives a snack maker, whose station serves a diverse group, consisting of mainly hungry early risers needing to grab a bite before jostling for taxi rides to work. I was one of them. Therefore, I stopped by the stall. We hastily greeted because I remained partly parked on the road. Luckily, I was able to choose my favourite puffy pancakes. I didn’t have to worry about needing a Coke to go with them because they were hot, fresh, and soft. The pancakes have a reputation of being rock hard when cold. I was finishing my purchase when a vehicle approached from behind. It was Mr. Walusimbi, the vice-chairman of the area council. He delivered a greeting through his car window behind me; I sent one back. I drove on and by the time both our vehicles merged onto the main road, his was standing right besides mine.
The traffic left us time for a small conversation: He told me that he was heading to Bulemezi, a place roughly 65 km away in the Luwero district, to supervise what he said was a bountiful maize harvest this season. I told him I was going to gather items for my grocery store in Kampala City. I wished him a safe journey as we both gained entry to the road.
My first appointment was a business meeting with my old friend Benon, a flourishing kyakala – general merchandise wholesaler. But on the way, I remembered that I needed a few more items from my grains supplier in Owino Market. The milled white peanuts I sold a week earlier were out of stock. They were loved by my customers for the creamy sauce they make. But when I called my grains supplier to see if he had any, he referred me to another outlet nearby. They did not have any. I found myself making many phone calls while I was driving. This worried me. If a police officer caught me making phone calls while driving, it would be a bookable offense worth 20,000 Ugandan shillings.
Despite the hassle, I got things arranged just as I was approaching Kampala. Benon and I were in high school and University together. So, we normally have a lot of stories to mull over. Besides this, I like going to his shop which is located at Kafumbe Mukasa road in Kampala City’s downtown area. Those of us from outside Kampala who must deal with the heavy traffic and limited parking space to do business in the city find locations like Benon’s, which is outside the central business district, very convenient. That is why I switched to him, even though his location is at the confluence of a huge open-air trading area that is also notorious for traffic jams and pickpockets.
Seeing Benon now, with a well-established wholesale store of his own, made me remember fondly the time in the past when we were only dreaming of owning businesses. But we did not waste time reminiscing. We delved straight into it. He had items in bulk that I needed on advance terms for weekly payment. My list included liquors such as Uganda Waragi, Bond 7 Gin, Gilbeys Gin, V&A Wine and several other Vodka brands. The total amount in credit was bearable for both of us.
As I had already put an initial payment on it, his calculation of the repayment seemed right. I paid him while his boys began loading the goods into my vehicle. No sooner had I finished closing the deal than the peanuts supplier contacted earlier called to inform me that my order was ready. As I was beginning to drive off, I shared with Benon the remaining pancakes in the plastic polythene bag. He was delighted to have a morning snack from me as I took the last box of goods from his hands and left.
To my surprise, the usually crowded street between Kafumbe Mukasa road and Owino market remained fantastically clear of vehicular traffic. I drove swiftly and got a parking spot near where a street vendor was selling his wares in a permanent kiosk by the roadside. I approached him and smiled. To further break the ice, I greeted him heartily in my good Luganda announcing to him that I was a regular visitor to the place. Additionally, I thanked him for being early for work that morning. “Please watch the vehicle for me,” I implored him as I disappeared into the market. On his face, I could tell that he expected more for keeping my car safe than the streetwise smile I offered. I had paid such tips before in exchange for the safety of my car on the street so I was prepared.
Owino market is a wide expanse of makeshift stalls where over a million people mingle breast to breast every day looking for njaulo-profit. Commotion reigns. I was at the alternative grain store in a few minutes. It is run by Charles, a Muraaro-cattle-keeper, from the Ankole cow belt in western Uganda. In fact on the wall inside his grain store is a large painting of a long-horned cow which ‘stares’at you as you approach the entrance. So as I stood there teasing him, asking him how a cattle keeper knows all about peanuts, our hearts warmed up towards each other. I felt much at home with him and it was all smiles as we traded together.
He offered me a sample of the peanut paste to taste-test from the bag which had been freshly milled and where my order was to be weighed. It was still warm to the touch. I tasted it twice, each time taking a little swab and letting it melt on my tongue. This is how it is done here in Uganda. You will often observe a buyer breaking a little piece of the carrot to satisfy their taste as they chat with the seller. My paste tasted smooth with a well-rounded flavour of a good roast. Also, it had no sand in it and that was a plus.
They weighed 50 kg and I purchased a sisal bag with a plastic lining inside for safety since pounded peanut oil has a tendency to drip through the bottom. The store owner wished me well. “Please come back again Sebo (sir).” He waved to me as he asked one of his luggage boys to carry my purchases to my car. As we strode away the luggage boy whispered in my ear, “2k” meaning 2,000 shillings for the work. I signalled to him that I would pay something, but not that much, and we continued on. As we squeezed forward through a sea of shoppers, I was worried of the many pickpockets mixed and mingled among the people and that he might run off with my goods. But we arrived at the car together. As usual, I parted with a “1k’” or 1,000 shillings tip for him and another to the street vendor for watching my car. My Owino market day was a success. Adding to my joy was the delight in finding an alternative grain store with competitive prices and good quality milled peanut. I had set up the first purchase on credit arrangement earlier with Benon which is how I also knew his shop was a great facility going forward for my business.
It was 9:45 a.m. when I headed back to Kajjansi Entebbe road, the locality where I operate my business. This time I took a different route via the Ring Road in order to avoid city-bound traffic on the Katwe side. As I drove past the entrance to Buganda King’s Mengo palace, I had clear views of the magnificent Twekobe–the King’s administration building at Bulange and the Old Kampala and Lubaga hills in the distance.
Back in Kajjansi, I went straight to the shop and opened up for the day. The remaining purchases to be made were all locally done through our nearby outlets. We call them directly and they deliver. My girlfriend was surprised to find me already back and at the shop. She went straight into fixing breakfast. As she removed items from her bag, I discovered that she had also passed by the snack stall and purchased the puffy pancakes for herself. We had our late breakfast of Katogo-stewed banana mixed with bitter eggplant, Irish potatoes and topped with cow ghee. And as such we skipped lunch.
I had an appointment at 3:00 p.m. with the Principal at Trinity School in Bwebajja at the same time the day’s World Cup games were starting. However, it was the encounter between Colombia and England that was our match of the day since it put my two close friends against each other. I had arranged to be with James, “the charcoal man” an avid Colombia fan and Jeph, “the milk man,” who roots for England. As I arrived back from my meeting, their two teams were already facing off. We watched the game merrily together sipping our favorite beers: Bell Lager, Club Pilsner, and Tusker Lager. James was taking extra shots of Gilbeys Gin on the side with his Tusker, which I would never dare partake in anyways being such a poor drinker. The game was a tough duel between two great teams. Anyone could have won it. After the penalty-taking, “the milkman’s” team won, while “the charcoal man’s” lost. I bought them both a round of drinks to celebrate football.
After the day’s football games, not many customers stuck around, we closed off for the day around 1:00 a.m. and went home.