Thursday, March 24, 2011

The proof is in the matooke

Cross-posted from OMT Founder Halle Butvin's personal blog, Locus Amoenus

Dinner at Prisca's has become a routine for One Mango Tree visitors and interns. The first time you go, she'll cook for you - after that, it's time to pitch in. International Women's Day is a national holiday in Uganda, so we accepted the invitation to lunch at Prisca's, knowing full well that we'd be put to work as soon as we arrived. We headed straight into the family kitchen tukul, the last evidence of the traditional grass-thatched housing on Prisca's property.

inside Prisca's kitchen

Kaela got to work cutting matooke, while Martina and I provided moral support. Cutting matooke is a much harder job than it seems, as the tough green bananas don't peel like the familiar yellow ones, and they ooze a sticky sap.

Prisca & Kaela peel matooke for lunch

Before we arrived, Prisca had already made her now-famous fried chicken, dodo with simsim (greens with ground sesame paste), and sweet potatoes. With the boiled matooke, we had a ladies-only feast. We filed out of the kitchen and into the two-room brick house where Prisca's family currently lives.

watching Al-Jazeera, drinking refrigerated sodas

The living room got a fresh coat of robin's-egg-blue paint over the holidays, and Charles (Prisca's husband) connected the house to the Gulu electric lines. We watched Al-Jazeera on their little TV, and Prisca commented on Qaddafi and what she thought might happen with the conflict in Libya. The new chest refrigerator hummed in the corner, and Prisca presented us with a selection of cold sodas.

success doesn't come to you... you go to it

What seem to be normal, mundane details of a ladies lunch are actually quite extraordinary. When I started One Mango Tree, I wanted to see quick results - big changes in the tailors' lives, and fast. I'm learning that fair trade's proof comes with time - sustained, regular income is what moves people out of the poverty trap, and for good. Charles only works sporadically on construction projects - Prisca is the family breadwinner. Through careful savings and budgeting, the incremental improvements she's made have translated into big changes for her family.

the front door of the new family home

In between the kitchen tukul and the two-room home, Prisca and Charles built a large brick home. She used her 2010 savings to put in the roof, floor and window casings. Even while building their home, Prisca and Charles are now able to make spending decisions based on comfort, not necessity. Their family crowds the TV each evening to watch the news and local programs (Prisca loves the Spanish telenovelas dubbed into English - they are a big hit here). They have meat for dinner almost every night, and usually invite friends and family to join in the feast. Prisca cuts up cold pineapple as a treat for the kids when they come in from playing after school. Even the matooke we ate is telling - it's a cuisine choice from southern Uganda, and very expensive to buy in Gulu. It's one of Prisca's favorite treats - one she can now easily afford.

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