Uganda: The Magician and the Chapatti

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Returning to Kasangati and working with our friends at CALM Africa has been great. Since Laura has already posted about some of the work we’ve been doing, this is more of an update on the strange and random African experiences we’ve had over the past couple of weeks.

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Firstly, butterflies. More butterflies than I’ve ever seen in my while life combined, flying over our house toward the East all day long. If you squint it looks a little bit like it’s lightly snowing in this tropical paradise. It’s really quite odd. Every day for a week this continued, yet nobody but us seemed interested. I assume this must be a regular and mundane occurrence for the locals at this time of year. One of those beautiful things you stop caring about after the hundredth time it happens, just like snow. The sad part was that the butterflies had to cross a very busy road outside our house to continue east, and hundreds of them did not make it. The bonus however, was that it provided us with quite a colourful lepidoptera patterned carpet to walk along to reach the town.

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Once in town, Kasangati has a great bar/beer garden called Afro Club which we tend to frequent whenever we visit. It’s sprawling lawns provide a great view of the sunset, and the beer is always ice cold. The staff tend to stare and sometimes laugh as it’s not usually frequented by mzungus, but you get used to that in Africa. On one visit this time around we met Precious and Pricillah. Two little girls, about 3 and 5, who were intent on us not having a quiet evening. Maybe it was all the Fanta they’d been drinking, or possibly the Guinness that their Policeman father had poured them. Either way, the things they said left us on tears:

“I WILL BEAT YOU WITH A STICK!” – upon hearing Laura speak Luganda or ‘the natural’ as they called it.

“You’re a big man” – Pricillah as she out of nowhere ran up to me and stroked my beard.

“Chilli sauce is for mummies and daddies… YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND I WILL GIVE YOU!!!” – Pricillah after I asked what was in her hand.

“Yes I’m here with MY mzungus drinking beer.” – Precious talking on her dad’s phone.

When they weren’t threatening to beat us, which was possibly less than 50% of the time, they were completely hilarious or just behaving like this:

When it was time to leave poor little Precious began to cry, so I gave her one of our business cards which has a photo of us. Not only did this stop the tears, but the next day we got an email from Dad thanking us for entertaining the girls and welcoming us to the family. Attached were a bunch of photos of the girls from Precious’recent birthday. This is the typical Ugandan warmth which keeps bringing us back!

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The most bizarre event to happen was our chance encounter with a street performer/magician in Kasangati. Of all places, this little dustbowl town was the last place I thought I’d ever see such a thing. A man calling himself Professor something-or-other (A long Luganda word which had the local crowd laughing every single time he said his name), dressed in leopard print clothing with blonde tipped hair. Despite speaking fluent Luganda he stated that he was Kenyan. Whistling at the sky and stumbling about, unpacking his bag of tricks as a curious crowd began to grow. Stallholders and chapatti makers dropped their wares and crossed the road to see what was going on. Boda riders parked up and pushed through to the front alongside children on their way home from school. The professor then spotted our white faces standing out in the crowd, and called for Laura to join him in the centre of the circle that had formed. Having drawn enough attention for one day she declined, and a boda man quickly stepped forth in her place. The professor took a newspaper and folded it in two. He then tapped it on the man’s head, then shoulders, poked him in the ribs, then knees. Finally, he put it between the man’s legs and tapped his crotch. Now turning the paper upside down, about two cups of liquid fell out of it, which sent waves of laughter through the crowd. The poor boda man was struck with shock and grabbed at his pants thinking he’d somehow wet himself before being pulled back into the crowd by his friends.

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Trick number two involved a seemingly empty wooden box which obviously had a false bottom, and an audience member who really wanted a chapatti. When the professor struck the box and opened it to reveal a freshly cooked warm chapatti, the crowd completely lost their minds. Some people clapped and cheered, many surged forward to touch it to confirm it was real, but many also looked as though he had just punched their mothers in the face. This is when it dawned on me that whilst nobody had seen these simple tricks before, many may consider them witchcraft. Whilst some pelted him with coins, the faces of others said they would rather be throwing rocks. A hungry looking man who had snatched the magic chapatti walked over to us. “A man who can do this must surely never be hungry. I’ve heard it cannot be real and that it will disappear after two days. I shall keep it for two days and find out!”. We decided not to ruin the trick for him and played along. It was at this point we decided to leave before the tricks escalated and they really did stone him to death! Any magician performing in African villages is a very brave man, especially one who conjures up food in front of the hungry.

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