Kampala's Creepy Quease-ine
By Barbara Carr
We raced across a busy street, narrowly dodging cars that refused to slow for pedestrians. Traffic flow is a complicated dance in this bustling capital city, perhaps the world's largest without a single functioning stoplight.
Finally, we reached our destination: Kampala’s central food market. We sidestepped piles of rotting greens swept onto the cracked sidewalk and slipped inside the market building. Vendors called out to us as we scanned the tables looking for the one thing we sought: bugs! Surely, if people ate bugs in Uganda, we would find some here.
We walked up and down the narrow aisles, accosted at all turns by "helpers" offering to seek out what we wanted. One eager young man followed us, pointing out fresh vegetables and steering us to his friends' booths.
"No, we only want insects."
According to our escort, we were out of luck: it wasn't prime bug season in this part of Uganda.
Sensing our disappointment, he led us out of the market, down some teeming side streets and into another small lane clogged with vegetable stalls. He led us to a table, conveniently staffed by his "father," stacked with baskets full of creepy-crawlies (thankfully, their days of creeping and crawling were over--these bugs were deceased.) I guess it had slipped Junior's mind that Dad sold just what we were after, even out of season.
My bug-eating sidekick bristled with excitement. "How much can I get for a thousand shillings?" he asked, scooping up a pile and letting the lovelies pour back into the basket. "What do you call these?" he questioned, pen poised to capture the exotic local names of these delicacies.
"We call them 'ants,'" Junior replied, "and these over here are 'caterpillars.'" He reminded us that these treats were out-of-season, and were therefore priced accordingly. He held up a bag of ants and demanded the equivalent of five US dollars.
"No, no, no--I only want a little. What if I buy some of each?" my sidekick began, skilled at the favorite African pastime of haggling. After much good-natured debate and bandying around of the term "my friend," we settled on a price of around two dollars total for a mid-sized bag of ants and another of grasshoppers.
After confirming the bugs were ready-to-serve, unable to control himself any longer, my sidekick opened each bag and pinched out a few crunchy critters. As Dad and Junior looked on, grinning, he crunched, crunched, smiled and said, "Mmm, not bad!"
We bade our farewells to Dad, Junior and various amused onlookers, sharing intricate African handshakes all around.
Once out of sight, we ducked into a shop to buy some cold drinks and to launch into Haggling, Part II: checking whether we had been taken. We asked the shopkeeper what a fair price would be for our bundles of bugs. He danced around the question, but his wife informed us that they were out of season and expensive. We verified with her that Junior had charged us a reasonable price.
Satisfied and smiling, my sidekick and I headed back to the hotel, devising schemes to smuggle our prize back into the United States.
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