By Claudia Leung, McGill University Intern
When my friends and family ask me the somewhat dreaded question – “How’s Uganda?” – I always answer them “I’ve been great, how about you?” After all, when kids yell “Muzungu, how are you!” to me some 20-30 times on the walk home from work – to which I always reply – “I’m fine, how are you!” – saying I’m fine, or I’m good, has become an automatic response. Spontaneity is a huge part of rural life, and I think I’ve become a lot more comfortable without any kind of guarantee as to how I’ll spend my time. I’ve also been able to take a step back from my previous stressors (e.g. career plans after graduation…), I’ve gotten myself the space I need to look back on various aspects of my life over the past year, and I’ve definitely been sleeping for more than eight hours on average.
It’s a bit too early to say how Uganda has changed things for me; after all, I’ve only completed one out of the three months of my time here. However, I can say that I’ve become more aware of my environmental impact. Everyone here is so environmentally friendly; about 95% of people here in Bududa live in mudhouses, which is composed of a wooden frame filled in with mud, and a veneer of cow manure mixed with sand. Everyone here depends on farming as a prominent source of income, which means that all the food we consume here is fresh and locally grown. People here cannot afford the luxury of hot showers, and therefore take cold bucket showers, which saves so much water, and the energy used to take hot showers. The absence of street lights and the hustle and bustle of city life means that we can see star filled skies at night.
Due to our lifestyles in post-agricultural societies and our resulting dependence on food imports, such levels of environmental sustainability are out of our reach. My usual meal back in Hong Kong usually comprises of rice from Japan, eggs from Thailand, vegetables from Taiwan, and pears from South Korea, which contrasts with my meals here, where crops like beans, bananas, avocados, passion fruit, maize, cassava, matoke, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, and jackfruit are locally grown and consumed. The scarcity of comfort food in Bududa has made me realise how satisfied I am despite the (unusual) absence of snacking in my daily routine; I did not crave junk food or feel hungry as often, which made me realise just how much mindless eating I did. As much as I fully understand the cravings some of the other interns have, I think that befriending the people who grow my daily food has helped me cultivate a new respect and satisfaction for the food that I eat.
As a gift, one of our neighbours gave us a pet chicken, who we later named Harold. We raise Harold in our backyard, and feed him three meals a day that comprises of water, potatoes, rice, and matoke. Knowing that we’d eventually have to eat Harold gave me a new perspective on meat consumption, and made me think about whether meat (or anything, really) can ever be ethically consumed. The thing about capitalism is that it makes our consumption of meat a very opaque process; how are the chickens raised, and what is the industrial process like? Does our ethical raising of Harold make our consumption of meat more or less ethical? Raising Harold has made me reconsider pescetarianism, a diet that excludes all land-based animals and poultry. Upon my return to university life in Montreal, where I’ll be responsible for buying and cooking my own meals, I look forward to buying more local produce, produce with minimal packaging, and continue the ‘mindful eating’ habits that I’ve adopted here in Bududa.