Tuesday 27 April 2010

Breakfast like a King

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper a good and healthy maxim to live by but not often adhered to.

Somehow it always seemed like an innocuous comment as I sat down in the morning to eat and the waitress or waiter in the hotel said to me. "Enjoy your breakfast”. Of course it was well meant but they always seemed to put more meaning in it than it warranted, it was breakfast after all nothing special just the regular royal strain block for the human race. In fact I rarely did enjoy my breakfast it was lacking in variety, not much fruit no oats and nothing local, just a poor facsimile of a full British, which I never have. Uganda being a massive coffee bean producer held great hope for me as a source of a fine cup of coffee but all that was to be found was the universal filter machine that seems to filter out everything but the colour and bitterness. By the third morning much to some French NGO workers' disgust I produced my lavazza expresso and breakfast became a bit more enjoyable with the assistance of some sweet cake and a banana.

As part of the training I have been doing with six young information officers from NGOs and councils in Mbale we go to Gumutindu coffee cooperative to film the factory and visit a small plantation. The factory was a treat, the scent of roasted coffee hung in the air so strong you should have able to see it. When treated to a tasting session and quality control session I got to taste some of the excellent coffee that grows in this area in the east of Uganda on the slopes of mount Elgon on the border with Kenya. The cooperative has a resident taster much like a "nose" in a perfumery and this young lady in her mid twenties could discern nuances far beyond what my Lavazza addled buds could distinguish. However by mimicking her method of sipping and sniffing a small amount of coffee I could tell it was high quality and distinguish slight variations on a theme.

Later we drove up to the foot of the extinct volcano to find some coffee bushes and meet the people growing them. It has been unseasonably wet and the land is waterlogged, tall thin cascades cut down the almost vertical cliffs of mazembe ridge. Even from two miles away looking up at the colossus you can hear the torrents of water making their chaotic way down off the plateau.
We pass a stream with banks that are yellow with bananas that are being washed ready for market. They contrast strikingly with the infinite shades of green that are found in every bush, tree and grass that grow so successfully in the rich volcanic soil here. We climb up past huts, houses and shacks, all home to families that work the sloping land around them exploiting it the best they can. We reach the area that is cool enough for coffee to grow. Worryingly this moves higher up the volcano each year as the temperature below gradually increases. Unlike most of its drinkers coffee is a sensitive thing.
As we pass through one large settlement I am told by Gumutindu board member Joanne that it is a unique project called the peace project where there is a unique working relationship of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims working together to make a better life for everyone. She seems proud and we are certainly impressed. It merely takes common sense and a resolve to tour world a better place.
We turn off the red laterite road and pass down a track fringed with banana plants, cassava crops and coffee bushes interspaced with shade trees that keep the sensitive coffee from the fierce equatorial sun. We come to a group of rectangular mud and thatch huts that is home to a community of twenty or so souls that work this land. Chickens goats and children roam and though obviously very poor this seems like a tranquil and good place to be. We are high up but any views are obscured as we are surrounded by thick tall foliage. Encouragingly there is a tree nursery here providing saplings for both shade trees and sustainable firewood.

Deforestation is a major problem and Gomatindu have sensitised all its members to the importance of growing trees. The air is warm and has a flavour to it; moist and rich like a greengrocers in a heat wave. Birds and insects provide a sounded that if used in a film would be deemed over the top .As I walk round the back of the settlement to look at some stick wattle and daub cow enclosures I talk to Joanne, who tells me that as ever it is women who do the digging, planting, milking and cooking while the men do whatever it is men do that doesn't involve the aforementioned. She'd love to change this but tradition is so strong here it is hard to change. This is however an encouraging community as they are producing organic fair-trade beans and the sapling nursery is catching on with others. The children all seem a bit listless and are dressed in the scrappiest torn up clothes. They are more on than off, trousers ripped from knee to waistband; little floral print dresses with tears from hip to hem. Football shirts and threadbare sweaters nothing is new and all are spoiled but they are worn none the less. They are all casts offs and donations from the others and it makes me wonder about the lives of their previous owners and how much the fortunes of a pair o shorts can change.
I am amazed when Joanne tells me that these kids eat just one meal a day, in the evening before bed. Generally green banana beans and greens. Meat hardly ever if at all. Incredible to think that all these people get up and start the day without any form of breakfast then go through the whole day without eating. No king, prince or pauper, I find it hard to conceive, it's Ramadan everyday, it’s clear the reasoning behind people fasting is to remember those that don't have.

As we drove back down to Mbale I looked out at the incredible beauty that lay wherever my gaze fell and marvelled that in such a verdant fertile environment people went hungry. It is impossible to work our why and there is certainly no simple solution I looked at the people working; carrying lifting, digging pushing loads that most British people would consider a breach of health and safety and would probably be unable to deal with.
Interestingly there was a total lack of obesity.

This morning I awoke early and as it was my last day in Uganda I went out for a walk to enjoy an African dawn and get some shots. It had been raining in the night and everywhere was washed clean of dust and given a fine gloss finish. Once again my senses are working hard with the stimulation and it feels so good to be alive. Every dawn feels like a new start an absolution of yesterday's worries and a giving hope for the today, As if they have been waiting behind their doors suddenly people start appearing from their houses and walking towards me on the road down the hill to the town. One moment I was alone now I am walking against a stream of people who pass me with a nod or a greeting. I watch one man wake on a porch of a derelict house where he must have spent the night sheltering from the rain. He simply stands up looks around him stretches and walks towards the road and off into town. I am reminded again of the unroyal status of breakfast for so many people.
I film some lovely shots of birds, flowers and trees. The distant volcano has a tutu of mist around its midriff and as the sun rises shafts of sunlight spotlight the distant fields where small dark figures are already stooped over digging the earth. People work so hard here, up and working by ten past dawn.
I return to my hotel and to the restaurant as the waitress brings me my hot water for my coffee she once again says "enjoy your breakfast" and it all falls into place that breakfast is indeed a luxury and that never again shall I take it for granted and that every time I sit down before my kingdom of oats, fruit toast or eggs I will give thanks to my luck and truly enjoy my breakfast.

Sent on the move