Tag Archives: italy

Read the sign…

I wrote this blog a few weeks ago:

We are in Italy.

My husband, myself, my just-turned-four-year-old, and our  18 month old twins.

Utterly luxurious, I know.

This blog isn’t supposed to be about that though.

Of course, it is wonderful to be here. I am constantly aware of my privilege, being able to visit such incredible places. And Italy – even with 3 young children – is as tantalizing and historically rich and eclectically beautiful and delicious as I remember.  We are here because we needed a break and time away from Uganda to reflect on what we are doing with our life, and rest. This seemed like a logical, close place to travel to with relatively warm weather for late autumn in the northern hemisphere, which offers us our greatest therapy in life – good FOOD!

Michael’s parents have met us here, and it really has been so special to catch up with them after a crazy 7 months, and also enjoy them enjoying our children.

But as always, letting two riotous 18-month-olds loose anywhere – EVEN in Rome – is not easy, and I feel that ‘rest’ as an agenda item may have been a little overly ambitious. It’s been a fantastic holiday, but travelling anywhere with so many children is just plain exhausting, a lesson I probably needed to learn the hard way.  There are all sorts of challenges travelling with children internationally, leave alone keeping children entertained on planes and trains! For example, of all things, I never really considered food would be an issue considering the food on offer here is AMAZING. But uprooting our 4 year old from rural Uganda to Italy, was actually quite a culture shock for him. He responded to the differences, as he has in his life every time so far, by narrowing his food choices down to the bare minimum in order to control his world. For the first 4 or 5 days, while the rest of us sat at restaurants enjoying the magic that is home-made Italian pasta, David sat obstinately munching on rice crackers and greek yoghurt. The tradgedy.

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The twins and their magical backpack harnesses 🙂

We are currently in Lucca. Which, like all good Tuscan towns, has a number of towers, one of which it is possible to climb. It may have been one of my proudest family moments so far, all 7 of us climbing that tower (grandparents included). Michael and I, each carrying a twin on us, our 4 year old galloping up the steps, as if there wasn’t about a million of them! The view was marvellous, but I was much more impressed by what our family reaching the top represented: the niggling hope in the possibility of really living, whole heartedly and adventurously – not just surviviving – with  3 small children. I was suitably impressed by the pure discipline of my husband, who I watched overcome his fear of heights in order to make the climb, sweating it out as he carried his squirming twin, to make it to the top.

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At the top of the tower: we of course aren’t all looking forward (that NEVER happens), but Thomas looks basically exactly the same as William anyway 🙂

But I digress. My point in sharing all this was because I had the opportunity today to spend an hour and a half in Lucca, Tuscany ALL BY MYSELF, while my husband and his parents looked after our 3 children at a playground nearby.

Walking down the streets of Lucca today – armed only with some Euro in my pocket, my camera and a novel, was simultaneously a wonderful and bizarre experience. It always feels a little odd these days, spending time away from all my children (when not at work). I feel free and light and full of possibility, but paradoxically insecure and – I think this is what surprised me the most – lacking a key part of the explanation of who I am, and how I earn my worth.

I was reflecting on this as I sat people-watching and remarking on the beauty and effortless style of the Italian women in the piazza, in contrast to my own appearance. Even on holidays, I haven’t washed my hair for a week, my clothes – mostly purchased second hand – had day-old stains from various children’s snot and food, and my jeans fit a little snugger since arriving in this country of mouth-watering treats.

In that moment, I felt embarrassed.

I felt like I needed to wear a sign saying “I have three young kids, including a set of twins. I live in Uganda. Please be gentle and kind when you look at me. Be proud of me for being here. Be aware I rarely do this kind of independent gallivanting. Don’t judge me for my extra weight and my unwashed hair.  I have survived a really tough few years.”

I wanted everyone to read the sign. To know. To understand. To accept. To approve.

I let out an incredulous sigh as I realised what I had wished for.

I was in a foreign country, as a completely anonymous stranger, and I still cared what people thought of me.

Then I decided.

I am going to wear this sign on the inside. And read it as many times as I needed to, to remember that I am worthy. Without my children. Without my excuses. Without my doing.

Who I am is ok.

Is that a weevil in my bean, or am I just unhappy to eat this?!

I am a fairly resilient person. I am flexible. I can handle most things that come my way. But I really need good food.  It sounds lame and a little pretentious, but nothing is better therapy for me than a delicious meal, or a block of creamy chocolate. It was the thing I was most worried by, about coming to live in rural Uganda. Don’t get me wrong. There is wonderful, tropical fresh fruit and vegetables here. There are some pretty yummy snack type foods. There are PLENTY of carb options…but after a while the food can get a bit….well…same-ish.

Michael and I recently had the immense privilege of travelling to Italy for 10 days, to meet my parents for a holiday.

This was my first trip to Europe, and I absolutely, whole heartedly loved every bit of the experience. More than anything I loved the food. Well, maybe love is not the right word.

I devoured the food.

After so little access to food from my own culture and food with FLAVOUR, it was an incredible feast.

I ate my way across Rome.

A gelato every single day; the most light, soft gnocchi I had ever tasted; delicious local meats, cheeses, breads and pesto; luxurious panacotta’s; hearty homemade tomato sauces; scrumptious bakery food (for breakfast!!); and freshly brewed coffee whenever I felt so inclined…

All enjoyed in one of the most ambient, beautiful, historically rich cities on this earth. Sigh

I got fat.

And it was totally worth every last calorie. I thought it was an impressive effort, to put on the weight I did in the short 10 days I was there.

So did my staff. A few of them commented to both Michael and myself that we really ‘got fat’ while away, with the MH receptionist stating proudly (and loudly) that particularly my bum and hips had become much larger. There was lots of enthusiastic hand gestures to explain this. Meanwhile, I beamed with pride.

You know you have lived in Africa for too long when you don’t react with even the slightest indignation to such an observation, but receive and enjoy it for what it is – a grand compliment.

But the first day home in Kamwenge eating staff lunch was tough. Really tough.

Here’s some pictures to show you the difference between what I ate in Italy:

and what I eat for lunch at work:

Ugandan food: Matooke, Posho and Beans

As you can see, it’s really different.

For those of you who don’t know, matooke is basically THE food of Uganda – plantain banana steamed in banana leaves on a charcoal stove, then mashed and served with either red beans (Monday, Wednesday, Friday lunch) or g-nut sauce (Tuesday and Thursday lunch) or meat stew (once a month ‘cos meat is expensive!)

We always offer another staple with the matooke. Occasionally it is rice (yum!) but almost always it is posho – which is maize meal cooked with only water until it turns thick and hard, kind of a playdough-y texture. (I know you think I’m under-selling it but that is honestly what it is!)

The first day back home in Kamwenge – back to matooke and beans for staff lunch – was a little bit of a shock to the system. And my tastebuds.

Not only was it a shock, but it reminded me of why I had been so excited to NOT eat staff lunch for a few weeks. We had  purchased a 50kg bag of dry red beans from a farmer, about a month ago, who it turns out had sold us dud beans – full of weevils. They were everywhere, buried into the beans. We tried lots of local methods to get rid of them, and although these methods may have killed the majority, there was still one tiny but important issue remaining.

They were still in the beans.

Only now they were dead.

So we still have another few weeks at least to go of these weevil infested beans, which none of us at Maranatha are that happy about. And on my first day back home, I didn’t really feel like crunching down on little black dead insects in my food. Do I sound like a food snob?

I am.

So to keep us sane, Michael and I started a conversation about all the delicious food we could imagine eating, instead of the beans. We got into quite a lively debate about the best possible food dishes, so we decided that we were allowed to choose one dish from each country…

As this was unfolding, some other staff were listening curiously to our odd conversation (“laksa or rotti chanai?” “creamy gnocchi or a good Italian pizza?” “pho or cold rolls?” etc). It is times like this that I realise how much of my identity and world view has been influenced by the intense multiculturalism of urban Australia – especially when Uganda (although full of different tribes) is mostly Bantu in origin.

I turned to one staff member and invited her into the conversation by asking what her favourite food was. She looked confused. I explained, if she could have any food in the world, what would she choose as her favourite.

She thought for a moment and then enthusiastically replied:

“Posho and beans! I love posho and beans too much! I wish I could have them every day. Really, I don’t like Tuesdays and Thursdays, because I have to eat posho with gnut sauce.”