It’s November here in Kampala, and that means two things: it rains every day around the same time, so it’s a bit like Tallahassee in August with slightly less humidity; and Grasshoppers are in season. In fact, the name for November in Luganda, Munsenene, comes from the name for the grasshopper, ensenene.
On the first night of the month I find myself at a local bar with a friend who has invited me to dinner at his house. Confused? I am too, at first. When I arrive at his house, he has to run a quick errand and he invites me to come along. I’ve known the guy for a while so I play along. He drops some cash with another guy outside the gate of his compound, explaining to me that this guy has just moved a piano for him. (Is that all? Just picked it up, huh?) With the “errand” out of the way, my friend says to me, “Well, dinner’s not ready yet. Let’s take a walk.” He likes beer, so I can kind of see where this is going. Although it’s still unorthodox, his wife is out of town, so maybe he’s not hanging around the house to have a drink with her before dinner. With his daughter back home working away in the kitchen, I suppose it’s time for the mouse to play.
Sure enough, we turn a corner and three or four buddies greet him. They’re sitting at a local pub, which is a small cement patio with plastic chairs outside an even smaller cement shelter containing a few refrigerators. We all exchange greetings, my friend feeling proud to show off the mugenyi (guest) who can sling a bit of Luganda. We have a beer, catch up a bit, and chat with the guys at the pub.
We’re both relaxing into the beautiful evening a bit when my friend orders a second round and two young men sit down to his left. He introduces me as Kigozi to these guys, which is my cue to greet them properly mu Luganda. The one particularly boisterous guy finishes greeting me and then says, “Mmanyi Kigozi! Yeddira Ffumbe, era Neddira Ffumbe.” (roughly: “I know Kigozi—we’re clan mates!”). Not only do we share a totem, but it turns out that the person who arranged for my naming is this guy’s biological uncle. I suddenly recognize him from a large family gathering in 2006. Don’t ask me how, but in a city of a million plus people, this kind of thing happens every day.
“Muganda wange!” (my brother—cousins call each other brothers and sisters, and he would even call my “father” taata like me) He orders a beer and something else, though by this time the whole group of men is too excited about an interesting connection in their sphere for me to notice what it is. When the barkeep brings his beer, she lays out some plates on the small tables and spoons up something I’ve only ever seen in plastic bags at the market: ensenene. Naturally, they ask the conspicuous mzungu if I’ve ever tried them. Nope, but I’ll try anything once. To my delight, ensenene taste like shrimp, so I snag a handful. They’re salty and slightly spicy from the piri-piri (spicy powder)–perfect with a cold beer!
That night I get back home and everyone there is stoked up that I’ve had a chance to try some ensenene. Perhaps a bit disappointed that they weren’t the first to serve me the seasonal delicacy, they wake me up the next morning with this:
“For breakfast?” I ask my host family.
“Oh yeah. Anytime!” they say practically in unison.
Hmmm . . . a lot more appetizing in the dark. Still, I don’t exactly eat peanuts for breakfast in the states either. It turns out they’re as tasty with caayi (African milk tea) as they are with beer. Variety is the spice of life, right?