I love walking the streets of Mbale – the city I have resided in the past month. The uneven ground caused by decaying footpaths and roads that have never been maintained, a blinding dust blowing thru the air, dark clouds rolling over the mountains in the near distance, distinctive of the daily thunderstorm that give the name of the rain season. Every one starring as I walk by, the more obscure and narrow the once road-turned crumbling alley way, the longer and deeper the stare. I return a smile and on occasions great them in the local language with ‘mulembe’, meaning how are you, to which the standard reply is ‘fine’. I walk past chunks of raw beef twice the size of my torso hanging by a hook waiting to be sold, meat skewers cooking slowly over hot coals next to corn and cassava (a very dense root vegetable). Stumbling on a stone in my 5 euro, 5 year old flip flops held together by duck tape, it is as if the world has stopped, everyone already starring increases their intensity. I continue, it is not the first time such an incident has happened.
Making my way to the hustling central market, I am returning to my favourite restaurant which I only crossed paths with by chance when a man in the street stopped me to say hello and ended up showing me the obscure but popular restaurant. Through the chaotic markets to shelter from the rain, past the tire flip flops – I must buy a pair, I note to myself – through rows of caged chickens awaiting their fate, outside down an alley that doubles as a drain and the designated coffee bean drying and sorting area, I watch while mothers work their probably 12 hour shift with infants secured to their back, sleeping surprisingly peacefully. Through a gap in the wall, up a set of unfinished concrete stairs inside a construction site. Second floor, to the left.
If it was located in any trendy first world city, the interior design would be described as industrial and hip, full of the art students studying film nearby. The exposed red – locally made – mud brick showing the uneven brickwork and cement dripping throughout. The homemade wooden benches, the plate full of serve yourself – good luck finding a clean spoon – cutlery. This design would have cost a small fortune. This is my favourite restaurant.
So minimalistic is the restaurant that there are no menus – though in fairness there rarely are, and there isn’t much of a need either – I order classic African food, beans and posho.
I eat. I’m full. I pay. I meander unknown back streets until I make my way home.
I love these streets.