How are you?
It has been a while as I was fully absorbed in Uganda. Honestly, there was no way to wrap my head around anything digital or social really, I was simply so overwhelmed by the many sights, sounds, and odours my body, soul, and mind gathered. And I was focused on the people I met, hugged, and connected with, the amount I learnt, the work I did, and sometimes I was busy with the challenges the tropics have in store for me.
Back in Switzerland, I think I am ready to share some stories with you. Today, I would like to tell you a bit about one of the staple foods in Uganda: Bananas.
Do you know that the Musa (banana) family comprises around seventy species? If you google “flower musa family” and choose images, you can discover some stunning blooms.
Ugandans often grow several banana species in their family garden. The most common, however, are the cooking bananas or plantains, little bananas called sweet bananas, and the yellow banana. The latter is one of the most eaten fruits worldwide.
This is how they grow under the tropical sky.
At Gertrud’s stand on the market in Fort Portal you can find them all. Right next to yummy and huge avocados. Uganda boasts the most delicious and biggest avocados I have ever seen and eaten. I wish I had filled my luggage with them. And pineapples. And mangos. Sure enough I ate some of each including bananas pretty much every day. Happy me.
When in a garden it is hard to tell the difference between species for me. Each is so unique anyway. Just have a look at these three different banana stems. They are all matoke – this is the Ugandan word for cooking bananas.
By the way, bananas are not trees but the largest herbaceous flowering plant. The pictures above show the so called false stem. In the image below you see the difference in the profile compared to a tree.
Each stem produces one florescence from which a cluster of a hundred to several hundreds bananas develop!
Maybe you do now wonder: How the heck are these banana clusters harvested? The weight, as you can imagine, is huge. In fact, somewhere between 20 to 50 kilos!
Now watch how it is done:
The edible varieties these days don’t have seeds, but the banana plant produces new shoots underground, which grow just next to the now fruiting plant. And as you see it is cut down once the bananas are harvested and so makes way to the new shoots.
No gym needed…
They then normally get loaded onto a bicycle to be transported to the market.
Well, the transporter and the bike can actually endure much more than just the one cluster. How many do you count?
In the countryside, families market their harvest of matoke, jack fruits and bananas in front of their homes beside the road.
Now, women often carry the bananas (and anything else you can think of) in baskets on their heads. Not a whole cluster, but enough from my point of view. The baskets can easily weigh 8 to 10 kilos. How do I know? Well, I tried it out… (in a swampy area with Safari ants, hence my very interesting style :0))
No way! I could not balance the basket and it was even hard to keep it steady with my hands on it, let alone walk with this heavy load (it must have been at least 7 kilos) on my head without my hands tightly holding on. Everybody was amused, indeed, as it is so normal for them. I tell you my neck muscles could not do it for five minutes. But African women even walk on unsteady ground like this one with heavy loads on their heads. I think this is amazing.
They wondered how I transport things and I told them with my backpack. They had a good laugh when I turned around.
To my relief ;0), I learnt later that every child (girls and boys) learns it from early on. And it is true as I watched so many very young children balancing stuff such as three meter long firewood on their tiny heads. So I am sure their muscles and backbone is even stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
I hope you enjoyed this ride on bananas. There will for sure be more stories coming out of Uganda. Stay tuned!
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Webale! Thank you!