The summer between McCourt School of Public Policy graduate school years, I interned for gui2de on their road safety project Zusha! In Uganda.
By the end of my first year at McCourt, I had begun to fatigue with the numerous studies to read, GDP numbers and health indicators to absorb, finals to study for, and memos to write. Although I enjoyed my coursework, in the sea of textbooks and grades I began to lose sight of my passion for international development. Three weeks into my time in Uganda, I got the opportunity to travel to Eastern Uganda. It was here I was reminded of the importance of the one in a mass of statistics that explain the life of poverty in a country. I’ll spare you the details, but it was in the face of a teenage boy selling pineapples on the side of the road that brought me back to the daily reality of the life behind the statistics. It was an important reminder, for which I am grateful.
Another experience I will never forget began during lunch time on one of my trips to the West. It should be said that I pride myself on having a strong stomach and an open mind when it comes to food. I am an individual who has had grasshoppers in Laos, dog in China, and fish eyes in Thailand. Not only has my pallet reached the far ends of the earth, but it has appreciated every new culinary experience; however, I have met my match.
It's called Karo, a traditional western Ugandan millet bread. I confidently ordered a serving of it at my Ugandan friends' recommendation.
It came to the table as a dry yet gooey brownish purple ball of stiff jello. If that isn't making your stomach turn, neither did mine. I looked at it and thought, "hmm, this will be interesting." I naively popped a big ol' glob of it in my mouth. There was a feeling of pride and delight at the moment of initial intake, however, that feeling came to a screeching halt.
Karo-- firm it goes in and slimy it becomes the moment your saliva discovers the glob. It has absolutely no taste except the slightest hint of dirt. Its texture is unlike anything you could imagine. While it is slimy it also becomes grainy as you chew and it begins to break down. I stopped chewing. My taste buds retracted back into my tongue with horror. I instantly knew after putting it in my mouth that I had made a mistake. I knew I had to swallow as soon as possible. As I played a game of tug-of-war with my gag reflexes, trying to swallow, the Ugandans wanted to know, "What do you think? How is it?" I couldn't even speak because I had so confidently shoved a mouthful of this Kora in my mouth. I managed to mumble, "Mmmm, just a second."
With tears in my eyes, I swallowed. Then I said, "That is unlike... anything I have ever... tasted before, "taking deep breaths in between my words as I realized I had held my breath the entire time the glob-of-anguish was in my mouth cavity. The Ugandans laughed as they realized I was struggling. I quickly recovered and began popping pill-sized portions of the glob-of-anguish to the back of my throat and swallowing before my mouth knew what was happening. One of our Field Supervisors ordered a serving of goat that he claimed was for him but quickly put in front of me once it got to the table. I graciously ate the goat.
It is possible my stomach was particularly queasy that day or the combination of texture and taste makes Karo impossible for me to stomach. I will not let Karo ruin my enthusiasm for new food experiences. I will, however, start with small bites.
Looking back, two months in Uganda has further solidified my desire to work abroad after graduation. My summer experience was exactly what I was looking for, including enough work to keep me busy, experiences to make my summer dynamic, and time with locals and expats alike experiencing Ugandan life and fun.