Sunday, 10 November 2013

Angara: The hot cake of Pakwach

Women selling Angara, the delicacy in Pakwach.
 Women sell Angara, a delicacy in Pakwach.

It was a few years since I had been to the Arua Bus Terminal. Last week, I had a double reason to go there. A family friend with very good timing was wedding in Arua on eclipse weekend.
On Friday morning before the eclipse, I boarded an ‘ordinary’ bus to Arua. The bus fare in an ordinary bus is shs35, 000 while the executive Gaagaa bus, which is strictly a night bus costs Shs50, 000. The executive bus has reclining seats, more leg room and a wide flat screen TV playing mostly Congolese and Ugandan music videos.
At exactly 7.30am, the time stated on the ticket, the bus set off from the Bombo road terminal bound for Arua. Instead of going through Bwaise, the bus took an interesting detour through Gayaza road, branching off at Mpererwe and into the countryside going through Kiteezi, Kitagobwa, Buwambo and other villages past people tilling their gardens and tethering their goats.
I got a good bus seat. At seat number 9, I was two rows behind the driver, with a great view through the bus window, plenty of leg room and close enough to the bus driver to read the speedometer. My neighbour on the bus, a young man from Arua, was one of those dream seatmates who don’t talk too much, fall all over you when they sleep or buy all tribes of muchomo at every stop. As a bonus, he was even a tour guide, pointing out sites along the way and keeping me updated on the distance left to the final destination
After brief stops in Wobulenzi and Luweero, we had the first major stop at Migyeera Service Centre; the one place on the northern route where all buses stop. If you are looking for a long lost friend or relative and you have heard that they are travelling by bus, just buy a drink from the supermarket, stand by the roadside and wait for them to show up. On this particular weekend, Migyeera’s one-stop service centre was especially busy due to all the eclipse traffic.
The Kampala-Arua route has several roadside muchomo stops starting all the way from Luweero through Migyeera, Kafu, Kiryandongo, and Karuma. Muchomo includes all kinds of roasted fare from maize to Cassava to beef and chicken. Each of the stops is famous for something.
At Kafu, the vendors selling roasted cassava did not disappoint. At Karuma, the people selling live local chicken were doing brisk business and in Pakwach, the dried, salted fish called Angara was selling like hot cake alongside the sim sim cakes.
Arua is at least eight hours away from Kampala by bus so this journey is not one for the faint-hearted. One must eat and drink sparingly and carefully because there are long stretches of over 100km where the bus will just be speeding on with no hope of a stop.
After the spectacular view of the river Nile at Karuma Bridge, the next 235 kilometres is largely uneventful except where the River Nile winds its way up to Pakwach, rushing under the bridge in the final river crossing that ushers one to the now famous eclipse location of Pakwach.
By Friday, there were already people travelling to Pakwach for the eclipse viewing. It was the first major stop where a good number of passengers streamed out of the bus, having reached their final destination.
Arua is interesingly vibrant; more vibrant than any town you come across along the way from Pakwach through Nebbi. There are no matatus in town; just boda bodas. Contrary to what I had imagined, I had no problem with the language because almost everybody in town speaks English, including the many boda bodas that I rode on around town during my two-day stay.
On arrival in Arua town, there was a lot of talk but it was almost comical how many different versions existed of what to expect at the eclipse. Whenever you asked about the eclipse, you got a different answer. There was probably more excitement amongst the visitors like myself but the town folk had already decided what they were going to do if the eclipse came.
Radio stations were hosting talk shows on the eclipse interviewing religious leaders and photo studios were quietly selling photographic film for viewing the eclipse.
On the day of the eclipse itself, many Arua residents were taken unawares. At first storm clouds gathered and it appeared as if it might rain on the eclipse parade but close to the appointed time, the sun came out in all its glory.
It is when the Pakwach total eclipse started to air on NTV that I took out my film to look at the sky and voila, it was happening. If you could go blind from looking up at a near total eclipse, I dare say many Arua residents would be blind as adults and children around me were just staring blankly up at the sun as it started to get dark.