Florence was responsible for hooking us up with our stay at the Kaluyas. Florence is a formidable woman and has had an extraordinary life of ups and downs, from being a Councillor in the Jinja sub-county, to living in a refugee camp in Sao Paulo. Each morning she would make us the most amazing traditional Ugandan breakfast of Matooke Katogo. Matooke is a green savoury banana that is eaten all over Uganda (peeling them is also somewhat of a challenge, but there’s plenty of help online). The word katogo literally means ‘mixed’, and each morning Flo would prepare us matooke katogo with different variations, baby aubergines, g-nut sauce, beans, carrots and tomatoes. She would always serve it with a fresh avocado picked that morning from her garden.
The eldest of the six Kaluya children, with two children of her own and six grandchildren, Florence is fast approaching something of matriarch figure like her own Mama. To use the cliché, she’s a big character, has a booming voice and a smile that starts from the eyes and lights up her whole face. Accustomed to a life with house-staff and five younger siblings, she has a bossiness that borders on scary. When a parking attendant tried to charge us $50 to enter because of the mzungus in the car, Flo angrily ripped into him letting him know she was a local councillor and there wouldn’t be a car park at all without her. She hadn’t in fact been a Councillor since the 90’s and had had nothing to do with the car park, but the attendant knew better than to argue and let us in for just $5, such was the respect she commanded in the community.
Living in London from 2002 to 2005 Flo got her kids into school and started training as a social worker. Life was made easier by the large African population and the relative ease at which Ugandan food could be found in Lewisham and Catford markets. She came round to European food, some of which she still has a soft spot for. As a thank you for the hospitality we’d been shown Cass and I asked if we could cook supper one evening, to which Flo instinctively blurted out “lasagne!”. It was one of her fondest food memories from her time in England and Brazil, but as few Ugandan households have ovens, its not commonly seen on kitchen tables. Turns out making a decent béchamel sauce on a charcoal stove with margarine and UHT milk is a challenge, but a lasagne we made, and the whole family loved it especially Flo. Flo would probably still be in the UK now had she not suddenly received the news that her husband was still alive.
General William Kon Bior had been fighting for independence in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Their guerrilla tactics meant he spent long periods in hiding and Flo, having not heard from him for 15 years had assumed the worst. When news broke that the Civil War between Sudan and South Sudan was over, Flo contacted and old friend in the Ugandan Government to find what may have happened to her husband. Discovering he was indeed alive and living with his family Flo spoke to her husband on the phone for the first time in 15 years and made the decision to move to South Sudan so her children could properly get to know their father.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in South Sudan; the General’s sisters were jealous and convinced that Flo was there to take their brother’s money, and thus set on making life very difficult for them. Flo tried to go back to the UK but “by then the whole system had changed” and she wasn’t allowed entry. Desperately in need of money for her son’s university tuition, when a close friend suggested Brazil as a place where they could earn it, she packed her bags again, and left for South America.
Brazil “was very hard” from the start, living in a Sao Paulo refugee camp run by a group of racist nuns, experiencing hatred from black Brazilians who accused her African forefathers of selling native Brazilians as slaves, and receiving further racist abuse from the Latino Brazilians. However, life there regained its purpose when working as an office cleaner, she was able to save enough money to move into rented accommodation, and finally start sending money back for her son’s university fees.
Complications from a war wound lead to the death of her husband but Flo managed to return to South Sudan for a second time to spend the last few months with him and his family, who had mellowed considerably towards her by then. After his death Flo stayed with his family for another 6 months but soon realised they were starting to rely on her too much. A life of servitude to her late husband’s family flashed before her eyes and whilst there was still time to get out, she left.
Now back in her home town for what appears to be the final time Flo has rebuilt her life again. Five minutes’ walk from her parents’ house, Flo lives in a small cottage on a 5-acre plot where she keeps pigs and farms banana, beans, maize, courgettes, sugarcane and everything in between. Plans are afoot for launching a broiler hen hatchery, and she hopes one day she will have enough money to finish the extension to the house.
Sitting in her garden sipping homemade hibiscus wine, munching homegrown peanuts and listening to her life story I realise how much of a survivor she is. The amount of times she’s picked herself back up and changed her situation for herself is inspiring.
Matooke Katogo is traditionally a breakfast but it’s savoury and delicious and could definitely be eaten for lunch or supper back in the UK. A word of warning! This is Flo’s recipe, so the quantities are Ugandan style (i.e – large!!), you can also check out A Kitchen In Uganda’s recipe for classic matooke katogo.
Flo’s Matooke Katogo
24 matooke bananas
15 – 20 baby aubergines
2 medium onions
3 medium tomatoes
1 stock cube
(optional) 2 avocados
Peel the bananas, remove stalks from the aubergines and slice in half. Place aubergines and banana in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil then simmer with lid on for 15 minutes
While that is simmering away roughly chop the tomatoes and finely chop the onions. Add tomatoes, onions and stock to the pot and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes. Try not to stir the dish too much as this will break up the bananas and aubergines.
Add salt then leave to simmer for another 5 minutes. When the banana is soft and a knife easily passes through you know the dish is ready.
Take off the heat and serve immediately with drizzle of olive oil over the top and sliced avocados on the side.
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