When I was growing up, chapatti were a special treat. With a full-time job, 3 children and lots of hobbies, my mom did not usually have the 2 -3 hours it took to knead, knead, knead, let rest and then fry to golden, flaky perfection those floury disks of goodness. So we would have them on an occasionally Saturday, with chicken or beans, or whatever other accompaniment was on hand.
There was no chapatti guy at the end of the road making Rolexes for people on their way to work. Most of my friend’s moms did not make chapatti. In the circle of expatriate families we associated with, there was a close Kenyan family, whose matriarch would make chapattis and cut them into quarters to be served at the dining table buffet at Christmas and other parties.
I discovered the gastronomical delight of wraps through chapattis. Leftover roasted chicken, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mmmmm. Sunday afternoon Shawarmas after a crazy night out – chicken, lettuce salad, and garlic sauce so pungent you don’t need to make an excuse to avoid kissing last night’s mistake again.
After my mother died and I came to Uganda I had to look up a chapatti recipe on the internet. Sometimes sustaining a kitchen tradition is not easy. Sometimes lives get interrupted and beautiful trees get cut down and a river that flowed beautifully and fed the land and bathed the children and washed the clothes ups and dries up suddenly leaving only baked clay and a dry, empty bed. We make do with what we remember and get the rest from aunties or internet pages.
I quickly found out that making chapatti is not easy. You have to begin preparing for them 2 hours before you want to eat them. They tend to come out square or oblong, or some other strange shape that the dictionary does not have a word for. They come out harder than the ones the chapatti guy down the road makes. Even when you prepare the dough the night before in hopes that they will come out soft, you might still roll them out too thin and have chapattis that crackle and snap in half like some kind of pita chip.
The guys in the market or down the road only charge 300 shillings for them.
When I travel into the field for work and I am not sure of the food I often ask for a chapatti, because it’s safe and familiar and probably won’t disturb my stomach. I remember one time in Kitgum I felt ill and was pretty sure I was coming down with malaria. After waiting at the hospital for hours with the tired-looking young mothers and their alternatively screaming or silent, sad-eyed babies only to be told I was malaria-free, I went back to the hotel and slept and woke up to eat nothing but that morning’s chapatti which I had packed and kept.
Acholi Pride Inn has become our home in Kitgum, and it feels that way partly because of the chapattis. I like the way they make them there, they use some kind of raising agent so the chapattis they make are airy and thick. One of the things that I look forward to about going to the field are those chapattis.