On a warm, dusty night in Kampala Charlee, David and I stared at the colorful menu in the Italian restaurant with a sense of giddy bewilderment. So many options, and the pictures were so pretty. I suggested brushetta and launched into a passionate description:

It’s bread, toasted, with tomatoes and oil, and like basil or something and . . .

David interrupted: You had me at bread. He was serious too.

Our recent trip to Kampala highlighted the sort of childish neediness that now characterizes my relationship with food. Charlee and I brought new meaning to the phrase ‘kid in a candy store’ as we literally ran from cash register to cash register in the giant supermarket, marveling at the sheer quantity of chocolate available to us. We used our thumbs to smear cheese cubes on rolls in the back of a matatu, we made everyone late to a meeting so that we could eat pizza, I probably said the word ‘hamburger’ at least fifty times in our two days there.

Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of food available in the village. Jennifer prepares a large quantity of delicious food every day. It’s just that there is a definite limit on the types of food available. I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Atkins did not make a big impression here in Uganda. Carbs are most definitely in. At one memorable occasion the dinner buffet consisted of matoke, rice, pasta, potatoes, chapatti bread, and some cabbage. Matoke is made from plantains, which seems more along the fruit/vegetable layer of the pyramid, but it’s steamed and pummeled and served as a starchy, thick mass. It sure tastes like a carbohydrate. At the school our regular 10:30am snack is a chunk of bread that’s been fried with some sugar. It’s like the anti-Atkins, and it’s delicious.

Eating meat here is definitely an experience. Mostly it’s chicken, and mostly it’s a chicken I know. We muzungus receive a lot of live chickens as gifts when we visit peoples’ homes. We take them back to the guest house, and Jennifer lets them cluck around happily in the back yard until chicken is on the dinner menu. Then it’s time for me to shut my bedroom curtains and turn my ipod volume up. Beef is the next most popular meat item. I haven’t actually seen a cow being slaughtered, but I have seen cow heads and legs and various other parts being transported on people’s heads, or sitting out in the market. Oddly, I don’t show any signs of becoming vegetarian. However, I do think I inadvertently ate liver last night, and my body wanted no part of that. The midnight latrine trip came back with a vengeance.

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 Cynthia receiving a chicken

Despite the abundance of food, I do experience cravings. It’s all mental: I want what I can’t have. So far the cravings have been pretty varied: guacamole, a good salad, mom’s frittata, ice cubes, a stiff g and t. The response, however, is uniform: nutella. Anytime, any surface. Nothing is safe.

The upshot of this carb – craving – chocolate spread trifecta is that I am gaining weight in Africa. This seems perverse. In an effort to stop it, I have started running, or ‘road work,’ as they say around here. This causes something of a stir in the village. Charlee and I trotting through the trading center at dusk, pony tails swinging and arms pumping, definitely adds ammunition to the “white people are crazy” argument. In a community where people routinely clamber five kilometers up a mountain side just to get home, jogging must seem like the ultimate imbecile act. People generally laugh, or shout “hey muzungu, well done” as we pass. I find it particularly embarrassing when we turn around and pass the same people on the way back. A few of them let the bewilderment register on their faces: they’re coming back? You mean they didn’t even go anywhere?

There are many things that make running around here worth it. In the morning I can start running while the stars are still out, and ten minutes later see the sun rise over the hills. It’s a good time to appreciate just how stunningly beautiful this place is. I’m not particularly biblically literate, but the scenery makes me think of the Garden of Eden. I pass kids who are walking to our school. They already know I’m crazy, so they just smile and wave.

One evening Charlee and I collected a posse of at least eight kids. As we ran down the dusty road, kids just kept joining in from the sides, running down from the banana trees and out from their houses. They effortlessly kept pace with their bare feet, and looked up at us expectantly. “We go to play football?” one asked. “No,” I managed to pant, “just road work.” He shrugged and kept rolling along. The age range was probably six to twelve. It was all a big game to them. The sun set and it was getting darker and darker. The trees were a black outline against the sky. At one point Charlee started humming the Chariots of Fire theme music, and the kids picked up the tune. We cheered and clapped and did high-knees and made sure everyone got out of the road when a matatu roared by. On the downhill approach to the guest house, we decided to do a little sprint. I went for it, all out, as fast as I know how. A little something inside me wanted to beat the kids. Up came eight year old Joshua on my right. He had no shoes, he hadn’t broken a sweat, and his little legs were spinning like a cartoon character. He kept looking right up at me with a giant smile on his face. He didn’t beat me, because he wasn’t aware it was a race. He just stayed beside me and had a good time all the way home. At the entrance to the guest house we did a quick “Gooooooooooo running club!” and went inside to carbo-load. It definitely beat the hell out of a treadmill.

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