In front of fried fish, I said goodbye to my wife and a version of myself


All day, Olive spoke with queer activists – everyone wanted to talk to the American ethnographer about stealth encounters made hotter by danger, the heartbreaking drama of breakups and infidelities, clothes and bodies pressed against rhythms late night, slipping away with your crush in the back of a broken down 80s Corolla imported from Dubai. Olive and I were laughing and performing the same open exuberance—but alone, under the mosquito net of our rented room, we were choking on the damp air and the unsaid.

In the winter of 2010, it became clear that a proxy culture war was being waged by the West in Uganda. The religious right, especially Americans, was losing the same-sex marriage battle at home. So she turned south in search of new fronts and headed for Uganda, a country with policies unusually open to foreign organizations. Money from American churches was pouring into the accounts of right-wing politicians, and European NGOs and LGBTQ+ organizations were funding countermeasures.

The atmosphere was becoming more and more hostile. Olive’s friends found their photos printed daily in the tabloids with baseless accusations. Long nights of flirting over grilled corn, sambusa and Nile brand beers turned into survival strategy sessions.

I woke up one morning with Olive in tears. A friend of his and prominent LGBTQ activist, David Kato, had been killed with a hammer. Within hours, Hillary Clinton had denounced the murder and the anti-homosexuality bill. Later that day, Barack Obama. Right-wing politicians saw it as foreign intervention in Ugandan affairs. They turned Kato’s death into a political flashpoint to anger supporters and defended his killer, who in court used “gay panic” as justification for the murder. Olive spent a month helping with the funeral and its aftermath: a descent into fear and paranoia that swept through queer and trans activists in Uganda; the sudden hunt for asylum applications, refuges, European sponsors.

While she worked, I stayed home, read novels, didn’t write my own novel, worried about my truck, and sometimes drove it around the country. I bought enough 3G internet credit to browse distant trans websites – extremely slowly – on my third-generation iPhone. Olive and I went days without seeing each other.

It was around this time that we sat down for this fried fish dinner in a place we had been to many times before – a grassy field that bumped into a muddy shore north of Ggaba Beach. On the weekends people rented it out for weddings, but on weeknights a group of women brought tilapia and lake perch to fry in open vats for passers-by to picnic on the grass. . That night, due to intermittent rain, we were the only customers.

Tilapia can be a maligned fish – freezer-bitten, bland, often ending up breaded in tacos. But fresh from the water of its native lake, it rivals red snapper for flavor. And I wanted to eat something worthy of a last meal because I knew something that Olive didn’t: I was leaving.

Maybe I wanted her to beg me to stay. But she didn’t. She just asked me if I could sell the truck because she didn’t want to deal with it.

I gazed at Lake Victoria. A few men were casting nets into an offshore algal bloom. The evening was so quiet that the sound of their growls carried over the water. “When you’re done here, will you come back to my place?”

She did not answer. After a while she removed the caudal fin from her fish, sucked it and threw the bones to one of the marabouts watching us from a dead tree. He did a macabre dance of joy, opened his coat and swooped down on us.

Get the recipe:

Fried Fish With Piri-Piri Sauce

When it comes to frying fish, a whole fish is much more forgiving than fillets. and easier to cook. And did we mention that crusty, flaky skin?

See the recipe

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