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March 4, 2010

A bag of coke

The other day I was taking a stroll around Kisimbiri Hill when, all of a sudden, the cravings hit me like a Mack truck. I needed my fix, and needed it fast. Fortunately there are an abundance of small shops in Uganda that sell the good stuff on the cheap. I stopped into the very first one I found.

"Ssente mmeka?" ("How much?") I inquired of the shopkeep, pointing to a 500-mL bottle on the shelf behind her. "One thousand," she replied in English. Sweet Jesus, 1000 shillings?! That's like 50 cents! I handed her the money immediately, and she put the coke on the counter.

Eager to feed the need, I grabbed my purchase and began to walk away. "Where are you going with my bottle?!" exclaimed the shopkeep, startling me. I turned around and walked back up to her, puzzled as to what I'd done wrong. It seemed a simple enough transaction: 1000 shillings for half a liter of euphoria. The shopkeep explained to me that I had paid for what was in the bottle and not the bottle itself; I would have to consume the contents in their entirety on the spot, or else have them transferred to another receptacle and return the empty bottle for refilling. Now I've done some partying in my time, but 500 milliliters is a bit much to do all at once. I went with the conservative option and had the woman pour the brown, carbonated liquid into a plastic baggie to take with me.

It was the first time I'd legally purchased a bag of Coke.

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