August 15, 2010

It's Jude herself that I love most about Jude's. Well, "Ozzie's," but the locals call the brusk Australian's restaurant in Jinja by her first name. When I suggest Ozzie's, someone always tells someone else that we're, "headed to Jude's" and so "Jude's" it has become, for me.

It's when she talks to her cook that I love Jude the most - the quick flip of her wrinkled fingers and the banging of pans when he hasn't done it quite right, often followed by a "hello dear, and how are you?" when she turns my way, remembering my face even though it's been two years.

Her restaurant is a haven, stuck like a shining beacon of fish and chips, coffee milk shakes and freshly baked bread in the darkness of fried jipates and greasy rolex stands on the side of the road.

Jude came to Uganda for just that purpose - providing a haven, a place with good eats and delightful conversation, a place to get out of the red dust off the streets and the loud honking of the boda drivers as they weave in between giant pot holes. She started out her stay here with YWAM, and ended up starting a restaurant, adopting and, in a much larger sense, taking a town full of non profit workers and volunteers under her wing. Her ministry here has been consistent for over fifteen years. We all come in and out. Jude stays.

Jude's would call to me on quiet and busy days alike when I worked on the Nile. She was steady - a seasoned balance of grump and delightful gossip that brought us all back for more. Coming back to see her this weekend steadied me again, and, in it's own way, felt like coming home. There was a familiarity in the paintings on her walls, the orange African tablecloths and the case of freshly baked goods that always made me ache for home, the over sized photo of someone jumping out for "a bungee" as the New Zealanders call it as they're wrapping your feet tight for a free fall, and Jude herself, leaning in for a quiet comment about the young European at the far table who hasn't the slightest idea what she's talking about.

As Jinja re-invents itself, and new buildings begin rising, Jude says she worries, from time to time, about the restaurant and whether or not she'll be able to keep things going. "They just keep building up and up," she commented, wiping the flour off her hands to make change for the 20,000 shillings bill that I handed her. "But here, our walls are adobe, and so we'll be staying the same."

As she handed me back the change for my fish and chips, I asked to take her photo, and commented on how good her new bread is. I smiled when we said goodbye, and told her I'd be back sometime, I just don't know when.

But I know she'll be there, and she'll remember me, no matter how long it's been. I'll sit and comment, for the hundredth time, on her coffee shakes and home made cinnamon rolls, and stand over the counter to hear the latest news over the grapevine.

Let the others keep building up and up around our adobe walls - I'd have Jude's no other way.