Koken is mijn lust en mijn leven!

Ivan Wanale (28), kok en receptionist

I was born in Mbale in a semi-wealthy family. I have one older brother and four younger brothers.

My mum left the family when I was in P2 (primary school). I remember I was always in the kitchen with my mum. When my brothers and sisters were playing outside, you could find me in the kitchen assisting my mum with cooking. I learned how to cook by watching what she did and tried to copy that. Visitors were always surprised how good and tasteful the food was that I served them when I was older.

I just love the process of cooking, mixing different flavours. And I enjoy serving people and making them happy with good food.

Because of certain circumstances our family became poorer and there was not much money in the house.

After my primary school I went to St. Thomas SS. I did my exam for O-level. But because we lacked paying the last instalment for the school fees, I never got my results. So I left school without my Uganda Certificate of Education.

So I knew my future was going to be a hard one. But there was one thing that kept me going: my passion for cooking.

Although I knew I had set my goal of becoming a very good cook, I also knew my road towards my goal would be a bumpy one.

After my exams I started to work in people’s garden, digging and weeding. Just to get me some small income. During those days the nursery school across my house was bought by someone who wanted to turn this into a primary school. I realised that would offer me a new opportunity. So I went over to the headmaster of the school to ask if I could become a cleaner at his school. After some deliberation with the director of the school he approved. So I took care of two big dormitories, 8 classrooms and the office. And of course I had to slash the lawn that was surrounding the school. I had to sweep all rooms and mop the office daily and every weekend I took extra care for the classrooms and dormitories. I started of with a collegue, but he thought the work was too much. So in the end I had to do it on my own. And I felt rewarded by seeing a neat and clean school, although I only earned 30.000 ush a month (ongeveer 10 euro).

When the director’s wife came over, she was really impressed by the appearance of the school. So she asked the headmaster who was the one cleaning the school. So they called me over and I had to explain how I did this, and I was sent away. The next day the director came to me and asked me why I didn’t attend school. So I told him my story. It seems he was impressed in what I delivered in my work so he decided give me a push. He paid the instalment that was still open, so I finally got my UCE for the secondary school, which gave me access to continue my education.

So I finally could follow the cooking class at the school of commerce in Soroti for 1,5 year. I got my certificate and my head was full of knowledge. I realised I was not a good cook yet, because you have to apply all knowledge in practice and show you really understand what you are doing. I got myself a job in the Shine-on hotel in Mbale. I worked in the kitchen and in reception. I love the different aspects of my work. The cooking itself, but also the interaction with the customers. One night, when I was doing the nightshift, this lady checked in late at night. She told me she needed to catch a bus early in the morning and asked me to arrange a taxi for her. That early morning I decided to walk her to the bus, carrying her suitcase. We talked about my work and life and when we said goodbye, she asked for my number. Her name is mama Florence.

It happened that the director of the primary school I worked as a cleaner often visited the hotel I was working. We talked again about my passion and my desire to improve my knowledge and cooking skills. He happened to know some people at the Protea Hotel in Mbale. He arranged an interview with his acquaintance. And after that interview I had to do two more interviews, even with the manager. And they accepted me!

So I got my change to learn as much as I could. The only problem was it was an unpaid internship. So I would loose my income that I earned working at Shine-on Hotel. I was fully surprised the director offered to pay for my basic expenses for the time my internship took place. I was very happy with this gesture.

It was hard hard work at the Protea Hotel. They scheduled me for the morning shift, which meant I had to be at the hotel at 05.00 am sharp. I woke up at 03.30 am, took a bath and ran at 4.00 am to the hotel through a forest, in the dark. I’m still grateful nothing happened in those dark hours. I learned all about preparing the full English / continental breakfast. And because there would be a minibus bringing all workers back to town in the late evening, I decided to stay for the evening shift as well. So I worked so hard and tried to learn all I could. I would be at my room around 01.00 at night, sleep for 2,5 hour and wake up again.

After 6 months I finished my internship. Ready to step into the world again to apply my skills and knowledge.

And as if it was miracle, at that moment mama Florence called me. Asking how I was doing and telling me she knew there was a vacant position at a guesthouse in Kampala. So that is how I worked for ICU guesthouse for 2,5 year.

I enjoyed the interaction with all the guests who stayed there for a shorter or longer period of time.

During these years I met many nice people and I became friends with some people from the Karamojong tribe. So when mama Florence opened up a guesthouse in Moroto and asked me to come over there, I didn’t hesitate at all. So now I’m here, in Kara Tunga guesthouse. I cook and I also do the bookings for the guest. I love it around here!

I realise I have reached this stage in my work and life thanks to the ‘guardian angels’ who gave me the right push every moment I needed one.

And I also realise that it’s also due to my own perseverance and persistence to reach what I wanted to reach that I realised my own dream. I think people appreciate my attitude and the fact that I wanted to work hard and to be proud of my result. Money has never been my leading motive.

And yes, I still have my dream. It is just developing during my life. Some parts I have realised. But now I have set my mind on starting my own restaurant. Or maybe focus on agriculture. Or a combination of those two!

Ask me in a couple of years. I will have added a chapter to my life story!

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