A big number of Ugandans are distraught. Many cannot believe that this has been the month of November. What kind of November is it when they haven't eaten the crunchy grasshopper delicacy called nsenene!
In the local language, the eleventh month is called Musenene — the month of nsenene. We desist from calling them grasshoppers for, unlike the English language that we deride as lacking vocabulary, here each type of grasshopper has a different name.
The nsenene come in swarms of billions every year, fewer in May, but in November it is a real bonanza. Even the colonial masters learnt to allow schools to close for a day when the nsenene came, for children to join families to collect nature’s bounty. They would have cut school anyway to capture nsenene.
As urbanisation spread, collection in towns got enhanced by use of electric lights reflected on shiny iron sheets at night. The place with the biggest harvest in Uganda is Masaka, a southern region bordering Tanzania. Enjoying nsenene tightens the bond between Uganda and Tanzania, as our neighbours in the north of their country relish it like us.
Nsenene come in two major colours, brown and green, the latter being dominant. There are also a few purple ones which our people claim to be the royals.
The flying meals come like locusts, get caught, and the rest go like they came — suddenly. For some reason, our agricultural institutions have not shown us how to farm nsenene and stop relying on nature to get them.
As November wore on, frustration set in and, as usual, we took to social media for solace. Someone dug up an old Trevor Noah episode when grasshoppers hit Vegas and he (Trevor) told the bemused audience that in Uganda they are actually a delicacy. Now, a Ugandan claimed that this year nsenene have gone for kyeyo (literally a big broom, actually meaning migrant labour) in America.
A cartoon showed a feminine nsenene finally turning up at the airport as an anxious immigration officer asks what delayed her, to which she simply answers, “Terror alerts.” (President Museveni has told off US and UK for issuing incessant alerts against travel to Uganda.)
Another meme accuses nsenene of blackmailing us, that they demand an edit of the coat of arms to include them up there with the national emblem before they return to Uganda.
A misogynist version says 2023 is the year of female nsenene and, typical of Ugandan females, they are waiting for us to send them transport money first.
To a Ugandan ear, however, the prize explanation blamed the perpetually “broken bridge” that links Masaka to Kampala and tends to collapse now and then, cutting off the vital area which brings most nsenene to Kampala. The chronically sick bridge is the Achilles’ heel of Uganda National Roads Authority.
Another good one was just a photo of a tiny medicine envelope with seven fried grasshoppers sticking out and the pharmacist’s dosage simply written as 1 x 1, due to shortage.
During the May minor nsenene season, leading Ugandan nutritionist with the interesting real name of Dr Kasenene advised the public to eat the crunchy insect for its being high on useful ingredients and low on potentially harmful ones. Social media dismissed him saying he was just marketing his “relatives”!
As the distressed blame game for the missing nsenene raged, the country’s minister for information and national guidance was quoted as closing the debate by saying the problem was caused by climate change, this time not by government.
The ball now seems to be in the court of our agricultural scientists. Like the mobility engineers have done to create Original Equipment Manufacturing, they too should enable us to rear our own nsenene.