It was the end of a long day spent with miracles-in-the-making, street kids in the slum neighborhood of Kivulu, Uganda. Our team had been playing football, trading songs, hacking out broken conversations with young boys (with old eyes) and at the end of it all we said our reluctant goodbyes and clambered up into our rickety coaster (short buses used when we can’t fit in a normal van). We had opted to skip lunch that day – choosing instead to serve our young friends and talk to the “uncles” that run the grass roots program that is reaching out to these kids.
We were hungry. We were I-haven’t-eaten-in-10 hours HUNGRY. Ugandan Water Project Team #8 was now sitting in our van looking expectantly at me and the question was voiced that they all were asking – “what’s the plan for dinner tonight?” My reply was simple and undetectably cryptic – “I was thinking, Chicken President, for dinner.” It sounded simple enough to them. Our van creeped through traffic as we approached the clock-like intricacy of the Wandegeya Roundabout – after escaping the concentric circles of cars, bicycles, trucks, and motorcycles we squeezed along the narrow side-streets of Wandegeya and came to a stop. Some of our team looked out the window hoping to see the establishment with a sign for “Chicken President”. The door to the van opened and in climbed an unexpected guest. A young man in his twenties with long corn-row braids, and sunglasses climbed in and removing the glasses he greeted our team with a smirk and a smile, “Greetings, I am the Chicken President of Wandegeya, and tonight you are my constituency!”
I laughed as I saw the disoriented looks on my friend’s faces. The Chicken President was not a restaurant . . . he is my friend. Wandegeya is known for it’s street vendors that sell slow-roasted rotissierie chicken and among the street vendors there is one young man who is known as the best . . . he is the Chicken President. Many of his friends call him Mr. President or simply President; in fact I have walked in the open market in Kampala with him and he is regularly greeted by those that know him by this title, dripping in street credibility.
He has earned his title honestly. Mr. President is very good at his craft. He buys his chickens at the local butcher each day and then rubs them liberally with a proprietary secret blend of spices that he doesn’t disclose to anyone (despite numerous requests and occasional begging). Then he mounts the seasoned chickens on spits in his roasting machine referred to locally as a TV Chicken Machine because of the big glass door in the front which allows the chicken to be seen as it cooks. After several hours of slow cooking, the skin is crisp and saturated with flavor and the meat is succulent and juicy. The President then makes a salad of shredded cabbage and carrott, shunks of fresh tomatoe, sliced onion, cilantro, and generous hunks of avacado all dressed with fresh lime juice. Then Mr. President pulls the roasted chicken apart and mixes it with the salad allowing all of the flavors to mingle and blend. The final step is to serve the chicken and salad alongside the traditional round flat bread of Uganda called chapati. Thicker than tortilla, thinner than Nan and a lot more flavorful, the chapati is the perfect platform for wrapping a mound of chicken and salad and wrestling it into your face.
He barely survives.
Despite the Chicken President’s reputation as the best roaster around – he struggles to earn a living. Like many businesses in Uganda, the chicken roasters struggle under an oppressive model. The equipment is owned by a single boss and the young men that do the work must pay for all of their ingredients and pay the boss a significant fee each day for the use of the machine and only the small amount left over is what the vendors are allowed to keep as profit. Some days are good …some are not – regardless of that, the boss get’s paid. The President told me that he often has to keep extra money tucked away so he has enough to pay the boss if he has a bad day. If he doesn’t pay the boss then he loses the use of the machine. And this is the bondage of a broken social system which UWP works to break through in our micro-lending.
Over the last few years, I have enjoyed getting to know the man behind the persona. The Chicken President has had a challenging life trying to survive on the streets of Kampala. Despite the challenges he has survived and finds ways to help his friends when he can. His fierce loyalty to his friends is amazing. Often, when we have teams in Uganda, we will get together with many of our friends in the slums and have a big dinner together and we order a mountain of food from President. It is awesome to watch our team of Americans and some of our Ugandan staff be amazed at how good this simple food is.
Life is about to change for the Chicken President!
President and I often talk about his business and think about ways to try and increase his customers and do better. In recent months we have been talking about what it would look like if he had his own TV Chicken Machine. Here is a quote from one of our Facebook chats: “now dayz bussiness is tiety man, becoz of de development in kampala and im still strugling to get de machine like itold you. brother,how are u .the all MIRTY protecting we.” I started asking him if he would consider a microfinance loan to buy the machine if the terms were reasonable and the President said that he would definitely do that. After putting together the details and figuring out the guidelings we are excited to be preparing to help our friend purchase his own machine and go into business for himself!
In addition to helping with the capital – I wanted to do something that was more on the personal side as a friend. Recognizing that there is and established brand that this young man has developed I thought it would be fun to invite creative people here at home to submit design ideas for a logo for the Chicken President and help us with a design for a t-shirt, business cards and stickers to promote his business.
What we would like to do is
1.collect the design ideas and
2. have Mr. President choose which design he likes the best via Facebook.
Take this marketing gift blitz-pack to our friend in as we leave with Team #13 July 31st!
We will take pictures in country and mention your design firm in any video we are able to capture with the Chicken President himself – as I’m sure he will be eager to thank you!