Due to some misunderstanding over instructions to do with apples, under the influence of a snake, man and woman have been consigned to a lifetime of toil. This has changed from hard days of ploughing through soil at the field to hard days of ploughing through the in tray.
Whichever Good Book you follow, be it The Bible, The Quran, The Talmud or The Hobbit, all of them have some reference to man being compelled to work hard if he expected to eat.
In this regard, a powerful ally exists in the form of the good lady whose official job position and KPIs have some references to her making tea for the consumption of the general office populace. In Nairobi, any tea lady worth her salt will diversify her portfolio and in no time will have a thriving business supplying captains of industry and go-getters with biscuits, ground nuts, samosas, bread, cake and other assorted snacks.
But despite her best efforts, after 11 o’clock the effect of her wares begins to wear out, and the working nation becomes listless and distracted, feeling an acute sense of something missing amidships. This hollow feeling intensifies and at 12:30 the weakest in the herd mumble something about stepping out for a quiet smoke or stretch of the legs and this begins the stampede for afternoon sustenance, better known as lunch.
When it comes to lunch, the primary deciding factor is the fiscal resources that can be commanded. Most of us are surprised and horrified that after what seems like ten minutes since the salary appeared at the bank, extra month has been tacked on to the salary.
As a matter of fact, as a general rule, by the middle of the second week proprietors of eating establishments with brick walls and running water nervously lick their lips in apprehension as lunch hour approaches.
After zealously reducing one’s salary to manageable levels (too much unfortunately) the eating establishment of choice is rather off the beaten path, literally and otherwise. Invariably this is a building constructed with corrugated iron sheets smelling powerfully of smoke. From inside come the happy shouts of comrades exchanging stories and grunts of effort from others with no time for anything but their meal. From outside carbon credits are consumed ferociously using roaring firewood and charcoal fires.
At the door there will be an ingenious arrangement consisting of a steel drum or barrel full of water suspended from a nail in the wall with a tap in the bottom. This novel arrangement serves as the plumbing for washing one’s hands.
The range of dishes lacks the variety to necessitate customer menus. The menu is therefore invariably written on a blackboard with the prices alongside. At a glance, the gourmet having effected an entry can adjust his tastes to his budget.
Among the choices are beef, chicken, liver and fish. The staple food, ugali, is the principal accompaniment. Generally, you can have your beef, chicken, liver or fish with anything, as long as it is ugali. I’m reminded of the time I asked a waitress for rice and she gave a gasp of surprise and retreated to consult with colleagues and ultimately with management.
Once you have reconciled the prices with the contents of your wallet, you shout your order to Maggie, the breathlessly enthusiastic waitress and take a free seat. You will find these places impossibly crowded, but there’s always a free seat somewhere. Generally, these establishments lack the office of the matire’d
Maggie will eventually appear with your meal, languidly arranging you vegetables with her bare hand as she approaches, hailing you with a happy shout. In a stroke of genius, to avoid the hassle of breakages, all the crockery and cutlery is stainless steel. She will deposit your meal on the table, sweep the leftovers from said table with bare hand onto a tray and move your plate in front of you, her thumb dipping into the stew in the process.
Those partial to fish will watch through the window as Omosh, the beefy man tasked with frying fish, goes about his work with gusto directly outside the establishment. Clad in vest, shorts and tyre sandals, the happy whistle of a man enjoying his work whooshing from his pursed lips, Omosh will twirl the fish slice like an orchestra conductor, sweat dripping off his face and arms and onto the soil and fish.
Omosh will then perform the task that he has been doing for eons and toss the ready fish through the window to be caught deftly by waiting waitresses on a steel plate. She will then grab a handful of vegetables from a large bowl, deftly deposit it next to the fish and then grab a dish of ugali and proceeded to a customer. Once in a while gravity may interfere with the system and a fish will come to earth. It’s best not to know where this fish ends up, but one is advised to keep both eyes open from order to delivery.
“Maggie”, I said to her one day. “There’s a fly in my soup”. Maggie laughed happily, clapped me heavily in the back leaving a large, oily and fishy hand print and departed, shaking her head and wagging her finger at me.
Needless to say the food is delicious. Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver would have a rough time trying to appease us connoisseurs. You will lick your fingers, lick your lips and finally lick the bowl. Compliments to the chef are expressed by hailing Omosh loudly from his cooking station with thumbs up. Omosh will wipe his brow with the back of his hand and smile and as a bead of sweat drips from the tip of his nose into the sizzling oil, he will smile happily.