NAIROBI, KENYA: You get your paycheck and decide to treat yourself to lunch in a ritzy place. You’ve never been in such a restaurant before, but you are looking forward to having a great experience.
You deserve it. You have refrained from clobbering annoying people on social media with a pickaxe during the messy election period, so you deserve it. You’ve improved on restraint and tolerance, so you deserve it.
A waiter dressed better than you approaches you and hands you the menu. You carefully peruse, combing through the difficult food names, looking for any familiar dish. You settle for grilled goat ribs, chips, soup, and salad. The last time you ate meat was the Christmas of 2004, in the village, where the entire clan had gathered, and some goats were slaughtered.
Life became absolute garbage since then, and circumstances like poverty and debt forced you to become a vegetarian. You are about to break your secondary meat virginity. You are happy. Three Sundays ago, your pastor said that you would break chains and achieve monumental feats, and you strongly feel that this is it.
The price of your order is Sh2,100. According to your financial state, this is a large amount of money, but si you are pampering yourself? You are acclimated to eating at a makeshift kibanda, where one local food vendor feeds her hungry customers. Her food is cheap, but she serves large quantities. You imagine that if you can eat enough food at her kibanda for just Sh50, then how much more can you have for Sh2,100 in that restaurant? Some Sh2,100, you envisage, must be 50kg of goat ribs, 80kg of fries, 120kg of salad and 35 litres of soup. Hei! That is a feast. A banquet.
You even move to a bigger table, so that there can be enough space for all that food. You contemplate texting two or three of your friends, asking them to join you, that lunch is on you. You decide that you will just carry the leftover ribs home. As you wait, you amuse yourself with the salt and pepper shakers. You’ve never seen such shakers before.
The restaurant’s interior keeps your eyes busy as you bask in the ambience. You are used to going to those local eateries with a bar, where smoke and the foul smell of toilets greet you at the entrance. The salt is put in empty ketchup bottles, and the badly-wiped tables are sticky. Music is loud and noisy, and there’s a small, silver, analogue LG TV locked in a metal cage somewhere on a wall, above that glass box that’s used for storing mandazi.
You see the waiter coming, carrying a small tray and a pair of tongs. Before you start wondering whether he’s bringing you an appetizer, he uses the tongs to pick up a steaming hot hand towel from the tray, and hands it to you. You hesitate, because you do not know what is going on, and you look at the waiter quizzically. The waiter reads your cluelessness and asks if you will wipe your hands, while casually pointing at the dangling towel.
You slowly take the wet towel and clean your hands, marvelling at the joys of a good life. Where you frequently eat, there’s a plastic bucket with a tap fixed at the bottom, where people wash their hands. Outside. Then you vigorously shake your hands and dry them quickly using your shirt. On busy afternoons, there’s usually a queue out there on the roadside, each customer waiting for their turn to wash their hands.
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Shortly after, the waiter walks in, carrying an even smaller tray this time. You can see that he is carrying some food. Maybe he is taking the food to another customer, you think. You are certain that your food will be brought in a Maersk shipping container, because it’s a lot.
You did the math. But something must be wrong, because, the waiter is heading straight to your table, and as you begin to start wondering, once more, if he is bringing you an appetiser, the food is placed on the table.
You are silent for a brief second, and as the waiter turns back, you ask, “Ai, hii ndio yangu?” (Is this really mine?) to which they respond in the affirmative, and ask you to enjoy the meal. For a few moments, you are completely engulfed in a heavy cloud of confusion as you try to process the atrocity that is actively happening. You look up to ask something, but the waiter is disappearing through a door, out of earshot. You glare at the abomination in front of you, awed.
The plate is fancy and wide, square-shaped. It reminds you of a melamine ash tray that a relative would use for his endless smoking sessions. He came to your house for ‘just one or two months, maximum’ as he looked for a job, and swore to move out ‘before you know it’. He ended up staying for a year, and during the stay, acquired a taste for cigarettes. He eventually moved in with a friend of his, who now complains about him, and stole some of your items while at it.
At the very centre of the plate, is a little mound of food presented professionally to blindfold and deceive you. You see one tiny rib. You poke it with your fork to make sure it’s not a small stick. You see three thin slices of potatoes. You poke them with a fork to make sure they are not just three slightly large toothpicks. You see an iota of soup in a small glass bowl.
Your salad is a miniature piece of lettuce with a distant scent of lemon. Basically, you’ve been served the smell of goat ribs, a speculation of fries, the idea of soup, and the imagination of salad. You’ve been served a great injustice. You have seen horrible things, but never this kind of wickedness. Never this level of fraud. Is there food rationing in these posh restaurants? Food shortage? Don’t they know that size matters? Thieves. Robbery without violence.
These large, expensive restaurants, they will serve you a microscopic lump of food on a big, wide plate, and then decorate it with one coriander leaf to distract you from the two grains of rice and a dash of stew that’s been served to you.
And then you are expected to pay an arm, a leg, and a few vital internal organs for tasting that food. Tasting, because you cannot really say you ate the food. You leave the restaurant hungrier than you walked in.