My colleague at work, Emma, is driving us in his cream Toyota RunX car. Its seats are pimped with artsy custom made covers. Multi-coloured, smooth on the palm and masseuse-que to the butts.
I think he invited a car-seat transformation expert to come over and take measurements. He told the guy, “Boss, do your thing.” The guy saw what his car’s interior looked like. He opened his phone’s gallery and swiped. He pointed to pictures of interiors he had worked on. Emma looked closer. He nodded each time he saw a different photo of car seats. The transformation expert swiped and swiped through more pictures. Emma couldn’t make his mind up. He wanted more. More options. More interiors. More beauty. More seats. Finally, there was something he liked.
“That one,” he said as he pointed, his first finger tapping the screen. Transformation guy said, “Your wish is my command, Sir.” And they shook hands. It was a deal.
The guy went to work. He crafted glitzy seat covers, taking time to produce pieces of perfection. He fitted them in the car on a Saturday morning. That was it. A new feel to this car. Emma loved it.
We take a spin in Mengo looking for a restaurant. Ricky, our other colleague in the car knows this place like the fore of his arm. He has a soft spark to his voice. He seems to know the roads, the “panyas”, and the parking spots. He’s like a guy who has spent his entire life here. He could close his eyes and direct you on where to turn. That’s probably an exaggeration. We’ll go with it nevertheless. How often do you find a guy who uses the word “nevertheless”? Hehehe. I don’t know if I’ve used it the right way though. All I know is its and adverb. Where are we even going with this?
There’s something else about Ricky. He has delicate features of Bob Marley. My colleague Carol disagrees with me on this. But I insist.
His skin is the shade of Bob’s, with a face and jawline to match it, a goatee hanging down his chin. He’s got the dreads, albeit shorter ones. And his arms have got tattoos; shapes and pictures. I guess there’s a story to each of those tattoos he has. I’ll ask him about them.
As Emma drives towards one of the back gates of Bulange Lukiiko, which is the Parliament of the kingdom of Buganda, I see, on the right side of the road a building with a red sign post, Uhuru Restaurant.
“There,” I tell Emma. “There’s a restaurant over there.”
He parks at the pavement that ends at a concrete wall of the Lukiiko. You’d think we were going to this massive structure that’s the parliament of Buganda. If we’d worn kanzus, you’d think we were heading to the Lukiiko. If those multiplex guys who put parking tickets on people’s cars came for us, we’d say, “Ssabasajja awangaale,” or “Long Live the King.” That always saves you from trouble in Mengo. Don’t take my word on this one. I’ve never tried it.
We cross the road and there’s another restaurant selling pork. We dodn’t get distracted. To my Muslim folks, this is the point you skip to the paragraph after the next because I’m about to type out a few lines that’ll make you go, “Astaghfirullah.”
Pork might be bae but not in the middle of the day when there’s work to be done in the afternoon. Pork is a food you eat on a chill evening with friends. It’s a social food, something that brings people together to discuss, to bond, to connect, to laugh. Pork cements friendships. Pork brings smiles. And I read somewhere online that pork helps in the production of red blood cells. I think this is down to the iron content that is in the meat. I won’t go into details of that because this isn’t a biology class.
We enter Uhuru Restaurant. The place has a light smell of spices. You’ve got to have a heightened sense of smell like that of a snake to catch a whiff of it.
The fans are set to turn at a good speed that keeps the place cool. We sit and in under 20 seconds, a waitress attends to us. Her hair is covered. She greets us in a fading voice, like a shy girl who just saw her village crush. She presents the menu.
The signature food here is pilau. It’s pilau of whatever you want. Chicken pilau, goat pilau, offal pilau, beef pilau. Everywhere reads pilau. That’s Uhuru Restaurant’s forte. We’re in a pilau jungle.
The price range is not out of this world. It’s from Ush 3,000 to Ush. 10,000. Not too pricey.
Ricky and I order Chicken Pilau. Emma orders goat pilau. All the orders are with cash. You’ll not get your food before parting with the cash. Here, cash is king. Cash rules. Cash gets you pilau. There’s nothing like, “Let me first eat, then I’ll pay.” You pay upfront my friend. These guys aren’t taking any chances. What if you eat their pilau and sneak out. Or after eating a tray-full of pilau, you black out. Who will clear your bill? They don’t leave that margin of error.
In less than two minutes, our food is brought. Two minutes! That was impressive. Metallic trays with brown rice and in my case; chicken, beans and eggplants, garnished with lettuce (which I didn’t eat because it didn’t look appealing to me) and kachumbari with pureed tomatoes lay before us, a spoon and fork resting on the side of the tray.
The servings are generous and inviting, like those meals served on Christmas day in our villages. There’s a lot to have.
Emma didn’t finish his meal. He packed some pilau and goat for his son. How lucky that little boy is! I can’t forget this. He kept saying, “This is delicious.” He repeated those words over and over. Ricky and I? Ha! We spoke very little and didn’t leave grains of rice on our trays. Not even the hot kachumbari. Only chicken bones remained. After all, we paid for the food, didn’t we?
But something was off about certain aspects of this place. It’s got nothing to do with the food. The food scores really highly. It’s the liquid soap at the sink and the serviettes.
The liquid soap was awfully diluted that I didn’t think it’d clean off any germs off hands. It lost its soapiness. It sat in that bottle feeling grumpy, utterly molested, devoid of its true potential to protect hands. Its confidence in the world of soaps ran out the window. It had lost its essence of existence, its purpose in the soap world. It sat in that bottle looking meh.
The serviettes were thin and light, cut in half. It seems someone is hired to sit on a wooden stool with a pile of serviettes on a plastic table in the store. He’s given a pair scissors and told to start working. His job is to double the number wipes.
On some days when he shows up and there are no serviettes on the table, he picks them from the store and unpacks them. Then he sits on his bench, back upright, scissors between his fingers, an empty box to drop the cut wipes into. He skilfully follows the folded line and cuts it with minimal trace of interference. He does his job well. He gets paid to do this.
It’s alright to be economical in business, to reduce costs, save where you can and maximize profits. Everyone understands it. We know businesses exists to maximize returns. But there are certain things that need to be used whole and in the way the maker intended for it to be used. Adulterated soap and thin, useless serviettes just don’t cut it.