Mhudumu looks on as customers stand in grocery for lack of seats while she comfortably occupies one
You arrive at this neighbourhood grocery and head for the counter. There isn’t a single empty stool, but that doesn’t stop you from ordering a drink, for you need it urgently. You had a long day toiling for your daily ugali and that of the mini-tribe which shares a roof with you. You badly need to unwind.
Agnes the akaunta serves you promptly with your usual small, warm Serengeti, which you proceed to imbibe straight from the bottle—trumpet blowing style, as we call it in Kiswahili. Kupiga tarumbeta.
By the way, the trumpet style has been your preferred way of drinking beer for years now, following the introduction of the “small” bottles measuring 3.5mls and below. Very good way of imbibing if you’re the Wa Muyanza type of drinker, a man who’s careful not to drink much, more so if it’s not free beer.
Back to the story… you’re standing and resting your hands on the counter as you do justice to your Serengeti, not because you enjoy drinking in this position, Andy Capp style. The reason is, as you stated above, there’s no free stool for you. Soon, however, the manager appears from nowhere and asks, “Mzee, how come you’re standing?”
“I’m standing because, as you can see, you people have run short of stools,” you say. The manager looks this way and that way, then, takes note of this young woman in a white blouse and red miniskirt, seated on a stool.
You had noticed her earlier too—how could anyone miss her, noisy as she is. You’re awed by the way she’s commanding the attention of everybody around her.
Speaking on top of her voice, she has been arguing, making jokes and laughing with those seated to her left and right and those who, like you, are just standing with drinks in their hands. What a customer, you had wondered!
“You, Sihaba! How come you’re occupying a stool while all these customers are standing?” says the manager, “now, get off the stool and bring it here for our mzee, quick!”
Oh, my! You say to yourself. So the noisy drinking lady at the counter is actually an employee here! Well, we say in Bongo, kazi na dawa. Which is supposed to mean that, one doesn’t just work, one has to, at the same time, enjoy oneself too.
Actually, most drinking establishments in Bongo seem to have a policy that encourages attendants, especially lady attendants, to mingle and mix liberally with patrons in order to push up sales. Cases of barmaids getting sloshed courtesy of generous patrons are not infrequent.
Sihaba gets off the stool as ordered by her boss and brings it to you, saying: “Karibu mzee… sorry I never noticed you didn’t have a stool.”
Well, you’re not in a mood to lecture anyone on the obvious… like telling her that the idea of sitting on a stool, for whatever reason, is not acceptable for an employee in grocery, irrespective of whether or not there’s customer who needs it.
In her case today, there were actually numerous drinkers at the counter who were standing for lack of stools. And she was occupying one!
Nor are you in a mood to tell her that one shouldn’t drink while on duty, even if that duty entails selling drinks. She ought to know that, you tell yourself, otherwise she has no business working as a grocery attendant.
You don’t say anything that would sound like a lecture, for this is Bongo, where the maxim—the customer is king—doesn’t seem to make sense to many of our service providers. Your response to her is, “It’s okay.”
You know of a grocery owner cum manager in your side of town who, intoxicated by the relative success of his outfit during the past regime, reached a point of telling unsatisfied drinkers to go elsewhere for their booze.
“You don’t have to drink here, there’re many bars in Dar for you to choose from…this is a free country,” he was apt to telling any grumbling customer.
Poor chap! He’s now, as we say, reading the number. Anaisoma namba. Hardly anybody, including his one-time most regular customers who doubled as friends, comes for a drink or nyama choma at his grocery.
Word has it he’s looking for someone to buy the establishment so that he can go back to the village, but as we all know and as everybody readily says these days, pesa imepotea.