sparring with stupidity


Just now, sitting at the Spur at Silver City, I need to write this in order to avoid putting my hands behind the head of this guy wearing a black t-shirt, and using an incredible amount of irritation-driven force to slam his forehead repeatedly against any hard surface available.

All I want this weekend is some peace and quiet, away from the below mentioned (see link) maids, plumbers, electricians, gardeners and so on and so forth.

Going to a restaurant for lunch is part of my therapy. I was even prepared and extremely tolerant of the maid making katogo this morning but neglecting to put all the ingredients together. This is in spite of the fact that she has been working here for about eleven months and that I communicate this Saturday morning breakfast preference regularly every Saturday morning.

So, anyway, we were ushered to and took our seats thirty minutes ago, went over the menus to build up our appetites, and then up walks this guy with a Death Wish.

On first appearance I had no idea that he was suicidal.

“Good afternoon, I am here to take your order,” he said, whipping out a notebook with efficiency and poising his pen over it. His enthusiasm was almost pungent. If he wasn’t so dark of skin and t-shirt so black, I would have said he was shining enthusiasm over the table.

“Does your coffee come in a pot?” the darling wife asked him.

“Eh?”

“Does your coffee come in a pot or a cup?” she asked.

Normally when she asks such questions I get exasperated and seek distraction to hide my agitation, by tuning out and turning my imagination to things like, “If I suddenly checked under the table and found a bag containing US$2million in unmarked bills, what would I do?” Why do they even call them unmarked? In Uganda, how would they ‘mark’ money? That stuff only works in the movies. Also, why do they call them bills? How come movies affect the way we speak so much? Like even things like calling a steak a steak, why…

See how I do it?

Distraction. It comes easily to me. I never even actually check under the table to see if there is a bag containing US$2million. For the record, I’ve checked now and there isn’t a bag…ah, back to the black guy in a black t-shirt:

“Does your coffee come in a pot or a cup?” she asked.

“It comes in a pot,” the chap answered, “but we bring it with a cup also.”

This is when my killing urge began stirring.

“No,” she replied, trying to work out how to explain her enquiry.

“Just order for the coffee,” I said, quite clearly, trying to avert violence.

“Okay,” she obliged, sensing my tension, “could I please have coffee with milk?”

“African coffee?” the chap asked, his teeth flashing.

“No…” the wife began, but then realized that this could easily become complicated, and changed it to, “Yes. Coffee with milk.”

I knew at this point that we had to seek confirmation that there would be no tangawuzi or spices in the coffee (see African tea blog), but I needed to stay out of it in order to preserve the chap’s life.

“We also have African tea, English tea and plain tea and coffee,” the fellow volunteered.

I couldn’t help it much more:

“SHE WANTS COFFEE. COFFEE WITH MILK!”

Taking a small, involuntary step back while automatically jotting something down, he confirmed this with me, “African coffee for you?”

I took two deep breaths and made it gently clear:

“One coffee with milk for her. One black coffee for me.”

“Okay,” he said, eyebrows rising in the manner of a scientist finding the solution after years of research.

I began to relax, and willed him to become absent from our table.

It wasn’t going to happen soon.

“Black coffee without milk?”

The story could end there and be laughable, but five minutes after I had dispatched him (alive and untouched, but quite shaken) towards the Order Station, a young, bright-looking lady turned up at our table with a different note book and asked, “Can I please take you order?”

“We already did so…” we started explaining.

“I know,” she said, with a flash of irritation, “but that guy has been there telling us you ordered for Ugandan coffee. We don’t have that on the menu…”

***

This is not a joke, people! There is an increasing level of stupidity around us and we must find out what’s going on.

Okay, in the case of this particular chap, we discovered that he was a Trainee (beware, all, that the people at the Spur Restaurant at Silver City who wear black t-shirts are trainees. It’s even written on the backs of their t-shirts…) but that’s no excuse. Because, really (ree-ya-lle) the Diploma Course ‘Being a Waiter 101’ should contain topics such as ‘The Menu: What It Is and How It Works’ and ‘The Customer: Always Right’ and ‘Your Notepad and Pen: How to Write Down Customer’s Orders’.

these chaps simply don’t listen!


I HAVE today resolved to write more often. No, not blog entries or newspaper articles – those will continue to be intermittent.

I am going to write instructions.

And I am going to use Permanent Markers. And Post-It notes.Marker and Post It

I’m not going to be writing to you, though.

It’s taken years of painful observation to get to this point, but this morning I finally made the resolution.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the phone call from Jerome five minutes ago. Jerome is a handy-man I met two months ago and commissioned to paint the sitting room and verandah. Long story, but he charged me Ushs588,000 for the entire job (keep this in mind for a later post) and I supervised him patiently, carefully and closely in order to ensure I didn’t burst an artery as I normally do when dealing with these chaps (the reason I had put off doing the painting for about a year!).

Part of my process these days is to advise the fellow in question to be professional right from the start – a) do up a quotation (even hand-written), b) we discuss and agree on timelines and cost and quality of work, c) give me an invoice against which I pay and d) get a receipt e) do the work and at the end f) I pay up fully if I have not already done so, but most importantly, g) I give feedback and we work out ways of improving the work and even getting the fellow more work elsewhere (recommendations).

Following this process, Jerome has now set up a company and has done work for two companies I have links with, and even takes cheque payments!

Which is how he qualified to do the simple task of bringing me an electrician to solve a small problem in my study that involves little electric tingles when you stand on the floor barefooted and touch anything metallic (like my iMac, or the window frame…)

“Jerome, please make sure the guy you bring first does an assessment, then call me so we agree on how he should solve it and the cost of the work,” I told him.

Word for word.

I am sure because the last task I gave him was fixing a table his men broke during the paint job referred to above. “Sir, it will cost Ushs15,000. Can I proceed with the job?” he called me and asked. I gave him a go-ahead, and ensured I had the Ushs15,000 on me that evening.

After he completed  that particular task (a week later!) he left me an invoice for Ushs38,000. “I had to buy two pieces, and then there was transport,” he explained when I called to rant…

“Don’t do any work without confirming what the assessment is and the cost,” I emphasized about two hundred times.

“Okay, sir,” Jerome replied.

Skip to five minutes ago when he called me off his phone: “Sir, the problem is that the plug is not earthed.”

‘Good,’ I thought to myself, ‘He has called to confirm the assessment, now we are going to discuss cost.’

“The plugs are all not earthed. You need to buy new plugs,” he went on.

‘Hold on,’ I thought to myself, ‘I have a UPS thingie there, and the extension cable is plugged into that. Plus, the iMac and two other gadgets have three-prong plugs with earthing cables.’

‘Plus,’ I continued thinking, ‘if the problem is as they state then still I shouldn’t feel the tingles when I touch the iMac…’

“Let me talk to that electrician,” I told Jerome, who obliged.

“Eeeeh, boss,” goes the electrician, “The problem is that this UPS only has two pins. There is no earth. You need to buy new plugs…”

I argued a bit and we went back and forth with me not understanding how that can be the problem when there is so much electronic equipment out there (including everything else in the house) with the two prong plugs.

“Why is it,” I asked the fellow, “that all the other rooms in the house do not provide this tingle?”

“Boss, you need to buy new plugs. I have even checked the cable of the UPS and…”

I almost threw up. But I controlled the retching well enough to interject,

“You checked the cable of the UPS?”

“Eh? Ya. If you just buy the plugs then I can put them on…”

Panic rose from my boxer shorts and threatened to escape through my Adam’s apple.

“How did you check the UPS cable?”

“I have removed that plug…”

“YOU CUT THE CABLE?!!!!”

“Ya…”

Reading this, you might laugh. After a minute of silence, I had Jerome back on the phone and asked him, “Didn’t I tell you to confirm the assessment and the cost before that man begins any work?” and he chuckled.

I couldn’t share the mirth. My sense of humour had been seriously affected by 7:15am, two hours before Jerome and his electrician showed up.

Yesterday morning I had a serious discussion with the guy who cuts grass using those weed-whacker machines (you know the ones you normally hear buzzing loudly and hitting small stones against windows and metallic surfaces every other Saturday and Sunday morning?)

Two months ago this guy showed up and started chopping up the compound. I stopped him then because for months I kept hearing the good lady of the home arguing with fellows demanding payment for cutting the grass because she rarely commissions them to do so.

When this fellow turned up in mid-May, I accosted him at the gate, and explained to him the need for process: a) go and get a letter from our LC 1 Chairman so that we know who you really are b) bring it here and let’s agree on how we will commission work which will include c) how much we will pay per grass-cutting session and d) who is authorised to commission work (either my wife or I, but NEVER the maid) and finally e) when he should and should NEVER cut grass, such as NEVER on Saturday and NEVER on Sunday and NEVER in the mornings.

Oh, and also, f) the scope of work – therefore including the disposal of cut grass.

He did so and we commissioned that round of work just fine. Yesterday, he showed up to say, “I cut the grass, sir?”

“Er,” I replied, inspecting the compound and assessing whether we surely couldn’t put it off for another week of grass-growing, then deciding, ‘What the hell? Let him just cut,’ I said, “Okay, but please start tomorrow. Don’t come very early in the morning, because we have to sleep. But also, don’t cut after three o’clock.”

The caveat on three o’clock was so that by the time the little girl gets back from school there should be no pollen in the air aggravating her weak sinuses.

“Okay, sir,” he said.

“So, tomorrow, but not early in the morning and not after three o’clock,” I re-confirmed.

“Come after nine o’clock,” I emphasized.

“Okay, sir,” he replied.

So this morning, he showed up at 7:00am, and set his stuff up.

And at 7:15am he switched his machine on and started cutting the grass.

time to get burnt?


I’ve just taken on a job for a good, old-time friend who last night delivered to my mind a big time lesson with the efficiency of a TV Evangelical Pastor working for DHL.

This friend of mine is on the verge of launching a project that he has spent more than five years nurturing. From way back when, he has been quite the local celeb on many a stage show – entertainment, business, social life, and even politics to some extent.

Then, quite out of the blue to those who weren’t interacting with him on a regular, he got saved. Just like that. He dropped off the radar as far as a celeb in this town can drop off the radar, and then rumours started going round about how he was doing badly and had “lost it”.

In a couple of weeks all that will be largely forgotten, but last night he quoted Bible to me and I realised again how much I should be reading and interpreting the Bible the way I used to when I was younger.

“The Bible says in Malachi,” he said from the front seat of the car, en route to dropping me off at home, “the silversmith puts the silver in the hottest part of the flame, so that the impurities can get burnt off. But he keeps an eye on the silver to make sure it doesn’t get spoilt.” (This is in Malachi 3:2-3.)

This pal of mine, when he got saved, invested everything he had into this one major project, and dropped all aspects of his former life all at one go. Then the suffering began. The money ran out but he had to keep investing, so you can imagine the rest.

“But that teaching in Malachi made me realise what God was doing. I was put into the heart of the fire and went through suffering I had never imagined possible. People talked about me, laughed at me and I really wondered. But the conviction was strong,” he continued.

“God watched me as closely as the silversmith watches his silver, and when I had had all my issues burnt away – the arrogance, the big ego, the lifestyle…when I was humbled totally, he pulled me out.

“And when the silversmith takes the silver out of the fire, with all its impurities burnt away, what does he have in his hands? Silver that is so bright he can see his own image. That’s what God does.”

True that.

Now, have I already been through the fire…or is the warmth up ahead not just a change in the weather?