Remember the Sweet Potato revolution a few Sundays ago?
Here’s the Matooke Revolt – and the Ministry of Tourism and the Immigration Department should pay attention:
The Sheraton Kampala Hotel had a lot going on this week – including Pivot East 2013, a vibrant collection of tech enthusiasts presenting startups for launch,and a gathering of businessmen under the PTA Bank umbrella; both those groups bringing lots of money into the hotel and promise into the country. (The PTA Bank has financing in hundreds of millions of dollars to give Ugandans with ideas and projects!)
Late on Tuesday afternoon there was also me, as a Pivot East side show, doing a video recording for a youth entrepreneurial mentoring programme.
Mid-recording, a lady friend I hadn’t seen for a while walked past and I interrupted the video to say a quick hi.
Five minutes later and back to my video, I heard raised voices behind me and paused a little when the interviewer lifted his head sharply.
“How many times must we tell you that there is no matooke, madame?” and “You’re sending everybody to ask for matooke. It’s just not available.” said the loud voice.
We interrupted recording again, as it wouldn’t do for any youth mentoring video to include an altercation involving a hungry customer berating a hapless waitress.
The raised, irritated voice went on a little bit about the unavailable matooke till two things struck me as odd: First, why was the customer, at that hour understandably hungry, informing the waitress about the availability (or none) of food? Second, how could the Sheraton Kampala, in Uganda, not have tooke on the menu?
And I turned my head to find a third puzzling point: the loud, irritated voice belonged to Mario Spirto, Bar and Restaurant Manager (of The Equator, at the hotel) and he was addressing the guest – the lady I’d just greeted!
Slightly fazed, she said quite distinctly,“You don’t have a name tag. Please tell me your name…” at which he harrumphed and walked off, but pausing when he heard her complete the sentence with, “…so that I address you properly.”
Watching this was odd. He turned back and flipped her his business card, which I hope read, ‘One-Star Manager‘, because his behavior was very much not the Five-Star rate one would expect the Sheraton to employ.
Passing her a menu card, he went: “You can order matooke after 7pm! It is impossible for us to provide matooke, cassava … local food until 7pm. But we have 70 items on the menu you can order from!” he said.
So she ordered for some fish dish. Which, like his hospitality, didn’t show up at all! (Later on, a Ugandan waitress who had watched the exchange made arrangements to provide the ‘troublesome’ matookedish my friend was craving –and apologised.)
You see, the lady guest had been out of the country so long she was craving matooke. The PTA Bank event gave her a good opportunity; after checking into the hotel, she called downstairs and was told to pop down for matooke since the buffet lunch had ended.
Only to find Mario Spirto and get a blast of spittle.
The Ministry of Tourism would, I’m sure, want to know why local food isn’t being promoted better at a local hotel; and the Immigration Department may take an interest in the work permit and employment status of a foreigner in hospitality who very clearly lacks the requisite skills, and might make the job available to a Ugandan.
And even if they do nothing, the Matooke Revolt works as follows: let’s ALL OF US go to the Equator Restaurant and order for some matooke, cassava, ensujju and biringannya in a local language of our choice, so that the most local of Ugandan dishes begins to get better recognition than Pizzas, Sandwiches and any other dish that Spirto would happily serve to whoever he thinks is more deserving than a hard-working Ugandan who opts to dine at the Sheraton Kampala.
That way, we will boost the income of local Ugandan farmers and Uganda’s ‘tourism’ overall,even if the restaurant manager job has gone to some spiteful fellow of another nationality…