Am Elizabeth Muthama. Daughter to two resilient individuals who have had a tremendous impact on the adult I have grown up to become. I have spent most of my time around my dad than my mother dear, and there is one indelible discipline he has instilled in me -time keeping. The man is such a great time keeper that I think it sucks the fun out of his life! But I can't talk much ill because I have pretty much followed in his footsteps. I love my time, I value it and sometimes am very selfish with it. In fact I have lost some relationships to it.
Last week an old great friend of mine was in town and he requested that we meet to catch up over a cup of coffee. That meant that I would spend most of my day in town. While planning for the day, I remembered all the errands I needed to run in town that I had heaped in procrastination. I swiftly decided lump all those errands on the day we were supposed to meet; in a typical time freak's fashion. The D-day was on a Tuesday.
Before you can presume am an awful friend, you need to know that I work from home and I have a habit of minimizing my trips to town: This has something to do with time, but mostly it's about my purse which is not so fat. The things that are happening to our economy these days have waken the slumbering economist in me. The sad story invariably begins with fuel. It's prices skyrocket and every household commodity expeditiously follows suit. The matatu operators hold press conferences to reveal hiked fare charges owing to the new fuel prices. Then manufacturers follow and explain solemnly why they will charge more for the goods they produce. The horrendous baggage is transferred to the donkey mwananchi. Being a donkey that walks on two legs is anything but easy, so you have to get creative to survive. You have to become a vivacious planner of your finances, lest you become a church mouse.
My friend and I had planned to meet at 11am; so to allow myself enough time for the items on my to do list, I left the house at 7am. God knows what had happened to the mammoth of drivers who flock Nairobi roads every morning because that morning they weren't there. With relatively smooth traffic I was in town at 8:30am (Please don't smirk at that time, it good for someone who leaves in Embakasi!). After grabbing breakfast at Bakers Inn, I paced from office to office, shop to shop to make sure that I was done by 10:30 just in time for my meet-up.
Everybody knows their friends well (at least this is a presumption of friendship). I knew this friend of mine wasn't the type that would get a 'time keeper of the year' award! So I called him earlier to emphasize that I would be ready to meet him at exactly 11am. He promised that he would be also be ready. After the stern reminder, I began my walk from GPO; headed to Mfangano street to a hotel where he was staying. I trudged on past fast walking Nairobians and when at Mfangano, I took some time to ferret out the hotel. When I arrived there, I checked my watch and realized I was 15minutes early and was aware that I needed a way to kill time until 11am. I figured that would also give him ample time to prepare seeing as he had travelled over the night. At the ground floor of the hotel, there were business premises of all cadre. Some sold phones, others clothing and the rest were cyber cafes. It was so crammed with small business shops that I couldn't find my way to the hotel. One guy who was in the cyber ended the reign of confusion when he showed me the direction to take.
I climbed the staircase to a room on the left which had the name of the hotel written on the left and right walls at the entrance. 'This has to be the place', I thought even though I was hesitant to walk in! There was a problem. The room looked like it was the kitchen so I scrutinized the room for 'out of bounce' sign but there was none! The place was spooky and bizarre. There were eight tables crammed in the room that made it look smaller; there were four on the left and right and each had four seats, two on each side. Before pulling a seat I asked a huge man with a scar on the left side of the face who sat at a table close to the door whether I was in a kitchen. "If you are looking for the 'XYZ' hotel then you are in the right place", he roared, drawing the attention of every soul in the room to me! There were two more people there; a well built woman with ill-matched clothes who worked on mrenda- I thought she must be Kisii cause of the speed she work with and her accent when she said halo. There was a guy who was stirring a huge sufuria, he donned a red and white Fly Emirates shirt and had a fairly bald head. All the tables were stuffed up with items. I pulled a seat at the table adjacent to goliath. It had four plastic jugs on it which I assumed contained drinking water.
"My friend is staying here, so am waiting for him", I volunteered to say in an effort to dissolve the stern glances they threw at me. "It's okay, pewa chai ukunywe as you wait", said the woman. I wanted to say no, but remembered it was not only impolite to sit in a hotel without ordering anything but it could also breed a fierce and embarrassing altercation. I gave her a friendly smile and said yes. Everything about the hotel was screaming at me to leave, but with my stubborn head I chose to stay!
For the few minutes I had been there, not a single customer walked in save from one woman who came in and spoke then left hurriedly. I was really curious as to why there were no customers walking in. There was something off about the place and my theory was about to be a proved law.
I sat there sipping the hot tea, careful not make a mess because the table was rocky and squeaky every time I put my cup on the table. Suddenly the guy in the kitchen who donned a Fly Emirates shirt shouted, "Karibu nieke chai chumvi!", believe it or not they all laughed. I simply painted a grin on my face to show them that my feeling about the salt/ sugar situation was mutual. Truth is it wasn't! And one week later I still don't get the joke. Perhaps this guy had a habit of substituting sugar with salt and salt with sugar. Maybe it was intentional and not an accident like he claimed. Whatever their reason for laughter was, I know the devil had orchestrated it. He is the only guy I know who would find such a thing amusing. Probably another reason my ribs were not cracked by the ordeal was the fact that I had a darn cup of tea on my hands. The saddest thing was that none of them minded that their topic of discussion sparked a queasy feeling in my stomach. "Kama umeeka chumvi kidogo ongeza tu maji", the woman told him as she wiped tears from the edges of her eyes.
The scenario that the wise men had in mind when they talked about birds of a feather had to be strikingly similar to what I was going through. I was the bird with an odd feather.
My cup was already half full. But if the tea I was drinking went through what I had just witnessed there was no chance in hot hell of taking another sip. The universe must have had a born to pick with me that day, because as I stared at the cup whose content was now cold I noticed something yellow on the wall of the cup. I couldn't make out whether it was a mere stain or just a foreign substance in my tea. But believe me there was no confusion on how I felt about the yellow thing! My mouth begun tasting funny and revolutions set off in my stomach. The room was suddenly chilly but sweat formed under my armpits and on my forehead. My stomach and my mouth begun to coordinate as the nausea welled up. I frantically called my friend with a tone that was laced with fear and anger- "nimekungojea hapa, uko wapi?"
"I have been waiting for you in the dining room, where are you?"
When I said that out loud, goliath behind me volunteered to show me where the dining was. I asked for a bill then he said, "pea ule fifty bob", pointing to the woman who was nearly done working on mrenda.
There was no written bill!! Guys there was no written bill!! That's when it dawned on me that I had just had a nightmare of a hotel experience. I hysterically searched through my purse, pulled out a fifty shillings note and handed it to the woman then followed goliath.
I thought I had seen it all in the bad hotel department while in Maseno University. Oh! How wrong I was! Very wrong!!
The dining was cloistered on the second floor. Safely tucked from the mad drama that was in kitchen. As I walked in I saw my friend in the farthest corner and went to him. I walked glancing at the customers that were scattered in the room, enjoying their meals unaware of the drama their food went through before it rested on their plates. My friend stood to hung me and I kept the hug as brief and soft as I could since my stomach was in a delicate state and any slight provocation may have led me to release toxic concoctions through my mouth and other places!
As I sat down, the terrible experience I had had in the place I believed was the hotel's kitchen replayed in my mind and this did not allow my stomach that was grumbling ample time to convalesce. My mind unsuccessfully tried to comprehend the yellow thing in the cup. Being a paranoid Nairobian, I begun to think those kitchen folks had drugged me.
I barely payed attention to my friend as he told me his life story. All I could see was the white cup and the yellow monster on its walls. All I thought of was how the tea was moving in my stomach as the poison was transported through my body. I was so alert waiting for the moment I would feel dizzy and black out. If that was going to happen, at least it would happen with my friend around. Then he would keep the vultures from pouncing on me! I pulled a trick from my sleeves and vowed to keep him for at least two hours. I stalled the conversation and asked thousands of questions even though my system did not give me the peace I needed to focus on the answers. The deities were graceful enough to give me some strength to keep the conversation going. After all, according to my mind it was either being strong to survive or becoming weak to be ravaged by 'imaginary' or not predators.