There are times when the zany, perplexing, bizarre and incomprehensible will accompany and decorate the mundane and day-to-day.
4 of us were on our way to Chobe Lodge for a bit of R&R and stopped on the way for breakfast, having left Masindi early, without eating.
Milner’s Cafe, proudly punctuates the roadside as you leave the chaotic and busy town of Bweyale, ‘Back passage to the North’, traveling the main route northwards towards the wide and majestic River Nile in Uganda. Catherine, the proprietor, was away for a day and had left the running of the cafe in the hands of her delightful, welcoming and beaming team, all eager to take care of our every need.
We had brought with us a loaf of salted bread for toasting, as Catherine had assured us that salt bread had never reached and settled in Bweyale since the dawn of time.
We sat on the cool verandah among the cacophony of motorcycles, heavy trucks, bicycle mechanics and cars negotiating the speed-humps on the main road, at a small round table with colourful umbrella at its centre, on comfortable, locally made wooden armchairs.
‘You are most welcome’.
‘Hello, we would like to order.’
‘Cold or room temperature?’
The perplexity, given dramatic gravity by the blank faces and gaping speechlessness, accompanied by small choking sounds, that followed this response was diagnosed by one of us.
‘The waitress thought you said, ‘We would like water’
‘Ahh, sorry, ‘We want-to-order some breakfast. What is there for breakfast?’
‘Chapatti, blacka tea’.
‘Do you have a menu?’
‘Can we have eggs?’
‘And we would like some tea and coffee’.
‘Yes, please let us have 2 teas with milk, and our friends will order when they come, OK?’
(2 members of our party had gone to find the toilet and look in the small shop area that occupied a corner of the cafe’s interior)
‘OK, but milik is not there’.
There was an almost imperceptible hiatus at this point……then the waitress offered, ‘Let me ask Abdullah (the cook) to go to bring milik’…..quick as lightening, as by this time we had already been there for about 40 minutes, we offered to go and buy the milk, if she would only let us know where to find it, while Abdullah and the team continued with the breakfast order.
The Ugandan approach to giving directions seems to depend on the person asking for directions already knowing where to go.
‘After the other taxi, branch and slope. It is there.’
‘The other taxi. There you slope’.
‘I can see many taxis’.
‘There, see the other bus.’
‘ I can see many buses’.
‘The blue bus’.
‘Ahh……there are 2 blue buses’
‘Yes this, this bus, not this, the other one’.
I went to get the milk with some uncertainty as I was still unsure which taxi, which bus, which side of the road. Incidentally, the 1st shop I tried said they have no milk, though they usually do, but, ‘Go beyond and you will find.’
‘After the other bus.’
I philosophically set off and found no milk. When I returned to the 1st shop after 10 minutes, having girded my loins to pursue the location of ‘beyond’ and, miraculously, they announced, ‘We now have milik’.
I didn’t risk asking any questions about this puzzling turn of events, and joyfully set off, back to the cafe, milik in hand, in 2 500ml plastic bags.
While I was gone, the waitress returned with 2 coffees, having misinterpreted our order for 2 teas.
We decided to keep the coffees, on a ‘bird in the hand’ basis, for the 2 who rejoined us at the table, and asked for the 2 teas again, with the rest of our order.
‘We would like to order eggs, please’.
‘Can we have poached eggs?’
‘So, we would like 2 Spanish omelettes for these madams, with tea………..And we would like 2 pairs of poached eggs, on toasted bread, for us 2’, indicating clearly with gestures to whom this referred.
‘And please big 6 pieces of toast’.
An interesting development at this juncture was an interlude involving the arrival of a very polite young man with a mountainous rucksack mounted on his chest, rather than his back. He pleasantly enquired, ‘Can I interest you in the items I am selling?’
‘What are you selling?’
‘Beauty products’, he replied.
‘No, thanks’, was the chorus from 3 of us, but one of us, Di, said after a pendulous pause, ‘Show me what you’ve got’.
With pride, and some panache, he produced a tube of aloe vera hair removing cream from his capacious bag and placed it on the table in front of her with a flourish. He did not get the reaction he was hoping for; she was hoping for nail varnish , and squeaked/squawked/snorted a brief rejection of his offer before laying her head on the table and convulsed with uncontrollable hysterical giggles while the rest of us had tears of contageous laughter streaming down our cheeks. Di is conspicuously not hirsute.
You had to be there.
Some 10 minutes later, 1 omelette and 4 pieces of toast, cut in triangles, with the crusts removed, were delivered to the table.
We reminded that another omelette and 2 portions of poached eggs, toast and 2 teas were also on order
‘They are on the way coming’.
5 minutes later, a further 6 pieces of toast were brought, beautifully presented on a plate covered by a stainless steel cloche.
We gently mentioned that another omelette, 2 portions of poached eggs on toast and 2 teas were still on order, but, now there was no need for any more toast, and, ‘Can we please have some Blueband margarine to put on the toast?’
Although we had learned by now the scope for things going ‘pear shaped’, we took a chance. ‘Please can we have hot milk for the coffee and cold milk for the tea, when the tea comes.
‘It is on the way coming’.
Almost by return, there arrived at our table a small flask of hot water, a small flask of hot milk, an unopened plastic bag of cold milk, a tea bag, an enormous flask of additional hot water, 2 cups, the margarine with knife……..and another 6 pieces of toast, plated and cloched………..but a significant absence of poached eggs!
Another lady emerged from the interior of the café, and drew up to our table side a few moments later.
‘We are sorry’
We all gazed up at her sympathetically and waited for what might follow her unexpected apology.
‘The poaching thing has a problem’
‘It is in UK…………………. or has been misplaced…..so we are so sorry that there are no poached eggs……… today’.
We were understanding and magnanimous.
‘It’s ok, really. But we must leave now so please bring us the bill and the balance of our bread, so we can pay and go’.
The plastic bag, neatly folded, that had contained our loaf of bread, was empty, but for one end-crust and a collection of crumbs. We left it as an offering, together with the unopened plastic bag of milk, in memory of one of the most entertaining and memorable breakfasts any of us could remember.
1 hour and 40 minutes of happy puzzlement.