Right opposite the building from where my office is, there is a small gap between two buildings that has some sheds that contain stalls where you can see second hand shoes and clothes on sale. If you venture inside the sheds, about a quarter way in, the clothes and shoes give was to eating houses where cuisine with uncommon names such as “chapo mandondo” is served. When I think about this food place, I remember a similar location that used to be right next to the Serena Hotel. We used to call it “The Serena B”. Now, considering the location of the food place near my office relative to Serena Hotel, and taking into account all the other factor that would enable you to rank any eating facility, this would have to be “The Serena X”. That is where I had my breakfast.
Inside Serena X, there are many tiny restaurants that all look the same although none of them has a name. The only way to identify one from the other is to call it by it’s owners name. In there somewhere, I know that one of them is owned by Steve, but I didn’t bother asking for it since it might have turned out to be much further in, and I didn’t want to delve so deeply this morning. Steve is an acquittance and when we met recently, he invited me to eat at Serena X.
You would have to experience the atmosphere inside Serena X in order to understand what it is like. But if I explain it here, I can talk about wood smoke and hard benches on each side of several informal looking tables on which several men sit. The customers seem to know each other, and some are talking while two are reading the day’s newspaper. The newspaper belongs to the restaurant and might as well have a huge stamp proclaiming ‘Customers Only’ at the front page. The two mean have split the newspaper pages between them.
Serena X is for early risers. All the customers that I saw seemed to be matatu transport industry crew about to start their day. You can tell that from their uniform clothes. Believe it when I say that Serena X is for early risers, for at the hour between 5am and 6am, even a few house flies were busily buzzing around.
Each of the people that walk into the restaurant seem to know exactly what they want and the food arrives even before the order has finished leaving their mouth. All the waiters wear white lab coats that will never be white again. Like well calibrated machines, they zoom to and from the tables to the kitchen counter, either with full plates or empty dishes depending on which direction they are walking. And they are very efficient. How efficient? Let’s just say that you can feel the wind in the wake of the off-white lab coat as it sweeps the air each time it breathlessly tries to keep up with its wearer.
When I took my seat, I was a little lost for what to have for breakfast and so I chose to eat what seemed like a novel meal sitting in my neighbor’s plate…beans and a chapati…and tea. The tea arrived already sugared. In fact, the only indulgence on the table is a salt shaker. As I ate, I continued to look around and noticed the menu on the wall. Here, the most expensive meal costs 80 shillings! There was also a sticker on the wall that gives you an idea of exactly how much the Serena X management appreciates good manners; “Usiteme mate hapa! Si una handbag?” In simple English it means that if you would like to spit, to please do it in your handbag.
There are no bills or receipts of any kind in Serena X. When you are done eating, you walk to the door and pay to a hawkish looking guy, who I assumed was the owner. His eyes see all, but he will still ask you what you have eaten before he accepts your money. In addition to good manners from their customers, I suspect that the management expects honesty as well.
I didn’t know how much I was supposed to pay and so I dug into my pocket and came up with all the loose money that I had. It all amounted to 80 shillings. The only other money I had was in 1000 notes and I was apprehensive about answering the early morning question that is inevitable each time you pay with a thousand, “Hauna pesa ndogo?” (Don’t you have a smaller note?). In my estimate, I expected to be charged 100 shillings, but then when I asked the cashier/owner how much I owed, he said 50 shillings. 50 shillings! For a plate of beans and a chapati and a cup of pre-sugared tea?! I have to say for the good feeling that I have in my stomach right now, this must be the Christmas bargain they keep talking about on radio.