Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Tablecloth Looked Delicious

Tom and I had to be in Mansa early this morning to pick up our car and chickens (more about that tomorrow) we took advantage of the opportunity and left everything in the care of our teenagers and headed to Mansa yesterday. We were gonna have some alone time. Yeah, baby!

 Fair Warning: This story is long. 

After riding the bus to Mansa we checked into our hotel room. There are not many options for lodging in Mansa, so we settled on a mid-range room. It only costs $30 for a double room. Sounds fair, right? Well, not quite....

We were shown two rooms to choose from. I was wrestling our luggage down the tiny hallway so I missed the first showing, but Tom summed it up: One room had no toilet seat and the other was  missing part of the bathroom door. We decided to take the ‘missing door’ room. Privacy wasn't really going to be an issue since the bathroom doors were all glass anyway.

As we moved our luggage in, Tom mentioned that when the room was first shown to him, one of the workers was exiting the room having just used the shower. That skeeved me out and then I glanced over at the shelves and saw a strip of condoms. "Someone just used our room for a nooner", I yelped! The room with no toilet seat looked much better. I convinced Tom to change rooms and we schlepped our luggage across the hall. 

Later on I found condoms in the second room; I guess the hotel management was just doing their part to protect their guests' health.

Having taken care of a few errands and readying our car for the chickens, we headed out for dinner.

Tom wanted to try a restaurant he’d heard about on the outskirts of Mansa. We weren't sure if the restaurant was open, but we were excited to try something new. Pulling up in the driveway of the hotel where the restaurant was located, we asked a passerby if the restaurant was open. She gushed about the food, said she was a hotel guest but really enjoyed the food. Approaching the restaurant doorway, we were welcomed warmly by at least four waiters and waitresses. 

Once we were seated, we requested a menu, but the waiter only asked for our drink orders. Understanding the need to follow a routine, we let him go by rote and told him what we wanted to drink—water for me and a cold drink for Tom.

We could see the waiter slowly make his way to the bar, carefully select the correct glasses, load up a tray, place our drinks and glasses on there, and proceed to saunter across the restaurant back to our table. He set down our drinks, and walked away!

Several long minutes later, he walked up with a scrap of paper and informed us that the restaurant had T-bone steaks, chicken or spare ribs to offer. I asked what starches could be ordered. His words made up our minds—“We have nshima”. Nshima is Zambia’s staple food—a cornmeal dish similar to grits or polenta, except without any flavor. It has its place and there are times we enjoy eating it—but not on a very rare date night!
We left.

We decided to head to the only other nice restaurant in town. Also situated in a hotel, it’s decorated like an over-the-top wedding reception, but the food is decent. 

When we took our seats in the second restaurant we were quickly presented with colorful menus. Progress! Knowing that there are frequently issues with supplies, I immediately asked if there was anything on the menu that was not available. Our waitress said they were out of pork chops. OK, great, no problem, we’d order something else.

Long minutes passed as we contemplated dishes, asked questions of the waitress, watched her run back to the kitchen to figure out the answers—several times, chose dishes, were informed that that particular dish was not available—several times. Finally, we managed to land on choices which were available and about which the waitress was knowledgeable. For appetizers: Greek salad and onion rings, for the main: chicken pizza and battered chicken strips with French fries.

When Tom asked, as he always does, how long it would take for the food to come out we were told forty-five minutes. Surely that was the main course, right? I was so hungry. I couldn’t wait to nibble on onion rings.

Sadly, this was not to be.

Tom read the newspaper cover to cover. I read from my Kindle. We chatted about what Tom read in the newspaper. We looked up hopefully every time the lone waitress crossed the restaurant floor. Each time we were disappointed.

Forty-five minutes passed and there was still no sight of any of our food. I could see the chef from where we were sitting. He looked hard at work, but no dishes left the kitchen. There were only 8 guests total in the restaurant so he wasn’t even swamped. It was confusing.

Finally! fifty minutes after ordering, our appetizers were brought out. And that’s when the proverbial excrement hit the cooling device. The ‘Greek’ salad was a limp pile of coleslaw-ish salad. My onion rings were lightly fried onions rings with globs of rock hard, tasteless, pale batter. I refused to eat them. 

Tom wasn’t even at the table any more. He had gotten so bored that he wandered outside and began chatting with other guests. 

I was beside myself by this point. I would have eaten the tablecloth, but there weren’t even condiments on the table.

Then! Miracle of Miracles! My pizza arrived. I didn’t even wait for Tom’s food to come. I dug into that pizza like there was no tomorrow! I could feel the carbs restoring my blood sugar to normal levels. Now I could focus my thoughts. Now I’d be able to enjoy the rest of my night out.

A few minutes later Tom’s chicken (stir-fry—not battered strips) and French fries arrived. By this time Tom had made fast friends with a pair of young men from South Africa and we moved our food out to their table. The next couple hours of lively conversation completely made up for the rough start to our evening.

All’s Well That Ends Well. Have you ever experienced a restaurant nightmare?

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