Time in Tanzania is a trivial concept. The common Swahili saying haraka haraka haina baraka (‘hurry hurry has no blessings’) is quite telling of this. I’ve gotten used to not taking any appointment time too seriously – after all I have been sitting in meeting rooms at the Ministry of Finance where the Ministry’s chairperson arrives 45 minutes late and meetings go 2 hours overtime if people are particularly talkative – but after almost 8 months of living here, my Finnish punctuality is starting to crawl out again. My patience has been severely tested these past few days at ‘fast food’ restaurants/bars, I call it the Chipsi Mayai Curse.
Chipsi mayai is the most basic fast food you can get in Tanzania, it’s basically an omelette with French fries. The fries are pre-fried in oil and “seasoned with roadside dust”, as a friend put it, and mixed with a couple of eggs on a frying pan. It’s delicious and if hungry, usually it’s the quickest dish to make. I thought. On Saturday I went to a restaurant called the ‘Fast Food Restaurant’, and saw two really tasty-looking chipsi mayais at the table next to ours, so me and my German friend order the same. Half an hour goes by, and I see the pile of chips in the other corner of the restaurant slowly shrinking. People who have come there later than us get served their portions of chipsi mayai, so I look at the waitress in askance. She comes over and regrets to tell us that there are no chips left and that we should change our order. HALF AN HOUR AFTER WE MADE THE ORDER. I was really hungry so started loudly complaining to the waitress how I had seen that they just took chipsi mayai to other people and that there was enough left when we made the order. I probably had such an angry face that she didn’t dare to look at me but spoke only to my friend instead, in Swahili. My friend doesn’t speak much Swahili at all so she looks cluelessly at me, and I look at the waitress. Similar incidents have happened before but this time I decided I wouldn’t let it slip, so I asked for the manager. The waitress goes to a corner where a man is standing, and after a while of discussion the guy walks out from the restaurant and the waitress comes over and tells us that the manager has gone to get more chips. 20 minutes later, we see a pile of chips enter the building but no sign of our chipsi mayai yet.
Another guy comes over to our table claiming he’s the manager, sweet-talking and asking what “the ladies’ problem is”, apologises for the waitress who “made a mistake” and promises to personally make the chipsi mayai for us in 2 minutes. “Yes, 2 minutes”. I put on the timer on my phone and watch as the guy goes back to sit by a table with accounting books. 2 minutes passes, the guy still sits by the books. 10 minutes later, still nothing. Finally I see the cook standing by the chips take out some and put it on a frying pan. “Is it really happening?”, I think. He takes out two eggs and turns his back towards us and face towards the frying pan. Another two minutes goes by, by which time the food should be ready. When I then see the cook with a pile of chips and two uncracked eggs on top of the frying pan walk out with it from the whole establishment, I’ve had enough. Did the gas on the stove finish this time or what?! End result: 1 hour of waiting and no food, so me and my friend also walk out.
Yesterday, Sunday, I was craving chipsi mayai again, as I didn’t get it the previous day. I go to good old Rose Garden bar where they also have my favourite, chipsi “special”, aka chipsi mayai mixed with vegetables (I fool myself that it’s a healthier option). As I wait for my Tanzanian friend and talk a lot with her when she arrives, I notice that a lot of time has passed again since I made the order. I check the time and there I’ve sat waiting 30 minutes again. A waiter passes and tells me bado kidogo (still a little while), so I patiently wait for the chipsi special. Some 15 more minutes pass and my friend asks another waiter to find out where my food is, and as he returns, surprise surprise, they’re out of the vegetables and can’t make my order. I had not thought this would happen two days in a row so I march to the kitchen and complain how I waited almost 50 minutes before they tell me they can’t make my dish, so I demand to get a cheaper normal chipsi mayai and they promise to bring me some. I go back to sit with my friend and she’s stunned that waiting for food that doesn’t exist for 50 minutes justifies me to get something else cheaper. In Finland they would have apologised many times and probably offered free dessert too for having to wait so long so I didn’t see anything strange about it, it’s the service industry anyway. After 5 minutes (this is how long it’s supposed to take) I get the chipsi mayai and it’s as good as always. Times like these, though, I do miss the often faster service in Europe.