Piracy, Markets and Love

Something bad happened to me today. Something that made me think about pirates. Not those in the Indian Ocean, and certainly not the kind Johnny Depp has made popular — though they are my favorites! But well, I feel so bad. I want to strangle someone. You know that feeling? You have a lot of money in your pocket but when you walk into a shop, they say you cannot buy anything there because — well, maybe because you are wearing a blue shirt and they only allow people with red shirts into this shop.

The kind of situation that makes you look for a pirate to hack into the shop and get you what you want at almost no cost. After spending years using pirated software, I think my company is growing, and so I want to go legit and buy the real stuff. But they won’t sell it to me. Because I don’t have a credit card from their stupid country. I call a friend who does, and we try to use her card, but still they won’t sell it to us because the license won’t be used outside their stupid country.

And I got so mad — and I started to wonder why the heck the process of buying and selling goods is becoming so (unsocial? mechanical? unreal? virtual?) — trading is supposed to be the heart of humanity. Whether you go to the neighbors to exchange your bar of soap for a pinch of salt, or to the market to buy a little sugar and bread for the kids — trading is supposed to be a socializing experience.

But it’s becoming impersonal. You have to buy stuff online. Using plastic cards. And when you get mad like I did today, you can’t scream at the pretty cashier who gave your a bouquet of flowers when you asked for flour.

Oh well, they do have ‘help lines’. They say, “Call this number if you are having trouble purchasing our products.” And when you call, what happens, you talk to a stupid robot that pretends it has a voice like Dolly Parton — for a few seconds you do think you are speaking to a pretty girl; you start to ask her out and then — cliche joke.

I love the color in the markets of Uganda.
The smells as well, and the noise of traders hawking their goods amidst the traffic.

But I was saying that trading is losing it’s humanity. We have kafundas, and market stalls around every corner, and hawkers with wheelbarrows full of vegetables. But the way society changing, all these nice things might vanish. Every shop is turning into a supermarket. And the employ girls who aren’t as nice as the women you talk to when you visit the market. These girls have plastic smiles, and wear uniforms like school kids, and are often too tired to flirt with customers — or cannot because the Indian supervisor is watching them on the CCTV.

Markets are a place where boys meet girls.

If the world all turns into supermarkets and virtual shops and plastic cards, how will some people get married?

I know a girl who married the cake delivery boy. Well, he wasn’t really a cake deliverer, but the baker himself. Because he was a small fish in the pond, like me and my company, he could not afford to pay a delivery boy. He had to do the legwork himself. So he goes to this girl’s offices — let’s call her Pauline — and Pauline is in one room, busy typing away at her computer when the smell of cakes hits her nose. She leaves her desk, sniffing, sniffing, feeling something strange turning in her heart — “It’s just a cake Pauline!” — but she moves from room to room, sniffing, until she finds the cake.

And the baker.

He is on his way out. It’s love at first sight (though I think it was love at first smell). And she says; “I have a birthday next week. Can you make me a cake?” It’s a lie, of course. There’s no birthday next week. She just wants an excuse to get his number, and make a move.

They are now married. They have two children. And he still bakes cakes. But understandably, she doesn’t let him do deliveries anymore, for she is afraid another girl will fall in love with the smell of his cakes…..

Girl’s love birthday cakes. I think it’s the key to their hearts.

Ah — what was I talking about when I dragged up this cake memory? Yes, supermarkets, online shops, all those kinds of new trading that is killing societies. Including things like facebook. I feel inspired to start a movement to take humanity back to the stone ages, when everything was so simple. When you walked into a shop and either bought bread or it was out of stock. When young girls used shopping as an excuse to meet their boyfriends — noticed how they take baths and tune themselves up as though they are going for a party and not to buy tomatoes? — When you could smell of the mud, the fresh vegetables, the fish, the fruits, the sweat, and feel the noise of a busy and dusty market as you looked for a supper. Hmmm I should do that more often, while it lasts.

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The Aphrodisiac Restaurant

It is hard to forget a date in an aphrodisiac restaurant.

Mochitos. Photo courtesy of www.or2k.org

I remember the day. 29th May 2011. A beautiful evening in Kathmandu. The threat of a strike lingered in the air, the Maoists promising bloodshed and chaos over the new constitution, their threats keeping people indoors and cars off the street. But Thamel was bustling with life, as usual, for the worst of the threat was over. I do not remember well, but the banda was supposed to (but largely didn’t) happen on the 28th — the day she came into Kathmandu. And so on the 29th I took her out to OR2K. Wow. I’ve never been to a place like that!

Magnificent chandeliers hang in the ceilings, like clusters of stars in a romance novel. The large windows let in a gentle breeze, that made the candles dance like fairies to the allure of traditional Nepali music, the sweet and soothing whispers from a sarangi, the gentle dum-dum-dum of the madal – the flutes that hooted like birds calling their lovers — the cigarette smoke hanging in the air — the scent of opium wafting in from the dark streets outside the restaurant, mixing in with the aroma of the food on the table, next to two mojitos whose straws touched each other — and her smell! The floor was wooden. We sat on rugs, the food on low tables. Her face looked like a full moon in the low lights. Her voice whispered into my ears as though she was providing lyrics to the jazz music of the live band.

Enjoying a meal at OR2K restaurant, Kathmandu

I’m trying to paint a picture with words, to make you feel what it was like in OR2K, and I’ve tried to put here pictures that would make you see the place — but nothing I say, no pictures I put here, will ever make you feel the place. Unless you go there.

Still, I can sum it all up with one word: aphrodisiac — the atmosphere, the food, the music, the lights, the beautiful girl sitting next to you, sipping a green drink called mojito, all combine in a mystic way to give a taste of wicked romance.

The paintings in OR2K give it a mystic feel.

I’ve never experienced another restaurant the way I experienced OR2K. The food in GAIA was great, as it was in Lamas, Mike’s Breakfast, Bhumis, Royal Thandoori, The Lunch Box — but nothing beats OR2K in atmosphere.

Dining in OR2K is ideal for groups, or just two lovers.

Since I came back to Uganda, I have tried to look for an OR2K equivalent in Kampala, but the eating places in Kampala are woefully lacking. They do try to create atmosphere with live band music — most of whose music are not captivating, and most of who mime rather than play actual music — and they try to make it romantic with dim lights from hurricane lamps and paraffin candles. Jazzville in Bugolobi did try to compete with OR2K, but the big open space in the hut makes it rather impersonal. You feel like you are in a stadium watching a concert. In OR2K, you feel like you are in a private party in someone’s living room. Lotus Mexicana also did try to impress me, but I did not like the music, which were mostly poorly done renditions of American music (can someone please tell these musicians that there’s more joy in listening to traditional African jazz?) and the toilet put me off completely. The sink was blocked and overflowing — don’t even want to think about it!

Khana Khazana on acacia avenue offered us an okayish atmosphere as well. I liked the fake waterfalls in the middle of the dining area, and the waiters who wore costumes as they served great food. But it was painful that the waiters had no idea what food they were serving — had probably never tasted half of the dishes on the menu. The food was marvelous, though. Sadly, the atmosphere fell short of being aphrodisiac.

And so I’m still searching for an equivalent to OR2K in Kampala. Somewhere I can go and enjoy good food, good music, great atmosphere, with the prettiest girl around — somewhere a doctor can order you to go instead of prescribing Viagra, or ginseng :-))

She’s looking bored at Jazzville, Bugolobi, in Kampala
Looking through the Menu of Lotus Mexicana restuarant.
The atmosphere aint so grand in Lotus Mexicana.
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