|'School children, Sir. Thousands of 'em'|
It bothers me to see an almost complete restaurant and no one using it. I don’t have the full complement of tables and chairs yet but we have enough to seat 36 in comfort. Our grill area is complete and ready to barbeque in. We have power, and fridges and drinks coolers, even working loos.
Every weekend, there are school trips to the Barra de Kwanza. The kids come by the bus load, all smartly dressed in their school uniforms and bringing all the makings for their own food. Then they sit there on a sandy beach with their plastic plates on their laps chewing an unfortunate mixture of protein and wind-blown silicates.
Naturally, they always run out of water. A child will step on something sharp and need medical attention. Then, like all kids, they prefer to use a proper loo rather than do the necessary behind a palm tree under the giggling gaze of their classmates. So they come to me.
‘Why don’t you just settle the kids down in my place?’ I asked one of the teachers a while back.
This weekend it was the turn of the Colégio Triangulo, oddly enough the private school Marcia and I are thinking of sending Alex to. He will be five in September. I was pleased to see how well behaved all the children were, and there were many; how the accompanying staff maintained order and kept an eye on all their charges, and they all cleaned up after themselves, one boy politely asking me if I had any more bin bags. Considering the norm here is to just toss rubbish into the street, I was very impressed.
I don’t mind waiting on kids at all. They are generally polite, fair, patient, forgiving and bereft of arrogance, totally unlike any other restaurant guest. I knew I was right in demanding my restaurant tables were one metre square; a more than comfortable dimension for four adults, but easily large enough to accommodate eight children, two on each side. Having got them all seated, plated up and watered, I retired for a fag and a slug of scotch.
|Bit of a full house|
The English teacher sidled up to me. I generally hate Angolan English teachers because their English is execrable and all they seem intent on doing is buttonholing Englishmen to try and prove just how good their English is. I have tried to explain our quaint customs to them on innumerable occasions, principally the unwritten rule that if you see an Englishman with a lit cigarette in one hand and a full tumbler of whisky in the other, it’s his polite way of saying, ‘Leave me alone’.
‘This really is very decent of you,’ he said.
‘There aren’t many people who are so generous,’ he continued by way of explanation.
‘I’m awfully sorry, I thought you were English,’ he apologized before translating our brief exchange into Portuguese.
‘But I am English!’ I protested.
I was well on the back foot. I could so easily inadvertently insult him now by expressing surprise that an Angolan could speak English so well but I went ahead anyway.
‘Never,’ I said, ‘have I ever heard an Angolan speak English as beautifully as you do’
‘I studied in London,’ he modestly confessed, ‘I keep up with it now by watching BBC Entertainment and the other English channels on DSTV. It costs me a shade over $100 per month but I look upon it as an investment’
‘Fuck me!’ I said in awe, as much at a loss for words as he was eloquent.
‘It is an expensive subscription, isn’t it?’ he replied, not picking up on the true reason for my astonishment.
‘I really like the cookery programmes,’ he continued, ‘I suppose with you opening a restaurant, you are rather fond of them as well?’
‘Erm, yes, I suppose I am,’ I admitted adopting the casual reserve with which two English gentlemen converse on first encounter, ‘although I have reservations about Gordon Ramsey’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ said he agreeing with me, ‘I find him a boorish bore’
I would have described Ramsey as a prick. Boorish bore says it all and is so much more refined. There was an awkward pause; I really was at a loss for words. I dearly wanted to ask him why, with his command of English, he was content to be a teacher in a suburban college rather than raking it in with an oil company but that would have been as plebian as asking the man how much he earned (which I was also curious to know).
‘Please don’t be offended,’ he said breaking the silence, ‘but watching you serving at the tables, the way you interacted with the children, your mannerisms, your physique, they all reminded me of Jonathan Phang. Have you heard of him?’
I searched his expression for any sign he was taking the piss but his interest seemed perfectly genuine and his observation had been politely delivered.
Jonathan Phang provides excellent entertainment. I love the cookery series of his currently showing here all about Caribbean cuisine. I have only seen three episodes so far, the only reason I know who he is. His enthusiasm is infectious. He comes across as affable and considerate. I like him.
He is also as camp as a tent and very portly. This very well spoken man had just compared me to a fat effeminate.
‘Really!’ I exclaimed, ‘he looks more oriental to me and he doesn’t have so much grey hair!’
‘I’m not saying you look exactly like him, you just remind me of him’
‘I wish I could cook as well as he can,’ I continued warming to the topic, ‘he’d be great here’
‘I heard that his temper can on occasion be alarming’
‘Well that only makes us more alike,’ I said ruefully (or should that be, guiltily?) as I stubbed my cigarette out in my heavy ashtray, ‘but he, nevertheless, comes across as a most agreeable fellow’. Christ, I was even beginning to talk like an Angolan English teacher.
‘Maybe he will make a television series in Africa,’ he ventured, ‘After all, they all do in the end.’ He then proceeded to list several celebrity TV chefs who had travelled to Africa and filmed cookery programmes here finishing off with Keith Floyd.
‘There’s a little bit of Keith Floyd in you too,’ he said as he watched me down my glass.
Oh, so now I am an alcoholic fat effeminate? I was beginning to really like this guy despite the fact that in our first thirty seconds of conversation he had insinuated that I was an overweight man of questionable sexual orientation with a drink problem. He had a wicked and very dry sense of humour. The other reason I liked him and all the other teachers present was that they were willing to give up their weekend to look after their charges on a run ashore. Any big city can be a dismal place for children and Luanda especially so. There is nowhere to play except on busy, litter strewn streets. How nice for them then, a day spent beside a beach? Teaching isn’t a profession; it is a vocation and certainly not one to become rich by. Yet teachers have the power to enrich the lives of children, preparing them better for their varied futures. Teachers rank alongside scout masters and Duke of Edinburgh scheme volunteers; people willing to give up some of their time for the benefit of others, in this case children. Here was an intelligent, well-educated and unnervingly observant young man who eschewed the altar of Mammon in favour of service to the community.
It came time for the children to leave. They had cleaned up all their mess and returned the Lappa to the condition in which they found it. The children all filed by saying they had enjoyed a wonderful time and then the teachers made their leave.
‘Good luck with the restaurant,’ said the English teacher.
‘With a role model like Jonathan Phang,’ I replied, ‘I can’t fail!’
I was so pleased with the whole day and bloody chuffed to be compared to Jonathan Phang (I know some may consider that bizarre but I was pleased), I told him to hang on a second, went into my room and pulled out an armful of books and some DVD’s.
‘Here, take these, you can bring them back next time you are down here’
Who’d have thought it? Me, effeminate.
I do like his taste in shirts, though.
|At least Phang hasn't got his hand on his hip like a real tart!|