Joseph has worked in a coastal hotel for more than a decade and it would be fair to say that he’s seen it all.
“Oh hello…Joseph!” A guest exclaims, leaning over the salad counter to plant a kiss on both of his cheeks to greet him like a long lost friend. “It’s so great to be back.” The lady is sweating profusely, the sure sign of a new arrival.
“Karibu!” Joseph replies, expertly disguising the fact that he has not the faintest recollection of meeting the woman. The gold embossed name badge on his chest makes it easy for guests to remember him. “Welcome back,” Joseph says with a warm grin.
It’s the lunch shift and although just 12:00 pm and breakfast barely cleared away, guests in various states of undress are quick to rouse themselves from their horizontal torpor around the pool to queue up for the next round of food.
One man wobbles, brandishing a plate dangerously above the head of a small child. He’s been drinking since breakfast and fully intends to stay inebriated until he leaves on Monday. Joseph takes the man’s plate, loads it with food then plants him at a corner table where he can stay out of trouble with a watered down beer.
A clutch of ladies in big straw hats and diaphanous beach robes approach, one grabbing Joseph’s arm. “What’s good to eat today Joseph? You know that I can’t do all this buffet business,” she says, wafting her hand airily over counters groaning with fine food.
Joseph restrains himself from referring to the fact that the hotel has been awarded a gold standard for catering but instead steers the ladies to the fish skewers, noting that they are not afraid to each grab a full plate of chips on the way back to their table.
A team of minibus tour drivers arrive in beige safari suits coated in a fine layer of Tsavo dust. Joseph corrals them onto a large round table, summoning a junior waiter to bring water and large plates of ugali, stew and sukuma.
The Otienos like a table in the sun but the Kariukis prefer to stay in the shade. There is much chair and table scraping as three generations of Joneses decide they would all like to sit together. The kitchen staff have been notified that it’s Margaret’s birthday, so are poised with pots and pans to form an orchestra for the presentation of the birthday cake when the guests start moving on to dessert.
Palms sway, fans spin, diners murmur, the sky is blue and for a moment Joseph feels he has the best job in the world. But then little Johnny steps on a piece of glass (in spite of the dining dress code specifying shoes) and cries out. Joseph dashes for the first aid kit just as the kitchen staff are pouring out of the service area in full song.
“Take a photo will you Joseph?” Margaret’s brother says as he hands over a very expensive looking iPhone X. Joseph grapples with the settings, trying not to drop it while passing the first aid kit to another waiter to take on to the wounded child.
“Oh but you must make it a selfie.” The family choruses, “We want you in it!”
Joseph responds with his ready smile, recapturing the moment scores of times before the family are satisfied.
Once the photography session is over and Johnny has calmed down with a bowl of ice-cream, Joseph turns his hand to clearing plates. He notices that the drunken guest has fallen asleep in the corner and wonders if he’ll still be there at tea, which is in less than an hour…
Frances Woodhams is author of the blog: www.africaexpatwivesclub.com