At Easter, we all met up again in Nairobi where we were to film the East African Safari Rally (as it was then called). This was an annual event that had started as an amateur rally among the British ex-pats. By now it was an international event counting towards the International Rally Championship.
We were joined by our local cameraman Mohinder Dhillon who advised us to eat in our hotel before venturing out to sample the restaurants. We stayed at The New Stanley Hotel in the centre of the city.
The food was extremely good and the restaurants were as good as any in the world.
Badin ordered his meal and with it, on a side plate, he liked to have finely chopped red onions. The problem was the ordering of that side dish. The waiter, being native to Kenya, spoke Swahili and a little English. Badin started off in French until I told him the man could not understand a word. I started to describe what Paul wanted. I gave up trying to say red onions, the waiter had never heard of them. He went away and returned with our main dishes but no onions. I asked him where were the onions. He said that the chef was cooking them and he would bring them soon. Fried onions arrived. I said “We do not want them cooked, just chopped”. “Yes” he said. After a while he returned with a whole peeled uncooked onion. We decided to give up, but we held on to the onion and I chopped it up for Paul.
We came to ordering a dessert when they said that they expected to have some really fresh tropical fruit.
They both wanted Ananas which, at that time, I had never heard of. They tried to describe it to me. It was round it had leaves coming out of he top. They became more and more desperate in their description, until while this conversation was going on and Paul kept saying “Ananas” (as if, eventually, I might understand what he was talking about), the waiter came and stood by the table waiting for the order. As Paul said “Ananas” one more time, he waiter said “Yes, Sir !” and he came back with two portions of pineapple. Ananas is Swahili for a pineapple as well as most of the rest of the world, it seems.
On the Easter Sunday, we were able to have a buffet lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. This was a special occasion and the citizens of Nairobi, that is to say, mostly, the Europeans, would come in their best bib and tucker.
We all sat down on the terrace and watched as a queue moved along the long display of food. Everything one could think of was on offer, all kinds of salads, cold meats and fish. We would join the queue when it got a little shorter.
I sat on an aisle and soon noticed that I did not have a fork. A waiter came past and I said ”Excuse me, I do not have a fork” He glanced at the place where a fork might be and said “Yes, Sir”. Several times he passed by without delivering a fork. Three times, I told him that I did not have a fork and three times he said “Yes, Sir”, but he did not bring me one. I was sitting next to Mohinder and, appealing to his local knowledge, I said to him “I have told that waiter several times that I do not have a fork and, although he said ‘Yes, Sir’, he has not brought me one.”
Paul Badin’s troubles with the local language went on. On the menu was Salad Nicoise. In his best French, he ordered Salad Nicoise. The waiter did not understand him. Saying “What is it ?” Paul only knew one way to say Salad Nicoise, but he was soon going to find out that there was another way of saying it.
The waiter asked Paul to show him the item on the menu. When he saw it he said “Oh, Salad Nick-oi-ee-zay”. “O.K.”, said Paul.
Of course, we later learned something about Swahili that, until the end of the nineteenth century, we were told, it was not a written language. It was the British that introduced the written word and worked it out so that every letter of the alphabet, when included in a word, was pronounced as one did when reciting the alphabet.
Next chapter: Chapter 50: Local History