I think I went to the local hardware shop four or was it five times yesterday. It felt like groundhog day but that's how organised I am, ie not very. It's partly my fault and partly the nature of the hardware shop itself. The place sucks you in then keeps you there, like a vortex. You're thinking, 'I'd like this, oh, and while I'm here, I'll take that.' Then as soon as you leave, 'oh damn, I forgot the other. Why not pop back?'
The reason for the hardware frenzy? Our gardener has decided, due to rising rent (2,500/- a month for his small mbati room?!), to move into our staff quarters with his small family and save some cash. Fortunately we have bags of room over there, it's a sort of row of 1930s cottagey rooms, but it's all looking a bit run down (especially since the nightwatchman decided to spend last cold season next to a fire he lit right under the eves of the staff quarters - envisage vast expanse of brown stained wall) so yesterday was the launch of the facelift operation. Re-cementing floors, repainting walls, applying new locks to doors, calling in of electricians etc.
There is secure parking just outside the hardware shop - which is a good thing because just outside their fence is a ' free zone' occupied by a concentrated mass of beggars and hawkers, whose roaming rights have been reduced down to this small area since shopping centres around are increasingly employing their own guard companies to keep beggars and hawkers out. So, this small patch beyond the hardware shop parking area has become is a free for all of impromptu trading; for dvd sellers, a mini authentic masai craft market manned by masai ladies seated on the ground, busily beading; a mitumba (second hand) clothing emporium that keeps on growing, a second hand shoes and boots specialist, a sign maker, shoe polisher, a flower selling operation - all outdoor 'en plein air'. Park in that little area at your peril, as you will invariably have to run the gauntlet of all these casual traders. Sometimes you are in the mood to simply smile when the umpteenth person offers to 'watch' your car, or help you reverse out of a space, and sometimes you definitely are not.
But still, the hardware shop experience requires plenty of patience too. Even though there seem to be enough workers milling around the shop floor to man a small factory, getting service takes time. To make the process more difficult, all the things you want are never on the amply sized shop floor itself, but hidden within recesses or darkened rooms behind the desk - so basically assistance is required to buy anything. Then there's the problem of actually getting across what it is you are actually looking for. Not easy in my case since DIY was never a strength. The process goes something like this.
- Once you have put in your request, somebody will disappear for a while then bring back a selection of varyingly priced items from which to choose from based on your own superior knowledge. (Obviously, for me this is a hard part). If what you want is not there, then the man or woman will have to disappear off again. Repeat search.
- When you need paint, this involves picking a shade from a colour chart then getting it mixed up in the machine behind. Admittedly, this process can be quite fast, as long as there aren't too many others ordering paint at the same time.
- While waiting as the shop assistant keeps disappearing, I browse around the shop itself. The serving staff behind the desk where white coats, the ones on the shop floor wear brown coats. If by any miracle you have asked for something that is displayed on the shop floor, then the white coat will shout to the brown coat to find it for me - again, more explaining required.
- If you want bigger stuff, like cement, sand, metal rods, wood planks, fencing, then you'll find this is stored behind the shop. A blue receipt in hand, you'll need to take your car around the back for loading.
- Once the collection of oddments are ready on the glass topped desk, then a receipt must be written - always in more than one book. Yesterday, on one of my visits, my bill was split between two receipt books and for some inexplicable reason I had to pay for the cement seperately with cash. When I asked why the man who was helping me said wearily, 'it's a very long story.'
- At this point, you realise you don't have enough cash. It's amazing how all these hardware items add up! You hand over your card to the man or woman has been serving you. By now, you have sore legs from standing at the desk so long (in one case yesterday, over half an hour). You've already sized up everyone else in the shop (normally aged over 65) and suddenly you are losing the will to live.
- Your card, with the collection of receipts gets stuffed through a mysterious hole in the bottom of a blacked out glass window behind the desk. An even more mysterious hand whips out and grabs the card.
- The man serving you drums his fingers on the table a while then gets distracted by another customer, meanwhile, you've already seen your card shoot out of the mysterious hole and, desperate to get out of the vortex, you start gesticulating wildly. 'Can I just sign?' You call over, but to no avail. The mysterious hole in the black glass is too far away to reach across, the man serving you has gone off to have a long conversation about fittings for plumbing.
- Finally, you have paid. A man in a brown coat helps you carry your things to your car (thank you very much). You then reverse around to the back to pick up the big things, then wait while these are loaded. This is generally a struggle because said items are too big to put in the car. So there's a bit of putting seats down etc.
- Finally you have everything. You drive out back through the gauntlet of beggars and hawkers, but the traffic is bad so it takes time to inch your way out and your car is baking because it's been sitting in the sun for so long.
- You get home. The fundi (workman) says that the fittings you have bought are slightly wrong, plus he's run out of something else - but you don't mind, because you also realise you've got another wrong fitting that needs to go back and you wouldn't mind picking something else.....and so back you go.
So there it is. The hardware shop.
In them meantime, our househelp's daughter is loving her new job in the hair salon! I gather she's doing really well and is helping on both the hair and beauty side getting loads of hands on experience. Apparently she's the youngest there and she's working hideously long hours but it's working out for the time being. She recently massaged a well known Kenyan politician's wife - I wonder if she got a tip or perhaps the lady was feeling a bit skint since the Kenyan MPs are all having to pay back tax arrears. Anyway, politics aside, that's all great.
Re my 11 year old daughter and her exams. The results weren't desperate, but they weren't that great either. My 'hands off ' approach to revision obviously needs a re-think. I was called in to see her languages teachers this week to discuss how we can improve her results (holiday homework). The Spanish teacher was sweet; 'who knows?' she said, 'your daughter will probably never really need Spanish in her future life.'
I thought that it was big of her to say this, but the truth is, my daughter still needs to pass her exams. I can see years of mother/child revision yawning ahead.
It's end of term week this week too. So far we've done a concert, a play, an end of term party, an end of term lunch, an end of term assembly, teachers' presents and cards, another assembly today followed by speeches tomorrow. Phew.