Kananga foot shufflers, April 19, 2003

Don’t drag your feet over my clean floor!  My Mom when I was a kid. 

There are two kinds of people in this world:  Those who pick up their feet when they walk, and those who drag them on the floor as if every step is a painful effort.  This is a story about why you should never hire the feet shufflers.

Wherever the MONUC has subcontracted a cafeteria, it would seem the feet shufflers are the only ones hired, just to make sure the International’s stay in the country is that much harder to take. Kananga’s cafeteria is about as good an example of this as you will find.

There is a small army of seven or eight Congolese working at the cafeteria, which rarely has as many clients.  The servers are usually sitting around the center table watching TV and forcing the clients to sit on either side without a direct view.  You sit down, but not one will notice you.

Excuse me, but are you working?”  A couple may say ‘yes’ without turning their head from the TV.

            Well, I would like to order something.”  (Most UN guys come in tired and thirsty and out of patience for they have been dealing with feet shufflers on the job all day).  One of the servers will be designated by the others to fetch the menu.  Painfully, he or she will get up and drag their feet to the bar two meters away in as much time as takes me to walk 50 meters, bring back the menu and go to sit down again.

            Don’t sit down.  I want to order something.”  So, the person will shuffle back to your table, lean on it with all their weight and look at you with eyes that have been turned off for weeks.  After you have asked for five things on the menu and received the answer “this isn’t any”, you wise up and ask what there is.

We got Chicken.  We got pork.”

I’ll have pork and cabbage salad and a beer.”

At this point the foot shuffler will try to go sit back down with the other foot shufflers but you catch her or him in time to say, “I’d like it now.” Then comes the equally painful decision process on who should go to the kitchen.  It is never the one who took the order.

After a few minutes you say, “I’d like my beer now.”  Shuffle, shuffle and out comes the beer.  Shuffle, shuffle and then comes the glass.  Shuffle, shuffle and finally the bottle opener.  If you want to smoke, you will have to get up and grab the ashtray yourself.

While we are waiting for the 25 to 30 minutes it will take to bring out our order let me tell you a little about a foot shuffler’s logic.  The other day one tried to put my place mat on the table without moving my glass of beer.  Of course, he spilled it.  When I went to pay for my meal, he included the beer.

But you spilled it,” I said.

            Yes, but it was an accident.”

            Oh, well, I guess that’s all right then.”  Can you imagine?  I had to pay the beer he spilled because “it was an accident”.

Shuffle, shuffle and out comes the pork and French fries.  But I wanted salad!  You know if he takes back your plate, you will have to wait another 20 minutes and your pork will be as cold as the salad.  Just leave it!” You were lucky to get the pork and not the chicken so tough you need to hold it with both hands to rip off a piece with your teeth. The shuffler lays the plate on the table.  Shuffle, shuffle and out comes a knife and fork. At least he brought both at the same time. Shuffle, shuffle and here come the napkins.  Shuffle, shuffle and we get some ketchup. They will never bring you salt unless you ask them at least twice.  By this time you want another beer and you go back to the top of the page.

They have been told in every possible way and in every language that if you see someone smoking, you give them an ashtray; if someone orders a beer, they want it now and not in twenty minutes.  Nothing gets through to make them change.  In a month they will be out of a job and the sub-contractor out of a business.  The UN guys got so fed up, a large number of them chipped in to build their own bar in town.  It opens around the corner on May First.

What I have written here is no exaggeration.  For those of you stuck in the big city wishing for adventure and think you might enjoy the foot shufflers, then all I can say, is you probably liked the truckers on the road to Muamzamgoma and you really don’t have interesting things to do with your time.  If this country is in the sad shape it is, then it is, in part, because the foot shufflers were too busy dragging their feet to notice they had to do something before it was too late.


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