The guest house I’m staying at only accepts cash payments. Which I find hilarious, because my bill is in the millions of Kwacha (best name for a currency ever) and the bills in my wallet are 50, 100, 1000, 10,000, 20,000, and a few 50,000 denominations. I’m trying to count to a million, laughing hysterically because I keep mistaking 100’s for 1000’s and 10,000’s for 50,000’s. My colleague does not seem so amused. I’ve asked to settle my bill the night before I’m leaving, so that if I need to go to the ATM to get more cash, I can.
As I’m trying to count the wads of money that I’ve stuffed into my purse, the desk clerk, Pretty, asks me if I had any room service. I told her yes, that the evening I arrived, I had vegetable curry. She asks me how much it was. Foreign currency baffles me, especially when I travel to more than one country in a trip. Is the exchange rate 7? 61? 5700? I look at her with a blank face. “I don’t know, maybe 9,000? 50,000?” I have no idea.
She calls the waiter into the reception area. He has the menu in his hand. “Hello!” I greet him. “Hello!” he returns with a wide grin. That’s one of the things I love about Zambia. If you smile when you greet someone, you get the heartiest welcome in return. “May I see the menu?” He stares at me. “I ordered the vegetable curry on Sunday and would like to see the price.” “No,” he responds, “it’s not on the menu.” “Yes,” I smile. “I ate it on Sunday. Can I see?” He gives me the menu. “It’s not there,” he clips in with a lovely British accent. I know it’s there, because this is the exact same copy of the menu that I ordered from last Sunday. I turn the page and run my finger down the page. I stop at vegetable curry, 30,000 ZMK. He seems surprised. “How did that get there?” I shrug and tell Pretty 30,000. I tell the waiter thank you.
Pretty totals my bill and tells me the amount. It’s close to three million. I start counting out stacks of money, giggling non-stop. I finish and she recounts.
I look at the bill and realize she hasn’t added in the vegetable curry. See, I’m one of those annoying people who points out when I haven’t been charged for things. I feel it’s karma. That if I don’t ‘fess up, something bad is coming my way. I tell Pretty that I need to pay for the vegetable curry. She asks me if I want to order dinner. I tell her no, but I want to settle my bill. What transpires next is an African version of “who’s on first.” I finally give up, satisfied that I’ve tried, and retire to my room.
An hour and a half later I hear someone knocking on my colleague’s door. “Room service!” the voice booms. I hear some words exchanged, and then there is a knock on my door. “Room service!” Already in bed, I shout, “I didn’t order room service – thank you!” I then hear a knock on every other door on the hallway, to no avail. I find this odd.
The next morning, my colleague asks me if I got my vegetable curry. I look at him, perplexed. Evidently the waiter thought we were *ordering* vegetable curry. When we said we didn’t order it, he simply knocked on every door, until finally someone accepted it. We’re speaking the same language, but there’s something lost in translation.