Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Bathroom Scale Beggars


Mateo’s bar, in the middle of Kampala. Usually after 9pm, onto past midnight, that is when you will see them. Kids, boys, age range ten to early teens. Each with a bathroom scale, accosting the customers on the roadside bar.

Ostensibly, they are providing a service. They ask whether you want your weight taken. If you do, they put down the scale, and you step on it, and in return give them a coin. 100 Uganda shillings (about a twentieth of a USD) is their prize.

In fact they are begging.

The crowd is affluent. Mateo’s is mid to upper class. A popular hangout. Doesn’t hurt that it is on Parliamentary Avenue, in the middle of town, and that it spills out its clientele on the roadside, with the new Chogm lights giving the place a kind of open door ambience. Drive in, with cars carelessly packed on the street, lining it. Turning it from the hectic business district that it is during the day, to a hangout. Popular and populated.

So they take advantage of it.

Or rather, their parents take advantage of it. A well dressed crowd pouring out money on drink. Here comes a kid, scruffy, armed with a bathroom scale, and asking to weigh you. They are persistent. You look down, and there he is, by your side, cutely looking up in your face, thrusting the bathroom scale at you.

‘Want to know your weight?’

Of course we are all soft hearted towards kids. Some will look away, and the kid will take the hint. Some will look in surprise, brush him off with a coin, or, intrigued, he or she would discover that they do want to know their weight there, right then, on a Saturday evening when they were out chilling. And of course, if one does, why not the whole group? The kid smiles, and rakes in the loot. Ladies, they do look put out if they don’t get to know their weight at that particular moment. Make sure the poor kid goes home with at least a coin in hand. And there are others who just give them the money, without the excuse of knowing their weight.

Life is full of challenges.

I wonder what would make me send out my child to beg? What kind of necessity, but a desperation that I have yet to really understand.

The bathroom scale beggars are fairly well off. The families of women and children that man the streets downtown during the day and early evening are more chilling. They line the streets, at a regular 5 meters or so. Children, 2, 4, 6 years of age. Clearly a family. Ragged clothes, the older girls babysitting a toddler, and the mother, somewhere within the vicinity. A suckling infant in her arms. Where are the men? Bad question.

The bouncers (security) at Mateos know the kids. And they play a game of hide and seek, cat and mouse with them. When they are busy, the kids slip in, under the rope, to get to the customers tables. When the bouncers realize that they are there, they take a few steps towards them, and the children disappear- as quickly and silently as they appeared.

The more regular customers kind of brush them off. Too common a sight, they are invisible with the familiarity of the common. But they will usually manage to get a few coins. Which reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ beggar. Begging is a lucrative profession, if you can but manage to do it.

Err, bloggers are having their monthly bloggers hour. At Mateos at a very unfashionable hour. Thursday at 6 pm! You guys are just nerds or what? I can understand Princess being reluctant to take the alcohol laden breaths at other times, but 27th? Revolutions are made in dinky, smoke wreathed rooms, with lots of alcohol.

I cant promise that I will be there, or not, but mind reserving a chair for me, 27th?

GayUganda

3 Comments:

Blogger DeTamble said...

Kampalans get children with scales??? Damn it!!!! Why can't we have those here!! I always wish there were a pair of scales running around with legs and smiling faces whenever I feel the urge to weigh myself. Which I want to do now in fact. Can someone package up one of those kids and send it my way?

April 22, 2008 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger gayuganda said...

Coming your way,

come November. And dont ask how I know...

April 25, 2008 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger DeTamble said...

Psychics must run in our family :P

April 25, 2008 at 11:42 PM  

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