Budapest Chronicles, Series

Budapest Chronicles: Eating time

By Brian Friday Bwesigye

It is 1305 hours, the thing inside wants the thing in the pot (ekyomunda nikyenda ekyomunyungu). Prof. Roger O’Keefe’s class starts at 1330 hours and dude keeps his time! Hit the cafeteria then. But isn’t the line in the cafeteria long?

Students of other CEU departments have just reported, or maybe they have not yet figured out where the cafeteria is! Or do a Chocolate Croissant and litre of milk for lunch! “But Bwesigye, you need a proper meal,” there is always that inside voice that never tires of telling me that! Confused? Undecided? It is not “manly” to be indecisive.

Some masculinity from nowhere pushes my feet into the cafeteria and I am in the line already, tray in hand, serviette on the tray and on top of the serviette, a fork. No spoon, no table knife etc, a fork is enough! The eating etiquette is for those with plenty of time! The line is moving fast but so is the time. It is 1310 hours!

If there is something I am sure of, it is what to eat at the cafeteria. The policy of no-change applies. With my pseudo-vegetarian tendencies, it is only when my friend’s culinary choices directly affect me that I take to her Nama (Setswana for meat person) ways!

Okay, “do you want full plate or half plate?” I’m being asked by the kind waiter serving us. What kind of question is that? I almost blurt out. Full plate of course! Don’t they say men who are small in size eat too much? Maybe it is not that obvious.

At the payment desk, and this kind man who last week allowed me to stay with 40HUF because he had no change has since forgotten. But surely, 40HUF is not an amount to tempt, I remind him and pay to his astonishment, but time is moving! I have to be in class in a matter of minutes!

The fork’s four teeth are holding more than they should, mouth open, the two negotiating how the former should enter with its heavy load. How many fork over-fills will it take to clear the plateau these people call full plate? They have no idea the hills and mountains of food I can clear on a good day! But this plateau costs a cool 500HUF (about 8.000 Ugandan Shillings/R30)! How unfair can prices be?! At Tipsy Restaurant, feel free to call it an eatery in Kampala, the same meal goes for much less and Tipsy is not necessarily low-cost, or is it?

Anyways, complaints aside (hopefully), when will one take a pure breather and digest Budapest as it is? Okay, even digest CEU – just CEU or the Kerepesi Street where one stays! Can you imagine one has not even devoured the neighborhood except for the mini-tour of the city that we were taken on? Soon after arrival, it was a rollercoaster schedule of courses! Just two of these module 1 courses took us a full year at undergraduate level to learn but here it is just eighteen days! And if you are thinking of the Makerere thing of a lecturer giving notes in class or through the photocopier, it is far from that – the reader we are given is more like a stick opening your eyes and asking you to see and read! And we are already speaking exams! Maybe after exams there will be a breather, but how will it come when the next module starts immediately after and for that matter we are meant to choose our electives for that module latest this Friday!

Okay, O’Keefe is probably already in class cracking hilarious jokes as he waits for the time to clock at thirty minutes and he starts the class! I am still munching away. In fact, this food is not getting a proper dose of chewing, it is just going down, it will sort itself in the stomach!

When did my Ethiopian colleague join me on this table? Okay, my eyes are in my mouth as of now! But not my ears maybe. Dude says he has no afternoon class and asks me why I am in such a hurry! Don’t I wish to be in his LLM International Business Law class, just to have a free afternoon? Anyway, I manage a minute to explain my rush.

Magic has its way of doing things. The magic of swallowing without chewing, the magic of overloading a fork almost towards damaging it! I am done with eating, a few crumbs left. At Kigezi High School, we would say for the pigs. Wishes again – I wish I did not have to carry the tray to the rack. These cafeteria guys should employ someone to do the tray-carrying. Before I am chided for bad manners or poor upbringing, I should clarify that at home I carry my plate and others’ plates after eating and even wash them. Even at the residence center, my Motswana friend can testify that washing dishes is no challenge to me. But this is a cafeteria; we pay 500HUF not only for food but even services as removing the tray after eating! Anyway, I drop the tray at the rack and start racing upstairs to the lecture-hall.

Is it 1330 hours already? Who cares anyway?! Prof. O’Keefe’s notes are on his table; almost everyone else is in class. Had he started and just excused himself or had he not started? I am given not much time to even decide which side of the room to sit, the man is back and is starting off! Do I need to psychologically prepare for the class, to be in the mood? I ate my time, I hope the dozing angels will not be gnawing at me during the class – and here we go – Diplomatic Protection and State Responsibility! Even for my eating time, maybe!

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