Although I work in Rwanda as a freelance writer/journalist, I regularly return to Uganda to visit my family and friends or to attend to different social of work related engagements. .
The seventh day of the month of June found me in Kampala. I received a text message from a friend, Moses Serugo who asked whether I could make it to town for a brief meeting with a PR friend of his. I responded in the affirmative and quickly set off for the city centre.
We met at around 10am and set off to meet his friend who works in Kololo. After the meeting, I asked Moses to accompany me to Mish Mash, an arts-themed club located on plot 28, Acacia avenue. I’d been told that I could buy some nice T-Shirtsfrom their crafts shop.
The shirt that I wanted to buy from the craft shop at Mish Mash
We walked to the place that was less than 100 meters away, and told the security guard what we wanted and he waved us on. When we got inside we asked the lady at the counter about the T-shirts designed by Green Backlight and she assured us they were available.
There was only one small problem; the shop would not be open until 11am (it was about 15minutes to 11am). We asked the lady if it was ok for us to sit and wait for the shop to open instead of leaving and returning later and she said there no problem in that.
So we sat quietly and Moses started telling me how amazing the place was, thanks to its regular art festivals, concerts and movie nights. Then as we sat there constantly checking our watches, a white lady (Genevieve) who I was told is one of the owners of the place sauntered in from one side of the establishment.
She walked to the counter and was soon involved in a light argument with a male staff member over something to do with a beer that had not been registered in the records of the bar. I jokingly told Moses that it must be hard working in this place as the owner was a strict person (nothing wrong about that).
Shortly thereafter, Genevieve approached us and greeted us and we responded aptly. She then asked how she could be of help, and we told her that actually we were just waiting for the craft shop to open (it was now a mere 5minutes to 11).
Genevieve then informed us that Mish Mash does not open until 12pm and that we were not even supposed to be there. We took the time to explain to her how exactly we came to be inside the establishment before the time she was talking about but she started raising her voice claiming we had forced ourselves in after ignoring a sign at the entrance that read 12pm as the opening time.
Moses assured her that there was no way we could have forced ourselves in yet there was a security guard at the entrance whom we had talked to before proceeding inside. Shockingly Genevieve was having none of it even after we reminded her that after getting past the gate, another of her staff members (lady at the counter) had kindly allowed us to sit and wait for the craft shop to open.
She persistently claimed that we had simply disrespected the sign at the entrance and forced ourselves in. After more back and forth arguments she grudgingly agreed to open the shop for us to buy what we wanted but as she moved to get the keys to the shop, a gentleman, Adam, who I later told was Genevieve’s hubby and a co-owner of the place appeared wearing shorts and a T-Shirt.
He inquired from her about what was going on but she just said, “It’s fine, I am opening for them the craft shop.” As we walked towards the shop, Moses softly exclaimed, “Mish Mash, good Lord!” That is when Adam literally charged towards Moses and said, “Mish Mash what? Mish Mash what? We are racist, is that it?” To which Moses replied, “Who said anything about being racist?”
Adam asked us whether we could just walk into any establishment before it was open. I reminded him that we had actually not just walked in as he was implying and that we had had this whole argument with Genevieve and we’d reached an agreement that she was to open the shop so we could buy what we wanted and then leave.
That is when Genevieve (in a rather patronizing tone) quipped, “It’s fine, we are here to support Ugandan art & crafts and we are opening the shop for you.” My reading of this was that by opening up a small club in Kampala, Adam and Genevieve saw themselves as saviours of the Ugandan art and crafts industry.
As Adam and Genevieve went on and on about how Mish Mash does not open before 12pm, I pointed out to them that the craft shop that is inside the establishment had 11am as it opening time clearly displayed on the shop’s door. Genevieve then run to the door and ripped off the “Open@ 11am” notice and screamed “Not anymore!”
Anyway, at exactly 11am, the girl who works in the craft shop showed up and we were let in. I then proceeded to check out the shirts as Moses assured Adam that there was no point in continuing with the complaints now that the shop had been opened. He assured him that we were not going to be long since we knew what we wanted.
As I tried on one of the shirts to see if it fit just fine, the security guard came into the shop and said, “Gentlemen I kindly beg you to leave because my boss is complaining a lot. I do not want to lose my job.” We informed him that actually the same boss(es) had opened and allowed us into the shop so there was nothing to worry about. However he pleaded that for the sake of his job we should leave immediately.
By now I had had enough of it and decided against paying for the shirt. I put it back and told Moses that we should leave for two reasons. 1. To save the guard from losing his job over a stupid incident and 2. I was not comfortable spending my money while being treated like trash. After all, the shirt was not a freebie. I was going to pay 30,000 Uganda shillings (about $12) for it without bargaining.
We finally left the place and on our way out we saw the small notice that read 12pm as the opening time. It is actually interesting that the sign at the entrance read 12pm yet the one inside at the shop read 11am and on their website the opening time is still written as 11am. Actually 11am is mentioned twice on the home page of their website.
[ Please note that I have just checked their website and the mentions of 11am have been changed to read midday - 23:22 Ugandan time. Interestingly the contacts page still shows 11am as the opening hours.]
At the beginning of the year there were reports of “racist” or plain abusive acts by the owners of Mish Mash circulating on Facebook and Twitter. A quick check on the Time Line of their Twitter Handle (@mishmashuganda) reveals that most of February was spent responding to these racist claims from different people.
Personally, I do not think that Adam and Genevieve Williams, (I am told one is British while the other is Australian) the owners of Mish Mash are racist but I am damn right sure they are very rude and very stupid. And I would not bet my life savings on them not being racist either.
I tweeted about this incident yesterday and I must admit I was overwhelmed by the numerous responses from people claiming that the Williams are not the best mannered people out there. I am also very certain that I will not be going back to Mish Mash ever again. Like Moses tweeted soon after the incident, I am also persona non grata henceforth. I am so done with Mish Mash.