Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Waiters and Fire Extinguishers

There is nothing quite like starting a dinner party rigid with ambassadors with a waiter - THE waiter - collapsing with a grand mal fit onto the fire extinguisher which then proceeded to cover the kitchen with white powder.

That was the short version. Now for the long one.

Our very nice and regular waiter carried the somewhat diminished platter of prawns with their selection of dipping sauces into the kitchen. The housekeeper was in there and ready to wash up as dirty dishes arrived. She glanced at the platter, realised there were only two prawns left and pointed out to the waiter that I was always happy for my staff to try the food and 'did you want a prawn'. She got no response. She looked at him and his eyes were looking up. She repeated the question. Just as she started to feel frightened by the blankness on his face he took a step back, then another and went straight down.

He hit the fire extinguisher, snapped the pin, and landed on the trigger. A hissing cloud of white powder poured out into the kitchen.

A grand mal fit is terrifying if you have never seen one and my lovely housekeeper was terrified. She tried to speak to him but he was arching and thrashing. She had heard that you are supposed to put a spoon into the mouth and tried it but could not lever his jaws open. Then he went still and started to go as blue as a Nubian can and she totally panicked - certain that he was no longer breathing. She rushed out to the balcony where the group had started on the red wine and were talking elegantly of the politics of religion. Maria silently beckoned the chef. Ahmed was at the barbecue and about to put the steaks on, surrounded by the usual retinue of men who always seem to feel that barbecuing has to be supervised. The only slight difference was that most of these were ambassadors.

He dismissed her with a flick of the fingers. She beckoned more urgently and as he approached her she hissed the name of the waiter and shot into the kitchen. He followed demanding to know what was wrong with the waiter. One step into the doorway and Ahmed almost fell over him - still seizing.

He froze. "What is he doing?" was the first astounded question.

Then - noting that the kitchen and Maria were snow white - including the last pair of prawns on the platter, the stove and every single surface including the waiter. "How is he making the powder?"

He tried to lift the waiter, and skidded in the white snow underfoot. On the white tiled floor is was as slippery as glass. Both went down together, and the waiter started to fit again. Ahmed was lashed by a twisting arm and was horrified at the position of his hands, trying to untwist them and realising that that was impossible.

"Get Gamal" he said to Maria.

Maria rushed to the back steps and downstairs where our gardener had been making tea for the drivers.

Gamal came into the kitchen, looked at the poor waiter, and dropped to his knees, going into the sura of the Koran for well being and health. Halfway through it the waiter stopped fitting and relaxed. "Look," said Gamal. "How effective is the Koran? Now he is unconscious."

Ahmed came out and beckoned me. By now I had realised that something was going on as the group of watching men who had been hanging over the barbecue has drifted back to the table and the barbecue was emitting blue smoke until I turned it off. It is so unlike Ahmed to walk away in the middle of something that I was already concerned.

As I reached him in the doorway he said, very formally, "I am afraid our waiter will not be able to complete his duties tonight."

I was a bit flabbergasted and said "Is he sick?"

"He is tired."

"Just tired?"

Ahmed was heading back to the kitchen and twisted one hand eloquently in the air. At least, it would have been eloquent if I had known what it meant.

At that point I assumed a quarrel had broken out in the kitchen and our waiter was walking out in high dudgeon. This, I thought, was a matter for a man.

I tapped Bob on the shoulder and suggested he check the kitchen as there seemed to be a problem with the waiter.

Bob walked in on a scene of total devastation. Everything was covered in white and the waiter was by far the worst. Bob and Ahmed managed to hoist the (now conscious) waiter to his feet, and he staggered oddly around the kitchen, then pulled himself to attention and said "Red wine."
He looked bizarre enough to be really frightening and Bob steered him to the stairs and suggested he sit. A firmer suggestion was acted on.

Bob rang the doctor. When the waiter had recovered a bit Ahmed and Gamal helped him downstairs. Maria swept the Kitchen and Gamal proceeded to throw out or wash everything that had been out.

Ahmed cooked the steaks. The dinner was perfect, probably considerably helped by the amount of red wine that had been consumed in the interim, mopped up a bit with generous helpings of my home made olive and rosemary bread - thank goodness I had made that!

Our waiter is now fine, but has absolutely no memory of the evening. Both Ahmed and Maria had sleepless nights after this, but we did a very long debriefing next day which had all of us roaring with laughter, and then swinging straight into "Poor man" commiserations. Somehow laughing at another's misfortunes is a coping mechanism.

There are still odd bursts of laughter around the house. Looking back - it was funny- not so much at the time. And - we have a new fire extinguisher, all ready, as Ahmed said, for next time.


Blogger Lindi said...

Oh, Jenny, your poor waiter and staff!
But it is very funny. I can just imagine the chaos. What a great chuckle to start my day with ... and I won't be able to look at a prawn without laughing for a long while!

8:31 am  
Blogger Cairogal said...

It's good to know the extinguisher works! Did the poor guy miss his medication?

9:04 am  
Anonymous Anita said...

Oh Jenny, I was sitting here in my very formal bank environment reading this and trying to giggle silently!! I can just imagine the chaos!! Thank you for making my day! Poor guy though!

3:39 pm  
Anonymous Pat said...

Poor guy but very funny. Sounded like you were entertaining at Fawlty Towers!


6:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen a gran mal and the first time, is truly frightening. Poor Maria, but I do believe that from that point onwards, no matter how harrowing at the time, it totally degenerated into a comedy of errors.
I think what made me laugh hardest was wondering what the Stiff Ambassadors would have thought/said/done...
Can I come to dinner? Just once?LOL

1:49 am  
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1:34 pm  

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