04-07-2019 by Freddie del Curatolo
It may seem natural, almost a sign of the times, in the hectic and noisy Kenyan metropolis, in one of the green avenues of the hilly district of Lavington, to come across a bar-restaurant where customers only gesture with waiters.
When you enter the bar, you think they're engaging in animated discussions, even quarrelling. Instead, you realize, to your surprise, that customers at the Pallet Café never talk to those who serve them and that this is one of the quietest meeting places in Nairobi.
The Pallet Café is the only place in Kenya and one of the few in the world where staff have complete hearing disabilities. In a nutshell, here they are all deaf, waiters and maids welcome you with sign language and black t-shirts with the words "I am deaf".
In addition to the silence, which distinguishes the bar-restaurant from all the others in the city, which especially at lunchtime is all a chat and a noise, there is an incredible approach of respect on the part of customers, who focus on expressiveness, refine their knowledge of sign language and always make sure that those who are serving them have understood the order well.
At the same time, however, many people lower the ring tone of their mobile phone and avoid using it to listen to music or watch videos, as is the case in other places.
At the Pallet they make you sit down and give you the menu that on the first page, instead of food or drink with its prices, has drawn the essential elements of sign language, to be able to order.
For their part, the waiters can not hear the calls of customers, they continuously monitor the situation in the room, with certainly more attention than their colleagues who would have ears to understand, but also to distract themselves more easily.
For those who just can't handle gestures, there is also a notebook with a pen, on which you can write your order. Especially when there are special requests to the chef who can hear us, but certainly can not send to that country his colleagues as often do the chefs fumantini.
Yet there is always someone who does not believe it or who knows that somewhere are hidden two working earcups, so instead of writing or gesticulating, begins to scream louder than normal: "WANT A Flesh Squeeze WITH PATENTINEEE AND NO SMALL FOR FAVOREEE.
With the risk of being observed as if to say: "I may be deaf, but you are a madhouse".
And they are right, because to observe and listen to everything and intervene only in case of real need, there is always the manager of the local Susan or his substitute.
"There are cases in which some customers may doubt that those who serve them understand their order perfectly, in that case I intervene - explains the manager to the reporter of the newspaper The Star - but there is less and less need, we opened in January and in all these months has been made a serious training.
They say that today people no longer know how to listen, that they often talk in vain and tend to scream to impose their opinions, rather than discuss calmly.
None of this can happen at the Pallet Café, and it's no coincidence that you make friends, between waiters and customers who eventually become permanent presences, but also between the customers themselves.
Because silence is always a wise, sincere and respectful friend who teaches true sharing and understanding, other than a distracted "like" on a social network.
That's why Lavington's restaurant is a metaphor for our era of buried values, of humanity to be flaunted less and to live more.
Edward, the head waiter is 24 years old and was born deaf from one ear, then from young dust and mud of the rural and poor area where he lived have also compromised the other.
Here people understand my disability and are always available to help me as much as they can," he says, "they try to integrate me into the community.
Before becoming a waiter Edward had worked in Kajado as a craftsman, but he felt treated like a real disabled person, customers discarded him and employers left him at home preferring a non-disabled boy even if less good.
Now, thanks to his work, Edward has been able to attend the Karen Technical Training Institute for the Deaf and graduate, as well as his colleague Jacqueline who studied at the Aga Khan Special Academy and started looking for work. She would never have imagined finding him in the service sector, working with the public.
Paraphrasing the proverb, there is no deafer than those who do not want to work, so the small Pallet Cafe has silently managed to carve out its share of business, in the area where giants of catering such as Java and Artcafé depopulate and at the same time to bring to the news the problem of the inclusion of disabled people, of any disability, in the world of work and why not, even in the hospitality.
According to a 2018 ILO Kenya survey, ten percent of the Kenyan population has even a partial form of disability.
But beware, the Nairobi venue is not part of any social project. The Kenyan owner Fesul would like to point out that he conceived the Pallet Café as a place absolutely in line with the others, as well as the normal conditions of its employees, including salary and taxes. But precisely because this idea is setting the standard, at least in an expanding reality such as Nairobi, it is certainly an example to imitate and the owner himself, without being a "merchant", is already thinking of opening another one.
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