When 8.00 pm found me in the area code, I decided to pass by Bubbles O’ Leary’s and have a peek. There were about two females and two male guards at the entrance. As I was about to open my bag for them to check it, one male guard snapped at me:
“Gwe Nyabo! Oyagala chi?” (You woman! What do you want?)
Astounded, I simply stared at him.
“I’m asking you! Who do you know inside there?” he growled, in Luganda.
“Why are you talking to me like this?” I asked him quietly.
His demeanor grew in hostility. The source of the contempt on his face was a mystery to me. I stared a little bit harder.
“Me, I’m asking you, who do you know inside there? What do you want?!” he said again, in Luganda.
I wondered why he wasn’t speaking to me in English. Why he was assuming I was a Muganda. Last I heard, I looked like a Kenyan. A Rwandese sometimes. What was this Luganda business?
“Why are talking to me like this?” I asked again. He was clearly losing his temper as he demanded again to know what I wanted. I heard another security guard snicker. My situation was starting to draw the attention of witnesses.
“Right now, nothing”, I replied. “I’m going to walk away, and come back to speak with someone in upper management”.
“Kaale, genda! Genda!” he sneered. (It’s okay. You go!)
As I tremblingly walked away, I heard a voice say, “Abakyala abayagala Abazungu” (These women want white men)
I thought it was the guard but as he later denied it vehemently enough to sound truthful, I assume it was someone else who said these words.
I found my five friends having dinner at the Bistro restaurant in Kisementi and it took me a whole three minutes to collect myself. I felt demeaned. I felt abused. I felt really really bad. Color me crazy, but I also found myself trying very hard not to cry. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was almost having a panic attack.
“I’M NOT GOING TO LOSE IT IN THIS FANCY RESTAURANT!” I repeated in my head, like a mantra.
“I’ve had a really upsetting experience at Bubbles”, I eventually gasped, before I haltingly told my friends what had transpired. In a matter of minutes, I had the number of Ollie, the manager, in my phone, and had made an appointment to see him that same night.
Over the phone, I had asked Ollie if there was an invite only event going down at Bubbles to explain at least part of the craziness I had been subjected to. He had said, ‘there is an event, yes’.
Well, we thought, if there was, was it difficult for the guard so say with a sympathetic grin, “I’m sorry but do you know someone inside? This is an invite only party”.
Upon further research, Bubbles lost that lifeline. When my friends checked it up on Facebook, it was an open event for the public. Just another great crazy weekend at Bubbles.
I was told Ollie was a great guy, so the whole thing must be a misunderstanding. One of my friends, Shawn (a non-Ugandan) even begun celebrating.
“You know what’s gonna happen, right?” he crowed. “No manager needs his security chasing away customers. He’s gonna let us all in for free, and offer us a round of drinks on the house!”
We smacked our lips happily. Heh! Kumbe! We were about to get served.
We found Ollie, to his credit, already waiting at the entrance with the guard who had so frightened me. We’ll call him Guard 1. He had a colleague with him who I shall call Guard 2.
When I told Ollie what had happened, he said-
Wait! Are you sitting down, dear reader? You need to be sitting down to continue this story. If you have a glass or a cup of something in your hand, place it upon the table before you resume, there’s a dear. Okay, back to what Ollie said.
“We have a problem with some of the people that come here. It can get really crowded sometimes”, he explained. “So these guys decide who can and cannot enter”.
It registered in my head what Ollie had said. Like a slap in the face. These guards had the mandate to decide I wasn’t the kind of person they wanted in Bubbles just by LOOKING at me?
My friend Grace, shocked, asked Ollie, “What’s your screening process? How do your security decide who can and cannot enter Bubbles?”
Guard 1 said, “I was not even rude to her. I just called her ‘Nyabo’. That is a term of respect here in Uganda”.
My friend James retorted, “There is nothing respectful about saying ‘Gwe Nyabo!’”.
Guard 2 interjected with, “I was sitting quietly in a corner and witnessed the whole thing. She was only asked politely what she wanted and who she knew inside. All she had to do was answer. Her behavior, saying she was going to look for upper management, was not good! The way she said she was going to do that is not good!”
Did this guy just say, in front of the manager, that all I had to was tell them what I wanted, and who I knew inside? I peered at the exterior of Bubbles curiously. Was Beyonce inside?
My friend Mary, genuinely curious, asked Guard 2, “But why would you ask her what she wants? This is a bar! Clearly she’s here to buy a drink. So WHY would you even ask her?”
Grace was equally baffled. “Why do you think she was here?” she demanded. “You put the event up on Facebook, asking people to come. You think she was confused and just happened to show up at your doorstep?”
Ollie tried (and failed) to be helpful again.
“Well, these guys were here and I wasn’t”, he said. “I didn’t see what transpired. But it’s okay to select who gets to enter a bar. I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen it happen”.
Shawn wasn’t having this, no sir.
“In some countries, women can’t drive. That doesn’t make it right” he protested.
“Yeah, but these guys have been working here eight years”, Oliver said again. “They know what they’re doing”.
I asked the one question that needed asking.
“Do you ask everybody what they want when they show up here?”
“Yes” Guard 1 said.
“Oh, cut the crap!” Shawn exploded. “No one has ever stopped me when I’m entering this bar. Why don’t we call this what it is? It’s a matter of black and white!”
That would be one way to look at it.
“That’s not true”, Ollie protested. “There are many black people in this bar”.
Shawn and I stood aside to share a private giggle at this ludicrous situation.
“Sometimes we have hundreds of people here”, Ollie continued. “These guys get to keep control to prevent chaos”.
Chaos at 8.00 pm? If you say so.
“But why Lindsey?” Mary was insisting. She swept her arms in my direction in case the guards had forgotten who I was. “What is it about her that made your guards decide to interrogate her? Is she a threat? If so, how?”
Grace asked again, “Ollie! You’re not answering my simple question. What exactly is your screening process?”
Thankfully, Guard 1 told us what’s up.
“How would you like it if someone stole your bag?” he asked Mary.
“You know, some women can also be prostitutes”, Guard 2 said.
Ah. So I looked like a thief and a prostitute.
The other two female security guards were now up and running their mouths about ‘this troublesome girl’ who did not know her place, refusing to respect rules, defending their male colleagues strongly. A boda-boda man nearby came in to defend his friends. I and mine were being hated on roundly.
And the manager was standing firm with his people, I was starting to realize.
“Okay. Let’s stop wasting time”, Grace announced. “Clearly, you guys see nothing wrong with what’s happened here tonight. So for the record, you want us to know that you, security, will look at someone, and decide that you do not want them in your bar?”
“Yes”, Guard 2 said, firmly, with management nodding away in support. “It is our right”.
MESSAGE TO ALL BUSINESS OWNERS
STOP giving your security the right to abuse the very customers that are walking into your premises. It is becoming a common phenomenon for establishments to treat customers like they are doing them a favor letting them in the door.
You’re really not.
MESSAGE TO INDIVIDUALS
Stop giving security guards the power to make you feel less than you are. If a guard disrespects you, demand an apology from that guard via management and if it doesn’t come, assume that the management of the establishment deems you unworthy of respect. Don’t go there again.
MESSAGE TO BUBBLES MANAGEMENT
I believe your security treated me like they did because I was a lone black female who did not look like-oba what?
If I’d had a man by my side, I’d never have been questioned. If I’d come with friends, I’d never have been questioned. If I’d been all geeky, texting away on a gadget, I may never have been questioned. And here’s the most ironic bit: If I’d come made up to the nines in six inch heels and actually been a whore, I’d never have been questioned!
But boring ol’ Lindsey, dressed super casually with flat shoes that kept her ‘grounded’?
Your security made a split second decision that I was an uneducated thief from a nearby slum who did not speak English, who was going to pick pockets, and who was going to disturb your white men, when I clearly was not their type.
You collection of assholes. I shall not be disrespected because I don’t look classy enough. Or wealthy enough. Because my hair is short and natural, and I don’t have a little black dress and fancy high heels. Because all of a sudden, after years of being a loyal customer, you have a fucking TYPE and I’m not it anymore.
Because your security were on a power trip and decided to treat with derision the little ‘local’ woman who they thought couldn’t fight back.
Please know you all made a mistake. Here’s me fighting back. Tell your security, since they are the ‘real’ management, that this thieving, broke-ass, white-man-hunting heifer got their message loud and clear. Barring a collection of major miracles, wrapped up neat in a box with a chocolate and a dildo on top, I am NEVER entering Bubbles O’ Leary’s again.
May this post also help you with your crowd control issues.