KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
HUMPHREY Bwalya speaks about his early days at the Hotel Inter-Continental Lusaka with a sense of nostalgia.
He reminisces with pride about the early years at the prestigious hotel which he says has moulded him into the man he is today.
Currently a Banquet Supervisor, 54-year-old Mr Bwalya says though his almost 30 years work experience at the hotel has not been without challenges, it has taught him patience and tolerance and has exposed him to a lot of things.
There was a time when working for hotels and being in the hospitality industry were shunned and, according to him, it was “chibombe bombe” or general work.
He was about 25 years old and straight from secondary school when he first went to look for work at the hotel in 1989 after being tipped by his church-mate who worked there.
“I thought it would be easy but I was surprised to find a lot of people gathered at the back gate waiting to be hand-picked to go in and work. Shockingly, I discovered many enjoyed being casuals because they did not understand the importance of being on full-time,” he says.
As luck would have it, he was picked on his first day and what lay in wait for him challenged his strength.
He says it was exhausting and like the rest in the banqueting section, he worked long hours with no time to rest.
The banquet hall, according to Mr Bwalya, was the base or the foundation where they all started from and trained.
It was here that individual skills and capabilities were discovered and nurtured before being sent to suitable departments of the hotel.
So after working three straight days, Mr Bwalya decided to give himself a day off but when he went back the following day, he found that some of the people he started with had been moved to other departments.
That challenged him and he made a conscious decision to endure and change his attitude towards work so that he could get hold of an opportunity when it opened for him.
“One day I was picked to go to the restaurant. I was doing all sorts of minor work but I was committed and the then restaurant manager noticed me but despite the promises he made, nothing materialised,” he says.
But as they say, God works in mysterious ways and for Mr Bwalya he used another manager from the Bars section who also noticed his potential. Three weeks later, he was called for interviews in that section.
“I got a job as a bar waiter in the banqueting. The position involved supervising causal workers. After three years as a bar waiter, I was promoted to a bar man and after three years I was promoted to bar supervisor,” he says.
At the time, Mr Bwalya says the hotel had close to 14 bars and being bar supervisor sometimes meant he was left to manage about 69 bar staff when his boss was on leave.
Of his almost 30 years at the hotel, Mr Bwalya says 20 were spent in the bars sections where he worked through various ranks.
“I am also happy to state that I have about 15 Certificates of Excellence which were awarded to me by management as recognition for my hard work and dedication,” he says with a smile.
However, after that, Inter-Continental Hotel was sold to the new owners, Molasses, and the establishment went through some major changes as expected some of which included massive renovation and refurbished.
There were also reshuffles which resulted in some members of staff being laid off but Mr Bwalya was retained.
“The refurbishments resulted in the creation of the lobby. And management needed someone to manage it and so in 2000, I was brought in to supervise the staff. I was one of the eight members of staff sponsored for a one-year course to Sylva Catering College, where I studied Food and Beverage management,” he says.
Upon completion of his course, he was returned to Rhythms Café, which is part of the lobby area. After three years, he was transferred to the Safari bar, where he worked for five years before being transferred to the restaurant as a supervisor.
He served in that position for a year. He was later transferred to Safari Bar after some months then back to Banqueting where he has been since. He was also appointed as departmental training coordinator to implement, coordinate and conduct trainings in the various sections of food and beverage.
“It can be challenging sometimes because it is usually busy. We host different functions from breakfast, lunch, dinner and launches. My job has accorded me the opportunity to meet high-profile people from presidents, ambassadors, vice presidents, ministers, chief executive officers. And some leave you with lasting memories,” he says.
Career-wise, Mr Bwalya says the hotel has provided him with training opportunities which have enabled him to acquire valuable skills which he can use later in life to continue providing for his family.
He says as opposed to the perception that people had about the hospitality industry, Mr Bwalya is happy with how it has evolved over the years to becoming more respectable and professional.
“Despite having gone through various phases over the years, Hotel Inter-Continental Lusaka has been and will continue being a source of pride for many of us who have had an opportunity to serve and work here. It still remains one of the best hotels. Just being associated with this place gives me pride,” he says.
However, though his career has many perks, it seems to have robbed Mr Bwalya of his social life which can currently be described as non-existent.
“I am always at work and whenever I am off I make sure to spend it with my wife and four children. My youngest child is 21 years old. I do not even have time to attend family gatherings anymore,” he says.
Mr Bwalya was born on June 12, 1964 in Ndola in a family of six. An avid soccer fan that supports Mufulira Wanderers and Liverpool, he started his primary school in Ndola at Zikomo primary school.
The family was later relocated to Lusaka, where he completed his primary education at Chakunkula in Chelstone before proceeding to Munali Secondary School for secondary education.
“One day I hope to open my own restaurant and use the knowledge I have acquired from here. It’s a life well-lived,” he says with a grin.
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka