Thursday, September 05, 2013


‘Who is looking after the hotel when you are away?’ people ask me. Well, this time it is Baba, and he is doing a great job. There are not many guests around- hardly any in fact, but I am in almost daily contact with Baba to see if everything is OK.
Baba has been with us from the very beginning of the hotel in 2006 when he was only 19 years old. (look up ‘sleepy little native’ in blog search above) He started as a waiter, but  he now does just about everything including showing people to their rooms, preparing the bills and negotiating  room rates with difficult guests. He does the two latter tasks better than I, who have very little patience and tend to get annoyed with guests who want to negotiate.
There was just one such guest at the hotel for the first round of voting in the recent presidential elections. It was an Italian election observer, sent out by the EU. I showed him our nicest room. He said he wanted  something  cheaper (the room in question is about E35). When I showed him a smaller and cheaper room he asked again if there wasn’t anything  even cheaper on offer. I said that I could possibly give him a room where we switched the air conditioning off, but as I was saying this I could feel myself getting annoyed.  I should have walked away but instead I heard myself saying: “You are with the EU are you not?” He replied in the affirmative. “Well, don’t they pay for your accommodation?” I knew very well that in Bamako he would have been staying in hotels that were much more expensive. “Yes they give us a  Per Diem”  he said.  So I understood that he wanted to put as much as possible of this is his pocket of course.   I continued with mounting irritation:
“ We have been surviving here for nearly two years now with virtually no guests. The rare ones that come all want to negotiate, saying that because of the crisis we should be giving lower rates.  I personally don’t see the logic in that argument.  It should be the other way around! We are the only place open  and still surviving in Djenne.  And you are here for the EU! I can’t believe you are asking me to give you a room where we should switch off the air conditioning so you can save some money!” then I swung around in disgust  and  wandered off, leaving   Baba to deal with the situation. Somewhat chastised, the man took the smallest air conditioned  room. But he continued being a nuisance and asked the price for everything, including a bottle of coke. Baba was also getting increasingly irritated.
As Baba’s  work tasks have increased  in importance, so has his confidence and  the amount of autonomy he is allowed. There are fixed prices at the hotel of course, but when the EU observer had left the hotel and Baba gave me the money and the copy of the bill that he had made out, I was very surprised to find that the Italian  had been charged twice the normal price for a very simple couscous with vegetable sauce.  “But why Baba? This is not the normal price!” I exclaimed.
“I didn’t like him,” said Baba, stony faced.


Blogger Unknown said...

Bravo for Baba. I have witnessed UN members try to negotiate the tax off a Pepsi in Ethiopia. Apparently they are exempt from tax. It was worth 2 birr (20p at the time).

How about a stoney face and 'c'est prix fixe, monsieur' ? This tends to focus the mind when there are no other hotels in town. Said in haughty style aimed to insinuate: well if you can't afford it.... One to practice in front of the mirror?

8:25 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Quite right and a good idea Claire. I still prefer to let Baba do it though. I am just too bad at hiding my feelings...

8:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

Glad you put up the story of Baba and the stingy Italian. Claire's tale is priceless - a Ethiopia.. We all know the NGOs are paid ludicrously high wages. This I feel hasn't been exposed enough in the press. Far be it from me, of course, to denigrate EU assistance, though.

10:30 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Yes, of course, but we are not complaining about the EU here - but some of the people who work for them...

2:33 PM  
Blogger Laurent said...

Indeed many people and I have encountered them, believe that because of a crisis, any crisis, then everything should be free or cheap. When talking with them as to why they think this way, several reasons are given, but it always comes down to trying to have the upper hand in a difficult situation. I heard people say, They should be thankful I am giving them business. They are all corrupt anyways so I am not going to pay what they ask. They are cheating us because we come from a rich country. Is my government not already giving them money?
People are silly but it is a fairly prevalent attitude. Just stand firm and charge them.

7:36 PM  
Blogger afrika-wahn Elisabeth Böhm said...

Bien fait, Baba!
Mes bon jours à Djenne

7:51 AM  
Blogger afrika-wahn Elisabeth Böhm said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Susan Scheid said...

A real "slice of life" story here, and recognizable to us all. (I am reading Gogol right now--it would fit right in.)

3:58 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

how interesting Susan! I should perhaps be reading Gogol too now, or something inspiring and uplifting. As it happens, I am heavily immersed in this my own blog, trying to put it into shape to become a book! I have decided to try and come up with something for the American literary agent- I mean, if I wait until the story is finished and I am old and bored in my dotage I may never do it ..

5:35 PM  
Blogger Pascal et Monique said...

On est heureux que tu te sois décidée pour le livre. Ça mérite une publication!
Si tu es ecore une peu en Europe peut-être un saut de puce ( ou plus!) à Lyon?
On espère t'y voir.
Monique et Pascal

8:29 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

ah! cela serait formidable, mais on va devoir attendre l'annee prochaine! xxxs

2:16 PM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Appalling behaviour. Go Baba.

4:03 AM  

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