Delightful West Africa 24 – A Five Star Hotel Experience in The Gambia
At the lobby of Gambia's self-proclaimed five-star Kairaba Beach Hotel, I wait for my Gambian friend Theresa. But a security man stops her out at the gate and in the national Wolof language asks her many questions about her name, job, intention. She replies nicely like a good girl. She also says that I was waiting for her in the lobby and that she wants to call my mobile number so that I could pick her up at the gate.
"That's not necessary", replies the security man and finally asks the question all Gambians ask each other in the end: "What’s your tribe?"
"I'm a Fulaar", says Theresa.
"Oh, a Fulaar", enthuses the security man and switches to Fulaar language. "Why didn't you say so right away? I am a Fulaar myself. No problem for you. Please, Fulaar sister, walk to the lobby to meet your friend!"
At that moment, a second security man approaches and starts to interview Theresa all over again.
"Don't pester her", interrupts security #1 in Fulaar language, "she's my Fulaar sister, she may proceed to the lobby".
"Oh I see", smiles security #2, now in Fulaar language, "if she's your Fulaar sister, she could be my Fulaar bride! I am a Fulaar too, did you know? You are pretty. Do you have a boyfriend?"
Theresa, in the national Wolof language: "May I now go to see my friend at the hotel lobby?"
"Oh please, please, head on, Fulaar sister, next time just tell us straight away that you're a Fulaar!"
The self-proclaimed five-star Kairaba Beach Hotel is Gambia's best-known hotel and the most expensive, most prestigious accommodation in The Gambia's main tourist area; so far, the country boasts only one or two more expensive hotels – in more isolated spots. In the high season, the cheapest Kairaba double room – with parking lot view – goes for 165 Euro. I spend a few days low season days at the Kairaba and have a nice park view corner room that can be had for 95 Euro for two.
From previous visits to the Kairaba Hotel's swimming pool area I believe the Kairaba is one of very few places in Gambia that might allow a relatively hassle-free stay with only a limited number of failures and western standards of person-to-person interaction. And during my twelve nights at the Kairaba, I indeed have to phone reception only three times for missing hot water. I know for a fact that even security personnel is briefed every six months about guest-related behaviour.
Theresa's next visit in the self-proclaimed five-star Kairaba Beach Hotel is smoother. The first security man just waves her in. "When is your friend going back to Europe", he asks, "so that we can meet."
She passes the second security man a little down the drive way: "When is this man going back to Europe, my Fulaar sister", he asks, "I want to meet you".
Shrugs Theresa: "They think I'm a prostitute, what else can I be?"
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, I return to my room in the Kairaba Hotel. Sitting in the couch corner of my room, I find two senior security officials in impressive uniforms, plus a cleaning lady. This surprise visit in my absence is amazing enough, but then I sight the couch table in front of the trio: The couch table contains my opened, empty money belt, my passport, a German train ticket, my driving license, my ID, a stack of Euro money worth several years of a hotel employee's income, and a stack of ruffled-looking Gambian currency worth several months of a hotel employee's income.
All this should be stowed away in the room safe. The passport, the train ticket and the driving licence should be zipped away inside the money belt within the room safe. The stack of Euro should be inside an envelope inside the money belt inside the room safe.
"Good afternoon", I say. What's going on here?
It is an embarrassing feeling, these strangers sitting in my room and looking at my all-important documents and bank notes lying there bared for all and sundry. It's even more embarrassing as they don't explain themselves immediately. They just give me tired, slightly accusatory looks.
"Sir", I finally hear, "some 30 minutes ago the cleaning lady arrived in your room and found the room safe open. We have a policy here that she has to inform security immediately. So we came here and then we looked for you at the pool and on the hotel beach." Slightly accusatory again: "But we didn't find you around there."
"I was in the hotel lobby", I try to justify my absence, "just 100 meters from here; it's the only place here that gives me internet access." But this doesn't bring more satisfaction to their faces.
"So after we looked around for you", they continue instead, "we took everything out of the room safe and made an inventory. We counted your Euro money, your Gambian Dalasi and made a list of all your documents. We would have taken it out of the room and asked you to retrieve it at our office later. Anyway, would you please sign the inventory?"
I read his handwritten text, more a police report than an inventory, listing all that had been lying around in the room safe. I don't know the exact amount of Euro and Gambian currency that should have been in the room safe, so I cannot completely acquit them from any stealthy behaviour.
I sign his report and say "Sorry for the commotion. From now on I will double-check that the room-safe is locked when I go out." They welcome my cooperative thinking with tired smiles and all three of them shuffle out.
Interestingly, I now note that the room has been completely cleaned and done, with at least 15 minutes of work. According to their story, the cleaning lady immediately called the security when she saw the open room-safe.
Pigeons, white herons and even peacocks walk through the Kairaba hotel's poolside coffee shop, looking for crumbs. The white herons even walk over the tables and leave their marks on the table cloths. If they find a piece of cake or bread, they take it back to the pool and dip it into the water to soften it. Most of that food remains swimming in the pool.
Tourists like to see the birds roaming the coffee shop and even feed them. The black waiters completely ignore the birds. Only if a white senior manager passes by, he will shoo the birds away with an angry clap of his hands.
In the poolside coffee shop, I notice black board: "Today's special: vegetable soup". I tell a waiter that I want that vegetable soup from the blackboard.
"No, that sign is from yesterday", he says. It is three 3 p.m. And they don't change the sign.
In the five-star Kairaba Hotel's poolside coffee shop, I order a soda with lemon slices. The soda comes without lemon slices. I ask for the lemon slices. I get a few orange slices which have obviously been gnawed at.
To get from the hotel to the Xpress supermarket on the highway, I rent a bicycle for one hour. The bicycle has a lock, but the rental man doesn't have the key for that lock. Or to be precise: "I have the key for the lock", says the bicycle man, "but the key is not here".
At the supermarket parking, the security shouts that I must lock the bicycle. I tell him that the rental man didn't give me a key. "Don't stay long inside the supermarket", the security man insists, "that will give me problems". I promise I'll need only ten minutes.
About 13 minutes later I step out, the bicycle is still there. The security shouts at me again: "That was longer than ten minutes. Next time…" – he shouts at me, points at the bicycle, shouts himself into a rage: "NEXT TIME, YOU… – "
"Don't worry, bruzzer", I interrupt him, "I won't come back."
On my last morning in the Kairaba Hotel, I negotiate a late check-out – seven p.m. instead of twelve noon. That is charged with 30 Euro, around 30 per cent of the daily rate. I say that I wish to pay at seven p.m., but the receptionist insists that I should pay right now (I had made a substantial down payment upon check-in).
So I return to the reception with a huge stack of 100 Dalasi notes, each worth 2,7 Euro. When I receive the final bill, the late check-out is not mentioned and the grand total does not reflect the 30 Euro for the late check-out. I request a correct bill, which is then printed by another receptionist.
At 6.20 p.m. reception calls me in my room: why I didn't check out yet. I have to remind the receptionist that we agreed on seven p.m. (the exact time for the late check-out is not mentioned on the bill, I note now). The receptionist calls me again at 7 p.m. sharp to remind me of the check-out time.
Checking out of the Kairaba, a security man asks me: "Where is Theresa, the Fulaar sister?"
Hans: "Why do you always ask for her, she's none of your business."
Security: "So you are leaving today?"
Meanwhile at the gate, Theresa arrives to see me off. Security man #2 to Theresa: "You are so beautiful, can I meet you when your man is away? Where do you stay in Gambia? Give me your mobile number."
Polite Theresa gives him a wrong number. He eagerly types her fake number into his mobile phone.
The Tourism Authority of Gambia won't be offering you a job any time soon!