Cash

Most nights, after my swim, I sit at one of the four or five tables that are put out next to the pool. I don’t know why they remove the tables and chairs every night as there is no rain – they are all put under a little straw hut, and then dragged out again the next day.

I usually sit there by myself. Sometimes a smoker or two sit at one of the other tables; then I move upwind (there is always a breeze from the river). The poolside restaurant is supposed to be open from 6PM to 7PM for mini brochettes (3 small pieces of kebab with a delicious mystery powder that resembles the stuff I remember from Afghanistan in the 70s, when Axel and I lived on those as we traveled around the country – tea and kebabs).

I don’t know why they can’t continue serving those brochettes after 7PM, since the BBQ remains open much longer. It seems that they just don’t cut small pieces anymore. Once I arrived after 7PM and was served a brochette with four enormous chunks of meat on it. They were so big that I was able to squeeze three dinners out of it by have the remainder of my meal packed up in foil and storing it  in my room in my little college dorm fridge.

And so I learned to be there before 7PM and after 6PM. Even at 6:15 they are rarely ready. Sometimes the tables are set up but no chairs. One evening I stood by my table for about 5 minutes, just wondering whether they’d notice and give me a chair. I finally asked but got a response that I’d expect from a teenager being pressed into service against his will. Sometimes I am jealous of my colleagues who get to travel to Asia under the same contract. Most hotel staff in Asia understand the idea of ‘service.’  This cannot be assumed here.

I always order a plate of ‘petits legumes’ with my 2 mini-brochettes. The first week this plate consisted of winter squash, a vegetable that is a mix of cucumber and summer squash and looks like a small spaghetti squash, carrots and peas. I could tell the peas (small vegetables indeed) came from a can, and they tended to dominate. But the carrots and squash were fresh and tasty.

Last week the chef must have stopped buying vegetables, and the peas started to take over. Tonight a whole can of mushy peas was dumped on my plate and I protested. I refused to pay and told them for a four star hotel ‘de luxe’ as advertised, they should be able to do better than that.

(OK, let me vent a bit). They should also be able to fix their credit card machine which didn’t work at my hotel in Bamako and didn’t work here. This I had not expected since this hotel caters mostly to conference visitors from all over the region. I had made an assumption. All sorts of signs had fed my assumption: a notice that said “we add an extra 3% on bills paid with a credit card” and the many large logos of Visa, Maestro and Masters stuck willy-nilly to surfaces around the reception desk and the glass case that protects the cashier from greedy fingers. Maybe they could have put an X through those logos and statements? I suggested, or a sign to their ‘aimable clientele’ that the machine didn’t work right now (or never). This morning I learned that the machine has been picked up for repair. But it wasn’t there fault. The connections go, apparently, through Dakar. It’s those Senegalese again.

When one of the two ATMs in the lobby didn’t work and the other refused to honor my card, I panicked, how was I going to come up with 1250 dollars in cash before nightfall? A few calls with Axel, and chats with my credit card providers, and a mad dash around town from one out of service ATM to another, I finally managed to scrape the cash together using several credit cards. This led to Citibank calling Axel assuming the transactions were fraudulent and that they’d block my card. Somehow the fact that I just chatted with a Citibank person, and that I had registered my travels to Bamako and Niamey on their website, didn’t seem to have registered with the folks looking out for fraud (all pieces outsourced no doubt). Some people think Niger is the same as Nigeria and they are doubly alert. But the bill is paid, and whether I can get more cash another day with the card remains to be seen, but that is a worry for tomorrow.

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