So you check into a hotel for a short holiday, right? If you are checking into a ritzy hotel like the Serena Zanzibar (incredible place!), a pleasant porter called Yusuf or Hussein, will grab your bags and lead you to your room while asking where you are from, (Malawi, you respond without blinking), and if it’s your first time in Zanzibar and he will tell you how to differentiate between a Zanzibar door inspired by the Arabs and one inspired by Indians. (One is square the other is dome-shaped….now you know).
He will slip a key attached to a wooden holder into your lock and step aside for you to walk in first (just in case there is a boobytrap). Then he will place your luggage on a low side table and show you around: This lights come on from this switch. (I can never find what switch lights what bulb normally, by the way). This is an AC just in case it gets too hot, just press this red button to switch it off and on. This is the bathroom and amenities. (Oh brilliant, what’s the hotel’s policy on standing on toilet seat?); and that is your hairdryer if…wait, I don’t think you will be needing that Mr. Biko. Hahaha. Yusuf, stop!
He will continue: Here we have a bowl of fruits courtesy of the hotel: (Are the fruits real or plastic?). This is the mini bar, you can have your soft drinks and alcohol from it, and this here is the price-list of the items. (Note to self: Do.Not.Touch. Minibar.)
You: Do you mind removing the minibar from the room, please?
Porter: Excuse me?
Yes, like remove it, take it away.
You mean like the whole fridge?
Yes, like the whole fridge.
I’m sorry, but we can’t.
Why, is it too heavy? It’s only a mini-fridge, I can help you carry it out if your back is bad.
Haha. My back is fine. It’s not the weight, it’s just that we are not allowed.
By who, hoteliers association?
Hehe. No, it’s… why don’t you want the mini-fridge in your room?
Because I will be tempted to drink all the wine and Vodka in there.
No I’m serious. I will wake up at 2-am and feel miserable and drink everything.Don’t give me those eyes…you know that feeling; when you wake up in panic and all you want to do is sit in front of the mini-bar in your underwear and drink all the booze in those small pretty bottles?
Haha. No, Mr. Biko. That has never happened to me.
Not even once?!
No. I’m sorry.
Oh, don’t be. I just thought we had a connection there.
Haha. Look, I don’t know, maybe I can remove all the drinks in there instead?
Then you take them where? To someone’s minibar and increase his temptation threefold?
No, the store….maybe. I don’t know. I will ask housekeeping.
Um, Look, on second thoughts, don’t bother, leave the drinks there I need to practice some self control. Do you have a key?
To the mini-bar!
Oh, no. Sorry, the minibars don’t come with keys.
That’s odd, don’t you think?
That minibars don’t come with keys?
No, that elephants can’t hiccup, yes, that minibars don’t have keys.
Uhm, yes, it’s…it’s a bit odd, yes. (Odd look).
Next time you go shopping for a mini bar please get one with a key.
Uhm, why, sir?
So that you can lock all the drinks and all the temptations in there.
(Offers a very concerned look) Certainly Mr.Biko.
Just call me Biko. Did I tell you I’m SDA?
No. No. I don’t remember you mentioning that part. So you don’t eat meat?
Because SDAs don’t eat meat.
Oh, I eat meat all right. I’m not that kind of SDA. I’m the kind of SDA that gets tempted by the minibar.
Anyway, Uhm, so here is our safe. You can keep all your valuables here.
I have always wondered about this safe biashara by the way. I have used the hotel safe about zero times in all my travels. Who uses the safe? Are there guys who travel with shitloads of cash, like 2 meter – and stuff it in the safe because where they come from they haven’t heard of VIsa? Or maybe it’s the rappers who use safes, kina sijui Octopizzo who have to keep their gold chains in the safe away from the beach boys. Or those very old wealthy women from some unknown oligarchy in Eastern Europe who come with expensive jewellery which they place there as one just doesn’t wear expensive baubles while one snorkels. Or maybe you travelled with your title deed for that ka plot in Kitengela. You figured you have worked so hard to buy that ka-plot the title deed deserves a holiday too, so you bring it to Diani and as you sip your cognac with ice (horror!), you get it out of the safe and you stare at it as you sit on your balcony because it makes life so much better. (By the way I predict that should the madness on social media hold for much longer, people will start Instagramming their title deeds very soon.)
The lovely porter is saying: And this complimentary bottle of wine is from the manager to welcome you to our fine establishment. You pick the bottle of wine and weigh it in your hands and pretend to read the label, nodding appreciatively. You know shit about wine but you pretend to know by taking ages reading the label as he looks outside at the sea and thinks how he will not miss this part of his job when he retires. Talking of wine, don’t you hate those people who take 20 hours reading the label when the waiter brings a bottle of wine swathed in a white napkin at dinner. The poor waiter stands there holding the bottle tilted with one hand behind his back as they nod and then comes the pretentious question to try and prove how much they know about wine: So was this a late harvest? Like you lived in France for 12-years.
You reluctantly place your complimentary wine back on the table as the the porter says, Breakfast is from 7.30am to 10.30am, dinner is from 7.30pm to 10pm, please enjoy your stay with us, Mr Biko and don’t hesitate to call us in case you need any assistance.
Note: Dear Nairobian middle-class, the decent thing to do at this point is to TIP the guy. Give him 500 bob, I’m sure it won’t create a crater in your budget. And it will mean a lot to him.
After he is gone, you will remove your shirt and pants and pick the envelope with the letter from the manager and you will instantly know the lazy hotels from the real deals. Lazy hotels will always address you as, “Dear Guest” and then print out this template letter that they have used since the hotel opened. The real hotels who actually care about you will take time off their very busy schedules to write your full names and even have the manager sign the letter at the bottom using a pen. Serena always writes my name. Then the manager, like Charles Mbuya, will sign it at the bottom in ink, and basically what that says is that this guy sat down and signed a few dozen of those letters because it matters to the hotel, because it’s important! The details are indeed where the devil lives.
Read that letter. It introduces you to the product. It tells you what you might want to do if you are at a beach or a bush property. The letter might say, Dear Mr Biko, after dark please don’t leave your room to go to the restaurant without an escort because there are buffalos roaming around. If you don’t read the darned letter you won’t know about the buffalos and when you leave your room after dark and you pass by a thicket and hear something cough and you assume it’s a Maasai and you tell it, “ero, sasa?” and the buffalo takes offense for being mistaken for Maasai and it charges, you will wish you read the letter. So read the damn letter, it’s like 200 words max.
After reading the letter you will walk to your balcony in your underwear and look out at sea. (I love beach properties, safaris are too mzungu for me.) There, you will think of something deep and unworldly which might unlock a nirvana of sorts. You will go back in, pass by the mini-fridge without making eye contact, and grab a bottle of water which you will open and take to your chair, back on the balcony, and watch saggy tourists amble by the beach, followed by dark ribbed chaps with darker nipples trying to sell them beads or a glass-boat excursion (oh wow, look, I can see the corals!) or sex or maybe if they’re lucky, weed. It’s a capitalist economy, whatever he is selling someone will buy. You will open your book and read or if you have company you will stare at her thighs and pretend you aren’t in a real hurry to get her naked. You must attempt to be a gentleman.
I don’t even know why I wrote that whole lengthy intro. But here is what I wanted to say in the first place.
When you visit a hotel you spend time in two places, the restaurant and the swimming pool…wait, by the way, I think us, Nairobians, have the worst swimming shorts in Eastern and Central Africa! Have you seen the dreadful fabric comedy by the swimming pools when you go on holiday? The level of chitzy swimwear men rock up with by the pool? I can write 5,000 words on Kenyan men’s choice of swimwear. (note to self)
I can understand why you would wear a swim trunk with a cartoon on it, or of swan or geese (what’s the difference?) or a picture of Mount Kenya, I really can, but I can’t understand why anyone would wear swimming shorts that go past their knees! Or those chaps who wear swimming shorts with side-pockets; what are you carrying in there, your laminated driver’s licence?
However, I think it’s the fault of the women in their lives. Yes. You can’t lie there in a your hot two-piece while your man frolics in the baby pool with these ghastly shorts, scaring those poor kids and ruining them for life. It turns out that normally it’s these chaps who can’t swim; grown ass men in their late 30’s, elbowing kids in the baby pool with their Alibaba And The Forty Thieves shorts! Men who have floaters attached to their arms, coughing in the pool! Come on, guy, get out of that pool…and then get out of them shorts!
Where was I? Yeah, so in your time at a hotel, in all these places and during the time you interact with the waiters and waitresses and the barmen and the front desk guys and the porters and the towel guys and the people selling shit in the curio shops, you practically talk to everyone.
But have you noticed that nobody ever talks to the guy who cleans the pool?
Has anyone ever wondered how the pool guy feels about that? You see him late in the evening after 6pm, putting up the “pool closed” board (as he patiently waits for the grown men who can’t swim to come out of the shallow end) and he soundlessly pours his chemicals into the pool and stands there until dusk. The next morning, if you wake up really early to book a pool-bed, you will spot a shadowy figure, using that long-ass squeegee to clean the floor of the pool, and that machine to suck the dirt and the net to get the leaves floating on the surface. But you won’t see this because you will still be sleeping and by the time you finish with your breakfast and slip into your Geese-shorts, he will be gone, maybe taking on the different task of pruning the gardens. You will spend five days in a resort and you will never say hello to this guy. Nobody tips him. Nobody knows his name. He’s a shadow. A ghost.
Next time you are on holiday, walk up to a pool guy and ask them their name. Then watch how they beam when you ask them about their work; How does this pump work? How long have you been doing this? Oh you were a gardener before here? Do you enjoy it? Do you have kids, Abdalla? That’s a cool name. How do you Muslims name you kids? I have a boy too. Does yours climb everything? Has he hit his head so loudly you heard it through a closed door? No? Then your boy is a girl. Hahaha.
Spend five minutes with him. He will never forget you because people love talking about what they do and who they are. If he sees you the next day he will say hello with a big smile like you are buddies for life. He will reserve the best pool bed for you the next day and everyday after that until your holiday ends. When you meet him the next morning, you will address him by name because people love when you don’t forget their name: Hey Musa, how did you sleep? How is Abdalla, has be bumped his head yet? No? Shameful, just shameful! The pool looks dirty today, doesn’t it? By the way, Musa, I have wondered about this for so long; who do you think pees most in swimming pools? Indians or blacks?
No, really, who?
I don’t know, really. Haha.
I’m sure you know, you just don’t want to tell me.
I don’t know, Biko, that’s a crazy question.
Is it? I imagine you get asked that a lot by your pals.
Ok. What about Kikuyus and Luhyas?
Haha. Wacha utani Biko.
I think it’s Luhyas. All that tea.
But Kikuyus also drink lots of Tusker.
You are right, Musa. That’s a good point.
OK, Luhyas and Merus?
The next time you spot Musa walking through the reception, you will trot up to him and ask him, “OK, what about Nyeri men and Embu women?”
He will walk away laughing and other guests will look at you like, “How does he know that guy?” But you would have made his day because you just can’t believe how it’s the the very little things that make people happy. And they always remember how you made them feel. It’s a tragedy to meet people and not know a thing about them, just one thing. So ask someone how they are today, someone who doesn’t expect it.
It’s those little things that say you have acknowledged that they exist. And that makes them feel human.