Where: at the beach, halfway between Malindi and Watamu
Single: 60 USD, full board
‘Bon Giorno!’ A waiter is calling me in Italian from far. We’re in coastal Kenya here, and the guy is clearly from genuine African kin. He’s even waiving his hand as a conclusion of his foreign tongued joviality. ‘Nzuri,’ I want to reply, but I can retract it just in time. That would be fine in the Kenyan language Kiswahili, but that’s not Italian.
Just arrived late evening in the Jacaranda Resort in Watamu. The town on the coast is known for its many tourists from Italy. Don’t know why, but they say there are many, even in nearby Malindi. That must have a historic reason of which I am not aware at the moment.
The manager of the resort, an Italian in his late fifties, is smiling very benevolently to me, and so does his wife. The waiter even serves me a fresh mango punch while I’ m being checked in. ‘Welcome,’ says the owner, adding ‘Good evening,’ and then explaining he only knows twenty words of English, and ten words of Kiswahili. That’s not too bad by the way. Think ordering a beer or a coffee should be possible on that vocabulary, and then you can survive a long time.
Am writing by the way during a very slow upload of a video file in the Serena Hotel in Nairobi. So you can see that a slow life style indeed can lead to inspiration. Not that I like that, but now it keeps me moving.
‘Here you are, Sir,’ says the waiter at the counter who most probably concluded that speaking Italian to me would not be fruitful. He’s handing out the room receipt.
‘Basta?’ says another waiter, looking at my empty glass.
‘Let’s go,’ say two other waiters who already secured my luggage on their shoulders. ‘Room 42,’ the one confirms with a big smile.
‘See you at the dinner. We‘re serving from eight until ten,’ says the manager, with something I believe was an eager smile. ‘Tonight we have real African dishes.‘
We’re walking on white sandy paths along big white cottages with reed roofs. Some windows are lit behind the curtains. It’s always nice to arrive somewhere when it’s dark. It gives you that wonderful surprise the next morning of where you are. It’s the best when you’re camping out with a tent, and are forced to pitch it in the dark. Can remember that once with a friend on a camp site we woke up on the middle of the way leading to the toilets, even blocking the entrance. It was the noise of complaining people that woke us up.
‘Here you are, Sir,’ these so nice guys tell me, and hand me over the big key. They are gone so fast I can’t reach for tip. The room is the type that alights when you put your key in a slot. Usually they’re easy to find, even in the dark. It’s a matter of not closing the door too fast. When inserting it I can hear the air conditioning coming alive. Used to hate these things, until I discovered the newer models are not so bad. You just have to know that the ideal temperature to put it on is between 23 and 24 degrees. That’s all, no waking up anymore because of the cold, or getting a cold, because of you thinking that 19 degrees is still too hot to sleep in. Happily in some respects we grow wiser when getting older.
Let me have the shower. Inside there are many sign boards in Italian, and from the pictures I can deduct that it’s about being friendly to the environment, meaning not using too many towels, and to shower briefly. With that in my mind I step in. I don’t even have to bother because the water beam is so thin it’s almost impossible to use a lot. It’s one of the things you have the check when entering a room, but here there was no alternative anyway. Also there is no dustbin in the bathroom, which is something you need. Don’t ask me for what now, but I know I will need it later. Yes, there it is. I need it for the package of the soap provided by the hotel.
Refreshed by the shower I walk outside to find the restaurant. This resort is huge, and there are signs pointing to a restaurant. So I decide to follow the path down to where I believe the ocean should be. The waves are calling me from deep.
After a while I hear music that sounds like a French chansonnier, but during my descent it slowly changes into Italian.
The restaurant is on the beach, and maybe because of bad weather the latches are closed. From inside I can hear the Italian songs, and chatting of many people. On the patio there is a demonstration of Masai dance, together with selling Masai artifacts. I know the people who buy will end up carrying them as hand luggage in the cabin of the plane. It’s funny to see this tall wooden giraffes packed in plastic wraps, and tied with sisal rope, but still the ears will protrude. Think only Kenya Airways allow it as cabin luggage. The Pride of Africa cannot refuse the pride of Africa.
‘Hello,’ I hear a bright voice. A smiling lady is gesturing to a plate of welcome juices and bites. I am not amazed to discover slices of pizza with green pepper. They’re great, and I decided to skip the juice, and to head directly for my beer. That Hello by the way could either have been Italian or English. So I find myself back on a comfortable zebra patterned sofa. Enjoying my Kenyan beer I hear the people admiring the artifacts. The Masais dancers have stopped jumping, and mingle with the crowd. Judging from what the people are speaking they’re all Italian. It‘s amazing to find a community of one nationality in a holiday resort on the Kenyan coast. Also every sign board I saw so far was in Italian. My memory does not easily swallow foreign words, so I already forgot. Except one line from many years ago. It was in the train my friends and me used to take for holidays. At the windows it would say ‘E pericoloso sporghesi,’ meaning ‘It’s dangerous to lean out’. It’s nice how small things from today invoke these memories from the past. It gives a feeling of background, which proves very important from time to time. No wisdom with any memories.
The crowd in the patio is getting thinner. The people are moving to the restaurant, and so do I. Inside all the tables are already taken. I really have to look around for a place to sit down, and I find it right at the entrance. The good thing about it is that I am very near the beer keg. The first thing I do is serve myself a glass. Don’t like to eat without having some drink in advance. Taking slow sips I look around. The restaurant is built in its own big hut, and has a circular shape. The reed roof is supported by a wooden pillar in the middle. That’s the place where one of the rotations of the buffet is displayed. There I find the salads, and all types of cakes which are soaked in sweet syrups. Not my cup of tea, and staring to the right wall I see two guys wearing high hats. Creating my way there in between the people eating, I discover they serve spaghetti with margarita sauce and parmesani cheese. It’s a long time I had that in Africa, and the guys are preparing it on the spot. With a full plate I return to my table, feeling I was just rewarded a trophy. The spaghetti was very good, had the right taste and bite, and the sauce was soft and not too salty. Only Italians can make it like that, wonderful.
After another beer I decided it was time to check the African dishes that were promised by the owner, on the far side of the opposing wall. There they have dishes that resemble Swahili kitchen, but are far from it. So there is pilau, fish and beef stew, spinach and cabbage. Nothing wrong with it, no way, but it is what I am eating almost every day traveling through East Africa. So let me just decline this opportunity.
‘Spaghetti!’, the owner cries out when he sees me eating a second plate. ‘The African food is there!’ So I explain why.
“Yes, yes,’ he says. ‘We trained them three months in Italy to make the best spaghetti.’
Now, that’s something. Home made spaghetti from Italy on the Kenyan beach. Even though there was African food tonight, it tells something how far you can go in recreating home in a holiday resort. The music, the language, the sign boards, the food. It’s little Italy on the Indian Ocean. Only the view is different from home. It’s like changing the programme on your television, but eating the same pringles with it.
Went sleeping soon after the spaghetti, because I had to get up early to do editing on the room. Then early morning it occurred to me that my plugs didn’t fit the sockets. The British three pole plugs seemed absent, but small two way sockets were fitted on several places. That could only be the Italian type, imagine. Happily I noticed that the bed lamps were connected with normal plugs. That’s odd. Why only the lights? This was the second Italian encounter, after having had another kind surprise at the bar. ‘One coffee, please,’ I asked the waiter earlier this morning, of course he served me an espresso. They are small, but go very nicely with the view and the breeze on the beach. Also yesterday’s beers were banging inside my head. These things happen on the way. It’s a long time ago I had disturbing feelings with solitary drinking. Some times I am tired of these compulsory chats in hotel bars, with always very interesting people you’ll never see again, even when you exchanged cards. It just depends on my moods.
The editing went well, although I was limited in my movements. Since the only fitting socket was near the small bed table, I had to put the laptop there. So it was not that luxurious as a real desk, but it didn’t bother me too much. The editing got finished in a few hours, and then it was time to head back to Nairobi to go to the Serena Hotel to do the uploading. After having checked out I called a taxi. Waiting at the reception I witnessed the arrival of a new group of visitors. The owner with his huge smile is directing some boy to start drumming and singing, and then a bus enters the compound. Italians with tired eyes from flying alight. They’re luggage is taken out of their hands, and they’re being served a drink. ‘Benvenuto, benvenuto,’ say the owner and his servants to the ones listening. It’s amazing. The group most probably came with a direct chartered flight from Italy, and after a transfer they enter another Italy. It almost makes me wonder why you would leave home, but I understand knowing the white sands beaches and the green blue ocean. Also it’s a lot cheaper.
The taxi comes, and we take the long path through the forest from Jacaranda to the main road. It’s normal that when you pass by as a white guy that the children will jump up, and start greeting you. ‘Ciao, ciao, ciao! That’s what they say here, and ‘Caramela, caramela!’ Meaning sweets translates the taxi driver. We’re on the way back to Kenya. Ciao!
Where: Shanzu Beach
In a good hotel there is always a cat jumping around on the premises. You often don’t hear them coming. They’ll surprise you by a tail softly embracing your lower leg, and then that look in the eyes, continued by a slow blink of both eyes ending in a pinched mew. It’s very hard then to refuse them a chunk of that juicy steak that you’re just about to enjoy. Also with cats friendship comes at a price. In some places cats grow really fat by using there full set of animal charms.
I am thinking about this when seated in the empty dining hall of The Dolphin Hotel on Shanzu Beach in Mombasa. Some ten crying cats are surrounding me, and there are more coming from all sides. They really grasp my legs, and the brave ones dare to jump next to me, and cuddle my sides with their heads, meanwhile purring and purring. Did you ever notice that purring is not connected to breathing? Whether they are inhaling of exhaling, it continues without the slightest interruption.
It’s a very warm welcome in this hotel where there is not a living soul to be seen. In the restaurant the tables and chairs are removed, there are no charming waitresses, nor a chef with a high white hat passing by to greet you, and attending you on the specials of today. It’s amazing how well a big smile rhymes with that funny high hat. Maybe that’s why they wear it. Otherwise I don’t see the logic of it, apart from constraining dandruff which is my view quite rare in Africa.
The elegantly curbed pool is also deserted. Still there is water inside, and it has a deep green color, which means it has not been in use for long time. It starts to rain softly, and the drops are creating wrinkles on the surface. I look around me to the blue hotel buildings. All the windows are shut by wooden doors. The plastic chairs on the balconies are unused. Funny how always in these places you can still hear and feel the activity that used to be here. People talking to each other, children shouting and diving in the pool, people lying on sun beds, slowly leaning over to take their drink from a table. Waitresses who urge you to take another beer, long before the one you’re drinking is finished.
Too bad I just lost my phone in public transport, otherwise I wouldn’t have resisted to take a picture of this frozen emptiness. Think I am surrounded now by fifteen cats, but suddenly some of them flee in that low way of running cats can do. From far I see a guard coming. He is dressed in a green uniform with a nice cap. In his hand he’s holding a wooden club.
‘How are you, Sir?’ he opens our conversation. Of course I am fine, which is interesting in a country where many people are definitely not fine. Still they will say they’re fine, unless you insist. Then you will get too many stories about how bad things are nowadays. Like often in this life the question is already the answer.
‘Fine,’ I reply to the guard. ‘How do you like my friends?’ He stares too me a bit confused, and the cats do the same to him. They seem to have found my back pack now, which looks to be under heavy attack.
‘You’re not supposed to be here,’ the guard interrupts the stream of my consciousness. ‘Sorry for that,’ I reply. ‘There is no room for me here?’
‘The hotel is closed, Sir.’
‘There was violence in Kenya after the presidential elections. Many people died, and the tourists left the country. So the management closed the hotel.’
As a journalist I did a lot of reporting on the post elections violence, even from Mombasa. Over thousand people died all across Kenya. It’s end of July now, and the country is relatively calm again. The tourists however did not come back by the masses.
‘We saw you coming, Sir, and I wanted to tell you it’s dangerous here.’ The guard tells me the premises are often frequented by thieves how try to steal things from the hotel, even looking for shelter here under the many stairways that connect the buildings.
‘And from the beach nobody can see what happens inside here. They might even attack you.’ The guard is slowly tapping his stick against his left hand palm, and the cats are jumping back.
‘I see,’ and I decide to relieve the guard. The cats are now clawing in my backpack. There are over twenty now. That attention is even too much for a human being. Then it comes to me why all this devotion. This morning I bought a few roasted fishes to have for lunch later. That should be the explanation, and waiving my hands I liberate my back pack. The cats run in every direction. Waiting for their next victim, it seems. I almost feel sorry for them that nobody’s going to throw chunks of juicy steaks, but I cannot surrender my fish. With a long bus drive to Nairobi looming it is rewarding to be selfish.
The guard and me walk to the path which leads back to the beach.
Some days later I do my searching on the Internet on the Dolphin Hotel. It was regularly visited by German tourists I read in many reviews. The rooms were a bit basic, although the air-conditioning and the mosquito nets were okay. The last reviews date back from late December 2007. Wonder which day it closed its doors. The reviews also say that the food in the restaurant was very nice, and that explains this thriving cat colony that was left behind. No Dolphin Hotel anymore for them, or me.
‘What would you like for breakfast, sir?’ The eyes of the lady at the reception are peeking seriously behind the bars of the counter. It is ten in the evening, and my stomach is full from the beef stew, or rather the few Tuskers I enjoyed with it in Trendz Bar.
‘How can I think of eating when I just have eaten?’ I gently ask her. She lifts her shoulders a bit.
‘It’s okay,’ she says and wants to take back the form she just handed out.
‘Okay,’ I said, and started to make a choice for the next morning. Toast, fried eggs for me. Boiled eggs for my beautiful wife Mariam. So I was ticking the options, and returned the paper. The lady studied my choices.
‘Would you like sausages to it?’ she adds with big eyes.
That night we slept well, ensured of a copious breakfast in Mid-View Central Hotel, Nairobi. The hotel is located in a huge white building on Latema Road in city centre. The street is notorious for its many thieves, and most obviously: the matatus. These are the Nissan mini buses that carry passengers all over town, and even Kenya.
This day I have been working from the room, and through the window came their continuous hooting, accompanied by conductors shouting kumi, kumi, kumi! Meaning ten Shillings for the ride. At my windows the matatu to Westlands – Kangemi, mbau, mbau, mbau! seems to be based. That means twenty Shilling. Think that these two words must be the most commonly used in Kiswahili. Imagine all these conductors shouting them every minute and every second of the day all over the country. If you write that on a single line, it could easily span from Cape Town to Cairo.
Though the goings on Latema Road are dictated by the hour of the day. Early in the morning the matatus start off, and they will be gradually be overtaken by the hawkers, selling anything ranging between oranges, tissues, sweets, and mobile phone accessories. They have their own way of shouting something like Bei mia, bei mia, bei mia or Bei hamsini, bei hamsini, bei hamsini. The first sentence meaning ‘for hundred’, the latter ‘for fifty’. The hawkers on Latema Road regularly get chased by the city council police, because since a while hawking in city centre is only allowed in certain areas. So from time to time you see the hawkers packing their stuff, and run of like they are chased by wildebeests. That’s when the kanjos are near, the Kikuyu word for city council police. Kanjo is colloquial for Council. These guys are tough; they arrest and beat the hawkers. If you suffer from a perverted humor, you shout Kanjo on Latema Road. Surely you will see the hawkers jumping in all directions.
The next phase in the cycle of Latema Road is Trendz Bar, near the crossing with good old River Road. The music starts around six, and the volumes easily overrules the matatus and the touts. It’s great to sit here with a beer, over viewing the Mid-View Central Hotel, and to see the sun downing. That’s just what I am going to do now. It’s also a save place to drink. The volume of the music is so loud that you can sustain it for one and half our at the most. Then to bed next to my beautiful wife Mariam, waiting for Trendz to silence, until the early morning matatus give you your wake up call.
The eternal question in every city I come is: Where do I swim? Taking a dip in the pool and making some 30 odd rows is an undispensable part of my work out. That is when I am not filming. Then my training is a direct result of having a heavy camera stand. I can assure you, carrying that thing the whole day really keeps you fit, and reassures you of a really deep sleep (even without beer). I remember when I was shooting a documentary on a child soldier in Southern Sudan, I asked the boy to carry it (I told him that becoming a television journalist starts with taking care of the tripod). When we walked for a few hours, he realised something. ‘You know, shooting a gun is not the hardest part,’ he said with his bright eyes. ‘It’s the fact that you have to carry it the whole day that makes it heavy.’ That kind of revelation is what I am looking for as a journalist.
So in the rare moments I am idle, I work out. The easiest way would be to join a gym, and to start wrestling with these mechanical creatures. I don’t like it, it has this atmosphere of showing off, and everybody using them start to move like a robot. Also the sweat smell can be horendous. I prefer swimming, it’s just me and the water, and on hot days it’s refreshing. Now, finding a pool in African cities is a challenge. In Nairobi where I regularly come I finally know where to go. My favorite spot is the pool of the Panafric Hotel. Bad thing is that the management recently tripled the price (probably to keep guys like me out. I can still remember that I used to eat chips there after swimming. Of course I took a lot of Heinz ketchup. Some months later all the bottles were replaced by a cheaper brand. It makes me feel guilty.).
Now I am in Kampala and ready with the job I came to do. Now I have to start the usual investigation. In The Netherlands there are well-kept public pools, mostly managed by the city council. In the African cities never discovered any public pool. So you have to rely on hotels. In Kampala I assume the search at the Sheraton Hotel. That drab of white concrete in the city centre, visible from virtually every corner. However, it boasts a very nice and large pool. It’s circular, and has a lot of sun beds. When I am standing pool side I realise that I forgot to carry my swimming gear. I rush back to town to get one. Now, buying something as a white guy in Kampala is a challenge. You know that your actual presence will double, triple, quadruple, the price. It’s something you have to live with as a white African. That’s why I came to appreciate department stores. The prices are fixed. So there’s no bargaining, and no cheating. People who pretend that bargaining is fun, didn’t do it enough. It’s just a waste of time, and you can wonder if you ever get the real price.
Outside the Sheraton I halt a motor bike, ‘boda boda’ in local language. ’1,000 Shilling,’ he asks for a ride to city centre, not even five minutes. ‘Stop it my friend. I pay you 500. Let’s go.’ He wants to insist, but I just sit down on the back seat. He decides to go. Even 500 is too much, but I don’t want to be too strict because I know they have big families to feed. 500 is about 25 Dollar cents. So we go to a main street, near the Tourist Hotel (no pool there FYI). A nice boxer short would have to do for the swimming of today. I don’ even know if they still make specific shorts for swimming, so I stick to the cheap boxer shorts. Also it’s a nice opportunity to improve on your collection of underwear. ’10,000 Shilling,’ says the first shop keeper. Incredible, that’s the same price you would pay in Europe. Six Dollars for a cheep boxer short, imagine. That’s what I tell him. ‘These are made of real cotton. We have to keep certain standards.’ He tells me to go to the market at the taxi park.
That market is not much more then a row of improvised stalls near the muddy tracks that lead down to the taxi park. ‘Mzungu, mzungu!’ the guys are shouting, meaning white man. What I learned is that it’s actually friendly to be called like that. Since you’re the only one, it’s effective. You will look, and sometimes when I feel annoyed, I just reply ‘Mwafrica!’, meaning African. Usually that makes people smile. There is nothing wrong with it, and at least the shouting stops. There are lots of boxer shorts here, and the one guy who attracts my attention offers me a nice blue one for 2,500 Shillings. He came down from 4,000 and that’s reasonable. Holding my trophee in the hand I climb back to a boda boda, and the Sheraton. At the entrance my luggage is checked, and I enter withouth hinderance. There’s not so much metal on me. When you would have piercings that could result in embarrassing situations, depending on where you have them.
‘We charge 10,000 Shilling for swimming,’ the man at the reception tells me with a generous smile. ‘Yes, the towel is included.’ Also it’s more then you would pay in Holland. Although there you have to bring your own towel. I decide to have a look again at the pool. It’s nicely laid out at the back of the building on a elevated level. There I take the stairs, and when entering the place everybody looks up, like saying: ‘A new one? Who’s that?’ Around the pool there are only half naked wazungu (plural for mzungu), lying on sun beds or sitting at the edge of the pool. Nobody is saying anything, let alone swimming. They look bored, seemingly just killing their time up to the next flight or workshop session. That’s it, people are not here for fun. I didn’t want to be part of that. Life is too nice to be bored. From previous visits in Kampala I remember Hotel Equatoria. They might have a pool there, and at the gate of Sheraton I take another boda boda, of course after the compulsory bargaining.
Hotel Equatoria is an African style many star hotel, and the nice thing about it is that most of the residents and visitors are African. The pool is in the middle of the building, surrounded by terraces. The price is also 10,000 Shilling, including a small towel. The lady at the counter is very friendly, and shows me the changing rooms. There I finally put my newly obtained boxer short, and the size appears to be perfect. Okay then, now comes the actual entering of the pool area. Usually when you enter a place you inmediately notice that you’re the only mzungu, and also in Equatoria that is the case. I am only wearing this blue boxer short, and over my shoulder I am carrying the towel. Being half naked in public is one thing (I am not the world’s most physical guy), but entering a pool area half naked with only black people around you, is another thing. You feel double naked and double white. It feels like everybody is staring at you. When walking it was like hearing the tune of the Pink Panther or rather Mr. Bean. I had to be careful not to trip over something. My blue boxer short? My slightly bronzed skin? The only solution is to walk very decided to a sun bed, put your towel, and enter the water as soon as possible. The other swimmers are black Africans, and they welcome me with big smiles. It is a group of boys and girls who are getting swimming instructions. ‘You are an expert,’ one of the boys says to me. In the shallow part of the pool he is practicing free style. Slowly he is moving his arms through the water, and tries to use his legs simultaneously. ‘I have to practice,’ he admits. A man on the side of the pool says something to the group. The boy smiles again. ‘Our instructor says we have to look at you to learn.’ I must say that over the years in Africa I did a lot of practicing, although I only mastered free style. The other types of swimming are too macho for me, and you cannot see anything while doing it. So I continued swimming, giving some advice to the boys and girls. The trainer is nowhere to be seen by now. Maybe he is off for a beer. I swim some 35 rows, and enjoy a book on a sun bed. This will be the hotel pool I use in the future in Kampala.
‘You always sleep in hotels like this?’ Lyse asks. We are sitting in the Plantation Bar in the Inter-Continental in Nairobi. She takes a sip of her Fanta, and she smiles to her cousin Floribert who is sitting next to me at the marble table. It’s around midnight, and we just did an interview in the room. Lyse is a refugee from Burundi, and for some time she is living in Nairobi, with support of Floribert. Lyse is seventeen-years-old. Her hair is plaited with a ponytail. She has a generous smile, and eyes that shine on the words she speaks. French that is, her English is not yet mature.
We are here because of the Dutch television program ‘TROS Vermist’. That’s a live show where people who lost each other for long time are reunited. The program is aired weekly for almost twenty years, and it is attracting millions of viewers every show.
‘This is a very expensive hotel,’ says Floribert to Lyse. ‘Think it’s 300 Dollars per night.’ It can easily be more than that, but I keep quiet. Lyse’s mouth falls open in astonishment. ‘Olala!’ she says, forgetting her English. Also it’s not my habit to stay in hotels like this. It happens from time to time, and usually I enjoy the dip in costly luxury. Although you can wonder what’s the real added value of an expensive room since you will be sleeping most of the time. We came with a special reason. TROS Vermist had tracked Lyse as the brother of a certain Elvis who lives in The Netherlands. He is a football player in a professional team, not premier but still in the higher rankings. Some months ago one of their reporters by the name of Pim Faber came to Nairobi for two days to make a portrait of Lyse in Kenya. We did the camera work with her in Nairobi, and at the Namanga border post with Tanzania. The idea was to show how she fled from Burundi via Tanzania to Kenya. Lyse and Floribert enjoyed these days of filming. They were driven around in taxis the whole day, and Lyse was starring in a report. In the afternoon we went to her small room in the Kirinyaga estate, for an interview. The room she was occupying was about four square meters, and didn’t have much more than a mattress, a radio and a few books. She was crying when the reporter showed her a picture of her brother Elvis. When we were finished we took them to the Italian restaurant Trattoria on Kenyatta Avenue, and the second night for nyama choma, roasted goat to Sagret Hotel in Milimani. Lyse was happy with the meat, more than with the sophisticated Italian food. They normally would survive on the daily rations of ugali (polenta) with sukuma wiki, a kind of Kenyan spinach mix; staple food for the majority of Kenyans. If they’re lucky they have goat or chicken once in a while. You could see that Lyse and Floribert were smiling to each other like saying they were having a great time.
The reporter flew back to The Netherlands with the tapes. He told that TROS Vermist was trying very hard to get a visa for Lyse, so she could be reunited with her brother in the show. Being Dutch myself I know that the Dutch regulations nowadays are very strict. If you look at the requirements, you could conclude it’s almost impossible to bring somebody over from Kenya. The invitation letter is not a big deal, but the deposit is. The person who invites has to prove he or she can afford a large sum of Euros ‘in case the person might disappear in The Netherlands’. The idea is that this money is needed for tracking a person, and having him deported. Furthermore the person visiting has to prove that he or she has good reasons to go back, like a job or another indispensable position. In case of a job the employer has to issue a letter stating that he’s willing to re-employ the person after the trip abroad. TROS Vermist was still working on all that.
For some months I didn’t hear from them or from Lyse and Floribert. Then the editor of the program called. ‘Do you know a place where you can receive our show in Kenya?’ That might be possible, since TROS Vermist is broadcasted on a international Dutch satellite channel, called BVN (meaning Best of Netherlands). Where do you receive that channel? In a forum of international correspondents I did a posting, and my colleagues reported having BVN on their satellite dish at home. That was lovely, but the program would be broadcasted live around midnight in Kenya. Didn’t like the idea of invading somebody’s house around that hour. TROS Vermist had dedicated a show on Lyse and her brother Elvis. He would be in the studio, and she was supposed to watch it from Kenya on BVN. Also Lyse would be invited to chat over the phone with her brother. Regarding the satellite television: all over Africa there is a service called DSTV, provided by a company in South Africa. They have a bouquet of channels, and from what I remembered, also BVN. So I checked, and amazingly enough: they offer BVN, but it is not in the bouquet for Kenya!
With help of the BVN web site and the editor of TROS Vermist, we discovered that BVN is also beamed into Kenya by a satellite by the name Thaicom. You have to direct a two meter dish in a specific direction, and there will it pop up. That means that Dutch people in Kenya did that. If you’re willing to buy a separate dish to receive BVN, I would say you’d rather stay in The Netherlands. The web site also mentioned the Inter-Continental Hotel in Nairobi as a place to see BVN. Would they have a dedicated dish for the Dutch? That might be the case, since KLM crew sleeps there. So I went to the Inter-Continental to check. It’s located in a drab building that looks like a run down ministry of Finance. The interior is nice with its spacious marble lobby. At the reception they took my request seriously. ‘Yes, sir. Our technician is on the way to serve you,’ said the uniformed receptionist. ‘Please have a seat.’ Wonder what he was thinking. Maybe I looked stressed? Show time after all was looming. The receptionist doesn’t know that. He sees a Dutch foreigner who is apparently craving for Dutch television. The technician came, and invited me to the Safari Club, the bar in Inter-Continental which is famous for its Tuesday karaoke, and the upper class prostitutes. The bar was closed, but he brought me to a TV. He took a chair and placed it in front on the television. ‘Here you are, sir.’ With the remote he switched it on, and changed it to channel 24. There it was, BVN! ‘Enjoy,’ he said, and wanted to walk away. Although I was attracted because of the Dutch, I stopped him. ‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Just wanted to see if it is really there.’ The guy nodded with a funny look. ‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Very good,’ said the editor of TROS Vermist. ‘Good you checked it.’ At the reception I did a booking for a room. Since the hotel was in the middle of a renovation they could offer us a luxury room for a reduced rate. I told the lady at the reception that I would bring in two visitors. ‘I see,’ she said with a slow pronunciation. ‘When will they leave the room?’ she asked with that forced polite intonation which is common at hotel receptions. I explained her that I would bring two visitors to watch a show on Dutch television, and that they would leave after. ‘So they’re not staying?’ I wonder if she heard anything of what I said. She was typing on a keyboard of a concealed computer. ‘Otherwise we have to charge you.’ The lady took a key card from the slot, and gave it to me. ‘Make sure they bring their ID.’
These remarks have a clear reason; I came to understand on other occasions. It has something to do with the upper class ladies in the bar, often referred to as ‘girls’. Especially international business men tend to be lonely, and can choose to comfort the night with one (or more) of them. That’s a natural phenomenon, only this hotel in the past had trouble with men taking ladies, and refusing to pay for their stay, which is logical, since it becomes a double occupation. ‘It’s okay, sir,’ said the lady when finishing the typing. I wonder what she entered in the system.
The next day I started the preparations to get Lyse and Floribert to the hotel. The room was available, and BVN was still there. Having checked into the room in the afternoon I did the testing with the camera. I found a position next to the television, which enabled me to film Lyse watching, and to make some shots off-screen. Then I called Floribert to find out where I could find Lyse. He told me she moved to another room on Kirinyaga Road. We made an appointment near the previous apartment. Floribert was smiling diligently, and together we walked up the road, famous because of its garages, tyre shops, batteries, exhaust pipes, et cetera. He brought me to Kirinyaga Guest House, on a ten minutes walk. The building was painted blue, and had a small entrance gate. We went to the third floor, passing drying laundry, ladies cooking on charcoal stoves, small boys staring at me and then run away, until we reached a closed wooden blue door. Floribert knocked, and there Lyse opened. She was still smiling, but didn’t exactly look healthy. It was like she could burst into tears any moment. She was seated on a thin mattress with no bed sheets. The room it self was one and half square meters. In the corner there was a petroleum stove, mugs, and cutlery. A bit of sukuma wiki was left in a pan. The walls were painted in the same blue, but up from the floor came a brown haze. ‘I am okay,’ she said in French, but for the rest she was quiet. Didn’t really know what to say. So I asked her if she was happy to speak to her brother this evening. She was, and we agreed that I would pick her and Floribert at eight.
Down stairs again I called TROS Vermist to say that I found Lyse, and that she would be coming to the hotel. Now everything was set.
Watching BVN in the room and doing some work I passed the remaining hours, and went by taxi to pick Lyse and Floribert. The driver dropped us at nine thirty at the main entrance of the hotel. The guards at the door knew me so entering was easy, and we presented our selves at the reception. ‘You take them both?’ asked the lady who now was standing at the counter. Wonder what her imagination was telling her when I introduced both Lyse and Floribert. Usually a man only takes one person at a time to the room. It was embarrassing, but I kept quiet to keep Lyse and Floribert from being annoyed. ‘Until what time will you keep them?’ Around twelve, I replied. ‘Know that if they stay, you will be charged accordingly,’ said the lady, who didn’t even look up from the hidden screen. Lyse and Floribert handed over their ID’s, and there we went to the elevator. We had to walk a long corridor with nicely decorated shops with curios, painting of safari parks and Masai warriors. Coming from the small room in Kirinyaga estate it must have been a culture shock, but they didn’t show any sign of it.
‘What for drinks?’ I asked Lyse and Floribert in the room. There was a firmly filled mini bar, with all sorts of soda’s, juices, beer and even vodka and whiskey. Coca Cola for him, Fanta for her. We passed the time chatting about the luxury in the room, shows on the satellite service of DSTV. The room was nice; the table, the chairs, the bed, and the desk where made of a dark red tropical wood. On the walls there were oil on canvas paintings of Masai and safari scenes. The place was lighted with tiny halogen spot lights. The bath room was a palace made of marble, and holding a wide variety of soaps and lotions. I made it my habit to take all of it with me after leaving this type of hotels.
The editor of TROS Vermist called us around eleven, the show was almost on. Lyse was sitting on the edge of the bed. The wireless microphone to the camera was connected. Her eyes were bright, and on her cheeks the light of the television was reflecting. The leader of the show started. Also me I never saw Lyse’s brother. The show began with another missing case in The Netherlands. All of us were too exited to watch that, but then after came the item on Lyse. ‘I didn’t see Elvis for at least five years,’ she had told me before. From the reporter I knew that her brother Elvis thought she was dead. On television now he showed up as a polite and gentle young man with rasta hair. ‘Oh,’ said Lyse and grabbed her cheeks. She tried to smile, and tried to control it at the same time. Her eyes were turning wet, and meanwhile we saw Lyse walking in Kenya on the border with Tanzania, and the reporter looking for her. It took Lyse five minutes, and then she bursted in to tears. She seemed shy of crying in front of a camera. ‘How are you?’ Elvis asked from The Netherlands. Lyse was handed out my mobile phone to speak to him. Some words in English and French came out, but overwhelmed by the moment, they were hard to understand. Meanwhile I was concentrating on the camera. Filming a sad person is not easy. People in despair tend to make unexpected movements. When the show ended the editor called back to have Lyse talking to Elvis some more. They started in a local language, most probably Kirundi, and then Lyse released her many words.
To prevent from be hassled by the hotel management we left the room soon after. Lyse and Floribert both looked relieved. We had a lively discussion at the table in the Plantation Bar. ‘It’s great how the reporter Pim Faber managed to find Lyse,’ said Floribert. Lyse was smiling with her wet eyes above the Fanta. ‘Let’s hope they can arrange for the visa to The Netherlands.’ I kept quiet, because I was not to sure about that. From there I took them outside to a taxi. Away from the five star luxury back to her small room, with obviously a lot of question marks. ‘I hope she realizes we are doing everything to get her here,’ said Pim Faber later.
Some months passed, and I never heard of Lyse or Floribert again. Then Pim Faber called me. ‘We have sad news for you. Lyse is dead.’ My thoughts were turning counter clock wise. ‘We received a call from Kigali in Rwanda. Somehow she arrived there, and a few days later she developed a fever, and passed away.’ He also told me that the visa was still not issued, and that they had been planning to bring Elvis to Kenya so the two could meet. ‘That’s too late now.’ With support of an uncle Lyse was brought over to Kenya, and she was already buried. ‘It’s a sad story, and we wanted you to know.’
It’s the kind of moment you feel lonely and sad. Not that I knew Lyse or her history so well, but it got to me. Maybe for her being part of a television program and to have entered briefly in five star luxury. Maybe that gave her something worthwhile. Happily she has had the chance to tell her story. Lyse will not be forgotten.
Where: Mtwapa Island
Double: 12 USD
It’s one of these moments that are so remarkable that you are in fact looking at yourself. Mariam and I are in Mombasa staying at the Comfort Inn on the island Mtwapa. We are here to make a video feature on sex tourism on the beaches. We are now sitting in the Casaurina, a bar near the bridge across Mtwapa Creek. I am seated alone at a table a little bit in the back. My glass of Tusker is smiling at me. Mariam is on the toilet for a while now. Not for a call of nature, but with a specific mission, of which she believes it is the best to do that in the ladies. She is looking for a young prostitute. We would like to meet one to be the host in our video report. Mombasa is a good place to make a report on sex tourism. It’s not the first time I am here, and usually I am a bit shocked by how it actually looks like. It has many varieties, but always comes down to the offering of sexual services in return for financial or other favors. On the table next to me I can witness a common form of it in Mombasa. A grey haired lady in her late fifties is holding a young Kenyan who is in his early twenties. He’s wearing dreadlocks, and yellow sun glasses. The lady is whispering words in the ear of the young man. Her cigarette is pointing to the makuti roof of the bar. The boy smiles from behind his sun glasses. It’s never too dark to be cool it seems.
‘This is Stella,’ says Mariam, and pulls me out my observational state of mind. I have that often when seated alone somewhere. It‘s like another part of my brain takes over. Also in that state I get a lot of ideas. A young lady in a tight black top and nice smile takes the chair in front of me, and Mariam sits down next to me. It‘s almost like a job interview. Stella‘s eyes look joyful and energetic. We offer her a beer. She tells us that she is living from offering her services to the tourists on the beach. From the money she earns she is raising a child. She is willing to participate in our report, and we make an appointment for the next afternoon. We offer her 20 Euros as compensation. ‘Good,’ she says. ‘Then I can go home now to sleep.’ We shake hands, and then she is leaving with her beer. To give money to people you report on is a very sensitive matter for me. Being a journalist I principally refuse that, because it‘s not done to buy your interviews. When paying for it you can have somebody saying anything you like. Although after a few years in Africa I did some fine tuning to that principle. The story I used to tell is that my work mobilizes attention for Kenya as a whole, and for the inhabitants in particular, and that after a while money would automatically trickle down in their pockets. In The Netherlands that concept works out quite well, but in a Third World country other rules apply. It’s not sure if my work will be to the benefit of anybody at all. It just depends. In the case of Stella it’s hard to say, and how will she measure it did? What is for sure is that asking her for a report will take some of her time, in which she won’t be able to work. So offering compensation for that should stay well within the boundaries of journalistic ethics. Her child has to eat that day, if we film or not. Mariam and me drink some more beers, and return to the Comfort Inn early. The rooms are basic but adequate. The shower and the toilet are joined in a one small room. Happily the shower is not mounted exactly above the pot (that occurs with an alarming rate) so you don‘t have to squeeze when showering. On the ceiling of the room there is a generous fan, and if you switch it in the lowest gear it keeps sleeping comfortable without catching a cold. There is a mosquitoe net, which carries the usual holes from top until bottom. It‘s amazing by the way how these flying devils are able to find the illegal entrances, and bother you splendidly.
‘Everyday I wake up early to go to the beach to look for a white man.’ It’s the next morning and Mariam and me are on Mombasa‘s Serena Beach with Stella. While wandering across the sand we‘re doing the interview. ‘It’s hard,’ she says, and cautiously avoids the sea weed scattered across the shore. ‘Because we’re many girls here.’ Stella is dressed in tight white trousers, and another black top. She is smiling when she tells about her work. ‘On this beach there are many Germans and Italians. Especially Italians make you work hard.’ Stella is talking openly, and doesn’t look bothered at all. ‚You have to suck their dick, other want only massage. Some of them want to fuck me and my ass, but I don‘t do that.‘ Stella calculates she can make about 30 Euros a day. She‘s telling it in without any emotion. She seems to take it just as a job, and that’s what it is. Mariam is doing the interviews, and somehow I have the feeling Stella is comfortable with that. We continue the walk on the beach.
‘White men, they have the love,’ Stella assures Mariam. ‘And money,’ I interfere there. ‘African men don’t have money,’ Stella continues.’ She is lifting her shoulders a bit, and smiles forgivingly to the camera. ‘What if you have to choose between money or love?’ Mariam asks. Stella is reluctant to answer, but Mariam insists. ‘I think I would choose for the money,’ she admits. It sounds harsh, but understandable. From love only you cannot raise a child. Stella, like many girls and women in Kenya, is a single mother.
The sun is shining nicely on the white sands beach. The Indian ocean waves come and go, and the tourists wander by slowly. Our session with Stella is finished. Mariam and her are swimming now, and I am making general views of the beach and the tourists. It’s nice to see Mariam and Stella enjoying the warm ocean water. They laugh and throw water to each other, like they are tourists themselves. It gives me some thoughts. How bad can a life on the beach be? Tourists are wandering here, silently followed by Kenyans. There are many mixed couples, holding each other’s hands. Yes, it could be serious, that they have a love that lasts longer then the holiday allows. Mariam is finished swimming, and we do some interviews with the people on the beach. ‘I don’t come here for the ladies only,’ says a bald guy from France. ‘But I am not hiding. African girls are beautiful,’ he ads, and peeks briefly to Mariam. ‘The ladies don’t interest me,’ says an older man from Austria. ‘But I like to talk to the people here who are very friendly and welcoming.’ He’s staring at the waves that are coming, and retreating with their hissing voices. The crowns of the coconut trees are beckoning in the never ending breeze, only lapsed by birds that let the sun blink when they pass by. It’s not that time is standing still here. It’s more that it doesn’t matter. That’s maybe how so many people spend ages here. Take the guy from Austria who comes here for seventeen years now, and the seventeen years old boy on the beach who speaks Italian and German fluently. With Mariam we’re meeting a few older beach boys. You see them often with middle-aged and older ladies from outside. They often have dreadlocks and bracelets in red green and gold; the Rasta colors. Don‘t know why, but like Stella they‘re amazingly open.
‘Hey, how do you guys survive?‘ Mariam asks, while the camera is running. ‘We come here to sell small things to the tourists,’ one of them tells. ‘But our real interest is to marry a white lady, and move with her to Europe to find a job, and send money to our families here.’ This answer means I will have to film a single white lady on the beach. ‘Yes,’ confirms the other, sitting next to him. He has dreadlocks, and is wearing a Rasta colored cap. ‘Also we do sweet things with the mama Mzee. If you know what I mean. You know, love, love, darling, darling, and afterwards she will give me something.’ The Mama Mzee are the older ladies on the beach. ‘How do you get feelings to sleep with her?’ Mariam asks. ‘You drink,’ the first guys answers immediately. ‘You drink, and when you are super high, you see her as a young lady, and you give her what she needs.’ The other nods. ‘Also me I can do that, because I know where I am going.’ Drinking could work I imagine, but there comes a moment that you wake up sober, and you’re are faced with what you did. Also, how does a woman feel when she knows he needs to drink to get aroused? It makes me sad, and it confronts you with the choices people can make in a state of poverty.
We go back to Comfort Inn, and I am still thinking. Sleeping for Mariam and me this night is not easy, because there is a reggae evening in the bar next door. The music doesn’t stop, and it is exactly the type of reggae I don’t like. We have the appointment that Stella will come the next morning to collect her compensation. Since the money is finished after a few days, and I take the minibus to the nearest and only ATM from Barclay’s Bank on Mombasa‘s North Coast. Of course the machine that never fails, fails me now, and I am left with no money. There comes the forever question when traveling. How much money do you take on you? The more the better you would say, but in Kenya the crime rate is too high to carry heavy loads of cash. So you have to maintain a kind of balance, and with the ATM failing it ruptured. We called the bank to verify, and they assured that the malfunction was country wide, but that holders of local cards could still draw money. That was not re-assuring, but it gave a funny sight at the bank. Presumingly poor Kenyans still pulling Shillings, and presumingly rich tourists queuing, and hoping that the machine would start functioning. It’s amazing how patient you can be in these situations. In Uganda another day I learned that failing was normal, and you just had to try several times, since connections with foreign banks were unstable. There is some small money left to spend that day, but paying Stella was out of the question. With a bad feeling, and an empty wallet I returned to Comfort Inn. ‘We can borough money from the hotel,’ mentions Mariam. ‘At least today we can eat.’ So we did, and we had to ask Stella to come back the next day for her payment. We offered her a first installment, but she refused. ‘Let me just come back tomorrow,’ she said. Her eyes were not so happy anymore. I guess it happened often before that people don’t give money, and what we asked her to do was just small. That day we stayed mostly in the room in Comfort Inn, and we did with some walks to the forever beach. The 5 Euros we could borrow from the hotel was enough to buy some food. It’s amazing how fast you can loose a relative position of luxury and safety, and suddenly you are struggling just like many do in Kenya.
The next morning I go back to the ATM, which is now functioning. Stella is coming and gets her compensation. It’s like we became friends, and every time Mariam and I come back to Mombasa again, we talk about Stella who we never saw again. The video report we made was received well.
It’s the kind of hotel where you look at each other like saying: ‘How did you end up here?’ I am in the Royal Hotel in Ndola in Zambia, in the middle of the defuncted copper belt. My wife Mariam stayed in Lusaka to visit her sister. Myself I decide to take a bus trip. Sometimes I like to be alone, just to get my mind straight. It really works like a head cleaner. There are some thoughts and ideas I’m not getting in company. You need the calmess and quietness of being alone. The hotel is in the industrial area of Ndola. The reason I came here was a small article in the Daily Mail of Zambia. One of the few English language newspapers. It said that a school at the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Site in Ndola was opened. Dag Hammarskjöld? Wasn’t he a former secretary-general of the United Nations? In the cyber I did some googling, and yes: he was and I came to understand that the honourable man died in a plane crash in Zambia. Washed away my croissant with the remains of my coffee, and I went off to the bus station. That one is located opposite to the main train station in Lusaka. There they keep a steam engine locomotive of Rhodesian Railways. It sounds fascinating, and after indepence in 1964 the company was renamed into Zambia Railways. So when Dag Hammarskjöld crashed, Zambia was still under British colonial rule and named Northern Rhodesia.
’Ndola? 40.000 Kwacha,’ says the guy in the shack where they sell bus tickets. That’s eight US for a four to five-hour drive. ‘The bus is there,’ he adds. His hand is pointing at a green bus. The diesel engine is already on, and people are getting in. ‘The bus leaves when it’s full.’ That system is common in African countries I travelled. Wonder why we don’t do that in The Netherlands. You don’t have to wait in a crowded terminal, and you can spend your time seated, doing anything you like. When the bus leaves, the next one comes and this cycle continues the whole day. Off we went to Ndola. The place is situated in the Copper Belt of Zambia, which is about in the middle of the country. The industry made Zambia a thriving country, until the international copper trade collapsed. Now Zambia is under heavy IMF and World Bank support. On the way to Ndola you can see the defunct copper mills. The meaning of the word Ndola is hill, which is easily referring to the copper mines. The bus ride was without any hinderance. Roads are good in Zambia. The only thing that disturbed me, were the dried caterpillars that are a national delicacy in Zambia. When the bus stops for our calls of nature, vendors hold up trays of caterpillars. They’re yellowish and have dark round heads. I know I should try, but please next time. Keeping myself on a diet of roasted peanuts. Mariam once told me that ladies get beards from eating caterpillars.
Ndola is a quiet provincial town. It’s like that because of the decline in the copper trade, but still it reflects grandeur. Main Street is called Broadway, and along side there are modest skyscrapers. Examining the square concrete shapes I get the feeling they are erected during the socialistic era in Zambia. Looking for a forex I bump into the Copperbelt Museum. The vitrines holding tools and fragments of copper ore are covered with red dust, the light is faint. A group of school children is standing still. Their teacher tells great stories about the past.
Got myself a room in the Royal Hotel, for 15 US a night. Had my dinner in the underground restaurant. It is huge with a flagstone floor and wooden details on the walls. The place was almost deserted. The waiters are in the majority, and they seem used to it. Next to me there was a middle-aged Indian man, talking loudly to a guy holding banana boxes. On another table there was a white fellow with a black lady. Waiting for our orders we were staring at each other, with that look in the eyes, saying: ‘How for God’s sake did you get here?’ I had chicken with cream sauce, and it was delicious. After dinner I spent time in the bar, drinking a Mosi Lager, the best beer Zambia has to offer. On the wall there are trophees of giant kudus. There are some guys wearing overalls with logos on the back. I imagine they are labourers of a copper mill. For the rest there is nothing that remembers of the copper trade. Had a decent night sleep in a small and well equipped room. As in many middle class in Africa there were many many rooms. Just wondered if they would ever be fully booked. Maybe only when some kind of NGO is holding a workshop or a seminar on things like capacity building, sensitisation, community building, you name them, and I meet these functions quite often on the way.
‘It’s very far!’ cries the taxi driver next morning. He asked 60,000 Kwacha and we agree on 50,000. The Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Site is ten kilometres away from Ndola. On the map I saw we are close to the border with The Congo, specifically the Kantaga Province. We left Ndola and now we are driving through a densely forrested region. ‘It’s here,’ says the taxi man when he is turning into a dirt road on the right. ‘No you can’t walk it,’ he laughs when I suggest it’s not that far from Ndola. That should keep our agreed price undisturbed. We drive through the forest. Not the place you’d expect for a monument. Strange that forests anywhere in the world look the same. To my estimation we could be in France or even Germany. ‘Take your time,’ says the driver, and it’s if he falls asleep right away. In front of us there is a gate and a sign board reading ‘Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Site’. The trees here have been removed, and in the middle of a flag stone circle there is a stone post holding a copper globe on top. Except a staring gardener there seems to be nobody. He smiles, leaning on his rake, and says: ‘He is there.’ Then he proceeds raking. From a building further down a man in a suit emerges. His shoes are shining bright, and proudly he walks to me. ‘Good morning, sir,’ he says, reaching out a well-manicured hand. ‘My name is Musialike Nasilele and I am the custodian. How can I be at your service?’ His eyes are shining strong and sure. Slowly I introduce myself and that I am interested in this part of history. ‘You are most welcome,’ he says. When I tell him that I would like to take a video, his eyes are blinking. ‘For video you pay a fee of 300 US Dollar.’ The entrance fee is 3 US Dollar. ‘You show me some proof in print,’ I tell the custodian. ‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Come.’ We are walking to the building where he came from.
‘Please sit,’ he says, and starts grabbing through a pile of files. ‘There is it,’ he says and gives me a paper that bears the logo of the Zambian Government. ‘I mistaked,’ he says when he shows the rates. ‘It’s 500 Dollar. It’s the first time that someone comes to film.’ His eyes do not look greedy, but at least eager. ‘You have the money?’ I tell him that I didn’t travel all the way to Ndola to pay that huge amount for a bit of filming. ‘You are going to earn money on us. We charge for that. How much can you pay?’ Gently I tell him that there will be no filming at all, some pictures at the most. ‘Let’s go,’ he says. ‘We’ll start the tour.’ We are walking to a hill with a hut on top. ‘This is the spot where the body of honourable Dag Hammarskjöld was retrieved.’ Routineously he tells what happened in the night of 18 September 1961. ‘It begun with the independence of The Congo from Belgium. The leaders of the Katanga Province lobbied for separation because they still had strong ties with big Belgian industrial companies. The region is rich of uranium and copper. The newly formed government refused. Belgium sent in troups to stop the rebels in Katanga, who had their own army of mercenaries. A war was looming and Secretary-general Mr. Hammarskjöld took a personal interest and travelled to The Congo.’ Although I read the whole story on the Internet the custodian manages to grab my full attention. ‘He decided to have a meeting on the 18th of September with the leader of the separatists. He left from Leopoldville and embarked on a course that took him to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, where the peace talks would be. It was a covert mission and the DC6 had to fly a secret route. We still don’t know what exactly happened, but that night the plane crashed at this site. There are two assumptions. One is that is was pilot error because he had to land with no lights. The other is that the rebels shot the plane to halt the peace talks. We still don’t have the funds to do a full investigation.’ We walk to the centre of the monument. There on a pillar is a copper plaquette with the name of the late Hammarskjöld. On top there is a globe also made from copper. Around the pillar there are stones laid by visitors. Kofi Annan and Joseph Kabila were here in 2001, also Nigeria’s president Obasanjo. ‘The most visitors we have are diplomats.’ I ask him how many tourists come here. ‘Sometimes four a day,’ he says.
‘The only survivor of the crash was Sergeant Harold Julian,’ the custodian continues. ‘He reported that Mr. Hammarskjöld was saying ‘Go back go back!’ Also he reported there were sparks in the sky when they tried to land.’ It must have been really something. Flying in the dark with no headlights, searching for an airstrip somewhere in a forest. Who knows what happened inside the plane. Shouting, panicking? Then finally crashing into the trees. On the Internet I read that it took days before the search party found the wreckage. ‘Harold Julian died in a hospital a few days later. We are left with assumptions and there is no money for a full investigation. With the monument we try to keep his remembrance alive.’ Suddenly the question strikes me why the Zambian government seems to pay a lot of attention to this crash site in the forest near the Katanga border. ‘Mr. Hammarskjöld was a white European and he gave his life for African independence. We want to remember him as a great man.’
We do an interview at the gate of the memorial site, and then I am finished filming.
‘What about the fee?’ I ask. The custodian waves his hand. ‘I realise the promotional value of what you do. The film you are making will attract visitors. That is worth more than 500 Dollar,’ he answers, and is quiet for a moment. ‘Still you have to make a donation.’ We walk to the museum building, and inside he shows me a carton donation box. ‘That money is not receipted,’ he explains. The money will always be to the benefit of somebody, I think while I put 50,000 Kwacha, the equivalent of 10 US Dollars. ‘When I leave you take it?’ I ask. ‘No,’ the custodian replies. ‘They come every two months to collect. We use it for the upkeep of site.’ It seems a splendid example of government induced corruption. At least the guy is wearing a nice suit.
It was an impressing experience that is still on my mind. The year was 1961 and the United Nations were just in place. The secretary-general did not have many means to enforce solutions. Sanctions were not developed yet; there were no peace keepers. The best thing he could do was dropping by and talk a way out. Imagine Kofi Annan going on secret missions. Still he does go and talk to the leaders and listen to them. In that respect nothing much has changed.
That evening I had a good sleep in the Royal Hotel.
Double: 15$ breakfast included
‘Do you like it?’ My wife Mariam is smiling very wide above a bowl of hoof soup. She’s laughing when I describe the stuff as a rubber compound with the taste of solution. We’re in the roof restaurant of Destefano Hotel in Dar es Salaam.
The best things in life you discover by foot, and not knowing where you go. That’s how we found this hotel. It happened after Mariam and I left the Durban Hotel. The service there was poor, the room to small, and too humid. Maybe it was because we arrived there late in the evening by a far too expensive taxi, after a 19-hour-long bus drive from Nairobi. Trips like that can do funny things with your mood, even your perception. ‘Where are we going?’ asked Mariam the next morning when we were pulling our suit cases over an unpaved road in the Kariakoo estate, known for its thieves and other petty crimes. ‘I don’t know,‘ I replied. ‘Another hotel,‘ I said, wondering why we always end up in these areas, which are often quite okay. The streets here are narrow and on every odd meter there is some business housed in a shack covered with corrugate metal sheets. The makeshift walls are mostly blue and it’s incredible how versatile these constructions are. There are salons where women plate their hair, kiosks with milk, matches, Coca Cola, bananas, and scratch cards. At some points there are restaurants where the smell of goat is sneaking through the front door curtains. While walking for five minutes and complaining about the weight of our luggage we discovered a brand new building with stained glass windows. Hotel Destefano it shouted on a huge signboard. Why not? It’s always nice to step through silver stain glass doors, and see what comes up behind. In this case it was a small reception with a big television, a flowery sofa set with some silent men, and two ladies smiling and polishing their nails. Above their heads was the image of Al Jazeera, the only channel they seem to offer in hotels.
‘Yes,’ said the lady in her tight white shirt. She was filing her nails. ‘We have a double available for 15,000 Tanzania Shilling. There is also the executive.’ The last word was pronounced a bit slower. The price was just 5,000 Shilling higher. So we went, and happily this time it was on the second floor. Don’t know why, but many hotel receptionists tend to bring you as high as possible. Unless you like this exercise it’s okay, but I and certainly Mariam don’t. She smiled when the bell boy was carrying our huge bag against the stairs, containing my camera stand and all that. Travelling light doesn’t mean things cannot be heavy. We were in Dar es Salaam for reports of which we didn’t know the subject yet. We just took a bus to see what comes up on the way. We booked the standard room, but when the lady upstairs gave us the key, we noticed another room with the door open, the executive. It was spacy, and even had an air-conditioning. So we decided to grab it. It was like they stacked a suite into one room. It had a twinbed, a table and a television, but also an Indian styled sofa set with a glass coffee table. The shower was cold. Mariam told me later that they still had to fix the hot water.
The room would be good for work. The first thing to do was finalizing the editing of a report on tuberculosis I took from Kenya. Mariam had some discuss business proposals to discuss for her sister in Zambia.
Editing from the room is something which is easily romanticized, but it’s a lonely process. As usually when thinking I am staring through the window. Here from Destefano I enjoyed the view on unfinished multi story buildings. Judging from the drying lines parts were already inhabited. Laundry swaying in the breeze always gives these building their color, like an expressionist painting. The editing went well, and Mariam returned. Then we took the stairway to the roof terrace. Here from the sixth floor the view is stunningly wide.
Don’t know how we managed but from all the mosques around the call for prayers started. We were there right in the month of Maulid, the celebration of the prophet Mohamed’s birth day. It’s not exactly clear on which day the good prophet was born, so that’s why the celebration takes a whole month, to make sure that his birthday is somehow included. At least that’s my theory which I didn’t present to Mariam yet, she being a Muslim. Also I became careful, because I noticed that it’s difficult to ask Muslims questions about their faith. It’s a delicate matter, and can easily lead to misunderstandings, don’t know why. The view over the corrugated roofs is deep, and stunning. We decided to have a beer as a sun downer. It‘s a beautiful sight to see the night slowly covering the roofs with patches of darkness. Mariam is taking a warm beer, which is custom in East Africa, and me (like a Westener) a cold one. You have to tell the waiter which one you like, other wise they bring you warm. I do that, and even in Europe I started to mention cold or warm, which the waiters there find funny. Think it has something to do with saving energy. In Europe we are used to take hot showers and cold beer, here they prefer cold showers and warm beer. In both cases you save energy. We’re enjoying the beer in the warm breeze on the roof. The waiter also happens to be the cook, and apart from serving he’s preparing food in the open kitchen. The only thing we can see know is smoke emerging from the charcoal stove. The cook is stirring throug a huge pan. ‘Shall we take a soup?’ Mariam asks. She hauls the waiter who inmediately leaves the pan. ‘Do you have bone soup?’ she asks in Kiswahili, the national language in Tanzania. The man replies with a long sentence, and meanwhile he is still holding a wooden tray with serviettes. ‘They only have hoof soup,’ Mariam translates for me, with a big smile.
The sun is down now, and in the middle of the corrugate roofs there is a patch of light, a bit too small to really see. There are men in long white dresses walking rounds, and people sitting around them. Didn’t mind to go downstairs to the room to get the video camera. It has a good zoom, and now Mariam and me could see what was happening there. In the view finder we can see the men have beards and small white caps. They’re singing to the people sitting. ‘They’re celebrating maulid,’ says Mariam. We decided to switch off the camera, otherwise it would have been a kind of major peeping. The waiter is now bringing the hoof soup. It’s not my cup of tea, but still I enjoy it in the warm breeze on the roof of Destefano. The best things in life you discover by foot, not knowing where…
Personal stories and observations from hotels in Africa.
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Video Journalist Africa