‘Are there no en suite rooms?’
‘No – you get what you pay for’.
The rooms in the Tanzanian hotel were en suite, how many years ago was it?
An early morning flight from Belfast to Amsterdam and then a daytime flight to Dar Es Salaam. The car had driven through the city in darkness, street lights had been scarce. Candles and charcoal fires shone from the houses of wood and corrugated iron.
The accommodation for the night had been a convent on the edge of the city. The car drew up to the gates and a man wrapped in a dark coat two sizes too big stepped from a hut and hammered on the metal gates with a wooden club. The gates opened and closed swiftly behind the vehicle.
The rooms were of a monastic simplicity; a narrow bed, shrouded in mosquito netting, a wooden table and chair. Breakfast was followed by a meeting and then the journey began.
Miles of shanty town, roads filled with city bound people carrying produce to sell; sometimes empty-handed people, walking toward the city, perhaps to buy from the markets, perhaps in the hope of work.
The journey seemed interminable; lunch had been taken at an Asian restaurant in a small town, six o’clock had come and darkness had fallen. The driver’s intense concentration on the road ahead deepened, potholes deep enough to break the wheel of a car increased in frequency; startled cattle with their herders would sometimes appear along the roadside.
By ten o’clock, the town had been reached. Stepping out into the cold African night, the temperature pointed to the altitude – six or seven thousand feet, enough to prompt a hasty search for a woollen pullover.
A brief meal and a call home from the reception desk using the only phone in the hotel. Having dialled the number, the manager stood smiling benignly no more than six feet away, as if, not supervised, someone might pull the wire from the wall and make off with the apparatus. Perhaps the greater danger was they would make unpaid calls to foreign numbers wiping out the hotel’s meagre profit.
The empty bar had a television screen, an English football match was being screened – the driver looked bemused at being told the final score before half time – the game had been played three days’ previously.
Being shown into the room, there was a feeling of loneliness. The unshaded light bulb was hardly more than 20 watts; four coarse blanketed beds stood at the four corners. A door gave on to a balcony. Stepping out into the darkness, the sounds of the African night filled the air.
The bathroom was en suite, a bleak concrete-walled room. The walls had turned green with dampness and the water was no more than a trickle.
En suite? Sometimes too much can be read into words.