|No Room at the Inn|
Thu 18 Mar
It isn't Christmas and none of us are pregnant, but all the same, "no room at the inn" was not what we wanted to hear.
I’m with two other westerners who were on the bus, Germans, 30 year-old men. They’ve each driven a lorry down through Morocco and across the Sahara selling one in Mauritania and the other in Mali. Their clothes are a chocolate brown, they look oil stained, and ragged, as if they have been sleeping rough. One has a shaved head apart from a central mane of dreadlocks reaching down his back. The other looks unkempt and greasy. First impressions can be deceptive. They're actually pretty cool guys, gentle, considerate, and why not? Whatever’s written in your heart that’s what matters, surely?
We have been on the road for 24 hours; it's still before 6:30am. We are exhausted. We haven’t slept, or washed, and will be grateful for a shower and rest. There isn't much budget accommodation recommended in the guidebook apart from the Catholic Mission. We pick up our heavy bags and make our way, on foot, through the waking streets of Niamey.
The Catholics have quite a big plot in Niger’s capital accommodating the cathedral, secondary school, conference centre and a guesthouse with about 20 self-contained rooms. A teacher tells us to wait. It's still only 7:00am. Children arrive for school; an NGO Land Cruiser collects a westerner from the guesthouse. Cars arrive and park in their reserved parking spaces.
Eventually the three of us are invited into the Patron’s office. The quiet "helpful" man across the desk smiles and tells us he has no rooms. This is disappointing and is certainly worth clarifying. But the more questions he answers, the more resolved he becomes that the answer is no. You are tourists right? The guesthouse is not here for tourists. He opens his desk drawer and takes out a piece of paper stating that the guesthouse is for priests, church workers, NGOs and affiliates. Then he tells us that there is a big conference going on and he has no rooms. But why is that relevant? Surely he's protesting too much? I think he simply doesn't like the look of us.
We ask if he can suggest somewhere else. He opens his drawer and takes out a piece of paper. He just happens to have a flyer advertising a "cheap" hotel, he rings them straight away and sure enough they just happen to have rooms. Funnily enough his driver just happens to be going that way and can give us a lift. We begrudgingly leave the office and discuss what to do next.
I am keen to get a Chad visa. I believe my chances will be greatly improved if I wash, shave, and put on some clean clothes first. If granted, they are issued while-you-wait so conceivably I can be on my way, free to leave town when I'm ready, but the embassy will close late morning; timing is of the essence. For one night in the capital I'm prepared to go upmarket if necessary. As much as I have enjoyed the company of these Germans along the road, we have different priorities, budgets and itineraries. I let them go on ahead and secretly sneaked back to the Patron’s office.
The office is now locked, but it gives me a chance to read the various notices pinned to the door. With my poor comprehension of French, I am sure it's saying "priority" is given to church workers and they have a room rate for outsiders. Nowhere does it say expressly that tourists are denied. An English-speaking gentleman approaches me and offers to help. He turns out to be a priest, from Benin, attending a conference that is finishing today. So surely they will have rooms? He tells me to wait while he goes and finds the Patron. Minutes later, the priest returns with the Patron and we're invited into the office. I acknowledge that we had met, just 10 minutes before, but I want to clarify something. The priest translates that I have read the notice; I have seen that it says "priority". If he has any rooms available at all then I’d like one please. Once again the Patron opens his desk drawer and takes out a piece of paper. This time it's to show me the room rates and meal times, this time I am welcome. "Thank the Lord."
|No Room at the Inn|