Sunday, December 17 9:10 a.m.
Evidence continues to mount that I’m an idiot. I was in Sundar’s shop yesterday when a heavyset Sierra Leonian woman struck up a conversation. She appeared to know Sundar quite well and had taken a stool to rest from the exertions of shopping. She’d bought quite a large amount of goods, including a case of fifty tins of tomato paste and had every appearance of being somewhat comfortable financially. She bantered with Sundar then turned to me and asked if I would pay for a Coke for her. This surprised me but in the spirit of the ongoing banter I said that of course I would. Any friend of Sundar is a friend of mine.
But soon I found myself defending myself against her vigorous attempts to come and visit me at the hotel. After she left I spoke with Sundar and learned that she was, in her fashion, offering sexual services. The Coke despite being in a shop was the equivalent of “buy me a drink, sailor?”
I had also misbehaved in the matter of another room I’d gone to inquire about. This room was inside the restaurant compound of a Sierra Leonian woman named Angie, another friend of Sundar’s. I’d seen her several times at the shop. She and Sundar have a series of running jokes where he makes fun of her imposing buttocks (“Angie, there is something big moving behind you.”) and she steals little packages of cookies. They write jovial insults on scraps of paper and pay boys from the street one hundred francs to deliver them throughout the day.
I sat down with a man who may or may not be Angie’s husband to discuss the room. He’d taught economics at the University of —— in Canada for five years and spoke English fluently. Unfortunately the room was too luxurious and involved for me. He mentioned a figure of 35,000 francs/day with other charges perhaps for use of the air conditioner and breakfast. I was still thinking along the lines of a simple room for 40,000/month. So I thanked him and told him I’d think about it.
Later I heard from Sundar that Angie wanted to know what was wrong with this Canadian he’d sent over. I told Sundar that the room was far too costly for me.
Why didn’t I offer them 40,000 francs per month Sundar wanted to know.
I explained that such a thing hadn’t occurred to me. An offer of 40,000/month for a room going for 35,000/day would be a joke if not an insult. No, said Sundar, that is the way in Guinea. Speak your mind he urged me. Speak freely about whatever you want. The fact that I hadn’t even bothered to make a counter offer was, according to Sundar, much more of an insult than a low offer.
I was urged to go back and talk with Angie and am now the proud renter of a lovely little room for the next week. (They asked for 140,000 for the week. I countered with 80,000 and we settled on 100,000. This is still well within the world of “blanc” prices but suits me.)
I made the move this morning and am very content in my new home. The room is one of three attached to the “La Vina” restaurant. Angie and the family occupy two of the rooms. I’m now in the third. The compound is large and breezy with palm and banana trees loaded with fruit. There is even a small shed at the front where I can keep my bicycle locked up under the watchful eyes of two security guards.
This is probably the best of all possible worlds. It’s a family I’m living with and our arrangement is a private one with none of the tedious forms and signatures required at Les Hotels Mantisse. And I don’t have to run the gauntlet of desk clerks, laundry boys, “patrons,” and managers. It’s less than half the price and best of all is in no way connected with Conde.
Conde knocked on my door at Les Hotels Mantisse this morning and I took Bob and Sundar’s advice and greased his palm with 25,000 francs. I suppose it is another landmark in my Guinean life, the first time I deliberately and knowingly and personally bribed someone. I surprised and even sickened myself with the honeyed words of friendship and gratitude that came out of my mouth, all of it motivated by fear and self interest. Conde far outdid me with a long speech of how he continues to have my interests close to his heart. He spoke eloquently of a close friendship between not only he and I but Guinea and Canada. But by then my eyes had glazed over again and my ears closed themselves off. As a final touch, the ultimate hypocrisy, I presented him with a large and beautiful poster of a scenic fishing village on a rocky coast of Newfoundland. It won’t be the last I’ll see of him but I hope he’ll fade away.