After 3 hours sleep I woke at 6am to a fierce knock on my door, it was our policy Director Hassan, he had arrived the morning before.
“ Steve they changed the itinerary at the last minute, we have to be at the Conference Centre at 7am the President is addressing us at 8am, there is no breakfast here they will have coffee and rolls at the Centre, I think. “
A shower, cold water only, put on my suit walk down the stairs and I dropped my key (more of the key later) with the receptionist.
A short drive showed to me that we had passed the Parfait at least twice the previous night and then we rock up at a huge building ( Possibly “ Great Wall number 4F, ministry building, conference centre or main hospital, designation to be finalised.” )
We queue up for registration having first gone through security. There were four metal detectors none of which worked because they had not yet turned on the electricity so we had to go through the gruelling process of answering if our name was correct which I proved through the rather remarkable way of showing my British driving licence.
“ Why you no have passport ?” The security guard asks.
“They ran out of ink for the visas” Hassan raises his eyebrows
“ Again ?”
Ok so this is not new, I’m feeling better, I may yet see my passport.
We enter the huge cavernous conference Hall and take our seats just as the electricity kicks in and mercifully, so does the air con. And we wait. There is no breakfast coffee there are no rolls there is no water, there is a look of confusion on the faces of staff, it is as if they have been shocked that a conference has turned up
There are around 600 delegates, many of them senior politicians and diplomats from African countries. 8am become 9 am, then 10 am ….No President, but lots of people meeting people they know and haven’t seen for a long time, so it is a quite a pleasant reunion for many. They are looking forward to the President and the conference starting.
10am becomes 11 am, then it is not quite so pleasant as people are running out of polite conversation.
Pleasantries are also being eroded by thirst and hunger. Hassan advises not to drink the water from the faucet in the toilets, we share a half bottle of water he has in his briefcase.
There is an organising committee who have been saying the President is just around the corner and will be with us soon. Define soon ? My soon is not their soon. Then the organising committee vanish and a rumour begins to circulate. They have gone to meet the President who decided to have a day off at a resort 40km away.
Then another rumour begins to circulate – they forgot lunch. So we now have 600 very hungry, very thirsty people.
With immaculate timing a herd of goats walk across the scrub land that surrounds the Conference Centre. Hassan, who likes his food looks at them wistfully and says “ I have a pen knife, all we need is some bread and something to make a BBQ with.”
At 2pm one of the Organising Committee comes back and says that the President is engaged in affairs of State ( At a resort ? Fair enough, go ask Donald Trump.) He cannot be with us until 9 am tomorrow at which point he will be given the Golden medal in recognition of his good governance.
A cry goes up from a member of an African delegation “ You can’t do that, he murdered his brother to get the job.” ( I look to Hassan, I have absolutely no knowledge if that is correct and he wisely declined to nod or shake his head as we are surrounded by security staff. His Delegation grab the protester and walk him away pleading to concerned security that he was deranged through thirst and hunger. En masse the delegates stream out of the supercooled conference centre and are hit in the face by 45 degrees of heat. We find our driver and by 2.45pm we are back at the Hotel.
“ Food” says Hassan. I agree and we make our way to the Restaurant.
“ Closed” says the Restaurant manager though there are clearly several diners still there. Hassan points to the board that says it is open from 11am to 9pm and demands food.
“ All gone”
Filled with British reserve and our cultural drive to “ not make a fuss” I had by now resigned myself to dining on an emergency breakfast cereal bar but Hassan is made of stronger stuff.
“ But what did they eat ?” Demands Hassan pointing to the other diners
“ Fish” Comes the answer.
“ Then we shall have fish” Says Hassan pushing me into a seat.
We got some water and waited, and waited, there was a lot of urgent discussion coming from the kitchen.
Finally a small waiter looking very nervous comes out of the kitchen carrying a huge silver plated tureen.
“ Now we shall eat” Says Hassan switch a look of satisfaction, smoothing his napkin.
Rather than opening the tureen the waiter puts it down and smiles weakly “ Bon appetite “ and beats a very hasty retreat.
“ The fish is very good in this country, river fish of course but very good.” Hassan says
He removes the lid to show what clearly was a fish. I use the word “was” not to describe the present state but the past. It definitely had been a fish, but unfortunately and sadly it no longer was a fish. Those of you of a certain age may recall the Monty Python dead parrot joke ? Substitute fish for parrot and you have the gist. This fish is dead it is no longer a fish. There was a head, and its eyes were looking at us seemingly in despair at its demise and there were the fins of a tail but between the two there was just bone, picked clean, white, bones.
Hassan I should say at this point is very proudly African, he feels for the state and the dignity of his continent and he wants it always to be shown in the best light. He is also about 6ft 2inch tall, handsome with a short beard. Irritatingly, from the perspective of my 5ft 8 of relative podge, he is also one of those people who take absolutely no exercise whatsoever and yet has the physique of a toned athlete. He also has the most expressive pneumatic eyebrows, which at that point had been drawn up to indicate severe displeasure. He has a frown that could bring fear to a charging tiger.
He stood up and seemed to grow to about 6ft 5in of extremely threatening masculinity and walked purposefully towards the kitchen with the Tureen. I couldn’t catch it all” Disgrace” I heard “ letting down your country, your continent, all of Africa “ I heard. I may have also heard the musical embrace of a Tureen meeting something hard.
He came back looking very collected and calm and said “There may have been a small mistake, our food is coming.”
Come it did, a kind of vegetable ragu served with pasta, for me beer for him ginger beer, and there seemed to be no bill, I wonder, why ?
I felt it then and I have had reason to reflect since, that everyone should have a Hassan.
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