I am staying in an hotel in the capital city of an African country I have known rather well in the past. It is a nice hotel – nicer than the kind of place I normally stay in. And the kind of “nice” I could get used to with very little difficulty.
But my current lodgings come with an unexpected addition: tourists. The well-healed on what I assume they consider to be adventurous holidays, but with not too much discomfort. The kind of tourist who manages to match brand new outdoor clothing with a range of walking aids suggestive of gently disintegrating joints.
What they also seem to have in abundance are ill-informed opinions about the country in which we all find ourselves; and an extraordinary lack of self-awareness. Two vignettes:
“I need a drink. I don’t think I can stand it anymore”
The group arrived – amid a great deal of noise and chaos – on Saturday. I don’t know where they had been, or what they had done. But something had clearly struck a chord with one of them. “I need a drink”, she said out loud and apparently to no-one in particular. “I need a drink. I don’t think I can stand it anymore.” She went on to tell the busy reception area of the hotel that she had seen poverty of a type which she could hardly have imagined existed. Such depravity! Such need! Such appalling living conditions! How was a sensitive soul to cope under these conditions? The only solution, apparently, was to resort to the bar and have a beer.
“They should be more grateful.”
Later, I found myself unable to avoid over-hearing a discussion within the group. (Presumably, the bar had helped at least some of them regain perspective on what they had seen.) I should say that I was not actively eavesdropping. But the discussion was being taken forward on a fully inclusive, all-informed basis at a distance from me not sufficient to permit me to ignore it.
“They should be more grateful.” said a member of the group. “We taxpayers give millions of dollars every year to this country. And do you know what I saw today? Opposite our Embassy?”
The tone of the question did not invite an answer. And anyway, it was clear that one would soon be provided. The indignant man was anxious to fill in the details:
“Can you believe it? There are businesses set up opposite our Embassy which claim to be able to facilitate visas! I have a good mind to complain. Who do these people think they are? We pay to keep them here. They have no need for visas.”
Once again, I wondered if there was an English word for “schadenfreude”…