The blonde woman was aware of the men looking at her when she entered the dimly lit bar of the Hotel Flandria and she was even more aware of the admiring glances when she removed her flimsy jacket to reveal a strappy, low-cut dress.
It was when she handed the item of clothing to the barman, whom she evidently knew well, for safe-keeping, that we began to think it strange.
When she then headed straight for the balding middle aged man with a big moustache at the end of the bar and introduced herself the penny dropped.
Personally I have no objection to the trade – it is one of the oldest in the world, after all – but there are practical difficulties associated with living in a hotel that works 24 hours a day. Like sleeping.
The telephone system is defunct, too, which makes communications with South Africa a touch more awkward than usual. As far as hygiene is concerned, no problem. The cockroaches are all small in my room which indicates regular cleaning and fumigation at least every couple of years.
The Flandria is bang, smack in the heart of the city which is so much more preferable to staying on the outskirts of the city, as happens too often on tour. The congested city traffic and endless blaring of car horns provide a distraction from the opening and closing of doors, and other activities in the rooms nearby.
The streets are packed at 10:00 p.m. as I have never seen before, anywhere. Men, and only men, sit on the plastic chairs provided by thousands of tea salons and coffee parlours that line the pavement for kilometres in every direction. The woman bustle along what remains of the pavement dragging their toddlers and pushing prams. The rest of us are forced to share the road with 19 million taxis which push, bump and weave their way towards restaurants whose kitchens stay open until well after midnight.
When does this city sleep? The answer, as far as I have been able to ascertain so far, is “next month.” August is national holiday season when two million citizens return from Europe to visit families and spend their hard-earned Euros. And they appear intent on not going back with any change.
“Petty crime” has always sounded like an anathema to me – I have never felt it to be very petty my wallet, cellphone or car hub caps have been stolen – but anyway, that sort of thing is rife. Pickpockets are as common as cockroaches, but far dirtier.
Another form of “petty crime” involves ‘friendships’. A Sri Lankan journalist was helping two South African colleagues celebrate the resounding 54-run victory over Pakistan when, as luck would have it (we thought), we were befriended by three men who invited us to a late night club. They ordered drinks for a group of eight which included two girls who, awkwardly, had to sit on the men’s laps because there just weren’t enough chairs.
An hour later they were gone and we were handed a bill for R2,180. Admittedly the prices were high in the club but we felt that was excessive for two Casablanca Beers. We refused to pay, were detained until 5:45 a.m. and subjected to all manner of intimidation in order to collect our ‘debt’.
We didn’t pay, but that’s another story…
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