Two quick knocks on the door. Seven ‘o clock, dinnertime. Joining Jeroen (pilot, bright green Hawaii shirt) I walk to the elevator like every evening. At the reception I exchange a crispy clean one hundred dollar bill for a wad of filthy Djibouti francs. Pecunia non olet they say, except in Africa. Like each and every night, an important decision has to be made. Just about the most exciting dilemma of the day lately. “Where shall we eat.”. Let’s try the Indian again. We rather liked that place last time we were there, in spite of the somewhat discouraging entree. Passing the doorboy with his eternal professional smile we walk out of the hotel towards the taxi stand. There’s about five of them tonight. According to local protocol we go to the nearest one and ask him if he is familiar with the “Rue Brazzaville”. He answers affirmatively but immediately says “One thousand !”. Well well, that’s new. During the last weeks we had learned never to discuss a price beforehand, instead just to give the driver the standard 500 franc after reaching the destination. And they were happy with it. Are they having a go at us now ? “Non, 500 franc comme normal.” I tell the guy. He starts yelling at us, so we immediately leave the heap of rusted metal he prefers to call his taxi. One of his colleagues just arrives and is interested in being of service to us. But he also immediately asks for 1000 franc. This is starting to smell of a conspiracy. “No thousand, then you walk” the old khat chewer adds to it triumphantly. And as if to deliver a final victorious blow he follows up with a nagging “O you hungry people !”. I’m starting to get a bit irritated on this beautiful African evening. I rather feel like ripping off his side view mirror but discover he doesn’t have any left. He probably lost those a long time ago in The Demolition Derby they call Djibouti traffic. So he gets lucky. Leaving him behind we walk down the whole line of taxis (it feels a bit like strolling down a car graveyard) and start negotiating with one of the last in line. This one also starts out with 1000 franc, but after some haggling we set a price of 700 franc. A good start of the evening and we are starting to wonder how this coordinated mutiny came to be.
In silence we continue our trip to the Centre Ville. The entrance of the Indian restaurant seems to be tidied up a bit and looks much better than the junkyard we encountered the last time we were here. Once inside the place is positively dead. At the table next to us a native is crunching away on some papadum loud enough to shake the glassware in the cupboard above his head. Oh happy days. I order a soup and a mixed grill. The soup arrives suspiciously fast and whilst eating it a huge cockroach waddles across the floor coming from the kitchen. He looks very fat and healthy so I’m guessing the food in this place is top notch. The soup in any case is very delicious, and slowly but surely more people are joining us in this restaurant. Having westerners around in any African restaurant is always comforting, except when loud and American or drunk and English. The main course is served. Just as I take my first bite, the fat cockroach falls from the ceiling right smack into the middle of my mixed grill. He looks at me defiantly but soon feels the heat under his feet. He turns around and scurries off of my plate in the direction of Jeroen. A well aimed swipe of my knife lands him back where he belongs, on the floor. We imagined that that would be the end of that, but our Mister Cockroach turns out to be quite the adventurer. A few minutes later, on a table more towards the back of the establishment a positively overweight guy starts to perform an impressive folk dance whilst uttering frightened shrieks and frantically shaking the legs of his pants. It’s a funny spectacle. The big guy seems to be somewhat terrified of this small insect and would have rather dashed out of the restaurant screaming, white napkin still tucked into his bright red shirt. Peer pressure from his friends at the table impedes his intention so he quietly sits down again. Some of his friends are laughing out loud as the poor guy tries to hide his embarassment. The terrified grimace on his face as he apologetically looks our way says it all.
You know, if you think about it, it’s quite weird. Imagine this. You’re walking down the street, just minding your business. Suddenly, you see this towering giant, at least 50 times your size, coming towards you. Looking up to him, this thing looks tall like a skyscraper and it seems he’s noticed you. Your whole life flashes in front of you as you realise that there will be no tomorrow for you. Not knowing what to do, you keep looking up and yell “Boo !”, worth a try isn’t it, nothing to loose and all that ? And Lo and Behold, this huge giant immediately startles, screams, and makes a run for it. Imagine the feeling of victory that then suddenly flows and fills your whole being. Like you’re on top of the world ! Nothing can touch you ! A bit annoying that in this euforic celebration a second giant comes along and crushes you with the heel of his shoe and ends your life. But that one moment. That glorious moment where this humongous mass of bones and flesh got up and fled in terror before you, that, they can never take away from you. That is something you take with you in your small cockroach grave. And you can honestly say “MY GOD, I HAVE LIVED !!”
But anyway, the food this evening is disappointing to say the least. The mixed grill consists of small pieces of charcoal. Intensive DNA forensics would have to be conducted to determine exactly what I am eating tonight. Not the best of culinary evenings, so to speak. Same as yesterday, when we found ourselves in the middle of a group of utterly drunk French at a karaoke event nearby. Drunk French can not sing. At the table next to us were six guys. On closer inspection three of them turned out to have tits. French soldiers. To prove her manhood, the tiniest girl of the party felt the need to crush empty beer cans on the table with her forehead.
Whatever makes you tick, right ?
Nom de Dieu… I want to go home….