The taxi with the defective shock absorbers (or no shocks at all - I
can't tell which) winds its way along rutted, unpaved roads through
sugar cane fields and palm tree plantations, eventually coming to a
stop in the middle of nowhere in front of a hotel straight out of a
B-grade ghost town movie. A flashing purple neon sign with
missing letters announces a vacancy. We park in front of the reception
area which is outside in the open. A couple of pool tables stand off to
one side. The concierge desk doubles as a bar with icy bottles of
Bitter, the local brewski, on display. The hotel staff are happy
to see us. It's clear they take pride in this place and in their job.
The taxi driver told me he earns the equivalent of seven US dollars a
day - with which he supports himself, his wife, and their three
children. The hotel staff, even of this B-grade hotel, probably
earn megabucks in comparison. Two of them run up to help us take our
bags to our room.
It's exactly the kind of place I want
to experience. Away from the comparative luxury of the United States,
this is how most of
lives. The room is actually in pretty good shape for a third world
hotel. The bathroom is clean. The shower
and has plenty of hot water. Still, we've brought our own bottled water
for brushing our teeth, and I've already counseled
to keep his mouth closed in the shower. It's good advice. Just in case.
The air conditioning provides cool air as it's supposed to, and isn't
noisy. I like this place already, I think to myself. The beds are firm
as I sit on them to test them. It's good to be here after a long
After unpacking we head downstairs to get something to eat. The sun is
setting. The sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking punctuate
our humid walk. The man at the concierge desk shows us a hand-written
menu with both
and Indian (a third of the population here) items on it. We make our
selections. He opens a couple of beers for
and me, then disappears into the kitchen. When he hasn't returned in
over three quarters of an hour,
and I realize a) he's probably making everything we ordered from
scratch, and / or b) it's us who are impatient, not he
who's slow, because we aren't yet on
time (I mean the pace, not the time zone adjustment). So we
relax and start talking, enjoying the icicle encrusted bottles of
Bitter. Then a woman walks over to us and, uninvited, pulls up a chair,
sits down, and starts talking.
I kind of wish she'd go away because she's interfering in my precious
But she doesn't. So, almost begrudgingly, I include her. At first I peg
her as a maid who works for the hotel who's just finished her shift.
I'm wrong. So wrong. I couldn't be more wrong in fact. She
owns the hotel. She has a doctorate degree. Her husband is
a professor at the University of
He's currently away,
to an outer island to one of the far flung
university's campuses there to lecture. Just as I start to notice how
judgemental I am by pegging her as a hotel menial worker when she's
actually a doctoral
married to a university professor and owns the hotel, I notice the
couple now playing pool is getting a bit rowdy, having clearly had one
drink too many.
But as I said, this is the set of a B-grade movie replete with a motley
cast, and I'm glad
can experience this. Suddenly the woman half of the drunk couple
playing pool puts down her cue and walks towards us. And I find myself
thinking "No, please don't come here. We're having a great conversation
...". Still, she comes anyway, and asks (ie slurs) our host "Who are
your good looking guests?". Oh gawd ...
Clearly this is my night to discover how judgemental I am. This time I
find out the drunk woman pool player works for the United Nations.
She's here with their micro-economics program first conceived by
Muhammad Yunus, a citizen of Bangladesh, for which he was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize. The program makes loans available in small amounts
(twenty dollars for example) to impoverished individuals to start
Buy a hen. Sell the eggs. Pay back the loan. Then, with the new trust
and credit accrued, take out a larger loan - say twenty
five dollars. Buy more hens etc. Mr Yunus discovered
impoverished people, when given a
chance like this, rarely if ever default on these loans. Micro-loans
are more certain to be repaid (and sooner) than mortgages and other
loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
who she is.
And I had her pegged as the overly loud pool playing drunk. Clearly
I've got the judgemental thing down cold. And the irony of it all is
an economics student, is having the most marvelous
conversation with her and the doctorate university
professor's wife hotel owner maid.