so my new hotel suuuucks. i mean, it has a cute side, a bunch of buildings around a pool with little statuettes of 5 of the 7 drarwves around it with their snow white, a life-size Lucky Luke statue, a unicorn and these 3 huge hawk-like birds that mill around like chickens (their wings have been clipped) and eat the leftovers straight from your plate with their claws and treacherous beaks. there's also a sleepy red kitten whom you would think is dead if it didn't change spots every few hours. there are some funny waitstaff, a group of ladies who lean against the bar and invite me to hang out and chit chat whenever i feel like it. lately, they've been knocking on the door of the other french guy from WWF staying here. they rap on his door in the middle of the night, he answers angry, moment of awkward silence, then..."i must have the wrong room!" heehee. if you try to call the front desk however, you get the cell phone of the receptionist, whether she is at work or not, so clearly, you can't get transferred to my room.
the room is full of voracious mosquitos who seem to spring up from the tile and will not die no matter how much you spray them (i'm counting on you, malarone rx!), there's no hot water, no shower curtain - just a tube from the ceiling, unstable power and a window into the kitchen and bar area so there's quite a lot of noise. i presume it's pretty unsafe to keep valuables anywhere, so until i can lock them at the office, i've worked out a little security system here for my laptop, which i'll need after hours and can't take out with me to the restaurant etc. i call it "the circle of trust."
the short young cleaning guy, alain, asked me timidly if i had a computer. no, i certainly do not, i lie. "i need to charge my cell phone" he says showing me a USB cable and his sad, dead nokia. he has the popular blackberry style iphone touch screen thing that just sucks battery life, syncs with a computer, and shows everyone how awesome he is. alain, like most people, lives in a quartier in kin where power is rare - so his social life, communication, his status now depends on me and the ability to charge his phone. i tell alain i will charge his phone for two hours. in return he will make sure no one goes near my room, or he doesn't get his phone back, simple as that. me holding his expensive phone is now enough for alain to do whatever i tell him. can you please buy me a calling card from the one-armed man across the street?
alain, being the cleaning guy has a key to my room anyway. but he cannot steal my computer because it is locked with a special cable to the bedside table which cannot fit out the window. if the mean concierge lady were to see alain taking a bedside table away through the front door you'd be sure he would lose his precious job. there are now two things alain cannot lose: his job and his phone. a job here is survival, (and so is his phone). i have also told him there is GPS tracking on the computer and if he steals it, the belgian police will find him. he believes me. if anyone else were to steal the bedside table and laptop, alain wouldn't have a reliable source to charge his cell phone and so he won't let this happen. he sneaks me the spare key to the room when he is not at work, so no other staff can enter. alain has a lot of friends who are in a similar predicament, so he can now charge them a small fee to have their phones charged. we are "in charge!" that is our little business! i hold the power in both senses of the term. i can confiscate some other guy's phone if anything happens, and alain would be in big trouble. i don't ask for a cut from his profits, alain does whatever it takes to guard the hallway, and my stuff is safe. only thing i hadn't thought of is turning the phones off while they charge...they kept me up all night. but still, pretty smart, eh?