Hotel Mombassa: Fear and Contempt in Heaven!
Introduction by Gilad Atzmon
On 22 November 2002, Hotel Paradise Mombassa, an Israeli hotel in Kenya, was attacked by a group of terrorists. But the following from the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv isn’t concerned with the destruction caused by Al Qa’eda, but rather with the devastation left behind by the Israelis.
This is the story of a beautiful hotel built by Israelis on the African seashore. It is the story of an Israeli-owned holiday resort in Mombassa, Kenya, designed and built solely for the Israeli tourist market. It is also the story of the total abuse of the local impoverished population. It is a tale of humiliation, cruelty and rape of struggling African women. It is a common story of Israelis inflicting pain on others. But, at times, and in spite of itself, it is rather funny. For instance, once a week, when the Israeli groups were departing in buses on their way back to the Mombassa terminal, the local managers ordered the African staff to chase the departing buses with tears in their eyes and to scream ‘Please don’t leave us, we love you, please come back’.
This bizarre instruction was given to the local managers crew by the Israeli hotel management as part of the package deal - that very last image to take home of an unforgettable holiday. I assume that the Israeli managers understood the clear yearning for love among their Israeli clients. But one may ask what is at the heart of such longing for declarations of love? Considering that those Israeli tourists were mainly engaged in turning Mombassa into hell on earth, do they really need, after all of that, to feel loved?
Ordinary human beings do not expect to be loved by hotel receptionists or room cleaners. But then, ordinary human beings do not habitually humiliate, abuse and rape hotel staff. They may spend some time in the hotel, they may enjoy its services and then they just pay and leave politely and quietly. For the Israeli tourists, as you will see, staying in the hotel is a clear opportunity for ‘letting go’. It is the ideal environment to enact one’s darkest libidinal impetus and practice total denial of any moral conduct.
For the Israeli tourist, holidaying is the putting into practice of their lust to control. For the Israelis, as you will see, to go to for a holiday in Africa is to experience the possibilities of becoming a wild animal. So the following piece is a glimpse into some peculiarly Israeli pathological and psychotic conditions. It is a bizarre story of a strange criminal identity that demands affection from its victims.
The story wasn’t written by myself, I just translated it into English. It originally appeared only in Hebrew in Maariv, Israel’s 2nd biggest daily paper. I spent time translating it because I believe that is for people outside of Israel to gain a better understanding of the Israeli character.
Some believe that the Israeli approach towards the Palestinians is the outcome of specific colonial circumstances. But it seems they are wrong. Israeliness is a radical form of mindless cruelty and the Israelis take it with them wherever they go. In Palestine it would be the Palestinians who suffer, in Goa it is the poor Indians, but in the following story it is the deprived labour force of Mombassa, Kenya which is forced to face Israeli sadism.
There is a famous saying, ‘You can take the man out of Israel but you can never take Israel out of the man’. You may want to take a nice deep breath before you read what the men of Israel get up to.
Fear and Contempt in Heaven
Omri Hasenheim, Kenya
In Hotel Paradise Mombassa, hotel staff were constantly humiliated by the Israeli tourists, so it’s no surprise that even after the 2002 terror attack on the hotel, they refuse to forgive -not Al-Qa’eda but rather us (the Israelis).
It stands on the beautiful white sand. The luxury buildings invite you for a ‘dream of a break’, the rooms and the suites are adorned with exquisite handmade wooden furniture. In between the restored buildings you will find a stream teming with golden fish. At the bar you can hear the echo of some lazy African beat. All around the gigantic swimming pool you can see thenumerous monkeys jumping around. From the dining room windows you have a magnificent sea-view. On your way to the dining room you may want to visit the alligator pool, perhaps the alligators grew a bit since that horrible day of terror.
Welcome to Heaven, Hotel ‘Paradise Mombasa
Just a kilometre away, in Msomrini village, two orphan girls are making dreadlocks for each other. Not far behind them, a lonely and miserable mud hut stands. All around, poorly clothed toddlers are playing. They are dirty, their noses drip. A few broken stools are spread around and on one of them, Dama Safaria is sitting. Before Al Qa’eda blew up the very little she had, she worked as a dancer at the hotel. For two years she danced traditional African folk dances, something that helped her to forget the misery into whcih she was born.
In Msomrini, everyone was happy to dance for just $2 a day. In the beginning, Dama was quite happy, but then, as time went by, the Israeli employers realised that they could probably get away without paying her. After the performances, her husband used to march from the village to the hotel to beg for her wages. “We loved to dance for the Israelis,” says Dama, “but then once the payment day arrived our smiles would fade away.”
On the morning of 22 November 2002, Al Qa’eda terrorists attacked the hotel. Once the explosion went off, it didn’t take long before Dama realised that her husband was missing. She was horrified when, a few minutes later she was told that he was killed. Since then, she has struggled on her own to maintain herself and her nine children. Her youngest son is just four years old. From the hotel management she heard nothing. No one came to visit or even just to offer condolences. Neither the Israeli Government nor Kenyan officials have shown any interest.
“We, the dancing company, are still owed $120 for the last four performances in front of those Israeli tourists,” she claims in despair. “After the terror attack my life became impossible. In the winter I beg for the farmers to cultivate our land for, literally, pennies,” In the summer she doesn’t know how she survives. .
Two month ago ‘Paradise Mombassa’ was reopened under a new management team comprised of one Israeli, one French and one American. They try to minimise their exposure, very much like the previous Israeli owner Yeuda Sulami who, to this day, denies his involvement with the previous management. The new management does its utmost to change the hotel’s image. They are trying to leave the Israeli market behind and instead aim to appeal to European and American markets.
But for many locals, this new business facelift makes no difference - the memory of those years of abuse by Israeli tourists and managementwill not fade away. They won’t forget the Israeli guests that sexually assaulted them or were just rude and arrogant. They won’t forget the Israeli management who came along with bizarre demands, failed to pay their monthly wages on time and eventually just stopped paying altogether. Now, maybe out of hope, or just the will to open their hearts, they are giving their personal account of ‘Paradise Mombassa’.
The idea to erect an Israeli hotel on Kenya’s seashore in the late 1990’s proved to be an ingenious one. Until then, Kenya was famous for its wild Safari adventures. Then, Yeuda Sulami and his business partner Itzik Mamman came up with the idea of using Kenya as an Israeli holiday resort. They founded a company and started to sell holiday packages including flights, accommodation and local tourist adventures.
In the beginning, they were buying accommodation services from local companies. But the Israeli appetite knows no limits. ‘Why don’t we make the big money ourselves’ they asked, ‘we shall build our hotel on the beach.’ Soon, they joined forces with local investors and founded a company based on ‘time sharing’ holiday rentals for Israelis. The Israeli clients reacted enthusiastically - after all, it was: a beautiful hotel offering sunny beaches at the time of the Israeli winter, complete with a flourishing cheap sex industry and just four and a half hours’ flight time from Tel Aviv.
The principle that guided Sulami and Maman was that the Israeli guest who comes to Kenya once would return. Thus the promotion packages were sold ridiculously cheap. It all worked out perfectly well. Many Israelis returned and invested in holiday accommodation (one Israeli bought 52 holiday units for the sum of $1.5 million). Every week 250 Israelis landed at Mombassa airport, they found an Israeli hotel, fully Kosher, it even had a proper synagogue.
The hotel started to operate in the year 2000 and was officially launched a year later. Local crew was recruited from surrounding hotels. Most workers admit that in the beginning they were rather happy, but things deteriorated rapidly soon after the official opening. It soon became clear that someone was about to pay for this Israeli extravaganza.
Three years later, the humiliation and abuse is like an open wound in the memory of the female hotel staff. Once a week, just when the Israelis where checking out on their way back to the airport, a bell would ring. ‘Get ready, the guests are leaving,’ announced the head of the Entertainments Team, frantically chasing the female crew. They all had to gather near to the entrance and had to chase the leaving buses, all the time weeping desperately in front of the departing Israelis. Once they caught up with the buses they would bang on its metal frame with tears dripping from their eyes.
“It was a bizarre order,” giggled Saline Aching, the chief masseuse. “We were told to chase the bus, to sing and cry so the guests would know that we love them and want them to come back. I remember myself running like in a frenzied state. I would hit the bus with my fists shouting to the guests, ‘Why do you leave us?’ ‘We miss you’, ‘We love you’. The Israelis would stare at us from the windows, some of them believed us to be genuine, others were shooting us with their video cameras.”
Rahima Josef Katan: “If you were not crying enough you might find yourself in danger of losing your job. We were asked to think of something bad that happened to us, so we could cry for real. I didn’t cry.” “I didn’t cry,” Confesses Catherine Khaa, masseuse. “How could I, I didn’t love them at all. In fact I hated them.”
The weekly bus chasing was just one example of the way the staff were supposed to treat the Israeli guests. The principles were obvious: humiliation, stripped of dignity and hard labour. The guidelines were clear: The client is always right, the client must be happy, the client must return.
The ones who carried the greatest burden were the females amongst the entertainment team. Dorothy Maly recollects that once a week, on the arrival day, five of them would be taken to Mombassa airport. “We used sing to them Jambo Jambo (hello hello) and Evenu Shalom Aleichem. The local Kenyans were sure that we had had lost it but the Israelis were over the moon. They loved noise, once we arrived at the hotel, again we started singing loudly. In the night we were instructed by the manager to scream till the last Israeli leaves the dance floor. If a guest decides not to go to sleep, you were required to stay with him till he quits to his room. We were demanded to produce noise almost 24 hours a day. When we took a break, the manager would come and bark: ‘What’s the matter with you, do you fall asleep? I will cut your wage, move on…’.”
The agenda dictated from above was that a bored guest was a non-returning guest. Rahima Raymond, masseuse: “We were forced to sit with the guests till the small hours, to hang around with them. Sulami made it clear that we must keep the guests happy. We were dancing with the men in nightclubs just to make sure that they weren’t staying alone. If we refused to do so, they would complain to the management: ‘Why don’t they come out with us?’ ‘We want to see the African night
life’. They obviously didn’t care about our commitments and family life. Obviously, we didn’t get any ‘extra’ for those services. The day after, while they were still in bed we had to start again at eight in the morning. "
‘The client is always right’
Josef Katan“they taught us a behavioural code, if a man is near to his wife we were supposed to hold his hand in a certain way, if his wife wasn’t around then we should behave rather differently.” “There were religious Jews who couldn’t sign the room service notes on the Jewish Sabbath. We would then keep a note with their room number attached to their bill. Once Sabbath was over, some of them would just refuse to pay. They would argue that we invented it all, ‘you forged our signatures’, they would say. The management would always believe them and expect us to cover their bills. I just couldn’t believe that humans can behave as such.”
The ever-growing demand to entertain the Israeli guests enforced a maximized utilization of the local workforce. The crew were mobilized from the many different departments to the entertainment team. “They could pool me out of the kitchen, telling me that the guests want to have a good time and I should go and hang out with them,” says Josef Katan. “I would then ask, how can I bake cookies and dance simultaneously? The entire hotel was as an entertainment squad. The kitchen staff were entertainers, the receptionists were entertainers, gardeners were entertainers.” Mali, a dancer: “Saline, the chief masseuse would give us a shout when too many Israelis wanted a massage at the same time. At the time I knew nothing about massage. There was a woman that was brought over by the hotel’s rabbi and she was supposed to teach us. After a short instruction of five minutes I was apparently ready to have a go.”
Be seen like an African
In order to maintain ‘authentic African spirit’ the staff was obliged to put on very minimal clothes. Unlike the other hotels in the vicinity, where men were serving in uniform, in Paradise Mombassa the male crew were walking around half naked and with bare feet. The females were allowed just a minimal fabric on their breasts and pubes. “Even when temperatures dropped we were not allowed to cover ourselves.” Marci Mawagambo Aching said: “Sulami wanted us to look ‘authentic’ so when you walk around, the guests can check you out for the night. You must be attractive so they re-book another holiday. It was horrible, but what can you do? I needed the money. One of the Israeli female managers told us that we better follow Sulami’s orders, if he wants us too look like Africans, we better look like ones.”
Even the most basic conditions were lacking. ‘Paradise Mombassa’ is located 8 kilometres from the main road. The dirt track to the hotel passes through a wild savannah loaded with outlaws. So a solution was found. A truck, originally built to transport livestock was converted to transport forty humans. An Israeli employee says, “It was a truck with a sealed cargo wagon without benches. People were so squeezed in that we had to leave the back door open.”Josef Katan: “We felt like animals. Sometimes we were left with no oxygen, but we knew that if we complained we would then asked to stay in the hotel. That would obviously mean we would not be able to see our families. So we kept quiet.” Once a newly appointed manager asked how the Kenyans felt about the manner in which they were transported. The answer was rather clear, ‘for them it doesn’t matter, as long as they are delivered to their work they are happy.’
Even for meals during the working hours, local crew were left to fend for themselves. But then a creative solution was found. Aching: “there were times when Sulami was kind and let us eat the guests’ leftovers. We were lucky because the Israelis are greedy, they would go to the buffet and put on their plates far more than their bodies can take. They would take piles of salads, and massive chunks of meat, but then, they would barely touch it and leave most of it behind.”Mali: “If to tell the truth, we could see that the food was already on someone else’s plate, but some of us had to eat it, just because they couldn’t afford to buy somewhere else. They where hungry, what could they do?”
But it goes further. It didn’t take long before the staff realized that they were not insured. This was revealed after a security man was murdered and his colleague was wounded during a burglary. To this day, neither the grieving family nor the wounded man have received any compensation. Contracts were granted only to the very top managers. Lower staff were given a meaningless document stating an agreed figure - a document that has never been honoured by its initiators.
Good Machine, Good Machine
Saline Aching was curious to understand some Hebrew terms, it is her interest in the Hebrew language that helped her to grasp the meaning of Akol Kalul, all included. None of the hotel staff failed to understand the meaning of the Hebrew idiom that became the philosophy of the business. All hotel services where included in the price of the package purchased in Israel. Soon the staff were to learn how much this phrase means to Israelis.
“All day long I heard the guests shouting 'Akol Kalul,' says Josef Katan. “Some of them held me by my arm and shouted at me 'Akol Kalu'l. Even on the beach they would just shout to passing people 'Akol Kalul, Akol Kalul'. I would then ask them what that ‘Akol Kalul’ means? They would answer, ‘everything, even you’. I used to tell them that I am not Sulami’s property. He owns the hotel but not me. I thought to myself, 'God, do they behave as such in their own country?'”
At its best, Akol Kalul was practiced in the free buffet bar with gigantic chunks of meat loaded onto plates. At its worst, it found its way into the massage room. Needless to say, not one guest gave up his right to be massaged. Aching says, “The first thing the male guests did upon arrival, even before they unloaded their suitcases in the rooms, they would sprint to the massage room. They would enter the hotel with their eyes wide open asking, ‘Where is the massage room?’ I used to plan the daily schedule, there was a competition amongst them who is going to get there first.
Mali: “My role was to tell them: ‘I am Dorothy and I am a masseuse in the hotel’ as soon as I mentioned it they would scream ‘massage, massage’. Most of them couldn’t speak English. They would just say, ‘I come now.’ A tourist from another country would wait even two weeks but in Paradise they wanted it all right on the spot. Sometimes, even before breakfast. Someone would come and tell you, ‘I come for a massage akol kalul, if you don’t do akol kalul, I take another masseuse’.”
“They would say: “I want Harpaya, (ejaculation), I would then ask what this Harpaya means and they would answer, ‘Not only harpaya but we want it ‘all inclusive’, full sex.’ I used to tell them that we don’t do it and he would reply, ‘Read my lips, ‘the women are all included’, the salesman in Tel Aviv promised us that it’s Akol Kalul!’ Sometimes one of the female managers would suggest for to us to follow the guests’ demands just as a guarantee that they would come back.”
Katherine Kaha, a masseuse, confesses that she had to follow the demands… “I would start doing a massage, and then the man would tell me, ‘Do it all over, you must do it’. In case I wouldn’t they would complain to the management. I didn’t like it at all but I did it. They would give me $1 sometimes two, I felt horrible.”
A frequent Israeli guest to the hotel: “There was always this problem with the massage, the Israelis used to abuse the girls to the very limit. It was appalling and it gave Israel a bad name. There were some groups I was really embarrassed to stand near to. They were so bossy and arrogant, they did whatever they liked, and just had good time.”
“One of the Israelis told me,” says Rahima, “you know Rahima, last night they provided me with a little baby girl, only 13 years old, I fucked her and gave her $5 just because she was penniless.” I then asked him, “Wasn’t she the age of your granddaughter?” He didn’t nswer. On the same night he came back to the hotel shouting, ‘African women are the best value for money.’ Let me tell you, here in Africa, it isn’t that common that once you sleep with a woman you go and inform the rest of the world about it. But the Israelis kept it all open, they used to say about us: Mechona Tova, Mechona Tova (Good machine, Good machine).”
The Power to Fuck
The passion for sex wasn’t restricted to the massage rooms and wasn’t solely the business of the single male guests. It was prohibited to let local girls into the hotel but a solution was found. Just across the road, again by an Israeli partnership, a motel named Calypso was established. This was where Israelis hung out at night-time. “Men used to come to our rooms asking us to go out with them,” tells Josef Katan, “but the worst happened in the morning when they shared the details of last night’s affairs with the entire dining room. They used to shout things like ‘ha, I went with her, I fucked and fucked and fucked her all night long and all for less than one dollar’. We understood exactly what they were talking about. When the first group arrived, I was telling myself that surely the second group would be better. But it was exactly the same. From tine to time they used to ask for room service, once the room service crew would enter their room, they would try to touch her. The waitresses were horrified, they never wanted to go with food to the rooms, but my personal case was different, they were afraid of me because I was rude to them. They used to call me ‘big ass’. This was Ok, it is better being ‘big ass’ rather than being their sex slave.”
“Even the married men used to find some ways to the girls’ rooms. For instance, one told his wife, ‘Go to the dining room, I will be right there with you.’ Apparently he disappeared till the morning after. In the morning we were witnessing the woman screaming at her husband during breakfast. Once a man replied to his wife, ‘The women in Kenya are so great, they have a small hole, unlike you having such a silly big one’. All that at breakfast, in the dining room, in public.
When the animosity went wild we always rushed to bring the hotel’s Rabbi in, he would do his best to make peace. Sometimes, the men used to sit in the dining room while the donkeys were having sex outside. As soon as the Israelis noticed the donkeys’ activity they would stand up and show their support: ‘good, good, good, forward, backward, good. good’.” “Occasionally, one would come to me telling me in front of everyone else. ‘I will take Viagra and after that I will have the power to fuck. By the way, what’s your name?’ I would say Rahima. ‘Good, Rahima. I want to fuck you today!’” I asked myself what is going on.
One guest asked me, ‘do you know Chartie? I went with her to the disco, I fucked her but she wasn’t good at all. Originally I planned to give her $10 but eventually I gave her $1 only. He was shouting like a madman and then Chartie arrived in the room. He then pointed at her with his finger and shouted ‘here she is, it was her’.”
Karen Tiglo, a room cleaner: “We couldn’t figure out whether the Israelis were wild animals or human beings. They would all the time offer me $10. I felt so humiliated. After a while they would know who amongst the female crew were desperate for money and would just go for them. Stela Matawa, a waitress: from time to time, a man would approach me abusively, in case I would refuse, the man would come to the dining room and shout, ‘leave out this girl she is crap, I took her to the room and she was useless’.”
Katherine Kaa experienced an especially traumatic event when a seventy-year-old man decided that he was in love with her. “I didn’t love him at all,” she says. “We went out to a discothèque, I was sure that I was just escorting him to assist him killing his boredom. On the way back, he and the taxi driver tricked me, rather than driving back to the hotel, we arrived at a place that hires rooms for the night. Violently, he tried to force me to sleep with him. But I couldn’t. When we went back to the hotel he told me that he never wanted to see me again. And he would report me to the management that I wasted his money without giving a thing back. After my refusal was reported, the hotel manager dismissed me for two weeks.”
According to a few of the staff, not only did the Israeli management fail to denounce these practices, some of the managers actually joined the party (their names are kept with the editors of the newspaper). Raymond, “At the time one of the managers learned to enjoy the massages. He started to demand: ‘do it here, here and there’ just like one of the guests. Another manager would pick girls from the entertainment team, he would say, ‘after all, I am a manager, no one would ask you where you were going.’ I had to accept it although it was rather horrible. The day after when he would pass by me, he would hardly acknowledge me.
Every time, after our performances, one dancer would disappear into one of the manager’s offices. The girls were afraid that this might be a professional issue to do with their performance but then, once in the manager’s office, they realized what it was all about.”