Christmas and the Dakar Hotel Affect

Merry Christmas! Flat screen TVs on sale now! Jesus is born! Buy your season passes for Six Flags! Oh Little Town of Bethlehem…bring your family to Great Wolf Lodge for the holidays…Away in a Manger…give the gift of massage...O Holy Night…two for one laser hair removal in time for the New Year!

All I want is some Christmas music, so I have tuned in to my local Christian radio station. But in between songs and radio announcers’ smooth voices telling me that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, I am bombarded with ads that give me an entirely different message.

I don’t watch TV, I avoid the malls, and yet, I still cannot escape.
My whole American culture sets me up. I really want to live a simple life. But it is hard here where everyone has so many gadgets and comforts.

Much as I hate to admit it, my surroundings tend to set my expectations.

The power of surroundings was brought home to me on the way home from Senegal earlier this year. During my three weeks of midwifery internship in the village of Kafountine, I slept on a mattress on the floor that I shared with another midwife. I used an outhouse, and flushed it with water I drew myself from the well. I took cold bucket showers with the well water too, in the outdoor shower stall made from reeds. I washed my clothes by hand.

And you know? I was perfectly fine, didn’t feel deprived at all. When I went to the simple grocery store on the corner the biggest luxury items there to tempt me were coke (the kind you drink) and chocolate. When I walked down the street, I didn’t see one person on their iphone. Most people didn’t even have a cell phone. Or a car. No one I met had personal computers- everyone went to the internet shop and paid a dollar or two to send email. Lots of people didn’t even have electricity.

So I lived like everyone around me, contentedly for the most part.

Then on the way home, our second flight was delayed. We were stuck for an extra day in the capital city of Dakar. After hours of waiting around in the airport, sometime after midnight we were finally bussed to a hotel where our airline agreed to put us up for the night.

And not just any hotel. A five star luxury hotel, smack dab in West Africa, with six stories, automatic glass doors, crystal chandeliers and a big fancy vestibule.

And lines and lines of weary travelers, waiting for a room. (Ours was the third flight in a row from Dakar to New York to get canceled, so you can imagine.)

For some reason, our group of five exhausted midwives was one of the last to get assigned to rooms. The people at the desk asked us how many we needed. It seemed logical to us, based on our knowledge of American hotel rooms. We told them we would split up, two in one room, and three in another. The people behind the desk looked confused. We kept saying as long as there were two beds in each room we would be fine, and they finally gave us what we (thought we) asked for.

When the three of us in my sub-group opened the door after 1:30 AM ready to collapse, we groaned. Apparently a “double bed” is a different concept in Africa, even in a five star hotel. Turns out it was two narrow single bed mattress on a flat wooden king sized bed frame. There was a good deal of wood visible between the mattress and it would definitely only sleep two adults. I actually thought about just sleeping on the floor, but then I remembered where I was, and got huffy instead. I let the other two gals into the room, marched along the hall, down the elevator and back to the fancy front desk in the now deserted foyer.

I then began a dialog with several personnel that eventually led all the way up the manager, trying to work out this problem. It seemed rather simple to my American mind. This is a hotel, it is the middle of the night, I’m exhausted, give me a key to another room, and no one gets hurt. But it presented a huge dilemma to the staff. Something about me getting a whole room to myself after they had only allotted two to our group, and the paperwork that involved. Or maybe it was something else cultural that I missed. I was pretty loopy by that time.

As the debate went on, I looked around the deserted lobby and started to get really hacked off. All of the hundreds of people who had been here earlier were stowed away sleeping in nice clean beds and I alone was still standing in the hall. I looked up at all the room doors visible from the round atrium. Probably dozens of them were empty at this very moment.

My expectation had gone up considerably in the two days since I had left Kafountine where I happily slept on half a mattress on a concrete floor in a grass hut. Now that I was standing in an environment designed for the affluent, I felt entitled to their standard of living and treatment.

And demanding it. Yes, I’m sorry to admit it, but I turned into one of THOSE Americans. I didn’t make any friends or build any cultural bridges that night, but I did get a key.

It was close to 3:00 AM when I finally opened my very own door. Ironically, I discovered a king sized bed. Had that one big bed been in the original room undoubtedly all three of us would have collapsed on it instantly.

Processing this experience later showed me a lot about myself. When no one around me has anything, I don’t expect much either. But when everyone around me has lots of privileges and stuff…well, if I’m not careful it can trigger what I now call the Dakar Hotel affect.

Christmas in an American city threatens to flip that switch almost constantly. Commercials on TV and the radio. Newspaper ads. Internet ads. The end caps at all the stores, stocked with seasonal delights. Even the music in the grocery store. My environment is designed for the affluent and tells me I’m entitled to all it has to offer.

And this in the name of Jesus’ birthday. My Jesus, who deliberately choose to be born into the least affluent environment in the world He came to save. He came from a five star place where He was treated like the King he was, to something less privileged than I will ever know, and never demanded anything. While on earth, He walked among the rich and the poor but He didn’t let anything in His surroundings change who He was, or influence His behavior, or His expectations.

And He never acted like He was entitled. In fact, He laid down everything He was rightfully entitled to, and died for me.

He is my Hero.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. Make me more like you.


  1. I LOVED this post. What a huge "aha" moment to realize that our sense of entitlement goes up when we are around those who seem to actually be entitlted to everything.

    I have to recommend my sister-in-law's sites to you. Her and her husband are headed back to Senegal after 6 years in osteopathy school in France. My brother-in-law will be opening up his own clinic eventually. (their site for ministry) (their personal site)

    You can follow my sister-in-law on Twitter at kmasson. Hope you all can be a good connection for each other!

  2. Thanks for this post.

    My sister-in-law sent me the link to it and I loved it. You're absolutely right - our sense of entitlement can easily get out of hand. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. So happy to "meet" you both! Thanks for connecting- I'm looking forward to following your blogs too.


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