Caveat Emptor

March 27th, 2012

If I visit India someday, I think I’ll skip seeing the Taj Mahal. I pretty much have grown to despise touristy stuff. Whether America or Tim-Buck-Two, can we please get off the beaten track?

I’m currently in Bahir Dar, a city on the edge of Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands.

THE Lake Tana that is the source of the Blue Nile.
THE Lake Tana that is dotted with islands (wherein reside ancient monasteries).
THE Lake Tana shown on the movie Mysteries of the Nile.

Yesterday when I arrived I was quite proud of myself for avoiding all the hotel hustlers at the bus station. But then later I was got by another young Ethiopian man at my hotel who setup the tour I did today to the monasteries on the lake.

He was an “in-between person,” what is commonly called a “tout.” Touts are the ones who arrange tours and take a commission off the top. I didn’t think he was a tout because he basically said he wasn’t. He said he was the boat operator. And here I thought I was getting good at spotting these leaches, but he was smooth.

On whole, the trip today went fine, and if this man had been totally honest I would have been quite the happy camper. Honest, his dishonesty didn’t help him at all, and it just made me upset. Of all sins, I think lying is the worst one.

When I was at the holocaust museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) I remember they said it was easy to get the Jews to walk into the gas chambers because they lied to them, telling them they were going into a communal shower to get washed up.

The only bad thing that happened to me is I lost out on some money so I shouldn’t be upset about that as I have enough. Not to mention the whole trip today was still under $50, which is a good deal for what all I got to do and see. But it’s the principal of being deceived that makes me angry.

First thing (which I didn’t find out until later) was he charged me about three times too much for the trip. I was proud of myself for having haggled him down from 450 birr to 300 birr (300 birr is about $18). But…! come to find out, I could easily have gone with another outfit for only 100 birr.

Then, he told me this was a REALLY good time to visit the monasteries because there was a big festival going on today. If I went the next day (which I was planning to do) I would miss the whole thing. Complete lie. Only thing close to that was someone had died on one of the islands and the museum there was closed!

He guaranteed lunch was included in the price. Again, false. I paid for lunch (the tour guide was nowhere to be seen during lunch).

He promised there were TWO other tourists coming with me. False. There was only ONE other tourist, an Ethiopian.

He said he would pick me up at 8:30am today. He showed up at 7:40am at the cafe where I was trying to have a nice relaxing breakfast alone. He then proceeded to sit down at my table and bother me through the entire meal trying to sell me more trips (which I declined, finally suspecting the guy for who he was).

He said the trip would last until 3:00pm. We were done by 1:00pm.

He wasn’t even correct about little things like the HP on the boat, which he claimed was 9.9. It was 25.

Lastly, and the BIGGEST thing he outright lied about was when I asked him point blank if there were any additional hidden fees or expenses. He said no. I asked about tips and he hemmed and hawed and said if I wanted to give a tip to someone I could but they were optional. So my 300 was all inclusive. Boat ride. Lunch. Monastery entrances.

So, was that true? Absolutely not. At each of the five monasteries we visited there was an entrance fee! 100 birr at each location.

Not to mention there was a mandatory guide required at one who charged another 45 birr. This isn’t counting the tips which were expected.

I’ve wanted to visit Lake Tana for a long time. Today I got to. On the lake we boated up to the headwaters of the Blue Nile River. Went up the river a ways even. That was amazing (even though I didn’t see a Hippo). It was especially cool because several weeks ago I was in Alexandria, the exit of the Nile where it slips into the Mediterranean Sea. So I’ve now been to both the start and finish of the longest river in the world: the Nile. Over 4,000 miles long.

BUT, the whole time out today I was irritated. I tried really hard to forget it and enjoy my time, but each priest who asked me to cough up yet another 100 birr for the sake of Mary so I could walk into one more round thatch-roofed hut they called a monastery (where I wasn’t even allowed inside to the most holy-of-holies) I remembered how this was supposed to be an all-inclusive package.

Honestly, it feels that everyone around me today has been hitting me up for money: a tip for this, a fee for that, etc. No joke, the first words I heard out of a humans mouth this morning was from the cleaning lady at my hotel: “Money!” Taken aback, and still bleary eyed, I asked, “What?” She repeated, more insistently, “Money!!”

Today on the boat I remembered Jesus’ words about how if we don’t forgive when people sin against us, our Heavenly Father won’t forgive our sins against him. So I tried to forgive the young guy who had been so deceptive. Yet I still felt angry. Is it possible to forgive and feel angry at the same time?

I was telling my friend Marshal how I had to firmly explain to one insistent local how I am NOT a bank. Marshal told me he has seen a T-Shirt that reads, “I’m Not a Bank.”

Because I am a foreigner, I am assumed to be rich. In particular, because I am a white foreigner I am assumed to be rich. In Haiti people called me “Blan” and demanded money. In Ethiopia I’m called “Ferenge” and hit up for money.

Marshal told me there is another T-Shirt that reads, “My name is not Ferenge.” I’ve been called Ferenge so many times in the last week I’ve lost count.

Of course there is also the more ubiquitous, “YOU!” I’m also called. Kids run along behind, “You! You! You! Give money!”

Being seen only as an object is dehumanizing. I think I realize a little better now how women may feel if a man treats treat them as an object.

It hurts my feelings to be treated kindly only for my money. There has been instance after instance where people appear to be different, to be truly friendly, then turns out they were only more sneaky in how they pilfered my cash.

I’m often asked what I’m learning in my travels. One thing I’m learning is to be mighty suspicious of man-kind. It’s got to where I consider everyone I meet as a lying thief until proven otherwise. In short, I’m becoming cynical of humans.

So this post wasn’t very uplifting, but that’s how I feel.

Yesterday I did meet one nice guy who seemed genuinely friendly (code: he hasn’t asked me for anything yet). Turns out his brother worked with the Mysteries of the Nile film crew. His brother even accompanied the crew on their entire three-month journey! He said his brother was the only local from Bahir-Dar that went, was hired based on his kayaking skills and because he spoke Italian.

Did his brother REALLY work with the film crew? Does he even have a brother? Who knows. But I’m suspicious.

One Response to “Caveat Emptor”

  1. Danny R Says:

    HAR HAR! Come to my house for some smoked pork or ribs or brisket on my new smoker and I won’t beg you for any money! (Doesn’t mean I will refrain from begging you to help me with my movies though!) Hey, I talked to Clement and his trip will be coming up soon, I will email you when I know for sure…
    Bye,
    Danny

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