Don’t be the stupid cliché foreigner

You remember that legendary taxi driver I wrote about earlier?

Well he is still on fire with his life and becoming one of my favourite characters here.

Tuesday this week was one of the luckiest days in his life because he had happened to take two American tourists to the nearby Bezavit Hill, a place known as Haile Selassie’s favourite spot in Bahir Dar. Decades ago the Emperor had a summer house built for himself on that hill.

So these two guys had asked the driver what the price would be for him to take them to Bezavit hill and back.

As a polite Ethiopian the driver did not say a price; it is traditionally considered a bit impolite to do that when asked directly. Negotiation is the way to go.

So he left the decision to the two Americans. They ended up paying him 120 dollars. That is about 2500 ETB which is much more than the average Ethiopian makes a month. A ridiculously large amount of money.

The driver was obviously over the moon yesterday and I don’t blame him. I was happy for him.

But on a grander scale I feel frustrated that someone who travels to the other side of the world has not taken the time to learn a few things about the country they are traveling to:

  • What is customary to pay for e.g. taxi travel?
  • Are tips common?
  • What are the basic words in the local language? (this is your best self-defense mechanism anywhere in the world in addition to common sense)

The thing is that these sort of ‘accidents’ make the vacation of future Bahir Dar tourists a lot less fun.

After 120 dollar cases like this, the word will spread and faranjis will notice that they are paying more for everything.

But hey, wouldn’t this be considered a nice way to support the poor Africans (that image of the poor African is one of our most common prejudices of this continent, isn’t it)?

I don’t think so. It leads to unfortunate consequences. Some time ago we tried to take a walk on Bezawit Hill but couldn’t do that because a local guy was seriously stalking us and demanding money for entering a public park. This is the result of some tourist paying him at some stage. It became his business.

Or it results in local children yelling ‘Money, money!’ whenever they see you. No kid should start their life begging from a person with a white face.

You don’t want to be that faranji who spends his or her money recklessly. It is not a sustainable way to support people. There are other ways, such as supporting the education of Ethiopians.

*

So here are some tips for bajaj driving in Bahir Dar:

  1. Don’t negotiate the price if you are travelling short distances within the city. Just hop in and once you hop out, pay about 2 ETB/person for one stretch. For a longer stretch 5 ETB/person is reasonable. Locals pay even less.
  2. If you know you need to travel far the bajaj driver considers this a contract service. The same contract mentality applies for night hours and the rainy season. You tell the driver where you are headed and then you negotiate the price. If you are driving within the city limits, the acceptable (faranji) price will be something between 20-100 ETB.
  3. If you plan on staying in town for long and have a local phone, it is useful to have the phone number of one reliable bajaj driver. This makes it easier for you to negotiate the price and decreases your chances of being constantly ripped off.
Disclaimer: these price ranges are subject to change! Exchange rates are constantly changing. The simplest way is to ask a local person for the price range. It can be a person at the hotel reception, for instance. Or check Lonely Planet. You’ll find tips for anywhere in the world.

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