Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lalibela: Tastes like scam

Lalibela, as it turns out, is probably one of those tourist towns I mentioned, on par with Marrakesh, Morocco or the like. It’s THE holy city to Ethiopian DSC03507Orthodox Christians, on par with Jerusalem, but it’s also the number one town to visit as a tourist. Consequently, there are scams here. Apparently the “sponsor my education” is a well-known line here, and the people of this town are just professional beggars. If I weren’t such a bleeding heart, I’d stop falling for it. Jacob is around to remind me, though, which is good because I need someone to save me from my naïve generosity.

The dictionary trick is apparently so the boys can sell it back immediately to the shopkeeper and everybody makes a little kickback. And the boy with the pink flipflops seemed so sincere…

What are you supposed to do if you help them and they take advantage of you? When they lie, steal, and cheat you under the pretense of friendship?

I guess the answer is: Kalli, stop giving people something for nothing. Don’t give money without people providing a service in return, don’t buy gifts, toys, or candy for children, don’t “help” beggars. This is my take away message and I hope I can live with it. The fact is, though, based on past experience, catch me at the right moment with the right sob story and I’ll do it again. Sigh.

Ethiopia, to us, feels like a peaceful, passive-aggressive, lazy Nigeria. You know, friendly scammers.

Funny story: I was taken to a police station with the tourist guide who scammed us, someone who told us he was security but in fact was another tour guide, and a police officer who was part of the scam. It was 3 against 1 (me) and little hope of justice being served.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a country where the entire system is corrupt and police officers can be bought off? When you can’t trust anyone around you to be honest, when everyone around you is hoping to steal from you and mislead, and outright lie to you? Where there is no one to be your advocate—you are a rich farenji, you deserve what happens to you? Where even in the hotel you are staying in, the place that should be looking out for its customers, is full of tricksters who even state different prices than the manager has instructed them to?

At least in Ethiopia, unlike Central and South America, the scammers aren’t armed. They’re wimpy and a little pathetic, so you feel sorry for them even as you are frustrated with them. You remind yourself:

Their situation is so much worse than mine, I shouldn’t get mad.

But then after all-day pestering you still do get mad and you tell the young, bright-eyed, talented-at-scamming boy who has asked for something in the exact same lying way the last boy asked: “You know what? In America we work for what we receive! We don’t ask for something from strangers without providing something in return! And even if I did buy a soccer ball, I wouldn’t give it to you!”

5 comments:

lachristensen said...

That is so frustrating. >.<

I know there was one beggar woman who I actually saw twice on the streets of Armenia. The first time she was begging for money "in order to get back home to her family, turns out she doesn't have money for the fare home" and I asked what she had to sell me. So I attempted to do an exchange.

The second time I saw her she didn't recognize me and tried to pull the same scam. So I got out my cellphone and asked for her phone number so I could call her family and tell them what had happened. She freaked out and pretty much fled the scene.

I haven't been able to feel the same way about beggars ever since. I, too, don't have a job, but I am trying to DO something about it.

It's so sad that people can allow themselves to think that money and getting it off others is the way to live.

-Laura

Laura: The Sushi Snob said...

We really aren't doing beggars any favors by giving them money. It all goes back to "give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime." It's so sad that these people have so little dignity that they don't feel like they can work for anything. There are even people who join the Church for the welfare program (ask me how I know), and it's sad.

Abel Feleke said...

Jacob and Kalli Hiller must be emotional, because some lazy persons and beggers are available in every country. The same is true for Lalibela and Ethiopia. Scamers are more prevalent in their country than Lalibela. There is one Ethiopian Qoute "Thief persone never believe anyone"
Zinabie

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

I certainly don't mean to offend anyone. We just had daily occurences with being scammed by nearly every person we met while in Lalibela. I loved Ethiopia and hope to visit it again, but as a tourist it seems we stuck out and had problems that the average Ethiopian probably doesn't encounter.

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

The above comment was Kalli... this is Jacob...

Abel... There have of course been schemes, scams, and begging in every country we have been in.

But.. Ethiopia definitely takes the cake for begging, and creating "scam-begging" (when you beg for something but really are going to use it for money).

Every person we met, even those we supposed friends... asked for money from us at some point.

I don't really know why... we've been in poorer countries where it was not like that at all.

I attribute it to the massive amounts of aid that were given to Ethiopians after the draught and following famine. It seems to have engendered a culture of "gimme"...

It seems to me that the countries and areas that get the most handouts... want the most handouts.

I respect Ethiopians, their character, and their potential too much than to believe the only way to progress is through handouts... these are amazing people.

Despite the almost incessant begging, or creative begging I still loved Ethiopia, the culture, the food, the good nature of the people... I'm sure we'll be back to visit again.

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