I have been attempting to get cultured in Ethiopia. During my first weekend, while wandering around trying to orient myself, I ended up at St. George’s Cathedral and Museum and a couple weekends ago I went to the National Museum.
Going to St. George was not so much my destination as it was trying to avoid some guy who sidled up to me and walked alongside for way too long. I was headed to the National Museum that day when this guy sidetracked me, chattering in broken English about such inanities like Hollywood stars and gossip. At first I politely responded to his queries: “I really don’t know anything about what Paris Hilton is up to.” Then I realized that eventually he was going to ask me for money. I just stopped responding to him and even walked ahead of him and crossed a street or two without him knowing. But he always ended up next to me spouting some idiocy about America he gleaned from some bad show on satellite TV. He was like a bad rash I couldn’t get rid of. Finally I told him “I am walking the city alone because I want to be alone.” That didn’t deter him. I saw St. George’s across the street and crossed over to it. He followed. I reached the entrance and he realized that I wasn’t about to pay his fee into the grounds. He went on a spiel about how he lives with his grandmother and how he showed me so much while walking that I should give him some Birr. I just left him behind. He was a real birr under my saddle.
This is one of the real nuisances about Addis Ababa. If it’s not shoeshine boys or taxi drivers compelling you to take their service there is always someone who just walk next to you talking, hassling you, trying to entice you to part with your money. This isn’t event he beggars. Three times it happened during my last constitutional through the city. This time I was returning from the National Museum and enjoying a long walk on a sunny afternoon. Because the roads are all over the place and the street signs suspect I often reference the map in the guidebook. Taking the guidebook out of my bag is like chumming the waters. Out of the woodwork people come up to me wondering what I need, how they can be of assistance, what can they show me for some Birr. And once they get next to you it’s impossible to get rid of them. Their leech-like abilities are remarkable, which is why I am now remarking upon them. So since my first run-in with the guy at St. George’s and a story told to me by a German named Christian, staying at Mr. Martin’s I am not very polite or talkative to these hangers-on. Incidentally, on this same day, I noticed the first guy from St. George’s, his mouth endlessly yapping, walking with another white guy.
So Christian’s story. On Christian’s first night he went out to walk around or get a bite to eat. A man approached and said he was from the tourism board and that he noticed Christian just arrived. He welcomed Christian and asked if he would like to see some “cultural show” with “traditional dancing.” (These words are in quotes, not because of my love of quotation marks but because this is classic Ethiopian scam talk.) Christian agrees that this may be a fun opportunity and follows the man. As they are walking more men join the group. Soon they are in a shantytown. They ask Christian if he can purchase soft drinks. Christian agrees. Next thing they are in a shanty and liquor and soft drinks are being served and dancing, not very traditional as it is described to me, occurs. The dancing and music stop and Christian is presented with a bill for Birr 1000. He ineffectively argues about the bill and ends up paying Birr 800.
Now, as Christian was explaining this to me, I interrupted at the point they were entering the shantytown. “This sounds like…”
“Yes, just like it is in the Lonely Planet guidebook.”
“I read it too but realized too late. I was in a shantytown. What was I supposed to do?”
I should have just copied and pasted the Lonely Planet description of this scam, which they call the Siren Scam. It happened to Christian exactly as described in the Lonely Planet book down to the mentions of “cultural show”, “traditional dance,” and a Birr 1000 bill. I have some sympathy for Christian, as I am not sure what I would have done if I ended up in a shantytown hovel being asked for exorbitant amounts of Birr. I don’t even carry that much Birr on me so I probably would have just shrugged my shoulders. “I have Birr 10. Does that cover soft drinks?”
Two of the hucksters who approached me recently brought up “traditional dance” and “cultural show.” The first guy was smooth talking and nicely dressed (a key player in the scam as mentioned in Lonely Planet) and after he described the dancing and culture I could see how someone could be enticed. If I wasn’t forewarned I might have gone with him. But don’t they realize that with the limited amount of white people in Addis we might talk to one another about scams like this. I think it is a decent scam, though. Partly due to wanting to trust strangers in a foreign land as well as not wanting to miss out on anything real cultural or traditional while in that foreign land. This can make one gullible. What if there really was a cultural show with traditional dance put on for charity? Wouldn’t that have been great to see? A couple blocks after telling one guy I was not interested another guy came up and offered the same traditional song and dance routine to me. “Another guy just told me about that. I’m still not interested.” He beat a quick exit.
These scammers sidetracked me from talking about the museums. Some other time.