When all the scores are settled, most travellers actually aren’t a lot better than the hustlers, con artists and other shady characters that prey on tourists in large cities of Africa.
10.06.2016 - 17.06.2016 28 °C
Dakar, where I’ve spent the past week, is a city full of hustlers, con artists, bumsters, pickpocketers, and... eh, professional ladies. Let me just say, right off the bat that I didn’t have any serious issues with this rather doubtful crowd. Like the majority of visitors to Africa’s big cities, my stay in Dakar was rather uneventful. Actually, my biggest issue was that the city’s best-known music venues had closed down for the month of Ramadan. If it wasn’t a contradiction a “damn you religious people” would be in order here – for the music here is one of Senegal’s highlights.
Of course, I got hassled. Everybody new to the big city does – foreigners and locals alike. However, I’ve seen most of their plays before. The “do you remember me from the hotel; please lent me some money” was tried a few time on me. Simply telling them that you know the scam and that they can bugger off usually works. The “my friend, can I ask you one question (after which I will drag you through my shop or attach myself to you for which I will eventually demand money)” people are best ignored. Though that might get you a few “are you racist?” shouts. If ignoring them doesn’t initially work, I’ve picked up a neat trick. Just wave your forefinger at them in that ‘no-no-no’ motion. It’s the same way locals tell passing taxis that they aren’t interested, and it works on the hustlers too. The ladies are a little more challenging, but their advances are innocent enough – as innocent as such things can be – and it's usually sufficient to explain to them that I’m not interested in their services – though a simple “not interested” is definitely not enough to scare them off.
It is just about here travellers’ lies enter the picture. It’s a lot nicer and easier to make something up like than to explain to them how I feel about prostitution. “I’m married” or more useful (as married men are often big business), “I love my girlfriend, and she’ll be here soon” are excellent explanations. Skip the last part if you’re staying the same place all night, the girls will be keeping their eyes on you.
But to be honest, lying tend to be an integrated part of travelling. Most of it is harmless and makes things such as border crossings easier. It is nonetheless lying. Leaving a country, we’ll insist that we don’t have any cash we need to declare to customs. I travel with the worth of approximately a thousand dollars in different hard currencies, just in case stuff goes sour. So I’m lying. Further, on entry forms, it’s necessary to state one’s occupation. I still write ‘student’. That’s a lie. Although that is mostly a matter of me not knowing what else to write. I’m not a student anymore. I wouldn’t consider myself ‘an unemployed,’ and ‘traveller’ still seems a bit absurd. While ‘photographer’ or ‘write’ (based on this blog) might land me some unpleasant questions in countries with more oppressive regimes.
Leaving Mauritania, I had semi-consciously overstayed my visa by nineteen days. I had not made any effort to extend my visa so I travelled 120 km out of my way to use a smaller border crossing, where I was less likely to get into trouble. Once there, I guilt-plagued declared that I had no idea that I had overstayed the visa, that I’ve acted in good faith and that I was very, very sorry. In fact, the opposite was the case. Smaller border-crossings don’t see many foreigners, and it is a lot easier to get away with acting like a stupid, unknowing tourist. Thus, my plan worked, and I got out scot free. Unlike some fellow travellers, I’d met, who took the bigger crossing a got fined a hundred euros for overstaying their visas by three days. Luckily, I don’t believe in Karma.
Not all the lies are completely harmless. At least not on the moral spectrum. Beggars are abundant in West Africa. From the elderly, who have neither family nor social security systems to support them; over members of religious sects, whose leaders make a ton of money by preaching an immaterial lifestyle and humility just to have their followers beg for them; to finally the orphans and other kids running around asking for money, candy or pens. Ignoring these people can be difficult.
Both on the soul and because they will make sure to get in your way. The “sorry, I have no change” is not only an excuse travellers use, but in any case it’s probably a lie. It’s one of the lies I’ve managed to overcome. I’ve simply resorted to the heartless, flat-out denying them anything. (I do tend to give children the initial handshake, to at least recognise they existence, which most people don’t). It’s a rather brutal way of dealing with beggars, but no less brutal – from the beggars perspective – than completely ignoring them. One can always tell oneself that we travellers shouldn’t encourage begging (which we shouldn’t) by giving away money. This is true enough as societies are rarely improved by widespread acceptance of begging, but there’s still a long way from this excuse to actually helping. To help my struggling consciousness, I keep a karma budget. One involving real money and not just self-justification. There are plenty of NGO’s around helping the homeless and the orphans, and they can do a lot more good than the few coins you might actually end up throwing at beggars. They also ensure that the money is directed to the right people.
Lastly, at least on this list, is there the lying to new friends. Africans are an unbelievable friendly bunch and as such it’s easy to make new friends here. But life is hard, and it shows by the living standards these people have. I don’t always feel confident about my travelling lifestyle in these situations as it – to be honest – is only possible because I’m part of the world’s upper class by the sheer luck of being born in Scandinavia. At other times, it is simply incomprehensible to my new friends. Simply because long time travelling for travelling’s sake is such a foreign concept. Again the easy, and selfish, way out is a small lie. As I happen to have a friend who’ve just started working in Togo and the idea of migrant workers is easily understood it’s become go-to an explanation I’ve used a few times. “I’m on my way to Togo to work.” It might be more of a hope than a direct lie. I wouldn’t mind picking up a job somewhere here in West Africa, but as for now, I have no job waiting for me, and I’m just a happy traveller skipping through the poorer parts of this planet – telling plenty of small lies on the way to make everything a bit easier.
After having lost all moral integrity writing this, I might as flush out all the self-loathing with a beer, or six. So I will talk to you all later. Cheers.
If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ to this blog on Facebook?