The Westerners

Alex and I sit awkwardly next to two Americans as they yell at our cab driver at the Wli National Park. From Hohoe we had found a share cab to the falls and picked up two others who happened to be from the US. The ride was filled with pleasant conversation, the usual “where are you from, why are you here.” When we arrived however, the mood dampened. The driver had told us 1 cedi a person, but when we got out, he said he actually ment 2. As in 2/person, not 2 for both. We all assumed he was trying to rip us off. After all, this happens an unfortunate amount. He came inside the guide office where our fellow cab-mates continued a yelling match. It became quite clear the problem had been language, we paid, thinking it was settled. But the other girls wouldn’t have it, out of principle, they claimed. And I have sympathy for them, I too am a bit jaded from the constant mark up for westerners, which is the norm in all developing countries. Then a woman in the office uses the argument we’ve heard before, in Peru when a tour guide almost tricked us out of $40: “You’re rich, it’s nothing to you.” Of course, this set one of the girls off, who throws her hands in the air and exclaims “fuck this country, I can’t wait to go home.” Though she did eventually pay. And the temper didn’t end, on the tricky route down, she slipped on some loose rocks-most people do, we were lucky not to have fallen, and as she hits the ground in a controlled fall, its clear she’s done. She screams more profanities about the country and lack of tourism infrastructure and cries. All of the emotions of the day, fueled by physical exhaustion, I feel for her. But I have to say, this is a bit dramatic. As we leave the park, we tip our guide well, certainly, he deserved it.

The woman in the office also turns to me, since I’ve paid without argument and says “you are a good woman, you’ll sleep peacefully tonight.” A girl standing near me turns and says “whoa, good to know…I guess.” I felt seriously uncomfortable, as if I had just avoided a hex, or something equally as ridiculous.

The ride home was filled with more drama. Because we over-packed the van the group onboard all decided that they wouldn’t pay 2 cedi, but 1.5 (this is a 35 cent difference). The driver explains that because it was Sunday, and less transportation is available they have to charge a bit more for all the empty rides up to the park to get passengers. It makes sense, but of course, others argue. We get out early, near our hotel and pay the full fare. A girl in the van says, I guess we’re all paying 2 cedi now.

Neither Alex or I have encountered this before. Yes, we’ve been frustrated, but we’ve never been so argumentative. Though it can be a pain, it seems the rational should be this: you have decided to visit this country, it isn’t your own, you cannot expect the same concessions. Further, regardless of your budget you are likely far more rich than they will ever be and that 50 cents you’re arguing over as a point of pride may be what puts food on their table; it is always better to err on the side of generosity. Not to mention, it saves you a gigantic headache. It seems simple enough.

I understand. I truly do. And perhaps knowledge is the problem. Take Lima. Grab a cab across town on the street: $8, after he’s asked $12 and you bargain down-because this is expected. Have the hotel cab give you a lift: $25. You may never know just how outrageously you’re overpaying-but once you do, everything becomes a chance to bargain, and certainly, it often gets out of hand. And on occasion, perhaps the extra money is worth it, but most of the time it isn’t. This morning, I had to get to the University on my own, using public transportation. It took a bit longer, but cost about $1, a chartered taxi would cost $14. But, as a trade-off you get to wander the market, nearly being trampled or hit by a car, trying to negotiate what is being said as the drivers yell over one another with vague descriptions of where they’re going. You wait until someone shows you where to go, nerves are almost always “shot.” And after a few weeks of this, either you adapt, and learn, or you get frustrated-clearly our friends had experienced the later. The result apparently is aggression and skepticism.

Alex and I felt disheartened, is this the impression many young western travelers are giving the rest of the world? Hopefully, what we witnessed was not the norm, but I have the strong impression that is-which is quite unfortunate, maladaptive, and fosters hostilities between locals and foreigners.

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