The Great Tour Guide War
May 14, 2005
There comes the time in every man's life when he finds his first gray hair. Had I been rushing off to work, I believe I would have freaked out, and had a major pre-midlife crisis. But instead, I was sitting in a park in Addis Ababa, on a sunny afternoon, with a pretty French girl. If I must get old, this seems to be the way to do it.
However... the girl's response, in my moment of almost crisis, did nothing to comfort me. She told me "Don't worry. It's not gray, it's white."
Maybe I needn't worry. Perhaps, the hair was just sun-bleached after all.
The Great Tour Guide War
Early on in my stay in Addis Ababa, some of the local tour guides decided they didn't like me. Two Rasta guys in particular, complained that I was taking away their business by acting like a tour guide. They warned me to stop.
Acting like a tour guide? I'm social. I talk to lots of other tourists; especially cute girls. But, I wasn't acting any more like a tour guide than any other traveler. We all share information; telling each other where we've been; what was good and what is worth skipping.
Then I met the enforcer for the tour guide mafia. He was a mean-looking guy with a badly broken nose. He described himself as the "coordinator" of the tour guides in the Piazza. He said he'd heard reports that I was acting like a guide, and again I was warned to stop.
This went on for weeks. Occasionally, as I wandered past the two Rastas loitering in the street they would tell me how much they disliked me. And once in a while, I'd have a run-in with the enforcer who talked to me with increasingly serious overtones and implied threats.
Finally, a tour guide told me that "bad people" were after me. He said that they had knives and warned me to be very careful. I was slightly scared by the knife comment, but mostly I was sick of the bullshit and the hassling - after all... I was not acting like a tour guide.
I wasn't sure what to do. Going to the police might just cause more trouble. After some thought, I came up with an idea. I went in search of tour guides and found a couple of them having lunch. These were not the one's who had threatened me, but I told them about the threats and said that if I was attacked there would be a huge warning in the next edition of Lonely Planet, "Danger: tour guides in Addis Ababa stabbed a tourist." I told them that if I was attacked none of them would ever work again.
The word spread quickly. Random tour guides started approaching me in the street "Hey... There is no problem. Everyone will leave you alone. You can do whatever you want here."
The story got more surreal the following evening. One of the guides, really a young kid, pulled me aside and told me "Don't tell anyone this, but I'm (secret) police. I like you. If you have any more problems, tell me and I'll take care of them."
After that the two Rasta guys asked me when I was going to leave, and sometimes begged me to leave, but the rest of the guides were super-nice and overly-friendly towards me.
I only had one other sort of run-in with the police while I was in Addis. One night, I was taking photos from my balcony. Two days later, a taxi driver let me know that someone had called the police about the photos. He said that the federal police were investigating what I'm doing in Addis, and warned me that I should change hotels. Addis Ababa is a huge city, but the Piazza is more like a small town. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and seems to know everything about their business.
For some reason, the police investigating me freaked me out more than the
implied threats from the tour guides. I considered changing hotels, but
decided that would be too drastic, especially since I really liked my
room. Instead, I rushed to burn my photos to CD, and quickly deleted any
even vaguely questionable photos from the camera. After that, I waited
for the police to show up. But, I never heard from them.
The advertising slogan for the Ethiopian tourist industry is "13 months of Sun". There are indeed 13 months every year in Ethiopia [ journal entry about that ] and there is a lot of sun. But, when I reached Weyto, the temperature was well over 100 degrees (38C), and I had to laugh. Enough sun already - please just give me some shade.
While I was in Addis, I read reports of extreme weather in California; huge rainstorms, flooding, and landslides. I emailed a friend asking him what was going on. Then, I honestly, but somewhat snidely, told him that I couldn't remember the last time that I even saw a cloudy day.
Well... there's Karma somewhere. A few days, later the sky opened up, the wind picked up, and the rain starting pouring down. I was shocked as the rain turned to hail and everyone ran for cover. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world at 7200 feet (2200m). The wet season had just started, and I was about to learn that the wet season in Addis Ababa is very wet, and very cold
But, my karma overall is very good. Six months earlier, in Tanzania, my shoes were stolen (That's not bad karma - that just life in Africa). Since then, I had worn nothing but my Tivas. My feet turned black which no amount of scrubbing could get out, and in the very dry mountainous air of Addis Ababa the skin started cracking. When the cracks split open, and my feet started bleeding, I decided that I needed shoes. One day after buying a good pair of boots, the bad weather started.
Equipped with the right footwear, I didn't mind the rainstorms at all.
They would last only a couple of hours. I'd duck into a
restaurant, order a coffee or a beer and wait out the storm. Lightning
would accompany the storms, which was fun to watch.
With my new camera I finally got some good (but not yet great) lightning photos.
Language and culture
Just a few notes on the Ethiopian language:
Many Americans hate this country, but I'm very happy in Ethiopia. In Omorate, I got a great first impression of Ethiopia, which undoubtedly gave a positive spin to the rest of my experiences here. But, what other tourists complain about is being hassled - I'm different, as a serious extrovert, I'd rather, in general, be hassled than be ignored.
Kids yell, "You! You! You!" at tourists as they walk down the street. This drives some tourists nuts, but I would yell back equally loudly "You! You! You!" in Amharic, ("Ahnte! Ahnte! Ahnte!"). This would always make the kids laugh.
One thing that I did struggle with was the use of gasps by the Ethiopians. In the Western world, a gasp is a sign of utter shock and terror. In Ethiopia, it means "yes". The two meanings for the same sound, are completely contrary. For months, any time that anyone gasped - and it happened a lot - I'd jump a bit. But slowly, I got used to it, and by the time I left Addis I started using it myself.
Another oddity was the question "How are you?" In Ethiopia, the only correct answer is "fine". Whenever I answered the question with another answer, such as "good" or "okay", the Ethiopians would stare back at me looking confused, and then ask "Are you fine?"
I will confess that hanging out in Addis for 3 months was at times boring. I was studying Amharic (without a dictionary) and asked all of my friends for the word "bored". No one knew it. Upon reflection, I don't think that the concept, or therefore the word, really exists anywhere in Africa. People sit on street corners, all day, every day, with nothing to do - but there is nothing boring about doing nothing - that's just the natural state of being here in Africa.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
I'm glad i can finally leave a comment! I've been trying to, but gave up -- but now I'm trying again. Thanks for your posts on Ethiopia and other travels.
There's something in the quality of your Addis Ababa posts -- perhaps the leisurely pace in your life has seeped into your writing, but it's great. I really feel the moments of your life there.
When you live somewhere for 3 months, you start to get to really know it. I think that comes through in these Addis journals.
Anthoney - Aug 15, 2005
I am sdo happy to read your web site.
I heared you have put my picture on your web site and saw it.
First I thought you have put me as a bad Guide and was really annoied then I saw the reality as I am a better one in piazza.
I would be so happy if you put my picture separately from the text talking about the bad ones.
Because people may think that I am the bad one as they see at the glance.
Thank you very much for your supportiver reality and experiance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
also I wish I could have a chance to have my email put on the web site or loney planet describing that I am the best.
Lots of Love
Misha - Aug 15, 2005
He's Katz. Adam Katz. 007 Tour Guide. Licensed to chill.
Bob - Aug 15, 2005
Haha - I love the tour guide story. Classic! Well told, too.
Carmel - Aug 21, 2005
So are you leaving Addis soon? This entry has the ring of a wrapping-up?
That "you you you" thing would make me crazy in five minutes!
Jay Wiedwald - Aug 21, 2005
Enjoying your notes.
Re: rains in Ethiopa...if you check out: http://www.zki.caf.dlr.de/applications/2005/ethiopia/ethiopia_2005_en.html
you will find that they resulted in major flooding SE of Addis Ababa in mid May.
Cheryl - Aug 21, 2005
I would never have considered NOT going to the police... but I guess you learn pretty quickly how a place operates.
You are a rock star. :)
sid and fern - Aug 21, 2005
keep the world inside info coming
Danae - Aug 21, 2005
As always, a GREAT read. I swear I feel like I'm there with you. I wish I were, actually--I sooo need to get out of the US again and this year I don't even have the Playa to escape to. :(
alice Ross Leon - Aug 21, 2005
After the 'tour guide war and the police story, I laughed out loud at '' In the Western world, a gasp is a sign of utter shock and terror. In Ethiopia, it means "yes"!
Congratulations on your 'white' hair. You have joined the ranks of the 'wise ones' ; )
Mark Nenadov - Aug 21, 2005
As always, I find your journal entries fascinating. Thank you for providing a window into your Ethiopian travel experiences!
tish - Aug 26, 2005
i felt like you were sitting right beside me telling me all about the guides - great job!
world tripper - Jun 27, 2006
I've not been to half the place as you - but am looking forward to the trip and will practice my language skills - I'll remember the you, you, you thing.
Thanks for the resource. Are you still there?
lucy - Feb 27, 2008
what the heck