16 October 2012

Journey South, Pt. 3 - Digression about how foreigners conduct themselves in Ethiopia

After the amazing ride we had dinner and got together with another guide at a local bar, which really felt like someones living room with strange lighting. I listened to guide horror stories of absolutely crazy tourists - a bunch of French backpackers who were too cheap to pay the park entrance fee of 90 Birr (less than $5) a day, rented horses for a trek, and then insist the guides make them dinner because they were paying them. When they were leaving they paid the guides and told them to go drink it away in town. Even though they were too cheap to pay for the bus back to Sheshemene, they had plenty of weed to smoke. There was also the story of a German tourist who cried every time he saw a new endemic bird, and then screamed at his guide for not telling him that they would see this bird. The guide telling me was getting increasingly drunk on gin. His nickname is the vampire, because his personality changes after dark...

I have met other tour guides who tell me crazy stories about clients. A Czech woman who insisted on visiting remote churches, yet would not make the walk to the church and demand to be brought back to the hotel. A Brazilian man who complained about everything in Ethiopia, saying it was a stupid country one too many times. An Italian woman who tried over and over again to hold hands with the priests and could not understand why it was inappropriate. I hope my behavior doesn't end up as one of these stories...

I have heard other awful stories from other Ethiopian friends or the priests about child molestation and sexual abuses by US Peace Corps Volunteers, Catholic lay missionaries, and other tourists. Sometimes they report, sometimes they do not, but these people often just get kicked out of the country. One wonders if there are repercussions at home? Many of the prostitutes operating in Addis Ababa are underage, but that doesn't stop United Nations or African Union or Embassy personnel from soliciting them. And frequently. I was speaking with a prostitute the other night in a hotel, trying to get a read on her. I even thought about paying her fee for the night so she could have it off and think about other options for her life.

I have to say that I have heard very disappointing stories here in Ethiopia about the conduct of tourists or other foreigners who come to Ethiopia. I am not sure what the deal is with these people. One person who is working here said that there are three Ms that come to Africa in general: Missionaries, Mercenaries, and Misfits. Makes me wonder where I fit in, though I'd like to think I am just breezing through in my 5 months time here...I had heard some stories of corruption in the Balkans, some pretty bizarre stories, but here the stories are less bizarre and more depressing. Why is diplomatic immunity being offered to a pedophile or a drunk driver who kills someone? I know it is hard to live away from your own culture, but it is not an excuse to act disrespectful or like a criminal or nutcase or worse. There are many many cases of clients trying to hook up with their guides. Sex tourism happens often in places like The Gambia or Thailand. I really hope that Ethiopia is not becoming one of these destinations too.