Lalibela: Tastes like scam

Lalibela, as it turns out, is probably one of those tourist towns I mentioned, on par with Marrakesh, Morocco or the like. It’s THE holy city to Ethiopian DSC03507Orthodox Christians, on par with Jerusalem, but it’s also the number one town to visit as a tourist. Consequently, there are scams here. Apparently the “sponsor my education” is a well-known line here, and the people of this town are just professional beggars. If I weren’t such a bleeding heart, I’d stop falling for it. Jacob is around to remind me, though, which is good because I need someone to save me from my naïve generosity.

The dictionary trick is apparently so the boys can sell it back immediately to the shopkeeper and everybody makes a little kickback. And the boy with the pink flipflops seemed so sincere…

What are you supposed to do if you help them and they take advantage of you? When they lie, steal, and cheat you under the pretense of friendship?

I guess the answer is: Kalli, stop giving people something for nothing. Don’t give money without people providing a service in return, don’t buy gifts, toys, or candy for children, don’t “help” beggars. This is my take away message and I hope I can live with it. The fact is, though, based on past experience, catch me at the right moment with the right sob story and I’ll do it again. Sigh.

Ethiopia, to us, feels like a peaceful, passive-aggressive, lazy Nigeria. You know, friendly scammers.

Funny story: I was taken to a police station with the tourist guide who scammed us, someone who told us he was security but in fact was another tour guide, and a police officer who was part of the scam. It was 3 against 1 (me) and little hope of justice being served.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a country where the entire system is corrupt and police officers can be bought off? When you can’t trust anyone around you to be honest, when everyone around you is hoping to steal from you and mislead, and outright lie to you? Where there is no one to be your advocate—you are a rich farenji, you deserve what happens to you? Where even in the hotel you are staying in, the place that should be looking out for its customers, is full of tricksters who even state different prices than the manager has instructed them to?

At least in Ethiopia, unlike Central and South America, the scammers aren’t armed. They’re wimpy and a little pathetic, so you feel sorry for them even as you are frustrated with them. You remind yourself:

Their situation is so much worse than mine, I shouldn’t get mad.

But then after all-day pestering you still do get mad and you tell the young, bright-eyed, talented-at-scamming boy who has asked for something in the exact same lying way the last boy asked: “You know what? In America we work for what we receive! We don’t ask for something from strangers without providing something in return! And even if I did buy a soccer ball, I wouldn’t give it to you!”

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 361 awesome articles for us.

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