Dangers, Annoyances and Frustrations

No trip through a third world continent comes without its problems. Below are a few of the many frustrations that I experienced along the way. Some I have already mentioned in my blog’s, but here are some others. At the time these were rather annoying, but they all added to the experience of the trip …

In no particular order:

White skin = money: Probably the most frustrating thing about travelling throughout Africa is the fact that white people are associated with money. This I found to be very, very disappointing! I understand where this comes from as it is probably a by-product of past colonial times. But it annoys me that I am seen as a money bag and that little respect is shown for the actual person inside. Not all white people are rich, just as not all black people are poor. Stereotypes! The fact that I was associated with money meant that I was constantly hounded by beggars, street pedlars and shop owners which was very frustrating.

Spitting: Mainly in the Arab countries there is this custom of spitting anywhere and at any time. Quite disgusting. Much time was spent trying to navigate through the streets whilst trying my best to avoid spit puddles.

Left Hand: It is considered very bad manners to eat food in the Arab countries with your left hand. Left hands are used for toilet duties here! This doesn’t stop them preparing food with their left hands though. Strange!

Washing utensils: I have noticed that in washing kitchen utensils, dish washing liquid is seldom used in Africa. It is a luxury and is considered way too expensive for its purpose. Instead water is used for washing (often just dirty river water). Washing cloths, rags, scourers or drying towels are also seldom used – instead the hands or sand is used to grind away the dirt.

Ethiopian charges and taxes: All payments in Ethiopia attract a further 25% charge on top of any bill received. This is made up of a 10% service charge and a 15% tax. The 10% service charge is also included on payments where no actual service has been provided e.g. doing your own grocery shopping or buying fruit from a market. The payment of a service charge does not mean that tips are not expected at restaurants etc.

Ethiopian Banks: There are many ATM’s in Ethiopia and many of them have both Visa and Mastercard facilities for international monetary transactions. However, I noticed that during banking hours, the ATM’s are often turned off / out-of-service – which means that customers have to enter the bank to draw money. For entering the bank, the bank charges a 2.5 – 5% charge on the value of the withdrawals!! This is theft!

Sudanese Banks: Although ATM’s can be found in the majority of the larger cities in Sudan, they do not accept any foreign ATM cards (Not Visa, Master Card, American Express, Maestro, Cash Cards, Debit Cards, Cash Passports – nothing!). I doubt whether Travellers Cheques will be of any use in Sudan (I never tried)? In addition, internationally accepted credit cards cannot be used to make a cash advance in the banks. Also, very few businesses accept credit card payments. The only way to get Sudanese pounds as a tourist is to exchange USD’s or Euro’s.

Knocking on doors: In Ethiopia I stayed at a number of guesthouses, motels and hotels. When someone knocks on your room door, they don’t knock once or twice and wait for you to answer the door like we would. Instead they continue to knock on the door until you answer it. If you ask “who is it?” there is no response from the knocker – they won’t talk to you unless they can see you. Bloody annoying.

Lights on the bike: Most modern motorbikes these days are legally obliged to travel with their headlights on – even during the day. In fact most modern motorbikes do not have an off-button for the headlights i.e. as soon as the bike is started the headlight is automatically switched on. My bike is one of these. As there are very few (modern) motorbikes in Africa very few people are aware of this. As a result every person and vehicle I pass feels that it is their duty to inform me that I am riding with my lights on. Very annoying! I suppose that the mere fact that they are trying to tell me that my lights are on, shows that they have seen me – which is the whole idea, isn’t it? This got particularly worse the further up Africa I got, so I ended up just pulling the fuse out for the main headlight and riding with it off.

“Cold” drinks: From Malawi north, every time I asked for a drink, whether it was a soft drink or a beer, I was asked if I wanted it served cold?? Is there any other way to have a ‘cold’ drink or beer? The last think I want on a hot day is a hot or warm drink / beer. I was tempted to ask them to please heat my beer up in the kettle ha ha.

‘Where are you going?’: Throughout Africa there is this tendency to ask any stranger where they are going? Now, I understand if the police want to know where you are heading .But it is really no-one else’s business to know what you are doing or where you are heading off to! This was particularly bad in Ethiopia – for some reason complete strangers would ask where you are going and they got really frustrated / annoyed if you refused to tell them where you were heading - they usually then just followed you around or continued to ask (or get their friends to ask) until you told them.

Personal space (especially in Ethiopia): One of the things that I found most frustrating about travelling in Africa (and Ethiopia in particular) was the lack of personal space. People would flock to me and the motorbike and would want to touch and feel everything. I would often come out of the hotel / shops to have people sitting on my motorbike or find that the switches on the handlebars have been tampered with. A few times people (usually little kids) would unzip my pockets or put their hands in my pockets or my bags, just to see what was there – in the majority of cases, I am sure there were no bad intentions, it was just pure inquisitiveness.

Beard: One of the things I found quite funny was that because I have a beard and am faranji (white), the Ethiopians just automatically assumed I was from Israel?? Apparently Israeli’s are the only white people in the world that have beards. The Egyptians assumed I was Spanish because of my dark tan and heavy beard - I was often greeted with 'Hello Amigo" :-)

“You You You”: On seeing a faranji in Ethiopia many of the children run to you begging, with outstretched hands, shouting “You, you, you!”. Very annoying. I had a chat to an old man in Ethiopia who spoke some English and explained to him that it is rude in English to shout “You, you, you!” to someone. He said that he realised that, but a lot of the younger children didn’t realise they were being rude – the word “you’, for some reason, is the only little English they know and they are trying to be friendly by communicating with me in my own tongue.

Faranji Prices: There seems to be two different prices in Africa: One price for the locals and the other price for the foreigners. Although this is done very discreetly in most of the African countries, it was not so in Ethiopia. Shop owners / businesses would quite proudly claim that the local price is X and the faranji price is Y. The faranaji price was normally 3 to 4 times the local price. In one museum, the faranji price was 6 times the local price!! This is racism in its purest form and it annoyed me beyond belief! In Egypt, prices for goods are never displayed - at the tills the seller just guesses a price (which is ussually high if he sees that you are a toursit) and it is up to you to negotiate the price back down again. Annoying and frustrating!

“Give me money / Give me food / Give me pen”: Many small street kids would run towards me shouting “Give me money / food / pen”. Some of these kids had only just learnt to talk and walk yet they were insistent that I gave them something. This could only have been taught to them by the elder kids / parents. Besides, what happened to “Please may I have ...?“ Manners, manners, manners! On one occasion in Malawi, I noticed a mother talking to her kid we walked past them. On instruction from the mother, the kid then jumped up and ran to us begging for money. It infuriated me that this mother was teaching her kid to beg. She could see that I was annoyed with her and just laughed. This kid and her mother were no worse off than any of the other families and I am sure could get by just fine with what they had i.e. there was no need for the kid to be begging – the mom was just hoping the kid could earn her that little bit extra. Kids need to be taught self-respect! They need to be taught the value of work as opposed to begging. Begging from white people will just instil in them an inferior race complex. Isn’t that what Africa has fought so vigilantly against over the past few decades (colonialism / apartheid)?

Treat animals: I was often appalled by the way that Africans treat animals. In Mozambique I saw many dogs that were so covered in disease (usually mange or tick bite fever) that they were just left on the side of the street to die in total pain and agony. I have seen donkey’s that have been made cripple by having to carry loads that are far too large for their bodies to carry. I have seen donkeys and other domestic animals with their legs tied together – or with their one back leg tied to their head so that they do not stray away from their owners. I have seen a baby monkey and a baby baboon tied to a tree with no more than a metre of rope for it them to play. I have seen sheep (still alive) with their legs tied together being transported on the roof of buses – in one case between Addis and Bahir Dar which is a 800km trip on the roof of a bus in the blazing sun. I have a group of about 15 chickens (still alive) with their heads tied together and being slung over a guy’s back (like a rucksack) as he carries them down to the market. I have seen sheep (still alive) strapped to a bicycle being transported into town – one on the carrier and one on the handle-bars. All of these – and there were many more - are disgusting acts of cruelty!

Houses next to roads / Walking: In Mozambique and Malawi (particularly), many houses are built right up next to the main national highways! People walk into and out of their houses at will and it is very worrying being on a motorbike when at any moment one of the doors could swing open and a couple of children could run out onto the street. Also streets are used by children (some as young as four or five years old) to walk to school. As you can imagine, kids often play / fool around at this age, with little regard to the major national highway that is right next to them. I often wonder about parents / governments that would let their young children walk to school (sometimes for tens of kilometres) along a national highway. I would be interested to know what the actual pedestrian fatality rate is in these countries – at a guess I would think that the figure would be pretty close to the HIV statistics.

Motorcycles: The majority of motorcycles in Africa are <200cc, so they have much less power / speed than my motorbike. As a result, motorbikes are on the bottom of the food chain in terms of vehicles on the road. I cannot begin to count the amount of times that I was either pushed off the road by another vehicle swerving into my lane or had to career of the road when an oncoming car decided to overtake (using my lane). Because motorbikes are smaller, other vehicles seem to think they deserve less road space and therefore the left over space is up for grabs. There seems to be very little regard for the rights of the motorbike rider on African roads. I have had many close calls!

People / livestock on the roads: Throughout my journey (except in SA), national highways are used by pedestrians to walk from one place to the next. In Ethiopia, this was particularly bad as people there seem to have very little road sense. Even adults would walk out onto the streets without even so much as a glance to check whether there is an oncoming traffic. The roads are also used to transport livestock which adds to the problem. Herds of cattle / sheep / camels / goats / donkeys are conveyed along the roads from one place to the next. There is no telling in which direction scared and nervous livestock will run. As a result the roads, particularly those in Ethiopia, were extremely dangerous.

Kids throwing stones etc (Ethiopia): Read the postscript (“My view on the people of Ethiopia”) on my blog on Ethiopia.

Queuing: North of Kenya, people do not seem to understand the concept of queuing or just waiting your turn. No queues are formed or enforced by the officials – instead it is replaced by pushing, shoving, shouting and fighting to try and get through. Any trips to banks, shopping centres or border posts turned into a nightmare. Many sense-of-humour failures are witnessed – including mine on quite a few occasions! Absolute chaos! Ridiculous!

Rubbish Disposal: Throughout Africa there seems to be no concept of rubbish disposal. Streets and towns are scattered with rubbish and it is not uncommon to see people simply dropping their rubbish on the floor. I am not sure who they think will pick it up? At a hostel that I stayed at in Sudan, I had placed some rubbish in the rubbish bin only to walk past the same rubbish the next day - it had been thrown over the back wall of the hostel! I was also shocked to see about 10 full black rubbish bags that had been accumulated on the Lake Nasser ferry being dumped over the back of the ferry directly into the lake!

Hasslers in Egypt: As there are many tourists in Egypt, the streets are filled with overenthusiastic (and often bogus) guides that have had centuries of experience in ripping off unsuspecting tourists for trips that are seldom well planned or executed. A further annoyance is the constant aggressive badgering to buy souvenirs. A walk through any tourist area will often result in hundreds of approaches for felucca rides, ancient site tours, restaurants, hotels, taxi's, horse rides, camel rides or just constant badgering to buy souvenirs. Very annoying!!! I have become a professional at just ignoring them – as if they are not even there or as if I am deaf. I find that ignoring them seems to work the best because it makes them more annoyed than they are making me … a bit of payback ha ha.

Speed bumps: In many african countries there are speed bumps before and after any towns and cities. This is not ussually a problem, except that they are very seldom painted and even during the day they are hard to spot. I dont know how many times I flew over a speed bump at pace because I had not seen it - scary. At night they are impossible to see!

Traffic in Cairo: The traffic in Cairo is ridiculous to say the least. Drivers are extremely impatient and travel at ridiculous speeds. Although the roads are often well demarcated with lanes, it seldom happens that drivers will stick to the lanes. Any gap that appears will very quickly be taken by a vehicle intent on getting there first. Drivers drive with their hands almost constantly on the hooter and are quite happy to cut other drivers off that are trying to squeeze their way past. On a motorbike this can be extremely dangerous. Whilst travelling down the ‘ring-road’ at ridiculous speeds (to keep up with the other traffic), cars would often try and squeeze past with only millimeters of clearance from the motorbike. Very nerve-racking and very dangerous! As with the rest of Africa, no motorcyclists wear helmets here. I have never seen such bad and impatient driving before!


Timothy Johnston said...

Hey Boks. Nice stories dude. The spitting thing is not just an African thing. We are in New York at the moment, and not only do you see people spitting on the streets, but the streets are covered in globules of old spit. Its frikken gross. I don't understand it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Boks, keep it up you're doing a wonderful job! Can't wait to hear about the rest of the Egypt leg of your trip, it's one of the places I'm dying to explore on two wheels. Keep it coming!

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