Wednesday, May 11, 2005

"No Problem, no problem..."

Living on limited funds is easy in most of the world. In South East Asia, India, most of Latin America and Africa it is not difficult to sleep between sheets, eat well and get around on a budget of between $5 and $20 a day. This budget could be reduced a lot more through commitment to a place for an extended period. A hotel in Kashmir might run to 5 bucks a night, but an extended lease on an apartment or small house could cut sleeping expenses dramatically. Without a job to get back to, there are few practical difficulties to renting in the 3rd world. It's not a matter of looking up a landlord in the yellow pages, but there will be no shortage of people eager to meet your needs and keep you nearby for as long as possible.

To locals, Westerners are walking gold mines. Many people in poor countries scrape together a living by latching on to tourists, serving as interpreter, agent and tourguide all at once, without a set fee. Every taxi driver in Manila, Bangkok, Havana and Lagos has a brother who owns a restaurant, or a cousin with a hotel. In Cairo's Khan al-Khalili market last year a tall, thin, dark skinned man of about 40 took me to his father's spice shop, which was run by a short, pale man in his early thirties. Likewise, when I bought cigars on the black market in Havana, the guy who latched on to me at the taxi stand had a "cousin" who worked in the Monte Cristo factory and miraculously appeared in an alley at the exact moment I asked about cigars.

The refrain for these agents is "No problem, no problem." It is in their interest to make themselves indispensable to you, which means facilitating your requests and even protecting you to some extent. Finding a place to live for a week, or a month, is often as simple as asking.

This doesn't mean you don't have to bargain. Agents work on commission, so they want you to spend as much money as possible. At the same time however they want you to be happy, so getting the price you want is as simple as expressing displeasure or walking away. The laws of supply and demand are on your side. Although the best deal available for even the most stubborn bargainer will be much higher than the local rate, it will also be much lower than the cost of staying in tourist hotels.

For this type of living arrangement to work, the key is to respect the people facilitating your accomodation. Coming home drunk late at night is not an option. For many travelers a visa to a 3rd world country amounts to a vice license. Live simply and quietly. There's no job to rush home to and no need to waste money, energy and dignity in the red light district.

I'm writing this out as if giving advice, but don't think I know what I'm talking about. This is how I imagine it might be like, ideas I can't wait to test in the real world. If bears can live in Zambia, anything is possible...

2 Comments:

Anonymous logjammin said...

i am timmy's first comment. i am meaningless. i believe in nothing. shut up donny

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Look at the beggar now, Wilson thought. It's that some of them stay little boys so long, Wilson thought. Sometimes all their lives. Their figures stay boyish when they're fifty. The great American boy-men. Damned strange people. But he liked this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow. Probably meant the end of cuckoldry too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. Damned good thing. Beggar had probably been afraid all his life. Don't know what started it. But over now. Hadn't had time to be afraid with the buff. That and being angry too. Motor car too. Motor cars made it familiar. Be a damn fire eater now. He'd seen it in the war work the same way. More of a change than any loss of virginity. Fear gone like an operation. Something else grew in its place. Main thing a man had. Made him into a man. Women knew it too. No bloody fear." -Hemingway

11:49 AM  

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