Thursday, November 13, 2008

Adventures in Addis

I got a note from a soccer player friend of mine working in Ethiopia. As he writes, he has been taking part in the national obsession, soccer. His first account of "hustling" on the field is a familiar scene here in the US, where in a time of increasing hardship, leisure is more and more commonly mixed with entrepreneurism. His accounts of the hustling in the stadium there are similar to hustles on the street here. My friend writes, "I've been getting lots of emails asking me how the US election results were received here, and words can't express the excitement and optimism on this side of the globe. The trickle down effect of the collapsing world economies has hit the 3rd world with food prices shooting through the roof and NGO/Relief Groups spending less money each day on development programs. Can Obama help ease the Ethiopian people's troubles? Who knows. But one thing is for sure- judging by the celebrations in the streets on Wednesday, they're buying his message and hopeful things will change." The homeless and impoverished in the US are inspired by Obama for sure, but more cautiously optimistic that in Ethiopia perhaps. Below are my friends notes from Ethiopia:

The first few pictures are from the highest part of the capital, Entoto, most famous for being the training ground for the country's famed runners. The Beijing 5,000/10,000 gold medalist as well as the current marathon world record holder had just finished their training session when my cousin and I arrived. We didn't spot any other runners though- just pickup soccer games. No matter where you go, much like in Latin America or Western Africa, soccer dominates. I was told there was a 1 birr (local currency) per player buy-in to play in the game, so trying to get on my team's good side, I offered to pay everyone's share. But that soon evolved into the other teams doing their best to hustle me into bigger payments and stakes (knowing that I would be the only one to pay) such as "the loser of this game has to buy a new ball" to "the loser of this game has to buy everyone lunch and beer." Thankfully we didn't lose in the 3 games I played.

A couple days later I went to watch a few preseason games involving the team I've been training with- other than the ticket price ($0.50), everything imaginable presented a money-making opportunity. There were no official concession stands in the stadium, just random vendors walking through the stands. Among things sold: peanuts, sunflower seeds, water, cookies (ours), baked goods, candy. All fairly normal. Then in the span of 30 minutes, I witnessed the true entrepreneurial spirit of the 3rd world: 3 great vendor/hustler experiences.

Vendor # 1: Late in the second half this one guy comes around selling SIM cards, cellphone airtime cards and what I thought were lotto tickets. Turns out he was selling raffle tickets for a "grand prize" which was a used cell phone and charger which I am 99.9% sure were not his. Needless to say, he sold at least 500 1-birr raffle tickets. "Find" a cellphone and sell raffle tickets at the stadium. Genius.

Vendor #2: This kid was probably around 12 and walked around the stands with a scale under his arm. People would stop him, pay him 1birr and he would put the scale down and let them weigh themselves. Simple, effective. Money in the bank.

Vendor(s) # 3: On my way out of the stadium, in a giant open parking lot, I saw a fleet of motorcycles and bicycles. Since my local language and negotiation skills aren't up to par, I had our driver go up and find out how much I could buy a motorcycle for- couldn't be that much, right? He comes back laughing and tells me, the bikes aren't for sale, they're for rent. Not the standard day rental or month rental though. These guys were charging 2 birr per lap around the parking lot like this was an amusement park ride. No license or insurance needed. I started laughing and the guy started dropping his price- 2 birr for 2 laps, 1 birr for 4 laps. Sounds ridiculous but there were plenty of takers and these guys were making decent money.

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