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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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  May 2010:
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  Sep 2008:
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  Jul 2008:
  Bargaining and gifts
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Safari Patrol:
Bargaining and gifts
July 2008
Most tourists visiting East Africa do at least some shopping, to bring a mask, a carved figure or some other souvenir home as a memory from their tour. There is a lot to choose from, in a lot of souvenir shops, markets, etc. The prices are negotiable, and for a fair price, you should bargain.
  
Some tourists don't bother to bargain, though, saying that they can afford it anyhow, and that it's a good thing to leave money behind in the country. True, Kenya and Tanzania are poor developing countries, and foreign cash is welcome and needed. But remember, when you buy at overprice in a souvenir shop, it's the shop owner that makes the extra profit, not the staff. And the owner of a souvenir shop of some size may be quite a rich guy.

The staff may offer you extra special friendly deals. Don't be surprised, when offering to pay USD 10 for a USD 20 item, to get a final price of 10 to be paid at the counter and 5 to be paid directly to the staff member. When the owner is not looking, that is.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on rich meeting poor
Like to bargain
Other tourists like to bargain, and do it hard and well. That's fine in the large souvenir shops, where prices are high. They can be cut much and still leave a profit. But when buying from little roadside stalls or in a market, the profit margins are less and may be cut to nothing by hard bargaining. Anyone who can afford a holiday in East Africa can afford to pay a dollar or two more than necessary for a souvenir, and don't have to bargain hard for the sake of it. I personally am not very fond of bargaining, but have found myself stubbornly haggling to cut another 500 Tanzanian shillings from the price of a bunch of bananas. I had bought at the lower price before, and now felt that they were trying to rip me off. That wasn't my proudest moment. 500 shillings equals less than half a dollar, and I probably spent ten times that much having sundowner beer later that day.

When visiting Zimbabwe some years ago, our local guide begged us not to bargain too hard in the market, as the economy and tourism were down the drain and the stall keepers would sell at any price, including at great loss, to turn the goods that they had once invested in into cash and dinner that night. You can't eat wood carvings.

Bringing pens
According to many guidebooks, pens are good gifts to bring for East African children, as they need pens for school. So many visitors bring and give away pens, and pens seem to have developed into some kind of unofficial currency in the streets. Not only children ask for them, but also hawkers, drug addicts and others. The kids even have a hand signal for "pen, please".

If you want to bring pens, copybooks or other school stuff for gifts, give them to children that attend school and wear a uniform. Or why not ask your local guide or driver to improvise a visit to a school, and hand your gifts over to the pupils or teachers there. Visitors are usually welcome, and you'll probably learn a lot from visiting. A ball (plus a pump) is another great gift to leave behind.

The street kids may not need pens, as they don't attend school, but they may need what they can trade a pen for. Asking for pens is begging, and giving or not giving to beggars is your own choice. Many local driver guides encourage the tourists travelling with them not to give to begging children – the children should go to school, and not learn that they can gain from hanging the streets and approaching tourists. In theory, that's logical. In practice, it may be harder, when travelling in an expensive four-wheel drive, with a suitcase full of clean clothes in the trunk, a couple of hundred dollars in your wallet, some bottles of clean water in the cooler box, and heading for a hotel, sundowners and a nice dinner.

Visiting orphanages
There are many orphanages in East Africa, and I visit such now and then with groups that I travel with. It's worthwhile. It's harsh reality. Most such orphanages are small, underfunded and very basic. Some of the children are infected with the same HIV that has already killed their parents. The poverty of the country becomes so apparent. We have all seen the poverty, and the forlorn children, on television. But meeting and holding the same children is an insight on a completely different level. It often results in tears, good donations and an important experience.

A visit to an orphanage can be improvised en route during most safaris. Tell your driver that you want to, and he'll arrange it for you. If you want to bring gifts, bring anything. Clothes, medical articles, toothbrushes, soft toys and money come to good use.

If you want to focus on enjoying the nature and the wildlife, and not spend your expensive safari seeing schools and orphanages, you can still use your wallet to do some good. Pay a fair price, and don't bargain just for the sport. And pay tips. You don't have to tip much, but you can do it often and to anyone who does you a favour or gives you a hand. Some visitors bring a wad of one-dollar bills meant for tipping generously. That's fine, but even better is exchanging the dollars and tipping in the local currency. Such money can be used right away by the receiver. You can eat neither wood carvings nor dollars.

 
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Page updated 18 February 2009