By Kirsten Junker-Andersen, 2nd year MDP student
Most people who have been fortunate enough to spend any period of time in developing countries have, at one point or another, found themselves in a situation where after finishing a purchase – be it for a handicraft or even some market goods – they realize that the price they just paid is nowhere near the usual price of that good. While at times there may be a show of good-faith and some bartering that takes place, though this too depends on the culture, odds are that your khakis, birkenstocks, and aviators created a larger target than even your best smooth talking allowed you to dodge. And that’s on top of the fact that you may already be getting the “lekoa” price.
This is usually just accepted with a laugh and a shrug as an additional cost of travel, however, sometimes the situation stirs up some other emotions beyond the usual good-natured humour.
Today, was one of those days.
The details of the situation are not truly important – it can be summarized by saying that we purchased handicrafts from a community that we are working with at a cost above what we agreed on, Botswana isn’t big into bartering, and at a quality way below expected. After hearing critical feedback from numerous coworkers, as well as from the Chief of the community, we had become fairly distressed about the situation and wondered aloud how we could be ripped off like this. We were angry. Angry at the producer, angry at ourselves for making a rookie mistake, and angry at others for not saving us from ourselves. In our angst concepts like justice, fairness, and honesty were thrown around – it was a rough day, just stay with me here. Then we checked ourselves, and truly thought about it.
The community that we are working in does not have a reliable supply of water, private sanitation or access to electricity. How is that just?
Nobody in the community has a vehicle and they have to walk over 10km, one way, to reach the nearest village for supplies. How is that fair?
Only 4% of the community is formally employed, making us likely the only customers this man will have for quite a while. So to be honest, he was a businessman and accurately judged our willingness to pay - good job.
All that to say, it’s just a matter of perspective. I called this post the rip-off, but tell me, who’s really getting ripped off here?