Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Off to Singapore

Last Friday evening, I flew out of Ouagadougou on my way to attend a meeting of SIL leaders from all over the world in Singapore that would begin on Monday evening. However, I didn’t go there directly. It’s kind of a long trip and for long trips, I either like to split them up a bit, or arrive a day early at the final destination so I have some time to recuperate and adjust to the time difference (8 hours difference from Burkina). However, we were told that we could not come early to Singapore because the F1 Grand Prix was being held in Singapore on Sunday, jamming hotels and bringing all other traffic to a virtual standstill.

So I spent an overnight in London. It’s not exactly cheap to stay somewhere in London, but Kathy found something relatively economical for me right in Heathrow’s Terminal 4. It’s called Yotel and has the most compact hotel or motel room that I’ve ever stayed in!

Narrow corridors barely wide enough to roll a suitcase down lead to the rooms that are designed for either one or two people. Mine was a single, and it measured only 2 metres by 2 metres square. It consisted of a bed cubicle (complete with phone, radio, and TV) on one side, a narrow space running the length of the room on the other side, containing a toilet, a sink, and a shower on the other side, with a narrow space in between the two that provided just enough room to open the door, pull up a fold-out table surface, and store your suitcase underneath. Not fancy, but adequate. The bed was comfortable and there was next to no noise to disturb my sleep. I couldn’t help but think of the old Motel 6 commercials: “When you close your eyes, we look just like one of them big, fancy hotels!” :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Art of the Deal

The rubber floor mats in our truck here are quite a few years old, and the one under the driver’s feet was literally in pieces. So after several months of continually rearranging those pieces so that the mat could at least pretend to continue to fulfill its function, I decided that I really needed to get new ones. So I headed downtown to a place where the street vendors sold auto accessories, everything from steering wheel covers to sunscreens to seat covers to entire vehicle covers.

A half dozen of them came running when I pulled over to the side of the road, asking what I wanted. When I told them that I wanted new floor mats, several of them ran off to ransack their inventory and bring some back. After trying a few different models to see which one fit the best, I finally chose one. Now began the art of price negotiation!

The vendor began at 30,000 francs (about $60). I smiled and offered 10,000. He laughed and said that this was an impossibly low price, that I needed to offer something more serious. I laughed too and said that since he had given me a ridiculously high price, I was sure he was joking and therefore felt free to joke back! This brought grins of appreciation from the other vendors. The use of humour is an important and much appreciated part of the art of price negotiation.

Now I asked him to get serious and give me a reasonable price. He dropped to 25,000 francs. I raised my offer to 15,000. The vendor shook his head, saying it still wasn’t enough. After all, these were quality floor mats! Not like the junk that other vendors were selling! We all laughed and I raised my price to 17,500 francs. He dropped his to 20,000. I stuck to my price of 17,500 francs, but he wouldn’t budge. So I raised my offer to 19,000.

He looked at me woefully and said that I only needed to add another 1,000 francs and I could have the mats. I searched my mind for a humourous response that might induce him to accept my price. Finally it came to me.

“If I give you 20,000 francs for these mats, I will not have any money left. Since I have worked so long and hard at negotiating here with you, I have become extremely thirsty and will need to buy a Coke to recover. And when I go to drink my Coke, I will also need to buy one for my wife who is with me today in the truck. That will cost me 1,000 francs. So that’s why I can only you pay you 19,000 francs for the mats, so I can have enough money left over to buy a Coke for my wife and me.”

All the vendors stared at me... Then they all burst out laughing uproariously. Why? Because this is a line that vendors will often use on buyers like me to get a little extra money for the item they are selling! But I had turned the tables on this vendor and used it on him instead! “Okay,” said the seller, grinning and sticking out his hand to seal the deal, “I’ll take it.”

Those Cokes sure hit the spot!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Visitor

Last Sunday afternoon, I was on the veranda in front of our house, working on building a cage for a stray kitten Kathy pulled out of a puddle a couple of weeks ago. The sky was cloudy but it was so humid that I had been drenched in sweat virtually since I’d started about an hour before.

Suddenly, I heard someone calling at the gate. I couldn’t see the gate from where I was on the veranda since I was behind some bushes growing there. However, since I was not expecting anyone, I assumed it was just a “fisherman”, someone calling out to see if by chance the white man would come to the gate so he can ask him for money. I kept on working.

Then the person at the gate began a Muslim chant in Arabic. This is something that professional Muslim beggars do here in the city. I kept working.

Then the person switched to French. Since he was so persistent, I decided to take a glance through the bushes to see if I could see anyone. Imagine my surprise to see a Touareg perched on his camel, looking over my gate! Every now and then, these nomadic wanderers from the north of Burkina come into Ouaga and even parts further south (I once had one come to our house in Zabré!), begging for money and food along the way.

This was too good an opportunity to pass up! I put down my tools and walked towards the gate. Once there, I looked up and asked the man what he wanted. He said something in a language that I could not understand. When I shook my head and looked puzzled, he indicated he wanted something to eat. I pantomimed that I wanted to take a picture of him. To my surprise, he agreed.

So I went back into the house, grabbed a 1,000 franc bill and my camera, and headed out again. First I took several pictures of him over the top of the gate. Then he indicated that I should open the gate and take a full length photo, which I did.

After that, I handed him the money. He smiled broadly and went away happy. And so did I.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Near the beginning of August when Kathy & I took a week off work, we visited a few of the guesthouses around Ouaga, just to see what there was, what the facilities were like, and how much they cost. One of the most interesting places we saw was Princess Yennenga Lodge right in the heart of the city, though you wouldn’t know it once you were inside the gates. Not only did it have an interesting decor and a relaxing atmosphere, but two of the guest suites were so unique that we decided this would be a good place to come for our anniversary.

It almost didn’t happen.

First of all, I forgot to call for a reservation until just a few days before the event! When I finally did call, I was informed that both of those unique guest suites were already booked :( I left my number in case there was a cancellation, but in my head began running through all the possible excuses I could give Kathy to explain why we were going to stay somewhere else. To my immense surprise, less than 15 minutes later, I received a call asking for further details of our stay. The man said he’d see what he could do. And less than 10 minutes after that, we had a reservation. Whew!

We made plans to go there on Sunday afternoon. It was only for one night, so we wanted to get our money’s worth and get as much time there as possible. Normally we don’t have a guard at home on Sundays because we like to have at least one day a week at home without someone virtually right outside our window all day (when we’re at work, who cares?). So I arranged for someone to come at noon on Sunday. So far, so good.

However, our regular night guard was on holiday, which means we needed to find a replacement for him for Sunday night. Our regular replacement guard didn’t want to work on Sunday night. So I asked the guy who was coming to guard the place on Sunday afternoon if he’d be willing to stay all night too. Unfortunately, he had other plans for that evening.

I hated to do it, but in desperation decided to call our regular night guard to see if he would come in exchange for an extra day off. No answer on his cell phone.

I called our Centre manager to see if he knew anyone who could come. He had a cousin that he thought could do the job. But when he called him, it turned out that he was already doing guard duty at someone else’s house.

This was not looking good. By now it was nearly 3 p.m. and time was slipping by. Kathy did not look happy and began wondering if we could cancel the reservation. In desperation, I wracked my brains trying to think of someone, anyone, that I could call. I began mentally going through my list of friends. Aristide... no, he had to work the next day. Besides, he wasn’t the kind to do guard duty. Desiré... uh-uh, he had a family that would want him there for the night. He lived kind of far away too. Ghana? Not likely. He had kids at home too and their mother was away...

Wait a minute! Zacharie! He lived close by and he did shift work at a toll booth on the Po road... I wonder if he’s on or off tonight? I called him. Hallelujah, he’d gotten off work that morning and wasn’t on again until Tuesday morning! Would he come and be a night guard for us for Sunday night? He thought he could, but had to check with his wife at home first. He’d call me back.

Fifteen minutes later, he called me back. He’d gotten home only to find that his wife wasn’t back from choir practice after church yet. But he was pretty sure she wouldn’t have a problem with it. However, he didn’t know where I lived. So I agreed to meet him at the SIL Centre and show him the way from there.

When he arrived, he had another man on the moto with him. Turns out it’s his younger brother, a local university student. Zacharie proposed that he be the one to do guard duty since he himself was pretty beat for being on duty at the toll booth all the previous night. To be honest, at this point, I would have taken anyone! I gave him a few instructions, told him I’d settle accounts with him later, packed our stuff and Kathy in the truck and took off before anything else happened to sabotage our plans!

We had a great anniversary :)