Every day we negotiate for food, transportation, tours and even the bathroom. We wrestle with determining the fair market price and recognize that at some point, we are going to overpay and feel like we have been taken advantage of. Our goal is to minimize this because when we pay the inflated price, the vendor now thinks he can charge future travelers that same rate. I confess that during this process, sometimes my emotions get the better of me.
It is 4:30 in the morning and the village is coming alive. I can hear the voices of women on their way to wash clothes and dishes, the laughter of the children going to bathe before school and the crowing of the roosters waking those not already up.
Rather than lie in bed and listen, I opted to observe Cape Maclear as it comes alive. Heading up the path, I met Mike, who was on his way to ‘wash’ at the lake but changed his course to walk with me and practice his English. I was a bit uncomfortable at first, not because I felt unsafe — the whole village was awake — but because I knew that at some point he would ask for money. I took a deep breath and, rather than dismiss him, I decided to see what happened.
I asked him questions in English and he taught me phrases in Chewa, his native language. He told me about the Chembe Water Project that brought potable water to the village 10 years ago. And, we spoke about the fishermen who were returning after a long night on the lake. Not surprisingly, Mike wanted me to come back to his stand and see what he had for sale. I confessed that I had no money with me but made arrangements to look at a few bracelets later on. As he returned me safely to our cottage, I felt like I had just gotten a personal sunrise tour of Cape Maclear and was eager to repay him for his kindness. I was content with the way my morning had gone and could not wait to share my experience with Bryan and the boys
After breakfast, the boys and I headed to the beach to bargain. We each chose a bracelet and inquired about the price. Mike said it would be 40,000 Malawian Kwacha. I looked at Colin to confirm what I had heard. Did he just quote $60 US Dollars for 3 cheap bracelets? Really?
Rather than joke with him, I felt angry, upset and insulted. I know the job market here is tight. I know people earn about $1.40 per day. And, I know we are looked at like ATMs. But I struggle with the feeling that I am being taken advantage of. He was asking me to give as much as I could to help him. But simply because we can pay his initial asking price, does not mean we should. I just want to pay a fair price for the bracelets.
After negotiating, we settled on 4,000 MKW ($6). I knew this was still too much for the bracelets, 2 of which broke the same day, but figured I paid him for the bracelets, the unsolicited tour and then some. I regret that I left with a sour taste in my mouth that stuck with me for the next several hours. To make matters worse, I never even thanked him for the personal tour. I just walked away feeling angry and empty.
Negotiating for most things on most days is emotionally exhausting for me. Sometimes I handle it well, sometimes not.