Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Asshat, part deux

Okay, so when last we left our intrepid travelers, they were waiting in vain for Guide Asshat to arrive with their refund.

To the surprise of no one, he failed to appear with money or an excuse. However, a little birdie had informed us that on Thursday, he would be meeting his trainees at the park entrance when it opened in the morning.

I was on breakfast duty that morning, but Gabriele and Daniela checked the gate every five minutes or so in the midst of dressing, washing up, and eating.

That five minute window, of course, allowed him to slip into the park undetected and disappear into the trails.

Gabriele decided to follow Asshat’s tracks and ambush him in front of his trainees. (Anyone think we’d maybe spent to long living in an African park at this point?) Unfortunately, in a park that had maybe 20 visitors on a good day, Gabriele ended up following the wrong large group of sneakers into the bush. Slippery, slippery man, this Asshat.

But Gabriele, never one to give up, decided not to… er… give up.

He started running through all the trails, hoping that in a finite park (3 km x 2 km by most reports), he would run into Asshat eventually. Which he did. Eventually.

Asshat and Gabriele agreed to meet at our camp site at 11 am, and Gabriele left to rejoin us as we were clearing trails and picking up litter elsewhere in the park.

“Mais, non!” you are all thinking. “It is not possible! Zhese imbeciles have learned NOTHING. Why would zhey think M. Chapeau de Cul would actually show up at zhe agreed time?” (In my imagining, you all have French accents. Go with it.)

But in fact, we had learned a tiny bit of something. Well before the agreed time, Gabriele went to the gate, told the guards why and where he was meant to meet L’Asshat, and then went back to our camp to wait.

Where, not 10 minutes later, around 10:30 am, Asshat appeared, escorted genially by a park guard. I will leave it to you all to decide whether Asshat had attempted to escape by slipping out a half hour early or had merely stopped at the gate to chat with his friend the guard in his spare half hour. I know what I believe.

Asshat, of course, did not have our refund. But, wising up, Gabriele got him to sign a receipt (with the guard as a witness) that he would refund 500 pula the next day and 400 pula the following day. The guard told Gabriele to report Asshat’s misdeeds to the tourism office and the police immediately, but he felt, and we agreed, that our case would be stronger once he failed to comply with his written promise.

Are you bored of this story yet? It’s so very predictable.

We didn’t go to the authorities until Monday, because Asshat gave us 200 pula on Friday, and promised the rest the next day. He was quite skillfully biding his time until we left the country and stopped bothering him. If only he used the same energy to, you know, do his job in the first place.

This is the part of the story where I began having fun. I mean, most tourist itineraries completely skip the police station. And you can learn a lot about a country from places like that. Both the tourism officials and the police took our story very seriously (especially the tourism officials, where they know exactly how important foreign visitors are to their economy, and how detrimental bad word of mouth could be), and before I knew it, I was in the back seat of a RAV4 with a policewoman and the park manager in the front, driving all around town trying to chase this guy down. And also telling the policewoman about America, which she, like everyone else I met, fervently wanted to visit. And, even though she’d never left Botswana, she already had her passport, ready and waiting.

Nice though she was, she was no Lennie Briscoe, and we didn’t track Asshat down that afternoon. (She called his cell phone and believed whoever answered that she’d gotten a wrong number. Asshat later called us from the same number to complain that going to the police was entirely uncalled for, and we should trust him that he would give us our refund. Tell it to the cops, I say.)

On Thursday morning, however, Asshat reappeared at the park with his trainees. The park manager, despite the fact that he was leaving imminently on a business trip, drove off to fetch a tourism official, loaded Asshat into the car, and took him to the tourism office.

I went too.

Here they proceeded to give Asshat a lovely length of rope with which to hang himself.

Figuratively, people. I know I was in Africa, but let’s not go crazy, here.

They let him tell his side of the story, which was mostly accurate. He left out the part where he accepted P2,400 from another group of tourists to take them to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and then never went through with the trip or refunded the money.

He also neglected to mention that he didn’t have a guide license. But the tourism officials were pleased to remind him. They also pleasantly reminded him that, being unlicensed, it was illegal for him to accept any money from us or take us on any trip. And then, quite genially, they read the law to him, making sure to point out and explain all the places where he’d broken it.

And they read the penalty: a fine of up to P20,000 (about $4,000, in a country where the average yearly income is closer to P10,000) and two years in jail.

They let him argue for a while, but when they were bored, they presented him with a simple choice: “Next we will be going to the police. But these people want their money back and are leaving tomorrow. So you can either refund them the entire amount they paid — all P1,500, because it was illegal for you to accept any money at all—or you can face criminal charges and take the P20,000 fine and two years in jail. Which would you prefer?”

And they waited for an answer.

I’ll have you know that I almost managed to keep a straight face during this entire exchange.

Theoretically, the story should have ended there. Asshat had shown us a check for P1,560 made out to his self-owned company that he was going to cash to pay us back. The police agreed to our arrangement and asked that Asshat and I return after the bank to confirm that all had gone as planned. And the tourism official dropped us off at the bank and went to lunch, proud of a job well done.

But Asshat isn’t called Asshat for nothing.

He didn’t have a bank account at that bank. Or, actually, any bank account in the name of his company (or so he claimed). So he couldn’t cash the check.

After an embarrassing altercation in front of the poor accounts manager who Asshat forced to explain this to me, I started angrily stomping back to the police to file charges. I had had enough, as I repeatedly told the ever full-of-excuses Asshat.

Somehow, he talked me into a taxi to find someone who owed him money. As we drove well past where I had thought we were going and past the part of town I was familiar with, I began to realize how alone in that cab I was—no one knew where I was, I had no phone, and I didn’t even have my wallet on me, because I hadn’t been planning to leave the park when I suddenly was asked to accompany Asshat to the tourism office.

Maybe it wasn’t so smart to get in that cab.

Luckily, I was only left with my thoughts for a few minutes, because we soon pulled up to a house with many of Asshat’s now familiar trainees milling around in front, one of whom came directly to the car and, to my utter shock, handed him a giant wad of cash.

Which he handed to me.

It was P1,000, P300 short of what he owed us, but far more than I ever expected to see. I was so surprised (and relieved at not being murdered) that I let him take me directly back to the park instead of going back to the police station as we should have done.

So that’s the very, very long version of what happened. Sorry y’all—I didn’t mean to go on for this long. But dealing with Asshat kept us busy, which was good, because the volunteer work sadly did not.

And I did get to see a side of Botswana that most tourists do not. I was very impressed with all the officials and police I met. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and, contrary to the stereotypes you may have of Africa, fully expectant that laws should be followed and enforced, and that it was their job to make sure that laws were followed and enforced. Of course it helped that I was a “rich” American, but there was never any indication that they would have been less helpful had I been a Motswana.

So now you’ve heard about baboons, running with zebras, and the worst tour guide ever.

And I’ve been telling Africa stories all week, so I’ve lost sight of what’s interesting. Is there anything else you all want to hear about? Ask away. Your wish is my command and other such nonsense.

In running news, I have a new ache. My left hip/groin muscle started acting up yesterday morning after about a mile of what had been shaping up to be a great morning run. I cut my run short and took today off, but I’m starting to think I might not be doing this whole running thing correctly.

I think I’m going to buy a book about running form. I feel like I’ve heard a lot of you all talking about ChiRunning—is that what you’d recommend?


Blogger a.maria said...

thats awesome. i mean, not that i'm loving that you got totally screwed out of your tour, BUT, i love the story otherwise... especially because i definitely know the feeling of "hmm, i'm alone with a strange man in a strange country and dont know where i'm going. wonder if i'm about to die"... theres something probably wrong with me, cuz i think its funny, but regardless... great story!

4:00 PM  
Anonymous BD said...

Great story! Wow, you were persistent. Glad you vanquished Asshat. Sort of.

Regarding running form, you might want to check out the links that Mark has on the POSE running method. I thought Mark did a nice job of summarizing some of the key points so you might read some of his posts first.

If you do decide to alter your form, please do it slowly. You can injury yourself if you just up and change it straight away.

Here are the POSE links on Mark's blog:

12:01 AM  
Blogger jeanne said...

So, I guess running at night alone in Rock Creek Park taught us, um, NOTHING???

I cannot believe you got in that car with a strange asshat all by yourself. That's it, you're not allowed to go to Africa ever again.

Really, your Africa stories rock.

Sorry about the new ache. Let's hope it's a temporary thing. But it's always something, isn't it.

Ain't running fun?!!

10:50 AM  
Blogger brent said...

chi running basically cured my shin splints. i don't use every single aspect of the form but i have incorported certain suggestions and it has worked wonders. as bd mentions above, POSE is the other major form that runners tend to migrate toward. good luck with that hip/groin pain, maybe it was just a one time thing.

11:01 PM  
Blogger brent said...

incorporated, oops.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

What a tale - you should write it up as a Movie of the Week!

6:29 PM  

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