The Good Outweigh the Bad: Trust People – Even When You’re a Foreigner



One of the bloggers at AidLeap beat me to the post I was planning on writing about cynicism and trust when living somewhere where you’re a foreigner and, specifically, a foreigner that sticks out[1]. Totally agree with this (though I haven’t seen a taxi meter in a while):

This made me realise that the times that I’ve unfairly assumed bad faith far outnumber the times that I’ve been innocently cheated… . So next time you take a taxi, trust the fare meter.

To use one recent day as an example:

The new taxi park in Kampala is a messy, congested stream of white matatus. Most of the time, the streets are at a standstill. It’s known for being a pickpocket place, and I’ve had someone try to get at my backpack front pocket before, so I usually don’t keep anything valuable in it. Carelessly, I forgot to take my Kindle out of that pocket and the street was thick with people (a balcony had just fallen, killing at least four people and causing a scene). A few minutes later, a woman stopped me to say that I should zip up my backpack because “someone could steal something.” It was too late, someone already had, and so I’m Kindle-less.

I was pretty unhappy with myself for being so careless.[2] An hour later, I had to get up to Mulago National Hospital, so I took a boda. As I was paying the driver, I accidentally dropped something like 8,000 UGX (a little more than $3) without noticing, and started walking away. Immediately, he told me that I dropped the money. After paying to lease the motorcycle, petrol, etc., the average boda driver makes something like 4,000 – 6,000 UGX a day in Kampala. He could have easily taken the money on the ground, and taken the rest of the day off. But he didn’t.

I was sheepish and slightly embarrassed, but not surprised: I could give dozens of examples of this. It happens constantly: explicit acts where someone goes out of their way to do the “right” thing, and implicit acts where someone could easily do the “wrong[3]” thing, like overcharge me because I’m white and look like a tourist, but doesn’t – something that is harder to see, but probably happens more often.

And, in six months in east Africa, I’ve only had one thing stolen: that Kindle. Despite sticking out. Despite innumerable times when I was an easy target.

Trusting someone feels a lot better than being suspicious of them, and there’s no reason not to: the good people vastly outweigh the bad. At least everywhere I’ve ever been.

[1] As an aside: he/she (it’s an anonymous blog, so I’m not sure) mentions money lenders and how they can generally be trusted. I think this is more or less true, although I’ll carve out an exception for crossing the border: don’t exchange your money with a guy that is just… there at the border. If it’s an official shop, go for it – you may not get the best exchange rate, but they’re generally legit. An unofficial guy just standing at the border, waiting to exchange your money for you? Not worth the risk. Speaking from experience

[2] And for not reading David Quammen’s Spillover faster… I was only halfway through. Fantastic book, can’t wait to eventually read the rest. Plus I was about to leave for Nairobi, which is an 11 or 12 hour bus ride

[3] “Wrong” is a tricky word here – it may not be strictly speaking wrong to “overcharge,” but that’s a discussion for another time

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *