I don’t suffer from stage fright and actually enjoying speaking before large groups. But I do suffer stage fright of sorts when stepping out from the safe confines of baggage claim into a new land…especially when I do not speak the language.
My Trepidation When Entering A New Country
I had landed in Cotonou Airport in Benin and found a place to store my larger carry-on bag so I would not have to lug it around Cotonou. My flight to Istanbul was scheduled to leave in about eight hours.
Now I had to work up the courage to walk out of the airport and into the crowd of eager taxi drivers hungry for my business. I had a general idea of what to pay, but my French is bad and I felt like I had a huge target on my back.
So I stood in the lobby between the baggage claim and the airport. With my heart racing. For literally 30 minutes.
Even after visiting over 135 countries, my heart always races when entering a new country. For all the safety precautions we exercise, I have to chuckle sometimes that we are willing to hop into a car with a perfect stranger in a foreign land because he has a taxi sign on his car.
Only in Cotonou, the taxis are all unmarked…and there are no meters. I would have to negotiate. Perhaps even in French.
Finally, I stepped out of the air conditioned arrival hall and into the scorching afternoon sunlight. As expected, I was immediately mobbed by men trying to lure me into their taxis.
The challenge began. You sort of have to be rude lest you really be taken advantage of. I tried to pretend that I was a frequent visitor to Cotonou, but that is kind of hard to do when I was looking for a driver who would double as a tour guide for a few hours.
I answered French in English. Not to be an ugly American, but to avoid stammering and struggling. Very bluntly, I stated that I needed a driver for three hours. I gave no further details just yet.
That didn’t work because now several taxi drivers were asking me where I wanted to go. I thought I’d play them off one another and mentioned that I wanted to visit Marche Dantokpa and Étoile Rouge.
Now the men sensed I was a tourist. And it seemed that although several came up to me, they all worked together.
One guy whistled with his finger for another guy to come over. A young man walked over and introduced himself as Lucky. I had to smile.
He spoke some English and we began negotiating. First he wanted 80USD for three hours of his time. I laughed. He laughed too.
“How much you want to pay?,” he asked.
I told him I’d give him 20,000CFA (~37USD).
He thought about it for a moment (thus, I knew the price was fair) and then countered at 30,000 (using his mobile phone calculator).
I shook my head, took his phone, and typed in 20,000.
Then I noticed he had an Audi A4, the same car I have. I mentioned how much I liked his car, which seemed to please him. He agreed to the price and beckoned me to hop in.
We were off. I had not failed miserably!
But I still hate the whole process…
This story is part of my An African Adventure As The World Shut Down trip report.